Saturday, February 21, 2009
There are some things in life that I just can't resist. One of these is Boquerones en Vinagre. Those glistening silvery jewels draped over a plate, drizzled with peppery olive oil and sprinkled with finely chopped fresh garlic letting the vinegar marinade come through........heaven. Pre lunch is when I crave them,accompanied by a chilly glass of Manzanilla. I like them wrapped around picos - tiny breadsticks but my Spanish friends say they should be on eaten on top of the bread served alongside the picos.
One day last week, whilst in one of my favourite Pescaderias in town, pondering my purchase of the day, Oliva, directing me away from my favoured pescados, enthused that the boquerones were 'Muy Bueno'.They did look fab. All plump and healthy - albeit dead. I shrugged my shoulders,asking what I would do with them. She suggested a la plancha or frito.
Boquerones fritos are a legend in their own right and one of the few things we don't do at Annie B's Spanish Kitchen is deepfry fish. I hate the smell for one thing and you can eat pescado frito in town way ahead of anything I'd produce for sure. A la plancha - for me,some fish yes but oily fish no - particularly not small oily fish.
Then she suggested en vinagre - woo hoo!! How? Simple replied Oliva demonstrating on her selected victim. Rip the head off, run your finger along the backbone seperating flesh from bone, snap that off at the tail, open it out, wash and lay flat in a dish with rim. After you've treated all your anchovies like this, sprinkle with sea salt and cover completely with white vinegar. You then leave this in the fridge for 4 hours or more but the flesh must have turned white before the next stage. Remove the fillets, rinse and pat dry. Now cover lightly with Olive Oil and chopped garlic. This has to be the freshest garlic you can lay your hands on. A grind of black pepper. And that's it.
Assuming that you start this process the morning of anchovy purchase,they will be ready for consumption the following day, just intime for that Manzanilla. Trust me - there are few things better than this.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Annie’s buying a house in Spain’ muttered my mother to my father over marmalade and oatcakes one morning.’ What on earth would she want to do that for?’ he replied with his usual Scottish canniness.
Exactly 3 years on, it’s turned out to be the very best decision I’ve ever made.
In 2003, disillusioned re. entrusting my future to failing pension funds and aware I was sitting on a great deal of equity in my London house, I decided to head to The Costa de la Luz to find ‘my pension’ which could double up as a rental income property. My inspiration came from a January screening of Vacation, Vacation. The beautiful beaches, the guarantee of a cool breeze, original Spanish tapas bars and all within the Sherry region!!! I was off – a woman with a mission – 1 x beachfront apartment required!
Until this visit, I’d never ventured further west than Corte Ingles in Puerto Banus! I thought that Trafalgar was a square in London and that Cadiz was something to do with Christopher Columbus. I’d never heard of Vejer or even aware that the some of the most beautiful beaches in the world were within a 2 hour reach of London.
Very early on during my 5 day visit, I became aware that there was very little property available for sale. I feared I was going to leave empty handed and that it wasn’t to be. Then out of the blue, it was suggested I look at a townhouse in Vejer. It was 3 times more than my budget but no harm in looking.
It was love at first sight. Casa Alegre was in the final throes of restoration. An ancient Andalucian patio home with 5 small family units based around the courtyard providing communal cooking, bathroom and washing facilities. I had a premonition that something magical was about to unfold.
The courtyard had become a pool, and the units, 3 ensuite bedrooms, 2 sitting rooms, various hallways, dining room, kitchen, various patio and terrace areas and the crowning glory – an azotea (azotea’s only exist in Andalucia!) with spectacular views over the old town of Vejer, all the way over the Straits of Gibraltar to Morocco. The house filled me with ideas of a different life, of escapism, of relaxation and indulgence. That was it. That’s what I wanted to create.
This house would work well anywhere but the fact it’s in somewhere as bewitching and charming as Vejer was the icing on the cake. My charming neighbours, the fish and produce market, the family run tapas bars, the butcher’s shop with seats (you just can’t go there in a rush!), the wafting smells from Andalucian kitchens, the Moroccan inspired architecture, the gentle humour and kindness of everyone – you would have to travel far to find somewhere like Vejer. As one of my Jimmy Choo high heel tottering girlfriend’s remarked, finally accepting that sensible rubber soled shoes are required for Vejer ‘ If someone doesn’t like Vejer, they have a problem’.
Vejer has brought untold pleasure to my family, my friends and guests who have rented my house. Even my father rejoices in the fact his daughter has found somewhere for him to have a breakfast coffee and brandy in a different bar every day!
My tips and advice to anyone buying a property here would be (apart from a good lawyer of course)
1. When transferring money to a Spanish bank – check that you pay charges at source. Spanish banks levy hefty charges – I have learned this the hard way.
2. The escitura (title deed) is very important so don’t pass any money until you know the escitura exists. Given the various family units, Casa Alegre has 3 escituras, one of which didn’t come through until a year after I paid 80% and received the keys. I took a risk but my lawyer knew that the owners were in court proving ownership.
