Category Archives: General foodie news

Rapid Fire Supper

Sunday evenings are a bit of loose cannon in our culinary week – no designated cook nor plan.

Usually whoever is the hungriest acts first.

Last night I spotted a small bowl of borlotti beans on the counter that had been picked a few days previously. It was too small to have any real purpose but too valuable to waste. I put them in pot with a bashed clove of garlic, covered them with water and set them to cook. As they were fresh this only took twenty minutes. When they were cooked I drained them, dressed them with olive oil and little salt and then checked out the fridge.

I found a bag of mixed mushrooms from the farmers market- shiitake, oyster and portabello and then I discovered a tub of Glenilen cremefraiche – surely the creamiest and tastiest. Hmmm…. a plan was beginning to form.

Here’s what we had. Fast , comforting and tasty – if little blonde – it was on the table in ten minutes.

Serves 2

Borlotti, Mushrooms and Orzo

400g cooked borlotti beans – or one can drained and rinsed

200g orzo

300g mixed mushrooms

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

2 heaped tablespoons creme fraiche

a little chopped parsley

Put a saucepan of water to boil to cook the pasta

Slice the mushrooms and chop the garlic

When the water boils add a heaped teaspoon of salt and the orzo. Cook for 5 -7 minutes – check the packet for cooking time

Heat a large sauté pan. Add the butter and olive oil and as soon as the butter melts add all the mushrooms and stir well. Keep the heat high and stir the mushrooms every minute until they almost begin to brown. Add the borlotti beans then stir in the chopped garlic, cook for one minute longer. Take the pan off the heat.

At this stage the orzo should be cooked. Drain it and add it to the pan.

Stir in the creme fraiche and parsley and you’re ready to go


Tomato Party

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Storm Ellen did a superb job of flattening our beans but fortunately the tomato tunnel stood strong and our beautiful tomatoes are still ripening and bursting with flavour.

The feasting is endless. Tomatoes with everything.

Whilst browsing for tomato ideas I came across a recipe for Panzanella. It was the picture that caught my fancy as a salad using old bread that was dried then got wet again sounded odd. I checked out a few more recipes and realised this idea had real potential and no better chance of success than when surrounded by ripe home grown tomatoes.

Panzanella originates in Italy where there are ripe tomatoes and dry bread aplenty. These simple ingredients paired with the best olive oil and vinegar that you can lay your hands on make a stunning salad.

The first step is to dry out the bread, which proved easier said than done in a West Cork kitchen. I used thick slices of sour dough bread as recommended and spread it out in a bread basket and left it in the kitchen to dry.

In the south of Europe where these recipes originate bread bought in the morning is stale by the evening, hence the proliferation of recipes using old bread but no such luck here. Two days later the bread was still perfectly edible and far from dry so I turned the oven on for assistance.

I couldn’t resist rubbing the slices of bread with a cut clove of garlic before ripping it into small pieces and tossing with a drizzle of olive oil. ( if you like garlic bread, you will like this) I spread the bread on a baking tray, popped it in the oven and ten minutes later it was beautifully dry .

Now is the moment to make this recipe if you live in this part of the world. The local tomatoes are ripe and at their full flavour potential. The only time of the year we can eat such tasty tomatoes without travelling. Check out the farmers markets and small stores that sell home grown vegetables

This recipe is well worth the effort = dry bread and tomatoes tossed together with olive oil, vinegar and basil makes a sublime combination however odd it might sound, a real flavour and texture bomb in the mouth.

Simplicity at its best

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Panzanella

Tuscan Tomato and Bread salad

 

4  large ripe tomatoes

4 thick slices sourdough or country bread

3 cloves garlic

1 small red onion.

1 bunch basil

150mls extra virgin olive oil

50mls vinegar – the best you have

1 tsp Dijon mustard

Salt and black pepper

Anchovies in oil (optional)

 

Put the oven on 180c

Cut the crusts from the slices of bread, rub with a cut side of garlic – no need to peel it.. Tear the bread into small pieces (2cm).

