Monday, 24 June 2019

June 2019 Favourites List

This month I am continuing my series of posts about Cuba, focussing on Trinidad. Trinidad in the central province of Sancti Spiritus, is a colourful town full of picture perfect cobbled streets. Historically, people here were involved in the sugar industry, meaning sugar and rum products are part of the local heritage. The money which came in was spent building the beautiful mansions with their distinctive front grilles. It shouldn't surprise you that Trinidad is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, given protected status in 1988.

The Cubans make utterly wonderful rum cocktails, which is no surprise given how many different rums are made here. One of Cuba's most celebrated cocktails, the Canchanchara, was invented here in Trinidad, using local brand Santera. You can visit La Canchanchara and sample the iconic cocktail, always served in a little terracotta tumbler. They're generous with the honey, so don't forget to give your drink a thorough stir. Enjoy the live music whilst you imbibe. 
Live music, La Canchanchara

If you are after a night of live music there are two places which will delight you, Casa Del Trova and Casa de la Musica. Cuban jazz is much loved, and you might find a few tracks from the Buena Vista Social Club artists like Compay Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer and Amaro Portuondo thrown into the set list. If you want to do dance, go ahead. The venues even provide dancers to join in if you don't have someone to dance with. 
Casa de Trova

Trinidad's cobbled streets are worth wandering around and you will find lots of great Paladares to eat at. Paladares are privately run restaurants, which I would recommend over some of the government run establishments, which often have ingredient shortages and slow service. Comida Criolla is to be found on the menus. Mixing the ingredients and cooking techniques of Caribbean, African and Spanish food, it is comforting and flavourful. Some people are uncomplimentary about Cuban food, which is most unfair. Perhaps others reporting back on their Cuban adventures didn't really try to explore this cuisine, ordering within a comfort zone of plain grilled and fried foods? 
Bistro Trinidad

Bistro Trinidad is one of my recommendations.It is a beautiful old house, packed with antique furniture, making it full of atmosphere. We were very well looked after. And the seafood here is excellent (the coast is close by, meaning extra fresh produce). The lobster and prawns are the dishes to go for here. If you decide to eat upstairs al fresco, you will find a huge mango tree.

Comida Criolla at Bistro Trinidad

Trinidad is a popular town for tourists, so there is a growing number of trendy and contemporary bars, restaurants and cafes. La Radaccion is a converted newpaper office, an a great place to cool down and have either a cocktail or light bite. 

I hope you will enjoy this month's Favourites List. 
If you want to explore my other Cuban adventures, I wrote about Vinales here:
My overview of my trip is here:

Food writing:

Coffee lovers can breathe a sigh of relief - coffee doesn't appear to harden the arteries:

Summer is finally here, so if you're planning a picnic or BBQ, here are some award winning products you might want to get in:

Back to basics: how to make great stock:


MiMi Aye has just had her second cook book "Mandalay" published. It is going to be one of the hottest cookbooks of 2019, bringing Burmese food to British kitchens. Here is her recipe for Ngar kyaw chet - fried fish curry:
Pete Fraser of What I Feed My Family blog shares his recipe for Swedish (ish!) meatballs, so you don't have to buy a freezer pack on your next trip to IKEA:
 Jacqueline Bellefontaine has this great salsa recipe for the upcoming Summer days.

Just found this Miso Tofu Ramen soup as a potential diet day recipe. Him Indoors can have it, as it has 550 calories. I could reduce the amount of noodles and/or have half an egg to bring it within 500 calories.

Whether you are cooking for children or just yourself, these chicken recipes are full of flavour and colour! Claire Thomson's Chicken tinga and black bean tacos, Three-cup chicken, Chicken with almonds and garlic, Lemongrass chicken with green mango salad: 

Cookwitch food blog has this amazing Cypriot inspired bread pudding recipe, the perfect way of using up surplus bread. Avoiding food waste is one small way we can save money on food and do our bit for the environment.

I discovered Cava Sangria in Barcelona. Refreshing and fruity, it is more Summery than regular Sangria. Try it:

Black pepper and strawberries is one of those flavour combinations which you would have thought doesn't work, but is a classic. Here's a black pepper, strawberry, goat's cheese and walnut salad to make:

We recently had National Fish and Chips Day! Here's how to make traditional beer battered cod with chips. Don't forget the Tartare sauce and mushy peas on the side, with a wedge of lemon!

Jersey Royals are in season. I love them boiled and tossed in butter for a side dish. But here, May at Eat Cook Explore blog, has turned them into salad perfect for weekend lunch:

Mum (Season 3)
Bowie at the BBC
Nigel Slater's Middle East


Kate Bush - The Hounds of Love
Stephen Duffy - I Love My Friends (2019 reissue)
Kikagaku Moyo - Masana Temples

Please note: as with every monthly Favourites List, all of these items have been selected by me simply because I love them. I do not receive any money, benefits in kind or other incentive for posting these links or recommendations.

