Monday, 28 February 2011

Exploding cabbages

Actually they haven't exploded - they are just splitting open and when I left one for a couple of days it seemed to be growing a new shoot out from the split.  Maybe going to seed, I'm not sure.  My English vegetable growing book says to lift them mid-winter and store in a cool place but the Spanish seed packet says to leave them in the ground until needed.  They aren't splitting because they're huge and have burst, some are fairly small but have still split.  It could be the end of the growing season and fairly normal so today I have taken out the biggest six, shredded and salted them and tomorrow I am going to pickle them.  Various recipes in various books and on-line using just vinegar, a sweet vinegar or a spiced vinegar so I will probably do a few jars of each and see which we like best.  A lot will depend on what we eat it with, personally I like it with shepherds pie  and  pasties and I'm not sure a spiced vinegar which includes chillis is quite what I want.  It's easy to add chilli  to your meal but not to remove it!

Very slow 9-fingered typing this afternoon - sliced a chunk off my finger while shredding the cabbages and have a large white bandage on the end of my middle finger, right hand.  For those that touch type, you'll understand that i,  k and the comma are almost impossible!  

Monday, 21 February 2011

The kitchen garden.

Back in September 2008 we decided to make better use of our side garden and create a kitchen garden full of herbs and a little of every thing that is grown elsewhere. The sort of things that you need quickly - a cucumber, handful of radishes, a few tomatoes, freshly cut herbs etc.

The existing garden is bordered on one side by the acequia, two sides are beds of oleanders, roses, geraniums and bedding plants and the far end is fenced to stop the dogs disappearing into the blue yonder.  We dug and manured the middle and made 3 raised beds using the outside of pallets for a frame, each  is about 7 metres by 1 metre with paths up the middle.

In the Spring of 2009  we planted cucumbers, tomatoes, french beans, and lots of coriander, parsley and rocket.  Then Pip arrived through a hole in the wall and took up residence -  despite being taken home numerous times she decided she wanted to stay here. Not a problem until the cucumbers started to grow and then she realised they were tasty, and so were the tomatoes.  Green or red ones - no problem.  We put up fencing but she took the vegetables very carefully through the fence without damaging the plants and ate what she could reach.

Last summer we re-fenced, planted the beds with red and white cabbages and brussel sprouts  and also covered the beds with pea net to stop the cabbage white butterfly getting in.  The caterpillars can eat a plant in about a day!  All has been well - Pip proof we thought,  until a few days ago when for some reason she launched herself into the red cabbage bed and got tangled in the pea netting.  As you can imagine I wasn't best pleased although none of the cabbages were damaged.

So we've had a re-think and over the past 3 days John has been putting up a permanent fence round the whole patch with a gate so we can get in but she can't.  And for some reason she doesn't seem bothered - she's not shown any sign of trying to get in.  While he's been fencing, I've been moving self seeded herbs into a bed - rocket and coriander in one and fennel along the edge.  Plus rooting out tough weeds that have found their way up through the hard packed pathways. 

Let's hope it won't need doing again.  The fence is strong and she can't get through but........time will tell.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Welcome Airi

Just to say a very special welcome to Airi who has been visiting our blog from Japan

Early morning photos

We go out every morning for a dog walk - or rather I walk and they run and sniff.  Monty especially does lots of sniffing and then Pip stops to see what there is to sniff at.  Not sure she understands why he does it.

I always take my camera and try to look around - it's all too easy to take the views for granted, but when it's a sunny morning,  the orchids are blooming and the sun is catching on the grasses making them shine, then it's time for pictures.

 The  rocky hillside above the fuente

Caña growing taller than the trees

A hyacinth orchid

An orchid, but not sure of its name.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Baking day.

One thing I've noticed when cooking tried and tested recipes here is that they don't always come out the same as they did when we lived in England.  The reason for that is the altitude that we now live at - 900m above sea level. Boiling point of water decreases with altitude and cooking times have to be adjusted - my pressure cooker book says over 600m above sea level, recipes cooked at H pressure should be increased by one minute for every 300m.  Big fat fluffy dumplings that used to be steamed for 10 minutes are now done for 15 minutes at H pressure and even then they only fluff up if made much smaller.

The other noticeable difference is setting point of jams, jellies and marmalade.   Boiling point is lower and gel setting point too - I don't have a jam thermometer but have found a lot of "cooking at altitude" web sites, and at 900m gel point is 101° whereas at sea level it is 104°.  I just keep stirring and testing the jam on a cold saucer from the freezer till it sets.  That is also a good way to keep tasting the jam as it seems a shame to wash it off and waste it!

Today I've been making marmalade.  No idea what type of oranges we have, some are small and some are big with an open end which usually has a baby orange tucked inside.  I have a feeling those are Navels but not too certain.  Anyway, we now have 5 jars cooling in the kitchen.  The jams and jellies this year have varied - the peach and fig jams set well but the grape jelly is nicknamed grape runny.  It's fine when you spoon it out of the jar but when it hits hot buttery toast it runs off, like runny honey.

