One minute I was turning on the central heating and checking my jumpers for moths and the next I was on a plane for Cataluña. I’m staying in Calella, 30 miles north of Barcelona and the temperature is ranging between 18 and 21º C (it’s been raining for the last two days, almost solidly, but the food is good, so I’m very happy). I’m staying with my friend Oli in a palatial apartment on the main shopping street and it’s a buzzing Catalan town, con mucha marcha. If you remember back to July, I had lunch here in a restaurant called Can Miguel – afterwards, as we turned a corner, we looked into the window of Tic-Tac and two French diners (outside) told us that they’d just had an excellent lunch, so I was very keen to come back and try the food (Oli, of course, has tested the water for me, during the intervening 3 months).

tic-tac menú

We had a look at the menú del día (above) beforehand and it all looked very promising. Today being Thursday, arròs and fideuá were on the menu, which had me sold from the start.

vi rosat

We drank a local vi rosat – Ermita de Sant Gil, which is quite a popular house wine in Calella. This is a decent vino de la casa – sometimes a house wine can be a bit rough.

amanida de la casa

Oli ordered Amanida de la Casa (house salad) as a starter …Oli ordering salad, what’s the world coming to?

carxofes fetes al forn

I had Carxofes Fetes al Forn al estil Tic-Tac (artichokes cooked in the oven, Tic-Tac style) – which looked stunning and tasted delicious in a Miso jus. It was so good that when I’d finished the artichokes, I tipped the bowl up to drink the broth!

arròs a la cassola de peix

We both ordered the same main course, which came in a large cassola (pan) – Arròs a la Cassola de Peix (casserole of fish rice), this is somewhat like a paella, but the rice is in a soupy or stick sauce and it’s cooked in the oven. You will find similar called arroz meloso  which I believe is named after the consistency of honey (miel). This was excellent!

crema catalana

For pudding I had crema catalana (I had to have this on my first day, as it’s one of my favourites). The Tic-Tac version is first class and tastes a little fruity (of oranges and cinnamon).


No good meal in Cataluña is complete without a carajillo de cognac, to pick you up for the rest of the afternoon (or to help with a little siesta)…

The Tic-Tac menú lived up to it’s French recommendation  and was worth the 3 month wait!

Tic-Tac is at: Carrer de Jovara, 3, 08370 Calella, Barcelona.

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Sopa Seca (Dry Soup)

sourdough bread

This is a Portuguese bread and garlic soup, Sopa Seca de Alho, which reminds me somewhat of the Spanish Sopa de Ajo (while being quite different at the same time). Bread soups were, apparently, brought to Iberia by the Moors – think gazpacho, ajoblanco, migas, etc. With very few ingredients other than water, stale bread can be turned into something warm and appetising that fills you up, especially when working in the fields on a cold day.

The Portuguese have a large repertoire of bread soups, known as Açordas (typically from the Alentejo region). The most basic Açordas contain water and garlic, while the more exotic include prawns, coriander, bacalhau (bacalao), eggs, etc.

Sopa Seca de Alho (serves 2):

half a stale baguette, sliced as above (ideally sourdough)
6 pieces garlic (finely chopped)
1 pint stock (vegetable or chicken)
1 heaped teaspoon pimentón de la vera dulce
1 beaten egg
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste


In an oven proof pan, fry the garlic in olive oil until it starts to brown a little.


Pour on one pint of hot vegetable or chicken stock (many recipes call for water, but I prefer a bit more flavour).


Stir in a teaspoon of sweet (dulce) pimentón de la vera and let the liquid simmer for a minute or so.

bread in stock

Push the bread down into the stock, so that it absorbs the liquid.

beaten egg

Pour a beaten egg over the top of the bread.


Put the frying pan into a preheated oven at 200º C for 20 – 25 minutes, or until the top has browned. While this is called a dry soup, do not let the pan go completely dry – there should still be a little liquid in the bottom when done.

scrambled egg

Serve with sardines, prawns, bacalao, scrambled eggs, etc.