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Put it into a bowl, drizzle over a little olive oil 1-2tbs, toss well then spread out on a baking tray. Bake for ten minutes then check. The bread should be crisp but not brown.

Dice the tomatoes into 1 -2cm cubes, sprinkle over a little salt and put them into a sieve or colander and set them over a bowl to catch the juices. Leave for 15-20 minutes.

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Peel and finely slice the red onion. Massage in a few grains of salt to separate and soften the onion. Peel the remaining 2 cloves of garlic and chop very finely.

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Put the garlic into a small bowl together with the Dijon mustard, vinegar and the juice that has run off from the tomatoes. Whisk these together then drizzle in the olive oil whilst continuing to whisk until you have a creamy emulsion. Stir in the sliced onion.

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Put the tomatoes and dried bread into a bowl – approx. 50/50 of each. (Keep any remaining bread to top other salads or soup). Chop the basil and add to the bowl, pour over the dressing then toss together until well mixed. Leave aside for ten minutes to let the flavours to mingle before serving.

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Pea Days

I have a cameo memory from when I was young of sitting on the back doorstep shucking peas in the sunshine with my mum. Peas were super exciting then as although peas were available in cans all year round it was before the frozen pea revolution and canned peas were completely different to fresh peas. Fresh peas were a total treat when they arrived.

We grow peas in our garden. Just for us, not for the shop, because if we were paid to grow, pick and shuck the peas without a mechanised system they would be like gold.

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We just grow them to eat like sweeties when they first ripen and as the crop ripens we always make risi e bisi (a pea risotto) and summer vegetable pilafs, paellas and salads but after that we begin to scratch our heads and the peas keep coming. It’s a real grow your own phenomenon, the all or nothing syndrome and when the peas ripen they need eating as it’s obvious they should not go into the freezer.

This is new recipe that we’ve enjoyed this summer. It was inspired by a recipe from Spain called Tortillitas de Camarones which are crispy little fritters made with baby shrimp. Last autumn we visited Sanlucar de Barrameda in the very south of Spain and I have happy memories of bars where camarones were served as tapas on the terraces, usually with an accompanying glass of chilled manzanilla, the local sherry.

I became addicted to these thin crispy fritters and when I got home I tried to make my own. They weren’t quite the same and it wasn’t only the lack of sunshine that was missing  so I googled the problem and after reading many recipes and watching a particularly edifying YouTube tutorial I cracked it!

You might be wondering at this stage what this has to do with the peas, well I discovered they are an excellent addition to this recipe, either peas and shrimp or peas alone. Both work very well and the peas alone are suitable for vegans which is always a bonus.

There are couple of little tricks involved so read the recipe carefully before you begin.

Use a combination of gram flour and white rice flour if you want the fritters to be gluten-free. The water needs to be chilled and sparkling gives the best results

 

Pea fritters – Tortillitas de Guisantes

 

200g peas – fresh or defrosted

1 small onion

90g gram flour

40g white flour or rice flour

¼ tsp turmeric

A little lemon zest

1 tbs finely chopped parsley

Chilled sparkling water

Oil to fry

 

Pod or defrost the peas.

Sift the gram flour and regular flour or cornflour into a bowl. Add half teaspoon salt and turmeric. Stir to mix.

Peel and finely chop the onion small and finely chop the parsley. Zest a few swipes of lemon for the mix

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Put everything except for the water into the bowl and mix well then start stirring in the chilled water until the batter has a medium pouring consistency, like a crepe pancake mix or pouring cream.

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Heat 4cms oil in a frying pan or wide based saucepan and when it is hot add a tablespoon of the fritter mix, spread it a little with the spoon after it goes into the pan, spreading the fritter with the back of the spoon under surface of the oil., it should be bubbling just below the surface. You need to do this quickly. Repeat but don’t overcrowd the pan.

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Cook each side for 2-3 minutes, until golden. Lift onto kitchen paper then cook the next batch. It’s a good idea to stack the fritters like dishes so the oil drains off both sides.

