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San Pere - El Puig - 29 January
24 January 2020

‘L’arròs amb fesols i naps’ is a well-known Valencian dish also known as “Caldera”, ‘Olla de San Antón’ ò “Olla Pobre” (poor man’s pot). Whichever way you call it, it is a fantastic dish, which is ever so easy to make. Commonly made all around the Valencian Community during village festivities it is on a par with Paella when it comes to feeding large crowds. Traditionally made in tall cauldron pots, it can be just as easily made at home in a large casserole pot.



In the Valencian village of El Puig de Santa Maria, cooking this rice dish in the town square has become a yearly tradition as it marks one of the highlights of their patron saint festivities - feeding the village. San Pere is a rather unusual festivities with numerous spectacles - apart from enjoying a hot plate of hearty rustic food - they also have the rather unusual tradition of throwing rats around the town square, yes! Rats! Fortunately, it is not on the same day so there is no chance of a stray rodent flying into the cooking pots!

Usually cooked over a log fire made with orange tree wood, it is custom to prepare this on the day of the villages’ patron saint and a plate handed out to anyone who wants one. It is not unusual to see Falleros preparing it during the Fallas festivities too.

In English we would call it ‘Rice with beans and swede’ although it does have some meat in it as well. The basic ingredients include pork (ear, snout, trotters, nowadays some lean pork is included and sometimes bacon), white sausage, onion morcillas, white beans, swedes (also known as yellow turnip), and edible cardoon, round Valencian rice, paprika and salt. As with many dishes born out of poverty, this one is no different, nowadays it isn’t unusual to find versions which substitute some of the cheaper cuts of pork for beef or lamb which also reduces the fat content and calorie count! Additionally, other areas such as L’Horta near the camp de Turia will substitute the white beans for garrafón, the large flat bean used in paellas. However, in all cases the essential ingredient that always characterises the flavour of this dish is swede, which gives a lovely sweet touch to the broth.

This rice broth or ‘arroz caldoso’ as we would call it is without a doubt the most widely established dish in the Valencian Community especially this time of year. It is, after the paella, probably the most popular rice dish for the locals and still greatly unknown by foreigners but the ritual behind this recipe does stir up a lot of curiosity. It is enjoyed througout the L'Horta Nord (northern region of Valencia famous for its vegetable fields)

In Vinalesa, a village in L’horta Nord they prepare their version of this dish on the 13 and 14 of October during their annual festivities. It is a recipe that is traditionally cooked by men, as with paella, in fact in Spain, men normally prepare any recipe that involves firewood. It’s sort of like the caveman syndrome. If it needs fire it’s a man’s job if it needs sweat, it for the women, that’s why the women the day before have to peel all the vegetables and are known as the ‘peladores’ or ‘the peelers’ while the men cut up the meat and prepare the wood. It’s kind of like a barbecue back home; it’s a man’s thing isn’t it? Nonetheless, all are happy and a huge quantity of food is prepared and given out to all the village.

In Godella, the Clavarios de San Antonio prepare this rice dish, en Masalfasar they also make this dish for the day of San Anton which has just past and they call it Poorman’s Pot: ‘Olla Pobre’. In Almàssera they call it ‘Caldera’, en Estivella they prepare it for the day of San Blas, en Alaquas they celebrate ‘El Porrat’ en honour of San Francisco de Paula on the 23rd of March and hand out this dish to anyone who happens to pass by. In Foios, Villarmarxante, Olocao and practically every other village in the community will have a special day for preparing this rice broth. It is unique and well worth trying. After the paella, it doesn’t get much more Valencian.

Here is the basic recipe for 6 people : 

300g Round Rice from Valencia
300g White Beans (soaked in water overnight)
300g Pork pieces (ears & snout)
300g Lean Beef in 3 large pieces
1 Pig’s tail cut into pieces
3 Pigs trotters cut into pieces
200g Pork Pancetta / un-smoked bacon
2 Onion Morcilla
1 Large White sausage – Blanquet
3 Medium-sized swedes
2 sticks of edible cardoon
3 medium-sized Potatoes
2 tsp. Paprika (de la Vera)


The process is really very simple. Fill a large deep stew pot with 3 litres of water. It should fill the pot to about ¾’s of its maximum volume. Start to heat up the water on a medium heat with a large pinch of salt.

Once the water is hot, add all the meat to the water, cut it up previous into manageable pieces, but not too small so they are easy to remove afterwards if you don’t want to eat them. I am not a great fan of ears, snout or trotters, so I just use them for flavour and separate them afterwards. I prefer the beef and pancetta with the morcillas and the white sausage. It is important to remember to create a cross on either end of the morcillas with toothpicks otherwise they will disintegrate in the broth. Once all the meat is in, let it cook for an hour or so. 

Now you will need to add the swedes and the cardoon. Don’t chop the swedes up too small; they should be in medium-sized chunks/pieces. Let it cook on low heat for another hour. 

Now we will add a pinch of saffron and the paprika. Remember we should always cook the paprika before adding it to any dish, so get a small frying pan and add a little extra virgin olive oil, heat up the oil and add the paprika, stir it and fry it for a few seconds and then add a ladle of stock to the pan from the pot, stir around and pour it all back into the stew pot and mix in. 