I find this dish quite intriguing. The egg baked into bread has a slight custard flavour, the crust has a texture similar to crispy pork fat and the soft sticky lower side to the bread is quite unctuous. This really does turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. I ate sopa seca for lunch, but will be serving individual portions with a fish or fried quail’s egg on top, as a dinner party starter soon.

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Pheasant and Sausage Casserole


I caught a glimpse of what I thought was a recipe for pheasant and sausages (on the web) a few weeks ago, but having gone back to find it (and I did search extensively) all I can see now are topics on pheasant sausages. So, having a glass half full, I set out to create my own recipe.

The pheasant is native to Asia and was probably introduced to Britain by the Romans – they were definitely well established by the time of the Normans. It’s relatively easy to buy pheasant from a decent butcher during the shooting season, October 1st to February 1st and from December onwards they should be the size of a small chicken. I recommend hanging pheasant (intact), in a cool dry place, for at least 3 days and up to 10 days to improve the flavour. Once plucked and gutted a pheasant should be refrigerated and eaten within a couple of days. A good sized pheasant will feed 2 people (even greedy ones like me).

cumberland sausages

Cumberland sausages take their name from the Cumberland pig – an animal bred for the cold wet climate of Cumberland (now part of Cumbria) in the North of England. These pigs became extinct in the 1950s, but their name lives on in this popular British sausage, which contains black pepper, herbs (sage in particular) and spices. The Cumberland sausage is traditionally produced in a single coil without links, but it’s common to find individual Cumberland style sausages in all butchers and supermarkets.

Pheasant and Sausage Casserole recipe (serves 4):

1 large pheasant (jointed)
3 large Cumberland sausages
3 slices smoked streaky bacon (chopped)
1 large onion (chopped)
2 sticks of celery (chopped)
2 carrots (chopped)
6 pieces of garlic (finely chopped)
3 teaspoons rosemary, sage and thyme (a few sprigs of each), 6 juniper berries, coarse sea salt and black peppercorns ground in a mortar and pestle
a heaped teaspoonful pimentón de la vera picante
2 dessertspoons plain flour
a big squeeze anchovy paste
2 bay leaves
1/2 pint pheasant stock
1/8 pint crème fraîche
a glass of red wine
a splash of red wine vinegar
extra virgin olive oil for frying
Sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)


Chop up the pheasant into 6 large pieces and whatever meat that can be removed from the underside.

streaky bacon

Using a cast iron casserole, brown the bacon in olive oil and remove for later.

cumberlands browning

Brown the sausages all over and reserve.

pheasant browning

Dredge the pheasant pieces in seasoned flour (mix in half the ground herbs)  and taking care not to overcrowd the pan, fry the bird until it takes some colour. The idea (at this stage) is to caramelise the sugars in the skin and increase the depth of flavour – the proper cooking comes later. Add the pheasant to the bacon and sausage plate, once it has been suitably bronzed.


Fry the onion in extra virgin olive oil until it goes translucent, before stirring in the carrot, celery and garlic. Half the bacon can go back in now, but save the rest for later. Mix any leftover flour into the mirepoix to make a roux. Slowly stir in the pheasant stock and red wine to make a rich sauce. The remaining herbs, bay leaves, pimentón, anchovy paste and red wine vinegar can go in now too. Bring the sauce to a simmer and check the taste – add more seasoning if necessary.

pheasant in stock

Return the pheasant pieces to the casserole, followed by the sausages. Cover with a lid and place the pot in a preheated oven at 150º C.

pheasant and sausages

Cook the pheasant and sausage casserole for 2 hours in the oven, stirring occasionally.

cream tornado

When two hours are up, check the seasoning again before mixing in 1/8th pint of crème fraîche.

pheasant and sausages with cream

Sprinkle the remaining half of the crispy bacon on top of the casserole for decoration and serve with mashed potato.

Wine suggestion: Spanish red, Abadal Crianza.