Friday, 24 May 2019

May 2019 Favourites List

This Favourites List, I want to tell you all about Vinales in Cuba. Last month I gave you a brief rundown of my trip to Cuba this Spring. [Please see]. I wanted to tell you more about the little town of Vinales because it is such a beautiful and fascinating place. Situated in Western Cuba, Vinales is an attractive little town in a valley. The valley contains huge rounded mountains called "Mogotes". These formations are highly distinctive and unusual, only found here, in Puerto Rico and China.

Large Mogote on the outskirts of Vinales

Nestled in the countryside, Vinales is full of small wooden farmhouses and bijou Colonial style houses. Proudly painted in bright colours, the sunshine hits them, making them seem even more vibrant and striking. All around the town are farms dedicated to growing tobacco and corn. If you've ever smoked Cuban cigars, chances are the leaves which made them were grown in Vinales. The farmers here are required to hand over the majority of their crop to the government, who use these leaves to make the famous international brands like Cohiba, Montecristo, Romeo Y Julieta and Guantanamera. The rest the farmers are allowed to keep for personal use and for small scale cigar production. You can buy their homemade cigars directly from the farmers who will even let you try before you buy. If you want to have your cigar like Ernesto "Che" Guevara and dip the tip in honey, no problem. A little pot of honey is waiting for you. The local farmers also produce local honey for tourists to buy.

As with the rest of Cuba, there are elements of living in the past which coexist with life in the 21st Century. Smartphones and the internet are contemporary technology apparent all over Cuba, including Vinales, yet no other place had a greater preponderance of free WiFi. (Which was very welcome, given one needs the special Nauta WiFi scratchcards for internet access everywhere else in the country, only available from official ETECSA shops or for vastly inflated shops from the local touts.) The internet age lives alongside a more 20th Century pleasure of listening to the radio, with old valve radio sets from the 40s and 50s run daily in people's homes. Equally, even older practices are kept alive in the farms; hand harvesting of the tobacoo leaves, which are tied up in bundles and dried in huge hand made drying houses. The smell in these big drying barns is strong and surprisingly pleasant. Ox carts are used alongside ancient tractors. Pony and traps ply the streets instead of taxis. Rocking chairs are on every verandah, used to drink in the last sunlight of the evenings, where locals share in family chit chat and social time.  

Ox cart on the way to the farm

The local fruit and vegetables are flavourful and delicious, kissed by so much Caribbean sun. The people of Cuba might be somewhat isolated by the trade block, but they look to their own culinary history and modern cooking trends for inspiration. You will find Spanish tapas, Italian pastas and pizzas, and flavours of Mexico and Peru.

Vinales is close to Havana, so it makes an ideal place to visit when the energy and crowds of the city need escaping. It is breathtakingly lovely. I hope you will enjoy my pictures alongside the food writing and culture I have been enjoying this past month. 

Food writing and articles:

Foodism magazine decided to visit the Trang region of southern Thailand to discover the food traditions inspiring these dishes. A great piece of food and travel writing:
Wooden houses with a matching vintage car

London dining can be pricey, especially because of the markup on booze. Here is a list of London's best BYOB restaurants!

Chef Romy Gill: "I come from a simple family who taught me to fight for my rights and that attitude enabled me to fight for myself and others." Romy reflects on:  having no regrets, overcoming adversity of all kinds and cultural appropriation. From Seetal Savla:
Tobacco farm cat makes sure there are no mice around

Pasta bake influenced by the flavours of Greece, with slow-cooked lamb, orzo, olives and feta:

Grilled chicken with coriander and green pepper sauce - a new recipe for Springtime from Chef Angela Hartnett:

Asma Khan is the entrepreneur behind Darjeeling Express and a fabulous cookbook "Asma's Indian Kitchen". Here is her recipe for a simple Indian vegetable dish, with potato slices and cumin, Zeera (or Jeera) Aloo:
How to make chicken pie. By Felicity Cloake. Although I disagree that pies don't look good on Instagram!

Tobacco drying barn

The cafe near my work has old ketchup bottles full of their secret homemade chilli sauce. I think that Helen at Fuss Free Flavours blog has cracked their secret! This no cook kebab shop sauce looks exactly like theirs!

Simple yet delicious Thai homecooking: Kay Plunkett-Hogge's recipe (based on her time spent living and visiting Thailand) for pad krapow moo (pork stir fried with holy basil, chilli and beans). As featured on Kavey Eats:

Butter beans, cooked in onion, garlic, tomato, cinnamon and oregano. Baked beans, Greek style:

Traditional farmhouse

How to make the perfect tempura - Felicity Cloake compares and contrasts recipes from Luiz Hara, Nancy Singleton Hachisu, Charmaine Solomon, Tim Anderson and J Kenji Lopez-Alt:
I would use organic white wine vinegar rather than bother buying champagne vinegar. But this butter bean, tarragon and cucumber salad looks like a fab packed lunch (keep the dressing separate in a jar):

My other writings:

Not food, but a blog post for my students. Many of them discovered last week they didn't get a pupillage. But there is so much they can do to improve their chances next time!