Now we need to add the potatoes and the beans. Cut the potatoes into medium-sized chunks. After 10 minutes we will need to add the rice but check for salt before doing so. Once the rice has been added stir in and cook(simmer) for a further 15 minutes and then remove from the heat. If the rice is still a little tough it will continue cooking in the stock so don’t worry.

That’s it. Serve up in a bowl or deep plate with a mixed salad and fresh crusty bread with a glass of red wine. It is also customary to eat this with raw sweet onion cut into pieces and sprinkled onto the plate. Then again if you find this too complicated and happen to be within driving distance of El Puig, why not pop along this Sunday and get a plate from the specialists!




Like 1        Published at 09:17   Comments (0)

10 Great Spanish Cheeses
16 January 2020

Of the more than 100 different cheeses produced in Spain, 27 are protected by the "Denominación de Origen Protegida" (D.O.P.) label. In English the most widely used expression which means the same is the description "P.D.O" - Protected Designation of Origin. Several others are still waiting for this status to be granted to them by the Ministry of Agriculture. 

In Spain all varieties of cheeses are made: from fresh to extra cured; coagulated with the help of enzymes, lactic acid or a mixture of both; of diverse sizes and shapes; with rinds of various colours, engraved with splendid designs and patterns, covered with mould, smoked, spiced or rubbed with oil. It really is a world of scent and flavour.

Spanish cheese-makers use three types of milk: from sheep, cows and goats. Blends of these kinds of milk are also used to produce their cheeses. This great variety of cheese comes as a result of climatic and geographical differences and from farming customs steeped in age-old traditions. You will find in this pages all of the most important characteristics of all D.O.P. cheeses, as well as those of the most representative cheeses of each category: sheep's milk cheese, cow's milk cheese and goat's milk cheese in addition to various blends and blue cheese, in a sampling of our enormous cheese heritage, which is a reserve of our culture and traditions and places us among the most important cheese-producing countries in the world. Here are the top 10:


Queso Manchego


The Manchego is produced in the La Mancha region of Spain, which is also home to Don Quixote. It is made from unpasteurized sheep's milk. It is one of the popular cheeses from Spain, made from sheep's milk. It also comes under the PDO guidelines.

The traditional use of grass moulds leaves a distinctive, characteristic zigzag pattern on the Manchego cheese. Authentic Manchego is only made from the Manchego sheep's milk. Manchego cheese is made from both pasteurized and unpasteurized milk. The farmhouse version is produced from unpasteurized milk while the industrial version is made from pasteurized milk.

The rind is inedible with a distinctive, traditional herringbone basket weave pattern, pressed on it. A typical ear wheat pattern is pressed onto the top and bottom wheels of the cheese. There are specific differences in Manchego cheeses, depending on their ageing period.

Semi Curado - Young Manchego cheese is aged around 3 months are supple and moist. The flavour is fruity, grass, hay with a tangy note.

Curado - Manchego cheese aged for 6 months acquires a caramel and nutty flavour. It has a distinct acidity.

Viejo - Manchego cheese aged for a year becomes crumbly in texture while the interior of the cheese acquires a butterscotch colour. It has a sweet, lingering taste.

Manchego cheeses are best paired with a sherry. Cheeses similar to Manchego are called 'Manchego like cheeses', but the producers cannot legally name the cheese as Manchego.


Queso Cabrales


Cabrales, also known as Queso Cabrales, Queso de Cabrales or Cabraliego, is a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) awarded, Spanish semi-hard, fatty blue cheese, prepared within the administrative region of Cabrales Council and some towns in the Upper Peñamerella region. Both these areas are located at the foot of the Picos de Europa Mountains in Asturias.

The cheese is a mixture of raw cows, goats and sheep's milk aged for between two and four months in naturally formed limestone caves. Chilly and humid conditions in the caves facilitate the growth of bluish-green penicillium mould on this highly prized cheese. Unlike other blue cheeses injected with penicillium, Cabrales cures from the outside of the cheese to the inward.
A finished Cabrales can be characterized by its strong, penetrating aroma and sharp, acidic, slightly salty taste. It pairs well with red wine, fresh figs, salami, sweet sherry and dry sausages. The cheese is treasured as a base for sauces, for melting over grilled or roasted meats and goes well along with baguette slices, crackers, or fruit.

Earlier, a traditional Cabrales was sold wrapped in moist leaves of Acer pseudoplatanus. But today regulation requires the cheese be sold in a dark-green-coloured aluminium foil with the stamp of the PDO Queso de Cabrales. Careful because when you leave the cheese for too long you get small white worms coming out of it, but this doesn't stop some eating it!


Queso Torta del Casar

Torta del Casar PDO is a Spanish cheese made from raw sheep’s milk in the Extremadura region, near the Portuguese border. Named after Casar de Cáceres, its city of origin, the shepherds who made the cheese used to call it ‘atortao’ because it was shaped like a cake or ‘torta’. Torta del Casar is a very rare cheese since it is made from milk of Merino and Entrefina sheep that yield very low milk and it takes a herd of sheep to make 1 kg of the cheese.

Torta del Casar is a vegetarian product coagulated with cardoon, a wild thistle which adds a slightly bitter note to the rich and slightly salty tasting cheese. The cheese is aged for at least 60 days upon which it develops a semi-hard, yellow to ochre crust and a soft, spreadable, creamy, almost runnier paste. Its insides are yellowish in colour and the aroma very unique. Torta del Casar should be enjoyed as an appetizer or a dessert, spread on bread with a glass of dry, red wine.


