A Paella Party….

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Paella Poster That Started It All…

It all started with the poster above…we could not decipher the Basque words other than ‘April 9′ and ’17:00’ so we queried our mate Marina at our local cafe Amona Margarita as to the relevant details. She told us it was essentially a youth effort but if we wanted the best paella outside of Valencia, she was our woman. A flurry of Whats.app messages ensued and the date was set for the coming Sunday – yippeeeeee!

We three piled into my trusty (usually) old Land Rover and headed to Hendaye (France) where Marina’s friends Yolanda and Santiago reside and the gorgeous site for the Sunday Paella Fest…

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Master Chef Borja Starts The Prep…

The day, weather-wise, was far better than forecast with bright blue skies and PLENTY of warm sun that had a few of us winter white folks burning up! Introductions were made all round (in addition to Yolanda & Santiago we had Borja – our Master Paella Chef – and Enrique, up from Valencia & Da Kids) and drinks were soon in hand with plates of olive tapenade & fresh bread…and then the paella process began…

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Lounging Hound #2

The paella pan is a serious piece of work – not one burner, not two burners but three burners a burning! Once the olive oil & salt had reached a prime temperature (hot), Borja added the meat course (chicken & rabbit spiced with fresh rosemary & moderately minced garlic) to sizzle off to a golden, crispy brown…

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Step 1: Pan Hot, Meat (Chicken & Rabbit) Goes On…

Just when the meat had achieved its perfecto caramelised colour, it was moved to the pan’s edges & the green beans are added to the mix to gently soften. Last but not least in the veggie section was the addition of the artichokes – in season here and the perfect size.

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Super Sous Chef Assists in Step 2: Green Beans Go In…Then The Artichokes…

Then it is aqua & more aqua & a saffron dose to create a stupendous, simmering broth…which simmers away until it has reached a special notch on Master Chef Borja’s cooking spoon. Then it’s the perfect time for the last ingredient – the rice!

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Step 3: Mucha Agua & Saffron Added to Create A Wonderful Broth for the Rice….Simmer & Simmer….Team Paella Making Adjustments

All is left to simmer & bubble away for some minutos to deepen the flavours and cook the rice…

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Salads & Vino Course Whilst Paella Simmers…

While the paella perfected itself, we retired to the deck table for the entree offering of 2 tasty salads – an endive, orange & cranberry mixture with a nice balance between sour, bitter & sweet and a Spring-y greens & cherry tomatoes ensalada…ah, Spring.

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Paella On The Table!…And On Da Plate!

The ‘All Done!’ announcement was made by Borja & the massive paella pan was brought to the table – steaming its savoury goodness for all to smell. Serving utensils were handed out all round & we dug in! Estupendo! De hecho, estaba para chuparse los dedos! (It was finger licking good!). Several helpings were had by all, emptying the seemingly endless pan till we reached the ‘socarrat’ – the crispy rice bits that have caramelised to the pan’s bottom & a much desired Spanish taste treat. A wee bun fight ensued as folks took turns scraping the socarrat off & generously serving out portions.

Nos lo pasamos de maravilla estupendamente!!! Muchas gracias to Marina, Borja, Yolanda, Santiago, Enrique & Kids. Esperamos veros otra vez pronto!

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And It’s……………..Cider Time!

We received another one of those invitations you cannot refuse from our mate Idoia to join her & friends on a visit to a Basque sidrería. The early part of the New Year is cider season round these parts where the sidrerías open their doors for a traditional Basque repast and a tasting of their new ciders from barrel prior to a Spring bottling.

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Mina Sidrería – Da Man Stands Ready To Pour!

Despite a wee bit of a language communication hiccup (we showed up @ 8AM for the taxi, not 8PM as ordered), we all piled into the taxi minibus and off we went to the Mina sidrería. The menu for the evening was: cider,  bacalao tortilla, cider, then cooked bacalao en salsa (house specialty), cider, then the main event – chuletas de vaca (ribeye steaks) cooked on the grill, cider, then dessert of cheese, quince paste & freshly harvested walnuts and cider.

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Sidra Mates; Cheese, Quince Paste & Walnuts; Bacalao Tortilla; Bacalao En Salsa

We feel extremely lucky so far in our time in the Basque Country as we have been welcomed with open arms by many folks and we feel very privileged to experience events like this (and the calçots meal with Gloria & familia) that push us beyond a simple tourist’s view of Spain.

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Mina – Sidra Natural

You might think that cider is cider but, just like wine or beer, each area or country and cider maker has a particular take on what cider is or should be. Here in the Basque Country the ciders tend to carry a strong acidic bite or quality – according to semi-cider expert Hound #2 – versus their brethren in England or Australia or New Zealand. I am not a big cider drinker but given the ultra fun circumstances it was not a hard swallow!