Other pheasant posts

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Lentil Casserole

lentil casserole

With the decrease in temperature this week, I wanted to cook something hot, spicy and filling. I was reminded of Aladass, a Moroccan lentil dish, that I often buy when visiting Goldborne Road in West London. I scoured the internet for a recipe, but came up empty handed and decided to make up something similar myself. Moroccan cuisine contains a mixture of Arabic, Andalucian, Mediterranean and Subsaharan influences. The Phoenicians (a Semitic people from the Levant) colonised most of the Southern Mediterranean between 1500 and 300 BC. Next, the Romans conquered much of North Africa, particularly after the Second and Third Punic Wars against Carthage. When the Roman Empire collapsed, Morocco was ruled by a number of dynasties who were part of the Umayyad Caliphate. These Moorish people seized and ruled a large part of Iberia for up to 800 years.

brown lentils

Lentils (Lens Culinaris) are probably the oldest domestic pulse crop, originating in the Middle East and Asia, which makes them one of our earliest food sources. There are (surprisingly) far more varieties than the common, brown, green and red. The annual bushy plants produce a lens shaped seed, hence lentil. These nutritious seeds can be dried and will last for years if stored correctly, making them a perfect food in a time before cans and refrigeration. There’s even mention of lentil soup in the Bible (Genesis 25:30-34) and several mentions in the comic plays of Aristophanes (Athens 446 – 386 BC).

Brown Lentil Casserole recipe (serves 4):

1/2 lb brown lentils (dry weight, soaked for at least 12 hours)
1 large onion (chopped)
1 large carrot (chopped)
1 stick of celery (chopped)
3 medium to large tomatoes (grated)
6 pieces garlic (finely chopped)
1 preserved lemon (chopped)
4 dessertspoons tomato purée
2 heaped dessertspoons harissa
a big squeeze anchovy paste
4 heaped dessertspoons fresh coriander (chopped)
a level teaspoon cumin seed and the seeds from 8 cardamom pods (ground with a mortar and pestle
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la vera picante
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la vera dulce
1 pint vegetable stock
a dessertspoon sherry vinegar (or to taste)
sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
extra virgin olive oil for frying

soaked lentils

Soak your lentils the night before in cold water for 12 + hours or, A) soak for 1 hour and cook them in a pressure cooker or, B) buy them in a tin.

cardamom and cumin

Warm a level teaspoon of cumin seed and 8 cardamom pods until they give off a pleasant aroma. Do not let them get too hot and burn! Remove the cardamom seeds from their pods and grind all the warm seeds up with a mortar and pestle.


Fry the onion in extra virgin olive oil until it goes translucent, before stirring in the carrot, celery and garlic.

grated tomato

Grate in the fresh tomatoes (chop in half, grate the wet side and discard the skin).


Mix in the ground seeds, pimentón, tomato purée, anchovy paste, turmeric, ginger and half the harissa. The heat in harissa tends to dissipate over time and cooking. I find it’s best to put some in at the beginning and add more towards the end – on the Goldborne Road stalls, they have little bowls of it, for the customers to use as a condiment. Harissa comes from Tunisia, but it’s very popular in Morocco. It is thought that the Spanish took chilli peppers to Tunisia, while they occupied the country between 1535 and 1574. Interestingly, people associate paprika (pimentón) with Hungary, but it’s the Spanish who brought it back from the New World in the 16th Century. Pimentón is all pervasive in Spanish cuisine and it spread quite quickly to North Africa. However, it took several centuries more for paprika to reach Hungary, in the late 19th Century, via the Ottoman Empire.

preserved lemon

Cut a preserved lemon (discard any seeds) into tiny pieces and put that in too.


Chop up a bunch of fresh coriander – it’s cheaper to buy a big bunch from a green grocer, Indian, Turkish, Mediterranean shop, etc. than a tiny bunch from a supermarket. Coriander is known as cilantro in Spain and the Americas, but the English name for it comes from the old French coriandre, from the Latin coriandrum and Ancient Greek koriannon, which is derived from kóris meaning bed bug – apparently they have the same soapy smell! Coriander has been cultivated in Greece since at least the second millennium BC.