Queso de Valdeón

Valdeon is a Spanish blue cheese produced in Valdeon Valley of Castile-Leon region of northwestern Spain. Made all year round with cow or goat’s milk or a mixture of both, the cheese has very dense blue veining and comes wrapped in maple or chestnut leaves. Since leaf wrapping is no more allowed these days, it comes wrapped in leaf printed aluminium foil. Queso di Valdeon has been awarded a status of Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) to regulate the production, processing and preparation of the cheese. In 2005, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food granted the cheese an award for best Blue Veined Spanish Cheese.

A bold and salty cheese, Valdeon uniqueness lies in its manufacturing process, which includes long and traditional maturing in the cold, damp cellars until the cheese reaches a mature or medium mature age. The pate of Valdeon has a soft, granular texture and pale yellow colour and is full of small cavities filled with blue moulds. Covered by a coarse, inconsistent rind in dark grey shades with little red marks, Valdeon is very strong and spicy in taste similar to Roquefort. A powerful smelling cheese, Valendon's greasy, buttery paste is perfect for preparing any kind of blue cheese sauce. The rich smell of the cheese makes a good companion for fresh fruit and strong red wine or sherry.


Queso Gamoneu

Gamoneu or Gamonedo is a Spanish PDO cheese produced from a blend of cows, sheep's and goat's milk. Originating in the high altitude areas of Asturias, there are two varieties of the cheese depending on the location where it is made and seasonal production. Gamoneu made from June to September in the cabins of Los Picos de Europa and Cangas de Onis is called Gamonéu del Puerto. On the other hand, Gamonéu del Valle is made in small dairies in the lower areas of both these councils all year long.

Gamonéu is a fatty cheese with a yellowish-whitish pate and greenish-bluish Penicilliun outcrops on the edges. Its thin rind is a distinctive sienna colour acquired during the smoking process. Texturally, Gamonéu is hard or semi-hard, firm and friable with small, irregular eyes scattered spread throughout the pate. The taste is slightly spicy and smoky with a buttery, nutty persistent aftertaste. Its aroma is clean with soft hints of smoke that intensify with maturation.


Queso Idiazábal - smoked 

Idiazabal is a traditional, farmhouse, hard cheese made from raw milk of Latxa or Carranza sheep in the Basque and Navarra regions of northern Spain. Named after the village of Idiazabal, the cheese received Spanish D.O. (Denominacion de Origen) in 1987.

In summer, the sheep migrate to higher pastures to graze on the blossoming, new grass. During this time, the artisanal cheesemakers milk the sheep, make the cheese and leave it in the rafters to mature. At the end of summer when the cheesemakers return back to the lowlands with their sheep, the cheese has ripened and is ready for sale.

Idiazabal is produced in the shape of a cylinder, with a smooth and hard natural rind that is pale yellow to amber in colour. The cheese has a compact texture, with a few pinprick holes. It is dry, but not crumbly, and feels pleasantly oily in the mouth. The rind carries the marks of the wooden moulds in which it was drained. The characteristic, smoky flavour is the result of the cheeses having been stored near the fireplaces. There were no chimneys in the simple mountain huts, so the cheeses absorbed the sweet, aromatic smoke. The taste of the cheese is reminiscent of burnt caramel and bacon. It pairs well with red wine and cider.


Queso Tetilla

Tetilla is a typical Galician cheese made from the herd of Friesians, Alpine Browns and Rubia Gallega cows. Since 1992, it has been one of the four kinds of cheese that received DOP recognition. The name Tetilla is Galician for “small breast”, which describes the shape of the cheese – a pear-shaped cone topped by a nipple.

This cheese has a pale yellow, thin, natural rind or sometimes no rind can be seen at all. Its texture is soft, thick and smooth with scatterings of air pockets. Yellowish ivory in colour Tetilla has a creamy mouthfeel with buttery, slightly bitter and tangy flavours surrounding the palate. The maturing, which takes place between 10 and 30 days, happens in the hot and humid climate of Galicia.

Try Tetilla with a dry full-bodied wine, sherry, young whites, manzanilla and especially the Galician whites - albariño or Ribeiro. Spanish love their cheese with quince paste, fruit, crackers, baked dishes and bread.

Queso de La Peral

La Peral is a gently blued pasteurized cow and sheep milk cheese from Asturias in northern Spain. This rare and delicious cheese has been produced for a little over a century. The sheep milk component gives this firm cheese a little olive oil flavour and a pleasantly pungent aroma. Also known as Queso Azul Asturiano, La Peral is made by the Lopez Leon family. The wheels are aged for sixty days just to the point that the blue begins to develop. La Peral resembles an Italian Gorgonzola. It has a slightly crumbly texture that leads to a refreshing finish on the palate. Along with other bigger wines, we recommend that you try pairing this outstanding blue cheese with Tempranillos, Cabernet Sauvignons, Gamays, Ports or Spanish dessert wines.

