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Back in the playground

“My dad is bigger than your dad!” The arguments and oneupmanship of the infant school playground I remember with smiles. As for the older children, they were “the bigger boys”. In age a year or two older and that’s all that mattered. We didn’t consider stature – they were older, and may be “harder”! The lack of self confidence burnt into us at a very young age so that we were scared before we even said “Morning!”

I was six years old then, and now at 54 I still have several friends who were “bigger boys” in school days, and yes did make me unsure then, but I soon realised they are amongst the kindest, happiest people I know.

The mindset though born at infants school can manifest itself in adulthood. Sure we don’t argue who’s got the bigger car, or say “my missus’ risotto is better than your missus!” Still I can get unnerved when in the company of “the bigger boys” – those whom I ‘look up to’, admire, and respect their skills and experiences in a given area are much greater than my own.

Our Latest Supper was an opportunity to show some love to dear friends who are in the restaurant and hotel business. My version of “Cooking for the stars” whilst giving thanks for their kindness to us.

So if you run a busy restaurant business whereby you work 8am to midnight over 5 nights a week, what do you eat on your days off? Well I suppose if, for example, you run a grill restaurant, me serving up a ‘rib eye’ would be the last thing you fancied. Therefore I decided I couldn’t serve anything Aegean in style. If I ignored that thought then I potentially would be issuing tickets to a ‘busman’s holiday’!

I decided to look at another region whose cuisine I enjoy preparing and eating – Spain. I toyed with my favourite Canarian potatoes as a starter, and concluded, may be the salt covering would be a little too much for my guests. Next I moved mentally to Madrid and Patatas Bravas. I absolutely adore these roasted squares of potato covered in a rich spicy sauce. I thought  I was on to a winner, until the penny dropped. I was serving ‘ketchup ’n’ chips’ by another name. I needed to find something more elaborate or unusual. I called upon the lesson learnt from another “big boy”, the excellent chef, teacher, & dear friend, Juanitcho Luis Jimenez. Juan had encouraged me to make an authenticate paella de marisco. I remembered how he artfully, lovingly, took a piece of bread and made a delicious appetiser merely by toasting lightly, rubbing a clove of garlic over the bread and then smearing a reduction of tomato. Tomatoes on toast doesn’t do any justice to the flavours of this dish.

I was sold – the bread needed to be Mediterranean styled, the tomatoes reminding us of Spain, and something on top. Something historical. Spain’s history is full of invasions and invaders and therefore their culinary customs. If I could make something to reflect the influence of the Moors – something north African, then I was onto a winner.

Next of course came the mains – I settled upon paella – chicken with two types of beans. Something in the classic Valencian style. Dessert was easy, my wife volunteered to make her signature lemon cheesecake (OMG a must try!!)

Verily, the menu was set, Moors (moroccan style) grilled lamb bites on the tomato bread bed, paella (chicken & 2 bean) and lemon cheesecake.

My Spanish bread

  • 300g wholemeal flour
  • 135g olives (I used green & black)
  • 1.5 tsps (7.5g) yeast
  • .5 tsps (2.5g) salt
  • 135ml Lukewarm water
  • 3tbsp Olive oil

Tomato Marmalade

  • 340g chopped tomatoes
  • Salt
  • Stale bread
  • Pepper
  • Smoked paprika
  • 1tsp olive oil

Blitz everything in a food processor until you have a thick puree.

Moorish Lamb skewer

  • 2 lamb steaks diced
  • 1 cup of fresh parsley stalks and all
  • Zest and juice of a lemon
  • Medium onion
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 1tsps All Spice
  • .5tsp nutmeg
  • 4 crushed Cardamom seeds  
  • Salt
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Place all ingredients in the food processor EXCEPT the lamb, and blitz to make the marinade. Place the diced lamb in a bowl, pour over the marinade, cover with film, and refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours.

Skewer and cook for 10 minutes over a hot skillet, or barbecue or oven bake, until slightly charred.

This was my sample – unfortunately the presented didn’t last long enough for a photograph 🙂

Paella

  • 3 chicken breasts diced into chunks
  • 500g paella rice
  • 1 large wine glass sherry
  • 600ml chicken broth/stock
  • Large white onion
  • 3 gloves of garlic
  • Diced peppers red, yellow and orange
  • 1 can of Butterbeans
  • 135g  French beans
  • 4 strands of saffron
  • 1tbsp smoked paprika
  • 120g frozen peas
  • 1tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 8 – 10 slices of chorizo
  • Lime
  • Olive oil

Drizzle oil into a hot pan and tosh in 2-3 slices of chorizo. Fry for just over a minute as you see the meat glistening as the fat releases the spicy flavours. Add the chicken chunks and fry until the chicken is no longer pink. Turn off the heat, cover the pan, and leave until approximately 40 minutes before you wish to serve.

When ready, bring the hob to a medium heat and when pan starts to sizzle, add the garlic, onion, & peppers and sauté – usually 4-5 minutes – until soft.

Add the paprika and pepper, stirring the entire time. Now add the sherry, followed by the rice. Stir well. As the pans returns to a simmering temperature, add the hot chicken stock, beans and peas, & saffron. Allow to simmer for a few moments whilst you ensure everything has combined.

Remove the heat but leave the pan on the hot hob ring, cover, and leave for 15-30 minutes.

Add more chorizo and wedges of lime to serve. Slice the remainder of the bread and have olive oil and balsamic vinegar on hand for depending upon your guest’s preferences.

The Lemon Cheesecake is Claire’s signature dish and I respect her too much share her recipe here. I think it will be another post (written by herself).

I received thanks and praise for my efforts, and more importantly good friends shared an evening of food, drink and chat. 

Akin to the 6 year old who was in awe of the ‘bigger boys’, the 54 year old remained in awe but felt privileged and honoured in to be in such circles.

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