Welcome everyone Sandra in Spain - FlamencoI’m Sandra Piddock, and I’m a freelance writer, dividing my time between Spain and the UK. I’ll write about anything that interests and/or challenges me, and I like to focus on the lighter side of life whenever possible.. Read more
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Food and Drink in Spain

One of the things I love most about Spain is the food. Simply cooked, with quality ingredients, and healthy as you want it to be, since it’s low on fat and high on flavour. And the drinks are so cheap too! Look out for recipes and restaurant reviews, but you’ll only get positive stuff here. If you want to share a recipe, or you’d like a review for your restaurant, get in touch, and I’ll do what I can to spread the love about Spanish food and drink.

Making the Mediterranean Diet easy on yourself

You’ve probably heard of the Mediterranean Diet, but you may not be clear on how it works, and why.  Here in Spain, where olive oil is king and fresh fruit and vegetables are plentiful, cheap and in season, following this healthy eating plan is easy and economical. Here’s how to get started straight away.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

It’s a traditional way of eating, and it’s been a nutritional model for hundreds of years in Southern Europe. Mediterranean-style eating will increase your health and fitness, help to combat chronic disease, and help you lose weight.Globally, medical professionals and nutritionists consider the Mediterranean Diet to be one of the healthiest eating plans around.  And it also happens to be filling and flavourful.

The Mediterranean Diet is a bit of a misnomer, because it isn’t really a diet at all – it’s more like a permanent lifestyle turnaround in attitudes to cooking and eating. At its core are lots fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and healthy fats. There is no room for processed foods or deep fried stuff in the Mediterranean Diet.

Health benefits

The many advantages of adopting the Mediterranean Diet were acknowledged a couple of generations ago. Researchers in the late 1940s found that the natives of Crete were blessed with healthier than average cardiovascular systems, after managing for years on a restricted diet due to wartime food shortages  This was put down to eating mainly fresh, seasonal produce. Meat was in short supply, and processed foods pretty much non-existent

More recently, it’s been demonstrated that people eating the Mediterranean way live longer, more active, healthier lives. They also have less chance of developing chronic conditions likes heart disease, diabetes and cancer. At 82.5 years, Spain now enjoys the longest average life expectancy in the whole of Europe.

The Mediterranean Diet can help you to live a  longer, healthier life. It’s rich in antioxidants, which serve to inhibit oxidative stress, thereby halving the risk of developing  Parkinson’s Disease.

A pivotal requirement of Mediterranean-style eating is regular servings of fish. The Omega-3 oils in tuna and sardines boost brain health, so the likelihood of contracting Alzheimer’s Disease in later life is also reduced.

The Mediterranean Diet is high in fibre, thanks to the fresh fruit and vegetables, and fibreevens out the body’s blood sugar levels and boosts insulin sensitivity.  This ‘two for one’  health benefit minimises the chance of diabetes. Refined carbohydrates and red meat only figure on the menu occasionally, so saturated fat content is automatically restricted. This, in turn, makes for a healthy heart.

The Mediterranean Diet in action

Mediterranean menus are built around plant foods. Fruits and vegetables are headliners, and so are chick peas, lentils and beans. Nuts and seeds are supporting actors, with whole grains, rice and pasta making up the chorus and filling in the gaps in the action.

The good folks who call the Mediterranean home region always eat seasonal fruit and vegetables, so the vitamin content is at its peak, delivering a full antioxidant hit. In many cases, salad comes before the main course. This takes the edge off the appetite, so you’re more likely to take smaller portions of the main meal, and also eat more slowly.

There’s not much space for red meat in Mediterranean eating. The main protein sources are poultry, fish and eggs, with the occasional steak. Beans and pulses supply plant protein, with many Spanish recipes including chickpeas or alubias (white, kidney-shaped beans). Fish is  grilled, poached, baked, or shallow fried in light batter.

Some Mediterranean nationalities – notably the Spanish and the Italians –really enjoy cured hams and sausages. These products are naturally cured, and contain no chemicals. Therefore they can’t really be considered processed foods.

