Inspiration: Peas and Ham

13 Jul

So all this revisiting of my recent trip has given me a craving for some simple Spanish cooking here at home in Vancouver. I was at Granville Island yesterday and spotted some lovely English Peas and thought – peas and ham. And by ham, I mean Serrano. Claro. I can always count on Oyama Sausage Company for some of the good stuff.

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There is something so simple and  satisfying about this dish. Fresh peas are boiled and then tossed with bits of ham in a sauce of nothing more than olive oil, pimentón and garlic. A bit of bread to mop of the smoky, scented oil and a glass of wine and you’ve got something truly delicious.

You will need:

About 3 Cups fresh, shelled English peas

100 grams Jamón Serrano cut into little bits (like lardons) (I bought these pre-cut from Oyama Sausage Company which saved me lots of time).

3-4 TBSP Olive Oil or more

2 Garlic Cloves, flattened and blistered with the back of a knife

Approx 1 TBSP Hot Smoked Paprika (Pimentón Picante)

Ok. So now we have to talk about Pimentón. You may or may not know that there are three types of Smoked Paprika from Spain: Dulce (Sweet), Agridulce (Bittersweet) and Picante (Hot). Where I live in Vancouver, I find it is more often the Dulce or Agridulce varieties that are on shelves. Picante can be hard to find but it is my preference in this recipe. In our family, this item is something that tucked into a Christmas stocking, can make someone very happy. So grab it when you see it.

The method is simple.

Boil the shelled peas until they are tender. How long? I have no idea. Keep tasting them until they taste good to you.

In the meantime, heat the olive oil and fry the garlic and ham very gently, just browning the ham. When the ham is done, remove it and let it drain on some paper towel (or not). Keep frying the garlic, pressing on it with a back of a spoon to mush it up. The purpose here is simply to flavour the oil. You will actually remove the garlic when serving. I know it can seem like a lot of oil. It is. But most of it is going to settle to the bottom of the dish and you are going to mop it up with your bread. You’d eat as much when you dip your bread in oil at an Italian restaurant and you wouldn’t even think about it.

Just before the peas are about to be ready, remove the pan with the oil from the heat, remove the garlic and add the pimentón. The pimentón will fry very vast in the hot oil so keep stirring constantly. Quite quickly the oil will cool. At this point, you can set the pan aside. Now the peas will be done. Drain them and combine with the pimentón oil mixture. Easy peasy. Did I just say that? Oh boy.

PeasandHam2 ©2013 Helena McMurdo

So there you have it. I hope you will try this with some fresh local peas. Let me know how it goes. I would love to know.

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Galicia: Pulpo do Feira

12 Jul

One of the classic items to eat in Galicia is Pulpo do Feira. Translation: Octopus-“Market Style”. In my grandmother’s local market, the women working the Pulpo tent dip their sticks rhythmically into the huge copper pot, their hands seemingly immune to the scalding water below. Then using scissors, they snip the legs into pieces so quickly it’s amazing that any of them still have fingers. You take your seat in the covered tent and someone plunks down a bottle of wine and a huge loaf of bread and you order your ration. It’s drizzled with olive oil,  and sprinkled with salt and pimentón. Y ya está. (That’s it!) Meaty deliciousness.

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Galicia: Te gusta?

10 Jul

I’m back from a recent trip to Galicia and I wanted to share some of the images I made as well as some of the memories I have from this place. As many of you know, I was born in Spain or more specifically – as my relatives remind me often – in Galicia. Which is different.

When we were kids, we visited in the summers from our home in the North of Canada. The differences were dramatic. In Yellowknife, the Frozen North, the chickens came wrapped in plastic on meat trays in the YK Super A, the local grocery store. In Galicia hens strolled around the yard of my grandparents house and baby chicks were gifts from my Abuelo (grandfather) to me and my two sisters when he came back from the local market. Today in North America we would call it a ‘Farmer’s’ Market. In Galicia, then as now, no one felt the need to specify this obvious detail. We were disappointed to learn that grandma’s chickens laid no more than one egg a day and sometimes not even any. This did not seem to tally with the pictures in our kindergarden schoolbooks of mother hen sitting on a mountain of eggs. Our relatives viewed us as city slickers (clearly not the case as anyone who has been to Yellowknife can attest), but our words and actions revealed that we ignorant of country ways. They  laughed when my sister tried hopelessly to shake a chicken in order to induce an increase in egg production.