Stir 4 dessertspoons of coriander into the casserole. For those averse to the herb, use parsley instead. My huge bunch gave me at least 10 spoonfuls – the unused portion has gone into the freezer and will be used next week.

lentils and stock

Drain and rinse the lentils then mix them into the casserole, followed by half the stock, a splash of sherry vinegar and two bay leaves.  Sprinkle on salt and pepper to taste.

brown lentil casserole

Bring the casserole to a simmer, cover with a lid and place in a preheated oven for 90 minutes at 150º C. Stir in the remains of the stock after half an hour. Remove the lid for the final 30 minutes – I added 1/4 pint of water at the final stage because the casserole was getting a bit too thick. When done, mix in more harissa to taste and garnish with a little chopped coriander. Serve with crusty sourdough bread and butter.

Beverage suggestion: Casablanca Beer.


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Mediterranean Partridge

keith partridge

While the Red-legged Partridge is native to some Mediterranean countries (particularly France, Spain and Northern Italy), the one above most definitely lived and died in Colchester. I know this because I bought it from the Pheasant Girl on Sunday and all her game is sourced locally (to the family business). So what do I mean by Mediterranean Partridge…

chestnut tree

I was out foraging for sweet chestnuts last week in Hyde Park, which seems to have the best concentration of chestnut trees in London. I have looked elsewhere, but most other trees seem to have quite tiny nuts. It’s not a great year – the nuts are half the size of previous autumns, but I suppose that’s down to an exceptionally and persistently dry summer. Never mind though, the trees did have a plentiful supply and I came away with a decent harvest.

The chestnut tree originally came to Europe from Sardis, in Asia Minor, apparently and they were very popular with Greeks and the Romans. The nut itself is a good source of carbohydrates and can be made into bread, cakes and even beer! They are very popular in France and Italy as marron glacé, candied in sugar syrup and glazed. Chestnuts have less calories than a lot of other nuts, lots of vitamin C and no cholesterol. The downside to this is that they take a bit of peeling.

roasted chestnuts

Having picked some chestnuts, getting to the edible part of the nut is a bit of a challenge. The outer green capsule is exceptionally prickly – thick gloves are a good idea for picking and opening. Once open, roasting or boiling the nuts helps to soften the hard “wooden” shell. Cut a cross into the shell before roasting, since chestnuts are otherwise likely to explode in the oven! 10 – 12 minutes at about 200º C should warm the nuts sufficiently to allow peeling. Peel when the nuts are sill quite hot, the shell hardens as it cools – I got half way through and put them back in the oven for 5 minutes to re soften the remaining shells. Once peeled, chestnuts can be used straight away, or kept in the refrigerator for a few days. They freeze well and can be divided up in small containers for future use.

peeled chestnuts

So having bought a partridge and foraged chestnuts, I thought I’d make a stuffing, using typical Northern Mediterranean ingredients, as opposed to an English chestnut stuffing with sausage meat.

Mediterranean stuffed Partridge recipe:

1 partridge (per person)
3 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 medium tomato (chopped)
10 Kalamata olives (chopped)
a 50g slice of feta cheese (chopped)
8 small chestnuts (chopped)
8 large basil leaves (torn)
a sprig of thyme (torn)
sea salt and cracked black pepper
4 or 5 potatoes (cut into quarters)
olive oil

Before you prepare the stuffing, cut up 4 or 5 medium potatoes into quarters and put them in an oven dish with a generous splash of olive oil.  Cook the potatoes in a preheated, moderately hot oven (200º C) for 90 minutes in the middle of the oven, turning occasionally.


Chop up the garlic, tomato, olives, feta, chestnuts, basil and thyme.


Stir the stuffing in a bowl and sprinkle with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.


Fill the partridge with the farce or dressing as it’s sometimes called in America.