Herbs and spices, rather than are salt, are the main flavourings for Mediterranean recipes, and butter is only used occasionally. Mediterranean people prefer their bread served with olive oil, garlic mayonnaise, or tomato paste. These are all healthier than butter, with no saturated fat and fewer calories per serving.

On the Mediterranean Diet, wine is fine in moderation. Spirits are an occasional treat – wine and beer goes down better with the lighter way of eating. Alcohol is automatically restricted, as it’s customary to drink with food,, rather than just for the sake of drinking.

The Mediterranean lifestyle 

It’s not just the food that makes the Mediterranean Diet healthy – lifestyle is another factor. Life is for living outdoors, with no stress and no rushing around.  It’s too hot for that, and Mediterranean people are more laid back than their Northern European counterparts. 

When Mediterranean people go home after work, they dine on fresh food, cooked from scratch. They’re happy to spend two hours or more seated at table, savouring the food and chatting between courses. This leisurely approach to eating naturally reduces the intake of food.

It’s roughly 20 minutes until the brain gets the signal that the stomach is full. This is the down to the actions of the hormonal system in which neurotransmitters also play a part. If you bolt down food or eat on the hoof, these signals won’t kick in to curb your appetite. Mediterranean of eating allows plenty of time for the brain to register the ‘full’ feeling.  

The Mediterranean Diet is one of the healthiest eating plans in the world. It’s built around high consumption of plant foods, low fat proteins from fish, eggs and poultry, and smaller servings of saturated fats and processed foods. Eating this way minimises the risks of contracting various lifestyle diseases. If you need to lose weight, it’s low in calories and fat, and high in fibre and filling power.

The Mediterranean way of eating is varied, wholesome and healthy. Combined with a low stress lifestyle and a good dose of vitamin D from the sun, it’s no wonder health professionals consider the Mediterranean Diet one of the healthiest eating plans ever.

Estofado de garbanzos y patatas (chickpea and potato stew)

Estofado de garbanzos y patatas is a tasty Spanish stew which is quick, easy and economical to prepare. There’s a powerful plant protein hit, courtesy of the chickpeas, so you don’t need to add meat. However, if you prefer your stews to have at least some meat, try adding some smoked bacon lardons (taquitos in Spanish) with the onions and garlic. Or you can add meatballs or sliced chorizo sausage at the same point.

Before you get cooking, here’s a bit of insider information to help you create a stunning chickpea and potato stew that belies its humble origins. This filling, warming dish was originally developed for manual workers who needed filling power and fuel at an affordable price.

The thick gravy and unique flavour of this stew is due in part to extra starch being released from the potatoes during the cooking time. Once the potatoes are peeled and ready for slicing, cut halfway through the slices with a large, sharp knife, then just break them off. The resulting uneven surfaces allow the potatoes to release more starches into the cooking liquid than straight cuts.

The recipe also calls for grated tomato. This is a Spanish culinary technique which ensures that there are no irritating slivers of skin in the finished dish, and as a bonus, it helps to thicken the sauce and subtly enhance the overall flavour.  Don’t even consider chopping the tomato to save time!

Ingredients for 4 – 6 servings

  • 4 medium potatoes plus 1 small one
  • 1 large ripe tomato, grated
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 – 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 x 540g jar of cooked chickpeas (garbanzos)
  • Olive oil
  • Small knob of butter
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh or freeze dried parsley
  • A little fresh or dried thyme
  • 2 level teaspoons of paprika – smoked paprika gives a very different flavour. Try both versions, and see which suits your preference.
  • Small glass of red wine (optional)
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree or tomato frito. (This is similar to tomato puree)
  • Optional extra vegetables: anything you fancy or have available from the following: red or green peppers, courgettes, celery, green beans, peas, sweetcorn, squash. A word to the wise: aubergines don’t work well with this recipe.

Preparation method

Heat a little olive oil to soften the onions and garlic. Then add a small knob of butter and the red wine, if using. Add the parsley, thyme, salt and pepper.

Grate the tomato directly into the pan, then add the paprika and some water to prevent the mixture burning. Cook everything for a few minutes.

When you’re ready, add the chickpeas, together with the preserving juice from the jar. This also helps to thicken the sauce.

