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?

Time for breakfast

breakfast at The Walton

I occasionally have to stay away as part of my job, and I find it surprising that I have become something of a breakfast snob when it comes to hotel breakfasts. I know that it is nice to have someone else make you breakfast.

A recent breakfast experience at the Holiday Inn Express was very disappointing, with minimal choice, not much different a previous experience a few years back. However recently I was able to repeat the breakfast experience at The Walton Hotel in Nottingham. I first stayed at The Walton back in 2016.

The Walton Hotel in Nottingham

This is a unique hotel experience and nothing like the bland chains that I usually find myself in. The quirky decor and furniture makes fort a very different hotel experience.

The Walton Hotel in Nottingham

Last time the breakfast was very quirky in its presentation.

breakfast at The Walton

This time I was expecting something different, as I had noticed that the dinner menu was radically different to what I had seen on my last visit. Last time I had a really nice pork done three ways. Looking back through the blog I realised I hadn’t blogged about that dish or the breakfast.

Pork done three ways

That pork dish was very clever and delicious, but as you can see it had quite a quirky presentation. I think I remember seeing a similar sounding lamb dish back then, so was looking forward to having that this time on my return visit. However looking over the menu it was apparent that they had changed chef and were going for “safe” options such as steak and chips, steak and ale pie, fish and chips, etc…

The new menu didn’t inspire mess so was expecting a more “traditional” breakfast. However this time the breakfast was similar, it was served on a plate, though the beans were still in a miniature saucepan.

breakfast at The Walton

The mushroom was full of flavour and well cooked, not broiled for ages as you find at a breakfast buffet. Likewise as it was cooked to order the bacon was very tasty and not dried out, the eggs were also similarly freshly cooked and still had runny yolks. I liked the beef tomato that came with the breakfast. The sausage was meaty and tasty. The breakfast came with some nice toasted bloomer bread and a cafetière of freshly brewed coffee.

These were high quality ingredients and were cooked well and tasted delicious.

She doesn’t just sell sushi!

One of the regular stalls at the St Nicks market in Bristol on Friday is SheSellsSushi and it is one of my favourite, even if I have never actually had the sushi from there…. yet!

My usual lunch order with the stall is the bento box containing a choice of two dishes from the menu. I usually go for the Donburi, which is slow cooked beef rib in a teriyaki sauce combined with some octopus (or duck) balls (takoyaki).

Donburi Beef

However Lisa, on the stall has been recently selling steamed Hirata bun, so in my bento box this time, I once more had the Donburi, but this time I went with the Hirata bun.

This was a charcoal bun (not what I initially thought was a squid ink bun) with delicious tender pork belly, sorting onions and tasty sauce.

This was a charcoal bun (not what I initially thought was a squid ink bun) with delicious tender pork belly, spring onions and tasty sauce.

The bun was light and fluffy, the pork tender, all in all great flavour. I really wanted another one. I do like the takoyaki I usually go for, but now, I will always go with the Hirata bun.

The Donburi beef was as usual delicious, the flavour is perfect, you can sometimes overdo the teriyaki, but this was well balanced and so tasty. Served with rice and spring onions.

I have spoken to others who really recommend the sushi, so I think I will have to try that next time (with a Hirata bun).

My most favourite place for coffee…

…in Manchester.

I was at the CILIP Conference in Manchester earlier this month. It was taking place at the University of Manchester on the Oxford Road. This gave me an opportunity to revisit my most favourite place for coffee in Manchester, Christie’s Bistro (which is just across the road).

I first found it when I was attending the ALT Conference and back then I said:

I was disappointed with the fact that the café at the Museum was closed for three weeks, however I did manage to find an equally nice (or even a slightly nicer) place for coffee over the road at the Christie’s Bistro.

I thought I had written about Christie’s Bistro on this blog, but it looks like I hadn’t.

Christie's Bistro

It appears to be an old library, still has the books and serves a nice selection of cakes, snacks and decent coffee. It’s quiet, peaceful and a really nice environment for sitting down either to chat or to do some work (or studying).

This time it was a similar experience to my previous visit.. I went to the counter, ordered my coffee and was asked to sit down and they would bring the coffee.

The coffee was well made. I had a flat white, and it was really nice.

coffee

Asian inspired

It’s being a while since I did any stir frying so last night I was inspired to get the wok out and cook some Asian inspired dishes. My first was Thai style stir fried pork with pal choi and cashew nuts.

Thai style stir fry

This dish was my take on a meal I use to eat a lot when I worked in Oxford. In the covered market in Oxford there was a lovely little eatery called Sai’s Thai that cooked and served delicious Thai dishes. One of my favourite was the stir fried pork with pak choi, Thai basil, vegetables and cashew nuts. I have tried many times to recreate it and have got a reasonable facsimile of the dish now.

I took some pork belly and cut it into chunks before roasting it off in a hot oven. A long slow cooking might be better, but even with just twenty odd minutes in a hot oven, it still managed to render the fatty pieces of pork belly down into tasty chunks. This is set aside. I don’t mind preparing my own vegetables, however I did have a pack of rainbow stir fried vegetables from M&S that I had bought, which had been reduced, and included carrots ribbons, red cabbage, spring onions, baby sweetcorn and pak choi. I added some red pepper and mushrooms to the mix. I started by heating up a little oil in the wok on a high heat. To this I added the vegetables and tossed them around. I then added some soy sauce, fish sauce and a little vinegar. Turning the vegetables once more I then added the cooked pork. The dish was done, once the pak choi was limp. In the past I would add some spinach leaves and basis leaves, alas I had none in the fridge. I have tried to grow Thai Basil in the garden, but have not had much joy there. It’s quite challenging to find it in my local stores.

Alongside the pork stir fry I also made sweet and sour pork balls. For this I first cooked chunks of pork belly in the oven. These were done in a covered roasting pan, they were covered with foil. What I was trying to so was actually slow cook them, but this was challenging as I was short on time, but also the oven was quite hot, as at the same time I was roasting the other chunks of pork belly for the stir fry dish. This was cooked for about twenty minutes, the pork should look cooked, but not caramelised as if it had been roasted. The result is soft tender pork. This was cooled. I meant to coat the pork in flour, but didn’t, so they went straight into a batter mix of self-raising flour (I actually used gluten-free flour), egg and milk. The key is less about the quantities but getting the consistency right. It should coat the back of a spoon, if the batter is too thin then the pork doesn’t get coated enough, too thick and you get thick stodgy battered balls of pork. The pork was deep fried in small batches in hot sunflower oil. I was really pleased with the results, the batter was crunchy and crisp, with the pork tender and full of flavour. The pork balls were served with a homemade sweet and sour sauce which included baby sweetcorn and red pepper.

With those two dishes (and as I did have hot oil on the go) I served some crispy rice noodles, deep frying dried rice noodles, along with regular cooked rice noodles.

Overall the meal went down well and everything was eaten.