Since the stuffing is a bit crumbly, use a skewer to close the cavity (or tie the legs together). My partridge had been cut open to one side (not uncommon on small birds), so it was easier to use a skewer.

breast down

Place the partridge breast down on the potatoes, after they have had 90 minutes of roasting. This keeps the meat moist and stops the breasts drying out.

mediterranean partridge

Cook the bird for 20 – 30 minutes, turning upright for the last 10 – 15, so the skin takes a little colour. Raising the dish higher for the last part helps with the browning. Do not be tempted to cook a partridge for longer, because it will dry out. One of the fantastic things about this bird is the succulence, of the meat when it is cooked correctly. There is no need to cook game until it is well done – less is more! Rest the partridge in foil for 10 minutes before serving.

extra stuffing

As I had some leftover farce, I put it into an oven dish and gave it 10 minutes at the top of the oven while the partridge had it’s nap. The roasted stuffing was so good that next time, I will make a large amount as a specific side dish, instead of cooking additional vegetables.

Wine suggestion: Spanish red, Atalaya Almansa Laya.

A note on partridge cooking time. Partridges are beautifully moist and tender when cooked to perfection, but too much cooking and the breast dries out very quickly. Ideally, unstuffed partridges should be cooked at 200º C for 20 minutes maximum. If your bird is wrapped in bacon, cooked upside down and or stuffed, 30 minutes will be OK. If your partridge misbehaves and refuses to brown, put a cast iron skillet on the hob and heat it until it’s almost smoking. Scorch the breast for no more than 2 minutes and allow to rest in tinfoil for 10 minutes before serving. One can also prescorch partridges for 2 minutes before cooking. If you use a cast iron skillet, the pan can go straight into the oven from browning. A third option would be to use a blow torch (sparingly). It’s quite safe to eat game birds rare.

Other Partridge posts

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Dirty Rice

dirty rice

…following on from my last post, pig’s liver rice, Michelle of Gourmandistan said it reminded her of dirty rice. While I was contemplating supper this morning, dirty rice did spring to mind and when Karen mentioned it again, I went out and bought the ingredients. Sadly this is not an authentic recipe as taught to me by Paul Prudhomme in the French Quarter, but it does perhaps, contain the correct seasoning and vegetables to be a dish from Louisiana.

First of all, a word on the two types of cooking in Louisiana – Creole (from the original French and Spanish colonists in New Orleans), containing tomatoes and Cajun (from the Cajun people of South Louisiana who were originally French colonists of Canada, who’d been expelled by the British), without tomatoes. Both Cajun and Creole styles of cooking use a trinity of celery, onions and sweet peppers for flavour. When garlic is used, it becomes a  holy trinity.

Creole Dirty Rice recipe (serves 4):

1 lb pig’s (or chicken) liver (chopped)
4 slices of smoked streaky bacon (chopped)
1 pork chop, bone and skin removed (cubed)
1 large onion (chopped)
2 sticks of celery (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
4 large tomatoes (grated)
1 large red pepper (chopped)
8 mushroom (chopped)
2 cups brown Basmati rice (soaked for 1 hour)
2 dessertspoonfuls of tomato purée
a squirt anchovy paste
a pint of warm beef stock
a glass of red wine
a splash red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons of herbs (rosemary, sage and thyme – ground in a mortar and pestle with coarse sea salt and black peppercorns)
3 teaspoons cajun seasoning
a good splash of Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce (for Justin Wilson)
8 torn basil leaves
2 bay leaves
a splash of Tabasco Sauce
2 dessertspoons plain flour
extra virgin olive oil
the juice of half a lemon

Before you start, put on Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya by Dr. John – this will help with the cooking!

I won’t bore you with a complete step by step process – it’s the same as for pig’s liver rice, but you’ll notice some different ingredients above.

creole dirty rice

Soak the brown basmati rice for an hour. Using a cast iron casserole, brown the liver (dusted in seasoned flour) in olive oil and reserve. Fry the onion, followed by the bacon and pork. Stir in in the other vegetables and grated tomato. Return the liver to the casserole, along with all the seasoning, vinegar, wine, etc. and half the stock. Allow this to come to a simmer and taste – adjust the seasoning as required. Drain, rinse and mix in the rice. Cover the casserole with a lid and remove to a preheated oven at 150ºC for one hour. After 30 minutes check the dish and stir in the rest of the stock. At one hour the dirty rice should be done. Check that the rice is tender and allow it to rest for 10 minutes with the lid on. Squeeze on the juice of half a lemon, a sprinkle of chopped parsley and serve with home made allioli.