Old style rocking chair on a verandah


I Love My Friends - Stephen Duffy
Lost and Found - Jorja Smith


Deutschland 86
Derry Girls Season 2

Crazy Rich Asians

Please note: as with every monthly Favourites List, all of these items have been selected by me simply because I love them. I do not receive any money, benefits in kind or other incentive for posting these links or recommendations.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

April 2019 Favourites List

Hello readers!

I am back from a break and I am feeling newly inspired. Having had some time to get over the inevitable jet lag, and the tiredness which made me want to crawl under a rock, I can feel the benefit of a huge change of scenery. My trip to Cuba has filled my heart with the joy of son and salsa music, my memory with the colours of the cities and landscapes of the countryside and my spirit with the friendliness and kindness of the Cuban people. 

Vinales, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is out in the countryside, in a beautiful valley, punctuated by huge Mogote rocks. It is tobacco country where the raw material for the iconic cigars are grown. The built landscape features little houses with airy verandahs (with an obligatory rocking chair) and huge tobacco drying houses made of wood and palm leaves. 

Cienfuegos, founded by a ridiculously wealthy family of the same name, is a 19th Century town of pastel shade mansions, home of musician and favourite son Beny More, the famous "Barbarian of Rhythm" (a compliment reflecting his diversity of genre and ability to sing in any of Cuba's amazing music styles.

Remedios is a cute little town which packs 500 years of history in a small place. The main square has continuous stone benches providing seating for hundreds. Arriving at lunchtime, with the temperature topping 30 degrees, the square is deserted. Why so much space for people to sit, lying utterly empty. The answer arrives with the darkness; the balmy night brings out whole families to have a walk and to sit together, as a community. 

Trinidad (de Cuba) is another historic town, full of quaint low rise buildings with multi colour fronts. Some seem nondescript, with huge three inch thick doors. Open the doors to discover mini palaces with internal courtyards; an instant defence from the daytime heat. Horse and cart taxis make their way through the streets, shared by locals and tourists alike.

And Havana. Oh, Havana! The faded grandeur is almost as narcotic as it is romantic. The Paseo de Jose Marti (Prado) with the beautiful theatre, imposing Capitolio (reminiscent of the roof feature of the White House in Washington), old style hotels and paintbox perfect column fronted houses makes for superb contrasts. The vintage cars, which anywhere else would be a in a museum, but here you can cruise the streets. 

Everywhere, the music. It is so strong in the spirit and soul of the nation. Wherever you go, live music can be found. Strangers dance the salsa with each other, with smiles exchanged without necessarily expectating exchanging phone numbers. Singles dance for fun or courtship; they choose. Marrieds dance to express their closeness. Family members dance just for the joy. 

Cuba is a magical place. It will live in my mind forever, so I am sharing some of my pictures with you and hope you enjoy this month's collection of favourite stuff.


Food blogger Louisa (Living Lou) has devised this pork ragu sauce, made in the slow cooker:

Ever wanted to make your own Kimchi? Kimchi is the national dish of Korea, a hot and spicy fermented cabbage pickle which is tasty and helps good gut health:

Wild garlic is back in season. Here is a wild garlic and pea soup you can make with it:

Spicy Moroccan Kale and Rice Soup - from food blogger Janice on her Scottish farm:

Angela Hartnett's recipe for Risotto Primavera, full of the joy of Spring - peas, broad beans, sugar snaps and asparagus:

Brown butter, honey and garlic combined for this roasted carrot recipe - for Sunday lunch?

New ideas for cooking for one - cashew nut pulao rice, salmon, greens and sweet potato ‘en papillote’ (cooked in paper), Simon Hopkinson’s chicken, garlic and parsley broth, coddled egg, and baked potato with avocado, lime, chilli, feta and smoked bacon:

More cooking for one ideas: steak frites, Signe Johansen’s carrot, pomegranate and chickpea salad with a spiced citrus dressing, "seven-meal" roast chicken (recipes for cooked roast chicken included), Nigel Slater’s grilled pork salad, and comforting little casseroles:

Third selection of meals for one: fried egg sandwich, broccoli, anchovy and chilli pasta with crunchy sourdough crumbs, Nigella Lawson’s linguine with clams, crispy kimchi and cheddar omelette, and Fergus Henderson’s simple vanilla sundae:

One bag of dried chick peas will make enough of this chick pea curry for 7-8 people. You can freeze it for later, too!

I do the 5:2 diet (2 calorie limited days - 600 for a man, 500 for a woman - 5 days normal eating) and I'm always looking for diet day inspiration. This chicken and pearl barley stew from Karen Burns Booth looks scrumptious:

Quinoa Squash Salad, with aubergine, butternut squash, sundried tomatoes, pesto, soft goat’s cheese:

Food articles: 

Delicious Magazine's best places to eat in South East London:

Not necessarily the cheapest, but London's best value eateries - collected by Eater London's Jonathan Nunn:


Fleabag Season 2


If Beale Street Could Talk
A Private War


Buena Vista Social Club - Various Artists
The Stars of the Buena Vista - Various Artists
She Drew The Gun - Revolution of Mind

Please note: as with every monthly Favourites List, all of these items have been selected by me simply because I love them. I do not receive any money, benefits in kind or other incentive for posting these links or recommendations.