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…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smoked Tuna with Pasta

Smoked Tuna with Pasta

 Almost with the flick of a switch, summer seemed to end yesterday, and autumn arrived. The temperature dropped and grey skies replaced the bright blue sky we seem to have had for weeks and weeks. Although we’re still hopefully weeks away from having to light the woodburners, we definitely craved something a bit more substantial and comforting for dinner. Our local Lidl store has been rotating, on a weekly basis, foods from different European countries – Greek week is always a winner in our house, and we’ve been stocking up on Eridanous range of smoked tuna. It is utterly delicious, with a real woody, smoky flavour and when a tin of tuna is called upon in future, I don’t think I’ll be able to have any other kind.

We’ve used this through the summer in salads and wraps but decided something more warming was needed – and our pasta dish was just perfect. It was quick and easy to make and very delicious. Hopefully, if you try it too, you can get your hands on some smoked tuna – it does make all the difference…

INGREDIENTS

  • Penne pasta
  • Red onion, finely sliced
  • A couple of cloves of garlic, sliced
  • Olive oil
  • Medium jar of passata or a tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 small tins of smoked or regular tuna
  • Dried chilli flakes
  • Strong cheese, for the topping
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Fresh basil leaves

The recipe is as you would expect. Boil the pasta until al dente (it will cook further in the oven). When cooking, fry the onion and garlic until soft, in the olive oil. Sprinkle over the chilli flakes. Add the passata (or tomatoes) and stir until heated through, then add the tuna (chopped up into largish chunks) and a handful of basil leaves. Season according to taste.

Drain the pasta and mix into the tuna & tomato sauce, then turn into an oven proof dish. Cover with the grated cheese and cook for about 30 minutes in a medium oven.

 

Oprtalj – Step into the Past…

Oprtalj – Step into the Past…

Our nearest town, Oprtalj, isn’t really a town. At least not in the sense of what we’d regard as a town back in the UK. Oprtalj is not much bigger than Burton Road in West Didsbury, but with a couple of restaurants, a wine bar, a school, a food shop, an interiors shop, a gallery, a boutique hotel, a loggia, a church, a campanile, a cashpoint (rare in these parts), a town hall, a post office and a town square, it has plenty going for it. Many of the properties in Oprtalj were abandoned over the years – successive regimes ensured that many families upped sticks and left – and so there are plenty of buildings which are being reclaimed by nature. But, life is being breathed back into Oprtalj. Like much of Istria, tourism is a big industry here (and so the area has been hit hard this year), so many of the properties have been bought and redeveloped. However, once inside the city walls, there are very strict regulations as to what you can and can’t do to one of these old properties – even the external paint colour has to be from an approved list, but it does mean that that sympathetic restoration is ensured.

Sitting on the top of a hill, the town has stunning views across the Istrian countryside – vineyards and forests and small villages and in the distance, the shimmering Adriatic. In the winter, when the clouds are low, we can be shrouded in fog, making it really atmospheric – it’s hard to imagine on days like these, how beautiful the vista below actually is. But during the summer – and especially this summer, when days have been long and hot and lazy – it really comes into its own, especially when the sun shines on the pastel coloured buildings. Being so close to Italy, and having been ruled over by Italy throughout the ages, Oprtalj has a real feel of a Tuscan hill town. It really is our little corner of Italy…

We are hoping to move a little closer to Oprtalj, and so are selling our beautiful renovated Istrian stone house. It is about 4kms from the town, located in a lovely village, which is quiet and peaceful. If you are interested in investigating our house for sale, do visit our website.

Panzanella

Panzanella

Waste not, want not.

We’re trying very, very hard to live a much more sustainable lifestyle and to really take note of what we buy. In the past, we might have popped into Manchester and come bag with bags of *stuff* that we just didn’t need. We don’t do this now. Because we’ve kind of had to start from scratch, with our Istria house, we’ve had to be a lot more careful. OK, so we had all of our furniture and boxes of accessories etc from our West Didsbury house, but we also now have a house with a whole lot more floorspace, so we’ve had to think carefully about how we furnish and accessorise it. Upcycling and recycling has played a much bigger part this time around – and it’s very satisfying to see something we’ve actually created.

