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Duck and Fig Pastries..Ufff...Incredible!
17 September 2018

Duck is one of my favourites and has always been the protagonist of some of the legendary dishes from countries such as France or China. However duck also has its place in Spanish cuisine, although it may not be one of the great protagonists. It is very popular in the region of  Murcia where it is cooked with mushrooms, garlic or onion sauce and is often included in Paellas in the southern part of Valencia.

However the recipe I want to share with you today is not traditionally Spanish by any means, but it was a Spaniard who showed me it and I just had to share it with you. One, because it is pretty simple and two because it’s just so incredibly tasty and it will make you into a star cook at any dinner party! This recipe can be a main course if you make large pastries or a starter if you prepare smaller pastries, either way you are assured to conquer both family and guests. 


Crispy Duck & Fig Pastries

Ingredients: 2 portions - starter - 4 small pastries

Duck Pastry:
1 duck confit (thigh)
4 sheets of Brick pastry
1/2 onion
1-tablespoon butter
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons sugar
Pepper, salt and rosemary

Fig sauce:
4 fresh figs
1 large glass Tawny Port
Salt and pepper

Plate dressing: 
Assorted lettuces
2 cherry tomatoes
2 figs
Oil and balsamic vinegar




Step 1:

Clean the fat of the duck confit and put in a baking dish with the orange juice and a couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary. Leave it in the oven at 180 ° C, skin side up for about 15 minutes or until the skin is brown and crispy. Remove and let it cool down. Save the juice, which has been released.

Step 2:

In a small saucepan we place 4 fresh figs (straight from the tree!), cut into small pieces, add the port, add salt and pepper to taste and let it simmer 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, blend it thoroughly and pass it through a medium grain sieve. Put to one side.

Step 3:

Cut the onion into thin strips and brown with a little butter in a pan when it turns transparent when we add 2 teaspoons of sugar, braise and add half a glass of water. Leave it for ten minutes at medium heat or until the liquid has evaporated. Place to one side.

Step 4:

Debone duck thigh, which should be cold, and shred the skin and flesh into four lots that make up the filling for the pastries. Place each pile on a sheet of brick (filo) pastry with a spoonful of caramelized onions and close it as you wish, I did triangles, more or less... Fry them in very hot oil, just enough time so that the pastry goes golden brown and crisp.  (Test the oil with a little bread before popping in the pastries; the bread should sizzle quickly) Let them stand for one minute on absorbent kitchen paper before serving.

Step 5:

To serve, place two duck pastries per dish with a little fig sauce. Add a selection of lettuce and a cherry tomato with a fig cut in half. Dress with a little dripping from the roasting tray a drizzle some balsamic vinegar over the lettuce. Serve warm with a bowl with remaining sauce.

Finally, open a good fruity Ribera del Duero crianza, and enjoy…

Like 2        Published at 18:37   Comments (1)