Serve with lemon wedges

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Potato Capers

We had planned to be in Greece at this time giving a culinary tour of Syros but as we’re grounded we’re enjoying lots of Greek recipes which can be made anywhere! Syros is where we first encountered capers growing on shrubs that cling on the rocks overhanging the sea. Capers grow on small shrubs that grow wild in stone walls and crevices all over the Mediterranean. They are used to liven up all manner of salads, sauces, pastas and fish dishes adding a salty citric kick.

Capers are flower buds which need to be harvested early in the morning before the buds open, and rushed home to be preserved in salt or pickled in vinegar. Once preserved they keep for a long time and they are widely available in Ireland. My preference is for capers preserved in salt, they are fatter and more succulent but use whatever you have or can lay your hands on.

 

This recipe is to celebrate the arrival of the new potatoes, it’s fresh and zingy as summer food should be with herbs, feta, capers and a yoghurt, olive oil and lemon dressing.

Potato and Feta Salad

 

500g small waxy potatoes

4-5 spring onions or one red onion

1 tbs capers – rinsed well

2tbs black olives

100g feta

handful flat leaf parsley

handful mint

100mls olive oil

1 tsp Dijon mustard

juice ½ lemon

2 anchovies (optional)

3tbs natural yoghurt

 

 

Soak the capers in a bowl of fresh water

Cook the potatoes gently with their skins on, this will take 15-20 minutes depending on size. Take off the heat, drain and  cool then peel and chop into a large dice. Season with a little salt.

Tidy up the spring onions then chop finely or peel and finely chop the red onion

Rinse the capers in a sieve under the tap

Chop the parsley and mint

Put the potatoes, spring onion, capers, black olives and chopped herbs into a bowl and crumble the feta on top.

To make the dressing put the Dijon mustard, anchovies – if you are using them, olive oil, lemon juice and yoghurt into a jug and buzz until smooth, or, chop the anchovies finely and whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl

Pour the dressing over the salad and gently toss together.

 


Where did I see that recipe?!

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I had definite ‘food slump’ last week, my brain just didn’t want to know what to cook so I ended up leafing through cookbooks in search of inspiration. At some point I came upon a recipe for barley risotto with feta which was interesting on two fronts. One being that I had piece of locally produced ‘Greek’ style goats cheese in the fridge and the other that barley grows here in Ireland and therefore hits the sustainable list.

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However between reading and making the dish I found I couldn’t remember where I’d seen the recipe. I checked through several books until I figured i’d better just get the dinner on the go or we wouldn’t be getting any.  I free styled the recipe but one detail which I thought that I had remembered was the cooking time – 20 minutes – which I had obviously got very wrong as the barley took a good hour to become nicely nutty and toothsome. In fact if I had thought about it all I would have realised that barley is not a fast cooker but luckily hunger is the best sauce and when the risotto was ready it was eaten with gusto. Just have the crossword handy to occupy yourself whilst loitering and stirring.

Tomato, Fennel and Barley Risotto

1 large onion

1 bulb fennel

75g butter

25mls olive oil

300g pearled barley

1 glass white wine

300mls tomato passata

1.2litre stock (approx)

200g local goats cheese or feta

rocket or basil pesto to serve

Peel and chop the onion finely. Heat a medium saucepan, add 25g butter, the olive oil and chopped onion, Cook on a medium heat.

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Cut the fennel in half lengthwise then slice thinly lengthwise. Add the fennel to the onions, sprinkle a little salt and stir well.

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Cook so that the onions and fennel are sizzling nicely without browning until they melt down, 10-15 minutes.

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Add the pearled barley and stir well until well mixed then add a glass of wine. Allow the wine to bubble up and reduce then stir in the passata. Bring everything to a bubble then begin to add roughly one fifth of  vegetable stock at a time, stirring very 5 minutes and adding more stock as needed to keep it cooking and from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Taste when the stock is used up and if the risotto is not ready add a little water and continue cooking.

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Dice the remaining 50g butter and dice the goats cheese.