Now add the large sliced potatoes, tomato frito, any optional vegetables you are using, and enough water to just about cover everything in the pan. Simmer for around 45 minutes, and then grate the small potato directly into the stew to help thicken the sauce even more. Cook for at least another half hour, until everything is cooked through and the sauce is really thick.

Serve with fresh crusty bread. This dish is even better if you cook it the day before you need it, since this gives the  flavours more  time to develop and blend together.

Estofado de garbanzos y patatas can also be cooked in a slow cooker or crockpot. Adjust the cooking times according to the instructions with your appliance. It freezes well, so you can make a batch and freeze what you don’t need tonight. However you cook and serve this tasty Spanish stew, enjoy it!

Baked cod loin with cherry tomatoes, baby courgette and mushrooms

Cod loin, ready for wrapping and baking.

At the moment we’re in England, and I’m missing the Mediterranean – especially the weather. There’s not a lot I can do about that, but I can bring a touch of the Mediterranean to the table. Just before we left Spain, one of our favourite bodegas and frozen food outlets closed down, and they sold all the stock off at half price. Among the €200 of bargain booze and food I snagged were some frozen cod loins, and I brought some of those over with us, as fish tends to be rather expensive over here.

Tony likes his fish as Nature intended, or with batter, but I’m a great fan of Mediterranean-style baked fish with vegetables. Instead of doing it in a dish, I made two foil parcels – one au naturel for Tony with lemon juice, salt and pepper, and another for me.

I seasoned the fish with lemon juice, salt and pepper, then I halved some cherry tomatoes and sliced up a baby courgette an English friend had grown in her garden. Finally I sliced up a couple of button mushrooms and piled the mixture on top of the cod. I added a dash of olive oil for extra flavour, then sealed the parcel and baked it in a hot oven for 20 minutes. While the fish was cooking, I prepared chips from Maris Piper potatoes for Tony, and a jacket potato for myself.

As an aside, that’s one thing we miss in Spain – named variety potatoes. Although the market stall holders insist that all their potatoes are ‘para frier’ – for frying – and Consum even label their spuds as such, we don’t have a lot of success with chips from Spanish potatoes. It’s not uncommon to get three different coloured chips from the same bag of spuds, varying in appearance from soggy and dark  through firm and pale to golden and almost crispy but not quite. So we make the most of the named varieties while we’re here, and take a sack of Wiljas back with us in September

The finished dish – tasty and healthy, and so easy to prepare.

so we – or rather Tony – can enjoy decent chips for a few more weeks.

Anyway, the fish turned out fabulously – firm, white and cooked through, with the vegetables still slightly al dente but also nice and juicy – which is just how I like them. And the best part was, I didn’t have a cazuela to wash out, which is a bonus when you’re in a static caravan sans dishwasher. I just threw the foil away. Foil parcels are a great way to cook all sorts of fish, either alone or with vegetables, although the extra moisture from the vegetables stops the fish drying out if you leave it for too long in the oven or on the barbecue.

If you haven’t cooked fish like this before, why not give it a go? You won’t be disappointed, and it’s much healthier than frying. So easy to cook and serve too – what’s not to love? Buen provecho, amigos!

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How I make the Cabbage Soup Diet work for me

You can enjoy all these fruits and vegetables on the Cabbage Soup Diet

Mention the Cabbage Soup Diet and mosty people look at you as if you’ve just suggested they eat their own entrails in an effort to lose weight. In fact, the way it’s perceived, most people would probably eat their own entrails than spend a week on this most vilified of diets. However, because I find it difficult to lose weight due to the cocktail of drugs I take to manage my Lupus – and my fondness for cava and vodka  – I was willing to try anything. This sounded good, and I love soup and fruit and vegetables, so I ran the diet past my doctor.

He agreed that the diet was pretty healthy, and as you only follow it for one week in four, he couldn’t see any problem with it, as there was some provision of carbohydrate and protein in there. However, he did say that I needed a more balanced intake each day, so he suggested doctoring the diet a little to allow for that. I did just that, and although I don’t lose the 10lbs that is achievable following the Cabbage Soup Diet as is, I managed to lose 6lbs last week, and never felt hungry once. Here’s how I did it.

