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IAN & SPAIN

WELCOME TO MY BLOG. I WILL BE WRITING ABOUT SPANISH FOOD AND DRINK AND IN PARTICULAR MY OBSESSION FOR OLIVE OIL, ONE OF SPAIN'S MAJOR ASSETS AND GREATLY MISUNDERSTOOD BY THE MAJORITY OF CONSUMERS WORLDWIDE. I WILL ENDEAVOR TO PROVIDE YOU WITH ALL THE INFORMATION YOU NEED TO ENJOY THE WORLD OF OLIVE OIL WITHOUT BEING TAKEN FOR A RIDE! HOPE YOU ENJOY IT AND PLEASE LEAVE YOUR COMMENTS!

Artichokes, not to be missed this season
31 August 2017

 

Artichokes will be coming into season very shortly, at the beginning of October, and they are by far one of my favourite vegetables, however I am rather fussy. I am a sucker for the artichoke hearts and try to avoid the leaves at all cost. There are some who love to suck and chew on them in a stew and squeeze them of their very last ounce of goodness but I much say I prefer the tender and flavoursome centres, less effort and more flavour.

There are many ways to reap the amazing health benefits of artichokes. Unfortunately for me it is the leaves that contain many of the artichoke's powerful health benefits. There are ways to cook an artichoke, such as steaming or braising, so that the entire bulb, stem and all, can be consumed. However, even eating just the heart of the artichoke will provide benefits.

Ingredients in artichokes have been shown to reduce cholesterol by inhibiting HMG-CoA reductase (enzyme). They raise good cholesterol (HDL) and lower bad cholesterol (LDL). One large artichoke contains a quarter of the recommended daily intake of fibre. To give you an idea a medium artichoke has more fibre than a cup of prunes.

A study done by the USDA found that artichokes have more antioxidants than any other vegetable and they ranked seventh in a study of the antioxidant levels of 1,000 different foods. Some of the powerful antioxidants in artichokes are quercertin, rutin, anthocyanins, cynarin, luteolin, and silymarin. The pulp of artichoke leaves contains a polyphenol antioxidant called cynarin which increases bile flow.

They are good for the liver thanks to the cynarin and another antioxidant, silymarin. Studies have found they may even regenerate liver tissue. Artichokes have long been used in folk and alternative medicine as a treatment for liver ailments and the scientific studies are now proving them to be correct. So really they share many health properties with extra virgin olive oil, and should become a staple vegetable in our diet.

Additionally artichokes help the digestive system. They are a natural diuretic and they aid digestion, improve gallbladder function. Thanks to their positive effects on the liver, many people swear by artichokes as a hangover treatment! So I am going to show you a fantastic hangover recipe!

The dish I am going to share with you is fairly simple but can be a bit tedious if you don’t like peeling fresh artichokes, especially removing the hearts, which are what we want. However if you find this a pain and too time consuming you can buy artichoke hearts already peeled in jars in most supermarkets across Spain, but as they have been preserved in liquid they do maintain a slight aftertaste. So if you want the authentic experience get fresh artichokes from the market. When buying artichokes there are a few things to take into consideration. If the artichokes are fresh they will be completely closed and the leaves will be packed tight and the artichoke will be firm and feel heavier than its size would lead to believe. The tips of the leaves should also be comfortable to touch, if they are spikey and piercing the artichoke is no longer fresh. So take this into consideration when purchasing, the fresher they are the more flavour they have, simple.  Today’s recipe is a Spanish classic and is often on menus around the country as a starter or a garnish for main dishes. I on many occasions just enjoy this as a main meal with a glass of wine and some bread; flavoursome, light and extremely healthy.

The ingredients we will need for 4 servings are the following:

12 medium artichokes

300g mushrooms with the stems removed.