Queso de Los Beyos


Los Beyos is one of our speciality cheeses from Asturias, aged for 2 months and made from pasteurized cow`s milk. Los Beyos is truly an artisanal beauty produced in the mountains of Amieva. It takes its name from "el desfiladero de los Beyos". This place is a beautiful but extremely narrow and curvy mountainous area in Asturias that follows through into Castilla-Leon. There is a constant debate as to which specific area in Asturias is where this cheese originated. Dense and compact. Rustic and artisan. We hope you find the texture and flavour as interesting and as much as a rollercoaster ride as we do. The cheese itself is drier and flakier but still retains a cured and rich flavour with a sharpness that does not linger for very long. And good news! Los Beyos pairs just as nicely with a Martini as it will with Chardonnay and Tempranillo.


Queso Zamorano

Zamorano is a famous Spanish sheep’s milk cheese made in the region of Castile-Leon, Zamora. This hard cheese takes almost 6 months to mature fully. It has a pale-yellow colour with a crumbly texture and contains 45% fat.

Zamorano has a buttery and nutty taste, which is served as a table cheese with White, Red as well as Zinfandel wine. It gets characteristic flavour because of the breed of sheep – the small, scruffy Churra and the Castilian sheep.

Due to a distinctive zigzag pattern and cylindrical shape, Zamorano appears similar to Castellano or Manchego.


There you have it, 10 fantastic cheeses from Spain that must be savoured if you are a cheese fanatic!

Like 1        Published at 17:01   Comments (3)

If you haven't tried this cheese, you must!
31 December 2019

Spain is one of the countries in the world where better quality cheese is produced. The World Cheese Awards last year were held in Bergen (Norway) and more than 3,400 cheeses from 41 different countries participated with Spain managing to place two cheeses among the Top 15 in the world. If I am not mistaken this year they have had similar results.

However, You may think that this wasn't that special but I want to bring to light 13th place which was taken by a new contender and one of the great surprises of the contest since it is an extremely accessible product that is marketed exclusively in Spain through one of the most popular supermarket chains, Mercadona.

A wedge of 390 grams of this cheese, which in Mercadona can be found as "Entrepinares Viejo Tostado", can be purchased for around 3.98 euros. The kilo comes in at 10.20 euros. Unfortunately, when you go to the cheese section you will often find it empty since it literally flies off the shelf as soon as it is restocked. Whenever I see some I always grab a few as I know I may not see it for a few weeks because supply is rather limited due to its extended ripening period - I guess I am not the only one doing this!

This cheese, classified as "old toasted", has been made from the mixture of pasteurized cow, sheep and goat's milk. So, what characteristics does a cheese have to meet to be labelled as "old" (viejo)?

The cheeses that we usually find in the supermarket can be classified in many different ways: by the type of milk used (cow, sheep, goat or mixture), by its fat content (fatty, semi-fat, skimmed, etc.), by the milk treatment (raw, microfiltered, heated ...) and even by the producer who makes them. However, the most common is to find the cheese classified according to the ripening time. The six most common categories are fresh, tender, semi-cured, cured, old and aged. The old toasted Mercadona cheese, according to its name, is a cheese that goes a little further than the cured cheese and has been matured for more than seven months. The ripening time of this cheese, together with the mixture of different kinds of milk, influences its flavour in a decisive way and makes it much more intense. Its water content is also much lower than that of a semi-cured cheese or a tender cheese resulting in a surface that is harder. I was told that the ripening time was a minimum of 10 months.



Similarly, the longer the ripening time of a cheese, the greater its fat content. As you can read on the label, it is a product that provides 39 grams of fat per 100 grams (27 grams are saturated fat), 26 grams of protein and just a few grams of carbohydrates. Like other dairy products, this cheese is also rich in calcium, potassium and vitamin D. While it is true that it is an exquisite snack, try and reserve it for special occasions or your calorie count will go through the roof!

That said, it is a must and if you haven't tried this cheese before, you really must go out and buy it. Coupled with some red wine, serrano ham, bread and olives and you really can't go wrong!

Like 4        Published at 12:14   Comments (5)

A little extra luck this New Year...
27 December 2019

At this time of year, there is nothing more warming and hearty than a hot plate of lentils with chorizo. In Italy, on New Year's Eve, it is a traditional meal with pigs trotters where they consider it to bring good luck and prosperity for the coming year. So if that isn't a good enough reason to try this dish I don't know what is! Even if you aren't in Italy, luck is luck and prosperity is prosperity!

This is one of my favourite winter dishes accompanied with some crusty bread and butter (that’s the British influence in me) and it is much easier to make than you might think. If you make a little extra it will last in the fridge for a few days, however, they don’t freeze well so it is always best to make them fresh.

‘Lentejas con Chorizo’ is a traditional dish which has spanned the Iberian peninsula, it is a dish that allows for some flexibility when it comes to ingredients as recipes vary slightly from region to region where different vegetables are added but chorizo is always the reigning ingredient for flavour. Rich in proteins, minerals and carbohydrates, lentils have been a part of the Mediterranean diet for thousands of years. 

This legume fuelled roman legions and it’s not surprising given that about 30% of their calories come from proteins. Lentils have the third-highest level of protein, by weight, of any legume or nut, after soybeans and hemp. They also contain dietary fibre, folate, vitamin B1, and minerals. The low levels of Readily Digestible Starch (RDS) 5%, and high levels of Slowly Digested Starch (SDS) 30%, make lentils of great food for people with diabetes but more so they are a good source of iron, having over half of a person's daily iron allowance in a 100g serving.            

