Very Little Stir Risotto

Very Little Stir Risotto

With our lovely new kitchen, we are trying to be more organised, have food in, take advantage of our new cooking facilities and eat more at home. We love risotto and have been meaning to try out the Three Cheese Baked Risotto spotted in a Donna Hay cookery book – bought primarily for the beautiful design, so it’s been a bonus to find that the recipes are really, really good!

No Stir Risotto Recipe by Donna Hay

The best thing about this baked risotto is that it’s baked. No standing stirring. Just shove it in the oven – and if you spend a teeny bit extra on the parmesan and prosciutto, I promise you, it is delicious. You’ll never stand, continuously stirring a risotto, again ?

SERVES TWO

  • 1 cup (200g) arborio rice
  • 2.5 cups (625 ml) stock (we used vegetable stock, but Donna Hay suggests chicken)
  • 1 leek, very finely chopped
  • 1 tsp of chopped oregano leaves
  • 30g butter
  • grated parmesan (as much as you like!)
  • salt & pepper
  • creamy blue cheese, roughly sliced
  • 150g fresh ricotta
  • 4 slices of prosciutto

Preheat oven to 190C/375F. Place rice, stock, oregano leaves & butter in a baking dish and cover tightly with a lid or piece of foil. Bake for 40 minutes or until the rice is soft. Stir in the parmesan, salt & pepper and continue to stir for 4-5 mins or until the risotto is creamy and the remaining stock has been absorbed. Divide the risotto between serving plates and top with blue cheese, ricotta, chopped prosciutto and remaining parmesan.

First Impressions

First Impressions

A simple bar of soap, but packaged so exquisitely, that I *had* to buy not one, but three bars. The design is simple and quite retro, with a brown paper wrapper, reinforcing the idea that you are purchasing something good. Something that could have been made on an Italian agriturismo, using natural products from the land. Of course, it wasn’t – it was probably mass prouduced in a factory, but the design suggests handmade by independent artisans…

Saponette al Miele

The chosen fonts are beautiful – simple, but suggesting this is a product you can rely on. Harking back to a simpler time. We’re not often fans of all capitalisation, but it works here. And being a sucker for all things Italian, the description, for me, is just very alluring…

Saponette al Miele

“Vegetable honey soap enriched with natural bee production extracts…”

First impressions do count. They have to count, because in a world where we have images & messages rammed in our faces constantly, you don’t often get that second chance…

All Wrapped Up

All Wrapped Up

When we travel back to England for Christmas, we don’t fly. Flying is a real hassle, even when it’s the short two & a half hour flight we do from Pula to Manchester. Plus we’re becoming more & more aware of the impact of flying – but, we have to get back some way, and so driving is the best option open to us at the moment. I know that what we’re gaining from not flying, we’re losing by driving, but there’s no viable alternative. So, this year I made a determined effort to try and do what I could to make a tiny contribution to being a bit more ethical at Christmas.

It would be brilliant if we could buy everything locally and be able to walk to independent shops – but we’re not in West Didsbury any more. Where we live now, in northern Istria, driving is unfortunately part and parcel of every day life. So, buying things does mean driving – and sometimes ordering online. Therefore, I decided that rather than wrap presents into paper which was foiled or contained glitter or use that curly shiny ribbon, I’d try and be a bit more “eco” – especially given that our current lifestyle doesn’t easily lend itself to doing this on a grand scale, currently.

So, what did I do? Bought the following –

  • Rolls of brown paper
  • Twine & string from a local garden centre
  • Corrugated cardboard luggage labels
  • Faux sprigs of eucalyptus

And, hey presto! For very little money and using compenents that could be reused and/or recycled, some very pretty packaging. And not a sheet of shiny paper involved…

Like I say, it’s not quite as easy – or as convenient – here in Istria, to be eco on a consistently daily basis. We do recycle as much as we can at home, and we use the public recycling facilities here. We’ve just bought re-usable veg bags (spotted in Sainsbury’s over Xmas) which can be washed, so this also means we’re able to cut down on plastic fruit & veg bags when we go shopping. Bags for life have replaced throwaway plastic bags. We use a water filter jug, so no longer buy plastic bottles of water.

