When the Moors came to Spain and Italy in the 8th century, they brought with them a shiny new Religion. So enthusiastic were these Missionaries-with-attitude, they put to the sword anyone who did not embrace it (a recurring theme in Human History). They also brought new medicines, philosophy, music, language, sciences .. and food. Rice found its way into Spanish cuisine, along with a whole tasty spectrum of spices.  Latin was the language of Catholic medieval Europe. The latin for cooking pan is patella, which morphed (as languages do) into padilla or paelle, depending on where in the Mediterranean you lived. Pragmatic Catalonian peasants named the hearty rice dish after the pan they cooked in it .. and Paella was born.

Chili con Carne de Cerdo (Pork with Chili)

Chili con Carne de Cerdo

Chili con Carne de Cerdo

A crockpot (slow cooker) is a fine thing, it makes cheating so very easy. There is something wonderful about coming home from work to be greeted by cooking smells and dinner already prepared.  I like to make this in the evening, leave it to cook overnight, turn it off in the morning and allow it to cool. By dinner time the flavours are perfectly blended. Like most stews, it is much better the next day.

There are two ways of preparing meat for any kind of stew. The first is “Alla Blanca“, where you cut the meat up and add it to the liquid while still raw. The second method involves searing the meat before adding it to the liquid. This caramelises sugars inside the meat, adding depth and complexity to the dish. Don’t get me wrong, you can throw all of the ingredients into a crockpot, come back hours later and the result will be delicious .. but to me it is lacking something subtle. Like hearing Carmina Burana accompanied by a piano 🙂

Habas Condimentadas (spiced beans)


Habas Condimentadas

Originally I made this simple dish to mix with (or serve with) Chili con Carne. Since then it has taken pride of place as a vegetarian option at BBQs, topped baked potato for brunch and got rolled into burritos. Cooked with smoky ham or spicy chorizo and added to rice it makes a heck of a stuffing for pumpkin, marrow or mushrooms. Add some chili for the kick. Not a fan of Red Kidney Beans or (like me) you like to add splashes of colour? Use Black Eyed, Lima, Pinto, Black Turtle, White Beans or use a mixture. Hot or cold, vegetarian or not, plain or spicy .. beanz meanz yum 🙂

  • 500g red kidney beans OR mixed beans
  • 1 litre water
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • good handful of fresh lovage
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 – 3 bay leaves
  • 1 red onion
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 1 chili (optional)
  • 250g super smoky ham or chorizo (optional)


Place the beans in a large basin and cover them with clean cold water. Allow to soak for at least six hours. The beans will absorb the water and expand, so make sure you top up the basin a couple of times. I like to drain and wash the beans, then refill the basin at least once during the soaking process.

When the beans have soaked properly, drain them and place into a large saucepan with the water and stock. Bring to the boil then turn the heat down to simmer.

Peel and crush the garlic. Chop the lovage coarsely. Stir into the simmering bean mix with the salt, bay leaves and cumin.

Peel the onion. Press the sharp “stick” end of the cloves into the onion and place into the simmering beans.

If you are using chili, remove the seeds and membranes then chop finely. Add to the bean mix.

Cover and simmer gently for at least 90 minutes. you will need to stir the beans every now and then to ensure they don’t stick to the pan and that there is still sufficient liquid.

If you are making the Carnosaur version, chop the ham or Chorizo into chunks and pan fry in a little olive oil

Top with a little coriander and a sprinkle of lemon. Serve hot or cold.

Salsa de Tomatillo con Aguacate (Serious Guacamole)

Serious Guacamole

Serious Guacamole

I love the internet .. well most of the time anyway. I went looking for a way to utilise the mid Autumn glut of Tomatillos in a creative contribution to a party supper. This is my adaptation of one of Zarela Martinez recipes, recommended to accompany grilled meats, chicken and fish. Complex, rich flavour .. warm, spicy and slightly acid .. had us all instant addicts. Certainly the large bowl intended for the party never made it out the door. Judging from the contented expression worn by my hitherto avocado-pathic Littlest Angel as she scooped it into her mouth with corn chips, there may just be mutiny in the ranks if I make Guacamole any other way.

Pork Stew with Tomatillos (Guisado de Puerco con Tomatillos)

Pork Stew with Tomatillos

Pork Stew with Tomatillos

The first time I made this I accidentally blew the family socks off. One-by-one pale, sweat jeweled faces turned toward me accusingly before running for juice, milk and slices of cucumber. All except my chilli-phile Beloved, who sat grinning like a maniac, wisps of steam flowing gently from his ears. At long last I had made a meal to his taste, rather than ours and he was one happy chappy. Apparently it tingled.

But how?? How had I made such an error when I had followed the recipe so carefully. I only used three chillis, removed all the seeds and membranes .. um .. Habañero is not the same as Jalepeño is it?? No, not by a long shot.