To make this dish we will need the following ingredients for 6 people :

500gr Pardina Lentils “Extra” (a Spanish variety but readily available)
1 Green pepper - diced
4 large carrots – chopped into slices (not too thin)
2 large cloves of garlic – finely chopped
2 large onions - diced
2 bay leaves
1 Tsp. Paprika
Salt & Pepper – to taste
4 Tbsp.  Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 large mature tomatoes – peeled and diced

3/4 chorizos – approx. 250g 
180g of diced Serrano ham (optional)
1 morcilla (optional)
1 piece of Serrano ham bone (optional)
1 piece of beef marrow bone(optional)






If you include all the ingredients you are in for a feast but you may not have all those ingredients readily available so if you can only get chorizo that will be sufficient to get a good result, the rest of the meat ingredients are optional. If you can’t find ham or bones, you could substitute them for 200g of Pancetta (unsmoked bacon) cut into large thick pieces, which is more readily available in the UK and actually more traditional than the chopped ham, it's just, I find that the pancetta adds, even more, fat to the dish whereas the ham doesn't. 

The first thing you need to take into consideration is the class of lentil. Pardina lentils are used for this recipe and it is best to use the ones classed as “extra” as they don’t need to be soaked in water before cooking them. However, if you can’t find these you will need to soak the lentils in water for about 6-8 hours, so best to do it before going to bed and in the morning they’ll be perfect. You can, however, soak the “extra” lentils too and it will reduce the cooking by 30 minutes. That is up to you. I normally do it anyway and in the morning you will see that some lentils are floating on top of the water, these need to be scooped up and thrown away as they are not suitable for cooking. Whatever you decide, the lentils must be washed before using to remove any impurities. Once we have our lentils ready, put them aside until we need them. This recipe contemplates the lentils being soaked.

 Get a stew pot and add the extra virgin olive oil and heat it up. Then add the onions and garlic and fry for about 10 minutes. Then add the green pepper, tomatoes, carrots and bay leaves and fry for a further 3 minutes.

Add the bones to the pot and a generous teaspoon of paprika. Quickly stir the paprika and then add the lentils and the Serrano ham. Be careful not to burn the paprika, this will make the dish go bitter, a few seconds is sufficient before adding the lentils. Stir in the lentils and the ham so all the ingredients are well mixed in and then add the cold water straight away. For 500g of lentils, you will need 1,5L of water approx. The water should comfortably cover all the ingredients, as there are still ingredients to add. Depending on how you prefer your lentils you can adjust the water to have more stock or less stock at the end. If you see your lentils are running out of water before they are ready you can add more boiling water during the cooking process if necessary but it must be boiling so not to interrupt the cooking process. Slowly bring to the boil, when it is boiling some foam will appear on the surface of the water, scoop it off. These are impurities from the bones and we don’t want it in the stock. Let it simmer for about 20 minutes and taste for salt and pepper. You may not need to add any as the ham does add salt to the stock.

Now add the chorizo, you can either add it whole or chopped up into large pieces, I prefer it chopped up as it releases more flavour.  You can now also add the whole morcilla if you have decided to use it (don’t chop it up otherwise it will disintegrate). Reduce to a medium heat for another 30 minutes, stirring from time to time. Now you can remove the bones. For another 15-30 minutes cook on a low heat checking the texture of the lentils until they are perfectly cooked. Be careful not to cook them for too long or get distracted otherwise they will turn to mush. Once ready, remove from the heat and serve in a bowl with a side of crusty bread and butter. A little trick to jazz them up and give them a little kick from time to time is to dress the bowl with a couple of Basque chillis in vinegar, alternatively if you don't like chilli a little squirt of white wine vinegar gives it a great aftertaste, this was my father in law's favourite way of eating lentils.

If you are in a rush you can always use a pressure cooker, which will reduce the cooking time to about 25 minutes depending on your cooker. If you are looking for a slightly healthier version of this dish you can remove the meat ingredients and add potatoes and leeks to the stock resulting in a fantastic vegetarian dish. 

I really hope you give this a go, it well works the effort and to be honest once you have chopped up all the ingredients it cooks on its own. 




Like 2        Published at 18:33   Comments (0)

Taking the Nativity Scene to another level
20 December 2019

The Monumental Nativity scene in Xátiva has been declared the largest in Spain. When Christmas arrives, this Valencian city really takes the tradition to another level.

Each year the ‘Monumental Nativity’ grows a little more to show and interpret all the scenes from the Birth of the Messiah. This year it covers an area of 1600m2, it is approximately 70m long and 20m wide.

It is such wonderful creation and even if you are not particularly religious it is still a worthy way to spend the afternoon or the evening. If you have children in the family they are sure to love it. This unique spectacle in Spain has become a tourist attraction of the first order bringing tens of thousands of visitors every year.

However, if you do decide to visit there is some important information about this particular Nativity scene that makes it rather special, and you should know:

• Ecological: Throughout the year, City Council workers collect materials that will later be used to assemble the nativity scene. In addition, some of the tools used are of an ethnological character and are yielded by the locals to build the necessary scenes.

