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Salles Hotel Malaga Centro

Some regular readers may have noticed that I don’t always write a post featuring the hotel where I’ve stayed on a trip. I’m really only interested in writing about ones that offer a little something extra and I would return to without hesitation and recommend to friends and blog followers. Others may be fine but not special, and I’ve stayed in some I’d not want to go to again. Where I stay is important to me, and my second stay at the 4* Salles Hotel Malaga Centro last week offered many of the things I’ve come to value and I will definitely stay there again next time I go to Malaga.

I booked it, as I often do, with BA at the same time as booking my flight. I’m not in the ‘top, expensive, luxury hotel’ league, but I do like to stay somewhere nice and comfortable, with maybe a little touch of luxury, at a reasonable price.

One of the reasons I chose the Salles hotel in Malaga initially was its central location. You just have to come out, turn left and walk 50m or so, cross the bridge Puente de la Aurora, and you are in the historic centre. When I’m on a short break staying centrally is important to me as I don’t want to have long walks or a need to catch buses or trams to get anywhere I want to go; I want to be able to walk to sights and restaurants easily and it be no trouble to go back to the hotel for a short break, or to drop off something I’ve bought. You can walk to the main plaza in Malaga – Plaza de la Constitution – in 5 minutes; the cathedral, Picasso and other art museums are similarly close. You can walk down to the stunning marina in about 20 minutes and on to the beach in another 5-10 minutes.

To reach the hotel, there are buses and trains from the airport or take a taxi – as I did (it cost €22 from the airport; €18 going back). My flight last week was early and so I landed at 11:25 and I was at the hotel a little after midday. I’d already contacted them about leaving my suitcase there until I could check in, but happily I found my room was ready and I could go to it straight away.

Salles hotels are a small Spanish chain. Arriving at the Malaga hotel you walk into a large, bright, modern reception area. The staff are friendly and helpful and there’s always someone around to ask for help or advice. Also in the reception area is a small bar where you can get a drink or coffee. There is also their Picasso Restaurant if you want to eat a meal in the hotel.

There are comfortable sitting areas and on my last day I sat in one near reception for about an hour before catching a taxi to the airport. I ordered a coffee and asked if I could plug my phone in to recharge, which they were happy for me to do.

The hotel had had a facelift since my last visit and my bedroom was very attractively decorated (I had a standard double room for single use). There was a large en-suite shower room, which was nicely decorated in a relaxing, warm light grey colour. There were all the usual facilities – TV, WiFi, minibar etc and also a kettle with mugs and some tea bags and coffee. I really like this extra as it makes a big difference to stay in a hotel when you can relax in your room and make a hot drink.

The first morning I made my way down to the basement breakfast room and was delighted to see how wonderfully it had been refurbished. It had been ‘OK’ before but now it was a very attractive area. So often I’ve found hotel breakfast rooms grim places, especially basement ones, but this was somewhere you wanted to start your day.

There was a huge array of drinks and foods; anything you could possibly want or think of. I’m not a hot breakfast person (I may be English but don’t ever try giving me a Full English Breakfast!). I like some juice, fruit, cereal and pastries and coffee. But there were plenty of hot dishes too; bowls of tomato pulp to make tostadas, the typical Spanish breakfast; Spanish hams and cheeses.

As well as pastries there were delicious cakes and the bottom one in the photo below became a favourite – a gorgeous almond cake, so light and not too sweet. There was a huge Nespresso machine with a choice of pods and flasks of hot milk at the side, as well as a more standard coffee machine where you just pressed a button for a cappuccino or whatever you wanted. All the trays and plates of food were constantly replaced as they emptied and there were helpful staff on hand if you needed anything.

 

   

There was a lot of rain on my first day but on the second the sun arrived and I took a lift up to the 6th floor where you can access the hotel’s rooftop terrace, which has a bar and a swimming pool.

Even in Malaga, January is not a month for swimming in an outdoor pool, but when I was there last time in October, many people were using it or sunbathing on the sun lounger chairs.

The views are fantastic and in the warmer October visit, I did go up sometimes for a coffee in the afternoon or aperitif early evening so I could enjoy the views across the city.

I think the hotel would be a good choice for anyone but as a frequent solo traveller I’m looking for particular things to make my stay happy. I choose to stay in hotels (rather than taking the popular apartment rental option) as living on my own and working from home with only the computer and the cat for company, I value staying somewhere with people who will say good morning with a smile, chat to me about my plans and give advice if I need it (e.g. the staff were helpful about my trip to the botanical gardens). I’ve stayed in a couple of nice B&Bs in the last couple of years, but they tend to be deserted during the day so you have the same problem as an apartment – there’s no one to talk to! I was only at the Salles for three nights but the staff got to know me, would talk to me, and it really makes a difference. I also like having someone to make my bed and get my breakfast. For me, that’s a treat!

Staying in a nice hotel where you feel welcomed and can relax really makes a holiday more special. Thanks to the Salles Hotel Malaga Centro for their welcome!

Malaga 2020: Last Morning Walk Photo Post

It’s my last day; I fly back to London this evening. I was up quite early and after breakfast went for a walk down to the marina and beach. It was such a lovely walk. A little windy down by the sea but a beautiful blue sky and fairly deserted as it was early. This is just a quick, almost just photos, post before I check out of the hotel.

   

The marina, which is such an attractive place, is full of green spaces and restaurants and cafes.

   

I walked right the way round to the far side where the beach is.

Then it was time to turn round and make my way back to the centre and hotel – up Marques de Larios to Plaza de la Constitucion.

At the Plaza I stopped at a cafe for a coffee. I’ve had coffee there before sitting at one of the tables outside but noticed yesterday there’s upstairs seating with a little balcony. So I ordered a coffee (€1.50) and took a table on the balcony – for one of the best views in Malaga, right across the plaza.

   

I’ve had a great time in Malaga and if you’ve never been here, then you should put it on your list – it’s beautiful and has everything: a lovely city, great food and wine, lots of art and culture, and the sea!

