A Guide To Spanish Tapas

Posted on: February 21st, 2011 Posted by

Wander through any Spanish town, city or  village and you’ll discover that the tradition of la tapa is alive and well. The best Spanish tapas bars are generally the busiest, relying on local trade rather than that of passing tourists. Step inside, take a seat and soak up the atmosphere as you sample local specialities and sip on a glass or two of the local tipple. Tapas are always served in small portions, and usually each person in the group selects one dish, which will be shared around the table. This style of eating allows everyone to taste a variety of flavours and adds a lively, social element.

No-one knows for sure how tapas(which means cover or lid in Spanish) started out, many centuries ago.  Some say it was as a slice of bread, perhaps with a little cheese or ham, which was used to cover the  glass and stop flies and dust contaminating the drink. Others prefer the legend which has it that King Alfonso X made a law which stated that all drinks must be served with food, after he had recovered from a severe illness by drinking and eating small amounts between meals..  A third theory is that bar-owners in Castilla-La Mancha noticed that the strong smell of cheese disguised the smell of poor wine and used it to disguise cheaper bottles. As you ponder over which of the stories you prefer, whet your appetite for tapas with the following classic Spanish snacks  :

Tortilla De Patata

More than just an omelette the countryside staple Tortilla De Patata is a perennial favourite. You’ll spot the golden, thick disks in almost every tapas bar, and it’s a great choice for anyone discovering the joys of tapas for the first time. Made from potatoes and eggs, often with just a little onion added for flavour, every self respecting Spaniard has their own tortilla recipe, usually one which has been passed down through the family.

Ensaladilla Rusa

Ensaladilla Rusa literally translates as Russian Salad, and combines boiled or picked vegetables, boiled eggs, tuna, potatoes and mayonnaise. Typically, Ensaladilla Rusa is shaped into a dome, covered with a thin layer of mayonnaise and decorated with olives, crushed egg yolk and slices of red pepper. Spanish bars usually serve Ensaladilla Rusa with crunchy loop shaped bread sticks which allow you to scoop up generous mouthfuls!

Champiñones Ajillo

Champiñones Ajillo are mushrooms, cooked in olive oil, sherry and finely chopped garlic. In areas where wild mushrooms are harvested locally, this recipe may feature more than one mushroom type, giving extra earthy flavour. Don’t forget to enjoy this dish with plenty of fresh bread – mopping up the juices is completely acceptable!

Boquerones

Caught off the South Coast of Spain, Boquerones are small anchovies which have been preserved in  salt and vinegar. The action of the vinegar whitens the meat of the anchovies, which is brown when fresh. Boquerones are served with a splash of olive oil, and crusty bread, and are best accompanied with beer, rather than wine, which can react with the high acidity levels of the vinegar dressing.

Pinchitos Morunos

Pinchitos Morunos are thought to have been influenced by Moroccan cuisine. Usually made from pork or chicken, the meat is first marinated with a mixture of spices before threaded on a kebab stick and cooked over an open fire or grilled. Often Pinchitos are served with a wedge of lemon, which can be squeezed over the meat to add to the taste sensation.

Banderillas

Banderillas are cocktail stick, laden with a variety of vinegar preserved treats. These may include the spicy guindilla chilli, olives, bell pepper, silver-skin onions, carrot, cucumber and sometimes and anchovy.

Empanadillas

Similar in appearance to the Cornwall’s famous pasty, the empanadilla is a baked or fried pie, usually filled with meat or fish. Eaten at any time of day, popular fillings include tuna in a tomato sauce, or pisto, a rich blend of Mediterranean vegetables.

Planning A Hen Party With A Difference

Posted on: February 15th, 2011 Posted by

Over recent years the trend for traditional style hen parties has taken a downturn, and brides to be are looking for new and exciting ways to celebrate their forthcoming marriage.

Luxury spa getaways are a one popular alternative to male strippers and raucous behaviour, but those on a budget may find that the cost can be prohibitive – a nights stay in one of London’s top spa hotels will cost several hundred pounds per person, as well as additional fees for treatments, meals and drinks, which can all add up.  An excellent alternative to booking into a leading health resort is to have a DIY indulgence weekend. Easy to plan, bank balance friendly and perfectly girly, this is a perfect way to celebrate with friends.

Normally, the arrangements for a hen party are made by the bride’s friends, and if this is you- don’t panic. Take the pressure off by delegating jobs which make the most of each individual’s skills : the girl who is a devil for detail could plot accommodation, the chick who is a whizz in the kitchen could arrange meals, while the movie buff could pick out some favourites for your viewing pleasure.
To make your life simple, we’ve divided planning into main areas, with a few suggestions to get your imagination fired up – just modify them to suit your bride’s personality for a unique touch!