But this is not the only aspect of our lives, where we’re trying to be more careful. Rather than chucking food which we think looks a bit “off”, we now try to eat what we buy when it’s fresh. Or, certainly in my case, being a bit braver with food and not think I am going get food poisoning if it’s a day or two past its best.

Like the ciabatta loaf that hadn’t been eaten quickly enough this weekend, and was too hard to do much with. Like the tomatoes which had gone a bit too soft. Like the jar of anchovies which had been opened for a pizza a couple of nights previously and needed to be eaten. Then I remembered a dish I had always intended to make – but then never got round to, because I’d always chucked the perfect ingredients for this recipe. Those a bit on the stale side, and just past their best. No excuses this time, as I had everything to hand…

PANZANELLA

Panzanella (or panmolle) is a Tuscan salad, the main ingredients being stale bread, onions and tomatoes, with red wine vinegar and olive oil. We had a few more ingredients to hand, so threw these in, too. The easiest and quickest dish to make – even adding in the additional time to roast the peppers.

Ingredients

  • Stale ciabatta loaf
  • Over ripe mixed tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 handful small capers (drained)
  • 1 small red onion – peeled and finely sliced
  • A couple of red peppers, chopped & roasted – make sure the skin blackens in places for extra flavour
  • About 10 small anchovy fillets in oil, drained and chopped up
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Salt & pepper
  • Torn up fresh basil leaves

And this is how simple it is to make…

  • Chop the red peppers, smother with olive oil and black pepper and roast for about 30 minutes.
  • Place the chopped tomatoes in a big bowl and season with salt and pepper, and then add the red peppers when roasted.
  • Rinse the capers, squeeze out any excess liquid and add to the bowl, along with the sliced, red onion, ciabatta and anchovies.
  • Toss the mixture together with your hands, then stir in a splash of red wine vinegar and about 3 times as much extra virgin olive oil.
  • Taste and add a little more salt, pepper, vinegar or oil, if needed.
  • Tear in the basil leaves, stir together and grate parmesan cheese over the salad.

Serve, with a lovely glass of chilled wine. The perfect Italian salad, using what you probably have in the kitchen anyway.

 

 

 

Cauli Cheese – with a twist…

Cauli Cheese – with a twist…

I’m a big fan of easy-peasy dishes, which include as few pots and pans as possible. And, as little time spent in the kitchen, as possible. Summer here has been very hot and currently we don’t have the luxury of air con, so our summer cooking has involved many BBQs and salads and things which are left to themselves, so we can escape the heat of the kitchen. I caught an advert on TV for Jamie Oliver’s new series & part of the clip was Cauliflower Cheese Pasta – the tiny bit that I saw was enough to get me out purchasing a fresh cauli, as I knew that this dish would be a stunner. And it was!

The outer leaves of my cauliflowers usually end up in the compost bin, as I’m never really sure what to with them. Well, this recipe clears that one right up. All parts of the cauliflower are used. And I bet if I told you that this recipe is actually a spaghetti dish, smothered in the creamiest, silkiest sauce – made up mostly of cauliflower – with a crispy, crunchy topping (those leaves!), you probably wouldn’t believe me. So, here’s the recipe and how it turned out…

INGREDIENTS

  • 100 g stale bread (we used frozen breadcrumbs)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • ½ a head of cauliflower (400g)
  • olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 400 ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 300 g dried spaghetti
  • 70 g Cheddar cheese

METHOD

  • Tip the breadcrumbs into a food processor.
  • Peel and add the garlic, along with a couple of outer leaves from the cauliflower
  • Add ½ a tablespoon of olive oil and blitz
  • Tip into a large non-stick frying pan on a medium heat and cook for 15 minutes, or until golden and crisp, stirring occasionally and put to one side, in a bowl
  • Meanwhile, peel the onion, then roughly chop with the cauliflower, stalk and all
  • Pour in the milk and add the chopped veg, bring just to the boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer
  • Cook the spaghetti in a pan of boiling salted water and just before it’s ready, carefully pour the cauliflower mixture into the processor
  • Grate in the cheese, blitz until super smooth, then season to perfection, and return to the pan
  • Drain the pasta, reserving a mugful of starchy cooking water
  • Toss the pasta through the sauce, loosening with a splash of reserved cooking water, if needed
  • Serve with the cauliflower cheese spaghetti sprinkled with the crispy crumbs

This dish really is the best variation on a cauliflower cheese recipe I’ve ever had. Because it uses spaghetti, rather than pasta shapes, it seemed to feel a lot less “bulky”. And although I adore cheese, and can sometimes over use it, I stuck largely to the recipe – and I definitely don’t think the taste suffered in any way. It was also good to use a vegetable and know that absolutely none of it had gone to waste.