Malaga 2020: Aperitif, An Evening Walk & Dinner at Taberna Uvedoble

It was my last evening and I booked a table at Taberna Uvedoble, a restaurant recommended by a foodie friend, for dinner. A little research online told me it was a newish place which took a modern approach to classic tapas.

The evening began with an aperitif at Cafe Central. It’s always busy but I was pleased to be able to get a seat inside at the front, overlooking Plaze de la Constitucion.

I wanted to try some local Malaga wine which is made from the Moscatel grape. The moscatel is a sweet grape but there are dry white wines made from it, which is what I wanted. The waiter recommended Botani, made from old vines. The vineyards were originally planted in 700BC.

   

As before at Cafe Central, the waiter poured a little wine into a glass and asked me to taste, checking I liked it, before pouring the rest. Such a great touch! And yes, I did like it – very much. It had an underlying sweetness but was dry and refreshing too. I was in no hurry. The restaurant didn’t open until 8.00 and it was barely past 6.00. So I savoured my wine, ate some olives and read my book – stopping from time to time to people watch from the window and see the sky turn pink and darken. (Glass of wine including olives was €5.)

I set off around 7 and decided to head down to the marina via the main shopping street of Puerta de Larios.

On the way down I looked down narrow streets and alleyways leading off it.

   

The modern marina is very attractive and looked great lit up in the night.

At the far end the Malaga branch of Paris’s Pompidou Centre shone brightly.

Across the water the sky was still a little pink and a new moon hung in the sky.

I made my way back to the historic centre by cutting up near the cathedral. Always magnificent, it looked stunning lit up.

   

Soon I was at the restaurant (photo taken earlier in the day when I booked!).

I, and a few others, went in as the doors opened at 8.00. I was asked where I’d like to sit and chose a table in the front area.

 

The waiter brought a menu … saw me struggling with the Spanish and brought an English version. It was hard to choose. Everything sounded so good. I asked for a glass of red wine and water first. The wine was Ribera, actually a northern Spain wine rather than local, but very good.

I ordered all tapas sized dishes. I’d read that the Smoked Sardine on Focaccia was particularly good and so ordered that. It didn’t look particularly interesting but it tasted absolutely wonderful. And the bread in a little basket was without question by far the best I’d had in Malaga.

   

I love the thick gazpacho – porra – they serve here, with chopped egg and Iberian ham and this one was gorgeous. Then there was Roasted scallop with roasted aubergine and cumin. This was stunning.

   

The Red tuna with cauliflower emulsion was also sensational. The tuna was good but the smoothness and creaminess of the cauliflower was a revelation.

 

With the food this good, I couldn’t resist a dessert. I asked what there was. Cheesecake? the waiter asked. And the cheesecake came with cooked strawberries on top. After the smallish tapas, I was quite surprised to see a fairly large portion. But it was excellent and I managed it all – with an espresso.

 

It was a fantastic meal. It reminded me of finding Peixes in Nice last September and how much I’d enjoyed a modern take on classic traditional dishes. Uvedoble offered the same experience and I loved it. I’ve very much enjoyed the traditional food I’ve been eating for the past couple of days, but this modern cooking excites me more. Many thanks to Pippa for telling me about Uvedoble!

For such a great meal, the bill was an incredibly reasonable €23.70.

Feeling happy and delighted by my last evening’s food and drink experiences, I slowly made my way back to the hotel, inevitably crossing the Plaza de la Constitucion again, now in the dark but still beautiful.

Malaga 2020: Alcazaba Fortress, Atarazanas Market & Churros

I woke to another sunny day, which is such a treat and a glorious respite from the grey of London in January. I wanted to visit the Moorish Alcazaba Fortress again as I loved the walk to the top and views last time. And it seemed a perfect way to spend a sunny morning. I set off from the hotel after breakfast, passing through the lovely Plaza de la Constitucion, lit by the early morning sun and almost empty as it was early.

I bought a combined ticket for the Fortress and the nearby Gibralfaro Castle (€5.50/€2.50 concessions). I wasn’t sure I’d make both climbs today and I know from my last visit that the castle is a more demanding climb, but the woman in the ticket office said it was valid for 48 hours so I can do the castle tomorrow.


As I started my visit it was immediately familiar yet that took nothing away from my delight at being in this beautiful place again.

   

As I passed through rows of orange trees, heavy with ripe fruit, I felt so pleased to be here at this time of year to see them. It was the Moors who brought orange trees from North Africa to Spain in the 7th century and planted them in Andalucia, so these Moorish ruins were a very appropriate place to celebrate them. The Moors began building the Fortress in the 8th century but most of it was built in the 11th century.

   

It’s a fairly steep climb but the paths are well maintained and you are rewarded with spectacular views. You get a brilliant view of the marina and port, and looking further round across the city.

The higher I climbed the more the Moorish history became evident: the arches, mosaics and water features; the beautiful courtyards.

Some rooms were mini museums with artefacts like ceramics and mosaics to view.

   

I saw a few other people on my way round but it was fairly deserted so going early had been a good idea. It’s the kind of place that benefits from peace and quiet to fully appreciate it.

Back at street level I decided to stop for a coffee (there is a cafe in the Alcazaba with a great view but sadly closed today). I sat down at a place with tables outside and a view across to the Fortress.

   

I knew I simply had to go to the awesome Mercato Atarazanas again and it’s just the best place to have lunch.

Even before midday people were sitting outside eating but I wanted to look around the market first. If you go through the arch at the front  you see before you the wonderful huge stained glass window at the far end.

There may be tourists like me taking photos rather than buying, food tours stopping in their groups, but this is also a vibrant market where the locals shop. And it’s full of top quality, fabulous foods. It’s open every day except Sunday.

