Welcome to Mum&sons

My two eldest boys challenged me to start a cooking blog with simple recipes that we can cook together - and my youngest one has now joined in. I am hoping they pick up some cooking and photograph skills... or that at least they learn to design and run a blog.


CHOCOLATE TART

Though I was having a really happy weekend, I had to resort to a bashing recipe after receiving on Friday a leaflet from the Education Secretary Justine Greening in my home. Full of superficial trivia (bash) like pointless letters she has written on everything from airplane noise to pollution - as if that could be changed with just a couple of letters! (bash, bash) -  but no reference of course to her draconian cuts to the secondary schools budget which are already having a devastating effect on London schools (bash, bash, bash). Gone are the days when politicians had to be accountable for the financing decisions they took... (bash, bash, bash, bash)

Luckily this recipe involves plenty of biscuit bashing. It is from Simply Nigella and all I have done is to replace vanilla essence in the original recipe with orange essence. The pastry case is made with crushed bourbon biscuits which is one of those truly genius Nigella ideas (together with frying gnocchi's) and it  means you do not need any melted butter.

You need:
- 300 g bourbon or oreo chocolate biscuits
- 50 gr butter (room temperature)
- half a teaspoon salt flakes
- 500 ml double cream
- 100 g dark chocolate (grated or cut thinly)
- 50 g cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons expresso instant coffee
- 2 teaspoons olive oil ( the stronger the better)
- 1 teaspoon orange essence
- 75 g sugar
- a teaspoon of salt flakes.
- 4 teaspoons milk
- 25 g corn flour

Bash the biscuits for as long as you need to get rid of any bad moods, worries or stress (if you are getting tired of bashing just think of the conservative education policy for a minute so that you can keep going) Mix them with half a teaspoons of salt and the butter. Take a flan case and cover it with the crushed biscuits so that you make a tart case. Let it cool down in the fringe for 2 hours.

When the case is ready, mix the cornflour with the milk until it dissolves in it. Then in a pan heat the cream, salt, chocolate, cocoa powder, coffee, olive oil, orange essence and sugar. Put it over medium heat and stir it (without letting it boil) until the chocolate dissolves into the cream. Take the cream off the heat. Pour the milk and corn flour mixture in it, bring it back to the heat and keep stirring until it thickens (around 10 minutes). Put it in a jug, cover with cling film (so that the cling film touches the chocolate cream) and let it cool down for 30 minutes in the fridge. When it is cold, pour the cream into the pastry case and let it all cool down for 4 hours or preferably overnight.

This tart is divine. Definitely good enough to even make you forget for a while about the policies of this government. Final bash!



OMELET 'A LA MENTA"

I went to Milan earlier this week to launch Inspiring Girls Italy with our partner there, the business association ValoreD. What an amazing amazing day! You can see pictures in my instagram (miriamgonzalezdurantez) but  I could have stayed for hours listening to the volunteers telling their life journeys to the girls. So utterly inspiring. I came back mesmerised by the professionalism, energy and strength of Italian women - the kind of strength that comes from the inside, a 'serene strength'. Thanks so-so much to ENI, Intesa Sanpaolo and Courriere de la Sera, who sponsored our event there and also to the Minister of Education for backing us. We are already in four countries and we set this up from scratch, fancy that!

The night before the event I was taken to a restaurant, where they served omelet 'a la menta', which I had never tried beforehand  It was the kind of moment when you wonder: why, of why, didn't I think about this beforehand?! so simple but so very gorgeous. The freshness of the mint with the warmth of the egg and the parmesan - a revelation. I am prone to liking any recipes with eggs, but this... I just love it.