Paella too tricky? Try making Fideua...Paella with pasta
13 September 2018

Making paella can be a daunting challenge for many, getting the proportion of water to rice right so it doesn’t stick and go soggy, managing to get an intense flavour and so on, but for others it can be just an impossible task because they either don’t have a paella pan or can’t find the Valencian round rice if they live abroad and you can’t make a paella with any other rice and achieve a good result. So I figured I would write a post on an alternative recipe which is so easy and so good that you just can’t go wrong no matter how bad you are in the kitchen, if you put this on the table you will immediately become a star!
Fideuá is a very typical Valencian dish made with seafood and pasta, and pasta is much easier than rice! Traditionally it is cooked in a paella pan but you can do it perfectly well in a large non-stick frying pan without any problems at all and the technique I’m going to explain is absolutely fool proof and was shown to me by a chef in Cullera, Valencia, who whipped out dozens of Fideuá every lunch time and were always cooked to perfection. So how do we make it?
The key to this dish is in fact the stock, the secret is to make a good fish and seafood stock which is really simple. All supermarkets in Spain and the UK that have a fish counter sell mixed fish for fish stock (white fish) and fish bones such as hake or monk fish and small uncooked prawns are available everywhere so you shouldn’t have any difficulty finding the necessary ingredients for the stock. This type of fish is also very cheap. Here in Spain 1kg won’t cost you more than €4,50 and will make enough stock for two medium sized Fideuá so you can freeze the rest of the stock for another day.
Here are the ingredients you will need to make a cracking Fideuá for 4 adults:
1kg of mixed white fish and fish bones for stock
400g of Small uncooked prawns
50g Fresh “flat” parsley with stems
2 cloves of garlic
0,2g of Natural toasted Saffron or a sprinkle of dried saffron powder
3 tbsp of Extra Virgin Olive Oil - Picual is ideal or Hojiblanca
1 large onion cut into quarters
Salt for seasoning. 
*If you are not up for making your own stock you can buy it ready made in all Spanish supermarkets and I recommend the stock made buy 'Aneto', but it actually works out cheaper and better to make it yourself.
500g of Fideuá Pasta / Small thin elbow pasta (Fideua) or short thick noodles (Fideo Nº5). Personally I prefer the Fideo Nº5 but on this occasion the guests wantes the elbow Fideuá pasta  as shown below.
2 ripe tomatoes – peeled and grated with a cheese grater.
1 large onion finely diced
2tps of paprika powder
Uncooked Seafood:
4 large king size prawns 
8 medium sized scampi 
300g of small prawns 
200g of small squid
TIP: If you don’t like bits in your food remove the tentacles and the legs from the small prawns before cooking them otherwise you will be picking them out of your Fideuá while you eat, as they fall off when you cook them.
TIP: Cleaning the squid – slice the squid open lengthways and remove the cartilage back bone from inside, it comes away really easily and wash out the inside with cold water. Then chop up into pieces.
All together in Spain this won’t cost more than 12 euros, in the UK I’m not so sure, but it is not expensive seafood. Really you can add any shellfish to this dish such as mussels and more extravagant seafood if your budget permits such as carabineros/scarlet prawns.  But this is enough to make a fantastic and flavourful Fideuá. It really is a simple fool proof dish.
Making the Stock :
Fry the 300g of uncooked prawns (don’t remove anything from these prawns as they only contribute to the stock) in a deep source pan with the extra virgin olive oil until they are well cooked and the oil takes on a rich colour, be careful not to burn them, but squash the heads with a fork as you are cooking them, this will help release all the flavour, it sounds horrible but the taste is incredible. Now fill the pan with water and put in the rest of the ingredients, adding the wine once the stock is boiling and simmer for two and a half hours. Scoop off the foam that rises to the surface of the stock during the first half hour until no more appears, season with salt if necessary, and then once finished pass the stock through a fine sieve twice and put to one side. 
Preparing the Fideuá:
Add some olive oil to the paella pan or frying pan and fry all the seafood except the squid. Once browned, remove from the pan and put to one side. Add the diced onions and fry for a couple of minutes, add the grated tomato and fry for about 8-10 minutes until it starts to take a thicker consistency (the water has evaporated from the tomato), add the squid to the pan and cook for a few minutes, mix altogether and in the pan and make a small opening in the centre of the pan, there should be some olive oil in the middle, if not add a small dash of oil, let it heat up and pop in the paprika, move it very quickly with a spatula so it doesn’t stick for about 30 seconds then add a large soup ladle of hot stock and stir in, the stock must be very hot before adding it, so the paprika doesn’t burn.
Add the 500g of Fideuá pasta stir in and spread the pasta around the pan. Normally people would add all the stock to the pan and cross their figures the pasta doesn’t get over cooked. But this trick will deliver a perfect Fideuá every time. From this point onwards all you have to do is once the stock has almost evaporated, add another ladle or two of stock, move it all around with a large spoon and let it almost evaporate and then do it again. Keep doing this until the pasta is cooked and ready to eat. Add the stock little by little. When the pasta is almost cooked put the seafood back in and spread over the top of the pasta. Once the pasta is ready you want it to be left with hardly any stock, wet and moist, not liquid stock, don’t let it dry out completely though. When you remove it from the heat and let it sit for a couple minutes the final stock left over will reduce a little further and thicken as it cools slightly.
It is now ready to eat. Enjoy with a glass of white wine!

Like 3        Published at 22:40   Comments (2)

Back To Paradise
07 September 2018

Many of you who are not familiar with Spain will probably know Spain's Balearic Islands: Mallorca, Ibiza and Menorca all popular destinations for British tourists. But it wasn't until my wife took me to Formentera that I knew I had discovered heaven right on my doorstep. Before stepping onto the island I thought one would have to travel to the Caribbean or the South Pacific to get this experience. But no, here it was a stone's throw away. I was totally taken away by it and fell in love immediately.

The smallest of the Balearic islands, Formentera gave me the most relaxing summer I could ever dream of. Sheer bliss, fortunately, and after many years away, we returned this summer having longed for those white sandy beaches and turquoise waters for such a  long time, here we were again.

Known as the last Mediterranean paradise, Formentera has been able to combine tourism with environmental protection, which is it's secret.

There are no large hotel complexes there, in fact, accommodation is very scarce and most properties are booked from one year to the next by the regular tourists who frequent the island every summer. Funnily enough, these tend to be Italians and Germans, it would seem the British haven't caught onto this paradise yet. I will say, in general, it is not cheap. It is a small island and freshwater is a rare commodity on the island and pretty expensive so you can imagine how that affects the prices in restaurants and hotels without taking into consideration the logistical costs of delivering goods to the island. Many properties just offer salt water and you have to bring in your own freshwater for drinking and cooking from the supermarket.

