Coping with self-catering in Calpe

Calpe beach and Peñón de Ifach

Having spent another wonderful week in sunny Calpe on the Costa Blanca I was reminded that last year I hadn’t blogged about the challenges I faced. This is one of the reasons I blog, it’s more for me than other people. I think part of the reason I didn’t blog, was at the time we saw this as a one off place to visit and we didn’t intend to return, as we were going to go somewhere new. Last year when I went to Calpe though I did manage to cook some tasty food in the apartment kitchen, due to some “missing” items, I found it challenging. This year I faced similar challenges, however even though I don’t expect to return to Calpe, I am going to note down the issues, as I am sure it will still be useful for visits to other destinations.

My previous experience of self-catering apartments was from the Greek Ionian islands and Cyprus. This was before children, so it was me and my other half. We rarely used the self-catering facilities for cooking, as we would eat out a bit, but it was useful to have a hob, a fridge and a few utensils and crockery. The “kitchen” in the apartments I experience were very minimal and not really sufficient for anything more than snacks and hot drinks. Also the local shopping environment wasn’t exactly great for self-catering, with very small supermarkets.

When we booked our Calpe holiday last year, due to dietary requirements (gluten free) we wanted to ensure we had not only a self-catering kitchen, but a decent enough kitchen for actual real cooking. The apartments at the Esmeralda Suites in Calpe from the brochure images (and Trip Adviser) actually looked okay and much better than what I was use to on previous self-catering holidays abroad.

Esmeralda Suites

This is a brochure image of the kitchen and no we did not get that rack of knives!

Esmeralda Suites Kitchen

So though I did cook and prepare a lot of meals in the kitchen there were some things I wish I had brought with me (and in some cases) weren’t possible to purchase locally.

The main challenge for me was kitchen knives. Now checking a few airline sites it is possible to carry kitchen knives in hold luggage (obviously not in carry on luggage in the cabin). There was a knife provided, but this was very blunt and the handle was cracked. In the end I had to go out to the local supermarket and purchase a replacement. I left the replacement for future guests. What I do wish I had was a proper bread knife. We did buy fresh bread, but it was challenging to cut, even with the new knife. If you like me enjoy fresh salads, having a decent kitchen knife to slice tomatoes or cucumber is essential.

There was a single chopping board, which meant continually washing it up as food was prepared. I have a fair few boards at home and on other (UK) holidays have often taken a chopping board with me.

The washing of the chopping board wouldn’t have been so bad if there had been a washing up bowl for the sink. Now I know this is a very British thing to do, but if you have a sink of washing up water, where do you put other liquids, such as when you drain pasta?

Talking of draining pasta, how do you do drain pasta or vegetables without a sieve or a colander? The kitchen came with a slotted spoon which I used instead.

Though we didn’t use any cans, without a can opener, it would have been a challenge. I was tempted to purchase some of the canned beans that you find in Spain, but they would have come home as there was no opener.

The other thing I found challenging was not having a pair of scissors, doing something as simple as opening a pack of pasta or coffee with just a blunt knife wasn’t fun!

One item that I usually have in the kitchen which was also missing was a pair of tongs, I did struggle now and then to move food from the pan to plates or to turn things in the oven.

The oven was also a challenge, as there was a drip tray and a rack, but no roasting or baking trays. I was resigned to “making” trays out of foil. I did find towards the end of the holiday disposable foil trays that would have been useful.

I did take some stuff with me such as non-stick foil, cling film, food bags, as well as some seasoning and other ingredients. These are available in Spain, but I didn’t want to spend money on things we had at home already.

So here is my list of things I would take with me if I ever return to Calpe.

Kitchen knife
Bread knife
Can opener
Sieve
Cafetière
Spare chopping board
Scissors
Tongs
Baking trays
Foil
Cling film
Food bags

What do you take on your self-catering holidays?

Did not meet expectations

paella

One of the regular stalls at the weekly Temple Quay meeting, but also the Wednesday street food market on Wine Street usually has a really large queue, so I often avoid it, due to time constraints. It usually serves beef chilli, stroganoff and paella. I have no idea of the stall name, as there isn’t one on the stall.

Having a little more time and quite liking the idea of the paella, I decided to join the queue. It did move quite quickly as the staff were quick and efficient at serving.

