Zero sugar sweet cake

A cake for a sunny Spanish Wednesday morning.

Two over-ripe, ready for the bin bananas, raspberry tea-soaked cranberries and raisins, olive oil, flour, baking soda and two eggs. Mixed to no recipe, using guess-timates and my #Lidl stand mixer. I did take care to add the eggs one at a time and to fold in the flour.

Cooked in the #Weber BBQ, for just 10 minutes, regulating the temp at 180 degrees by using a bowl of water in the bottom, and opening and closing the lid. Really sweet, despite no sugar, as the bananas were so ripe. Okay, practically rotten. But it tastes good!



Just one glitch – having kids at college, so there’s no-one to lick the bowl 😦

Instant lunch

You know what it’s like, you come home, hungry, scroll down through Facebook, see a dish and have to have it? Yes, me, today. Back from a walk in the sunshine with the dogs and starving. I saw a plate of grilled courgette, and thought, I have to have those. In the salad drawer of the fridge I have a couple of those little round ones, no idea what the difference is, besides shape,  but if you know, do enlighten me.

Wherever I go I pick up some spice, a taste of an enjoyed adventure.

A recent trip to Ireland saw an addition to the ever growing spice shelf – Lebanese Baharat, a subtle mix of Middle-Eastern flavours. Not so Irish, eh?! Dublin is such a cosmopolitan place, there’s every kind of food to be sampled and enjoyed. I picked up that spice from Fresh ‘n’ Fruity, the amazing little greengrocer shop that is just steps from my mother’s house in Lucan.

So, today I coated the sliced courgette with olive oil, salt and the spice mix.


Grilled on the Weber for a couple of minutes each side for nice charred stripes, and enjoyed with a simple salad, fresh tomato, celery and lettuce – more oil, a splash of rice wine vinegar. The spice mix made all the difference, a subtle, aromatic taste.

Yes, the sunshine helps 🙂

Cooking with Languages

Come and meet the new kids on the (chopping) block!Say “Hi” or “Hola” to Cooking with Languages, a clever new way to help children – and grown ups – learn a language in a fun way.


Cooking with Languages is the brainchild of Lisa Sadleir who wanted to design an exciting and interactive way to learn languages. Not only do parents or teachers sow the seeds for bringing up bilingual children but they teach them to cook at the same time. A recipe for success, or what! Many of you will remember endlessly reciting verbs in French, German or Spanish classes while trawling through text books full of dreary families.

Well your children do not have to be subjected to this. Their language-learning will be full of colour with interesting characters like Arthur Apple and Nerea Naranja, who will soon be joined by Olivier l’Oignon, Klaus Kartoffel and Paola Pomodoro. (During the campaign you can vote for who comes to life next!)

Cooking with Languages is all about hands-on fun as children make easy (and scrummy!) recipes which you can help them to eat; play games and other activities; and listen and repeat from audios recorded by Lisa’s son Joshua and daughter Francesca, both bilingual in English and Spanish, who are the voices of Arthur and Nerea. Children learn by listening, watching and copying so the activity cookbook encourages them to listen to the audios, watch their teachers or parents, and get their hands dirty while cooking up tasty treats.

Their minds are like sponges so they’ll be soaking up new words while playing at Junior Masterchef in the kitchen. “I want to do for languages what Jamie Oliver has done for cooking,” says Lisa, multilingual herself and passionate about giving children the gift of languages. “We’ve had a lot of fun creating the materials as a family – trying out new recipes in our own kitchen, recording the audios and thinking up new ways to make learning Spanish exciting. And we’ve had some great feedback on what we’ve produced so far!”In the books you will find: ● content is in English and Spanish ● simple, scrummy recipes to make so children can get messy while learning languages ● fun assistants to help with the cooking ● games and activities to practise ● eye-catching illustrations to engage the children You can also be at the cutting-edge of this innovative way to learn by joining Cooking with Languages in its quest to raise £5,000 (about €5,800) by January 31st. Fundraisers can get a copy of the English/Spanish activity cookbook and other materials at reduced rates. There’ll be sneak peeks at new materials and the chance to have your own recipe printed in the book and dedicated to your own children.

But best of all, everyone who contributes will be helping to make language learning fun and give more children the gift of language. You don’t need much dough as contributions start from just £5 (about €5.80) and can be made quickly, securely and easily via PayPal.

Take a look at the Crowdfunder page for more information.
Basically, the more books ordered, the cheaper they are, which means more people or schools can afford them. With your support, Lisa and her family can produce more affordable materials and grow many more language-loving superheroes. Research shows there’s a lack of materials for young Spanish learners so Lisa is working with a pre-school and primary teacher in the UK to create materials to be used in the classroom. The sooner children are exposed to foreign languages the better. The dream is to produce all the materials in French, German and Italian in partnership with fellow collaborators and any other languages that people want.