Basic cabbage soup recipe – enough for at least one person for 7 days 

1 large green cabbage

5 onions

6 carrots

2 large peppers

5 sticks celery

1 large cup brown rice

I large tin chopped tomatoes

Chop all ingredients, season with any herbs, stock cubes, salt and pepper. Add plenty of water and cook for at least 1 hour. If you want a thicker soup, liquidise some of it and return to the pan. Freeze half of the soup and keep the rest in the fridge. Ring the changes by seasoning individual servings of the soup with curry powder, Bovril, paprika, etc.

You can have as much of the soup as you want, whenever you want it. However, I tend to have a bowl at lunch time with some fruit, then another bowl either as a starter for my evening meal or supper later in the evening. Any more than that and I’m sick of it after three days.

On the original Cabbage Soup Diet, there is one day when you can eat up to six bananas, and drink two pints of milk as well as the soup. I spread the bananas over the week and have them for breakfast, and allow myself 1/4 pint of milk each day for tea, or a small pot of Greek yogurt. Over the space of the week, that’s sufficient without going over the two pints, as the original diet allows a little milk each day.

I also fit in a small jacket potato or baked sweet potato, or a small serving of pasta or brown rice to fill the carb quotient.

I take care of the protein bit by having a had boiled egg occasionally as a snack, and cooking a small chicken breast or oily fish such as salmon or tuna to go with a jacket potato and/or salad. Another way to get a protein hit is to steam a selection of vegetables – anything you like other than parsnips or peas – toss in a little tomato frito, sprinkle with grated cheese and brown under the grill. Served with a jacket potato, that’s a filling and balanced supper.

Don’t drink any alcohol during the week – god, that’s hard! Drink water, tea or coffee black or with milk from your allowance, freshly squeezed fruit juice and other low calorie, alcohol free drinks.

Another good thing about the Cabbage Soup Diet is that it boosts your metabolism, so if you eat sensibly once the week is over, you’re likely to lose more weight. I’ve lost another 1lb in the last week, despite eating out with friends twice. If you have a lot of weight to lose, you can repeat the diet after a month. I have the UK premiere of The Cucaracha Club coming up in May, and I want to look my best for that, so I’ll be doing another stint on it. And with fruit and vegetables so plentiful and cheap here in Spain, it’s not an expensive way to lose weight either. Why not try it and let me know how you get on?

 

Lemon curd – straight from the tree!

After last year’s bumper crop of about 50 lemons on our tree in the garden, I expected a lean time of it this year. However, the tree has obviously got its mojo working now, because there are even more of them this year, and they’re bigger and even better. Some of them could even go to a fancy dress party as grapefruits or even small melons with very little adaptation. I’ve already made preserved lemons fresh lemonade and lemon marmalade, as well as using a few in gins and tonics and vodka and lemonade, just to stop them going soft.  Today’s make is home-made lemon curd.

As I child, I loved lemon curd in tarts, sponges and on toast, and I haven’t lost the taste for it, although my palate’s become a little jaded after years of shop bought stuff. In England, with the price of lemons, eggs and butter, it’s an expensive make, but here in Spain, I made a goodly quantity for around €2.50, plus a bit of elbow grease and electric.

It’s surprisingly easy, if a little time consuming, but it’s worth it. The recipe is one I adapted from the BBC Food site. I doubled up on quantities, as it only made 2 – 3 jars, and I had friends lining up as tasters! This will make around 5 x 350g jars or 7 x 250g jars.  Don’t be tempted to use larger jars, because once it’s open, it soon begins to deteriorate, even when kept in the fridge.

I always sterilise the jars in the oven, then fill them while the lemon curd is still warm but not too hot.  Heat the oven to 160C/325F/ Gas mark 3 and place the jars on a tray in the oven for between 15 and 30 minutes.