• Live animals: One of the great attractions is that in the scene there are live animals: ducks, geese, bulls, sheep, donkeys and turkeys among others. These animals are under veterinary control that care, at all times, for their welfare.


• Solidarity: The fruits and vegetables used and which are usually donated by local businesses are later donated on to charities that work with the needy in the local area. Visitors also throw coins in the fountains and once the event is over, all is collected and allocated to local NGOs.

Falleros Artists: The majority of the figures are life-size and have been elaborated by traditional Fallas artists, making this nativity scene a genuinely Valencian one. At nightfall, the nativity acquires a special magic with bespoke lighting throughout.

If you happen to be in or near Xativa this Christmas, visiting the nativity scene is really a must.


Like 1        Published at 09:50   Comments (4)

Roasted Milk-Fed Lamb - Ideal for Christmas
19 December 2019

When I first arrived in Spain, it wasn’t long before some good friends of mine insisted on taking me to a restaurant on the outskirts of Madrid to enjoy a regional classic; Lechazo de Churra roasted in a clay oven with wood. I have to admit that that meal made an impression on me and has become one of my favourite dishes, the crispiness of the skin and the tender juicy meat was just out of this world. It is such a simple dish and one wonders how it could have so much flavour. Originally used to the typical roast lamb and mint sauce back in the UK, this was a completely different approach and an unforgettable experience. For those who have tried this, know what I am talking about. This nationwide dish which originated in the region of  “Castilla y Leon”, has become a classic especially at Christmas in Spain. Many households around the country will be celebrating the seasonal festivities this year with lamb on the dining room table.

The region of Castilla-Leon was also the place that gave birth to this breed of Sheep. The "Churra" breed of sheep goes as far back as the Celtic invasion of Spain starting around 1000BC when the Celts crossbred their sheep with the local breed. Since then this breed has been the predominant breed in Spain and was also the breed that the Spanish introduced to the Americas. Nowadays it is considered the breed of choice for traditional “Lechazo Asado” (also know as Lechal) or roasted suckling or milk-fed lamb. However, there are certain parameters that need to be addressed to get the perfect result. The main one is the age of the lamb, as it names suggest it must still be a lamb that is being fed only on breast milk which means it must not be older than 6 weeks when slaughtered or weigh more than 12kg. Specialist chefs in the field consider 3 weeks to be the maximum age, that way you achieve the maximum succulence possible and the meat is even richer in proteins, iron, phosphorous, Zinc and Sodium as well as vitamins B2 and B12. This makes for a very healthy meal, particularly low in fat. As this young animal has still very little fat on it special considerations need to be taken when cooking it too, which I will go into very shortly.

This dish although it is at its best cooked slowly in a clay oven with wood, it can still be enjoyed at home using a conventional oven, clearly, the taste of wood is not present but we can simulate that rustic country taste with fresh herbs. Most importantly you need to buy good quality suckling lamb, any breed will do but if you can find “Churra” that is better. I am going to explain the few easy steps to create a perfect Spanish suckling lamb roast and it is as easy as 1,2,3. You can either buy the meat fresh or frozen, although fresh is always better but is you do buy frozen make sure it is slowly defrosted in the fridge beforehand.

For 4 people you will need the following:

2 front-quarters of Suckling Lamb (my favourite cut - paletilla - shoulder blade)
2 garlic cloves unpeeled
200g of lard or 100ml of Extra Virgin Olive Oil if you want to avoid adding animal fat.
1-2 glasses of water (around 150-200ml)
1 large sprig of fresh Rosemary
1 large sprig of fresh thyme
Rock Salt
4 potatoes for the garnish

Traditionally this dish is cooked in a clay dish however you can obviously use a baking tray but it does taste better in a clay dish, still not sure why though. Simply place the hindquarters skin side down in the baking dish pop in the two garlic cloves and the herb sprigs and roughly spread the lard over the top of the lamb. Add the water to the bottom of the dish (don’t pour it over the meat) and season all over with a sprinkle of rock salt.  As the lamb has very little fat we need the lard, not only to enhance the flavour but also to maintain the stock while roasting, so you can also use olive oil but for the authentic taste I recommend lard. This one of the few times I would actually recommend lard over Olive Oil!  The oven should be pre-heated to 165ºC and then pop it in the oven for 1 hour. After an hour take it out of the oven and turn the lamb over and baste with the juices. Season with a little more rock salt and place it back in the oven for another 45 – 60 minutes depending on the size of the meat. What we want is the skin to go nice and crispy with a golden to brown colour. This roast takes it time; if you rush it by bumping up the heat it will dry out.


We need to make sure that there is always some water in the bottom of the dish, this is to provide constant humidity to the meat and keeps it succulent, so check on it from time to time and if there is no water, add some more. You might be thinking, when do I add the potatoes or can I add the potatoes to the same dish as the meat and cook everything at once? The answer is no. The potatoes will need to be cooked separately. There are two reasons for this, one that the potatoes will give the meat a slightly different taste if cooked in the same oven and two they will steal part of the humidity from the meat meaning the lamb with dry up quicker. So traditionally the potatoes are always cut into thin slices and fry for a few minutes in extra virgin olive oil until they are half cooked. They are then removed and dried on a kitchen towel.