Big excitement happened when one of the neighbours would move cows from one field to another yelling; Vaca Ve!  My sisters and I would copy them, grabbing a stick and yelling the refrain, not really understanding the words but getting the message.  Today there are fewer cows in the village. But they still move back and forth in a rhythm that marks the days. Today they wear ear tags and in the words of one of the neighbours, “they have more paperwork than we do”.

Galicia Village Textures © 2013 Helena McMurdo

When we were kids, my grandparents ran a little bar come shop and their little corner of the world seemed a bustling place with neighbours dropping by to have a drink, a slice of jamón or to buy some basic essential like shampoo or the famous black soap from LaToja.

We found it all so very amusing, helping to serve the drinks and being paid in chocolate and Chupa Chups. Much of our time was spent being poked by neighbours and relatives who spoke freely with their pronouncements as to which of us was the fattest, skinniest, best looking, tallest, most intelligent etc. “The food must be very bad in Canada. The children are so skinny” The bar is  no more but the neighbours still have a lot to say. Now they tell me I am fatter but in a good way. “Estás bien ahora.”

On of the first spanish phrases I remember learning was ‘Te gusta?‘” Do you like it? Someone was always offering food. (What is a local custom became even more impressive presumably because of our perceived state of malnutrition.) Most of the things being offered to eat were too simply too scary for our young and picky palates to consider. Squid? Octopus? No thank you. “No me gusta”. We seemed happy to exist on a diet of Fanta de Naranja, Maria Biscuits and Cola Cao with the odd tortilla francesa (omelette) thrown in. But I do remember always liking jamón and chorizo.

Today, I’m making up for my prior fussiness. In fact, there seems to be little that I don’t like. This is simple food; Green Beans with Garlic and Smoked Paprika, Kale with chorizo and a perfect farm fresh egg, a slice of empanada made in the local panadería. Octopus is boiled and sprinkled with salt and paprika and served with boiled potatoes.

Food in Galicia_©2013 Helena McMurdo

The cooking is not complicated. The ingredients are what make it. And nature provides. Y si me gusta!

Galicia : A Preview

5 Jul

So if you’ve been wondering where I’ve been, I’ll tell you. I’ll skip the usual excuses for not posting earlier and just say here’s a bit of a teaser for what’s to come in the next week or so – a recap of my trip to Galicia. I hope that for the meantime, you enjoy these.Image

Pimientos&Chorizo ©2013 Helena McMurdo

Sunset Near O Cebreiro © 2013 Helena McMurdo

Galician Headdresses ©2013 Helena McMurdo

 

 

BC Spot Prawns with Garlic Cream Sauce

16 May

It’s officially my favourite time of the year. Spot Prawn season. It’s short usually lasting around 60 days but this year it will be even shorter. So it’s a get-em while you can scenario. I don’t usually do much with them. Fry em up on a hot pan and I’m done. They are naturally sweet and a feast in themselves.

For a change I thought why not try them in an actual recipe so I prepared a pasta with the little beauties. It’s pretty rich but sometimes that’s a good thing right?

BC Spot Prawns © 2013 Helena McMurdo

BC Spot Prawns with Garlic Cream Sauce

Ingredients:

12 BC Spot Prawns

250 grams Linguine

20 grams butter

2 garlic cloves, pressed

60 ml white wine

125 ml cream

pinch of cayenne

salt & pepper

1 egg yolk

1. Prepare the prawns by dropping them in boiling water for 60 seconds. Take out immediately and plunge into an ice bath to stop the cooking process.