You can make lemon curd in a large saucepan, or use a large bowl as a bain-marie. I prefer the latter, because there’s no risk of burning the mixture, there are no messy saucepans to clean, and you don’t leave any on the sides of the pan. If you don’t have a big bowl, do as I did and use the inner lining of a 3.5 litre crock pot or slow cooker standing in a large saucepan of water. Whether you’re using your own lemons or buying them from the market, pick or purchase them at the last minute – the fresher they are, the better your lemon curd will taste. Here’s the recipe:

  • 8 – 10 lemons, depending on size. As mine were so big, I only used 7. Remove the zest and squeeze out the juice. If you don’t have a zester, use a fine grater or vegetable peeler to remove the peel before juicing the lemons. If the pieces of peel are too large, chop them with a vegetable shopper or a sharp knife. An electric juicer will extract more juice, and the lemons should be at ambient temperature, so don’t store them in the fridge.
  • 400g/ 14oz of caster sugar.
  • 200g/ 7oz butter cut into cubes. The recipe suggests unsalted butter, but I think regular salted butter gives a better flavour.
  • 6 large eggs + 2 extra egg yolks. Lidl or Mercadona are cheapest for large eggs.

Combine all the ingredients except the eggs in a large bowl, and set it over a pan of simmering water. Stir the mixture until the butter is melted, then whisk the eggs and fold them into the other ingredients. Allow the lemon curd to cook for approximately 15 – 20 minutes, stirring now and then. It’s ready as soon as the mixture is really thick and creamy and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Let it cool a little, then divide it between your jars.

It really is that easy! You can eat it as soon as it’s cool, but it will be even better if you can exercise a little patience and allow the flavours to develop for a few weeks. A word of warning though – once you’ve tasted fresh home-made lemon curd, you’ll never want to go back to the shop bought stuff!

Berenjenas con tomate y queso

Berenjenas con tomate y queso - a really tasty supper!

Berenjenas con tomate y queso – a really tasty supper!

One of the best things about living in Spain is the availability and affordability of lovely fresh fruit and vegetables. A trip down the market will yield a trolley full of fresh, in season fruit and veg for around €10 or less. And it’s as good as organic, because the small producers who sell their produce on the markets don’t use chemical fertilisers and pesticides. What could be better? Only a friend rocking up with home grown aubergines (berenjenas) and beefsteak tomatoes, fresh from the soil.

I’ve used aubergines in casseroles and roasted vegetable mixes, but that’s about it, so I went on a mission to discover new ways to cook them, as I could see I’d get fed up of sauted aubergines before I worked my way through them. One recipe was an aubergine, tomato and cheese bake with breadcrumbs, and while I liked the sound of the flavour combination, I didn’t fancy a stodgy bake in 38 degrees of daytime heat outdoors, so I started to think of ways around it. And I came up with this idea.

I sliced an aubergine into fairly chunky slices – about 1/2″ in old money – then salted them and left them for about half an hour. That draws out the water and stops them going to mush, and also brings out any bitterness. Then I washed off the salt and patted them dry on kitchen paper. I drizzled a little olive oil on a baking tray, and coated the slices with it. Then I put a slice of tomato on each aubergine slice and seasoned it with black pepper. I then topped the tomato with a thin slice of cheddar cheese – you could use any cheese for this, but cheddar is my favourite. I considered grated cheese, but dismissed it as too messy.

I cooked them in my halogen oven at 200 degrees for 15 minutes, until the cheese was nicely browned. I’d give it an extra 5 minutes in a conventional oven. I served up my aubergine slices with a jacket potato, because that’s what I fancied, but it would also go well with pasta, brown rice or potato wedges. And you could vary the toppings by adding onion, peppers or mushrooms. Turn them into finger food for a party by serving them on thin slices of bread or crackers, so they’re easy to pick up.

So, what did they taste like? Only one word – fabulous. The aubergines were cooked through, but still firm, as were the tomatoes, and the cheese added a lovely savoury touch. I’ll definitely be cooking this again. It was filling yet light enough for a summer lunch or supper, with the taste of the Mediterranean. Not too high in calories either, so ideal if you’re watching your weight, and of course those brightly coloured vegetables are sky high in antioxidants. Why not try it for yourself soon?

Update: Since this recipe first appeared, readers and friends have successfully tried it with blue cheese, mozarella and haloumi, so why not ring the changes?