However, because of our location, we are very much reliant on our car. There is no local transport network to speak of, so driving is how get around. We are very conscious of this – but hopefully the small steps we are starting to make, will begin to make a tiny difference.

A Taste of Summer

A Taste of Summer

Spaghetti dishes are often our go-to meals, especially if we’re a bit short on time. Current favourite is just flash frying, in olive oil, chilli flakes and garlic and mixing through spaghetti, and sprinkling with parmesan. Done in less than 10 minutes. But recently, on one of my favourite Twitter accounts – Beauty From Italy – I spotted this alternative and had to give it a go.

Spaghetti Al Limone

On first reading, this recipe looks easy-peasy but  you do need to set a little bit of time aside for prepping and it’s also not a one pan meal. But, go for it – it’s absolutely deliciously decadent. And, surprisingly, when you taste it, not a drop of cream in sight. The recipe below will serve four, but we couldn’t find our scales so we guesstimated and it all worked out OK, so we think you don’t need to fret over quantities too much.

* about 400g dried spaghetti
* 2 organic small/medium lemons – we used a mahoosive lemon & the end result was very “lemony” so maybe go for small ones if you don’t want it too tart
* 160g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
* 80g finely grated parmesan cheese – no weighing out of parmesan in this house so think we’d have used way beyond 80g. You can’t restrict your use of fresh parmesan…
* freshly cracked pepper
* extra-virgin olive oil (optional)

Bring a large salted pot of water to the boil. While it is boiling prepare your other ingredients; squeeze the lemons and keep the lemon halves to one side; finely grate the cheese and set aside; chop the butter. Cook your spaghetti, then transfer it, using tongs, to a second pan – liberally splash in the water it’s been cooking in. Then add the chopped butter and lemon juice and stir until it becomes very creamy. At this stage add in the parmesan and stir. And, it’s ready.

Pile onto warmed bowls, sprinkle with a bit more parmesan – because why wouldn’t you? – and black pepper. Keep your halves of lemon handy in case you need a bit more zest to squeeze over. And, enjoy…

 

 

 

Spanakopita

Spanakopita

No visits to Greece is ever complete, without numerous visits to local bakeries for the delicious spanakopita, those gorgeous filo parcels, packed full of spinach and feta and pine nuts. Back home from idyllic Greek islands, I’d never contemplated trying to replicate these, because I felt that if you didn’t make your own filo pastry it was cheating, but making it seemed a complete hassle. I also didn’t think I’d ever be able to replicate that special taste, so never tried.

I’m well over the cheating feeling now. As we don’t have the luxury of a local shop on the doorstep anymore, we need to think ahead a bit more and this means we’re definitely getting a bit more creative in the kitchen. It does help that we do now have a lovely new kitchen, rather than the one we inherited when we bought the house, which was functional but not really a pleasure to spend much time in…

Kitchen : Pre-Renovation

Kitchen : Pre-Renovation

Kitchen : Post-Renovation

Kitchen : Post-Renovation

So, this weekend, it was decided to bring a bit of Greek sunshine into the house – and the replication of the spanakopita commenced!

To be honest, I’m not sure why I’ve not done it before. It was quick and easy and the end result, because it’s actually quite difficult to go wrong with this, was delicious. And although this was a pie, rather than a parcel, it did take me right back to those warm summer days on Greek islands.

What you’ll need…

  • 500g spinach (fresh, if possible, rather than frozen)
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 200g feta, crumbled
  • 4 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
  • 3 large free-range eggs, beaten
  • Filo pastry sheets
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • Nutmeg

Easy-peasy-how-to-do…

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan160°C/gas 4.
  2. Wilt the spinach in a large pan over a low heat and season well. Allow to cool, then drain well, squeezing out the excess liquid with your hands. Chop spinach up – scissors come in handy here!
  3. Heat (extra virgin, if possible) olive oil in a shallow frying pan and add the onion and garlic, cooking until soft. Add seasoning.
  4. Remove from the heat and add to a bowl with the spinach, crumbled feta, toasted pine nuts and eggs. Mix together and season well, adding a generous pinch of nutmeg. Spoon into the base of a baking dish.
  5. Lightly scrunch your filo pastry sheets and lay over the spinach mixture. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the pastry is crisp and golden.
About to go in the oven...

