Spanish Foodie Adventures

Visited several Spanish restaurants in the past, been to Spain twice and somehow I have not managed to fall in love with any of their dishes. I really wanted to, I kept trying new dishes hoping to eat something that would blow me away but that never happened. So I came to two conclusions: Hungarian cuisine is so fantastically diverse and varied in technique it’s difficult to amaze me with special ways of treating ingredients and turning it into a blast.

And there is nothing wrong with that really, I just had too high expectations. Because if I really think about it the Spanish cuisine can get away with it as a result of such an array of fresh ingredients. Having just returned from Menorca the routine was same almost every day: popped into Mercadona (local supermarket) and bought fresh seafood, vegetables, and the beef…  oh the beef! And so cheap! After stocking up on food, ice and either Sangria or the absolutely delightful local speciality the Gin Xoriguer with lemonade or pomelo juice, back to the campsite and enjoyed a BBQ in the evenings. Needed nothing more!
We tried a few restaurants at the beginning of the trip – but every single time I was left disappointed, especially if I thought of what an amazing food we could create with those ingredients at the campsite – probably for quarter of the price. ONE place that stood out for me – I have all the details because I had to mention it in this post – was the cheapest place you can imagine, just like in France a buffet with plastic chairs… But the food was very very nice. Details in a bit.

Big confession: we didn’t have paella once. I just don’t get the fascination. Or gazpacho. We did have Serrano jamón (dry cured ham) though, which was much saltier than I remembered. The cheese on the other hand! In Ciutadella there was this shop… I wanted to buy everything. Everything. Spent there at least 2 hours and Greg had to force me out. It was called El Paladar Jamoneros and Delicatessen. But it was so much more than just ham and cheese… They also had olives, sundried tomatoes, seafood, different types of sauces and pastes, Chartreuse and the list go on.
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A few examples of the restaurants we’be been to, one disappointing experience and one awesome. Let just get the bad one over with. And it wasn’t all bad, service and the place itself was excellent. The food… Remember, I am not stating they were bad dishes – but they weren’t great. Just alright. And there was one big disappointment that I took personally.
The restaurant in Ciutadella was called Roma, straight in the heart of the town. Lovely setting, amazing ambiance, Greg fell in love with it straight away, but there was a queue in front of it so decided to book a table for the next night. Prices were quite reasonable – €7-9 for main dish, €13+ for seafood, BUT starters were quite pricey at €6-7. We had such a kind waitress, we told her we want traditional Spanish meals so she ordered us starters and meals that weren’t even on the menu, she just checked what they brought in today from fishing. Oh and she didn’t charge for side dish. How incredibly nice can you be? Ended up paying  €25 with 2 beers. So when you visit restaurant, instead of just choosing from the menu, try to engage in a conversation with the waiter/ress to give them a general idea what you’d prefer and if they are nice enough they will tell you other options as well. But of course we were extra lucky with her.

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Octopus was nice. Lovely, tasty, but olive oil and paprika? Just didn’t make sense to me. So again – quality ingredients but the method is average.

333I chose this one myself and the waitress immediately said that is an excellent choice as it is very traditional Spanish so I became well excited. Hmmm… First of all no seasoning. It was an ok toast with veggies and 2 anchovies on top, but the idea itself wasn’t anything unique. At least the fish was nice.

p333There was some parsley on top and came with some potatoes which in my opinion were roasted in butter and was the highlight of the dish.
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And this was my big big disappointment. I chose this from the menu, I know it is not Spanish, but I have never eaten Ossobuco in a restaurant before, I knew I had to try it straight away. It is SUCH an expensive dish, in case someone doesn’t know what it is – it’s veal or beef shank in a rich white wine or/and tomato sauce. I have recreated this dish 2 years ago on my birthday for my whole family – I spent a good 4,5 hours in the kitchen and it was just simply heavenly. I added olives as well, but that was the only difference in the recipe. I got excited to see what is the original like, because I had no idea if I was doing it right at home… Well I was left disappointed. I am not sure if I tried it in Milan where it originally comes from it would be better, different, more special, living up to the hype around it. But this ossobucco was not even close to what I created at home.

ossAfter all the negativity (sorry) some praise! The most simple little buffet in Maó (Mahón) city centre, a menu was €8 (!!) including starter, main and dessert. Wow! Did not have high expectations, but we were hungry and this kind of budget was more for us. My starter, prawns, amazing amazing amazing. That is what I am talking about. No seasoning, just the lemon… And it was perfect that way.