Restaurant review: Casa Victor, Torre del Mar, Velez-Malaga, Andalucia

One of the many great things about living in Spain is that you don’t need to remortgage the casa to be able to eat out on a regular basis. We’re regularly amazed by the choice, quality and value of local restaurants, and when we travel, we like to try out the food wherever we happen to be. Last week we happened to be in Torre del Mar, down Malaga way, and after seeing the prices of the Menus del Dia (typically €7.00 – €10.00) we couldn’t wait.

We were on a motor home rally with MCC Spain, and the local hosts, Tony and Anne, recommended Casa Victor for our group meal. It’s been established since 1987, and they’ve been going regularly for 26 years, and never had a bad meal. That was a good enough recommendation for us, without the added bonus of the €6.50 price tag for MDD. Everyone else agreed with us too, because for the first time ever, every single person on the rally signed up for the meal.

So it was that 30 hungry motorcaravanners commandeered Casa Victor’s airy conservatory on Wednesday lunchtime. I didn’t intend to do a review, because it didn’t seem fair to the restaurant – with a party of 30 to cater for, as well as maybe another 50 other customers, there were bound to be slight delays, and maybe the odd mistake, so I decided to just enjoy the food and come back again to do a review. However, these guys have been doing this for almost 30 years now, and they manage to be both efficient and friendly. While we made our choices from the extensive menu, they brought us tapas and drinks.

Drinks are not included in the MDD price, but tapas are. We tucked into warm rolls with a tuna and salmon filling, and the mandatory olives. Allow yourself plenty of time to choose, because I have never seen so many choices on a MDD. There were about 15 starters and 20 main courses to choose from, and in case you get fed up with that, there are another 4 or 5 daily specials on the board outside. After changing my mind several times, I settled for the mixed salad, when I saw it appear on an adjacent table, and I also saw the size of the main courses going out. After all, salad isn’t that filling, right? Wrong! This salad would have fed our table of 4 quite easily. As well as the usual suspects, there was tuna and egg, two sorts of melon, oranges and strawberries. Sensibly, we both left some on the plate, in anticipation of the piled up platter to come.

For main course, I chose Rosada – that’s that firm white fish that nobody seems to have an accurate translation for, but it’s similar to cod in texture and appearance. Apparently it originates in South Africa, where it is called Kinglip, and it looks like an eel with a Pollock’s head. I chose it because it sounded like wine, and I thought any fish that sounds like my favourite rose has to be worth a go. And it was! Not a bone in it, and full of flavour. Tony went for the half roast chicken, which was excellent news for Paddy, as there was enough for his supper as well.

By the time dessert – home-made tiramasu – came, I was most of the way through the excellent bottle of house rose, and feeling stuffed to bursting point, so there isn’t a photo. It too was excellent, and all Casa Victor’s desserts are home-made and of huge proportions.

Even though I was able to do a fair review, I felt it was only fair to go back again and make sure it was as good as we remembered. Well, you have to, don’t you? On our second visit, we had oxtail stew for the main course. It looked and smelled stunning after our first visit, but we couldn’t have contemplated it after the gigantic salad. Yes, it was amazing, with plenty of meat and a rich gravy. Again, Paddy did well, because we just couldn’t do it justice.

Our bill on each occasion came to less than €25 for two Menus del Dia, a bottle of house rose and two large alcohol free beers for Tony, who is on a dry spell at the moment. Since Paddy got fed each time from the leftovers, that represented great value, and we couldn’t even face cheese and crackers for supper.

If you’re in or near Torre del Mar, head for Casa Victor.  It’s on Avenida Tore-Tore, and it’s the third restaurant on the left hand side of the street. Look for the distinctive cream and brown awning. If you want to be sure of being seated – especially  at weekends – reserve your table on 952 543 300. Buen provecho!

Restaurant review: Stan & Ollie’s, El Raso, Guardamar

I belong to a local Facegroup group, Costa Blanca South Chat – or CBSC as we call it – and between Christmas and New Year, the group organised its first ‘real time’ meet up. Around 50 strangers descended on Stan & Ollie’s in El Raso, had a lovely evening and a fabulous meal, and departed as friends, determined to meet up again as soon as possible.