About to go in the oven…

To accompany this dish I roasted some gorgeous new potatoes – they’re just starting to appear in Istria and are so much nicer than winter potatoes – and coated them in smoky paprika, rock salt and chilli flakes, to give the meal a bit of a kick. And, these certainly had a kick, so the addition of a fresh, zingy cherry tomato, cucumber and lemon salad worked a treat.

A great Greek treat on a cold night in Istria 🙂

Finally! It’s Spring…

Finally! It’s Spring…

We know what bad weather is like. We know what winter is like. We’re from Manchester. But, winter just gone has been something else. We’re used to dismal grey clouds, that hang over you for days/weeks on end. Rain that seems as if it will never stop. Fleeting snow – then the return of the rain. But, we’re not in Manchester now. We’re in Istria in northern Croatia and surely winter isn’t really winter.

WRONG!

Winter is *so* winter. So much so, that my huge collection of throws and blankets came into their own, hygge style, as we shivered our way through temperatures which plummeted to -10, as the house was being renovated. We’ve been told that this is very unusual for winter, but boy are we glad it seems to be over…

The countryside around the house has suddenly turned from barren brown, to zinging, popping green. Foliage, flowers, blooms are suddenly bursting open. Our garden is morphing from a muddy building site, into a green & colourful building site. And it is an absolute joy to watch nature unfolding in front of our eyes…

And, the best thing of all? Driving to the supermarket this morning, at 11am, the temperature was 24 degrees. Not bad at all when only four weeks ago it was minus 10 😉

Spicy Winter Warmer

Spicy Winter Warmer

Image : http://www.straightawaydesign.com/impressive-industrial-kitchen-design-ideas/qM9c-1231

Image : http://www.straightawaydesign.com/impressive-industrial-kitchen-design-ideas/qM9c-1231

It’s going to be quite a few more weeks, we think, until we have anything that resembles a kitchen, never mind something as luscious as this above. In the meantime, we’re just going to have to continue muddling through the dust and the dirt and the grime – which we do try to keep on top of – but which reappears every day, as walls and ceilings and floors are knocked down, bashed out, drilled to pieces. Like anyone who has limited kitchen resources/space, we’ve have to be resourceful. We don’t have the range of restaurants on our doorstep here, like we did in West Didsbury. The nearest restaurant is a 30 second walk away, but it’s now winter and restaurants here tend to open when they fancy in the cold months. Which, as far as we’ve seen, seems to be never, so eating out options are currently limited.

Eating in is the easier opion – but with no sink, we are reliant on the dishwasher when it is plumbed in, or back to the old washing-up-in-the-bath routine. So, dishes that rely on just one pot or pan are flavour of the day, at the moment – and today, we have a roasted tomato and spicy chilli soup simmering away, on the hob. It’s obviously dead easy to make, but I may use things that you don’t, so here’s how I’ve done it :

  • About six/seven beef tomatoes – a lot, I know for two people, but these are super cheap out here, although I do know they are a bit pricey back in England. I just roughly chopped them & left the skins on as the soup will be whizzed up before serving. I’m not using any more knives/chopping boards than I need to 😉 Chucked in a pan with boiling water, two vegetable stock cubes, salt and plenty of black pepper
  • Cherry tomatoes on the vine – covered in olive oil, seasoned with salt and black pepper and sprinkled with a generous dusting of chilli flakes, oven roasted until some are starting to blacken and then mixed in with simmering beef tomatoes & stock