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Greg’s starter was the next brilliant dish: Fried white anchovies (Boquerón). I almost told them to cancel my main dish and dessert and I will just have 2 more plates of the prawns and these anchovies… But of course I was too curious what came next.
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My main dish was also great, I didn’t make a note of what kind of fish was it but didn’t really matter. It wasn’t a stand out but still really good.

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Greg’s main was a steak with chips. It was so cheap I was expecting Wetherspoon quality. Well, it wasn’t. It was a tiny steak, but that proved, no one care how you prepare the meat and how you cook it… it the beef is good quality, the animal ate proper food and was in natural environment, if it is young – the steak will be delicious. No matter what. This thought was confirmed later, when we bought two huge steaks in Mercadona for €5. And Greg worried, we’d need to marinate it before, how long should we have it on the grill etc. I told him, put it on, let’s go for a walk. After 20 mins, turn it around, have a few sangrias… And it’s done. And it was. Without any seasoning, any olive oil, nothing. And it wasn’t chewy, it was pink in the middle, it was tender, tasty, juicy, just utter perfection.

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If you are on a budget – but even if you aren’t – I don’t think you could wish for a nicer lunch. Here is the menu and the name of the place… Of course it is not a sponsored post, I am not getting paid to praise the place.

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Please please anyone, if you know any Spanish recipes, that has the WOW factor let me know!

In the next post I’ll introduce the dishes we created (such simplicity with such flavours!) and one restaurant warning. Adiós!

Tuna steak salad with quail eggs and Asian dressing

Again, simple, easy, can take it to work for lunch… perfect for our current lifestyle of… being incredible busy and stressed out, too many things to do and never enough time.

It’s a simpler and cheaper version of the Eastern Style Tuna Nicoise Salad with Tea Marbled Eggs and Wasabi Vinaigrette.

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Ingredients

  • greens
  • ginger
  • soy sauce
  • quail eggs
  • tuna steaks
  • pepper
  • lemon pepper

For the dressing

  • olive oil
  • fish sauce
  • lemon or lime juice
  • garlic paste
  • ginger paste
  • sugar
  • chilli

Marinate the tuna in the ginger and soy sauce for a good 20 minutes. Sear for a minute or 2 each side (for well done for 4 minute each side). Place the greens on the plate. This time, the tuna steak turned out to be well-done, as Greg liked it this way… I would have preferred medium or rare, but oh well.

Everything else is pretty straight forward.

One important thing: the cooking time of quail eggs.

Two and a half minutes: yolk is perfectly runny.

Three minutes: will turn into a medium boiled egg.

4 minutes + will result in a hard boiled egg. Mine was a bit more than 3 minutes, so in between a medium boiled and hard boiled. Next time I am only cooking it for 2,5 minutes. Enjoy 🙂

Chili roast lamb with coriander sauce and lemongrass potato salad

The times when I was only on the hunt for highly complicated recipes are way behind me, but I will definitely post creations from the past as well, with bad quality photos but the recipes… They will speak for themselves. Unfortunately I don’t have the energy nor the time to spend hours and hours in the kitchen anymore – but I am hoping it is only temporary, I will get used to the workload. Oh those great lazy student times disappeared so quickly!

