Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Cayman Islands - Rundown

Seven Mile Beach
Reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The title may be a little misleading, the Cayman Islands are not rundown, but one of the traditional recipes of the island is so named.

Sitting in the Caribbean Sea, the three islands that make up the Cayman islands - Grand, Little and Brac - are a British Dependent Territory. Known for being an off-shore financial centre it is also a popular tourist resort with large cruisers pulling into the port of George Town on Grand Cayman.

Though first spotted by Columbus in the fifteenth century, the islands were not settled until the 1700s. Food was basic to begin with and the main easily farmed staples were the foods taken from the sea - conch, turtle and lobster. Turtle is still considered the national dish and is primarily sourced from the Cayman Turtle Farm. This farm, which you can visit and hold baby turtles (be aware their little flippers flap like crazy and are quite strong), is a research facility as well and releases hundreds of turtles into the wild each year.

The underwater world of Cayman is more exciting than the world on top to my mind. We explored the depths of the ocean in a submarine, as we were going down to 120 feet I got to see the faintest glimpse of a turtle in the wild - an absolutely brilliant experience. From a slightly shallower depth I snorkelled with the stingrays in Stingray City off of Grand Cayman. A series of sandbars create shallower waters to which snorkellers and divers migrate to swim with the elegant rays. We motored out in our own boat and caught a baby barracuda en-route which we chopped up to feed to the rays. Their bodies were like velvet as they brushed against us to eat from our hands.
Stingrays at 'Stingray City'
Reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Author: Wikipedia author Lhb1239

On our return journey we managed to hook a full-size barrabcuda which we cleaned and simply barbecued in foil with herbs. Caymanians cook their fish generally as either a stew or fried in coconut oil on an iron skillet. The Cayman one-pot dishes of the 'meatkind' - fish, turtle, chicken, pork - or 'breadkind' - breadfruit, yam, cassava or starchy vegetables - are the original slow food. Cooked in covered pots in the cookrum, a separate cooking building, they would take hours for the meal to be prepared.

However, it is the rundown or coconut dinner which I will focus on. Coconuts are plentiful on the islands and a staple part of the diet. the rundown can be used to flavour or thicken stew and is really a form of boiling down coconut milk to form a custard.  A healthy oil can also be extracted during the process, whilst the custard can also be used as a dip.


2 medium-sized dried coconuts
Just enough water to chop coconuts in blender
Yields approximately 1 cup of rundown, a mixture of about 1/3 oil and 2/3 custard.

Break open the coconuts. Remove the coconut “meat” from the shell with a knife. Be careful as this is not an easy task.. Cut the coconut “meat” into small pieces and chop up in a blender using the chop setting. Chop coconuts in batches so as not to overload the blender.

Blend the coconut in batches until the coconut is a fine consistency and the liquid resembles milk. Use a large strainer to separate the coconut from the milk. Hand squeeze any remaining milk from the residue. 

In a large uncovered cooking pot bring the coconut milk to a rapid boil then reduce the flame to medium and cook until the water evaporates and what remains is a combination of clear liquid (oil) and custardThis takes approximately 1 to 11/2 hours. Add salt to taste. As it cools, the custard will absorb most of the oil. Chicken, meat, fish or vegetables can now be added to the mixture.
Chicken Rundown

Monday, 13 August 2012

Rome – Jewish Artichokes

Rome – the city of visible history, where the past of a whole hemisphere seems moving in a funeral procession with strange ancestral images and trophies gathered from afar.
George Eliot, author.

Aerial view of Rome
By Oliver-Bonjoch (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
 or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Rome, a city where the history of centuries sits amongst the accoutrements of modern life, is not a place you can rush. After a week in its environs there will still be more to see – ancient Roman architecture and monuments, the power and glory of the Roman Catholic Church, sculpture that awes and the little gems that seem to pop up around every corner. Wherever you go in Rome be sure to take your imagination with you.

