Hail the Hasselbacks

Hail the Hasselbacks

I can eat a potato in any guise. They form a staple of our culinary output :

  • creamy mashed potatoes with coconut milk
  • cheesy mashed potatoes, usually on top of a shepherd’s pie or a fish pie
  • home made chips in the oven – always thinly sliced, cooked in olive oil and either rubbed with paprika & chilli flakes or sea salt & fresh rosemary
  • dauphinoise style
  • usually always in soup
  • sliced thinly as the topping for a bake
  • new potatoes, eaten cold in a summery salad
  • small cubes of potato with trofie pasta, pesto, broad beans and parmesan
  • sometimes baked – although quite rare, as I don’t usually find baked potatoes to be “proper” food, as in a baked potato with a toppingm however nice, wouldn’t constitute a dinner for me

And the last point is probably why we’ve never delved into Hasselback World. Although they look admittedly very pretty, with their fans of potato slices, I’ve always – and I now know VERY mistakenly – just thought of them as a kind of sliced baked potato. Well, my potato world was turned on its head this weekend, when we decided we had the time – another mistaken idea, the one that you needs loads of time, because you don’t – to make the hasselbacks.

Two quite large new potatoes – the best kind, the ones with fresh soil still attached – were sufficient. These were just washed, not peeled, as I wanted the skins to brown and crisp up. Although I’m sure it wouldn’t have been the most difficult task in the world to slice the potato and stop before slicing through, I wanted to make sure it was done successfully in one go, so a stainless steel IKEA serving spoon was utilised. The potato was just placed on the spoon, and sliced very thinly – the scooped out part of the spoon meant that it didn’t cut all the way through.

 

I’m sure that are a million different ways to cook a hasselback, and aficionados will probably scoff at what we did. But, it was super simple and we LOVED them. Nothing like a baked potato – which seriously need to up their game in the potato stakes. They were baked first for about 35 mins, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with sea salt (so it was chunky) and black pepper. They were then brushed with butter and another drizzle of olive oil & salt and pepper and back in the oven for another 35 minutes or so. Not only super tasty – and next time, it’ll be garlic butter we’ll be using – but also very photogenic. Our weekend meal was a proper spring treat – it was warm and sunny and so to accompany the potatoes, we had a mezze platter. Roll on spring…

 

Simple Supper, No Fuss

Simple Supper, No Fuss

Sometimes, all you want, is the simplest meal, which doesn’t take forever, uses just one roasting tin and packs an absolute punch in terms of flavours. And this is just what this meal provides. Wildly tasty, and if you like your cheese on the strong-side, this probably definitely a dish for you. Five ingredients, and one of those is olive oil. And, bet you will probably have all of them in the fridge or cupboard – a bag of fresh spinach, chestnut mushrooms, gnocchi, gorgonzola cheese, olive oil & seasoning. And that is it. You can probably guess how it’s done, but here you go. Here’s what we did.

The gnocchi that we had was actually spinach gnocchi, but regular gnocchi would definitely work just as well, as the real flavours come from the cheese. I could have gone a whole lot stronger with the blue cheese too, but a fairly standard Gorgonzola worked perfectly.

 

METHOD

  • Roughly quarter the mushrooms (chestnuts definitely five a more nutty flavour) and toss them, with the gnocchi, in a roasting tin, in olive oil and season according to your taste, with salt and pepper;
  • Roast for about 20-25 minutes, stirring frequently so that nothing sticks to the bottom of the tin;
  • Add the fresh spinach (we used about three quarters of a large bag) and mix it in, then crumble the blue cheese over the mixture. (I have no “off” switch when it comes to cheese, and so the whole pack went in);
  • Cook for about 5 minutes – or until the cheese is beginning to melt, but there is still texture to it;
  • Take out of the oven, sprinkle with fresh, chopped spinach leaves and serve.

We had this with pitta breads, spread with garlic butter and heated up in the oven, while it was being served. Just enough time to roast the garlic pieces and heat up the breads. I cannot emphasis enough how tasty this dish is – creamy and peppery and robust. And, if you forget the pack of blue cheese and gnocchi, it is almost super food. I mean, it is green…

Brussels Sprouts Risotto

Brussels Sprouts Risotto

Yes, you read that right. A risotto with brussels sprouts. A rich, blue cheesy, creamy risotto packed with those little green globes of gorgeousness. You might guess that I love a sprout – and if you’re also a fan, I promise you too will love this. However, if sprouts make you feel a bit on the gippy side, I’d recommend avoiding this recipe…

