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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 www.ultracomida.co.uk 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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Things are slowing down, the gardens at Picton Castle are starting to turn and glow and we are still welcoming visitors to the restaurant.

Our new winter menu, with warming soups, Spanish stews and tapas dishes is proving to be a great hit. Our current favourite winter-warmer is Espinacas con Garbanzos: Spanish Chickpea Stew, a delicious combination of tomatoes, chickpeas…

“Always use the ones in a jar, they are better.”

…chickpeas (from a jar), ground almonds and spinach. Delicious, warming and satisfying, HERE’S THE RECIPE.

And now it’s time to start planning! This year we’re hoping for a proper Christmas celebration season here At Maria’s (fingers crossed).

M: “We need to plan. Let’s talk about wine!”

It’s 9.30 in the morning – we talk wine for an hour, full-bodied reds, crisp whites and sparkling Cavas. It’s thirsty work but Maria is happy, the wine tasting event is taking shape: the evening will start with a glass of Vermut before guests sample three special Spanish reds including the full-bodied Wrongo Dongo then three Spanish white wines.

M: “But don’t forget – in Spain we eat to drink, and drink to eat! So each wine will be accompanied by a delicious pinxos!”

H: “Pinxos?”

M: “Pinxos. They’re popular in Spain, we eat them in bars as a snack. Pinxos are a great excuse for a get together. They’re a great excuse to socialize – a Pinxos crawl! Friends go from one bar to another, ordering a glass of wine or beer and eating Pinxos.”

A Pinxos is a small slice of bread with a mixture of ingredients on top, held in placed with a toothpick – this gives the snack its name: "pincho", meaning "spike" in Spanish. Almost anything can be put on the bread, most common ingredients include fish such as cod or anchovies, tortilla de patatas and stuffed peppers. The main difference between Pinxos and tapa are Pinxos are 'spiked' with a skewer to a piece of bread, then served in individual portions, quite often diners keep hold of the skewers so that the waiter can count these to calculate their bill.

M: “The most popular Pinxos, I think, is jamon Serrano with tomato. This is delicious, it is so simple. Here I’ll show you.”

Other popular Pinxos include:

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