The paella was cooked on a large paella dish and contained chorizo, chicken, mussels, prawns and squid and was £6.00 a serving. The portion was provide in a plastic takeaway container and was given a garnish of fresh coriander and lemon.

I had quite high expectations about this dish, but alas I was to be somewhat disappointed.

The yellow of the dish came from turmeric, rather than the much more expensive saffron. I wasn’t too surprised by this, as this happens quite often. Even so I did like the flavour of the dish and felt it was very tasty. The dish though, I felt lacked enough of the core ingredients. It had one piece of chicken, two small prawns, a few pieces of squid, but plenty of mussels!

My main disappointment as a result is about value for money, was the dish worth the money I paid for it. I didn’t think it was worth the price and I don’t think I would try the dish or the stall again.

Time for a new pan

paella

I do quite like cooking paella, and though I’ve not talked about it for a while on the blog, it has made regular appearances on the dining table. One thing I have been thinking about for a while was buying a paella pan to cook it in. I have been using a regular frying pan, but the idea behind using a special paella pan, was to ensure a more authentic dish. This would be achieved by having a broader pan, the resulting paella would be shallower than using the regular frying pan. It would also ensure that I didn’t need to stir the paella, which I have been told now is something you don’t do with paella. So when I was out shopping in Bristol recently I treated myself to a new 40cm paella pan.

For my most recent paella and using the new pan for the first time, I took some diced onion, pepper, mushrooms and courgette. In addition I also threw in some diced chorizo to the pan. After heating a splash of olive oil in the pan, I fried the vegetables and chorizo until they were soft.

I use a variety of methods when adding flavour, from making my own seasoning mix using saffron and paprika, to using shop bought seasoning mixes or pastes. For this paella I used the Marks & Spencer’s paella paste, this contains saffron, but also gives the paella a rich fruity flavour. The paste was added to the pan and mixed with the cooked vegetables.

I then added the paella rice. It makes sense to use the right kind of rice when cooking paella, to ensure you get the right texture. This was coated with the rest of the ingredients and then I added some white wine, before adding the stock to cover all the ingredients.

This was then left to cook over a simmering heat for 30-40 minutes, and I didn’t stir. Though after 25 minutes I did add a little more stock to the pan.

In separate pans I cooked the chorizo and the squid. The chorizo I used was the cooking chorizo, sliced into 4-5mm slices. This was cooked off in a medium pan with a little olive oil. They certainly sweat oil out and this combined with the paprika can stain, so be careful. For this paella I used regular squid, this was scored with a sharp knife before been cooked just before serving in a hot frying pan.

The dish was then constructed, the cooked squid and chorizo was placed on top with chunks of lemon, then served.

Delicious, and went down well.

A Wonderful Staff BBQ

Spit Roasted Lamb

The catering students and staff at Gloucestershire College did an outstanding event last week. Every year the college staff get together in an annual barbecue. Now for a lot of people a big event like this means well done burgers, cheap sausages and if you’re lucky a chicken drumstick, still raw in the middle…

Well this staff event was totally different. There were three food stands. The first wasn’t really a barbecue, but was paella. This was a really well cooked paella with huge kings prawns. This was really nice and very tasty, even if it was a but messy shelling the prawns. There was a vegetarian alternative for those that didn’t want to eat fish. I should say (for regular readers of the blog) that it appeared they had stirred their paella…

The barbecue stand had a nice choice of vegetarian kebabs, satay chicken and barbecued pork ribs. The ribs were perfect, the meat fell off the bone and was beautifully tender. So good you could use a knife and fork, so need to get sticky fingers. I didn’t try the chicken as when I arrived at the stand they had run out and were cooking a new batch. The vegetarian kebab was perfectly cooked and the halloumi cheese that was on there alongside the vegetables was delicious.

My favourite stand though was the Moroccan lamb wrap. They had spit roasted a whole lamb and this was served in a wrap with houmous, yoghurt, sliced courgette and chilli. Absolutely delicious. For those that didn’t eat lamb there was a really nice looking butternut squash alternative.

This was outstanding high quality food for a superb event. It was an extra special event this year as our Principal is retiring.

Don’t you dare stir…

Well I have been well and truly told by lots of people never to stir my paella again.

Claire is currently living in Spain.

Fernando is a Lecturer in Spanish at the Open University.


So that means I am very clear now, I don’t stir the paella.