I stood in the Circo Massimo, rising up from behind trees vast arches of brown stone stand on the Palatine Hill as a reminder of Ancient Rome’s glory days. The Circus stretched away from me. Discussions continue as to whether it was large enough for chariot races to be held there. Some think that the cornering would have been too tight and that foot races were a more likely event. Standing in the centre I preferred to imagine the thundering of hooves, the snorting of horses, the creaking of the skin and leather bindings of the chariots and the yells of charioteers as they urged their steeds around the circus to raucous cheers from the crowd. Noise, heat, the smell of straining animals, the sight of man and beast working together to triumph – a far better spectacle than barely clad men running. Until there’s conclusive proof either way, in my mind it will be chariots competing in the circus.
Circo Massimo viewed from the Palatine Hill
Author=Photograph by Greg O'Beirne |Permission=GFDL / Creative Commons |other_versions

Jews, immigrants and foreigners were not allowed to reside in the city during various times in Rome’s history and the Ponte Fabricio bridge (Pons Judaecum to give it one of its other names) was their commuter route into it from the Trastevere area. A papal bull in the sixteenth century forced the Jews to live in a walled ghetto on the other side of the river to Trastevere and for some three hundred years that is where they remained until the unification of Italy in 1861 allowed them to live freely. Eventually the ghetto was demolished and modern buildings were erected. I found the ghetto to be one of the most charming areas of the city but you have to remember that this is a sanitised version of the area in which the Jews were incarcerated for centuries.
Arco delle Azimelle in Ghetto, Rome
Scanning of reproduction  Permission(Reusing this file)Author died more than 70 years ago

The synagogue that stands in the ghetto is a modern building erected in 1904 on the site of the old synagogue. I wandered along narrow, twisting streets coming across the Piazza Mattei with its Renaissance fountain and along the via del Portico d’Ottavia. It was quite a street with its plethora of kosher fast food joints, food shops and restaurants nestled amongst a mixture of medieval and modern buildings. Many of the eateries offered carciofi alla Guidea, deep-fried Jerusalem artichokes, a speciality of Jewish Rome.

Carciofi alla Guidia
Author=Simone.lippi |Date=2010-04-18 |Permission= GNU Free documentation license


4 medium artichokes (if you can find the ones without thorns and hairy choke it makes preparation easier).
Lots of Olive Oil
Bowl of water with the juice of a lemon

·         Prepare the artichokes. See Hints and Tips as to how this can be done.
·    Place each prepared artichoke in the bowl of lemon water until they are all ready. This will prevent any browning of the vegetable.
·    Place the artichokes into a pot and cover with water. Simmer over a medium heat for approximately 15 minutes, or until they are tender to the touch of a fork. Drain them and pat them dry.
·        In a deep pan heat enough oil to cover the artichokes. The oil should be 300 degrees, hot but not spitting hot. Add the artichokes and fry for about 10-15 minutes until they are golden brown. Remove from the oil.
·         Leave them to cool, then separate the leaves out and sprinkle with a little salt before returning them to the hot oil for a couple more minutes to crisp.
·         Remove Artichokes from the pan, drain and they are ready to serve.

 Hints and Tips

How to Prepare an Artichoke.
This can be a fiddly business but is worth it for the yumminess that follows. Youtube has a host of helpful videos on how to prepare them - take your pick from the list http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=preparing+artichokes&oq=preparing+art&gs_l=youtube.1.0.0l3.170.3137.0.5206.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Andalucía - Gazpacho

I have the great fortune to live in Andalucía. It is far more than the beaches of the Costa del Sol (though they are good) and worth a visit.
The flag of Andalucía

Largest by the number of inhabitants and second largest by area of the autonmous regions of Spain, Andalucía stretches from the Portuguese border almost across the width of the south of Spain. It has a varied landscape from the mountain ranges dotted with los pueblos blancos (white villages), the arid lands of Almería which have been used to film spaghetti westerns and a modern Dr. Who, to the popular costas lapped by the Mediterranean Sea. 

Sculpture outside
Málaga bullring
Bullrings are found throughout the region. Unlike Barcelona which has recently stopped this sport, the bullrings, large and small, are still home to these fights. If the sight of a live bullfight is not for you, visit the bullrings outside of fight times. Many of them can be entered without fees, though any attached museums may charge a fee.