150 - 200 gr of Iberian ham thickly cut (Serrano will work too but it is a bit saltier)

2 lemons

2 eggs

3 cloves of garlic

1 small dried chilli

2 tbsp. of freshly chopped parsley

2 whole stems of parsley

Salt and pepper

1 large freezer bag

Extra Virgin Olive Oil, of course!

 

The first step is to remove the hearts from the artichokes and this can be a bit fiddly if you haven’t done it before and very lengthy to explain so I found a video which demonstrates two techniques extremely well, it is in Spanish but just from watching it you will clearly get the idea of what you have to do.

 

 

Artichokes discolour very quickly, within a minute they are turning brown so to avoid this we need a bowl of water with lemon juice, to place the hearts in while we are still preparing the rest of the ingredients. The lemons in the ingredients list are only for this purpose. It is also a good idea to wipe your cutting knife with a lemon to avoid further discolouring.

Once the hearts are ready we need to cook the hearts in boiling water with a large pinch of salt for approximately 20-25minutes until they are tender. Place a few stems of parsley with their leaves in the water to avoid further discolouring. Once they are ready drain the artichoke hearts in a sieve and let them cool down, drying them with kitchen towel to remove any excess water.

While they are cooling down we need to remove the fat from the Iberian ham and then chop up the ham into small chunks. It is best that the slices of ham are thickly cut this way the ham will not overcook when we fry it. This is especially the case if you use Serrano ham, as the thinner it is the saltier it will get when you cook it in the pan and we don’t want it too salty. This is partly why I prefer to use Iberian ham as it is firstly, better for you and also it is not a salty ham. However both will taste great! Slice up the garlic cloves, do not chop them, they need to be in slices or they will dominate the dish.

Beat the two eggs on a plate, as if it were for an omelette.  The next step is to grab the large transparent freezer bag, pour inside enough flour to comfortably coat the artichoke hearts, 4 tbsp. should be enough. Place the artichokes inside the bag and seal of the top leaving air inside so the artichokes can freely move. Shake the bag so the artichokes are well covered and empty out the artichokes onto a plate.  Start heating up the frying pan, and cover the pan evenly with extra virgin olive oil so we can shallow fry them. Make sure the oil is hot otherwise it will soak up the oil and not crisp properly. (To test the heat of the oil drop a small piece of bread in, if it sizzles and browns straight away it is ready, the oil should not smoke) Pass the floured hearts through the egg and place them in the oil until they are golden and crisp, turning them frequently. Then place them on a plate with kitchen towel to soak up any extra oil. This is olive oil so don’t be scared of the fat, it is good for you!

 

 ** If you would rather not batter them you can jump this stage and move directly to the final stir-fry adding the artichokes as they are after boiling.**

Remove the excess oil from the pan, leaving just a little for the mushrooms, ham and garlic. Heat the pan and add the garlic and the chili, make sure it is not too hot or you will burn the garlic, on medium to low heat is best. Add the fat that you cut off the ham to the oil and simmer for a minute or so and then remove it along with the chili. Next add the small cured ham chunks, fry for a couple of minutes and add the mushrooms, making sure the garlic doesn’t burn. The mushrooms you can put in whole or cut in half, but we want them in large pieces, not chopped. Add salt and pepper to taste and once the mushrooms are cooked, which shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes add the battered artichokes and the freshly chopped parsley, stir-fry it all together for a few minutes, serve immediately and prepare yourself for an amazingly tasty meal!

 

ENJOY!

 

 



Like 1        Published at 21:33   Comments (2)


Inland Galicia - Quite Beautiful!
23 August 2017

   The Ribeira Sacra is an area in inland Galicia that is home to spectacular natural features such as the canyon of the Sil River, this region’s most emblematic landmark and a wide array of valuable artistic heritage. Referred to as the land of monasteries, it is graced with over a dozen demonstrating the huge importance of this region during the Middle Ages. It is a genuine journey back in time. However in recent history, the Ribeira Sacra region had lost a significant amount of importance but over the past few years, its international success in wine producing and rural tourism is putting it back on the map.