 

   

I took a stool at a tall bar table just outside on the pavement at the same place I ate last time. I knew I wanted the mixed fried fish again – and really, if you like seafood, you can’t leave Malaga without trying one of its most famous dishes. And the market ensures you enjoy the best fresh fish.

I couldn’t resist ordering a small (tapas size) seafood paella (for just €2) as well as the fried fish (€10) and a small beer.

It was as wonderful as I’d remembered. And great fun to eat at the market in a crowded bar area.

I thought a perfect way to finish my Spanish lunch was with some churros and one of Malaga’s best places to eat them is at Casa Aranda, which has been in business since 1932.

I have to confess I’m not a churros fan and it was more out of interest that I thought I’d try them, especially as Malaga’s best were only about a 5 minute walk from my hotel. I’ve imagined they’d be too sweet for me. Such a novice was I that I didn’t know how to order them. How many should I order? And I didn’t know I had to order the chocolate separately. However, the waiter was helpful and friendly and I was soon sorted out (though the churros were so big I could really have managed with just one rather than two). It cost €2.80.

   

In the end, I was a big convert. They were wonderful. The ‘doughnut’ so light, slightly crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle; the chocolate rich and delicious and not too sweet at all.

What a full and lovely morning it had been: glorious views and fabulous food. Now it was siesta time so I made my way back to the hotel.

Malaga 2020: Botanical Gardens, Catherdral & Tapas Lunch

I’m really enjoying being back in Malaga and today we have sun! It’s nice to revisit familiar places from last time but I always like to do some new things in a place I’ve been to before. And one of my top intentions was to visit the famous botanical gardens – Jardin Botanico La Concepcion – which are about 6km north of the city. I’d read you could take a No.2 bus from the centre but the hotel seemed a bit horrified, telling me yesterday when I asked that it was a long walk along a busy road from the bus stop. Taking the city’s tourist bus would be a better option as it would take me straight there.

I started the day with an excellent buffet breakfast in the hotel – Salles Hotel Malaga Centro. The basement eating area had been completely redone since my last visit and was very attractive with an excellent choice of foods. There was anything you could possibly want for breakfast!

Well fed, I consulted the bus times and saw the first wasn’t until 11am … and there were gaps of 1hr 15mins between them. Another helpful woman at reception suggested, Why not take a cab; it was only about €10. She also pointed out that with all the rain it would be very wet; the gardens were beautiful and perhaps I could go another day. But they’re closed on Mondays and I return home on Tuesday so I decided to just go today. There are taxis outside the hotel; it cost €9. However, when we arrived we could see flooding at the entrance. The driver asked some men if they were opening and they said yes, but there would be no entrance fee today.


I was there not long after the opening time of 9.30 and it was almost deserted. I just started walking and soon became entranced by the greenery. The gardens lie in 23 acres of land and are over 150 years old. Certainly many of the trees were so large I was sure they must be very old. Here are some photos of my walk:

 
   

   

   

I made my way up to a brilliant viewing point from where I could see across to Malaga. I was very pleased I’d made the trip and it’s certainly a worthwhile expedition out of the city.


I met a lovely young Danish woman a couple of times on my way round and we got talking. She’d also come by taxi and suggested we share one to get back to the city. We tried calling a number on a card she had without much luck but the helpful guys at reception called one for us. We could see there wouldn’t be a bus for over another hour so a taxi was a good option!

The cab dropped me near the marina and I walked down to the front and stopped for a coffee. There was a craft market along the edge which was fun to look at.

   

Further along I spied a ‘pirate ship’, which I knew would excite my little grandsons so I sent a photo home!

From the marina there are great views back across the city with the cathedral clearly visible and the old Moorish Alcazaba Fortress.

Making my way back into the town centre I passed the catherdral and decided I’d visit it after lunch.

I headed to Casa Lola for a simple lunch of tapas. I went to this bar-restaurant on my last trip and it’s a great and fun place to go.

I arrived quite early by Spanish standards at 12.30. By 12.50 it was full; when I left at around 1.15 there was a queue outside.

I didn’t want a big lunch and ordered three tapas and a small beer.

I had a gorgeous aubergine ‘cannelloni’ stuffed with roasted peppers and a green sauce. I also had smoked sardine with pickle, quail’s egg and mayonnaise.  My small shrimp omelette was surprisingly crispy but delicious. The food at Lola is excellent. With my beer, the bill was just €8.70.

   

It cost €6 to go into the cathedral. It’s a beautiful building that took more than two and a half centuries (1528-1782) to build. It very impressive inside and I was pleased I’d gone it. So many times I’d passed it on my last visit when there were long queues so it was great to be able to go straight in today.

   

   

Making my way back down to the marina and sea for a walk I passed a branch of Malaga’s most famous ice cream shop – Casa Mira. Well of course I had to go in!

   

I found a bench on the walk down to the seafront in a park area and sat beneath an orange tree, heavy with ripe fruit, and thought what a beautiful city Malaga is and how pleased I am I’ve come back.

I strolled along the front for a while enjoying the warm sun. Then it was time to head back to the hotel for a siesta before the evening began.

Malaga 2020: Arrival – Rain, Paella & Tapas

I decided to forgo my usual trip to Amsterdam this January and head instead to Malaga in Andalusia, southern Spain. I loved the city when I visited in October 2018 and remembered that it is one of the warmest and sunniest places in Continental Europe during January. There is therefore an irony in the fact that I’ve chosen to come when there’s been an unusual amount of rain. As the plane descended late morning, I saw considerable flooding across the land below and rain accompanied my journey from the airport to my hotel. Fortunately the weather forecast for the next three days that I’m here sees a return to warm, sunny days with highs of 18C and I can only hope they’re right!

I’ve returned to the Salles Hotel Malaga Centro. It’s a very nice central hotel; all I have to do is turn left as I come out of it, cross a bridge over a river, and I’m in the historic centre. It’s easy to walk anywhere I want to go. I arrived around midday and luckily could get into my room straight away. It’s an attractive, comfortable modern room.