Persian Chicken

Sometimes, you look at the chicken that you’ve taken from the freezer for dinner, and think; “What now?”. Yet another casserole, pasta dish or risotto seems like you have fallen into a school dinner rut – so be inspired and dust off a cookbook, which is what I did last week. Always short of time, I wanted to indulge myself with some spices – they always cheer me up and relax me –  and Persia (a whole shelf of my spice rack) seemed like a good place to start. So here’s the Persian chicken, which admittedly resembled cat sick, but tasted great. I’m not really selling this, am I?


Carol’s Persian chicken

Chicken breast

Cardomon 18 pods

Fresh ginger 1 tbsp

Cumin ground 1 tsp

Chili half a tsp

Onions about 6

Garlic – 2 cloves

Saffron threads 1 tsp

Lime  – fresh

Ras al hanout or Garam Masala – 1 tbsp

Yoghurt 250 ml – I used Greek

Single cream 125ml

Almonds, chopped or flaked.

Sautée the onions slowly, until they’re brown and slightly crisped. Not burnt, not sloppy hot dog, but sweet and caramelised. Remove and drain, cool and them pound with the saffron.

Fry the chicken in bite sized pieces until sealed, then add the cardomon seeds, taken from the pods and ground to a powder, chili, ginger, garlic, and half the cumin. Fry for a minute on a lower heat. Add the onion pulp. Mix the yoghurt cream a little salt and the rest of the cumin and add to the chicken. Squeeze over the lime. Cook until the chicken is cooked through, Add the ras al hanout and wait  – oh, 5 minutes or so.

Serve on basmati – I added raisins, and lime and orange zest to mine. Scatter over the almonds. It’s fragrant, delicate, with a back heat. Loved it. Some fresh coriander would have helped to make it look less like cat sick 🙂



Ramadan in Morocco, food for thought

Four or five ripe tomatoes, one large white sweet onion, a couple of potatoes. Not a recipe, but the ingredients and contents of each clear plastic bag suspended from every passing moped and ancient bicycle. It’s the holy season of Ramadan, in Marrakech, June 2016. The ninth month of the Islamic calendar, a full month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad, according to Islamic belief.


I am aware of this, but particularly because during the early hours we are snapped awake, bolt upright in our comfortable luxurious Riad in the centre of the Medina, as Call to Prayer begins its stereophonic blast of wailing, rhythmic prayer. It’s all encompassing, heightened by the heat, the sweet waft of the night-scented plants on the patio outside the window, and the location.


Those aforementioned ingredients, idly noticed as I sit alone, sweating under the gentle spray of a water-mist in a café, recovering from the Souk-haggling, the street madness, and the Tanneries (don’t do it!). Stan has disappeared in search of some drawing material, and I am served water by a courteous man, no doubt dry with thirst himself – no water shall be taken during fasting hours – that one thing as essential as SPF to us in this dry 43° heat. It puts my Sober October effort of last year well and truly in the shade.


Far from a few simple ingredients, those suspended bags hold  the promise of a setting yellow sun, an evening with family, the return of good humour and Jemaa el fna square buzzing with laughter and life. The little bag that holds a hint of the end of 16 hours of fasting, but first the mosque for prayers, then the party starts…




Social media snacks

Log on to any of your social media pages and you’ll be tripping over links to fast food recipes, many of them are healthy and nutritious, we’ve had a fair bit of success replicating some of those BuzzFeed quick recipes. I’m unsure whether we are generally losing our attention span for reading recipes, but those fast how-to videos are fun to watch and full of great ideas for lunchtime.

Facebook friend Matthew Hirtes (The Hon Mr Gran Canaria) highlighted one yesterday, a veggie burger using red beans, so I gave it a go today with moderate success, and a little frustration!

Basically, my error lay in changing a few of the ingredients, that old problem of available pantry stock and living in the middle of fecking nowhere. Here’s what we did: (in brackets are my added extras)



©carol m byrne

Blend a jar of cooked red beans, soaked Quinoa (I used Bulgur Wheat) seasoning, herbs, chopped onion, (garlic, chili flakes and a drop or 4 of hot sauce) sesame seeds, lemon juice. Shape into patty rounds and fry in a little olive oil.



©carol m byrne

BUT…My mix was too wet, so I also rolled them in dried breadcrumbs.

Fry in a shallow griddle pan in olive oil with a little more patience than I had 🙂


©carol m byrne

Basically, then eat as you would with a burger and the usual relish, toppings and whatnot. Thanks Matthew. I think. 🙂


© carol m byrne

Habas for homely Spanish comfort food

Every country has its comfort food. A shepherd’s pie with creamy, soft mashed potato, a good old chicken and leek pie lifted from the oven with wonky pastry and juices everywhere, or a bowl of steaming Irish stew fit for a soft day.