The Sil River which identifies the region, forms a natural boundary between the provinces of Ourense and Lugo, in the heart of Galicia in northern Spain. You'll be breath-taken by its rugged landscapes, dominated by vineyards, mountains and ravines. The Ribeira Sacra region, follows almost 200km of river, a region which is peppered with historical architecture such as churches and shrines, mostly in the Romanesque style, as well as palaces and monasteries. Home to Spain's oldest Christian parishes, the Ribeira Sacra was the starting point for Christianity on the Iberian Peninsula.

 

 

1,500 years ago, congregations of monks and hermits settled here, and for centuries devoted themselves to meditation and reflection. This peace and harmony lives on to this very day in the region's villages and medieval monasteries. Unfortunately some are now abandoned, but are still well worth visiting as their walls have been witnesses to the passing of time and the damp, moss and vegetation impart an uncanny air of mystery.

They are reached by means of forest tracks and country roads running through lush green forests. One of the most important is the monastery  San Esteban de Ribas de Sil, located to the north of Nogueira de Ramuín. Besides being the largest in the Ribeira Sacra, it is now a luxurious Parador Hotel, a place I would very much like to spend an evening or two.

 

 

 In the same village you'll find the monastery of Santa Cristina, where you can stroll around its cloisters and surroundings and soak up the magical atmosphere. Very close by are some of the region's most famous viewing points: the Balcones de Madrid. From this natural terrace you can see the immensity of the Sil River canyon, with gorges up to 500 metres deep. The views are spectacular. Once here you can explore this section of the river (40 navigable kilometres) by catamaran. There are routes of differing durations. The longest, which takes approximately three hours and can be done at any time of year, runs from Abeleda to Os Chancís, 24 kilometres downstream. There are also shorter routes, such as the one departing from the San Esteban pier to Abeleda.

 

 

The Ribeira Sacra offers a whole list of historical sites to visit, such as Montederramo and the Santa María monastery, now a school. One can also visit Tarreirigo, where you'll find San Pedro de Rocas, a chapel carved straight out of the rock, and considered the oldest monastery in Galicia. Another option is to go to Ferreira, home to the convent of Las Madres Bernardas, the only convent in Galicia occupied by nuns since its foundation until the present day. Or else you could even opt to experience all the charm of Monforte de Lemos, an interesting medieval town.

In addition to the landscape and its historical attractions, one of the strengths of the Ribeira Sacra is its cuisine. In the Ribeira Sacra we can find a wide range of quality local products and delicacies, many of them with protected origin, which can be tasted in the restaurants and farmhouses throughout the area. The specialty of the Ribeira Sacra is its high quality pork. The historical importance of the pig slaughter in the region continues to this day and offers a fantastic choice of pork products throughout the year: cured sausages, cured hams, chorizo’s, androllas and the list goes on. In addition to pork, the Ribeira Sacra is also well known for veal, goat, lamb, small game and large game (in season) as its land is extremely fertile. Cherries, chestnuts and honey are also highly valued products in the region but what has been crossing borders and carrying the flag for this region is its wine. The cultivation of wine in this region  dates back over 2,000 years when it was introduced by the Romans and then continuing to  be a key element for monastic communities throughout the Ribeira Sacra. It was really the monks who cultivated and perfected the techniques in the region and are responsible for modelling the extraordinary landscape with terraces we can see today all along the river.

 

    

 

Today wine production is the major driver of economic development within the Ribeira Sacra. The creation of the Denomination of Origin and the Regulatory Council in 1997 was a powerful stimulus to increase not only the quantity but also the quality of the wine produced and I have to say today they are making some fantastic wines throughout the 1,550 hectares dedicated to vineyards in the region. In 2005 they reached 99 winemakers.Undoubtedly the best red wines produced in the Galicia are from the Ribeira Sacra. The reds of the Ribeira Sacra are best served at room temperature and are perfect with all kinds of meats but especially game. 