Whizzed up breadcrumbs and cauliflower leaves...

Whizzed up breadcrumbs and cauliflower leaves…

 

Damson Gin Time

Damson Gin Time

For the first year since we’ve been here, the damson trees around the garden, are absolutely laden with fruit. Maybe they have been in previous years, too, and possibly we’ve been too busy with summer visitors and renovation work, to notice, but we’ve definitely noticed this year. The bees and butterflies are in abundance, buzzing around the trees and tucking into the fallen fruits. We even have a rabbit who visits and seems to almost get intoxicated on the fruit. The trees (middle in photo below) are heavy with them and the thud of falling fruit is a familiar sound this summer. We’ve been picking and cleaning the damsons for a couple of weeks now and freezing them – and after a supermarket run to buy some cheap gin, we’ve started making the damson gin…

Today has been the perfect day, as after days and days of sunshine and high temperatures, a storm rolled in, so we had a day indoors. As we’ve never fruit trees before, I’ve never made any kind of gin, assuming it to be very difficult. Well, not so!

A litre bottle of fairly cheap gin (wasn’t going to use the good stuff) was divided between two sterilised kilner jars. 500g of our frozen damsons were bashed up a bit with a mallet, in the freezer bag, and 250g added to the gin in each jar. 125g of golden caster sugar was then added and both jars given a good old shake. This’ll be repeated daily for a week, until the sugar has dissolved and then the jars will be put it in a cool, dark place and left for 2-3 months.The plan then will be to use a coffee filter cone, to hopefully achieved a refined gin, and the liquid will be strained through it. This will then be decanted into clean, dry bottles, which will be sealed and labeled. By Christmas, we hope the gin will be ready to drink 🙂 Meanwhile, I’m just liking checking on my first attempt at gin distillery…

 

Greek Style Tuna Stew

Greek Style Tuna Stew

I have absolutely no idea if this dish has any Greek roots but it just reminds me of those oh-so-wholesome stewy-fish dishes that you often find in Greek tavernas. The ones located right next to the sea, with a bamboo awning, covering you from the hot sun as the water laps at your feet. The ones where the fish is so fresh, you’ve just watched it being caught.

Unfortunately, despite pretty close to the Adriatic now, we’re not good at fishing and so our tuna was of the frozen variety. But handily in cubes – so perfectly cut already for a stew or a skewer on the barbecue. I like nothing more than a good stew, where everything is tossed into one pot or pan and allowed to just bubble away and get on with things, and this is pretty much what this dish is.

INGREDIENTS

  • tuna – we used frozen cubes, but if you fancy cutting up fresh tuna, that’d work just as well, if not better
  • two large potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • two peppers, de-seeded and roughly chopped
  • one fresh chilli, de-seeded and chopped finely
  • two large cloves of garlic, crushed or finely sliced
  • one large onion, roughly chopped
  • chopped fresh tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • chilli flakes
  • veggie (or fish, if you prefer) stock
  • a glug of white wine
  • salt & pepper
  • fresh parsley

METHOD

  1. Sear the tuna cubes (sprinkled with sea salt) in a skillet, with olive oil (just a couple of tablespoons) on a high heat, for about 3 minutes, turning all the time so that all sides brown. Set aside on a plate.
  2. Boil the peeled and cubed potatoes.
  3. Saute the garlic, onions, peppers and fresh chillies until soft. Season with salt and pepper and a sprinkling of dried chilli flakes.
  4. Add the boiled potato cubes and roughly chopped fresh tomatoes, with about two cups of veggie stock (or fish stock), and a splash of white wine.
  5. Simmer for about 30 minutes, until the liquid begins to turn to a light broth consistency.
  6. Take off the heat and add the browned tuna cubes and sprinkle with fresh parsley. Leave for about three minutes for the the tuna to begin to soak up the broth.

Serve with crusty bread or sourdough, or as we did, warm pitta breads. Summer in a bowl…