Next, place them in a baking tray on top of some tinfoil or in a different clay dish if you happen to have one. Once the lamb is ready, remove the lamb and quickly pop in the potatoes for about 5 minutes at 200ºC just to crisp them and finish them off. Serve together and there you have it. There are other variations using white wine and vinegar and so on, which are great, but the traditional Lechazo de Castilla-Leon is as simple as that, let the quality of the meat and the oven do the work. An ideal wine would be a Crianza from the Castilla y Leon region such as "Yllera", a fantastic and reasonably priced wine which I highly recommend, but make sure it is at room temperature before drinking it.

There you have it. If you fancy a more Spanish Christmas this year why not give it a go!


Like 0        Published at 18:44   Comments (1)

Traditional Christmas Stew in Valencia
12 December 2019

Although Christmas Eve is probably the most lavish meal of the Christmas holidays in Spain, originally it was Christmas day, much as it is in the UK. It was a day for bringing together the entire family including grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins and any other family member that you may not have seen throughout the year. Depending on the family, each year it would move house and thus the hosting of this enormous event would be shared amongst the family members. Nowadays, still very much a family event though, Christmas Eve and Christmas day is now normally split between the parents and the in-laws, one day with each.  

Each region of Spain has its own tradition for the Christmas menu, which is determined mainly by local cuisine, for example on the coast seafood or fish is common and inland, meat plays a more important role such as roasted suckling lamb, however nowadays most regions tend to combine both, especially on Christmas Eve. However, Christmas day in the Valencian community is a day for enjoying a rather special typical dish called ‘Puchero de Nadal’ ó ‘Cocido Navideño’.  Effectively it is a stew with giant meatballs but it is enjoyed in two stages. It may seem very simple and rustic but it is a very long meal and takes time to digest. It contains almost everything you could possibly imagine putting in a stew. What makes this stew different from the rest of the stews in Spain is the use of local sausages and local vegetables. The Valencian community is well known for its vegetables and this is well portrayed in the Valencian ‘Puchero’.

As with most traditional recipes, there is nothing written in stone, except using a giant cauldron!  So grab the biggest pot you can find otherwise there is no way all the ingredients will fit in. Remember the stock, the meat and the vegetables can all be frozen afterwards so if you have a lot left over, which you will, ration it out in Tupperware and freeze it for another day or use it for another recipe as mentioned later on.

For the stew you will need the following :

½ medium sized Chicken (approx. 1,25kg of meat)
2 large meatballs (recipe as follows)
1 piece of bone marrow
1 piece of knee bone
150 grams of beef 
1 Blanquet sausage 
1 Onion Morcilla sausage 
100 grams of pork fat
300 grams of chickpeas (soaked in water overnight)
1 stick of Celery, 1 stick of Cardoon, 1 sweet potato, 1 white turnip, 1 yellow turnip, 1 parsnip, 3 potatoes, 3 carrots, 1 leek, 5 runner beans and ¼ cabbage. (As far as the vegetables go, you can chuck in whatever you have at hand, but this is the standard recipe in Valencia)

So, to make the stew it is as easy as cleaning and peeling the vegetables and placing them all in the pot with the meat and the meatballs, except for the carrots, potatoes, runner beans and the morcilla. These need to be held back for later as they cook more quickly. Cover with water and slowly bring to the boil then reduce the heat to low heat and let it simmer for 90 minutes. Remember to skim off the foam that rises to the top. After 90 minutes pop in the rest of the ingredients that were held back and then simmer for another 90 minutes. To make the meatballs all you will need are the following ingredients:

2 eggs.
150g lean minced beef
150g minced pork.
1 sausage (with skin removed)
200g Breadcrumbs
1 tbsp. Fresh chopped parsley 
50g Pine nuts
1/2 tsp. Cinnamon powder
10ml fresh Lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Stew net for binding
Cabbage leaves for wrapping up the meatballs.   



If you feel like saving some time you can always make the balls the day before. Mix the meat, salt, pepper, parsley, cinnamon, eggs and pine nuts to taste. Pour the breadcrumbs in and knead it all together until it forms a thick mass. Add the lemon juice and knead it all together again. Separate the meat mass into two parts and then roll into two large balls. Once you have made the balls wrap each ball in cabbage leaves and then place inside the stewing net and tie up tight and add to the rest of the meat for the stew.

Once the stew is ready it is customary to first enjoy a bowl of soup from the stock cooked either with rice or noodles. Some may add a piece of the meatball to the soup and others may add a bit of everything and then move onto the rest of the meat and vegetables, the choice is yours. It would also be customary to make 'oven-baked rice' (arroz al horno) the following day with the leftovers. So there you have it, a very hearty meal from the heart of Valencia and ideal for this time of year, it may not look very sophisticated but it tastes incredible! 






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Meat Cuts in Spain
03 December 2019

Recently I posted on beef cuts in Spain, as getting by at the meat counter can be a bit of an ordeal in a foreign country when trying to work out which cut you are actually buying! But obviously beef isn't the only meat out there and I was asked to post more diagrams of other meats. So I have put together in one post, the cuts from the three main types of meat: Pork, Lamb and Beef.

Hope this will be useful the next time you pass by your butcher's!