I headed out again soon to get some lunch. It was raining and so I decided to go to Cafe Central, one of the city’s most famous cafes, in Plaza de la Constitucion, which I knew from my previous visit. The plaza is a beautiful square, the hub of the historic centre, and a fabulous place to ‘hang out’.

Even wet with rain, it’s beautiful. I didn’t feel it was a day to sit outside at the cafe, though some people were. I went in and found a table at the back. This area leads round to a tapas bar area, decorated in typical Moorish tiles and very attractive. However, I took a table in the main area and asked for a menu. Something hot and warming was on my mind!


It was the kind of menu that comes with photos and when I saw paella, I decided that was what I wanted. It’s quite difficult to find places serving it to one person; it’s usually a minimum of 2 people dish. The Spanish traditionally eat paella at lunchtime; eating rice in the evening isn’t thought to be good for the digestion. So, a paella lunch was perfect on my arrival.


I chose seafood paella and it was delicious; really good, with prawns, clams, mussels and squid. Malaga is famed for its seafood. Paella can be quite dry but this was nicely moist and I enjoyed it a lot. I ordered a small beer to go with it and an espresso at the end. The bill came to €18.70.

   

It was a great start to my stay. The food was good, the service friendly and efficient. I wandered round the city for a while afterwards but eventually decided to head back to the hotel rather than battle with the heavier rain.

The rain was relentless, but around 6.30 I decided to head out again and find somewhere for an aperitif. I had a table booked at a restaurant for 7.30. Going back to Cafe Central seemed the most sensible option if I wanted to sit inside. I entered via the bar but it was empty and a waiter indicated a table inside the main area.

   
I asked him to recommend a local dry white wine – which actually came from Cadiz. I liked that he poured a little and waited for me to try it and see if I liked it. He asked if I’d like some olives with it and I said, yes please, assuming I’d pay extra. But when the bill came it seemed the olives were complimentary – I paid just €3.30.

It wasn’t far to El Otro Tapeo de Cervantes (connected to El Tapeo de Cervantes, which was full when I tried to book and they recommended their new restaurant).

Inside it was a typical cosy Spanish tapas bar. I was warmly welcomed by Gabriel, who’d emailed me about the booking. Did I want a tall table with stool or a low table. I opted for the bar stool.


I was quite early but it filled up as I was eating. Gabriel suggested I order 2 raciones (half portions) and 2 tapas (small). I asked for a glass of local red wine – he recommended a wine from Ronda.

   

There was a blackboard full of specials as well as the main menu. I chose a tapas size of a ‘tomato dip’ which was really like salmorejo with quail’s egg and Iberian ham. Wow! It was amazing; wonderful.


Fried calamari is a popular option but this squid was perfectly cooked, tender and delicious.


The cod dish with leek purée was a ‘special’ and excellent.


My final choice was grilled mushrooms with asparagus and ham; also very good.

The food was fabulous (the bill for food + wine was €27.80). I thought as I ate about how wonderful the Spanish are at this kind of food. It reminded me of being in San Sebastián and the glorious pintxos I enjoyed there. Such dishes are truly works of art as well as being fantastic food.

The rain had stopped but it was still chilly and the air damp; deep puddles lay underfoot which required careful navigation to avoid a soaking. I slowly made my way back to the welcoming lights of the Salles Hotel.

I may not have found the sun I was looking for, but I found some great places to eat and drink, friendly locals and a city that’s still beautiful in the rain. A great first day.

Cooking with Freddie: Seville Orange Marmalade

Freddie (nearly 5) often asks me for marmalade sandwiches – ‘like Paddington Bear’. So, quite a few weeks’ ago, I promised that when marmalade oranges arrived in the shops, all the way from Seville in Spain, we would make marmalade together. Thus, when I spied a box of ‘marmalade oranges’ in Waitrose on Friday I simply had to buy some and it was arranged that Freddie would come round to my house the next day to make marmalade.

I love the enduring affection we have for Paddington Bear. Of course the recent films have helped his current popularity, but the books have always been popular with children. He’s been around so long I even remember being introduced to him at school when I was young enough for my teacher to read books to the class aloud at a ‘quiet time’ of day. And now Freddie loves them too.

I also love that the very best marmalade oranges – that come all the way from Seville – are available only for a short time between the end of December and mid-February. Of course you can make marmalade with other oranges (indeed other citrus fruit) but it’s never quite the same as the wonderful Seville oranges which give the marmalade a fabulous bitter taste alongside its sweetness.

So embedded in our minds is the connection between Seville and marmalade that it’s easy to assume that marmalade originated in Spain. Although there are – as happens with this kind of foodie history – a number of stories, it’s generally thought that marmalade originally came from Portugal. In the 17th century a fruit preserve made with quince was called marmalada, which came from the Portuguese word for quince, marmelo; later the quince was replaced with oranges. Then, according to Scottish legend, the Seville orange became a popular choice when a storm-damaged Spanish ship carrying a cargo of the oranges sought shelter in Dundee harbour in 1797. The Keiller family bought the oranges and used them for marmalade – hence the fame of Dundee Marmalade with its bittersweet taste.

I used to make marmalade with Seville oranges every January when my kids were small; it became quite a family tradition. I’m not quite sure when and why it stopped. But it had been so long since I’d made some (or chutney, which I also used to make regularly) that a few months’ ago I gave my preserving pan to my daughter, thinking I wouldn’t use it again. But then the need for some marmalade making arrived in the form of Freddie and Paddington. So, I made a quick stop at a nearby TKMaxx yesterday after buying the oranges in the hope of picking up a reasonably priced large pan. Luckily I found one! Later in the day, I found a perfect Paddington book to share with Freddie … all about Paddington and marmalade sandwiches … and in which he goes on a trip to Hampton Court Palace, which is local to us, and where Freddie and I had an outing together in the summer.