All you need is:

- 2 eggs
- a couple of spoons of olive oil (use a small frying pan)
- a pinch of salt ( not too much as the cheese is salty)
- a tablespoon and a half of grated parmesan cheese
- two teaspoons of finely chopped mint leaves

Heat the oil in the frying plan. Beat the eggs (not too much) with the salt and the mint. Pour the egg mixture onto the pan. After 30 seconds stir it a couple of times so that you get 'folds' in the omelet. Sprinkle the parmesan on top. wait one more minute and fold the omelet in half as you normally do with any omelet. It should all take barely 2 minutes so that the omelet is moist inside. Eat it immediately. Just heavenly.  



STRAWBERRY CRUMBLE

A journalist friend (yes, they do exist, in fact many of them…but for some reason none in the Daily Mail!­čśë) has asked me to bake a Brexit crumble.  This particular recipe comes from the wonderful Nigella Lawson and calls for almonds and vanilla, but over the years we have cut down on the sugar, replaced the vanilla with lemon zest and the almond with hazelnuts (only because a year ago I went through a time when I compulsively added hazelnuts to almost everything - they are particularly good with mackerel and orange I must say) The crumble, just like Brexit, seems fine on the outside, though if you look attentively you can see that there is a mess bubbling up inside. And it will definitely fall apart when you serve it no matter how hard you try. Though to be perfectly honest, I am not sure the messiest of the crumbles does any justice to the mess we are all in.

You need:
- 300 g strawberries
- 100 g sugar
- 100 g hazelnuts (ground 30 g thinly and the remaining 70 g coarsely)
- 110 g plain flour
- zest of a lemon
- 75 gr cold butter
- a tsp baking powder

Preheat the oven at 180 degrees

Cut the strawberries in half. Put them on a baking dish (you can also bake this in individual dishes) Sprinkle them with 30 g of sugar, the 30 g of thinly ground hazelnuts and the lemon zest.

Separately mix the flour and baking powder  with the cold butter (diced). Rub the butter with your fingers for 5 minutes. The add the remaining sugar and Hazelnuts. Tip this on top of the strawberries. Bake for 30 minutes (22 minutes if you bake this in individual dishes)




VINAIGRETTE


I normally dress the salad by just pouring some salt, olive oil and red wine vinegar on top of it (in this order). If you get enough practice you will not even need to measure the ingredients. The rule in Spain is that the salad should be oily, salty and not too vinaigry -  but I love vinegar (and I also love breaking rules) so my salads (which I eat pretty much every day) are always on the vinaigry side. The alternative to this rudimentary way of dressing salads is to prepare a proper vinaigrette and keep in in the fridge for a few days. You need:

- 200 ml of light olive oil
- 40 ml water
- a tablespoon of mustard (dijon is best)
- a teaspoon of salt
- 2 tablespoons of red wine

Whisk the olive oil and mustard. When the mixture is emulsionated (i.e. it becomes a thick sauce) add the water, then the salt and vinegar. Whisk it a bit more and keep in a jar in the fridge.

You can also do a variation of this by replacing the mustard by a tablespoon of shop-bought mayonnaise and increasing the amount of water to 60 ml.

Whatever you do please do not add any sugar or honey to it - that is the easiest way to ruin any salad.

It keeps in the fridge for a week.



ARTICHOKES WITH SERRANO HAM

Artichokes are one of my favourite vegetables, together with aubergines and swiss chard. I bought these beauties last week at the truly exorbitant price of £1.99…per artichoke! For that price you can buy a whole kilo of artichokes in Spain (taking into account the depreciation of the pound after Brexit et all) Out of curiosity I searched the prices in different supermarkets  during one of my daily commutes - difficult to find artichokes in the UK for less than 1.40-1.50 per unit at the very best. Insane. How much of that goes to the farmers pockets? as the granddaughter and niece of farmers I can tell you that very little indeed. Perhaps when governments spend money on marketing to convince us all to increase the number of fruit and vegetables we eat per day, they could think of how to work with supermarkets so that  raw vegetables and fruits go down to a more normal prize. How can they possibly justify that the price of one single artichoke is the same as the prize of not one, but twelve packets of salt and vinegar crisps? or eight Mars bars?