This is a dish, recommended by a friend on Twitter, and adapted from a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe, in his Plenty More book. It’s the kind of dish that takes a while to prepare and cook – as with all good risotto recipes – but it’s the perfect kind of recipe to follow (loosely in our case), whilst chatting over a glass of wine or two. So, what do you need? Nothing that you probably wouldn’t have anyway – and if you do love sprouts, then surely you’ve always got a stash of them…

  • brussels sprouts – we used a normal supermarket bag of sprouts and cut about two thirds into quarters and then finely shredded the rest
  • finely chopped white onion
  • a couple of finely chopped garlic cloves
  • arborio rice – we used 200g and this was more than enough for two people
  • a couple of lemons – one squeezed, one zested
  • crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (about three quarters of a normal sized pack was used)
  • grated Parmesan cheese (no idea how much we used here as we can never get enough of this cheese, so just adjust to your own taste)
  • olive oil & a knob of unsalted butter
  • vegetable stock (we just kept topping up as we thought necessary)
  • white wine (as above – judge according to your own taste)
  • salt & pepper to season
  • sprig of fresh thyme

The Ottolenghi recipe is quite involved and a bit more faffy than we wanted, but if you know how to make a risotto to your own taste, then just adapt it. It’s what we did, and our method seemed a lot less involved, but hey, we’re not professionals.

How We Did It :

  • Put the quartered sprouts in a roasting dish – if you line them up, rather than just chucking them in, they roast more evenly – and season with salt & pepper and splash with enough olive oil, so they roast rather than burn. Roast for about 20 mins (about 200 degrees), turning after about 10 minutes until the edges are nicely caramelised
  • While the sprouts are roasting, heat the olive oil and butter in a large heavy bottomed pan and gently sauté the onions for about 10 minutes until soft and beginning to colour.
  • Add the garlic, thyme and and lemon zest strips and cook for another 2 -3 minutes
  • Next, gradually add the rice and shredded brussels sprouts to the pan and stir to coat every grain with olive oil mixture. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring, until the rice becomes translucent on the edges with a solid white center
  • Add the white wine (about a glass of wine at this stage) stirring until it is almost absorbed. Then begin adding the stock gradually, and stirring gently all the time. At this stage, we also topped up with white wine, to suit our taste and to ensure that there was sufficient liquid to cook the rice. The exact amount of stock required to finish the risotto varies slightly, so go by the results. If the rice has a starchy crunch it is not done yet. The finished risotto should be creamy in texture.
  • When the risotto is done, to your taste, stir in parmesan cheese and half the roasted brussels sprouts & season according to your taste. Serve in individual bowls topped with the remaining brussels sprouts, crumbled gorgonzola cheese, lemon zest and lemon juice.

 

 

 

 

Life For Sale

Life For Sale

Plans have a habit of changing, don’t they? Not so long ago, we were preparing to work on a number of other Life sites, promoting other local, independent businesses and communities. In order to make this happen, we purchased a number of domain names and started to set up relevant Twitter accounts. But then, out of the blue, we found ourselves selling up in Manchester and moving to northern Istria, where we still are. We still have our website design business and work from home out here, also keeping Didsbury Life ticking along, albeit more now via social media.

But, it means we now have a number of domain names which we no longer will be needing and have now decided to sell. If you’ve always had a hankering to do something with your local community, you might be interested to find out more. Especially if you are the kind of person/business that really gets and understands the importance of supporting our independents.

Details below – email hello@lifewebsites.co.uk if you are interested in discussing this further…

PLEASE NOTE THAT THE DIDSBURY LIFE DOMAIN NAMES (AND THEREFORE ACCESS TO THE TWITTER AND FACEBOOK ACCOUNTS) ARE NOT FOR SALE.

Venezia Carnevale

Venezia Carnevale

The Venice Carnival began in 1162 in celebration of the Venice Republic’s victory over its enemy: the Patriarch or Aquileia. The people of Venice gathered in Saint Mark’s Square to dance and celebrate their victory. 202tal1 is going to be a very different carnival however – Covid has obviously put paid to the event, but it does look as though there will be a digital version, being screened at 5pm over two weekends in February. Full details are on the official website. However, we have been incredibly fortunate to experience the real deal. Even though, when we booked our stay in Venice, we still hadn’t clocked it was Carnevale. (Therefore demonstrating that not all hotels hike up their prices, as we stayed in a 13th century palace, right in the centre, for a very reasonable price).