Drink a Dixie beer or even a Sazerac and get out the box set of Tremé.

Jock-a-mo fee na-né.

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Pig’s Liver Rice

pig’s liver and rice

Back in the early 80s I used to make a pig’s liver rice to stuff red or green peppers, which were baked in the oven. When a friend gave me 10 kilos of brown rice, the cooking time became so long, I turned the rice dish into a main meal and the peppers went inside it instead of being the container. I was in the butchers this week and notice pig’s liver on sale and nostalgia had me cooking something I hadn’t made for at least a decade.

pig’s liver

Pig’s liver is the poor cousin to goose, duck, calf, lamb or chicken livers, but cooked properly, it’s full of flavour and incredibly cheap – personally, I prefer it to lamb’s liver, which I find too crumbly. Pork liver is one of the main ingredient in most rustic pâtés and is full of iron and vitamins. It makes a perfect simple pâté when fried with bacon and blended with caramelised, onion, garlic, herbs and clarified butter.

Pig’s Liver Rice recipe (serves 4):

1 lb pig’s liver (chopped)
4 slices of smoked streaky bacon (chopped)
1 large onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
4 large tomatoes (grated)
1 medium courgette (chopped)
1 red or green pepper (chopped)
8 mushroom (chopped)
2 cups brown Basmati rice (soaked for 1 hour)
2 dessertspoonfuls of tomato purée
a squirt anchovy paste
1 pint of warm beef stock
a large glass of red wine
a splash red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons of herbs (rosemary, sage and thyme – ground in a mortar and pestle with coarse sea salt and black peppercorns)
8 torn basil leaves
2 bay leaves
2 dessertspoons plain flour
extra virgin olive oil

liver browning

If using brown Basmati rice, do soak it for an hour before cooking!

Trim the liver of any sinews, ventricles, etc, and chop into bite sized pieces. Mix the ground herbs with the flour in a bowl and dust the liver before browning in olive oil. Using a cast iron casserole, fry in batches, don’t overcrowd the pan or you will be cooking in a flour porridge. You only want to brown the outside – there’s no need to cook the liver to death, it will get tough if you do so. Remove the browned liver to a plate.

bacon and vegetables

Using the same casserole, fry the onion in extra virgin olive oil until it goes translucent and stir in the bacon. When the bacon has taken some colour, mix in the pepper, courgette, mushrooms and crushed garlic.


Grate in the fresh tomatoes (chop in half, grate the wet side and discard the skin).


Tear up some fresh basil leaves to commingle with the tomatoes.

liver and stock

Squirt in the tomato purée and anchovy paste, pour on a glass of wine, a splash of vinegar, half the stock and stir in the browned liver and bay leaves.


Rinse the soaked Basmati rice before mixing it into the dish. At this stage the pig’s liver rice should be wet like stew, but not runny like soup. More stock goes in later.

pig’s liver rice

Bring the casserole up to a simmer, stir, cover with a lid and cook for one hour in a preheated oven at 150ºC, or until the rice is tender and the stock has been absorbed. Check the pig’s liver rice after half an hour and add more stock and seasoning as required. Don’t over cook it or the rice will disintegrate. This can be cooked on the hob, but it’s far less likely to burn in the oven.

Serve with a drizzle of truffle oil and some grated Parmesan cheese.

N.B. If cooking with risotto rice (on the hob), cooking time would be reduced to about 20 minutes, with additional stock being added as needed. Constant stirring required throughout and never rinse risotto rice.

Wine suggestion: Baron de Ley Gran Reserva Rioja.

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