For this dish you need:
- one artichoke for two people (or if you are in the South of Europe, as many as you wish)
- two cloves of garlic sliced
- 50 gr serrano ham  (or parma, etc…cut it in little cubes)
- 80 ml water
- a tablespoon of white vinegar
- half a lemon
- salt
- three tablespoons of olive oil

Clean the artichokes: get rid of all the outer leaves and peel the base as well. Cut them in slices and put them in a bowl of water with the juice of half a lemon.  Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a pan. Dry the artichokes and add them to the oil. Let them fry over medium heat for 3-4- minutes until them get golden. Add salt to the artichokes.

Separately fry the garlic on low heat on the spare tablespoon of oil (this takes only 1.5 minute or so), add the ham and let it fry for another minute, then the vinegar and finally the water. Pour all this over the artichokes and let it simmer for 5-8 minutes until they get soft (the exact amount of time depends on how tender the artichokes are of course - I prefer them a little al dente, but children normally like them soft)



CHEESE AND PUMPKIN SEED BISCUITS

… and these are some cheese biscuits that you can eat with the broccoli mayo (see our recipe) or any other dip, though my children and their friends eat them (devour them to be precise) on their own.

You need:
- 135 gr plain flour
- 120 gr grated cheddar
- 80 ml sunflower oil
- 30 ml milk
- a pinch of salt
- a pinch of paprika
- a handful of sunflower seeds

Mix all the ingredients but the sunflower seeds. Make a roll with the dough and put it in the fridge (covered by cling film or foil) for one hour. Then preheat the oven at 200 degrees. Cut slices of the roll, put them on a baking tray covered with baking paper. Press a few sunflower seeds on top of each biscuit and bake for 8 minutes (or until golden).  It is very difficult to stop eating these.

...

BROCCOLI MAYO

You can make mayonnaise with any food rich in lecithin: from eggs to milk, brussels sprouts of broccoli. My children like this as a dip, or on the side of grilled chicken and salad, as a sauce. It also goes well with boiled eggs and white fish.  You need:
-500 gr broccoli
- 200 ml sunflower oil (or a very mild olive oil)
- salt
- two or three tablespoons of lemon

Boil the broccoli for 15 minutes until it is really soft. Put the boiled broccoli in a tall beaker and add the oil on top.  Blend it all with a hand held blender - start with the blender at the bottom of the beaker without moving it for a 40 seconds or so and then bring the blender very slowly up while keeping a steady hand. Then add the lemon and salt and blend for a couple of seconds again. You can also do this with a normal blender by blending the broccoli first and then adding the oil little by little.





CRAB LINGUINI

Simple-simple, but my children love it. You need:
- 250 - 350 gr crab meat
- a packet of linguini
- two tablespoons of olive oil
- three cloves of garlic, chopped thinly
- a glass of white wine
 - half a lemon (juice and zest)
- a handful of parsley (flat)
- salt

Boil the linguini in plenty of salty water according to the packet instructions. Separately heat the olive oil in a pan, fry the garlic (over low heat) for 3 minutes, add the lemon zest and half of the parsley (chopped thinly) and after 20 seconds add the wine and salt and let it reduce for 10 minutes. When the linguini are boiled, add the crab to the wine sauce, let it simmer for a minute , pour the linguini on top, mix well and serve. You can add a bit more lemon juice and olive oil on top if you wish. Sprinkle the remaining parsley on top. That is all.


CHICKPEAS WITH EGGS

In the past, during Lent time many Spanish families used to each chickpeas on Fridays. Now we still eat it sometimes more out of tradition than religion. The best known recipes are with spinach and or salt cod (you can find the recipe here http://www.mumandsons.com/2015/04/easter-chickpea-and-spinach-soup.html) but my grandma used to make chickpeas with egg (basically because she had often had a surplus of eggs in her farm).

