spiced up red thai chicken soup…

spiced up red thai chicken soup…

The base recipe for this soup is exactly the same as the one I posted last year, but this time I did a couple of things differently. I decided not to whizz the soup this time, keeping the vegetables a bit more chunky – this made the final broth a little less creamy in texture and a bit more robust. I think I must have also added quite a few more fresh chillies as it definitely had more of a kick – perfect for a cold winter’s night.

For a bit more substance, fresh noodles were added at the chicken stage, making the soup a lot more substantial. Using a fork to twirl the noodles around the spoon made it feel more like a main course, than a soup. The addition of a side helping of fresh crusty bread and rock salt butter – utterly decadent – meant we were pretty full after a nice big bowl, with more than enough left over for lunch the next day.

 

 

 

 

 

winter chicken casserole

winter chicken casserole

As the temperatures have started to plummet – the fires have been lit just recently for the first time this year, so this chilliness, even in December, has caught us on the hop – and so our thoughts are turning very much to food that is winter warming. And just recently, I’ve had a hankering for a good, old-fashioned, hearty chicken casserole. The kind of casserole that just fills the house with the delicious aroma and evvelopes you in warmth and goodness. And this simple from Good Housekeeping, just ticked all of the boxes. No fuss or faff and prepped in no time time, with minimal washing up, too. Always a bonus. It can also be cooked entirely on the hob, in a thick enamel casserole pot – or even a deep pan with a lid – but we finished it off in the over, as per the recipe.

ingredients

  • 1 tbs of olive oil
  • 1 large chicken breast, cut up into chunks – we used free range chicken and the difference in the quality of meat was incredibly noticeable, and now have a second piece left over to make a spicy Thai Chicken Soup
  • 1 onion, finely sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 celery sticks, thickly sliced
  • 2 large carrots, cut into thick rounds
  • 2 leeks, sliced into chunks
  • 4 or 5 medium sized potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 level tbsp plain flour
  • 600 ml hot chicken – or veggie – stock
  • 2 rosemary sprigs
  • Lemon, cut in half and one half squeezed
  • salt & pepper

 

method

  • Heat the olive oil in a large, flameproof casserole. Season the chicken pieces and brown all over for 10 minutes, then remove and set aside. Preheat oven to 200ºC (180ºC fan oven) mark 6.
  • Add the onion, garlic, celery, carrots, leeks and potatoes to the pan, and cook, stirring, for 5-10 minutes. Stir in the flour, cook for 2 minutes, then pour in the stock. Season well, then return the browned chicken to the pan. Add the rosemary, squeeze over the juice from the lemon half and pop the other half of the lemon half into the pot. Cover and bring the casserole slowly to the boil, on the hob.
  • When boiled, transfer to the oven, and cook in the oven for 25-30 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce is piping hot and thickened. Serve immediately with crusty bread or mashed potato, or leave in the casserole pot, with the lid on, to let the flavour increase in intensity.

This recipe really is so, so simple and the results are amazing. The depth of flavours are really intense, and I found this all the more surprising as the only seasoning to speak of is salt and pepper, rosemary and the lemon. I had thought it might be a little bland, and in need of lots of salt and pepper, but it doesn’t. The carrots and celery provide a sweetness which is balanced by the leeks and onions – and if cooked to the timings above, the chicken is moist and succulent. Best thing of all is, we have half a casserole pot still left, which will be heated up for lunch and that extra chicken breast will be used tonight in a spicy Thai Chicken Soup. So, it may be freezing cold outside, but a chicken casserole doesn’t half heat you up and give you that lovely warm feeling, much needed on a winter night.

 
 

maison matilda : treviso : italy

maison matilda : treviso : italy

Being less than 40kms from Venice, Treviso has been overlooked by us in the past. Although we have been before, we always opt for Venice because, you know – it’s Venice. But on our last recent Venetian road trip, we put this right and added a final night in Treviso – and boy, are we glad we did, as we discovered the exquisite Maison Matilda. Tucked away, under ancient arches on a cobbled street just off Piazza Duomo, you could walk past this beauty, without even knowing. In fact, we did. But, once inside, the restored townhouse is just a feast for the eyes. The reception area is discreetly positioned to the rear of the entrance, so you do feel as if you are stepping into a beautiful home, with a gorgeous Farrow and Ball type palette of colours and thick, opulent, velvet drapes. Up the first flight of stairs, and the space opens up into two elegant areas – one for dining, the other for relaxing.