While waiting for the marmalade to cook, I also made a fruit cake.  A nice easy recipe: you melt everything in the saucepan, cool it, add the flour, baking powder and bicarb and bake in a loaf tin.  But as there were no raisins or sultanas I used chopped black figs instead.  It's just as delicious, maybe not as moist but certainly not dry.   This is another tried and tested recipe that I've been making for more years than I care to can tell because it's all in ounces not grams!

4 oz soft dark brown sugar                            1/2 lb plain flour           
3 oz butter or margarine                                1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice                              1/2 teaspoon bicarb soda
1/4 teaspoon salt   
1/2 lb raisins or sultanas
1 tea cup water

Put all the ingredients of the first column in a pan and bring to a boil.  Allow to cool. Sift flour etc into melted ingredients and mix.  Put into a loaf  tin - I use a non-stick one but grease it just in case.  Bake 170° for about 1 hour.

If like me you don't always have the right things, demerera sugar and sultanas give a paler cake than dark sugar and raisins, but the flavour is just as good.  Experiment!

Buen Provecho!

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Sierra Gádor

I took this photo of a snow capped Sierra Gádor rising above the low lying clouds last Thursday afternoon, about 4pm, when taking the dogs for a walk up to Yegen with a friend. 

The sun was shining and it was quite warm, but as we looked around and into the distance, it was all very hazy and then a low thin cloud appeared below Sierra Gádor making it appear as if it was floating.

No way are we walking this afternoon!   After a sunny but breezy start - good drying day again for the washing - it clouded over about lunchtime, the Contraviesa has disappeared in the clouds, there is thunder rumbling way down south as well and now the rain has come and it's going past the window horizontally!

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

A drizzly day today.

After 16 dry and sunny days we finally have some rain.  It's not heavy, just a steady drizzle and is soaking straight into the ground.  I was beginning to think we'd have to water the vegetable terraces as the soil was so dry, but when I was weeding over the weekend,  noticed that a few inches down it was a bit damp.  This should soak in nicely.

Yesterday we were down in Motril getting the car ITV'd - the Spanish equivalent of an English MOT.  The system is different here.  Instead of taking your car to the garage to have it done and not knowing quite what they do, here you take your car to a testing station and drive it through yourself while the technician tells you which lights to turn on and off, when to apply the  brakes and handbrake etc. He tests the emissions, horn and seat belts. The hardest part is when you drive over the inspection pit, he leaves you with a walkie-talkie and goes down under the car.  Then he talks to you telling you when to turn the steering left and right and it's so difficult to hear him. There are other cars being revved up for the emissions test, having their horns tested and it's all loud and echoing!   Cars have their first test at 4 years of age, then it's every 2 years until they are 10, then it's annually.  The Polo has now reached 10 years so this time we got a 1 year sticker for the windscreen.  Not bad value at €35 plus a few cents.

We picked up a bit of shopping at the supermarket - some really good joints of pork on special offer that we have stocked the freezer up with - before having a quick Valentines Day lunch at the nearest McDonalds.  Not romantic I know but quick!   Menu del dia at a restaurant on the beach at Salobreña would have been lovely but it was a bit cool and breezy for that.   And Spanish lunch time is very laid back - you need to allow a couple of hours extra.

weather was nice yesterday in Salobrena

We left home at 9am to make sure we weren't late for our appointment  in Motril as we weren't sure what state the roads would be in either over the Contraviesa or via Torvizcon.  We drove down one way and returned the other to see what they were like.  Some of last years problems caused by the rains have been repaired but not all,  in fact the land slips on the Cádiar to Torvizcon road don't seem to have been touched at all.  I wonder if it's a financial problem or sorting out liability?

Friday, 11 February 2011

Using some chillis.

I've just finished taking out the last of the chilli plants as they are starting to look very sad.  The chillis are beginning to dry on the plants and as we have had some cold nights - frost on the ground where it's very open - the leaves have started to drop off.  So time to clear the patch, dry off the chillis, store some seeds and use some.  There were 189 left on the plants - I know because I counted them.

This Roast Chicken recipe is something we have been cooking for a few years now, the longer it has to soak the better as the meat takes the colour and flavour of the spices.  Don't like it too hot?  Use mild chillis and/or remove the seeds.  Like a bit of a spicy kick?  Use hot chillis and leave in the seeds.  The turmeric colours the chicken a lovely golden colour and - for gravy lovers amongst us - you get a wonderful tasting gravy.  Add a touch of cornflour to the juices to thicken it and you don't need much else.  OK,  maybe some potatoes. Roast them around the chicken and they  absorb the flavour  and who doesn't like roasties??