You need:
- one and a half onions (chopped very thinly)
- a tomato ( grated)
- a clove of garlic ( minced)
-olive oil - three tablespoons
-200 gr chickpeas
- 2 more cloves of garlic
- handful of parsley
- 15 almonds (blanched)
- a teaspoon of sweet paprika
- a bay leaf
- salt
- water (this should be cold water - if you boil the water first the chickpeas will 'get scared', as they say in Spain, and as a result they will contract and be hard, no matter how long you boil them)
- 3 eggs

The night before you are going to make this put the chickpeas in cold water and let them soak overnight.  I have prepare this recipe with chickpeas from one of my aunts, Loli. They are a real delicacy - so tender than you do not even need to soak them. But difficult to get chickpeas of this quality in the supermarket.

Put the olive oil in a pan, bring it to medium heat, add the onions, tomato and garlic, lower the heat, add the paprika and bay leaf and let it all fry for 10 minutes until it gets mellow. Then add the chickpeas, cover with cold water (there should be three centimetres of water over the chickpeas more or less) and let it all simmer for 1.30 to 1.40 hours.

Meanwhile boil the eggs. Take them off the shells and cut them in little bits (the easiest way to do this is with teh back of a fork).

Toast the almonds by putting them on a pan over medium heat for a minute or so.

Out the almonds, parsley and clove of garlic in a mortar and crush it all with the pestle (you can put a bit of salt  so that it is easier to mash it all)

When the chickpeas are ready add the minced eggs and also the almond, parsley and garlic mixture to the chickpeas pan. Correct the salt if needed (chickpeas often require more salt than you think). Stir it all well, let it rest (off the fire) for five to ten minutes and serve.




INSPIRING GIRLS AND REDRAW THE BALANCE

I am rushing this week - plus ca change!- and will not have time to post any new recipes until the weekend, as usual. But wanted to show you today this great video that Mullenlowe has done with Inspiring Girls for International Women's Day as part of the RedrawtheBalance campaign. Animation is about the first TV that kids watch and it shapes their views. Time for animation companies to think a bit more carefully about redrawing the balance - and also to get more female animators there.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAn84wNIqn0&feature=youtu.be

I also leave you some pictures of the launch of the Inspiring Girls in Brussels with a wonderful group of girls and volunteers, and also the President of the Parliament Antonio Tajani and the EU Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly, all hosted by MEP Beatriz Becerra, one of the most committed champions of Inspiring Girls. In addition to Inspiring Women in the UK run by the Education and Employers Task Force, Inspiring Girls is now in 3 more countries -  and Italy coming next at the end of April!




SAN FRANCICO

This is cocktail that we sometimes drank in Spain before we were allowed to drink alcohol. It feels a bit vintage, but it is still very nice. My younger children and their friends love it because though it is just a mixture of juices it looks as party time to them. You need ( for two or three people):

- the juice of an orange
- the juice of half a lemon
- a glass of pineapple juice (if you are in Spain, France or Italy use half a glass of pineapple and half a glass of peach juice, but for some weird reason peach juice is sometimes difficult to find in the UK)
- a quarter of a glass of grenadine
- a teaspoon of sugar
- 2 tablespoons of sugar for decorating the glasses
- ice (optional)
- a slice of orange and a paper umbrella for decoration

Mix the decorating sugar with a couple of teaspoons of grenadine on a flat plate. Dip the rim of the  glasses on it and rotate a little so that the rims get coated with the red sugar (you can replace the grenadine with any food colorant if you prefer other colours for the decoration)

Separately mix all the juices and the sugar. Pour the juice mixture on the glasses. Add the ice if using it. Then add the grenadine and mix a little but not thoroughly so that the colours do not mix completely and you get a bit of a 'degrade' effect. Decorate with the orange (just cut an indentation and put it on the side of the grass) and the umbrella.