* Accommodation

Self catering used to mean basic, sparsely furnished  accommodation, but things have changed. High quality, deluxe cottages can be found all over the UK, many of which have features and facilities which you would normally expect to find in 5 star hotels: jacuzzis, heated indoors pools and even private saunas. The choice is extensive, which means that you can tailor your break to suit the bride’s interests. Think about whether you want to retreat to a charming countryside cottage and wallow in tranquillity, or tuck yourselves away in a sophisticated city apartment, where you can hit the shops or take in a show at the theatre.

* Treatments

While spending a couple of hours in the beauty salon is a real treat, it is easy to enjoy  that luxurious vibe to your self catering accommodation. Major beauty brands such as Sanctuary offer gorgeous products designed to bring that spa sensation home. Look out for mud wraps(messy but fun), facial treatments, waxing kits and manicure/pedicure sets.
It is worth bearing in mind that if your party weekend falls directly before the wedding, you should probably avoid anything which might cause irritation to your skin – after all no one wants to be remembered as the girl with the red-blotchy face in the wedding photos.

* Food

The good thing about self catering accommodation is that it gives you great flexibility about when and where you eat. If you are lucky enough to have an enthusiastic cook with you, then make the most of their skills and enjoy relaxed meals in your pyjamas. If you prefer eating out check out one of the many online restaurant guides for customer feedback and reviews of eating-places in the areas, and remember to book a table, particularly if you are in a large group, to avoid disappointment. Even if you plan to dine-out for all your meals, remember to stock the fridge with plenty of snacks and treats – whether they are healthy fruit nibbles or gooey chocolate delights is down to you to decide…

* Drinks

Champagne is a classic drink for celebratory occasions, but you can add a special touch to your hen party weekend by taking a a tip from the Sex and The City girls and indulging yourselves with delicious cocktails. Thousands of cocktail recipes can be found on the web, so stock up on a few bottles and get mixing! You may also want to pack a few of your favourite hang-over cures – just in case.

* Entertainment

If you are planning on spending most of your weekend relaxing in your accommodation, pack a stack of films to watch during downtime. Romantic comedies and light-hearted flicks are a good choice, unless of course your bride to be is a horror fanatic!
A good selection of music  is also handy : a few relaxing mixes to soothe your senses during treatments, and something more upbeat for party-time.

The annual vacation is the highlight of the year for many families, making memories which last a lifetime. Wherever you choose to go, it pays to plan ahead to ensure a journey which is as fun(really!) as your holiday. Tackle those typical whines “Are we there yet” , “I’m bored” , “I feel sick” and “I’m hungry” with our handy guide to travelling with kids.

* As any parent with a child who suffers from travel sickness knows, the experience can make even the shortest journey a struggle. Children between the age of 2 and 12 are most likely to be troubled with motion sickness, and may experience nausea, headache and cold sweats. Fortunately, there are numerous solutions to beat the dreaded motion sickness, which at best leaves you with an miserable child, and at worst, sick to clean off the car upholstery/your child’s clothing/everything.

The key to beating motion sickness, which can occur in cars, aeroplanes, buses and boats, is     to be prepared. Many parents find it helpful to use over-the-counter motion sickness     remedies such as Dramamine, which can prevent nausea from occurring and lasts around 8     hours. If you prefer to take a more natural approach, buy a set of acupressure bands, which     stimulate a vital point on the wrist and can be very effective. Ginger is a tried and tested      herbal remedy used for many types of nausea -  try giving your child pieces of stem ginger      to chew, or an     infusion of ginger to drink during the journey. Of course, it never hurts to     pack a spare change of clothes and baby wipes – just in case!

* Children’s boredom thresholds vary immensely, and on long flights or car journeys where they have to sit down for extended periods, you may find that they become irritable more quickly than usual. Beat the complaints(and avoid a headache!) by packing a bag of small wrapped gifts to be opened along the way. The great thing about this idea, is that you can tailor the presents to suit your child’s age. Don’t go overboard and buy too much, and keep it simple : you want to choose items which won’t make a mess and lots of noise, especially if you are flying or using public transport! Think colouring books and washable crayons, dolls, toy cars and puzzle books, rather than modelling clay and musical instruments.

If you are travelling by car, add an audio-book or singalong CD to the mix and you’ll find     the miles fly by!
Older children can be supplied with a map with has the route and destination marked on it -     they’ll enjoy following their progress along the way.

* If you travelling by air, bear in mind that children tend to suffer from ear pain caused by the air pressure changes, more than adults. Common suggestions to ease this pressure include chewing gum, sucking on a hard sweet or laughing, although none of these are guaranteed to work. On the plus side, most people only experience ear pain during take-off and landing, so you can take comfort for knowing that it won’t last forever! If you are concerned about this issue, talk to your doctor before flying, as they may be able to prescribe a decongestant which should help considerably.

* Most short-haul and budget airlines no longer provide meals, and roadside cafés and service stations can be expensive, with limited food options available. It makes sense then, to prepare a few snacks for the kids to nibble on throughout the journey. You may want to avoid chocolate, and anything else which will cause a sticky mess! Healthy nibbles such as dried fruit, crackers and cheese triangles are all good ideas, which will help satisfy hungry tummies without causing mayhem.