It was a quick idea, popped into the shop after work, bought all fresh ingredients I liked, came home and this is the final outcome of the brief creative moment. I was terribly bored with the very uninteresting combo of rosemary and lamb – so this is my version of a roast lamb. We do like the meat quite rare, so if you fancy more of a medium or well done version then just leave it in the oven for longer (more on that later).

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Ingredients for the marinade

  • Leg of lamb (mine was more than 2 kg)
  • Chilli
  • Fresh coriander
  • Butter
  • Lemon Juice
  • Apple Juice
  • Lemonpepper
  • Pepper

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Once marinated, I put it into the fridge for a good 40 minutes. In case the meat was just taken out of the freezer, do the opposite and leave in room temperature. Goes into the preheated oven, I used gas mark 6/7 for 45 minutes. If you’d want it medium rare, you should leave it for 25 minutes per 500 g, so 1 kg 50-55 mins, and for a 2 kg leg it should be an hour and 40 minutes. For well done, it should be 30 mins per 500 g, so an hour for 1 kg etc. etc.

For the salad

  • désirée potatoes
  • cucumber (if possible, fresh from the garden)
  • tomatoes
  • lemongrass
  • lemon juice
  • extra chillies if you like the heat like us

For the sauce

  • sour cream
  • butter
  • fresh coriander
  • fresh parsley
  • lemon juice
  • sugar
  • salt

Cook the potatoes and chop them up with all the veggies, chillies and lemongrass (must be very thin!) and the salad is ready, with a bit of lemon juice on top.

For the sauce melt the butter, add the sour cream, the chopped up parsley and coriander. For this dish I prefer the flavour of coriander, but if you like parsley more then balance the quantity that way. Bring it into boil, then season with salt, sugar and lemon juice (I know I know, I am obsessed with lemons… to the point that I watched the Lemon festival live, it was recently held in Menton). Once done, into the blender to make it extra smooth and creamy.

Redcurrant Soufflé Recipe

Another attempt… worked out a bit better. Such easy and light dessert, especially perfect for the Summer. I used fresh fruit, as where I am now we have a huge orchard, so just popped out to the garden. If you don’t fancy redcurrant, feel free to use raspberry or blackberry.

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Ingredients (3 servings, 2-3 dl/10 oz ramekins)

  • 2 handful of redcurrants
  • a bit of cinnamon
  • a bit of ginger
  • 2 pieces of cloves
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp starch (I used vanilla falvoured one)
  • 0.5 dl/1.6 oz water
  • 2 egg whites (if they are small ones then use 3)

Preheat oven to 180 degrees (between 4 and 5 gas mark). Put the currants, sugar, ginger, cloves and cinnamon into a small pan and bring it into boil. Remove cloves (!!) and put aside to cool. Put the vanilla starch into a small cup and add the water until it is all smooth. Add to the currant sauce and blend constantly so it becomes more thick. Whip the egg whites with 2 tbsp sugar until the foam is solid enough. Add to the currant mixture very gently, getting an ultra-light mixture. Butter the ramekins, put some sugar on the sides and bottom, remove any excess sugar. Fill them with the mixture (two-thirds) and place them into the oven. Bake for about 14 minutes. They grew very high for me, but in about 4 minutes after opening the oven door they shrinked to double… So must eat them very quickly! Enjoy!

Cambodian Adventures – Part 1 – Siem Reap

I recently read an article about Australian scientists discovering another Cambodian town (Mahendraparvata) in the Siem Reap area, dating back to even further than Angkor. The article made me reread the story of Angkor Wat so I figured – as out of the blue as it is – it would be a great opportunity to introduce it and Siem Reap – the way I saw it.

First of all, a bit of history. Angkor was the capital city of the Khmer Empire (modern-day Cambodia) back in the 9th century. The word ‘wat’ means temple (just like in the Thai language). Angkor Wat, this enormous originally Hindu temple complex was bulit a bit later, in the early 12th century. The Khmer Empire back than was ruling a great part of South East Asia, including Central Thailand, Southern Vietnam and part of Laos.

