Ropa Vieja and Bienmesabe

Today has been quite possibly one of the coldest days of the winter so far; a cold-to-the-bone kind of cold when it takes an hour in a hot bath to thaw out. In the depths of winter, I can’t help but dream about summer holidays in warmer climes…

When Monarch Holidays invited me to recreate some traditional Spanish recipes for their new online Island Cookbook, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to feed my craving for sunshine food and cheer up these dark, dank days. I took my inspiration from the third largest of the Canary Islands, Gran Canaria, where I have fond memories of holidaying with my family as a teenager Continue reading “Ropa Vieja and Bienmesabe”

Habas con jamon (broad beans with Serrano ham and mint)


One of the things I love most about summer holidays abroad is the opportunity to try out lots of local dishes. Sadly we’re not going overseas this year. But that’s OK. Instead we’re heading up to Durham and Northumberland next week and while the North East might not be renowned for its cuisine – although saying that, I am extremely fond of that Geordie favourite, stottie cake with ham and peasepudding – I know we’re going to have huge amounts of fun exploring all the castles, beaches and Roman remains along Hadrian’s Wall.

So while we might not enjoy guaranteed sunshine on this year’s summer getaway (my fingers are firmly crossed nevertheless), we have been enjoying a taste of the continent right here at home. Think of Spain and I think of tapas, and this habas con jamon has to be one of the tastiest tapa on the menu. Continue reading “Habas con jamon (broad beans with Serrano ham and mint)”

A trip to Cordoba for Cheryl’s paella

cordoba Collage

It seems like a while ago already, but a couple of weeks back my daughters and I spent half term in Spain visiting my mother, Cheryl, who is lucky enough to live in the beautiful city Cordoba in Andalucia.

We left Bristol Airport amid severe winds and rain and arrived in Spain delighted to find ourselves in glorious sunshine. It felt like an Indian summer to us, so we found it quite amusing that the Spanish were all complaining about how chilly it was getting.

My mum works as an art teacher in the British School of Cordoba, where unfortunately they don’t get half-term breaks, although the fabulously long summer holiday more than makes up for this. When mum went off to school in the mornings, the girls and I would have a lazy breakfast in her apartment before idling around the city. A favourite spot to while away the hours was the courtyard outside the city’s famous Mezquita, a stunning mosque converted into a Catholic cathedral in the 13th century.


Despite the throngs of tourists, this is a truly magical and serene spot, where we’d enjoy our lunch sat on the stone steps, and then I’d simply sit back and watch the children play together in the shade of the orange trees.

Then we’d make sure we were back to the apartment in time for when my mum got back from school so we could spend the rest of our afternoons together. The girls always nag their Nana to take them to La Ciudad de los Niños – the City of Children. It’s their favourite place whenever we visit. It is one of the most incredible play parks I have ever been to, and the children could spend hours, if not days, here. If you ever visit Cordoba with children, you must pay it a visit.

ciuidad de los ninos ?????????? ??????????

Then we’d spend our evenings trying out different restaurants and tapas bars, and there are lots to choose from in Cordoba. Jess and Mia found it enormously exciting they were allowed to stay out late. Most places only starting service at 9pm, yet they’d still be full of families. It’s just something you don’t see when you go out at night here.

We enjoyed lots of wonderful tapas and seafood eating out in Cordoba, but to be honest my culinary highlight has to be the fantastic paella cooked at home by my mum. It’s a brilliant one-pot wonder and mum adds a little red chilli to her version, which I reckon is a marvellous addition. Mum’s like me – she says chilli improves pretty much any dish. I clearly inherited my love of chilli from her.

cheryl's paella

I got my mum to write down her recipe, and here it is:

Cheryl’s paella with chicken and prawns

Serves 6

pinch of saffron
1 tsp paella spice mix (or a combination of paprika, onion and garlic powder and cayenne)
2 litres hot chicken stock
1 lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 red chilli, finely chopped
6 skinless chicken thighs (with bones), quartered
500g paella rice
handful of fresh parsley, chopped
1 large tomato, diced
salt and pepper
10 king prawns

Dry fry the saffron in a hot pan and then place in a measuring jug with the paella spice mix, hot stock and a squeeze of lemon juice.

In a large, deep pan heat the olive oil and fry the onion, garlic and chilli until soft.

Add the chicken pieces and brown, before stirring in the rice. When the rice is well coated in the oil, add half the parsley and diced tomato. Stir well and then pour over the chicken stock. Bring to the boil, give it all another stir and cover with a lid.

