30 October 2014

Salmorejo - Best Spanish Tapas

Salmorejo is my all-time favourite Spanish dish for those scorching summer days. It used to be a messy business when I made my own but since my cooking day in Malaga I've learnt how to simplify the making and the mess. Here's how I make it now.

8 Tomatoes
1 Medium Baguette
1 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Clove Garlic
Splash of Sherry Vinegar
Pinch of Salt
2 Hard Boiled Eggs
Sliced Serrano Ham
Small red or green pepper (optional)

First scald the tomatoes to make them easy to peel by cutting a cross in the bottom of each one and putting them into boiling water for 30-60 seconds. Remove immediately into a cold water bath and the skin will peel off easily.

Cut the cores out and blend the tomatoes and pepper if used for about 30 seconds, add the bread, but only the soft inside, the quantity can be adjusted according on how thick you like your Salmorejo. Blend well for several minutes.

Tomatoes and Bread 

Salmorejo and Gazpacho

Add a splash of vinegar, salt, and garlic and blend well then add the oil slowly, once incorporated add one hard-boiled egg, adjust seasoning.

Salmorejo ready to chill

Chill and enjoy garnished with bits of jamon and chopped hard-boiled egg. I think of it more as a dip than a soup and serve it with fresh crusty bread.

29 October 2014

Exploring Jaen & Jaen Tapas Tour

Recently renewing my acquaintance with Shawn - Sevilla's 'Queen of Tapas' in my home city of Jaen was great fun. Three years ago I met Shawn in the fabulous city of Sevilla and we had a great tapas experience, alhough mine was rather 'dry' as I had to forego alcohol due to a 3 hour drive home.


Shawn was now on an exploration of Jaen province's best - the twinned UNESCO towns of Ubeda and Baeza and Jaen city. I love both those former towns but at 1.5 hours away I don't know them as well as Jaen.

Jaen Cathedral

Jaen is a short drive away and a worthwhile one, especially to show others its highlights and back streets. Or see as much as possible while trying to take it easy and sampling the tapas bars, which I'm sure everyone knows still offer free tapas with your drinks. These range from crisps, olives, which goes without saying in Spain's olive oil capital, to very tasty home-made offering or seafood are served with each drink.

Rosada Tapa, Pato Rojo Jaen

The main and most prominent tourist highlight visible from miles or kilometres around is Santa Catalina hill with its castle and parador of the same name. The Parador de Santa Catalina has won awards for the best castle/hotel. It should, I think, also get some recognition for the best and most far reaching city view.

Views from Santa Catalina

After walking along the hill top and popping into the castle a drink in the Parador de Santa Catalina is so in order. Champagne was the order, while I, the chaffeur, had a beer on one of the tiny, 3 or 4 tabled, flower filled, railing surrounded patios.

Jaen Parador

Visiting the white cross at twilight is magical as the lights of the city turn on almost one by one and day fades gently into a warm sultry night. And then back down into the narrow city streets to try several bars and more tapas. A perfect ending.

Jaen at night, me under arch, Cathedral behind

Read other posts about Pato Rojo, our favourite bar in Jaen, What To Do On a Weekend in Jaen or see some more photos of Jaen Parador.

09 October 2014

Spain Tops Best Restaurants in Europe List

The newly released Best Restaurants in Europe list by TripAdvisor sees Spain joint first with France. Both countries have six restaurants in this Top 25 list.

The countries in the list and number of restaurants are:

Cyprus - 1

Czech Republic - 1

Denmark - 2
TripAdvisor @image El Celler de Can Roca. Girona

France - 6

Greece - 1

Hungary - 1

Italy - 1

Moncaco - 1

Portugal - 1

Spain - 6

The UK - 4

Of course you also want to know which those great Spanish restaurants are and what position they are in the list so here goes:

No. 1 - El Celler de Can Roca in Girona
TripAdvisor @image
Martin Berasategui  'Petit Fours'

No. 4 - El Club Allard in Madrid

No. 8 - Martin Berasategui in San Sebastian

No. 10 - Diverxo in Madrid

No. 16 - ABaC Restaurant in Barcelona

No. 19 - Arzak in San Sebastian

30 September 2014

Monday Morning Photo - The Road to Prigo de Cordoba

A photo opportunity on the road to Priego de Cordoba on the edge of Subbetica de Cordoba. Great winding roads and stunning scenery from Alcaudete to Priego.

28 September 2014

Hotel Malaga Palacio by Marriott Review

Standing 15 floors up looking down onto other roof terraces with a fabulous 360° view of city and port was the highlight of the hotel. A pool to dodge around, and a too small bar with at times not enough staff, a long wait for the lift and a lot of noise from a Saturday night wedding made for a not-so-relaxing stay at the AC Hotel Malaga Palacio by Marriott.

Rooftop pool and harbour view

Having a great but busy location opposite the port, in front of the cathedral and on a busy road the hotel had it's ups and downs.