When the risotto is to your liking take off the heat and beat in the butter. Beat being the operative word as this will make the risotto creamy. Stir three quarters of the goats cheese through. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper if needed,

Spoon into shallow bowls, top with the remaining cheese and drizzle over a little pesto.

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Beam Me Up Spuddy!

Here’s a recipe to teleport you to Greece from your own kitchen using the humble spud.

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Just imagine the blue sea, the blue skies, sitting outside a taverna and all those tray bakes of vegetables, meats and fish. The Greeks are masters at traybakes and the tavernas often have rows of different dishes which have been slowly cooked in an oven displayed on the counter.

The slow cooking is key, generally the dishes aren’t complicated but cooking slowly creates intense flavour that hasn’t shooshed off into the stratosphere it’s just settled quietly in the pan

This dish is real simple spring food, potatoes roasted into sweet submission with olive  oil, oregano and lemon juice. Delicious with nearly everything and the bonus is it’s made with ingredients you might well have in the house.

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Greek Lemon Roasted Potatoes

 

1kg potatoes

2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1 tsp dried oregano

1 lemon, juiced

75mls olive oil

Salt

100mls vegetable/chicken stock

 

Oven 190c

Peel the potatoes then cut into large chunks.

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Toss with a generous glug of olive oil, chopped garlic, oregano and salt then put them in a single layer on a baking tray and bake for 20 minutes. Take the tray from the oven, give the potatoes a shake then pour the vegetable/chicken stock over the potatoes.

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Bake for another 20 minutes then take the tray out again, shake the potatoes and sprinkle over the lemon juice . Bake for 15 minutes more or until the potatoes are golden and beginning to crisp.

Scrape out all crusty bits when serving.

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Is it Bunday?

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Every Easter we bake hot cross buns. In fact I have eaten hot cross buns on Good Friday more or less all my life. Not for religious reasons but because it’s a seasonal culinary treat. A brief interlude when I lived in Belgium, but otherwise I’ve always lived in one bun country or another.

Ever since the coronavirus lockdown I have been taking it very easy in the mornings, we’ve even become confused as to what day it is, but this morning i woke early and hopped up to put the buns on. It’s great to have a mission for the day even if it’s only to make buns. Hot cross buns are made with a brioche type dough but with added fruit and spices. Deliciously simple if you have time – which we do have right now. There’s no problem waiting for dough to rise, sure what else would we do?

Hot Cross Buns – makes 20 (plenty to share with the neighbours)

250mls milk

250mls water

1kg flour – maybe a little more

1dsp dried yeast or 20g fresh yeast

100g sugar

100g butter

2 eggs

2tsp cinnamon

2 tsp cake spice

100g currants

100g raisins or sultanas

100g candied peel

a small piece pastry dough to make the crosses

egg wash – egg  mixed with little milk

I use Dcl (freeze dried yeast) but fresh yeast is good too. The sachets of quick yeast are not suitable for this method. If you are using fresh yeast just mash it with little sugar before adding to the liquid.

Heat the milk and water to blood heat- the temperature you would comfortably bathe a baby in. Be careful, too hot and it will kill the yeast.

Put the liquid in a large bowl and sprinkle over the dried yeast and a teaspoonful of sugar. give the bowl a shake then leave until the yeast re-activates and pops to the surface. If you are using fresh yeast stir into the liquid.

Whisk some flour in until you have a thick batter. Add the sugar, 2 eggs, the spices and fruit then mix well.

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Melt the butter, stir into the batter then begin to add more flour. Stirring the flour in until the mx begins to leave the sides of the bowl.

Turn the mix out onto a clean, well floured surface. Scrape the bowl out then begin to bring the dough together . This is where a dough scraper or egg flip come in handy to prevent the dough getting stuck all over your hands. Flip the dough , adding more flour to the counter ( not on top of the dough) until it comes together. Continue kneading with your hands. Knead until the dough is bouncy and stops picking up flour.

Clean the bowl, dry and wipe around a little oil. Put the dough in the bowl then leave in a warm place to rise. Sunshine is ideal but otherwise any warm spot –  not direct heat .