If one is looking for an unspoiled land, seeking sun, sand and sea, relaxing moments away from the hustle and bustle of normal life, I couldn't think of a better place than Formentera. It is the ultimate antidote for stress. Never have I felt so relaxed or calm in my entire life. The island breathes calmness and peace, there are no nightclubs, very few bars, and you spend nearly all your time sunbathing, swimming, eating and sleeping. Apart from the sheer breathtaking beauty of the island, fact that there is pretty much nothing to do on the Island unless you're into water sports, makes it really easy to focus your days! You just find a divine spot and go into vegetable mode until you need feeding, and I can sure you, you are not missing out on anything! No sightseeing, No "oh we should've done that" or "What are we going to do tomorrow? As we are here we ought to do this….". No none of that, there is no thinking to be done at all, this isn't like going to Greek island where you should be visiting ruins now that you've made the trip, this is the only place I have found where your entire body relaxes, including your brain. Total switch off! Mental hibernation. Which is great from time to time.

The struggle of various generations of Islanders has made it possible to conserve an island whose beaches, transparent waters and climate make it a little jewel in the Mediterranean. It is virtually impossible to build a property there, you can only build on less than 10% of your property now, so you need a large plot of land to even build a small place and that is an even rarer commodity than water. The island's entire circumference is only 69 km's, but that 69km's of stunning beaches, coves and cliffs. There are only about 100 inhabitants for every km2, so it's just idyllic.

Formentera can only be reached by boat from Ibiza or Denia in the Summer, but this inaccessibility makes it a peaceful place where you can flee from stress and overcrowding; enjoying the island on a cycle ride, moped or swimming from its more than 20km of beaches of white sand and infinitely transparent turquoise water. The secret behind its crystalline sea and long beaches is the Posidonia Prairie that surrounds the island, a natural "treatment plant" that cleans and filters the water and makes it possible for sand to be deposited on the coast. It is a real underwater jungle, declared a World Heritage Site in 1999.

The tourist success of the island loved as much by residents as by visitors, is rooted in the fact that people still find something very different in Formentera. The difference is marked by its respect for nature, the survival of its own culture and the vision of achieving exclusivity through protecting the environment.

If there is something that makes Formentera different from other Mediterranean destinations, it is its beauty and the absence of buildings from most of its coast. The commitment of several decades to sustainable development has made it possible to enjoy heavenly beaches today, but with all the services and safety of a western destination. No funny flues or vaccines.

A strange, captivating geography, a gentle climate and Mediterranean vegetation combining dune areas with woods of pine and juniper-conifers that give the island its character.

Fortunately for me, my wife has relatives who are authentic Islanders, living and working on the island for over 60 years. I went there for the first time 20 years ago, and I will never forget my first visit to the island. I was instantly enchanted by its magic and the locals. My wife's Aunt has a typical "chringuito" on the beach front. It is totally the opposite of the classy restaurants you can find on the beach of Illetas, such as "Juan and Andrea". It is a make-shift hut out in the sticks and virtually on the seafront. An absolutely fantastic place that defines wild island living, where only the bare necessities are needed. A lazy relaxing restaurant-bar where you can calmly pass the day, eating, drinking, sleeping in a hammock under the pines, sunbathing and swimming. What more do you need?


Now I don't for one second want you to think I am plugging a family business here, as I am not. They are lucky enough not to need publicity. Not once in 60 years have they ever made a publicity pamphlet, done an advert, set up a website or even a promotion. To give you an idea, they haven't even bothered to put up a signpost to direct you to it and I can assure you unless someone told you about it you would never find it. It's way off on the beaten track, cross country, through woods and eventually it just appears through the pines, a simple place with an idyllic background. There are regulars who year in year out spend their entire summer there socialising and drinking and chatting the afternoons away. It was simply one of the most stressless moments I have ever lived. I was fortunate enough to discover "Rambo" there, as I affectionally call him, my wife's cousin! Who spends most of his time running around like a madman preparing giant paellas and dealing with the customers, if you look at the photos you'll see what I mean. Fantastic guy who is a spitting image of Stallone without an M-16 but with a killer spatula. However, his true ammunition is his homemade Hierbas Ibizencas, a local herbal liquor, which he makes and gives away every year to the season's customers. Mind blowing stuff, and extremely addictive. It is quite effortless to spend the evening in good company drinking away to the early hours of the morning under the stars and listening to the moonlit waves break on the beach. Heaven.

Now if you read my post on paellas you'll know my opinion on mixed paellas, but this is the Balearic Islands and here the "Mixta" is king. Never in my entire life have I ever seen anyone put so much meat and seafood into a paella. It was outrageous, kilos and kilos and kilos. His Mum is constantly trying to stop him using so many ingredients but even after twenty years of nagging no one can tell him otherwise when it comes to paellas and it seems to work, as the customers keep coming back, take a look at the photos and see how it's done in Formentera.

Anyway, for those of you who still don't know Formentera, I will not hesitate for one minute in saying it is a place you must visit at some point in your life. A truly unique experience.


Like 5        Published at 21:12   Comments (4)

What's with all the tomatoes?
05 September 2018

La Tomatina has just pased 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. Unfortunately this year was no different - I was on holiday again!

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.


Like 1        Published at 14:12   Comments (3)

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