Breakfast is a very lesiurely affair. We were the only guests in the dining room, other guests having eaten earlier and left, so again, it felt like a very private affair. Breakfast consisted of the freshest ingredients, either made in-house or brought in from very local shops and producers. Freshly baked bread, a selection of croissants and pastries, ham and cheese, fruit salad and the most delicious natural yoghurt, omelette, and a very mouth-watering cake, recommended by the owner. Crockery and cutlery were all exquisite, too. Mis-matched, but in a matching kind of way. All delicate and so, so pretty. Breakfast at Maison Matilda, is how I think, all breakfasts should be…

Retaining much of its historical architecture, this is a traditional townhouse with contemporary interior-design, meaning that modern furnishings contrast with period details. It has five rooms and one suite, and all are all unique. Our room was on the second floor, up a grand staircase, under a huge crystal chandelier and behind a hidden door (as they all seemed to be) in the wall, making this boutique hotel even more of a well kept secret.

Our double room was spacious and well equipped with a big bed (with lovely bedding), a mini bar, coffee machine and TV with Netflix. The decor was dark and moody – which could obviously be lightened up with lamps – but it seemed perfect for a cold, rainy December evening. Unlike most hotel rooms, where bathrooms are small and boxy and pretty much all of a muchness, this bathroom was large. With underfloor heating and a free standing bath, plus unusual toiletries and gorgeous towels, this room was a real treat. Nothing quite as relaxing as deep, hot bath and a couple glasses of Prosecco.

All in all, our stay at Maison Matilda was fabulous. We’ve stayed in Treviso a couple of times before, in really great accommodation, but this little boutique hotel will now always be our go-to if there is availability. For the price point (we paid just under €150, which also included the very substantial breakfast), this is a real find, especially as it is in the heart of the city. Parking is available on the street outside – you’ll need to find a blue bay and pay – but the hotel does offer secure parking for €25 per night. We were very lucky that there was availability because it does need to be pre-booked, and although definitely not cheap, it did make everything so much easier. But, street parking, in future, wouldn’t be something which would put us off choosing Maison Matilda in future – and, there is a large public car-park, a short walk away, just outside the city walls.

We paid in full for our whole stay, via Booking.com. This is not a sponsored or paid post – just a blog to remind us of a really fabulous visit and to whole heartedly recommend it to anyone looking for a little bit of luxury, at an affordable price, in the centre of medieval Treviso. And, if you need any other convincing, it’s also highly recommended by Mr & Mrs Smith.

 

 

winter teal

winter teal

The main bedroom in our house is large. Certainly bigger than any bedroom we’ve ever had before – and keeping it warm and cosy in the winter, is something I work on every year. It’s great in the summer – light, spacious and airy. With the windows wide open and a couple of lovely retro fans at the bedside, we are kept cool. But come a drop in temperature, we do have to work at keeping it warm. Sometimes, in the depths of winter, we’ve given in and moved across the landing to one of the smaller bedrooms, closing up the main room. But I don’t like doing this, because it feels we’re shutting up a large part of the house, and I don’t like that feeling of creeping coldness that you get in rooms you don’t use. So, this year, we are staying put, but are ensuring that this potentially cold room, is the cosiest yet. How are we doing this doing?

Well, new curtains have already had a big impact.

We’ve always had the muslin drapes at the windows – even though we don’t actually need any coverage at all, as we’re not overlooked at all – but they soften the window wall, which is the original stone. Then we added long, cream curtains, which are great over the summer but don’t give that feeling of warmth over the winter. Over the weekend, we stayed in a hotel in Treviso, and our room had long, floor length chocolate brown, velvet curtains – and this got me thinking, so a quick trip to IKEA was done. And there were the perfect drapes…

All of our bedroom furniture is painted duck egg blue, and we have a big standing lamp in the same colour, so when teal velvet was spotted, I knew these would work. And with a drop of 3m, the exact length needed.

These curtains are from the Birtna range and each pack contains a pair. We paid €69.99 per pack and needed two, so not cheap – BUT we figured that if they kept the room warm and cosy, we’d be cutting down on using heaters. They are also black-out curtains and worked well this morning – even in the winter, the sun does shine brightly into this bedroom, but they did the trick. So, not the cheapest – but also, not the most expensive – and definitely worth it for what we wanted…

 

 

 

 

marrakech : morocco

marrakech : morocco

Marrakech is absolutely everything we ever thought it would be. We’ve only ever visited in January, as a stop over before journeying across for a longer break on the western coast, in Essaouira. But even in what we would consider to be the depths of winter, that pretty gloomy time just after New Year, it is hot, vibrant, colourful, noisy, chaotic and totally beautiful. Mostly. But more of that later. Wherever you are staying, the point to gravitate towards, is probably Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main square and market place in the medina quarter (old city), which transforms from dawn to dusk.