The first being no ramp up the steps to the lobby and granted the doorman was there in time to help me into the hotel with my case, but not so when I left, or half-so. The doorman carried my bag down the lobby steps and out through the door and left me to lift it down further outside steps to the pavement. Not very impressed.

Malaga Cathedral from Hotel Palacio

Granted both weekend nights of my three night stay there was an event on the terrace and access was limited or extremely busy, this meant we only had drinks and and ate breakfast in the hotel. This wasn't a problem as our aim was to explore as much of the old town and as many bars as possible. We did very well on those points, getting in a couple of beach bars as well as the new shopping area of Muelle Uno alongside the port.

Rooftop View over Port & Muello Uno

As a four-star hotel it didn't live up to my expectations. Scruffy in places, not so clean behind the doors, a terrace with sea views yet nothing to sit and on and unbelievably wifi you have to pay for. Ok there was free wifi in the lobby, that by the way anyone could walk in and use, but when paying those prices for rooms that are a bit past their best and the wifi charged for daily. I refused to pay and opted for the free public option.

My View. Room 413

One pleasant surprise was €3 for a glass of wine (not a small one) on the roof terrace, I was definitely expecting to pay more for that.

Would I go again? For the location and the roof terrace quite possibly but I'd certainly choose mid-week.

24 September 2014

Bar Pato Rojo - Great Seafood Tapas

Ten steps from the cathedral the tiny, time-warped everything-chrome Pato Rojo with its fast and furious service with a smile and fabulous varied seafood has been around for a very long time. Looking through the door when closed and seeing the time-warp decor may make you feel like walking on by - don't.

Try hustling through the tiny narrow bar when busy to smiling cheery bar tenders and an incredible choice of both free tapas and menu and it's heaven. Everyone's friendly even with elbows clashing and the bar tender stretching plates overhead to reach the far wall, it really is that tiny. With around 5 tables on the street and the same in the back room, the bar is often the only choice or ask for a table and wait. It's busy for a good reason.

Free Tapas - Prawns

Having a girly tapas crawl around the provincial capital this was definitely our favourite and hubby admitted next day (first time I'd heard it) that he'd been there in 1995 on a boys reccy trip and it was excellent then! He's never taken me there.

Free Tapas - Fried

Free Tapas - Cuttlefish

The great thing (sometimes) about being female and foreign is some special attention. We certainly had special or extra tapas and couldn't have possibly ordered anything from the menu if we wanted, we'd struggled (in vain) to finish that which we'd been served.

Free Tapas - Rosada (King Clip)

Free Tapas - Battered Prawns

We had seven or eight tapas, I lost count and forgot to photograph them as they seemed to be coming so fast. Our bill was 12.90€ for 3 white wines and 3 beers (two non alcoholic) I was driving.

Fiesta de Queso - Cheese Fair in Zuheros

It's end of summer once again and time for the Cheese Fair in the fairy-tale white mountain village of Zuheros in the Subbetica mountain range to the south of Cordoba province almost touching Jaen province. On 26,27 & 28th September a whole range of traditionally handmade goat cheese, both local and national, will be made on site, on display and for tasting.

This is one of the prettiest and craggiest small town in Cordoba right alongside one of the Via Verde walking and cycling routes, with fabulous huge bat caves, cuevas de los murcielagos, and the poster no way does the town, its tradition or culture justice.

Forgetting the awful poster the event is a cheese lovers must visit and a nature lovers paradise.

22 September 2014

Monday Morning Photo - Malaga at Night, Port & Palms

Malaga at night from the rooftop of Hotel Palacio de Malaga. El Palmeral, the port and Muelle Uno shopping centre in the background. A fabulous roof terrace with great 360° vistas day or night.

Malaga at Night, El Palmeral, port & Muelle Uno
Malaga at Night, El Palmeral, port & Muelle Uno

03 September 2014

Toolani - Cheaper Foreign Phone Calls From Spain

When approached and asked if I wanted to try out Toolani, an app for making cheaper calls to foreign numbers while in Spain with 10 euro credit to try it I said yes. Why not? When visitors come to our holiday home or family come they all have their mobiles with them and bills run up or credit runs out pretty quickly.

Not really being into apps, more from lack of time to play than not wanting to, I was a little apprehensive but it was easy. I downloaded the Toolani app fom Google Play, registered and there was my 10 euro credit ready to go. So now as soon as I go to phone a number outside Spain I get a pop up asking if I want to use Toolani, click on yes and my phone call is dialled. I pay 0,229 € to English mobiles and 0,029 € to English fixed phones per minute, each country has a different fee.

Toolani Logo

Not that I have used all the cridit I was given but I've also topped it up quickly and easily with a 50% offer, pay 5€ and get 10€ of calls. An easy way to make and save on phone calls, I will continue using Toolani when the occasions arise.