I’d heard lots of good reports of the restaurant, but never managed to rock up there until recently. Everyone I’ve spoken to who’s used the place is full of praise for the service, the staff and the food. In fact one friend said if he could only ever go to one restaurant, it would be Stan & Ollie’s. That’s my choice of words when telling people about my own favourite – Restaurante Alquibla in Algorfa – so I had pretty high expectations – and I wasn’t disappointed.

Stan & Ollie’s describes itself as a ‘fine dining’ restaurant, and that’s a justified description, because the food is certainly a step above the ordinary. However, with evening menus at €17.50 and €25.00 for three courses including half a bottle of wine, this is fine dining at pretty much cafeteria prices. The menu is mostly Mediterranean, with starters including pear and black pudding bonbons, scallops in pancetta, smoked chicken salad and baked Camembert. Mains cover all tastes, including vegetarian. Some of the menu highlights are the 500 gram T-bone steak, French trimmed rack of lamb, Osso Buco and baked sea Bream. If you still have room after these huge servings, there are around 8 – 10 home made desserts to choose from.

I chose roasted butternut squash soup for starters, garnished with seeds and finished with a swirl of cream. What can I say, other than Soup Heaven? I don’t often have soup as a starter, because it fills me up too much, but hey, there are loads of butternut squash on the markets at silly prices, so this was a road test to see if it’s a soup I’d make myself. The answer is a resounding ‘yes,’ although I doubt I’ll be able to match this one.

For my main course, I chose Beef Bourgignonne, served with mashed potatoes. Again, it was first class. There was plenty of it, along with generous dishes of vegetables for the table to share. And we were asked if we wanted more, which was great, because generally Spanish restaurants don’t go in for a lot of vegetables with their main courses. All the food was nice and hot, beautifully presented and served on warm plates. This was fine dining at its best, and nothing was too much trouble for the friendly, attentive staff.

I didn’t think I could possibly manage a sweet, but when I saw Banoffie pie on the menu – well, it would have been rude not to! All in all, you couldn’t fault the food, the service or the ambience. There was a birthday party of 10 on the table next to us, and they said it was the best birthday meal they’d had in a long time, thanks to the excellent food and the attentiveness and good humour of the staff. And if you’re a Laurel & Hardy fan, there are loads of figurines you can photograph while you’re there!

I’d recommend Stan & Ollie’s without reservation. It ticks all the boxes, and while it may be a little more expensive than some restaurants, it’s well worth the extra – particularly if you’re celebrating. Reservation is recommended, particularly at weekends. Book your table on 637 583 373 or 637 583 372, or fill in the online booking form. During the winter months, Stan & Ollie’s is open for evening service Monday – Saturday and 1.00 pm – 8.00 pm on Sundays.

Bottom’s Up! – The cost of Christmas cheer in Spain

All our Christmas booze for €89 - a real bargain!

All our Christmas booze for €89 – a real bargain!

‘Tis the season to be jolly – and jolliness is often helped along with a large helping of Christmas spirit of the bottled variety. So today we headed to Alvibe Bodega in Los Montesinos. It’s on Avenida del Mar, next to the Repsol garage, and a couple of doors away from La Herradura restaurant. From the outside, it’s pretty unprepossessing – just a huge brown metal depot – but inside is a veritable treasure trove for those who like a drink, and I certainly do. Not that I’m an alcoholic you understand – they go to meetings and stuff, I’m just a bit of a lush. But I digress.

Anyway, there are certain ‘must haves’ on the Christmas drinks list. A nice brandy is one – Lidl’s Vega Cadur is okay through the year, but we do enjoy a nice Torres 10 year old Gran Reserva over Christmas. So I was pretty made up when I found a very special offer indeed – not one, but 5 bottles of Torres brandy for a little over €46. That’s three bottles of Torres 10, one bottle of Torres 5 year old, and a 1.5 litre bottle of Torres 10, which was a free gift.

When we priced up the bottles individually later, it would have cost us around €63, even at Consum’s prices, so we were well pleased with that. And with a bit of luck it will last well into the New Year – or at least the middle of January! In the UK, a bottle of Torres 10 is anywhere between £17 and £23 – my case equated to £33 at today’s rates, so I’m a very happy bunny indeed!