Apart from Easter in Seville – Santa Semana – we’ve not witnessed a spectacle quite as amazing as the Venice Carnival. We arrived in Venice on a cold, misty February morning, having booked two nights in Venice. Not even considering what time of year it was. We stepped off the water taxi, not really taking in what was happening around us, but something caught our eyes…

Mingled in with the tourists and Venetian residents rushing around, doing normal things, were figures like the one above. Some posing elegantly, clearly used to being a part of this spectacle. Some were strolling along in pairs, groups. Some had even been doing their shopping – I’ll never forget the sight of a Casanova type courtesan, carrying his evening meal supplies in a Conad supermarket shopping bag. And then it dawned on us – it was February. Carnival time!

As we headed away from the Grand Canal and further into the maze of streets and alleyways and bridges, more of these astonishingly beautiful beings appeared. We were utterly mesmerised. Initially, it felt a bit intrusive taking photos, but we quickly realised that the whole point of the promenading was to be seen and photographed, so a simple “Posso?” generally resulted in a very striking pose…

And, just to debunk the myth that Venice is prohibitively expensive, espeially over the Carnival, we also enjoyed an afternoon of free theatre and opera in St Mark’s Square. An absolutely exhilerating experience, and definitely one we won’t forget…

 

 

Tasty Tapas in Malaga

Tasty Tapas in Malaga

“Traditional” tapas restaurants and bars are abundant in Malaga and we’ve yet to experience one other than very good. Value is always exceptional with most providing complimentary tasters if you’re just having a pit-stop, rather than a full-on tapas session. There is one however, that we do find ourselves returning to (and recommending to travelling friends), and that is La Plaza, located on Plaza de la Merced. Whilst this square does not have the jaw-dropping wow factor of say, Plaza del Obispo where the magnificent cathedral is located, it has a feeling of being a haunt for locals, rather than tourists.

What we love about La Plaza is the style of the tapas – although the menu does have favourites such as tortilla and manchego, there’s a whole lot more, besides. Bet you wouldn’t expect to find an individual lentil shepherd’s pie as part of a tapas menu, but you will on this one. And this menu item is definitely worth ordering! Prices are very competitive, and portions are large.

The menu is quite extensive – and as I say, there are some unusual items on it. When we visited, there were plenty of vegetarian and vegan options, too. Although the restaurant is not slap bang in the middle of the action – it’s away from the coast and a walk away from the Cathedral, but it’s easy to get to – La Plaza, Plaza de la Merced № 18, 29012 Málaga – and well worth an explore of the side streets and parts of the city that aren’t on the tourist trail, as you walk up an appetite.

 

 

Salmon & Potato Bake

Salmon & Potato Bake

We’re doing a whole lot more cooking at home these days – as everyone is – but we’re dreaming of the time we can occasionally escape the kitchen from time to time, again. Until then though, we’re trying to vary what we eat and try out new dishes. Sometimes we do fall back on old favourites, sometimes we go for things we wouldn’t normally eat. But sometimes, we just have to go for what we can cobble together from the cupboards, fridge and freezer. I found a lovely sounding recipe from Delicious Magazine, but we didn’t have all of the ingredients to hand so had to improvise. The original recipe is below, with our substitutes in brackets :

SALMON & POTATO BAKE

  • 1kg floury potatoes, cut into 3mm slices
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large red onion, sliced
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • A few handfuls of baby spinach (didn’t have fresh spinach, so used frozen)
  • Butter, for greasing
  • 3 salmon fillets, sliced
  • 200ml double cream (didn’t have double cream so switched for mascarpone)
  • 50g grated Gruyère (used a mix of provolone & parmesan)
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan160°C/gas 4. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil, then simmer the potatoes for 2-3 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and gently fry the red onion for 5 minutes, then stir in the flour and season well. Add the frozen spinach to the onions and gently heat until defrosted and cooked through.
  3. Butter an ovenproof dish and layer up the potatoes, onion and spinach with the broken up salmon, ending with a layer of potato.
  4. Heat the mascarpone until it liquifies, then pour over the bake. Sprinkle with the cheese and bake for 20-30 minutes, until golden and bubbling.

I think that if we make this again, the double cream will make a difference – mascarpone was fine, but I think the cream would just blend in a little better. It’s definitely a winter warmer and it’s a nice end-of-the-week meal as the salmon makes it feel just a little bit luxurious and more of a treat. If you make it, enjoy 🙂

 

Winter Walks

Winter Walks

It’s absolutely freezing in Istria at the moment. That’s right, freezing. Not the wall to wall sunshine & heat we’d naively thought we’d be experiencing, all year round 😉 But, we’re also just a little bit stir crazy, having not really left our village (apart from supermarket visits) for over nine months. The same for most people, though, as we live through the craziest times. So, we’re making sure we get out and about in the fresh air every day and walk. Hard to believe, but I’m even doing it in the rain! When it’s especially cold, we don’t stray too far and tend to just walk up to the village and around and back and this gives us a good 2km walk. It’s what we did this morning, getting back to the warmth of the woodburner just before the first snow flurries of the year fell. The picture above is taken from the far edge of the village – if you carried on walking, you’d end up in Slovenia. Those peaks in the distance are the foothills of the Julien Alps. Beyond the ridge, they get higher and higher and there is enough snow for ski resorts – in usual times – to be open at this time of year. To the left of the photo is the Gulf of Trieste and the gateway into Italy. As soon as spring arrives, this view is amazing – the landscape bursts into colour and the trees become vibrant green. A bit different in January, but that’s winter for you.