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AGUA DE VALENCIA (VALENCIA'S WATER)

This is for you, not for your children. It is called Agua de Valencia and it is a very typical cocktail from the beautiful city of Valencia, made with the gorgeous oranges that they produce there ( if you have the chance try the oranges 'Lola' - outstanding!) and cava (i.e. a sort of champagne from Cataluna).

I was in Valencia a week ago to participate in an event to promote female conductors organised by Berkelee at the initiative of 'the one and only' Placido Domingo and the great British conductor Alice Farham. It was wonderful to see such an iconic man launching an initiative to promote and unlock female talent.  In the middle of the current backlash on women rights, here is a source optimism: the amount of men who are now speaking up for women and girls. You can see pictures of the event at our instagram miriamgonzalezdurantez

Agua de Valencia is what you drink on a Saturday night when you go out in Valencia. You have to be pretty careful as it is an alcoholic bomb. Last time I drank this at a party, a foreign friend was flabbergasted that she felt drunk when, according to herself, all she had drunk was orange juice!

You need:
- one part of fresh orange juice ( you can do this with normal orange juice if it is for a big party of course)
- one part of cava
- a quarter of a part of vodka
- a quarter of a part of gin
- a spoonful of sugar per bottle of cava

Just stir it all, add a couple of ice cubes and serve.


PARTRIDGES ESCABECHADAS

This is a really great way to cook partridges. I was recently served this at a dinner and decided to try gain this recipe with the help of my mother.

You need:
- 3 partridges
- 2 carrots - cut in big chunks
- 2 onions - cut in half moons
- 4 bay leaves
- 5 garlic cloves
- 80 ml olive oil
- 150 ml white wine
- 50 ml water
- 2 springs of thyme
- 10 black peppercorns

Put half of the olive oil in a frying pan. Salt the partridges and fry them in the olive oil for a few minutes on all sides (they should not get golden).

Take the partridges out. Add the rest of the oil and fry the onions for 5-6- minutes over medium heat until soft. Then add the garlic, carrot, thyme and peppercorns. Add the water and wine. Put back the partridges in the pan. Cover with a lid and let them bubble oven low heat for 35 minutes. Put the partridges, vegetables and sauce in a glass jar and let it rest for one or two days before eating them.

Before you serve the partridges just heat them a little (not too much) . In the summer you can also eat them cold with a salad.


PHILO APPLE PIE

This is one of the easiest recipes of this blog and also one of the most delicious ones. All you need is:
- philo pastry: 10 sheets
- 6 apples (the trick of this pie is to use cooking apples, so that they become really soft and creamy and you end up with a kind of apple compote encased in crispy buttery philo)
- 125 gr butter
- 4 tablespoons of brown sugar

Preheat the oven at 200 degrees.
Peel the apples and cut them into cubes. Heat 80g of butter in a pan, add the apples and the sugar and cook it all over medium heat for 8 minutes.
Melt the rest of the butter. Paint all the philo sheets with it and layer them over a round tin (the philo will be bigger than the tin which is fine, just keep overlapping the buttered philo sheets one over the other) Pour the apples over the philo. Cover the top of the apples with the excess philo tucking it all well so that you get a pie case. Paint it with some melted butter (see the picture) and just bake it for 20 minutes or until golden.


CHISTORRA

Chistorra is a great Spanish product. Similar to chorizo but thinner (because it was normally made with the tripes of lambs) It comes from the North of Spain and it is difficult to find it in the UK, but Brindisa is now selling it (as well as 'presa iberica' which is truly delicious iberico pork meat). All you need to do is to heat a pan (with no oil), cut the chistorra in 2 cms chuncks and fry it for 2-3 minutes until it is crispy on all sides. Just eat it with bread (crusty is best). Serve it as a snack or as an appetiser with drinks or on the side of fried eggs. It is always a success.
 