 

 

 

For wine lovers who just can’t resist visiting wineries, tasting wines and the opportunity to buy “in situ”, the Ribeira Sacra is a wonderful route to take. Every day the number of wineries that can be visited increase and are included within Wine Tourism Programmes and shortly the future Museum of Wine in Monforte de Lemos will be opening its door. One of the finest wines I have tried from the region is  “Via Romana”, a great wine, either red or white, I’m sure you’ll just love them.



Like 2        Published at 11:08   Comments (5)


Tomato Madness!
17 August 2017

La Tomatina is just a round the corner and it is one of the Spanish festivities that has still eluded me after so many years and I have it pretty much on my doorstep. However this year I will be rather close by so I think I might just pop by as a spectator! This festivity is relatively recent compared to other Spanish festivities and has become the second most popular festivity outside of Spanish borders and has even been replicated in major cities around the world. Such countries as China, India, Costa Rica, Colombia, United States, Chile and others all hold their annual tomato battle, so it's not the just the Spanish who are a bit crazy, this tomato fever is incredibly contagious. But just how did this unusual festivity come about? I can assure you it has nothing to do with harvests or religious rituals!

It all started on the last Wednesday of August in 1945 when some young people spent the time in the town square to attend the “Giants” and “Big-Heads” figures parade, a traditional festivity in the region. The young boys decided they wanted to take part in the parade with musicians, and the locals dressed up as giants. 
The exaggerated enthusiasm of these young boys caused one of them to be kicked out of the parade. The participant flew into a fit of rage and started to hit everything in his path and the crowd started to get angry. There was a market stall of vegetables nearby that fell victim to the event and people started to pelt each other with tomatoes until the local forces ended the vegetable battle.

The following year, the young people picked a fight by their own decision but this time brought the tomatoes from home. Although the police broke up the early tradition in the following years, the young boys had made history without being conscious of it. La Tomatina was banned in the early 50s, which was not a problem for the participants, even those that were arrested. But the people spoke out in defence of the Tomatina and the festivity was again allowed with more participants and a more frenetic atmosphere than ever.
The festivity was again cancelled till 1957 when, as a sign of protest, the “tomato burial” was held. It was a demonstration in which the residents carried a coffin with a huge tomato inside. A band that played funeral marches accompanied the parade and it was incredibly successful. La Tomatina Festival was finally allowed and became an official festivity. As a result of the report by Javier Basilio, broadcasted on Spanish Television Program Informe Semanal, the festivity started to become known in the rest of Spain and consequently the rest of the world, as it is probably one of the most insane festivities you will ever come across.

The actual festivity kicks off at around 10 AM on the last Wednesday of August with the first event of the Tomatina: The "Palo Jabón". This is basically a tall pole that has been smothered in grease. The goal is to climb to the top of the greased pole and recover a Spanish Leg of Ham which is hanging from the top. As this happens, the crowd work into a frenzy of singing and dancing while being showered with water by hoses. Once someone has managed to recover the ham from the pole, the start signal for the tomato fight is given by firing a large water shot in the air and trucks full of tomatoes make their entry. 

 

Several trucks empty 1000’s of kilos of tomatoes in the middle of the village Plaza. The tomatoes actually come from Extremadura, where they are much cheaper and are grown specifically for the festivity, being of inferior quality and taste. The tomatoes must be crushed before being thrown so as to reduce the risk of injury and participants are recommended to use of goggles and gloves. The estimated number of tomatoes used are around 150,000kg. After exactly one hour, the fight ends with the firing of the second shot, announcing the end. 

 

 

In a question of 60 minutes the whole town square is coloured red and rivers of tomato juice flow deep through the streets. Fire Trucks hose down the streets and participants use hoses that locals provide to remove the tomato paste from their bodies and their front doors!. It is popular for participants go to the pool of “los peñones” to wash off. After the cleaning, the village cobblestone streets are pristine clean due to the acidity of the tomato disinfecting and thoroughly cleaning the surfaces.