For us here in the Alpujarra region of Spain, it’s a springtime thing, and the arrival of the first carrier bag of crackingly fresh habas kindly offered by our neighbours, who grow the stuff on a Jack and the Beanstalk scale.

Usually with a few fresh pea-pods thrown in, I open the bag with pleasure, and we sit side by side, our backs warmed by the sunshine, podding and separating the little green jewels from their furred homes. The peas are popped into our mouths as we go, the habas mostly make it to the colander.



Habas con Jamón

Heat some Olive Oil. Gently sautée some finely chopped onion and garlic. Add some Jamón offcuts, or a packet of Jamón tacos to the pan to fill the kitchen and the street with a mouthwatering scent. A splash of white wine or that Fino in the fridge door added to sizzle. Add the newly liberated habas, a litre of stock, and simmer, covered, until the sauce is thick and silky, and one testing taste leads to another. Add freshly milled pepper but no salt. Hey, lunch is ready, did you get the bread? A slather of salty butter and we’re ready to eat! Sit down there, won’t you?…

Rick Stein in my Spanish kitchen

Not really 🙂 Watching Rick Stein travel from Venice to Istanbul is making us dribble a bit though. It should be marked as unsuitable viewing for greedy folk prior to lunchtime.

So, after he conjured up this bean dish under the Greek sun the other day, via the Beeb, we practically ran to the kitchen to replicate it. The next day, we did it again for a lunch party of 6 friends, adding those little bits of Jamon tacos into the recipe – so this is a Spanish version – but it’s just as nice and flavoursome without.

Called Gigante something or other, because of the big beans I guess. Basically, it’s quick, easy, filling and cheap. It’s also really, really tasty.

Fry some garlic and onion in lots of olive oil. Season. (if you are choosing to add bacon or jamon then do it now).


Wilt half a bag of fresh spinach. He added fresh, skinned, chopped tomatoes. You might add a tin, but remember it should be quite dry. We used some previously roasted cherry tomatoes which we had be given 🙂

(I roast them slowly, with balsamic, sugar, salt, pepper, garlic and rosemary)

So when the spinach has wilted (30 seconds or so) mix in a jar of those big butter beans, or whatever beans are in the store cupboard. I added them earlier to the pan in error, it didn’t make any difference.


Transfer the lot to the oven, and bake until it’s all combined and hot. Take out and crumble feta cheese over the top and serve. (Lidl have just had the Greek promo on, but if you needed to then any similar cheese would be great). Serve in tapas dishes.


There’ll be nothing left over!



Torrijas Malagueñas – the traditional sweet nibble of Holy Week in Málaga

From Tutus and Toronto to Tapas


All Malagueños love Torrijas during Semana Santa and they are widely available in most cafes and bars as something to have with your coffee to re-charge your batteries for the long evenings and nights whilst watching the processions. The sugar content certainly gives one a “hit” and boosts your energy!

I was given this recipe about 20 years ago by a lovely old lady who was a neighbour. She is sadly no longer with us, but I always think of her at this time of year as I get the pan out to make this very traditional dish.


A three or four day old Loaf of Bread (I find a Spanish “barra” is best)

1 litre of Milk (full fat 😉 )

5 Tablespoons of White Sugar

1 Cinnamon stick

Powdered Cinnamon

1 Glass of sweet Málaga Wine

6 Eggs

The peel of one Lemon

Olive Oil (good quality)

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Curry ‘n’ Chips – but not as you know it

We decided to have a veggie day once or twice a week to break up the meat-heavy diet that everyone – except me – seems so fond of.  I didn’t eat meat at all for 15 years until we came to live in Spain – blame the Jamón.

Anyway, we also try and cook and eat in-season ingredients – because: 1. They’re better for you and haven’t travelled miles to your plate and more importantly 2. They’re cheap.

When something is in-season here in the village – the neighbours usually give us bucketloads of the same thing, although the aubergines this year have been may colours and shapes – variety is the spice of life!

By Grey Geezer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Grey Geezer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Talking of spice – we really cannot cook without it – I have no idea how I survived as a child in Ireland on ham and potatoes and stew.

We just discovered a wonderful site, called my ginger garlic kitchen, with the best recipes – every one a winner so far. So Stan attempted the 3 bean thick Dal Makhani and for a side used James Martin’s aubergine chips. Little cubes of peeled aubergine, rinsed and drained and deep fried with plenty of salt thrown on afterwards.  Quick homemade flatbreads on the side.  A quick, economical meal – and delicious too!


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