Andalucía is a place for romantics, home to Flamenco and Carmen, the sultry summer heat can stir the passions. The coastline, whilst still hot, benefits from the winds off the sea. The Costa del Sol was also known as the Costa del Viento, Coast of the Wind - ideal for watersports such as windsurfing and sailing. The coastline is peppered with towns of repute - Huelva, Cadiz, Gibraltar, Marbella, Málaga and Almería. They offer a variety of cultural and historic insights along with the inland sites.

Andalucía's history is long. It's position between Africa and Europe, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea, has made it a settling point and strategic prize for many civilizations since prehistoric times. The caves at Nerja are home to some of humanity's earliest paintings. The Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans and Visigoths all made areas of Andalucía their home before the arrival of the Moors.
Detail from Generalife, Granada

Andalucía boasts some of the most exquisite architecture influenced by the Islamic empire - Al Andalus - who ruled swathes of Spain from the conquest of Hispania in 711 to the final Christian reconquest of Granada in 1492. Granada, Córdoba and Sevilla are just three cities that boast incredible examples of this architectural style in their mosques and castle forts. Antequera, the heart of Andalucía, shows how the Islamic influence continues in the decoration of the Andalucían courtyards that open out from many of the town's front entrances. 
Entrance to an Andalusian courtyard, Antequera

With its rich cultural heritage Andalucía has seen its food influenced by its rulers. Some of the spices from north Africa, particularly saffron and paprika, permeate the dishes but generally the food is barely spiced but fresh and seasonal. Freshly caught fish will be cooked over fires in sand-filled boats at the many chiringuitos that line the beaches. Two crops of avocados and salad vegetables a year allow for healthy fresh salads for a good part of the year. During the summer, when the thought of hot food during the heat of the day does not spring readily to mind, a cold soup is the perfect lunchtime meal.
Photo credit: [http://www.flickr.com/photos/avlxyz/73147794/ Alpha] {{cc-by-sa-2.0}}

Gazpacho is one, possibly the most well-known, of Spain's cold soups. Made with tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers it is light but filling and refreshing. As with all things the recipes vary from place to place. On a personal note I prefer the recipe with a good helping of cucumber as it lifts the soup from being merely a tomato offering. Gazpacho is a soup that should be added to every cook's summer repertoire.


Serves 4
100g slightly stale crusty white bread, soaked in cold water for 20 mins
1kg very ripe tomatoes, diced
1 ripe red pepper and 1 green pepper, deseeded and diced
1 medium cucumber, peeled and diced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
150ml extra virgin olive oil
2tbsp sherry vinegar
Salt, to taste
Garnishes – diced cucumber, diced red pepper, finely chopped spring onion

1. Mix the diced tomatoes, peppers and cucumber with the crushed garlic and olive oil in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Squeeze out the bread, tear it roughly into chunks, and add to the mixture.

2. Blend until smooth, then add the salt and vinegar to taste and stir well.

3. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve, then cover and refrigerate until well chilled.

4. Serve with garnishes of your choice

Hints and Tips

Ripeness is key. Gazpacho is a refreshing, cold soup and to attain that freshness the ingredients must be VERY ripe. A crunchy pepper or hard, pale tomato will not make a good gazpacho.

Garnish. I like the garnishes to reflect the soup’s ingredients but you can add anything you choose. Olives, croutons, parsley or mint are nice alternatives.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Budapest - Hungarian Goulash

If you come from Paris to Budapest you think you are in Moscow. But if you go from Moscow to Budapest you think you are in Paris.     Gyorgy Ligeti, Hungarian Composer

My visit to Budapest was in 2000 and it has remained in the forefront of my travel memories ever since. I intend to revisit Hungary’s capital again soon; there is so much to see in a city that with such a rich history.