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Chuletas, Chuletas, Chuletas…Hound #1 Billie Got The Tidbits

And as you can tell from the top photo below, we all had the ‘cider glow’…and full stomachs. Definitely not a pintxo type stroll of a meal but estupendo!

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Happy Campers & Satiated Crew…One More For The Road, Please!

 

 

Calçots! Calçots! Calçots!

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Restaurant All I Oli – San Sebastián

We continue to receive lovely invites and this one was extended to us Hounds by my Spanish teacher Gloria (she speaks 5 languages & is Catalan), to join her & her family for an annual right of Spring and partake in the Catalan traditional feast called a calçotada.

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Menú Calçotada – Estupendo!

The centre of attention in a calçotada is, of course, calçots. Calçots are also known as spring onions or scallions that have weathered the Spanish autumn and winter and emerge as bright green shoots in the early Spring. Bunches are traditionally grilled over a hot, open fire (typically using vine cuttings), then wrapped in newspaper & served on terra cotta roof tiles with a beautiful romesco dipping sauce.

Calçots, like wine, have a serious provenance to protect & maintain and actually carry a wine-like DOC (Controlled Designation of Origen) and Valls (calçot central) is an EU Protected Geographical Indication area! . These are not just any spring onions folks!

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Restaurante All I Oli

We were booked in at Restaurant All I Oli, the only Catalan restaurant in San Sebastián & surrounds (the owner & chef is Catalan). So let the fun (and slurping) begin!

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Let the Fun Begin! Ready Your Bibs!

Post a welcoming aperitif of local cider and paté, the blackened, steaming plates of calçots began to arrive at our table accompanied by pan tostadas con tomate (toasted bread spread with diced tomato).

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Gloria Shows Us How It’s Done…A Dip In The Salsa & Slurp!

Gloria took the honours of showing us newbies how this thing gets done: you strip off the charcoaled skins, then swirl the sweet, tender calçot tendril in the romesco salsa & slide it down your gullet, trying not to disgrace yourself nor splatter your immediate neighbours! Then a couple of bites of pan tostadas con tomate and back at it again…and again.

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Splattered Bib, Flaming Caracoles (Snails), Tattered Remains of Calçots, Decent Drop

This was all washed down with a most pleasant bit of juice from Raimat Costers del Segre called Clamor – a more than quaffable blend of Cabernet, Tempranillo with the sweet fruit addition of Merlot.

Though a plate of flaming snails (caracoles in Español) are pictured above, it was the table next to us that took delivery – we just could not resist a flaming photo. Post the calçots, we moved on to the butifarra (Catalan for sausage) & con mongetas (Catalan for beans) course and it was so tasty I only managed to snap a picture of my wee sausage stub.

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Sausage Remains; Excellent Dessert Crema Catalana; Shot of Pacharán To Finish

And what would the end to a proper Catalan meal be without a bowl of Crema Catalana and a generous shot of pacharán! We all wobbled home…

Muchas gracias to Gloria & su familia for an awesome Saturday and one of our best Spanish experiences!

Going Veggie…Km.0 in San Sebastián.

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Km.0 Vego in San Sebastián

We’d scheduled a ‘day out’ in San Sebastián to visit the Kursaal Gallery and a new space we’d recently read about called the Tabakalera, an old tobacco factory that has been totally renovated and had just recently opened to the public in September 2015. The Tabakalera is a truly awesome, massive space (including a rooftop terrace with spectacular views) – well worth a wee bit of a diversion if you happen to be wandering round San Sebastián.

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Deal to Make You Squeal

Post the Kursaal perusal and prior to the Tabakalera we thought a spot of lunch was needed, so we tracked down a vegetarian restaurant called Km.0 that Hound #2 had read favourable mentions of in the same article that alerted us to the Tabakalera space.

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Main Plates: Vegan Lasagna and Vegan Albondigas (Veggie Balls)

Km.0 offers a sweet deal for the plato del día – for €9.75 you get your choice of a main plate, a dessert and a bebida (we went with vino tinto). Hound #2 decided to give the albóndigas de trigo y avena (wheat and oat balls) con ‘pipperada’ a try while my tastebuds & slightly bigger appetite leaned towards the lasaña de veduras con crema de calabaza (veggie lasagna with pumpkin cream). Very, very yum & lots of it – we only noticed after cleaning the plates we’d actually chosen vegan dishes…wonderful when really healthy food tastes great too!

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Serious Chocolate Thing

For a sweet finish to the meal, we both could not go past the tarta de chocolat y platano (chocolate and banana cake) – not at all sure how you make a vegan dessert like this as it was seriously rich & chocolatey – especially the ultra smooth mousse stuff on the top.

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So get yourselves to the Tabakalera for a decent squizzy and drop into Km.0 for nibbles, lunch or dinner – and they have Keler on tap!