Anyway, this was what we saw on our walk this morning. As much as we loved living just off Burton Road, in West Didsbury, with all of its amenities. there’s something very special about being surrounded now by the sheep and the abandoned properties and the big, wide, expansive views. And, the silence…

The spring lambs are already in evidence – some seem to have arrived a few weeks ago, judging by their size. Unless they grow very quickly, but I’m no sheep expert. What I do know though, is that the all-white lambs are definitely the naughtiest in this particular field of sheep. Unlike their more docile and peaceful fawny brown relatives, the white ones seem to constantly run around, leaping and jumping, and headbutting any other lambs which get in their way. A lovely stop on the walk – I’ve not seen sheep so close up since I was a child, and it was nice to just stop and take in the nature around us.

Dating back to the 1860s, this is the stand alone campanile in our village of Zrenj. It’s not attached to the church, it stands on its own – and we love that we can see it from various points in northern Istria. The bells do ring out every Sunday morning when a mass is on, and we love hearing this, as it just reminds us of being in Italy, in particular. (Our village is largely Italian and this is the main language spoken).

Like everywhere in Istria, our village has its fair share of abandoned buildings. All of these have stories to tell – people fleeing occupiers, or being forcibly removed during times of war and conflict, or people just dying with no-one nearby to take over the property. Property laws in Croatia are crazily complicated IF ownership of a property is not established and nailed down. Many of these buildings are now in a state of abandonment and disrepair, simply because people to whom the property has passed to, are often spread around the world. And, with out the consent of all owners, a property cannot be sold. We sincerely hope that in the not too distant future, the powers that be, look to Italy as an example for the regeneration of these communities. We avidly keep an eye on Italian property websites where abandoned houses, sometimes whole abandoned villages, are put up for sale for a nominal amount, to attract foreign investment – always with the stipulation that a pre-agreed amount must be spent on the renovation, local workers in the main are employed and the property cannot be flipped. The incentives are there to attract people who want to invest long term and be part of the regeneration process. We so hope this happens here.

We guessed that snow must be in the air, as the sky had that milky, pinky tone to it, which made even the bleak January landscape look very pretty. We did get our snow when we got back – although it was nothing to write home about. Twenty minutes worth of flakes and then it was over. But who knows? These hills might have a dusting of snow over the coming days.

 

Christmas 2020

Christmas 2020

Well, it’s definitely been a funny old year. Since returning from our Christmas road trip, back to the UK, in January, we have been nowhere. Coronavirus quickly put paid to our usual kind of year. No eating out. No mini breaks. No visitors to us, meaning that we’ve not seen family friends since last Christmas – thank goodness for Zoom! Travel restrictions and quarantines are still in place all across Europe and specifically in the countries we’d drive through (there and back) and add in full blown Brexit, and all that that will entail come 1st January, we’re not able to do our road trip this Xmas. However, plans are afoot with family to celebrate Xmas in the summer, and we suspect some festivities may occur with visiting friends, too. So, this all means we are spending our first Christmas, at home, in Istria.

This time of year has always involved much travel for us. Even when we lived in England, travel was still a massive part of the festive season, so it will be quite strange to be in one place. Although we might be able to do a bit of winter sightseeing in Istria, we think we’ll largely be at home, so we are going big on ensuring the house is as Christmas filled as possible. Usually, we don’t do much decorations-wise, as we’re not at home. We do usually have a tree – and when we were in Didsbury we used to have a real tree outside, meaning no needles dropping indoors – but that’s about it. Well, not this year. After a 2020 to forget, we’re going out with a sparkle or two ✨✨

The outside area has played a massive part in our lives this year and we’ve finally (we think) completed the front of the house. Now that it’s all tidy and very pretty (even in winter, for the first time), we wanted to create a bit of a festive feel outside. The kitchen window shutters are rarely closed so we’ve used the bar which keeps them open as a focal point. A long garland of faux ivy has been wrapped around it and around that, we’ve wrapped tiny LED lights. The cherry wood bench underneath still has the birdcages filled with beautifully coloured pumpkins, from back in October. We’ve only had one pumpkin casualty and that was one I sprayed gold which decayed under the film of spray and then collapsed in a pungent mess when picked up… The others – delicious hues of oranges and greens and light blues – are still going strong and look very pretty with lights twisted through the birdcages. The glass-effect summer bauble lights have been brought down from the trees and these also wind their way around the bench.