There is no doubt that bought marmalade – however expensive it is – never compares well to a good homemade one using Seville oranges. But in these more health-conscious times when we’re more aware of the need to avoid eating too much sugar, marmalade does contain a shocking amount of the stuff. I think that’s one of the reasons why I stopped making it … It caused me to caution Freddie that one really shouldn’t eat lots of it … But I didn’t want to spoil the fun by preaching too much about sugar and we just had great fun together making the orangey treat.

The sugar dilemma did lead me to consider making one with less sugar; sometimes fruit juices are substituted. But then I was anxious not to experiment and it maybe all go wrong; I didn’t want to disappoint Freddie by having a cooking disaster. So, with the help of Delia Smith and Gary Rhodes, whose recipes are pretty much identical (twice the weight of sugar to fruit), we took a very traditional route. Unfortunately I couldn’t source organic oranges but I did use organic sugar!

I thought I’d follow Gary’s recipe which uses just 450g of oranges rather than Delia’s 900g … I was sure that would be plenty. But then when I weighed out 450g oranges it really wasn’t very much, so I added on a few more to make 800g. Then I had fun with the arithmetic trying to work out the other measurements!!

 

Seville Orange Marmalade

  • 800g Seville (marmalade) oranges
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 litres water
  • 1.6kg granulated sugar (see below)
  • 1 packet pectin (optional if not using preserving sugar)

Equipment

  • a preserving pan or large saucepan
  • about 8 glass jars (see below)
  • sieve
  • muslin
  • waxed discs or baking parchment cut into circles to fit the jars

 

Before you get started, have some clean jars ready. I used old jam/chutney jars which I’d kept. They were clean but I ran them through the dishwasher another time. I poured boiling water over the lids to sterilise them.

First of all prepare the oranges. Cut them in half. Squeeze out the juice into the large pan through a sieve. It’s important to catch all the pips for their pectin content.

 

Now, Nonna (as I’m known to Freddie) was definitely in charge of the sharp knife. It’s important to think through avoiding danger, but also of ways little kids can safely help. So … I cut the oranges and left Freddie carefully picking out the pips (having explained their importance to making the marmalade set and thicken). He was very happy doing this and putting them into the large piece of muslin which I’d set over a bowl to catch any juices (which would go into the pan). Remember to keep the orange shells.

   

There are actually a lot of pips in the oranges and so more came out as I used a citrus squeezer to get the juice out; they were caught in the large sieve over the saucepan. Juice all the oranges and also the lemon. Put the pips and flesh in the sieve into the muslin with the other pips.

When all the oranges (and the lemon) were juiced, I took the half shells of the oranges and cut in half again. Then, with a very sharp knife, I cut off the pith as close to the outer zest layer as I could and put it with the pips in the muslin. Then I cut the zest into thin strips of peel. This is of course to your preference – whether you have thin peel or thick peel.

   

I cautioned Freddie to keep well away from the sharp knife, but gave him the job of tipping the shredded peel – which I put in a bowl – into the saucepan with the juice. Again, he was happy doing this – feeling he had a ‘proper’ job.

   

When all the orange skins have been cut up and are in the pan, pour in the water.

Next, gather the pith and pips in the muslin together, forming the muslin into a ball. I tied string around the top to hold it all together. I explained to Freddie that it was important these went into the marmalade for flavour and to thicken it, but we didn’t want to eat them or find pips in our marmalade, so we had to keep them separate. I let him gently lower the muslin bag into the pan (because at this step everything was still cold).

   

Now bring the mixture to a simmer and simmer (not boil) for about 1-1½ hours until the peel is soft. Give it the occasional stir, especially to make sure all the bits of peel are in the liquid. After about an hour, lift a couple of pieces out with a fork or spoon and squash with a spoon or your fingers (take care – they’re hot!) to see if they’re soft through. If not completely soft, then cook a little longer.

When the peel is soft, remove the muslin ball from the pan and transfer to a shallow bowl to cool. Squeeze out as much of the liquor as you can and put it into the pan – it contains valuable pectin. Some people do this by squeezing it between two saucers. Delia says she uses her hands – but it’s very hot!

   

Now add the sugar. I’d been uncertain about whether to use preserving sugar or not. In the end I opted for organic golden granulated and because I happened to see a box of pectin sachets, I bought them and added one of those too. But the whole process should work without … I was just ‘playing safe’ … I’m pretty sure that in the past I’ve just used granulated sugar (but don’t use caster!).

  

Mix the sugar into the hot juice and zest. On a fairly low heat, stir until the sugar is dissolved. It’s very important that the sugar dissolves before you turn the heat up to high otherwise it may not dissolve properly and the marmalade will be grainy.

Now turn the heat right up and boil quite vigorously for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, put 3-4 saucers in the freezer. Put the clean glass jars into a low oven (120C) to warm through. You have to put the marmalade into warm-hot jars.

During this process, I made sure Freddie kept his distance. I let him look at the mixture boiling fast but was careful that he wasn’t close enough for any of the very hot liquid to spit on him. It didn’t actually spit, but it’s not something you can take a chance with. Very hot sugary marmalade spilling on anyone would be dangerous but especially a little one.

After the mixture has boiled rapidly for 15 minutes, take from the heat and check for setting. Take a cold saucer from the freezer. Spoon a teaspoonful of the marmalade into the cold saucer. It should quickly cool. After a short time – a few seconds to a half minute – gently push the mixture with a fingertip. If it crinkles, then it’s set. If it doesn’t, boil the mixture for another 5-10 minutes, then check again. Remove from heat when ready.

   

Allow the marmalade to cool and settle in the pan for 20 minutes. Skim off any whitish foam that has risen to the top until the mixture is completely clear.

Using a ladle – and funnel if you have one – transfer the marmalade to the warm jars, taking one jar from the oven at a time so the others stay hot. I wrapped a tea towel round, not only because the jar was hot, but to protect my hand if the hot marmalade dripped down. Immediately put on a lid (which you’ve lined with the waxed disc) and tighten.