PATATAS BRAVAS

This is a very typical Spanish tapa. The name means 'brave potatoes' and it consists of fried potatoes with a hot sauce. Children normally like this because it is hot but not outrageously so. It is meant to be eaten at around 13.00 or so with a cold little beer  ('un cortito' ) just to stretch yourself until lunch at around 14.00… or 14.30… or even 15.00… Crazy, I know: when Spanish people finish lunch some British people start their tea.
 
Whether you add tomato sauce or not to the 'bravas' is a matter for national debate in Spain -  half Spain does and half does not. Just as half adds onion to the 'tortilla' and half does not; half prefer Cola-Cao and half Nesquik, half of us were brought up with Nocilla, and the other half with Tulicrem…people in a country disagreeing about trivial things is part of life - and it is also very healthy indeed! 

You need:
- half a potato per person
- lots of olive oil
- salt
- an onion ( dice thinly)
- a teaspoon of sweet paprika
- a teaspoon of hot paprika
- 2  tablespoons of plain flour
-  500 ml of chicken, beef or vegetable stock
- I normally add 5 tablespoons of tomato sauce,just because in my view tomato sauce with any simple carbohydrate is one of the very best pleasures in life. But try the sauce with and without the tomato and make up your own mind…

Cut the potatoes in chunks. Put them on a dish  in the microwave for 3 minutes. Then add a bit of salt.

Separately fry the onion over low heat on a couple to tablespoons of olive oil. Wait for 8 minutes until the onion is soft. Increase the heat, Add the paprika (both sweet and hot), then add the flour, stir well for a minute or so and add the stock. Let it all simmer for 8 to 10 minutes (over medium heat). Add the salt and the tomato sauce (if using it) and blend it all (with a hand blender is best)

Heat well a very generous amount of olive oil in a deep pan. Fry the microwaved potatoes for two to three minutes so that they get crispy. Pour over the sauce - or serve it separately as a dip. And enjoy.
 
 

TARTA DE SANTIAGO - SANTIAGOS' TART

This is one of the most popular tarts in Spain and it is decorated with the cross of the Order of Santiago.  It comes from the spectacularly beautiful region of Galicia and it is a truly simple tart made with very few ingredients.

The tart takes its name from the patron of Galicia, the Apostle Santiago, who came to Spain from Jerusalem to spread the Gospel in the Iberian peninsula. The route that Santiago took is now the famous 'Camino de Santiago', a popular pilgrimage path that crosses the north of Spain from Roncesvalles, in the border with France, to Santiago de Compostela, around 35 Kms beside the Atlantic Ocean. The Camino is open to people of every age and physical condition - it is also open to those who are not catholic - and it is meant to be one of those occasions where you can 'find yourself'. If you are catholic it also has an added incentive as doing the Camino means that when you arrive at the stunning Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela all your sins - all!-   will be forgiven. Doing the Camino is indeed one of the outstanding points of my personal 'to do' list before I die - though I will probably need more than one Camino to be forgiven for all the swearing I am doing lately when I see some Prime Ministers and Presidents on television!

You need:
- 250 gr sugar
- 250 gr ground almonds
- 5 eggs
- zest of half a lemon
- a (small) pinch of cinnamon
- icing sugar
- a greased and lined tart mold

Preheat the oven at 174 degrees. Put the ground almonds on a tray and let them roast for 5 to 10 minutes until they get a bit golden. Then separately mix the eggs and sugar (with a fork) add the almonds and then the zest and cinnamon. Put it all into the greased and lined mould and bake for  50 minutes (still at 175 degrees)

When you take it out of the oven let it cool down. Then put the shape of the Cross of Santiago on top of the cake (I have an old metal shape, but you can just draw it on paper or simply print it from the many pictures on the internet) and dust the tart very generously with icing sugar. I do not know anybody who does not like this.





