Sunday, 24 August 2014

Recipe: Stuffat tal-Majjal (Maltese Pork Stew)

I can't really say how authentic my version of this Maltese dish is, as I adapted it from an online recipe according to what I had in the cupboards.  But then again Maltese recipes seem to vary so much - I don't think there is one definitive way of making any one dish!

Anyway, this was tasty and warming for a chilly August(!) evening. I hope you enjoy my version of this dish.

Simmering the stew...
80g smoked bacon lardons or chopped smoked bacon
300g pork shoulder steaks, cut into chunks
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 carrots, thickly sliced
1 large potato, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon dried mixed herbs
1 (generous) tablespoon tomato puree
200ml red wine
500ml vegetable stock
handful of frozen peas (optional)
salt and pepper to season

1. Fry the bacon on a medium-high heat for a minute or two until it starts to release its fat.
2. Add the pork and fry until brown all over.
3. Turn the heat down a bit, and then add the onion, carrots, potato, garlic and dried mixed herbs. Cook for about five minutes, stirring well.
4. Add the tomato puree, stir well so it coats the meat and the vegetables and cook for another two minutes.
5. Pour in the wine and let it bubble for a few minutes until it has reduced a bit.
6. Pour in the stock, put a lid on the saucepan and simmer gently for about an hour and a half until the pork is tender, stirring occasionally.
7. Depending on how thick you want the sauce, you could remove the lid for some of the cooking time to let the sauce reduce and thicken. I usually remove the lid for the last 20 - 30 minutes and let the sauce get quick thick for a more intense flavour - but keep an eye on it and add more water if it starts to reduce too much!
8. If using, add the peas about five minutes before the end of the cooking time.

Serve with chunks of crusty bread.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Restaurant Review: Las Iguanas, Leamington Spa

Las Iguanas is a chain of restaurants serving Latin American food, and the Leamington Spa branch opened recently. We were invited to try out the food, which we did last weekend. 

I liked the decor of the restaurant and the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. The staff were very helpful and attentive. They gave a good explanation of the various offers that were on and made sure that everything was ok at each stage of our meal.

Given that we arrived just before the end of happy hour, we decided to start our meal with a cocktail each. We chose a pina colada (£6.70) each, which with the buy one get one free happy hour deal was a bargain! It was a good pina colada too - not too thick in texture like some pina coladas are - cool and refreshing for a muggy summer's evening. There are some other amazing-sounding cocktails which do not come under the happy hour deal, so I feel a return visit may be in order at some point!

We ordered a bottle of Chilean red wine with our meal - my husband felt it was a little pricey compared to its quality (£21.60), but I found it very enjoyable and drinkable. I was impressed that the bottle had been warmed before being served to us!

For starters I chose the bread and olives (£3.95). Perhaps not the most exciting dish, but my love of olives gets the better of me sometimes. There was a lot of bread included - I think this would be a good dish for sharing! The olives were good - very soft in texture.

My husband had the Panajillo (£3.30) - a kind of garlic bread with coriander and chilli added. He liked the additional spices, making it a bit different from traditional garlic bread.

When it comes to main meals, there is plenty to choose from (perhaps a little too much choice even). You can have a tapas style meal, a Mexican main meal, a Brazilian meal, or something from further afield. I opted for a Mexican dish this time but I would definitely like to try one of the Brazilian dishes another time - they sound delicious!

I opted for the barbeque and shredded jalapeno steak burrito (£10.95) on this occasion - it was huge!
It was at this point that I began to realise that perhaps the starter had been a mistake... The burrito was tasty, although perhaps a little stodgy (although I suppose that is the nature of burritos). It took a little while for the flavour to hit and at first I was finding a little bland, but eventually the spices started to come through. I liked the spring onion and garlic rice - it was a nice accompaniment. I do wish there had been slightly more guacamole on the plate, though (purely because I love guacamole). I have perhaps had better burritos, but this one certainly wasn't bad.

My husband went for something from the grill section of the menu - the steak Churrasco Fiasco (£14.50). The steak was well cooked, although my husband found it a little too spicy for his palate - but I think that might go for Latin American food in general for him, as he generally doesn't tolerate chilli heat as much as I do!
I was just about to burst from all the food at this point, but it seemed a shame not to try a dessert, particularly as they had churros (£3.50 for 3 or £6 for 6) on the menu. We ordered six to share, although I think I only managed one. They are pretty big, though, and were definitely some of the best churros I have had - very, very crispy and both the dipping sauces (chocolate ganache and dulce de leche) were delicious, although I liked the chocolate one best.

I also decided to have an after dinner drink to accompany the dessert - a rum hot chocolate, which was as yummy as it sounds.

Overall then, this was a good meal, and we'd definitely be willing to return and try some different dishes from the menu, although perhaps I would order slightly less food next time! The prices are on the whole reasonable, the staff are friendly and helpful, the food is tasty, and there is even a separate vegetarian menu if you prefer not to eat meat. Just make sure you are very hungry before you visit!