Leave the jars of marmalade to cool. Label them once the jars are cold. Freddie and I decided to call ours ‘Freddie & Nonna’s Seville Orange Marmalade’. Don’t forget to add the date too.

You can then use the marmalade straight away. Store spare jars in a cool place and they’ll keep – unopened – for about a year. Once opened, it’s best to keep it in the fridge and use up within 3 months. Though … as my son said when we got it back to his house, ‘It’s never going to last that long … we’ll eat it up too quickly!’

I really enjoyed making marmalade again and was quite excited to remind myself of how good homemade marmalade tastes. I just love that bittersweet flavour. However, I don’t actually eat a lot of marmalade so out 8 jars (of varying sizes) to be shared, I only kept one for myself and one to take to my daughter’s when I visit on Sunday. A third we dropped off at our friends Jane & Terry’s on the way back to Freddie’s house because they’re always so kind to us, and such fun to visit, that both Freddie and I love seeing them. The rest – 5 jars – went to Freddie’s house. They were still a little warm. I told him he’d have to wait until breakfast time the next morning to taste the marmalade (though he’s tasted quite a bit during the ‘testing for done’ stage!).

Well of course the marmalade had to be tasted this morning. I spooned some on to some buttered toast and ate it along with a cup of good English breakfast tea.  It is very good. The bitterness of the Sevilles balances out the sweetness … though, to be honest, it is still quite sweet and I think if I were to start making marmalade regularly again, I’d experiment with less sugar. Maybe next January! Meanwhile … have some fun making marmalade while the Seville oranges are available, especially with little ones (remembering all the safety tips) and a few words from Paddington.

Fattoush (again) – Ottolenghi Style

I love middle eastern food and one of my very favourite dishes is fattoush – hence the third version on the blog! The first was Moro‘s Syrian version with aubergines and pomegranates, which has been a long-time family favourite (click here) and then I tried to recreate the one I’ve eaten at the fabulous Yalla Yalla (click here). Whenever I go to Yalla Yalla I have to order fattoush. Today, I turned to Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem and thought, with its ‘creamy’ dressing, it was much like the Yalla Yalla one and I’d try it. I’ve called this post ‘Ottolenghi Style’ as I strayed a little from his recipe but it is essentially ‘his’.

Fattoush is not a specific recipe. It’s an Arab dish found in the Lebanon, Israel, Egypt and other middle eastern countries. In her book The Middle Eastern Kitchen, Ghillie Basan describes it as a traditional peasant dish that came originally from Syria and tells us that the word fattush is an Arabic word describing the breaking of bread. It’s basically a dish to use up stale bread (so the bread is pretty much the one essential ingredient!) mixed with salad vegetables and herbs in season. It commonly contains tomatoes, cucumber and radishes; sometimes lettuce is added (as they do in Yalla Yalla); onion is common – Ottolenghi uses mild spring onions and some garlic; herbs such as mint and parsley are used (purslane with its lemony flavour is common in the Middle East but not so easily come by here); and sumac is nearly always said to be a necessary ingredient. The bread is traditionally flatbread – so pitta is often used. It’s usually toasted. Ottolenghi doesn’t toast his – but I did. That was partly because my bread wasn’t stale but I also thought I’d prefer it toasted for a more crunchy texture.

The salad was my contribution to a family meal (and the shopping!). After the excitement of the first days of Christmas, there was a gap of normality (I even did quite a bit of work!), but then here we were at the 11th Day, back to Christmas with family getting together – nine of us in total. My son did most of the cooking, barbecuing chicken that had been marinated in olive oil and lemon juice and herbs; he made Moro’s kofte too. We ate at his house so I had to transport the salad by car. Thus I put it all together in a big bowl and kept the dressing and other liquids separate until we were almost ready to eat; I didn’t want the bread and vegetables to get soggy.

 

Fattoush – Ottolenghi Style

  • 170ml whole milk
  • 170g Greek yoghurt
  • 1 heaped teaspoon dried mint
  • 1 heaped teaspoon sumac, plus more for garnish
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • a good grating of black pepper
  • flatbreads weighing about 200-250g
  • a little olive oil to brush flatbread
  • 350g tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 2 small ridge cucumbers, peeled and chopped
  • 4 spring onions, peeled and sliced
  • 25g flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
  • 15g fresh mint, roughly chopped
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons cider or white wine vinegar

 

Make the yoghurt dressing first. Ottolenghi says at least three hours in advance for the yoghurt and milk to ferment. Because I wanted to make it easy for me to transport it later, I also added the dried mint, sumac, garlic, salt and pepper to the yoghurt at this stage too – though Ottolenghi adds them separately straight on to the vegetables at the end. But I felt it gave the yoghurt time to take up the flavours as well as being convenient for the transportation. In the end there was far too much dressing – if I’d put it all in it would have drowned the salad, so another time I’d probably do about 50ml/50g of each.

 

 

I do sometimes make my own flatbread, which is fun to do, but I have to confess to usually taking the easy route with fattoush of using bought pitta. However, I saw some small Italian flatbreads in Waitrose and decided to use those instead. It was a great find as they worked really well – better than pitta – and tasted delicious with a lovely lighter texture. Brush them with a little olive oil and put into a 180C/160 Fan/Gas 4 oven for about 15 minutes. They’ll start to puff up slightly. Remove and allow to cool on a cooling rack.

 

Now prepare the vegetables. Ottolenghi dices his quite small (1.5cm) but I took a more Jamie Oliver rough-and-ready approach. I like the way Jamie cuts tomatoes not in a regular way but on the cross a bit. The cucumber I peeled and then did cut them into fairly even pieces. Put the vegetables straight into your serving dish as you go.

   

Top and tail the radishes and slice fairly thinly. Top and tail the spring onions, peel off the rougher outside skin if necessary, and slice thinly. I added 4 although Ottolenghi used only 2.

   

Now add the parsley and mint, roughly chopped. Stir gently to mix.