During the day the square is full of sights. You’ll see monkey trainers who have trained the animals to climb all over tourists, snake charmers and henna tattooists. Whilst you can generally just watch and photograph from a distance, you do need to have your wits about you in the square – we have seen unsuspecting tourists end with a monkey on their shoulders and a friend of ours, who got a bit too close to a snake charmer, found himself with a snake around his neck and having to pay to have it removed. The tattooists can be quite agrressive, too – I had my hand pulled by one, and she had quite a tight grip! Thankfully, I did manage to wrangle my hand free. You’ll also see dentists, who proudly display the teeth they have recently extracted – whilst at the same time offering their dental services. The square is also filled with traditional musicians – they are very mesmeric, and again, if you want to watch and listen, rather then hand over money, keep your distance. You will also find numerous stands selling the most aromatic foods and spices and drinks – a great way to fill yourself up during the day.

If the clamour and noise of the square becomes a bit overwhelming, which it can, it’s easy to escape and find yourself surrounded by peace and quiet, not too far away. Today, the city walls are mainly to mark the limits of the medina with other areas of the city, but in years gone by there were defensive ramparts, protecting the medina from invaders. To cope with attacks, the Sultan of Marrakech, Ali Ben Youssef, around 1120, decided to erect strong 9m high walls, to defend the city, forming a circuit of approximately 10 km around the city, originally including as many as 200 towers and 20 access gates.

At 70m high, the iconic minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque is the highest structure and the largest mosque in Marrakech. Along with the square of Jemaa el Fnaa, The Koutoubia, is a symbol of Marrakech. The Koutoubia Mosque is located on the edge of the medina at the beginning of Avenue Mohammed V. The easiest way to reach it is on foot from Jemaa el Fnaa, as it’s just 250 meters from the main square – but once you are in front of it, you feel a world away from the madness of the square.

The minaret can be seen from all across the city, and beyond – on a clear day, from as far away as 25kms – and we had a gorgeous view of it from the roof terrace of our riad.

At dusk, Marrakech’s main square transforms and the morning stalls disappear to give room to food stands where you can have dinner, surrounded by Moroccan musicians playing traditional music. Although locals certainly frequent the square and its stalls during the day, they are much more in evidence at night and so it seems a lot more authentic. Not just a tourist trap. Smoke rises up from the stalls and the aromas are just mouth-watering. If you don’t have dinner plans, the food at these stands is tasty, very cheap and very popular.

Around the medina, you can lose yourself in shopper’s paradise, especially if you love a haggle. You can wander the souls to your heart’s content and if you are determined to make a purchase or two, this is definitely the place to do it. However, it’s very easy to get lost in the souks. The narrow alleyways – with overflowing items that snake off to more thin passageways with even more goods – can all start to look very similar, and as many are covered too, it can be more difficult to get a good idea of where you are. Getting lost is generally part of the fun of exploring the souks, but if you really need to ask somebody for directions, our advice would be to try and approach families or females as opposed to younger men. The reason for this is that it’s a lot more common for younger males to make a friendly offer to take you to where you want to go, and although this might seem like a blessing at the time, it often ends with you paying a substantial ‘tip’ – after possibly having been carted to several stalls, from where the ‘helpful’ stranger is trying to score commission on a sale along the way. We know this from experience – but thankfully in our case, all ended well and we did make a rather beautiful purchase of a Berber rug. Which we hadn’t intended to do, and it’s a blog all of its own, because it was a bit of an adventure…

Marrakech is definitely a city of great contrasts. There is undoubted poverty, as well as great wealth – and everything in between. It is noisy and chaotic, but if you’re staying in a riad, calmness descends. we stayed in a very inexpensive one, just outside the medina, and it was very beautiful. Once through the big wooden entrance door, it was like being in a different world…

We’ve only stayed in Marrakech for short bursts, so are certainly no experts on this North African city – but, as a stop-over to elsewhere, it’s perfect, especially if your final destination is the coast which is a good 4-5 hours away.

 

 

 

 

 

hallway reno

hallway reno

Not all renovation projects need to involve demolition and mess and heavy tools and living with dust and dirt. I like to think that’s all kind of behind us – at least for now, but we never say never. These days, our renovation projects are quite small scale, very sedate, quite tidy and always done by us. It’s a nice position to be in, in the journey of our home. I quite like not having to haul the Henry hoover up (or down) three floors to get rid of thick layers of dust and plaster. These days, a bit of a tickle with a damp cloth, seems to be what’s involved in reno clean up.