You need:

8 chillis
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons of coriander seeds
2 teaspoons of cumin seeds
1 teaspoon of turmeric
2.5 cm fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 handful of fresh coriander leaves (we use dried leaves out of season)
1/2 teaspoon of salt

Plus of course a plump chicken!

Put all the  ingredients into your blender  (or crush in a pestle and mortar) and whizz to a chunky paste.  Now the  difficult part - pushing it under the skin of the chicken.  I use the handle end of a wooden spoon to get started and then use the spoon to loosen the skin, as it seems easier than a metal spoon.  If you're careful you can also get under the skin of the leg too.  Then just as carefully, I use a teaspoon for this bit, put the paste under the skin and push it as far as you can so the chicken is covered - anything left over can go over the outside skin.  It  then needs to go in the fridge, covered, but if you cover it in clingfilm the paste sticks to that.  I use a casserole dish with a lid.

It only needs overnight really to absorb the flavours.  Then cook it as usual for a roast chicken....

Any spare paste can be spread onto potatoes for more flavour,  not much else is needed.


Thursday, 10 February 2011

Our first Raclette.

On Tuesday we had a very enjoyable long lazy lunch with friends in Yátor and were introduced to our very first Raclette.

We have had fondues in the past, we have a fondue of our own, but have never seen or heard of a raclette.  Raclette is a semi-firm cows milk cheese from Switzerland and the word is also used to describe the meal and the grill that is used.

Traditionally, the cheese was melted in front of the fire and as it melted, it was scraped off and eaten.  The word 'raclette' comes from the French 'racler' meaning to scrape.  But nowadays there is a grill that melts the cheese and the hot plate above cooks the food that you are going to eat with the cheese.  Potatoes are cooked first, some people suggest slicing the potatoes, some suggest they are best crushed before the melted cheese is added, sometimes bread is served, always a selection of cold meats, sometimes sausages, gherkins, olives.......

With me so far?  Here is a link I found to a Swiss restaurant in Sydney  with some really clear photos to explain the process....

So now you've seen how it works.  We had our raclette on the roof terrace, lunching in the sun, with some good red wines, lots of potatoes, a large variety of cold meats which we sizzled on the grill top and a seemingly endless supply of raclette cheese.  A very relaxed way of eating, cooking and eating to suit your appetite.

Truly an international dish...English friends eating Swiss food in Spain and the link is through to a Swiss restaurant in Australia!

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Green shoots.

Not the green shoots of recovery that the economists talk about on television, but our very own green shoots, soon to provide us with vegetables and strawberries.  The most mature of the strawberry plants are starting to flower and some have  fruit already.  The broad beans have survived being squashed by the olive nets when we harvested the trees above them and the peas are now appearing too. 
Habas and strawberries, some in flower too.
150 garlics, red cabbages and habas far end.
Flowers and a tiny strawberry!

Peas just showing in between rows of habas

The top terrace of habas...

same terrace, other end: strawberries, apple trees and habas

Monday, 7 February 2011

Boston Baked Beans

I have just got out the recipe for slow cooked baked beans as there are none left in the freezer and it's something that I make a big batch of  as and when needed. 

These are nothing like the tinned version, much richer and more moreish, lovely on toast or in a jacket potato or just with fresh bread.

Take 1 kilo of dried beans, soak for 1 hour in boiling water then rinse and put in your slow cooker.
Dice and saute 2 large onions - add to beans.
Add  8 chopped cloves of garlic, 1 cup of treacle, 1 cup of tomato frito (passata possibly in UK)   2 tablespoons of mustard (the sort from a squeezy bottle)  1 litre of stock (vegetable or meat - doesn't matter) and turn on to cook.  I leave it on the lowest setting possible for about 6 hours but you need to check the stock level and - obviously - have a good taste every now and then!

For an extra-rich meaty version, dice and saute 400g of panceta as well.  Over the cooking time it all but disappears but makes it more like  a one-pot meal - just mop up the juices with some bread.

I've never cooked it in the oven but would imagine done on a very low heat, would be just as good.


On the left side of this blog page is a search box, if you've ever read anything on here that you'd  like to re-read but can't remember when it was such as the fresh lemonade recipe, just use the search box and up will pop the relevant blog entry.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Sierra de Gador

Today's picture is of a view towards Sierra de Gador from Montenegro in La Alpujarra . ..

Oils again, size A4.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

First paintings

(a post from John):

I decided that this year would be when I get back into painting and drawing.
It's about 20 years since I last did any commercial drawing or painting -
though I've done a lot of Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop work in the
intervening years This is my first oil painting - an Alpujarran scene:

If you click on the picture you can see a bigger version. The real thing is 24cm x 32cm.

and below is another interpretation . . .

and yet another one, this time more zoomed in . . .

Basically, I've been experimenting with different styles to get the hang of it again.  Tomorrow I'll do a different view

These will now need a couple of months before they have thoroughly dried out and can then be varnished and sold.