Break the cooled bread into the bowl.

At this stage, I just covered my bowl with cling film ready to take to my son’s, but of course you could otherwise just carry on if serving straight away. But don’t prepare in advance and put the final liquids on too early or it will ruin your salad. You don’t want to do that part until ready to serve – no more than 10 minutes in advance.

We began our family meal with glasses of fizz and a selection of meze. Time for another confession – I didn’t make any of the meze. I’ve discovered jars of wonderful Odysea meze in Wholefoods and they’re great. I also bought kosher hummus in Waitrose – not because I’m Jewish but because it’s better and more authentic. I can – and do – make all these things. But sometimes an ‘event’ is more about enjoying the invited company and not the cooking. Although Jonathan did cook some fantastic main courses and there was my salad, of course …

I also bought some of Paul Bakery’s lovely baguettes and some macarons and a Gallete des Rois for dessert. It was close enough to 12th night to have our traditional annual galette and fun at a family gathering.

My son is an absolute star at the barbecue (well, he’s just a great cook all ways!). So we enjoyed fabulous chicken and kofte, a mix of roasted white and sweet potatoes – crispy on the outside and fluffy within, with za’atar sprinkled over them. He made a tahini and lemon dressing for the chicken.

And then –  of course! – there was the fattoush. I’d dressed it at the last minute. I drizzled over the 3 Tbs lemon juice, 6 Tbs olive oil and 2 Tbs cider vinegar. Then I spooned over some of the yoghurt mix but – as said above – not nearly all of it, maybe a quarter. The final step is to gently fold it all together.

It was wonderful; really good. It made a great accompaniment to the barbecued meats but it’s the kind of dish that would be good on its own as a light salad meal. You could always add some feta or other cheese to make it more substantial … or some nuts? Fattoush is a moveable recipe … take the basics and do your own thing. How nice it is to be creative in the kitchen!

A Year on the Blog: 2019

It’s been another great year on the blog. As it comes up to its 9th birthday this summer, I can only say it’s been a fun, positive activity that’s enhanced and even transformed my life. I love writing it; have had wonderful experiences that I would have otherwise missed; it’s encouraged me to be more adventurous in my eating, cooking and travelling and to reach out to people I meet along the way. It began as a positive exercise at the end of a challenging time in my life and thus I only ever intended that it was a positive force in itself – it wasn’t a place for complaint or negativity. That’s my continuing intention – this isn’t ‘my life’ it’s some of the best parts of my life; the half-full glass part. It’s only strayed at odd times, usually when I’ve had a disappointing meal in a restaurant. Even then, my policy is not to attack small independents, but only big names who draw in the crowds by their fame and then – well at least when I’m eating there – fail to live up to their reputations. I work on the policy that I’m not likely to do them damage but it allows me to vent a little frustration.

The blogging world has changed a lot in the 9 years since I began and many bloggers are highly respected these days rather than greeted with suspicion and even disdain; some have even turned their blogs into successful and lucrative careers. In the great big blogging world of today my following is a modest one, even after all this time, but I’ve been delighted that my list of followers has grown by about 50% this year – from just under 1,000 email followers to 1,467. I’ve never looked to make money (although it would be nice!), so I don’t have ads here; I even pay to prevent WordPress adding them. I’ve wanted to make money if I can from my writing – which is actually quite a hard thing to do! But the last year or so has seen me earning a small regular royalty from GPSmyCity for some of my travel posts they publish on their app. The delight of this is that they approached me and thus their support is like an unexpected but wonderful gift. It has also made me ‘professional’ enough to be accepted into The Guild of Food Writers at the beginning of this year, which was a great honour and pleasure.

The year 2019 saw the blog receive 81,000 views, an average of about 222 per day. GPSmyCity published another 16 posts, taking their total of my articles to 60.

Here are the year’s Top Ten Posts – the posts which have received the most views; not necessarily 2019 posts, some are oldies that still continue to be popular. They’re given in order of most views this year:

 

No.1: Rick Stein’s Lamb & Pistachio Kofte

Click here for recipe.

 

No.2: What to Eat & Drink and Where in Turin

Click here to read post.

 

No.3: Ottlenghi’s Roasted Aubergine with Saffron Yoghurt

Click here for recipe.

 

No.4: Tostadas – Spanish Breakfast or Snack

Click here for recipe.

 

No.5: Fegato alla Veneziana

Click here for recipe.

 

No.6: Spiced Apple Cake

Click here for recipe.

 

No.7: Grom Gelato, Piccadilly, London

Click here for post. And to read about the first ever Grom in Turin, click here.

 

No.8: Greek-style Stuffed Vegetables

Click here for recipe.

 

No.9: Beef Meatballs with Lemon & Celeriac

Click here for recipe.

 

No.10: Old-Fashioned English Bread Pudding

Click here for recipe.

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Like my recent Ten Best of 2019, it’s always a great feeling to look back over a year and remind yourself of all the best parts! I hope that 2020 will bring you, follower friends, many good things and I wish you much happiness, good health – and fun!

 

Travel Gourmet’s Ten ‘Best of 2019’

I’ve enjoyed some great trips abroad and fabulous food this year. I returned to well-loved destinations like Turin in March, Tuscany in June and Nice in September. These were places I already knew quite well but, as always, I sought out some new restaurants to try and new things to see as well as my favourite ones from previous trips.

Back in London I discovered some wonderful new restaurants, including a few more great places to eat with kids with grandson Freddie (now almost 5) as my co-reviewer. And in my kitchen I tried out new recipes from books like Ottolenghi’s Simple as well as attempting to recreate some of the dishes I’d enjoyed in restaurants.

Here are some of my foodie and travel highlights of 2019:

 

1. Best Meal London: Tredwells and Oystermen

Well this is a bit of a cheat because I really couldn’t choose between these two restaurants, so it will have to be a shared ‘award’. I went to Oystermen (photo above) in May after passing it one day while walking in Covent Garden and then suggesting it as a meeting place to my friend Annie. We went there in May and were blown away; it was absolutely fabulous (click here for review). Later in the year we weren’t surprised when it won Observer Food Monthly‘s Best Restaurant of the Year award. If you love eating fish then this is the place to go in London.