MALTESE OCTOPUS

This is a typical Maltese dish. I came to look into food from Malta after a prominent member of the UK Conservative party insulted the Maltese by saying that their  Prime Minister 'should go back to his tiny little island'. How sad is it that members of the UK governing party now feel free to insult other Europeans gratuitously like this - and without the government offering any apologies for it?

On the positive side this has led to me talk to the children about Malta, its geographical position, history, size and culture. It has not been difficult because my bother was on holiday there a few months ago and he could not stop praising the island. We have looked into Maltese recipes, which are great. I have found many good blogs, including a superb one called www.amaltesemouthful.com. So utterly yummy. I tell you, the island may be small...but boy they know how to eat well!!

Best is obviously to follow the authentic recipe in any of the numerous blogs. The best we saw is here: http://www.amaltesemouthful.com/octopus-stew-stuffat-tal-qarnit/ But we  made a few changes as we went along. You need:

- an octopus, cut into mouth-bite chunks. If the octopus is fresh you need to tenderise it by hitting it everywhere many times for 3-4 minutes. This is a bit off putting, because normally octopus are sold with their eyes on, so you risk looking like a sadistic person while the eyes of the octopus beg you to stop. The easier alternative is to freeze the octopus when you buy it (when it freezes the muscles contract and then let go, so it becomes tender and there is no need to torture the poor octopus anymore)
- 3 onions, chopped thinly
- 4 garlic cloves (grated)
- 1glass of tomato sauce (see our recipe http://www.mumandsons.com/2011/03/tomato-sauce.html- alternatively used a good passata, or 2 tins of chopped tomatoes )
- 2 handfuls of olives
- 2 teaspoons of small capers
- lemon zest and juice of a lemon
- a glass of white wine
- a tablespoon of parsley, a tablespoon of basil, and the leaves of three springs of thyme.
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil
- salt
- a glass of frozen peas.
- more parsley and basil to garnish
- a tin of chickpeas (drained)

Fry the onions in the olive oil under low heat until they are tender. Then add the garlic and after a minute or so the tomato sauce. Then add the octopus, increase the heat to medium and wait for 15 minutes and add the olives, capers, lemon zest,  wine and lemon juice. Add the salt, reduce the heat, cover with a lid and let it summer for 40 minutes. Add the peas, let it cook for a further 10 minutes, and finally add the chickpeas, wait for a further 5 minutes, sprinkle the basil and  parsley and serve.



COURGETTES WITH BASIL

This is a super-quick and really healthy lunch or starter for a dinner.  I cook very often as it is a good way to make children eat courgettes. And the children like to help with the pestle and mortar.

You need:
 - three courgettes and a spiralizer (or you can buy the courgettes already cut into 'spaghetti' in some supermarkets. I have seen them at Sainsbury's but sure others have them too)
- a handful of pine nuts
- 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
- two handfuls of basil leaves
- a clove and a half of garlic (or more if you are into garlic and are not going out that night)
- parmesan cheese (as much or as little as you wish - my children like lots of it)
- salt

Take a shallow pan. Heat the oil. Add the courgettes and let them fry for 5-7 minutes depending on how 'al dente' you like them). Te key to this wish is not to add any salt to the courgettes at this stage as otherwise they will release water and get boiled. While the courgettes are cooking, crush the garlic and salt with a pestle and mortar. Then add the pine nuts to the garlic and leap crushing them. Finally add the basil leaves to the mortar and mash them with the garlic and pine nuts. Do not mind too much if some pieces are bigger than others - it actually adds texture to the dish, so it is a good thing.  Add all this mixture to the courgettes (while you are still heating them). Mix well and add some grated parmesan cheese on top of it all (at this point you can also add some dried tomatoes, or bits of mozzarella or both)  Wait for a minute while the parmesan mellows. Take it off the heat and serve it promptly.