Town Hall of Buñol decided on limiting the fight to 20,000 participants, broken down as follows: 5,000 for locals of the town of Buñol and 15,000 for foreigners and there will be an entry fee for participants of 10€ per person. Booking must be made online at their site and you must print a "budget airline" style ticket and take it to Buñol with your passport on the morning to exchange it for a wristband. So if you’re up for it, might see you there!! (30th August 2017)



Like 1        Published at 00:05   Comments (1)


Pica-Pica por favor!
11 August 2017

Ponche Caballero is unique, a genuine Spanish liqueur made from a secret recipe over 180 years old. Amber and bright in colour. Aromas of orange and vanilla, with hints of spice and almond notes. A sweet and intense flavour… makes Ponche Caballero a unique and delightful liquor. It was one of the first drinks I discovered when I landed in Spain. At the time the local craze was to mix 70% Ponche Caballero with 30% lime cordial in a  shot glass, and I must admit they went down very well. The wonderful blend of sweet and bitter with spices and sour lime created an explosion of flavour which was quite addictive. They used to call it ‘Pica-Pica’. 

Ponche Caballero is made with natural products imported traditionally through El Puerto de Santa María from all over the world. Ingredients from Andalusia to Mexico, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Madagascar combine to make up the key botanicals that form the secret recipe of this iconic Spanish drink:


Orange peel
The peel of the best Andalusian oranges gives us the perfect combination of sweetness and refreshing acidity.


Cinammon
Collected in Sri Lanka, its sweet and heady fragrance made it as esteemed as gold in ancient China.


Vanilla
Arriving from Mexico since the beginning of the sixteenth century when discovered by the Spanish conquerors, vanilla offers a subtle flavour and an unmistakable aroma.

Clove
Original from Madagascar, cloves contribute to a pleasant aroma and slightly spicy flavour.


Nutmeg
This spicy and aphrodisiac fruit is imported from the Moluccas Islands (Indonesia), adding a sweet and mild flavour.

 

Ponche, which is the Spanish word for Punch, is original from ancient Persia, where a similar drink was elaborated. It was called “panj” – meaning five – in reference to the number of ingredients used: brandy, sugar, lemon, water and tea.

Through India the Punch then got into the hands of the East India Company, who introduced it to the British colonies in the early seventeenth century.

 

 

During the eighteenth century Punch consumption spread throughout the Western world and its recipe was adjusted to local tastes in each country, varying the type of alcohol and spices used in its elaboration. Punch quickly established itself as a drink for celebrations and special occasions.

In 1830 Ponche Caballero was born. José Caballero, coming from Galicia, started to blend the traditional northern “queimadas” (a homemade liqueur using maceration of botanicals) with liquors from southern Spain in El Puerto de Santa María, developing the secret recipe that is maintained until today.

In 1917 the punch of the Caballero family was becoming well known, despite that in the beginning it was only conceived for family and friends. They soon started to bottle small quantities to meet local demand.

From 1943 Ponche Caballero started to spread throughout the Spanish geography. The bottles are wrapped manually in silver paper, as a tribute to the traditional silver punch bowls, the reason why the bottle is still silver to this day.

 

 

In 1969 Ponche Caballero introduced the first metallic spirit bottle in the world, a technological and industrial process that was never seen before and that has been imitated since by many others. The Ponche Caballero silver bottle has become an icon in Spain.

By 1990 Ponche Caballero had become the best-selling liqueur in Spain and ranked amongst the Top 10 worldwide. Today Ponche Caballero is enjoyed in over 30 countries 

On the rocks with a slice of orange, combined with soft drinks or in the form of sophisticated cocktails, there are so many combinations to choose from. Why not discover yours…? Whatever you do, you can always start with a  Pica Pica…



Like 2        Published at 12:52   Comments (4)


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