Thursday, 22 March 2012

Madrid. It's just plain Mad.

It's been a while since my last blog update, and I'd like to say that's because I've been busy, but to be honest, I was just being lazy.

If I'm really honest though, it's because it took me a week to recover from Madrid, but before all that, you'll never guess who we met at the airport on the way home.  Only Raymond Blanc himself!  Strange as it may seem, I mention the man in my blog, and next thing you know, we're standing there having a conversation.  It was beautiful, he looked at me, I looked at him, he waited for it, and I delivered...

Star-struck idiot: "I really love your TV show Musure LaBlonc, it's brilliant"
Raymond: "Thank you" *shakes my hand*
Tongue-tied idiot:"Yeah, it's the best thing since sliced bread, ha ha joke there Raymond, did you like that?"
Raymond: "Noh"
Star-struck: "Can I call you Raymond?"
Raymond: "Noh"

So there we were chatting away, him telling me he was in talks about a new series of The Hungry Frenchman, and that he didn't really like the whole celebrity chef thing.  I took that as a hint and decided the obligatory celebrity photograph could wait until next time.

He was actually lovely, very friendly and chatty and I was happy for the rest of the day.  But that was the end of the weekend.  The beginning began a few days earlier, with myself and the wife flying out, checking into the hotel and then heading out for food.

On leaving the hotel, we had no real idea where to go, but luckily, my superior manly sense of direction took control of the situation, and decided downhill was best.

Turns out I was right once again and we soon ended up sat outside a nice little tapas bar, hungry and in need of feeding.  The waiter didn't have a word of English, but he got the ball rolling by making some strange movements as he pulled up his apron.  After careful consideration, I told him I was Irish, not Scottish, and no, I don't wear a kilt.

He didn't bother taking our order, he just pointed to something on the menu and we agreed.  Why he let us spend ten minutes trying to figure out the menu is another thing, but it's probably an in-joke.

Anyway, we ended up with some lovely sliced beef tomatoes dressed in olive oil, followed by a mouth watering selection of chorizo and other meats and cheese.

We left the tapas bar in search of some sun, and two minutes later, we parked ourselves in Plaza Mayor, sitting in direct sunshine, drinking cold beer, smoking my first Ramon Allones of the day. 

A few hours later when we met up with the Doyles, I was having a great time, five beers and two cigars to the good.  But there was no time to waste as we emptied the minibar of all alcohol while waiting for room service to deliver the wine.

We finished the wine, left the hotel and entered a bar for some more tapas and wine and/or beer.

I was actually in reasonable shape by the time we met up with Kaz and Rolo out in Rolos old neighbourhood.  We met Rolos friends and I ate deep fried pig fat, which was nice.  The friends, not the pig fat, which I can still taste.

That was pretty much it for the first night.  I'll cover off Saturday and the rest of the weekend next time, but for now, here are some photographs for your viewing pleasure.


Plaza Mayor

Johns head in a glass

John pointing out a much gayer jumper

Friday, 2 March 2012

Master Chef

I'm not exactly claiming to be the next Raymond Blanc or anything, but every now and then, I surprise myself, and on this occasion, I'd like to think I surprised the wife too, as I rustled up something unexpected, something I'd never tried before, and something I had absolutely nobody to thank for, nobody except Rick Stein that is.

Rick on Saturday kitchen might have been the inspiration, but Rick assumed I'd made a pastry base before, which of course I hadn't, so that was job number one on my Saturday morning kitchen cooking adventure.  Google pastry base.

The wife was at work, so I had the kitchen, google and the baby to myself.  I was thinking of hitting the shops before she got home, but she finished early, so we picked her up, drove up to Waitrose, then sent her in with the list, while myself and the boy slept in the car.

The shopping list included a good sausage of chorizo, clotted cream and eggs.  She had no idea of  the culinary delights I had in store..

Here's another thing Rick told me about, blind baking.  Another quick google and I was good to go.

With the pastry blind baked, it was time for the filling.  Chopped chorizo, three eggs mixed with the clotted cream (plus a touch of milk), tarragon , tyme, a pinch of salt and parmesan shavings.  Thirty minutes at gas mark 5, and my chorizo quiche was ready for serving.

To celebrate this delicious luncheon, I relaxed in the garden with a Bolivar gold medal.  The Boli was another cigar from Casa Del Habano in Luxembourg, and although there was slight damage to the foot, it didn't make any difference to what was a great cigar.

I only picked up two gold medals in Luxembourg which was a shame really, as that was the last one.  A great cigar and although I originally thought the gold wrapper was a bit pretentious, I actually quite like it now and will miss them now they're gone.

The second cigar of the day was also a Bolivar, this time a Coronas Gigantes.  A long box pressed cigar that was very enjoyable with good smoke and a good burn.  I can't remember much more about it but I'm pretty sure I liked it.  I'll pay better attention next time.

The wife was so impressed with my chorizo quiche that the insisted I bake another.  This time, instead of chorizo, I went for leek, and instead of clotted cream, I went for a health conscious tub of double cream.  Another gold medal for me.

From this... this

Gold medal for me

Big Boli

The one with leek

The Big Two

Our baby turned two a few weeks back, and to celebrate the passing of his second year, we invited friends and neighbours around for cake.  There were no entry requirements, but almost everybody had a young child or baby with them, whether their own or somebody elses.  Yes, one of our friends actually stole a baby for the occasion. 

My mother flew in a few days earlier, and was happy to babysit while the wife and I took advantage and headed out for the night. Not out out, just out.  A few drinks and a cigar in the local pub. 

It was very very cold out, but we wrapped up and strolled over to the Carpenters Arms on Cheshire Street.  Once owned by the Krays, it's a nice pub with a decent smoking area out back.  They've a good selection of beers on offer, Belgian, German and English real ales.  I had a couple of Brooklyn beers, which I have to say, left me feeling well rough the next morning, and most of the day too.  Nice enough beer though.

Overnight temperatures dropped to -6, but that didn't bother us too much as we sat outside in the smoking area, drinking cold beer.  Brrrrr.  The cigar was a Ramon Allones Superiores from La Casa del Habano in Luxembourg, which turned out to be a perfect sub-zero outdoor smoke, even getting a few nods of approval from the cigarette smokers who occasionally popped out from the warmth. 

An early start the next day and I was suffering from a very sore head.  Apart from that, the party was a success and everybody had a great time, with only minor injuries to a few kids who mistakenly thought toys were for sharing.

My after-party cigar was a Ramon Allones Specially selected, and with the temperature well up from the night before, and all our guests gone home, I had the garden to myself.  The Specially selected isn't as heavy as the Superiores, but it's just as good.  If I had to pick a favourite, it would have to be the specially selected.  Maybe it's not as perfectly rolled as the Superiores, but each one is always slightly different to the last, and never disappoint.  The aged ones are outstanding.

All in all, a brilliant day and a great party.  The boy loved his Buzz Lightyear, his rocket ship and the twenty odd cars, books and DVDs.  Thanks to everybody who dropped by and made the day what it was, but mostly thanks to my mother, who flew in especially and did so much for us over the weekend.

Until next year.

Another Car
Another Cigar