What I like about Toolani is that you buy credit so I can see how much credit I have and no nasty surprise bills at the end of the month. The downside is that an SMS can only be sent using IOS via their website and they cost 10 centimos, not a problem with my Android phone. Not everybody has WhatsApp yet and I find a lot of my older visitors don't, which means when they get lost or need help my phone bill used to shoot up.

Why not take a look and see if Toolani is for you.

01 September 2014

Monday Morning Photo - White Mountain Village of Istan

Lovely small white mountain village of Istan high up in the Sierra de las Nieves about 30 minutes from Marbella yet worlds away.

23 August 2014

Cooking in the Countryside of Malaga

If you ever thought Malaga was just an airport or beach location then think again. If you want a taste of real local home cooking not over-priced tourist grub or all-day breakfasts then a cooking-session-with-a-local in a lovely restored farmhouse surrounded by olive, almond, fig, pomegranate and nispero trees is needed to set the record straight.

Approach to Cortijo between Eucalyptus Trees

Having been invited by Mayte for a cooking session Malaga-style at her family's farmhouse I arrived with hubby, Nick, on a balmy August evening to a welcoming smile. Passing through fabulous ancient wooden doors (a weakness of mine) we entered the family home and out onto a pretty flowered-filled, sail-shaded, white-walled patio and a table laid with welcome drinks.

Central Patio, adorned for Malaga's fiesta

Cured Goat's Cheese tapa with two jams, Mulberry & Red Pepper

After a brief chat, Mayte speaks fluent English, and refreshing chilled beer the three of us headed out doors as hunter gatherers before our meal preparation. A variety of fruit trees, a vegetable bed and chicken pen provides inspiration for the kitchen.

Scalded Tomatoes ready for peeling & aubergines for Aubergine Chips

On our menu was Salmorejo, a personal favourite, with Aubergine Chips, Carne a la Malagueña - Malaga-style Pork in an onion, pepper and almond sauce with Rosemary Potato Wedges and for dessert Flan Inglesa with a Quince pastry dip.

Salmorejo on the Go

Having peeled and chopped the tomatoes they along with garlic, green pepper and soaked bread were whizzed together then extra virgin olive oil (from their own trees of course) a local wine vinegar and some salt were added and blended until a lovely creamy texture is obtained then chlled ready for sampling.

Ingredients for the Almond Sauce

Once the salmorejo was chilling we started on the almond sauce, frying the garlic, bread and almonds in the olive oil until brown, then removing them and frying the meat in the same oil until brown and removing it, then we fried the onions, when transparent added the peppers then the tomatoes and parsley.

Almond Sauce veg going into blender

Then all but the meat plus peppercorns and two different wines are blended together for a fabulous smelling sauce before being put back into the pan with the meat to gently simmer away.

Preparing Potato Wedges

Once the potatoes wedges were prepared, dressed and popped in the oven it was waiting time and what can you do while things are cooking away except enjoy a nice glass of white wine on the cute kitchen terrace looking over the quiet land dotted with trees. Mayte's friendly mum kept popping in, stirring a pot and proudly keeping an eye on things!

Serving Salmorejo with chopped hard-boiled egg to garnish

Mayte prepared the aubergine chips, a lovely crunchy change from rounds. It was all ready to sample. Our own work too! As usual once food arrives the camera is forgotten. A lovely evening and great food in charming company and a historic location.

Not a professional chef, Mayte has been cooking with her mother and grandmother since she was a child and loves to share her home, roots, traditions and food with all - a fun and informative cultural cooking experience.

Mayte can be contacted via her website A cooking Day

18 August 2014

Monday Morning Photo - Vall de Laguar

The stunning mountains and valley Vall de Laguar in Alicante, Valencia. Wind upwards away from the coast to the highest town of Campbell. If you like the winding roads and views of The Alpujarras if will love the rugged, snaking roads and fabulous walking and biking country here.

13 August 2014

Wild Swimming in Lakes and Rivers of Andalucia

The scorching summer heat of Andalucia is here and with it the need to cool off. Forget the noisy municipal pools, there's a better way to bring your temperature down, go wild swimming in the numerous lakes, rivers and reservoirs. Here are just five places to take a picnic and spend the day in the heart of the fabulous Andalucian countryside.

Cueva del Gato – Ronda

Cueva del Gato or Cat's Cave is a fabulous natural rock formation that is like the face of a cat.

Junta de los Rios – Almunecar

A favourite spot for thrill seekers and those into adventure sports. A bit of a trek is needed to get there but it's worth it when you do.

Embalse de Negratin

Embalse de Negratin - Guadix

Follow the campsite signs down to the lake and a beach-like area for paddling and swimming in an unusual lunar-like landscape.

Embalse de los Bermejales — Granada

Another huge reservoir around Granada, busier but more child-friendly than the rivers.

Rio Borosa - Cazorla

The tumbling river has many beautiful spots for jumping off and bathing in.

wild swimming, Rio Borosa, Cazorla
Rio Borosa, Cazorla