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When the dough has doubled in size tip it to onto a lightly floured surface – this is where the oiled bowl comes into play – and knead once more. Put the dough back into the bowl and leave to rise once more.

Heat the oven 180c.

Line your baking sheets with parchment paper

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Roll the dough into a fat sausage, cut into two or three pieces lengthwise then cut into equal sized pieces – you should end up with 20-22 bits. Roll each piece into bun and place on the baking tray. Leave to rise until double in size.

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When the buns have doubled in size roll out the pastry quite thin then cut into strips.

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Glaze the buns with egg wash then lay the pastry over the buns to make a cross, then egg wash once more

Bake for 20 minutes or until golden,

Cook 2tbs sugar with 2tbs water. Boil for one minute then brush over the buns

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Time for a cup of tea!

 


Time for Chickpeas

This is a recipe from the ‘live to be one hundred’ collection. Revithnos is a chickpea soup from Sifnos in Greece.  It’s cooked slowly using just a few key ingredients – chickpeas, onion, olive oil, lemon and bay leaves. The slow cooking makes the chickpeas velvety soft in an emulsion of olive oil and onion which is brightened up with a squeeze of lemon juice. I seldom cook this dish as it takes a long time to cook but time is something we have plenty of at the moment. Although don’t confuse taking time with having to do a lot as after the initial cooking of the onions and bringing everything to the boil this more or less looks after itself.

Today’s revithnos did take a long time, especially as our Irish bought chickpeas must have been sitting in a warehouse for months if not years. I soaked them for 48 hours then cooked then for five hours by which time we were hungry and the dish was not ready so we resorted to blasting them in the pressure cooker for 10 minutes. They were good, softer would have been better but our appetites got in the way of culinary excellence.  Next time I will seek out fatter and younger chickpeas but I still love the simplicity of this dish and even old chickpeas make a richly satisfying  one pot wonder

Here’s the recipe although the cooking times are variable and it’s also possible to cook this entirely stovetop – or blast it in the pressure cooker if your hunger gets the better of you.

 

 

Revithnos – Chickpea Soup

 

350g chickpeas

150mls olive oil

2 large onions

2-4 cloves garlic

1 -2 bay leaves

big strip of orange peel – skin only

lemon juice

salt and pepper

water

a handful of parsley

 

Soak the chickpeas over night then drain well.

Peel the onions and garlic and chop finely.

Put the olive oil into a heavy pot and heat gently. Add the chopped onion and cook until the onions melt down but don’t let them brown. Stir in the chopped garlic and cook for a further two minutes then add the chickpeas , orange peeland bay leaf. Stir everything together for a few minutes then add enough water to cover everything by 2-3cm. Bring to the boil, reduce to a low simmer and cover with a tight fitting lid. Cook for one to one and a half hours or until the chickpeas are soft.

Stir in the juice of a lemon , add a little more water if it looks like it’s getting dry and season with a little salt. Pop the pot into a low oven , 150c, oven for an hour.

Serve with a little chopped parsley. 

 


Posh Carrot Salad

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This is just what we need at this time, carrot salad elevated to a vegan prawn cocktail status. It’s guaranteed to cheer up the day and boost our immune systems.

This is a rehash of a salad that we’ve been eating for years but re-assembled. The carrots and avocado are a great source of vitamin C and antioxidants and the toasted seeds provide omega 3’s and crunch.

I enjoy eating this dressed with a little vinaigrette but a drizzle of olive oil and squeeze of lemon juice would be good too.

 

1 ripe avocado

2 carrots

20g sunflower seeds

1 tsp soya sauce or tamari

1 tsp Dijon vinegar

1 tbs vinegar – your best

3-4 tbs extra virgin olive oil

Carefully split a just ripe avocado in half and remove the pit. Peel each half  – the skin should peel back with very little assistance with a knife. Just nick the skin with a knife and with a bit of luck the skin peel back by hand. Put each half in a small bowl.

Peel and grate the carrots then pile the carrots on the avocado

Heat a dry pan and gently toast the sunflower seeds then toss together with a little soya/tamari sauce.