2. Peel the prawns, remove the heads and set aside the tail meat on ice or in the refrigerator.

3. Prepare the pasta according to package directions (mine was 11 minute cooking time). About halfway through cooking time begin your sauce.

4. Melt the butter in the pan and fry the garlic, add the wine and reduce to half the quantity.

5. Add the cream and thicken. Season with salt and pepper and the cayenne.

6.  Add a tiny bit of the cream mixture to the egg and beat so that it does not become scrambled.Pour the remaining cream mixture into the egg yolk beating vigorously.

7. Return cream mixture to the pan, add the spot prawns and warm through (a minute should do it).

8. Drain your pasta and add to the pan. Coat the pasta with the sauce and serve.

What’s your favourite way to prepare  spot prawns?

Main Street Typography

24 Apr

With all things, I find I get better results when I have a theme or goal to focus on. Here’s a few shots from a recent photowalk I did with a friend in Vancouver’s Main Street area.  My friend smartly suggested we focus on typography.  I love the mixture and retro feel of some of these typefaces. I wish I knew the names. Anyone? Can you guess the locations?
MainStreetTypography. Photography © 2013 HelenaMcMurdo

South Granville Springtime

29 Mar

Here are a few textures from my walkabout today in our beautiful neighbourhood of South Granville. Spring is here.

SouthGranvilleSpringtime. Photography © 2013HelenaMcMurdo

Have a great Easter and long weekend.

SouthGranvilleSpringtime. Photography © 2013 HelenaMcMurdo

St. Patrick’s Day. Why not say it with cheese?

17 Mar

Well, here we are again. It’s St. Patrick’s Day. And while all of America is going mad, dying their beers and their rivers green, my thoughts are as usual…what to eat? And this year I have to admit, I have no grand plans. Sure I’ll have a sneaky pint of Guinness later, but this year, I’ve been pretty lame and have no big Irish meal planned. In fact, what I’d really like is a bag of Taytos and a Galaxy Bar.

But wait, then I thought, what’s the fallback food of the picnic planner? Yes I could gladly live on cheese and crackers for the next millennium. Perhaps it’s not the first thing you think of when you think of Ireland, but be assured Ireland has cheeses every bit as lovely as those in France, Spain or anywhere else.

Being very much a friend of cheese, where else could I turn but Vancouver’s fabulous Les Amis du Fromage. I happily left the shop yesterday with two fine cheeses. Hailing from County Tipperary, Cashel Blue has all the tanginess of a blue cheese but I find it more creamy and rich. Buttery, even.  Coolea, from Cork is a new one to me. It’s a semi-hard cheese, almost like a gouda, but to me it seems nuttier, almost like a Comté.

Irish Farmhouse Cheeses_© 2013 Helena McMurdo-2Irish Farmhouse Cheese and Whisky_© 2013 Helena McMurdo-2

And this being St. Patrick’s Day, it only seems right to top it off with a small glass of whisky.  Here’s wishing that the luck of the Irish follows you all year long! And to all my friends back in Ireland, a very special good wish for you.

Brown Bread & Nostalgia

19 Oct

The Irish are always accused of being overly nostalgic and maybe this affects all who visit there. It’s cold and wet now in Vancouver. This time of year always reminds me of my time in Ireland. Not that the sun never shone when I was there. It definitely did. But when I moved there in mid-September 1995, I soon found myself in the middle of a dark, wet and windy October. I’m shooting Irish Brown Bread at the moment, the perfect antidote to cold and windy weather. I can’t help think of that time, and of  the landscape, the people and the magic that inhabits the place. Here’s a few detail shots from my current shoot.

Ready for some baking?

18 Oct

I just completed a review of Julian Day’s Classic Artisan Baking for cookthatbook.com. I really enjoyed working through the recipes in this book and making pictures of them. With lots of favourites, old and new, I really recommend this book for anyone who loves to bake.  Here’s one of my favourite shots from the shoot. Luscious raspberry jam for a riff on a bakewell tart.  To see more, you can check out the full review here.

Raspberry Jam for Bakewell Slices ©2012_HelenaMcMurdoHappy Baking!

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