Disclaimer: We were given a discount on the meal for review purposes. I was not required to write a positive review, and all views are of course my own.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Garden Update: Summer Sowing

Apologies that I haven't been writing much on this blog lately - things were a bit crazy with finishing my Masters degree and then starting a new full-time job (well, technically, it's a traineeship). I also had not done that much with the garden for a while, partly because of the above, and partly because much of what I did sow, got absolutely demolished by slugs. This disheartened me a bit and I lost my gardening mojo for a while.

Having said all that, we did get a very good crop of broad beans, and a fair few peas as well, although on the whole I felt that the broad beans gave a bigger pay-off. We never really got enough peas to make a decent-sized amount for dinner. Both vegetables were delicious, and I really enjoyed growing and eating them.

Broad beans have very pretty flowers


 One of my pea and broad bean harvests
I was able to make some lovely dishes with my harvests including some yummy bowls of Kusksu (Maltese Spring Soup):
Kusksu (Maltese Soup)
My broad beans and peas had been quite early as I had grown them both over Winter, so they'd come to the end of their life recently.

I have got some other things which are still growing as well, though. 

French marigolds


Nasturtiums in the border

More nasturtiums trying to take over the path

Strawberry plant in a hanging basket.
I also set about sowing some more seeds in my raised beds today, which I am hoping will provide me with some tasty vegetables in the Autumn and maybe even into Winter. Seeds sown today were: carrots, coriander, spring onions, rocket, parsley, fennel, swiss chard and kale. Here's hoping the slugs don't eat them all this time!

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Restaurant review: Ye Olde Saracen's Head, Balsall Common

I was recently invited to do a review of Ye Olde Saracen's Head in Balsall Common. My husband had dined there once before and raved about it, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to see if he was right!

The pub has a large amount of seating for diners and has a warm and rustic atmosphere, with a lovely open fireplace. The pub has both a charcoal oven and a woodfired pizza oven, making for some delicious-sounding meals.

To drink we had a quite a sharp-tasting shiraz, which mellowed when mingled with the flavours of our food. Wines start from about £16 a bottle and go up to about £60(!), so there is a wide range to choose from.

To start, I opted for the Charcoal Oven Roasted Marinated duck skewers (£7.50). I was particularly impressed by how well the duck was cooked - so often with these types of meals you get over-cooked, dry duck; the duck in this dish was perfectly cooked - still pink inside and perfectly moist, and the accompanying sauce was sweet and sticky and delicious.

My husband chose the bread and olives (£3.50) for starters. It was presented very well, it tasted good, and was pretty sizeable - it would make a good sharer!

For my main, I had the Hot Josper smoked salmon 'Caesar Salad' (£11.95). This was on the whole a nice dish, but in some ways a little disappointing. The smokiness of the salmon didn't really come through very well - I think it got lost a little amongst the lettuce and the creamy salad dressing. I liked the anchovy croutons, though - they added good texture and flavour, and I like the addition of the poached egg on top.

My husband had the Fillet Charcoal Oven Steak (£25.95) - I tried a bit and it was heavenly. Perfectly browned on the outside and pink and juicy in the middle. The chips were nicely cooked too.
My husband had eaten some of his salad by this point...

On to my favourite course: dessert (all desserts are £5.95). I couldn't resist going for the lemon meringue pie, and I think it was a wise choice. The meringue was beautifully light and the lemon the right mixture of tart and sweet. The fruit was perhaps a little unnecessary, though.

My husband went for the chocolate brownie with ice cream and chocolate sauce. He assures me that it was delicious, but sadly I didn't get to taste any.

Overall, then, we had a lovely time at Ye Olde Saracen's Head. Good food and a warm atmosphere. The service was also good, with the staff being attentive and polite. I am looking forward to a return visit to see how good their pizza oven is!

Disclaimer: This meal was complimentary for review purposes. I was not required to write a positive review, and all views are of course my own.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Chiltern Valley Winery & Brewery

For my husband's birthday, I bought him a voucher for a tour and tasting and overnight stay at Chiltern Valley Winery & Brewery. We went on the trip just over a week ago and were quite impressed by the winery's products.

On arrival we were shown to our room in the B&B. The B&B consists of four bedrooms in a converted farmhouse. We were staying in the Vineyard View Room, which did indeed have a lovely view, and I can imagine it would be even lovelier in the Summer.

Then it was time for our afternoon tour and tasting. Because we were B&B guests we were entitled to free tea and coffee before the start of the tour, which was a nice touch.

The tour guide first gave us some background and history of the winery/brewery, and explained a bit about the wine side of things before we went on to the microbrewery, where we learnt how they make their beer, which includes some kind of bottle fermentation. I nodded and pretended that I understood about beer (my husband, as you probably already know, is the beer drinker).

