- a blog about food and value

Ashen faced

I never thought I'd need a map of Europe to get home!

I never thought I'd need a map of Europe to get home!

I was one of the plebs caught up in the travel chaos the other week and marooned abroad because of the plume of ash. An extra week in the sun sounds rather nice doesn’t it? Well it was complete hell and there was no sun in the south of Spain because it was busy shining in Ireland!

Having to make our way overland from the south of Spain to the north of France in just three days was a nightmare. Particularly as there was no public transport – no flights, a train strike in France and any buses and trains available in either country booked out resulted in us spending a fortune on hire cars and taxis.

It was one of the weirdest experiences and even harder for those dealing with kids at such a transport standstill. There were families sleeping on platforms afraid they would miss the only train and when a train did come, people willingly packed themselves in and faced a 10 hour trip with standing room only. I had to break up a fight between two men who between them had about an hours sleep in two days – miserable people everywhere.

I met one man who had desperately made his way, mostly overland, from Florida to Marseille so he could be at the birth of his first child. I’m happy to tell you that he made it and is considering calling the child Ashleigh. I met another women who had to travel up from Agadir in southern Morocco to Belgium with a bad case of food poisoning and a couple of honeymooners who spent their holiday of a lifetime on a train platform in the rain in Spain – pain. Covering 2500 km so quickly at the best of times is challenging but with mass hysteria and a deadline of three days to make the only ferry available it was really stressful.

The money we spent on transport was massive so you can imagine that keeping the budget down on accommodation and food was essential. Along the way we mostly stayed in hovels. One of which, we discovered after paying, was a half-way house and we were kept awake all night by a women shouting at herself.  We were keeping an eye on the food budget too and what really struck me was the big difference between meal prices in Spain and France considering that supermarket prices are as equally cheap in both countries. Why is that?

It was evident that you can get much better value in Spain and for me, Spain definitely won on quality and price. We came across some lovely tapas dishes – here is one with Manchego cheese that you may want to try.

Manchego is a delicious Spanish cheese made from sheep’s milk, I particularly like the smoked variety.

Artichoke Croquettes with Manchego

Serves 6


  • 1 large artichoke
  • 60g butter
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 120g rice
  • 2 cups hot chicken stock
  • 60g grated fresh Parmesan cheese
  • 150g Manchego cheese, very finely diced
  • 3-4 tablespoon fine flour
  • Olive oil for frying
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • Fresh flat leaf parsley, to garnish


  1. Remove the stalks, leaves and choke to leave just the heart of the artichoke and chop the heart finely.
  2. Melt the butter in a pan and gently fry the chopped artichoke heart, onion and garlic for 5 minutes until softened. Stir in the rice and cook for about 1 minute.
  3. Keeping the heat fairly high, gradually add the stock, stirring occasionally until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is cooked – about 20 minutes. Season well, then stir in the Parmesan. Transfer the mixture to a bowl. Leave to cool, then cover and chill in the fridge for a couple of hours.
  4. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of the mixture into the palm of one hand, flatten slightly, and place a few pieces of diced cheese in the centre. Shape the rice around the cheese to make a small ball. Flatten slightly, then roll in the flour, shaking off any excess. Repeat with the remaining mixture to make about 12 croquettes.
  5. Shallow fry them in hot olive oil for 4-5 minutes until they are crisp and golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper and serve hot, garnished with flat leaf parsley.


  1. Trip sounds horrific, recipe terrific.
    Could you replace the Manchego with Mobay or Morbier that has a layer of ash separating the morning and evening curds……..for a more themed meal?

  2. I think it would leave a bitter taste in my mouth! Heavy sigh.