I stayed in the Citadel Hotel at the top of Gellért Hill. The citadel had been built in 1851 by the Habsburgs with the intent to threaten the Hungarians. It has since been converted to a tourist centre and hostel. Our room, the dormitory, was absolutely enormous. The window was a narrow affair set into the thick stone walls. Standing on the walls of the Citadel we could see the Danube stretching away like a grey-blue ribbon curling around district of Pest; the two sides of the city united and divided by the ceaseless river.
Budapest at night from Gellért Hill.
Author: Christian Mehlführer,
Published under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Lined up against the farthest bank between two bridges was a flotilla of pleasure boats. Sliding along the river is a wonderful way to see the vista of the Budapest. We passed under the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, a suspension bridge which was the first permanent bridge to span the Danube in Budapest.

The Széchenyi Chain Bridge connects Roosevelt Square on the Pest side to Adam Clark Square on the Buda side. From Adam Clark Square it is just a short hop on the Castle Hill Funicular to Buda Castle atop of Castle Hill. The area around the castle is known as the Castle District and houses medieval, baroque and nineteenth century living quarters and public buildings. Roosevelt Square on the Pest side is close to Gresham Palace, a neo-classical palace, now a hotel.
 Széchenyi Chain Bridge
Author: b k from Freehold, NJ, USA (www.joiseyshowaa.com)
Published under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Marx and Engels - Memento Park
Author: Ferran Cornellà
Published under the under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license
On the outskirts of the city is the greatest reminder of Hungary’s communist period – the Budapest Memento Park. With the fall of the Communist rule in 1989 the symbolic statues of that time were removed from the city centre to the park. It is an eye-opener to see just how much effort was made in the propaganda effort.

I do like an opportunity to relax where possible and Budapest was ten days into a fifteen day whistle-stop tour of Europe; that meant that a trip to the spa was in order. I chose the Gellert Baths as they were closest but with the natural springs and wells under the city, there are around 50 spas and pools to choose from supplied with the warm, mineral waters.

After a day of sightseeing, particularly in winter, there can be nothing better than a warming bowl of the dish that Hungary is possibly most known for – Goulash. A heavy soup, rather than a stew, it is made with beef and onions and Hungarian paprika. Combining the goulash with the dumplings would make a hearty main dish. There are a number of variations to goulash; as with most dishes every cook has their own way of preparing it. I like to make a veritable meal of my soups hence the number of ingredients in my soup.


Following on from Czech dumplings of the last post is the Hungarian Goulash (gulyás). Combining the goulash with the dumplings would make a hearty main dish.

Ingredients (for 4 persons)
600 g beef shin or shoulder, or any tender part of the beef cut into 2x2 cm cubes
2 tablespoons oil or lard
2 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves of garlic
1-2 carrots, diced
1 parsnip, diced
1-2 celery leaves
2 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or 1 tbs. tomato paste
2 fresh green peppers
2-3 medium potatoes, sliced
1 tablespoon Hungarian paprika powder
1 teaspoon ground caraway seed
1 bay leaf
ground black pepper and salt according to taste
water – enough to cover the ingredients. This will vary depending on the size of your pot

  1.  Heat up the oil or lard in a pot and braise the chopped onions in it until they get a nice golden brown colour. 
  2. Sprinkle the braised onions with paprika powder while stirring them to prevent the paprika from burning.
  3.  Add the beef cubes and and sauté them until they start to brown slightly.
  4. The meat will probably let out its own juice, let the beef-cubes simmer in it while adding the grated or crushed and chopped garlic (grated garlic has stronger flavour), the ground caraway seed, some salt and ground black pepper, the bay leaf, pour water enough to cover the content of the pan and let it simmer on low heat for a while.
  5. When the meat is half-cooked (approx. in 1,5 hour, but it can take longer depending on the type and quality of the beef) add the diced carrots, parsnip and the potatoes and the celery leaf. You may have to add some more (2-3 cups) water too.
  6. When the vegetables and the meat are almost done add the tomato cubes and the sliced green peppers. Let it cook on low heat for another few minutes.

Hungarian Goulash
Author:  Ralf Roletschek (talk).
Reproduced under licence: 

Hints and Tips

To thicken the soup leave the lid off for the final stage.

Budapest Tourist Information http://www.budapest.com/ Available in English, Deutsch, Magyar.


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