I won’t go into the countless existing theories why and how the Khmer Empire fell – but the influence on the South East Asian region was smashing. Angkor Wat since been used as a Buddhist Temple (from the 14th century to modern days) and is the only temple that was never completely abandoned throughout the long centuries of history.

And that is where out story starts. We were having an amazing time on Phi-Phi Island, Thailand, when the monsoon arrived and had to leave quickly. Wasn’t sure what to do, where to go, then after consulting with my world-traveller and all time travel advisor brother, he told us to take a bus from Krabi back to Bangkok and then go to Siem Reap, Cambodia. And that was exactly what we did, and at least we had another day in Bangkok, we were hoping we’d like it more for the second time.

Got the tickets on Khaosan Road, and hopped on the bus to Siem Reap, which was about 12-15 hours if I remember correctly. Once reaching the border, we had to get off and manage papers for the visa (20 USD per person). I remember the bus driver telling us that we should take Riel (Cambodians’ currency specifically for themselves…) out using that one and only cash machine that was on the border, as once getting to Siem Reap we can only take USD out. USD was the money of tourists there… A bottle of water may cost 2000 Riel, which is half a Dollar, but for tourists it’d be 1 USD as… why would you pay half a dollar when you can pay a whole?
Anyways, so we took out the worth of 5000 Thai Bahts which was around 650.000 KHR.

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A photo of the magnificent Siamese border and the Cambodian border with Khmer patterns

I will never forget our taxi ride to the town of Siem Reap, sharing the taxi with a lovely married couple and their 1,5 year-old son. The Scandinavian mom was very young (she was only a few years older than me, back then I was 19) and the New Yorker dad got sacked from his IT job and he didn’t want to return to the corporate world just yet… so they figured, what would be the best time to travel the world together? Might sound crazy with a 6 months old baby… but the little dude was the calmest kid I’ve ever met, friendly, open and would eat literally anything. What an adventure for that family! A true inspiration to me, sharing their love for travels and planning on becoming a mom way before 25.

Now, as the monsoon we got caught in on Phi-Phi and Koh Lanta was in Cambodia a few days before (raining for 4 days straight) the town of Sieam Reap was completely flooded.
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Found a guy with a tuk-tuk who told us he knows cheap accommodation. We got a huge double room for 65.00 KHR./10 GBP, everything was cheaper than Thailand. That evening we headed to town for drinks and the night market where we bought a stunning painting. The nightlife was great, spent all of our evenings/nights on Pub street, where we could chat to the locals and other backpackers in nice restaurants and even nicer bars with SUCH delicious cocktails. And not to forget the ‘happy pizza’ which is for the adventurous travellers… Be aware though, walking along Pub street you will find shady people walking to you asking whether you’d like ‘massage with a happy ending’ or any kind of illegal substances. Under no circumstances you should play with that in Asia, even if they seem extremely easy to get hold of. We tried the ‘happy pizza’ which was pizza with weed on top, it was ok but definitely wouldn’t do that again. There is a greater risk, and the experience is not any better or different than in Europe.

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One thing I noticed in Cambodia: while Thailand was full of American and Australian travellers, Siem Reap was full of Russian people. Most locals immediately started talking to me in Russian…
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This was the dinner on our very last evening in Cambodia. The pumpkin curry was our shared appetiser which was perfect as I like to eat something sweet before the main dish, so it would help bring out the savoury tastes later on. Greg tried frog legs with lemon pepper and chilli dipping… We both did like it a lot, never eaten frog meat before and it was nicely moist and tasteful. Reminded me of chicken meat, BUT (most cases I dislike chicken) was not neutral or tasteless… The only problem was the very little meat on the bones!

The main dishes were two Cambodian currys, the first one was a with lemongrass and other veggies and second was HEAVENLY morning glory curry… The cuisine was only a tiny bit similar to the thai currys and dishes, they do not use chili or coconut milk as widely.