Gently simmer for around 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the rice is almost cooked, lie the prawn on top, replace the lid and cook until the prawns turn pink.

Serve garnished with the rest of the chopped parsley and a wedge of lemon.

Bueno appetite!

cheryls paellaAs my mum’s paella features chilli, I’m entering it into The Spice Trail, my new blog challenge, which this month has chilli as its theme.

spice trail badge square

As it’s also a wonderful one-pot wonder, this paella is also perfect for November’s Four Season’s Food, hosted by Eat Your Veg and Delicieux.


And finally as chilli is the theme for this month’s Taste of the Tropics at Chef Mireille’s Global Creations, I simply have to enter it into that challenge too!

Taste of the Tropics Logo.jpg

Around the world in six suppers

… my big plan is to cook six meals inspired by some of my favourite holiday destinations from years gone by, and share those recipes with you here on the blog. I have some ideas already for dishes I’d like to cook, but if  you have any suggestions for recipes I should try I would love to hear them…

If I’m honest, the idea of a ‘staycation’ has never appealed much to me. For a holiday to be a proper holiday you really need to get away from it all, don’t you?

I adore exploring new destinations as well as returning to much loved haunts; sampling the local cuisine, relaxing by a pool with a good book or acting like a Japanese tourist and fitting in as many sights as I can in a single day.

On holiday in France with Jess and Mia

Admittedly, holidays have changed quite a bit since having children. We’ve been forced to slow down and plan ahead much more carefully.

I remember our first holiday abroad with Jessie when she was just learning to walk. With another couple and their young daughter we rented a beautiful villa in Tuscany. It would have been amazing, if it hadn’t been for the unfenced pool and marble staircases and sheer drop down what seemed like a mini cliff face at the bottom of the garden, oh and all the prickly rose bushes scattered around the stunning garden. Nansi and I were having near heart attacks every five minutes as our plucky girls explored and stumbled their way around the place. Not a relaxing holiday. But a massive lesson learned on the need to check out how family-friendly your holiday accommodation will be.

Sadly it looks increasingly likely we won’t be having a family holiday this year. My husband has quit his job and is retraining in IT, and I’m freelancing part-time on a couple of projects but the income is very up-and-down. And we’ve just been stung by some rather steep vets’ bills. So a staycation it might just have to be.

But I’m not going to let that get me down. Oh no, not me. So while I might read about other’s plans to fly off to far-flung foreign destinations, I won’t get jealous. We live in lovely Somerset after all. There’s so much to do right here on our doorstep, isn’t there? How many tourists flock to this part of the world every year to get away from it all, and here we are already!

And if I can’t go off to see the world this year, well I’ll just have to bring the world to our corner of Somerset.

Over the six weeks of the school holidays, my big plan is to cook six meals inspired by some of my favourite holiday destinations from years gone by, and share those recipes with you here on the blog. I have some ideas already for dishes I’d like to cook, but if  you have any suggestions for recipes I should try I would love to hear them. Even better if they appear on your blog as then I can easily link up with them too.

In no particular order, the places I’ll be visiting on my culinary world tour are:

Barcelona: when I went inter-railing with my best friend Ruth after our A-levels, this had to be my favourite city. The food, the beer, the Gaudi, the boys…

New York: I have very fond memories of visiting New York with my Mum and sister Elly when I was about 12 years old. I remember Mum bartering with a bloke on a street corner selling bangles and an Italian waiter chasing us down the street as we hadn’t left a tip!

Northumberland: I spent some of my childhood just outside Newcastle and enjoyed many an idyllic day out playing on the beautiful beaches, visiting the spooky castles and wandering along Hadrian’s Wall. I can’t wait to take my husband and children there sometime soon.

Penang: My Mum was born on the Malaysian island of Penang and I think it is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. And the food isn’t bad either!

Rio de Janeiro: one of my jammiest PR jollies ever was to take a group of journalists to Brazil for a tour of an aircraft factory. The tour lasted half a day but we had to stay a week because of flight availability. What a shame! We had a fantastic time in Rio and Sao Paulo and I’m desperate to get back there again one day.

Mystery destination: I haven’t quite decided on my final destination. I’ve been considering Turkey and Italy, or perhaps Bordeaux or Greece. Or how about Norway or Sweden? I’ve had wonderful times in each of these countries but whose food should I try to recreate in the final week of my staycation? Please let me know where you think I should head to!