Our upstairs landing has always been a bit of nothing space. We have tried, over the years, to make it into something, but nothing has ever really felt quite right. Until now, and I think we’ve finally achieved what we’ve always wanted, but not really known that we do. It now ties together the upstairs floor, and rather than just being a space to walk through, it’s almost become a room of its own.

Floating shelving has been fitted in the corner outside the main bedroom. We don’t have a socket in the hallway – something on the “to-do” list – and so we have to think about lighting. The two wooden slatted lamps are perfect as they are battery operated and on timers, meaning we have lovely shadows cast across the landing, when it’s dark. The two copper Moroccan style lanterns were bought a few years ago, and now seem to have found their home, after being fairly nomadic. These lovely little baskets are the perfect storage place for batteries for the lamps and tealights for the the lanterns.

The wooden floors throughout the house are painted a very deep navy, and walls are all white. The ceiling is very high with original beams, which we painted a very soft grey to match the woodwork, so the overall feeling is now of space. Despite there only being one window, it’s a very light and airy part of the house, but we’ve created a more wintery cosy feel with the addition of big, thick mustard coloured rugs. The wall where the window is, is still natural stone, although completely cleaned up and painted white. I’m at that stage with our house, where I’m kind of over the original stone work and depending on how much longer we are here, plans are being made to plaster all walls. However, they’ve not been plastered yet, so in order to hide away the stones, we’ve hung floor length sheer, muslin drapes. These don’t block out any light, but add softness, which I think was originally missing. The addition of a mustard yellow Moroccan leather pouffe adds a little bit more interest – and helps create a little Moorish corner in our home.

 

 

 

 

 

kozlović winery : momjan : istria

kozlović winery : momjan : istria

Kozlović winery is one of the best-known wineries in Istria. The family has been producing wines since 1904, and today, the winery is run by its fourth generation. We are lucky that it’s about twenty minutes from our house and so we can visit at less busy times – because during the months especially, this winery can be extremely busy and often, you will need to pre-book a table/seating area.

As well as being a renowned winery, this destination in the north of Istria, is also a fabulous eaterie. Although not a restaurant, it does serve fantastic charcuterie boards – either meat or veggie. These sharing boards are substantial and are packed with locally made cheeses, breads, olive oil and other seasonal delicacies. We rarely eat meat and so can’t comment on these boards, but every time we’ve been, they look very popular.

Spring-time at Koslovic. The perfect place to sit out on the terrace and watch the world go by.

Even in the winter, this winery is set up for outdoor eating and drinking, as there are now fire pits and outdoor wood burners, as well as big blankets to wrap around yourself.

However, if you find it just a bit too chilly, but don’t want to miss out on the Koslovic experience, there is some indoor seating, too, as well as the opportunity to purchase some of their fine wines. We always seem to return home with a few more bottles than we anticipated. Just can’t think how this happens…

 

mandria del dottore toscano : tarsia : calabria : italy

mandria del dottore toscano : tarsia : calabria : italy

On our road trip around Italy, driving in the Calabrian south was tiring, so we needed to break the journey up from Villa San Giovanni (where you cross to & from Sicily) to Matera and so consulted our trusty oracles – a well thumbed road map and google. Tarsia seemed to be a place that was just about equi-distant, but very remote. As boutique style hotels seemed to be a bit on the sparse side, we plumped for the agriturismo option.

We found Agriturismo B&B Mandria Del Dottore Toscana through a series of internet searches – although it has to be said, finding it online is MUCH easier than finding it in reality. We got to Tarsia relatively easily, then the trail went cold. One thing we have realised is that Italian road signage, once you’re off the main roads, is pretty rubbish. Road  signs are often covered in vines/foliage, or twisted, or burned, or simply not there. After about an hour of aimless driving around, we gave up and asked for directions in a very small bar. We clearly weren’t the first to do this as a call was made and 15 minutes later, a car arrived, we followed & after many twists and turns across hilly countryside, arrived at our destination.

Mandria Del Dottore Toscano, Tarsia, Calabria

Mandria Del Dottore Toscano, Tarsia, Calabria

This was definitely a very rural location, so if you’re after a wild night of clubbing, this farmhouse won’t appeal. Set in acres of rolling hills, there is literally nothing else around you – apart from horses, olive groves and beautiful silence. We felt the need to whisper until we realised that actually no-one else was around to hear us. I think the owners clocked on that we were a little bit stressed when we arrived, and a bottle of their own wine was put out on the table in front of us, with two glasses. Very little communication as they spoke no English, and our Italian, at the time, was pretty basic – but a generous gesture is a generous gesture in whatever language.

A welcome drink. Much appreciated...