We’ve once again opted for a real tree outside. This potted Norwegian Spruce will be cared for until we finally move and can plant her up. She does look very lovely on the patio when lit up 🙂

Over the summer. I had a circular willow wreath which was wrapped with lights and hung inside the shed, so that it gave off a soft light in the evening. This wreath has been wintered-up. Again, garlands of faux ivy have been wrapped around it and orange berries inserted into the willow. Hey presto – a Christmas wreath for the front door.

I don’t think we’ve ever had a Christmas wreath before, but this year we’ve actually got two – although the second one came about by mistake. High winds had seen to the solar lanterns in the trees and all that was left of three of them was one of the hoops that formed one of the bases. This was about to be thrown away, along with all of the vines and berries which we’d cut back, when an idea formed…

Indoors is where we’ve taken December to a whole new level for us. Because we’ve never been here before over Xmas, it was decided that the house would this year, become a cosy retreat, full of twinkling lights and candlelight and woodburners burning brightly. The dark feature walls in the living room and the well room come into their own in the winter months and so we’ve been beavering away creating our own hygge haven. A fake white tree – another first! – is now sitting prettily in the well room, adorned with black baubles and a black sparkly star. Our big white stars (IKEA old-timers) hang at each of the windows and can be seen when driving down the hill from the village.

Croatia does seem to embrace Christmas as enthusiastically as back at home, and so we’ve had no problems sourcing decorations. Many do seem to be a lot less mass-produced (although supermarkets do the stock ’em up & pile ’em high with glitter baubles) and so we’ve found a lot of very unusual decorations. These wooden carved decorations are all from a store called TEDI – not sure if these are in the UK but is along the lines of The Range. Sadly, as we can’t travel to closer bigger cities such as Trieste or Ljubljana, we can’t get accessories from little independent shops, but hey-ho, we’ve tried our best with the restrictions we’re under.

By accident, I also bought some multi-coloured LED lights, on copper wire. I think the copper misled me, and I thought the tiny bulbs might be white, but no – they are every colour under the rainbow. And, with eight settings, I could have them flashing, flickering, racing. Many ways to bring on a hallucinatory state. Luckily, the last setting is static – and static it is…

In a nod to our new surroundings, we have introduced a bit of a deer theme…

Not sure if we have sparkly gold birds, with yellow feather tails around here, but just in case we do, and we’ve not seen them…

Even a ropey old wine rack which was about to be taken to the tip, got the gold spray pain and LED light treatment. A new life and something salvaged…

I think I’m quite liking getting into the decorative spirit, and even though I have *promised* I’ll buy no more, I can’t really say that I’ll keep this particular promise. It is Christmas 2020, after all! And, our homemade damson gin and blackberry gin is ready. So cheers, saluti and živjeli..

 

 

Walnut Pesto

Walnut Pesto

There are certain foodstuffs that we buy, that I know should be so easy to make ourselves, but for some reason, never get around to it. Either, there’s something we don’t have from the ingredients list, Or, I just assume it won’t be as easy as I think it might. Pesto is one of these things. At least one jar, often more, is bought on every shop. Meaning more bottles to recycle and meaning always paying over the odds for something.

But, with the most recent haul in the garden being walnuts, we decided the the time had come to crack the pesto…

Ingredients

  • Two or three large cloves of garlic, unpeeled
  • A cupful of walnuts – depends on the size of your cup, but this was the amount we used, above
  • A big bunch of fresh basil leaves – again, it depends on how strong you want your pesto to be
  • A chunk of fresh parmesan, grated. Same as with the basil, it’s all down to personal taste
  • Olive oil – as above, re personal taste, as you can add more as necessary

01

Toast the unpeeled, whole garlic, in olive oil. Once the skin begins to brown, remove from the pan and set aside. Once it’s cooled down, peel the skin away.

02

Toast the walnut kernels, for about 10 minutes, stirring in olive oil, so that they don’t burn.

03

Combine peeled garlic, walnuts, basil, parmesan cheese and olive oil in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. You’ll need to need to use a plastic scraper to mix the pesto as the walnuts tend to stick to the sides, until blended. This is also when you can add more parmesan and olive oil, depending on your taste and the kind of consistency you want to achieve.

04

Season with salt & pepper according to your taste. And serve…