3. Check the level of your electricity supply. Some of these old houses aren’t geared up to hairdryers or dishwashers. Anything that ‘heats up’ requires more electricity.
4. Buy beds and white goods locally. The service will be fantastic.
5. Bring all bedding from UK. Spanish bedding is a minefield if you require goose down duvets, pillows and pure cotton bedding.
6. Another weird thing I’ve found difficult to find here is decent plastic glassware – a must if you have a pool or a breezy azotea.
7. It has taken years to finally build in traditional wardrobes etc. I have learned to become patient (that hasn’t been easy) as the manana principle truly exists. There are many fabulous local craftsmen
8. A simple rule when it comes to furnishing your home is to keep it Spanish with a splash of Moroccan. In many instances furniture from the UK just doesn’t look right and artwork/artefacts from other parts of the world looks out of place.
3 years later, I have, for the time being, left my life in London behind. Leaving Vejer after every trip became more and more difficult and it made no sense not to be here full time. I’m thriving living back in a village/town community after 20 years in London. I awake every morning to the most spectacular views from my bedroom. From my desk I over look the ancient church and town. I no longer wear a watch and relay on the hourly and half-hourly church bells (the stop at midnight until 8am!).
The simple pleasure of biting into a dewy new season’s freshly picked organic peach currently outweighs Risotto Nero at Le Caprice (you can get that here too – only it’s even better!). Being able to walk along the beach with glistening sand underfoot and the negative ions from he crashing waves leaves me wondering why it’s taken me so long to be here.
My business is in safe hands, my house is sold and I am enjoying a long awaited ‘Gap Year’. I plan to buy various other properties and recreate the comfort of Casa Alegre for the work weary in need of a recharge. This area is full of opportunities to do this. If you see something and it feels right – go for it! I promise you won’t regret it.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
I have an on going love affair with cephalopods.
Any menu featuring squid, octopus or cuttlefish is my paradise and if it features all three - then happiness quickly turns to agony re. choice. In Vejer we're spoilt for choice with availability of fabulous frito mixto in almost every bar and restaurant. Freshly deep fried Calamari with a squeeze of a freshly picked lemon has to be right up there as one of the best things ever. The area is well known for it's world class Choco's (cuttlefish), caught off the local shoreline
The sight of a racion of freshly fried Puntallitas can stop me in my tracks - it's almost as if those tiny tenticles are waving at me - come get me, come get me! And I do, with a glass of chilly Manzanilla in one hand, picking at these salty deepfried morsels with the other.
Freshly boiled Pulpo, served on warm sliced potatoes with a generous drizzle of fabulous Olive Oil, a scattering of the freshest Paprika and a sprinkling of sea salt has to be one of the simplest yet consistantly fabulous combinations.
Another irrisistable combination in my eyes is Arroz Negro. This week I made it with tiny baby chocos or Almendritas as they're know in town. It's a labour of love extracting each thick and crunchy backbone but well worth the effort. The ink from Chocos is far tastier and intense than ink from it's calamari cousin. If you're buying squid for arroz negro, try to ask for the ink sack from a cuttlefish. Excellent little sachets of ink are available from some supermarkets.
Chocos con Patats is yet another of my favourites. My good friend Linda in town asked me round to help her prepare the dish her way. While we were making it I thought - this could make a fabulous curry. A couple of days later I tried to do it and the result was spectacular.
I've kept to the traditional Chocos con Papas method of using shed loads of white wine, not a normal addition to curry, using a simple ready mixed curry powder, adding sachets of coconut cream and substituting sweet potatoes for white potatoes.
I served it to great applause to my regular Spanish Food Critics , Pepe and Fernando, using rice noodles but rice too would be great. This would feed 4 easily.
1 kilo cleaned and diced Cuttlefish
750gms sweet potato – scrubbed and diced roughly 1'' square
2 medium onions peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic peeled and chopped
1” square peeled Ginger chopped
3 tablespoons mild curry powder
3 tablespoons garam marsala
1 tablespoon sweet pimienton
A bottle of white wine
Sachect of coconut cream or a tin of coconut milk with liquid drained and hard cream retained
Sliced Spinach - optional
Chopped Fresh Coriander - optional
Peel dice and fry onions, garlic and ginger in a bit of olive oil. Keep striring for alomst 10 minutes until the onion looses it's acidity. Add the curry powder and garam marsala - stir for about 4 minutes. Add the chocos and stir for a further 3 mins. Cover with white wine and bring to the boil. You may not need the whole bottle to cover them. Always cook with wine you would drink. Once it's come to the boil and the alcohol has boiled off, add the diced sweet potatoes, pimenton and coconut cream. Perhaps you will need to add some water to ensure that everything is covered with liquid. Taste and add salt at some stage.
This will be ready when the sweet potatos are soft. At that stage fold through your sliced spinach and stir until wilted. Sprinkle with fresh corriander.