If you’re more of a meat eater (though fish is available here too), then Tredwells has to be on your list of restaurants to try. I’d passed this Marcus Wareing restaurant in St Martin’s Lane so often and kept meaning to try it. I’m so glad I eventually got round to it – again with Annie (click here for review). I loved everything about it – the decor, ambiance and – of course! – the food. I loved it so much I took my son there for his birthday treat.

 

2.Best Meal Abroad: Peixes (Nice)

There was no doubt of my choice for best meal abroad this year – it simply had to be the wonderful Peixes in Nice. I’d read about it before my trip and then by chance passed it on my first day, not far from my hotel. I couldn’t resist stopping there and then and going in for lunch … and lunch was so good, so incredible (click here for review), that I had to go back one evening for dinner (click here for review).

It’s fun in Nice to enjoy some of the traditional cuisine, like at La Merenda, but I was totally won over by the modern take on fish cookery at Peixes. It might even be a reason all on its own to return to Nice soon …

 

3. Best Lunch London: Honest Burgers

OK, Honest Burgers may not be fine dining so is perhaps a surprising choice, but it was one of my lunches with Freddie and a great place – this branch conveniently near the South Kensington museums – to take a small person for a lunch treat (click here for review). Their burgers are great and their famous rosemary chips wonderful. The photo above shows Freddie’s kids’ plate.

 

4. Best Lunch Abroad: Bar des Oiseaux (Nice)

Well it was very tempting to just write ‘Peixes’ again because of the lunch I had on my first day in Nice. But their sister restaurant Bar des Oiseaux was pretty spectacular too – witness the wonderful prawn risotto I had in photo above (click here for review).

 

5. Best Cafe London: Paul (Richmond)

Another surprising choice, perhaps. After all Paul is an international chain. However, the Richmond branch is where I’m most often found enjoying morning coffee over a paper. On Sundays I might add in one of their overnight oats pots. The friendly staff are everything you want from a local cafe – they smile in recognition, know what my usual order is and will chat away with me if it’s not too busy.

 

6. Best Cafe Abroad: Caffe Torino (Turin)

I’m always on the lookout for a great cafe, be it on holiday abroad or here in London. I’m a cafe person and am always thrilled by a special cafe like the historic ones in Turin (click here), Gilli in Florence (click here) and the ones in Vienna selling glorious cakes like Sachertore and Apple Strudel (click here). Turin’s Caffe Torino offers an all-day cafe experience, from morning coffee, lunch (click here), aperitivo (click here) and evening meals. You can go to eat or just to drink. You can sit inside or grab one of the tables outside for a view across the beautiful Piazza San Carlo. When in Turin a visit to Caffe Torino is a must.

 

7. Best Hotel: Hotel Sitea (Turin)

Still in Turin, I stayed at Hotel Sitea for the third time this year. It’s gloriously luxurious but as Turin is a less touristy place than say, Florence or Venice, it’s more reasonably priced than you might expect. To be honest, I can’t resist a bit of luxury from time to time! But it’s also a very friendly hotel where I feel welcomed and they serve one of the best buffet breakfasts I know. Its location is also perfect for a weekend in Turin, right in the centre but not noisy. It’s so wonderful, I’m already booked to go back next March (click here for review).

 

8. Best Views

I wrote recently about how I often find myself in cities where a long, steep climb is required for a great view. I was lucky to enjoy great weather when in Turin in March and headed up to Villa della Regina on the outskirts of the city where I was able to look back across the city (photo above). I could see the Mole Antonelliana rising high above the city and the snow-capped mountains in the distance.

In Florence in June I decided I had to climb up to the Piazzale Michelangelo to enjoy the famous panoramic view across the city (click here). On the same morning I visited the Giardino Bardini, which also offered a fabulous view (photo below) across Florence.

And walking across the Ponte Vecchio may not involve a climb but the view must be one of the most famous and most wonderful in the world.

Moving on from Florence in June, I stayed in Lucca for a night and climbed to the top of the Torre Guigini, remembering the great view from a previous visit. It’s a long climb – there is no lift – but totally worth it (click here).

The final part of my week in Tuscany was spent with my friend Annette who lives in the Lunigiana region of the National Tuscan-Emilian Apennines Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The views from her village and the surrounding area were glorious.

My final trip of the year was to Nice and with the weather warm and sunny on my arrival, I decided to take a trip to nearby Eze, having read about the wonderful views. The walk up steep cobbled roads to the top was definitely rewarded when I looked back over the Mediterranean towards Nice (click here).

 

9. Best ‘home’ Recipe: Paccheri with Cod, Tomatoes, Olives, Capers, Hazelnuts & Pangrattato

Sometimes a restaurant dish is so good I can’t resist trying to recreate it back home in my own kitchen. This paccheri and fish dish was one I enjoyed when I first visited Bancone, which has become one of my favourite haunts in London (click here). Of course, trying to produce a restaurant dish isn’t always easy or successful, but in this case I was really pleased with the result. It’s truly fabulous – and always reminds me of that first great visit to Bancone.

 

10. Best Foodie Event: An Urban Beekeeping Workshop

It was a great honour and pleasure to be accepted into The Guild of Food Writers at the beginning of the year. They regularly organise events and one of the first I went on was to Bermondsey Bees in London. It was a fantastic day: I loved meeting some of the other Guild members and it was transformative as I learned so much about bees and honey, it’s completely changed what I buy and how I use honey (click here).

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It’s been great fun to look back over the year and celebrate and share all my travel and foodie highlights. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and it may have inspired you to make a trip or try a new restaurant. Do please let me know about your food and travel highlights of the year.

Happy New Year – All Best Wishes for 2020!!