Whisk the vinegar together with the vinegar using a fork then slowly whisk in the olive oil Season with a little salt or a few drops of soya/tamari sauce

Scatter the seeds over the carrots then drizzle over a little vinaigrette

Any left-over vinaigrette can be stored in the fridge – jam jars with lids or recycled mozzarella tubs work well here

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Baracoa and Coconut Fish

IMG_6971Three weeks ago we were leaving Cuba after this little adventure. It was our second visit, having explored the ‘top’ end last year I was quite smitten, and wanted to see more. Below is a tale of our trip to the other end which proved quite challenging as  catching a bus in Cuba is complicated but it’s like a distant memory in the shadow of what’s going on in the world today

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Although the Cubans are really struggling at this time – one tanker of oil is delivered every fifteen days from Russia for the entire population of more than eleven million – it was the country that accepted the ‘coronavirus cruise ship’ which had been refused entry by other Caribbean countries.  The passengers were given medical care where appropriate and then flown home. It’s an extraordinary country, crippled by sanctions but perhaps compassion comes easier when people are used to having less? Perhaps that’s what we all have to gain whilst the world on pause. I’m fascinated by this country which survives on so little yet has so much – education and medical care for everyone, enough to eat (even though it’s no culinary hotspot) and most importantly time for each other . 

So here’s where I was last month!

 Baracoa, in Guantanamo province, is the oldest and most remote town in Cuba. At the very easterly tip of the country it’s the most Irish of Cuban towns. Add on twenty degrees and you could be home. The weather changes constantly, clouds rolling in dumping rain, the wind from the sea and then sunshine- you never know what you’re going to get. This of course means that it is green. Very green, lush with vegetation and jungle.
We travelled there from Santiago de Cuba crawling along on a bus that winds up and down the densely wooded mountains on a concrete seamed road. It’s the kind of ride where the gears grind and you know that you are doomed if the brakes fail as the bus climbs higher and higher and the jungle turns to Pine trees.

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The bus arrives at a tiny bus station beside the bluest sea with the town stretching back a few blocks all higgeldy piggeldy, it’s still recovering from Hurricane Mathew which made a good attempt at levelling the town. The houses are single storey and colourful with the obligatory verandas where families sit and everyone shouts and laughs with the neighbours.

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In the centre of the town is the Plaza Independencia with a church on one end, the post office, telephone centre and bars all around the tree shaded centre where the benches are full of people trying to get an Internet connection and there is music and dancing at night.

IMG_7046The fridges in the bars are empty bar water and rum. The embargoes are really hitting this small town perhaps because it the last on the delivery route but the rum is good and there’s ice for the mojitos.
We stayed in a casa particulare, a Cuban bed and breakfast which is the best bet for breakfast and dinner. Our host Leonardo let me into his kitchen so that I could watch him prepare this dish for our dinner.

IMG_6947It’s a traditional recipe from Baracoa, a ‘Lechita’ which is fish cooked in a coconut sauce. He made the coconut milk from fresh coconuts and cooked the fish for one hour in the sauce which had me pretty horrified as that’s a long time to cook fish. It tasted fine but the texture became a bit like meat. Personally I’d cook the fish for far less time but that is optional. One of the ingredients is achiote, which is the ground up seeds from an indigenous plant that grows in Cuba and Mexico. It gives colour and a little earthy taste. 

Lechita de Pescado

1 can coconut milk + half can water

1tbs achiote paste
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
A large handful fresh coriander, chopped, leaves and stems
1 green chilli , seeds removed if you don’t like hot
A little oil to fry
 600g  firm  white fish,like ling or monkfish
Salt and black pepper
Gently heat the coconut milk until it begins to boil then add the achiote, chopped onion and garlic, chopped coriander and chilli. Simmer for fifteen minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Divide the fish into four portions . Heat a frying pan and add enough oil to just cover the bottom then fry the fish on each side for a couple of minutes. Carefully lift the fish and submerge into the sauce then leave to cook for a further 10 – 15 minutes.
Serve with rice.