The colours of the ingredients of this super spicy soup are just gorgeous – and are definitely brightening up a very atmospherically foggy Istrian day. Our builder tells us this is normal weather for this time of year, but that at the weekend the Bura – the winds which sweep down from Slovenia and Trieste and are very strong – will arrive and will blow away the low lying clouds and sunshine and blue skies will return ☀️

In the meantime, we have our super spicy soup to keep up warm and toasty…

 

Settling In…

Settling In…

In a few days time, we go on holiday. Our holiday this year will be a bit different, as we’re flying back into Manchester to visit family and friends. Returning to the city that has been our home for so many years, has made us reflect a little bit on the last five months – and although we are still (and will be for a long time to come) grappling with many of the nuances of Croatian life, we reckon we’ve made a pretty good job of settling in…

We’re onto unpacking the very last boxes of everything we brought over from Manchester. On 2nd March, we were a little bit overwhelmed when every last thing we owned, arrived on a lorry and was deposited in front of the house. Five months later and everything seems to have a found a home – most temporary as we renovate, but at least we’re rid of packing boxes and bubble wrap…

Chaos on 2nd March 2017

Chaos on 2nd March 2017

We’ve negotiated the complexities of car buying in Croatia. I’ve blogged about this before, as it’s just not as obvious here, as it is back in the UK, how to actually buy a car. Although there are plenty of new car garages, here’s no obvious second hand dealerships, no obvious Exchange & Mart publications, internet searches throw up confusing results. As with most things we’ve discovered here, it’s not what you know here, it’s who you know. (Top tip – make it your business to get to know good people!)

The buying of the car is the least confusing thing – you’ve then got to negotiate the paying for it. We now live in a land where cash (or cash transfers) is king and so you need to factor in numerous trips to the bank. And work out which branch has the best English speakers – very important for key financial transactions. Insurance is another thing that we’d have fallen foul of, had we not had the advce from the garage owners. Our years of no-claims in England would have counted for nothing out here, if we’d taken out our own insurance. A way around this, thanks again to our garage owners (remember, it’s not what you know, but who you know!), was for them to initially insure in their business name and for us then to transfer into our names. We are now fully insured and the owners of two Croatian registered cars 🙂 Handy if you come to visit, as we have a nippy little Fiat Punto ready and waiting for guests to use.

Sorting utilities and transferring into our names has made me yearn for the headmash of the UK utilities companies. Although there only seems to be one electricity company – the national HEP – and one water company, we’re sure that there must be more providers. It’s just that we couldn’t find them – and it just seemed easier to transfer the accounts from the previous owners. It took about three months to finally sort it all out – but again, we are now legitimate in the eyes of the utilities companies. And paying way, way, way less than we were in the UK.

We’ve now got residency status in Croatia, again making us more legitimate. This was a fairly simple process, involving visiting the local police station with our documents, answering a few questions and proving that we had bought the house. (Although another blog post will explain the issue of BOUNDARIES – oh, yes. Boundaries are a major issue out here, and could scupper potential property purchases if you’re not aware of the complexities…)

We’re getting used to crossing borders and remembering what we need to do at each one and always having our documents with us. We now understand that if we go over into Slovenia we need to buy a vignette to display on the windscreen – necessary if you’re going to be driving on the motorway, as you’ll get a hefty fine if you’ve not purchased one. We’ve made some fab friends already, who have greatly eased our transition into a whole new way of life – and who have recommended brilliant people to work with us on the renovation of the house. People have been extrememly kind, too – a very common trait here – bringing us gifts to welcome us into our new home. We even had a recent delivery of wild boar steaks & locally produced wine from our builder 😉

It’s been a roller-coaster five months, and looking back, we cn’t quite believe the progress we’ve made. We’ve still a LONG way to go – fixed line internet is still to be resolved, the Croatian language (beyond “hello” and “thank you”) needs to be tackled, the renovation of certain parts of the house needs to begin – but we feel at home. And when you can easily get to places like this, we feel very, very, very lucky in our new Croatian home…

Mošćenička Draga

Mošćenička Draga