Next part of this series will be only on Angkor Wat, stories and background info that we were provided with by the local tour guide.

Climbing Snowdon

Never would have thought I’d come come back with a tan… Sunshine and 20 degrees? How many times does that happen in the UK? And most importantly: in Wales? I checked the Beddgelert weather for the following week: rain rain rain. Must thank Someone up there!

Just would like to emphasize, the weather we had was bare luck, if you visit Northern Wales once, don’t imagine it will look exactly like on my photos. And take warm clothes even up to Snowdon as well – it gets quite cool and windy.

So we left on Friday early afternoon, was hoping to avoid heavy traffic which – of course – did not work out, so from Cambridge to Beddgelert spent a good 7 hours on the road. It was very very dull on the motorway, but it grew exciting once we got into Wales and had something to stare at – sheep, unrealistically green grass, sheep, mountains, oh and even more sheep. Not kidding, they are everywhere! On the top of Snowdon, at the campsite… everywhere! We woke up and went to bed to the sound of them. Not complaining, but I have never seen and heard so many of them! It’s become a part of Wales’ charm.

First stop was a free wild camping site, which looked pretty okay in my opinion… 🙂 The valley of Nant Gwynant.Image

Next morning, woke up around 7ish and took some photos of the little creek near the campsite. ImageTook a shower (was impressed that even free campsites have one) and off we went to the Pont Bethania Car park where we left the car for the day. The Watkin path Greg chose (more on that later, it ended in tears…) was light walking at the beginning, through a forest:

ImageThen got a bit steeper with the cutest little waterfalls on the right.

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Everyone seemed to ignore them – just rushing up to the summit. Well, we did a little picnic and had breakfast there – in the company of sheep of course.Image

A few shots of ascending, still quite the beginning:

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After a half an hour it became much steeper so had to stop every 20 minutes to rest and drink water. Oh, and also to put on some sun cream. The view got nicer and nicer and we could even see the shore in the distance.Image

In the picture on the right, you can see the summit of Snowdon, that was the point when we realized it’s already quite close, but there is a SERIOUSLY steep scree slope at the end, to reach the top. That was the point where I said – Greg I can’t do that. With a reason, as in 2006 a person died there and many have been injured. We had an arguement before, as I wanted to go on a different path – did my research and that was a medium difficulty one with spectacular views as well. Greg said no, let’s choose a heavy mountain walking one – challenge ourselves! Well, I am always up for a challenge, I don’t mind if it is tiring and difficult – but I sometimes have problems with height. It is interesting though, as sometimes I am completely fine, other times I am terrified standing close to the edge. Well this day was one of those fearful days unfortunately. These were taken before that slope. Greg is looking over Llyn Llydaw (Llyn means lake) and Eva is still happy… well not for long, I assure you.ImageThe only photo I took of the slope is this. It was ok at the beggining and then just got worse and worse, full of slippery scree, I didn’t feel safe for a moment. It took us about an hour to reach the summit, partly because I broke down crying at least twice. ImageOnce we got to the top, it was alright, but I was still shaking a bit. The view was spectacular so in 15 minutes I was completely fine, my biggest problem was that an English girl started posing with two huge bars of Cadbury chocolate with fruits and nuts and I wanted some of it SO badly!

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On the way down, we decided on the Pyg Track as wanted to check out a different route and the lakes as well. And of course, there was no way in hell I would go back on the Watkin Path. A few photos of descending:Image

ImageOnce we got to Pen Y Pass, got a cab and realized we only have 15 GBP cash. Ouch. So he took us to a one of the lakes that was pretty close to the car park. ‘Pretty close’ meaning 2-3 miles away. Needless to say, we were COMPLETELY knackered once finally got to the car. After that, we drove to Criccieth which is already on the coast. I will include the campsite in the second part, as we took the photos the next morning. I would go back there anytime, a quiet campsite with sheep, gorgeous softest grass and an astonishing view…For 18 GBP a night. I will include more details in the next post!