A welcome drink. Much appreciated…

The owners live on the farm, and it is a working farm. It’s rustic and rural and although not full of the most modern amenities, it’s perfect for a bit of a get-away. Most importantly, the bed was super comfortable – something that Italians do hold in high regard as we have not slept in anything other than VERY comfortable since we’ve been away. The bathroom was spotless, with a great sized shower, too. A definite plus point.

Splendid isolation, especially after the hustle & bustle of Sicily.

Splendid isolation, especially after the hustle & bustle of Sicily.

An abundance of prickly pears.

An abundance of prickly pears.

Winter preparation well under way.

Winter preparation well under way.

Autumn sunset in Calabria

Autumn sunset in Calabria.

We could have had dinner (with everything being sourced from the land we were staying on), but as we had a kitchen in the apartment we chose to cook & eat on the terrace. We’d picked up some supplies on the way – it’s worth having some staples to cook with, as if you don’t fancy what’s on the menu that night, you’re stuck. Breakfast was very simple – bread, cheese, preserves, proscuitto – but ALL locally sourced.

There are four apartments. We think we might have had the largest as it was the most expensive, and had a terrace, but it was still only 68 euros to stay the night – worth every cent for the solitude and peace. There is also a swimming pool – although this had just been covered up when we arrived (mid-October), but would imagine this is a welcome relief from the Italian sun in the height of summer…

 

 

 

 

nuvolette : cole & son

nuvolette : cole & son

In a previous post I wrote about our desire to eradicate the parts of internal walls which have not been plastered and are still the original Istrian stone. Some people would love the walls, but as the years have gone on, I have to say my love of exposed stone – albeit now painted white – has waned and I am craving smooth, plastered walls. Some will be painted (probably white again), and for others we are considering pigmented plaster. But for the living room walls, once all is smooth, I am looking back to the beautiful wallpaper we had in our house in West Didsbury, when we renovated it,

This beautiful repeat pattern paper is Nuvolette, by Cole & Son, and is a dramatic cloudy sky mural by the Italian artist Piero Fornasetti. Unless you are an expert at wall paper hanging, I’d recommend that you do what we did, and get in a professional to hang it. The striking design is supplied in a set of two rolls, with the pattern repeat being 80cm. I was informed this mean a straight match between roll A to roll B and a half-drop between roll B to roll A of next set…

See! Told you a professional is your best bet.

The overall effect is absolutely stunning, especially if the wall to be covered is quite a large area. We used it on one feature wall only, with ceramic bulb drop pendants in front of it, and it was very dramatic. I really do miss this wallpaper now that we have moved, but I think it may make a re-appearance, once the walls in the living room are all smooth and plastered. It’s definitely not the cheapest wallpaper, but it’s very strong and sturdy and I think if you love it, there’s little chance you’ll be wanting to change it quickly. I do wonder if it is still hanging in our West Didsbury house…

getting plastered…

getting plastered…

Original stone walls, partly exposed and partly plastered

Original stone walls, when we moved in, partly exposed and partly plastered.

Throughout the house, in most of the rooms – apart from the ones we have totally taken apart and renovated – there is still evidence of it being an original Istrian house. A lot of the walls are either fully plastered, or at least, partially. And where they are only partially plastered, we’ve painted the original stones white, so that the rooms have more of a contemporary feel.

Original stone walls, painted white.

Original stone walls, painted white.

We did start renovating the walls some years ago, when we had a false wall constructed in the Well Room, with insulation, over the stone wall. The intention was to go through the house, repeating the process, but as with all renovations, unexpected tasks always take precedence.

So, here we are, still where we were. Admittedly, not with bare stone, which I quickly started to dislike because it was dark and made the rooms feel cold, but even when whited out, still not really what I wanted. So, the decision has been made, and the plastering of the bulk of the remaining stone will be done over the winter. I say “the bulk”, because we will leave little nods to the origins of the house, here and there – but as features, rather than the predominant look.

The Well Room will hopefully be the first room to be tackled, as it’s the room with the most exposed stone. We’ll also be doing something quite controversial but more of that later, as we’re still working on the practicalities. Because none of our walls are straight, we’re going to hopefully go with the wonkiness of the house and not get caught up in, and stressed by, the fact we don’t live in a box. So the walls won’t be perfect – but the plastering will. And the next thought process is whether we go for plaster with a pigment, rather than doing a big re-paint job…

I do love the softness of the pink tones of this plasterwork, but we need to have a big discussion, as to whether this will work or not in our house. I’m prepared to accept it won’t, but definitely like the idea of having even just a chat about it. Whatever we decide is right, will be a real improvement on what we have at the moment, so looking forward to getting going and making some BIG changes in this room.