That wasn’t the end of the bargains though – they had a special deal on Bacardi too – two half litre bottles and a miniature in a handy travel pack for just €11.99. That’s just under £9 at UK prices, so that was another good deal, since the best you can get is £15 a litre.

Tony loves a ruby port, and they can be a bit difficult to come by in our area. However, I did manage to get a Dow’s ruby from the bodega at just over €8, or around £6.00, which is half the UK cost. Normally, we settle for Mercadona’s €5 port, but hey – it’s Christmas, so let’s push the boat out a bit. Tony was also delighted to find a really nice cream sherry for just €6 a litre – and yes, he’s already tried it!

We also got some nice wines, including a 2012 Spanish Chardonnay which was a great BOGOF buy at €5.71 for two bottles. In total, we paid €89 for the equivalent of 6 bottles of brandy, a litre of Bacardi, a litre of sherry, a bottle of port, and 7 decent bottles of wine. That’s around £66, so we’re more than happy with our purchases.

People assume that bodegas are always going to be more expensive than the supermarkets, and while that may be true of some things, you can get some really good bargains if you hunt around, as well as getting case discounts. And if you’re after more specialised stuff – like Tony’s ruby port – you’re more likely to get it at a bodega. If you’re in the Los Montesinos area, why not take a trip to Alvibe? You won’t be disappointed. Cheers!

My favourite Spanish sandwich

Tuna, the main ingredient of my favourite Spanish sandwich.

Tuna, the main ingredient of my favourite Spanish sandwich.

A sandwich is a snack that, on the face of it, is so simple, but when you look deeper into the subject, there’s a vast potential for disaster. Basically, a sandwich is bread, butter or some other spread, and filling, and that’s where the problems can arise. Each component has to be just right for the perfect sandwich. This is what’s in my favourite Spanish sandwich.

Bread

Obviously, you can’t have a sandwich without bread – if there’s no bread, there’s no sandwich. But what type of bread? For my favourite sandwich, there’s only one possible choice. Fresh wholemeal or granary bread, and it has to be ready sliced.

I don’t mind uneven slices of bread to go with soup or salad, but if it’s a sandwich, I want it nice and level, not looking like a roller coaster made from bread. It’s almost impossible to slice a loaf evenly, unless you have a machine to do it, and the bakery’s machine is more efficient than anything I can ever come up with.

Spread

I don’t do butter these days. Living in Spain,  bread is served with just about everything except butter, which is mainly used in cooking. We have olive oil, ali oli or tomato salsa with bread, and I carry this over into my sandwiches. I make my own ali oli with low fat mayonnaise, minced or grated fresh garlic, and a little lemon juice and chopped fresh parsley. The lemon juice adds a tang, and the parlsey tones down the effects of garlic on the breath.

My tomato salsa is simply grated fresh tomato, with a splash of olive oil and freshly ground black pepper. Use a grater with a dish or bowl beneath, and place a whole fresh tomato, pointed end down, on the grater, or cut it in half first. Apply just a little pressure, and the skin will peel back as you grate, forming a protective layer for your fingertips as you work through the tomato. I usually make a big batch of ali oli and  salsa, as it keeps well in the fridge for several days.

I’ll use one or other of these on my sandwich, but if we’re talking my favourite sandwich, it’s ali oli on one slice of bread and tomato salsa on the other.

Filling

No contest here – it has to be tuna. The tinned tuna we buy in Spain seems so much chunkier that that available in England. It’s usually in olive oil or sunflower oil, but because it’s so thick and chunky, you can drain almost every vestige of oil away with no problem, if you’re concerned about your fat intake. Once the tuna’s in place – always on the bread with ali oli – it’s time for the crowning glory. That’s a liberal scattering of cold, tinned sweetcorn, topped with thin slices of cucumber. A little extra freshly ground black pepper – I just love it – and then the bread with tomato salsa tops the whole sandwich off.

It takes much less time to make my favourite sandwich than it’s taken to write about it. It’s a healthy lunch or supper choice, based on the Mediterranean way of eating. My mouth’s watering just thinking about it. Time for a sandwich break, I think!

 

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