If you do not have time you can replace the garlic, pine-nuts and basil with a jar of pesto. Still good, but not the same…

 

ROSCON

This is a recipe for Roscon, which is a cake that we eat in Spain with hot (very thick) chocolate on the evening of 5 January. Year after year the whole country goes out to the streets to watch the Three Kings (Reyes) parading through each town and village. Then we get together with families and friends to eat the Roscon, which always comes with a 'surprise' (a bean or a coin) inside it. Whoever finds the surprise has to pay for the Roscon. Then before going to bed we leave our shoes by the window, together with some left-over Roscon for the Kings and a bucket of water for their camels. If you have behaved well you get presents in your shoes by the following morning. And if you have behaved badly you get only coal (the Three Kings are much stricter than Father Christmas!)

On Epiphany (Reyes day on 6 January) you are meant to make some wishes for the rest of the year. Mine is that we all (all reasonable people that means - of which there are many, millions of us...we are actually the majority of people, so sure you are one of them!) speak out way more. In my dream world we would all (and especially all young people) decide to be involved in politics in whatever shape or form. We would be actually proud of being citizens of the world. We would try to convince all boys and girls to treasure excellence, and to aspire to being not ordinary, but elite, in whatever they want to do. We would speak up so loudly that nobody would care about what the trolls and populists say because we would be answering back, with reasoned arguments, to them. And we would defend with passion and conviction the need for more, yes more, enlightenment, rationalism, multilateralism and international engagement... I promise I was really good last year, so hope that the Reyes bring me at least a little bit of all this!

This is what you need for the recipe of the Roscon (it feeds 15 with a cup of hot chocolate for each):

- 850 gr plain flour
- 3 eggs
- 500 ml milk
-  pinch of salt
- 60 ml of orange blossom essence (yes, a whole bottle)
- 150 gr butter (room temperature)
- 150 gr sugar
- grated zest of a lemon
- grated zest of an orange
- 14 gr of dried yeast

For decoration (most of this is optional):
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons milk
- a handful of flaked almonds
- a handful of perled sugar (if you do not have this, then a handful and a half of normal sugar)
- candied peel
- candied cherries

Mix the yeast, two tablespoons of flour and 80 ml of milk. Let it rest for half an hour until it becomes foamy.Then mix the rest of the flour, salt, milk, orange blouson essence, butter and eggs and mix it all well. Add the yeasty mixture and mix it well, kneading it a bit until the mixture does not stick any longer (this may take you 10 minutes or so). Then put it all in a big bowl, cover with cling film and let it rest for 2.30-3.00 hours. It should double in size.

Shape the mixture as a ring (leave a big hole as it will close down as the mixture raises) and let it rest again for another 2.30-3 hours.

After that, paint the Roscon with the egg and milk. Decorate with the perled sugar (if you do not have perled sugar then mix  the normal sugar with half a teaspoon of water and decorate the Roscon with it), candied peel and cherries. Preheat the oven at 175 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes. Then paint some spots with a bit the egg mixture and add a few flaked almonds on it. Bake for a further 10 minutes.

This is best if it is a bit warm. But since the chocolate is hot it does not matter if you have prepared it some hours in advance (I always struggle for time, so I prepare it in the evening and let it rise overnight...and it is still good!) Just dunk the cake into the chocolate and enjoy.    


ROASTED BEETROOT

Back to healthy eating after the endless Christmas meals. This makes a nice lunch with a salad or a starter for a heavier meal.

you need:

- three beetroots
- a packet of (good) feta cheese
- a handful of parsley
- a tablespoons and a half of balsamic vinegar
- two tablespoons of olive oil
- salt

Preheat the oven at 200 degrees. Grate the beetroot (use plastic gloves for this). Add the salt, and olive oil and toss it all well so that all the beetroot gets coated. Put the beetroot on a roasting tray and roast for 25 minutes. As you take it off the oven, add the balsamic vinegar, then the chopped parsley and finally crumble the feat on top - the beetroot should still be a bit hot while you do this. Toss it all well and serve. This dish is even prettier if you use beetroots of different colours.