Then we were shown the labelling and bottling machines.
Bottling Machine

It was then time for the tasting (hurrah!). Firstly we tried the Special Cuvée, which was very nice, followed by the English Sparkling Wine. They were both nice, but I was particularly impressed with the Sparkling Wine. I had never tried English wine before, but I have to say the Sparkling Wine was nicer than a lot of Champagnes I've had (although Prosecco remains my sparkling drink of choice) - it was less sharp and slightly smoother than some Champagnes.

It was then onto the ales, of which we tried: the Gold Ale, Barn Ale, Dark Roast, and Damson Ale. I'm not a beer drinker (although I have tried), so most of these went to my husband. I did taste each one, though, but the only one I could tolerate was the Damson Ale, which wasn't bad, mostly due to its fruitiness. My husband liked all the beers, though, especially the Dark Roast.

We then moved on to the liqueurs... We tried a few different liqueurs including the Blood Orange, Damson Vodka, Wild Strawberry, and Lemon Zest. All nice, although I much preferred the citrus-flavoured ones, but that's a personal preference for me in general.

The tasting and tour lasted about 2 hours in total, so I thought it was pretty good value for money (the tour costs about £15 each, although vouchers can be purchased from other sites such as Virgin Experience Days, and sometimes they have offers on... worth looking out for).

Suitably squiffy, we were then let loose in the shop. I'm not sure if this was a good thing, but we are pretty much sorted for alcohol at home for the next year now. Having had a chance to taste some things again at home, I would recommend the English Sparkling Wine with a dash of Wild Strawberry Liqueur. Also, the Irish Cream is nicer than Bailey's (I'm not really a fan of the latter, but liked Chiltern's Irish Cream).

The emphasis at Chiltern Valley Winery & Brewery is on quality rather than quantity and their products are definitely worth a look if you're into wine, beer, or indeed liqueurs. We enjoyed the chance to try English wine, as well as the other products that Chiltern Valley sell.

After a comfortable night's sleep in the Farmhouse, we awoke to glorious sunshine and the smell of cooked breakfast (included in the price) wafting up the stairs. All in all, a lovely weekend!

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Microwave Blog Challenge Round Up

The deadline for the microwave blog challenge was Friday and I was delighted to have three entries in total (including my own) - not bad for a first-time challenge-setter! Here is my round up of the fabulous dishes:

1) Sarah from Simply Cooked made this wonderful Microwave Mustard Cauliflower - never has a cauliflower looked so tasty:

2) Janice from Farmersgirl Kitchen made Steamed Seabass with Chinese Style Vegetables - healthy and delicious!

3) And, finally, I made a microwave mixed bean chilli. Yummy!

I think these three dishes show that microwave cooking can be quite versatile, and indeed healthy. Thank you very much to Sarah and Janice for taking part - I hope this inspires others to experiment with microwave cooking.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Garden Update: First Signs of Spring

Well, it's been a wet Autumn and Winter to say the least! It's been difficult to find a dry day to get out and do the general gardening tidying up jobs that you're supposed to do other the last few months. We've managed it though, and trees have been chopped back, roses have been pruned (in a fashion...), and leaves have been raked.

You may remember that round about December time I planted some broad beans and peas in one of my raised beds. I was slightly heart broken to discover a month or so ago that they had been munched to within in an inch of their lives by slugs. I never really had a massive problem with slugs during Spring and Summer last year, but as soon as the wet and mild weather of Autumn arrived, they came out in force. I like to garden as organically as I can, mostly to protect and encourage wildlife, so any kind of chemical pest control is out of the question. I'm also far too lazy to adopt the go out at night and find and kill as many slugs as you can method - especially not with the weather lately and I generally don't like to kill stuff. So I took evasive action using these Slug Gone wool pellets (which is supposed to stop slugs getting at your plants) in an effort to save the few plants that hadn't been completely mutilated. I can't 100% say that this is down to the wool pellets, but they definitely must have helped, because 2 weeks later here is one of my broad bean plants:

From an almost crushing defeat, I have returned victorious! The grey stuff is the wool pellets. They were easy to apply and it also acts as a mulch and releases nutrients into the soil. The peas are still not looking quite as good - they were munched much more in the first place - but a couple of them have picked up, so fingers-crossed.

A couple of weeks ago I also dug my green manure into the soil, so I will be planting in that bed as well soon. I'm going to have a go at parsnips and kale this year and hopefully have some things growing over Winter this time around.

Generally stuff is coming to life again and it's lovely to see. Here is my so far unidentified tree, which is always an early blossomer, but was particularly early this year with the mild weather:

If anyone can tell  me what this tree is, I would be very grateful!

And here is my Winter Jasmine, which is just starting to flower:

I'm also making more efforts to encourage more wildlife into the garden this year. I already have a few bug houses, but am going to buy some ladybird food to try and encourage more into the garden. I have purchased this hogitat in the hope that it will encourage some hoggy slug-eating friends into the garden. Apparently my long grass and piles of unraked leaves are also a good environment for hedgehogs. Slightly slapdash gardening has its perks!