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Beef Cuts in Spain
26 November 2019

If you have ever felt completely lost at the meat counter in Spain, not knowing which cut is which and what you are actually buying, you are not alone. This is something that has bugged me for some time and I never really got round to working out the equivalents, firstly because some of the cuts are just different to the UK and secondly it was just really confusing. So I decided it was time to figure it out once and for all as I keep watching international cooking videos which keep making references to cut os meat in English and then I have the problem of sourcing them in Spain. 

So, here goes, I have compiled a list of what I think are the most common cuts available in a Spanish supermarket and then a couple of diagrams to locate those less common cuts. Hope it helps! Please comment if you think I have made a mistake!


Common Cuts:


Solomillo:  Fillet mignon – Tenderloin

Lomo Bajo: Sirloin - Striploin

Lomo alto: Prime rib

Chuletón: Rib roast/large end

Chuleta de lomo bajo con solomillo: T-Bone steak

Cadera: Rump

Babilla: Tail of Rump/Thick flank

Contra: Silverside

Redondo: Eye of Round 

Aguja: Chuck

Pez: Chuck tender

Aleta: Bavette

Pecho: Brisket

Carrillada: Cheek

Costillar: Rib

Entraña: Thin Skirt

Falda: Flank

Pescuezo: Neck

Rabo: Oxtail/tail

Morcillo: Shank

Tapa: Topside


Categories by age:

·TERNERA (Heifer calves): male and female calves, younger than 12 months

·AÑOJO (Yearlings): calves between 12 and 24 months of age

·VACUNO MAYOR (Adult bovine): males and females older than 24 months





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Patatas Bravas - Potatoes and Madrid-Style 'Brava' sauce
22 November 2019

Patatas bravas is originally from Madrid, where it was created and then spread throughout the country. Now each region has made their own modifications such as in Valencia where they serve it with garlic mayonnaise and paprika pepper. But one of the most emblematic places to eat Bravas in Madrid with a traditional Brava sauce is Bar Docamar in Calle Alcalá 337. Its sauce is legendary in Madrid and a house secret. This bar goes through literally tons of potatoes every week and customers travel from all over Madrid to enjoy their Potato Bravas and buy their sauce. This classic tapas is basically potatoes cut into irregular chunks of approximately 3-4 cm, fried and dressed in a spicy sauce that is poured over them and served very hot.

When it comes to Patatas bravas' sauce there are two schools of thought: with tomato and without tomato. From my experience of living in Madrid and researching, I would say the more traditional Brava sauce without tomato. It is made with a base of extra virgin olive oil, sauteed onions, garlic, paprika and cayenne pepper, wheat flour and water or chicken stock. However other ingredients are used which are well-guarded secrets by each cook who adds a special something to the recipe.

In Catalonia, the sauce is made with olive oil, chilli, sweet paprika and vinegar. The important thing is that it's spicy, in fact, its name "bravas" makes allusion to this. In the Spanish language, bravo-a means brave or fierce if referring to an animal.

Patatas bravas are typically served in bars in many regions of Spain as tapas or "ración". It's considered one of the cheapest tapas due to its inexpensive ingredients. Should you ever visit Madrid, you'll absolutely have to taste patatas bravas and I highly recommend passing by Bar Docamar.

Here is my take on the 'Madrid' Patatas Bravas - Potatoes and Hot 'Brava' Sauce - Madrid Style
Ingredients - four portions:

4 large potatoes
1 large onion
3 garlic cloves
Pepper mix: 1 tsp of Paprika (normal) + 1 tsp of Paprika de la Vera (smoked) + 1 tsp of ground Cayenne pepper (hot) + 1tsp of white pepper
1,5 tbs of flour
1,5 tbs of sherry vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 cup of chicken stock    


1. Par-boil the potatoes. Cut the potatoes to size - uneven chunks of about 3 - 4 cms. Put the potatoes in a pot with water and bring to boil. Let them cook for about 10 minutes.
2. Dice the onion in fine chunks and chop the garlic
3. Heat three tbs of extra virgin olive oil and stir-fry the onion until its transparent.
4. When the onion is ready, add the garlic. When the garlic is browned, remove from the heat and add the pepper mix. Stir well so it mixes properly and put at low heat.
5. Add the flour and stir in well for about a minute. Be careful not to burn the paprika.

6. Add the cup chicken stock and cook for 10 minutes to make sure the flour and paprika are properly cooked. 
7. Add the salt and the sherry vinegar and cook for a further 5 minutes. If it is too thick just add a little more stock or if it is too liquidy just let if reduce further and cook for a little longer. It should be thick but not too thick. The photo should give you an idea of the consistency. But then again, choose the thickness you prefer.
8. Put the sauce in the mixer and blend until there are no lumps or use a hand blender.
9. In a frying pan heat abundant extra virgin olive oil (very important) and fry the potatoes on medium heat and then raise the heat for the last 2 minutes to crisp. Once they are lightly browned put the potatoes on absorbent paper so any excess oil is drained.
10. Put the potatoes in a large bowl and pour the desired amount of sauce.


Patatas bravas are simple and cheap to make, and best of all, you can add any spice or herb to your taste, Recipes all over the country are usually modified by each cook. A popular alternative is to add freshly grated tomato instead of chicken stock and flour. They are an excellent tapas and starter to any family meal so if you are thinking of holding a party or inviting friends over for dinner, why not make these for them!


Like 2        Published at 09:25   Comments (5)

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