It finally feels like spring. The castle gardens are waking up in full colour after a battering this winter.

Our restaurant is up to speed after the post-Christmas hibernation – we are wide awake and cooking up a storm, or should that be “Cooking on gas!” as Maria likes to say!

Mothering Sunday on 27th March was fun and busy. Here in Britain, Mother’s day is linked to the date of Easter so varies each year, but it always falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent (there, I’ve learnt something new today!) In Spain Mother's day is celebrated in May.

“We planned delicious things for all the Mum’s. Mothers are special, in Spain they are very important – respected!”

“Ok, so we made Pollo En Salsa – a chicken breast stuffed with apricots and cream cheese in a lemon and white wine sauce, totally delicious! Also, we had stuffed mushrooms and salmon in a vermouth sauce and lovely desserts. Cheesecake, poached pears, almond tart, all really totally delicious.”

H: “Maria you spent all day cooking for everyone else’s mum, who cooked for you?”

M: “Haha! I love cooking. I cook every night even when I’ve been cooking all day!”

H: “So if you had one day off and we cooked for you, what would we make? What’s your favourite dish?"

M: “Paella! I am Valencian of course, it's our dish! Paella or Fideua maybe. I made Fideua for Nigel Slater, he came to my cottage and he filmed me making it for his TV programme Eating Together!”

H: “It’s become a bit of a tradition in Britain to take our Mums to afternoon tea to celebrate their day. Does that happen in Spain?”

M: “In Spain we have Merienda. Usually we eat Merienda between 5 and 6:30pm in the evening, although it can be eaten any time before dinner. It’s a chance to take a break, eat and chat with our friends and family!”

“We eat pastries, maybe toasted bread, some toppings. And then churros and chocolate – it’s famous in Spain – famous in the whole world! We have a cake, Bizcochos, it’s light, baked with olive oil, in lemon, chocolate, and apple flavours, totally, delicious.”

“But, best is my biscuit cake. My sons love it, my grandchildren, I make for birthdays, it is for celebrating. It’s really, totally simple. You will need…

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This month Maria and I have (finally) been on our travels. After two years Maria has visited Valencia again, catching up with friends and family at last.

“It’s wonderful, wonderful to get back to Spain. I missed my family and friends.”

In Alberic and Valencia Maria visited old haunts, shared meals and cooked with genuine Spanish ingredients.

“Just to see the blue sky…It was amazing.”

Closer to home, I have been exploring Borough Market, London and came across several artisan suppliers of Spanish produce. I confess to checking out a few samples of cheese and the odd slurp of wine!

Now the evenings are drawing in and the temperature has dipped, our thoughts are turning to the festive season. Plans for a wine tasting evening and the Spanish Christmas Fiesta are well underway, and last weekend Picton Castle threw open it’s gates to welcome visitors to its Victorian Christmas Fayre. As always, Maria tempted everyone with her giant paella, cooked in the open air.

Totally crazy but nice!"

After a bowl of paella there’s nothing better than a slice of Tarta de Santiago – it’s one of my favourite puds. Tarta De Santiago which translates as cake of St. James, is an almond cake from the Galicia region of Spain. The recipe is said to date back to the middle ages and consists of ground almonds, eggs, and sugar, with lemon zest and of course, because it’s Spanish, a dash of brandy. The tarta is decorated with icing sugar and an image of the Cross of St james.

Maria often serves her Tarta De Santiago with a dash of delicious Pedro Ximenez Reserva de Familia, a wonderfully sweet Spanish sherry that tastes like Christmas in a glass. Add a scoop of rich vanilla ice cream and you’re onto a winner! And, it’s gluten free! Such a simple desert – such a divine combination. It’s the perfect end to any meal, whether you’re eating tapas or Christmas dinner.

For those of us that are in a hurry, here’s the easy way to enjoy Tarta De Santiago: head to and pop a Tarta De Santiago and a bottle of Ximenez Reserva de Familia into your basket. Drag-Drop-Eat!

Or, try out this recipe that I had a go at this weekend. I was really surprised at how easy it was to make and I promise it really does rise.

This Friday we're very excited to be hosting a festive wine tasting and pinxos event. It's going to be a delicious evening with six different Spanish wines to sample with accompanying edible delights.

Speak soon!


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