Wednesday, 29 June 2011

A perfect tortilla

Before coming to live here, I'd never made a tortilla in my life but we had  neighbours then -  Carmen and Manolo.  Carmen made the most fantastic tortillas - she'd had plenty of practice as she and Manolo owned a restaurant in Granada and she'd made 15 different tapas every day for 30 years.  That's a lot of tortillas - she should be good at them.

She showed me how to make one, I tried but could never get it to slice like hers, we always needed a knife and fork to eat it whereas hers could be eaten sliced or cubed.  Solid but not dry, whereas mine always collapsed - sometimes closer to scrambled eggs and potato than tortilla.  It's not just me that has a problem, neither of Carmen's daughters can do one like their mother.

We've both watched her make them over the years we've been here and although we don't see so much of her nowadays,  when she comes she always makes at least one  and then gives us a shout to say when it's ready. 

However practice makes perfect and with a little help from a newly discovered blog,  we had the first perfect tortilla for tapas tonight.  I'd been looking for ideas about how to make fried broad beans  (actually roasted not fried)  preferably spicy ones and came across a blog/recipe site called 'the daily spud'.  We tried the Posh Spicy Beans and they were good so  I looked at other recipes on the site and just out of interest read her way to make a tortilla.  Seems this lady has some Spanish relations - but the only difference in her way of making it and mine/Carmens was to put the potato onion mixture back into the beaten eggs before returning that to the pan.  How that can make my scrambled egg and potato mix into a wonderful, sliceable tortilla I don't know, but it did.

Lots of other ideas to try from 'the spud'  such as beer battered sage leaves as part of a tapas.  We have more sage bushes in the garden than I can count and there's only so much sage and onion stuffing we can eat so this sounds an interesting tapas.  Plus I make beer batter when we have fish and chips and there's always batter left over.  If you're looking there, check out
oven dried potato crisps in the  nibbles and small bites section, we've not tried them yet but they sound good and so easy. 

Happy reading!

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Just flowers.

Just flower photos today, no idea what most of them are but a splash of colour by the side of the pista on our very early morning walk.  Both dogs are rising and shining earlier than usual due to the heat, they like to get and about before the sun gets too hot then they collapse on the floor for most of the day.  Two black dogs in a darkened shuttered house - to keep out the sun and heat -  is quite tricky especially when you come in from the brightness.  Not uncommon to hear a yelp as one of them gets trodden on. 

Not many capers growing on the way down to Yator - they're probably still in the ground it's just that the ground has been moved when the new road was built.  Maybe they'll find their way out in a few years time.  Apparently they have an amazingly large root system.  But there are still capers on the way to Yegen...

you can see  the buds - picked and brined small for pizzas, tartare sauce etc - and the start of the seed pod coming from the centre of the flower which is brined and eaten as tapas.

These other flowers I don't recognise although someone probably does!

looks pretty but lethal spikes sticking out by the flower!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Paco's beets.

One of the many Paco's who has land here in Montenegro, has something growing which I've been looking at for a few weeks thinking it looks like spinach and if so, why isn't he picking it?  And more importantly, why hasn't it bolted and gone to seed?  It's in full sun all day, and until Sunday evening I'd never seen it being watered and we walk past twice a day with the dogs.

He has the most dreadful looking grey,  rock hard  soil  but once it's been ploughed a couple of times, first into big lumps then down to a fine powder it produces the most amazing vegetables.  He only has a large heap of manure but even that doesn't seem  to be dug in - only gets put round the base of his vines.

About 10 days ago he was within earshot so I asked him what he was growing and he said "remolacha"  which to you and I are beetroot.  Now he has a very strong local accent and I don't always catch everything he says but that was a definite.  But these leaves are green, no sign of red stalks or veins like I always thought beetroot had and so I consulted my vegetable book.  They looked very much like a leaf beet ....beetroot - leaf beet ......also considered to be a bit like spinach which is what I'd first thought.

Then he said would I like some?  Obviously yes, never turn down free food so he said come up tomorrow afternoon and you can take some as I have more down there.....waving his arm somewhere in the distance.  More?  There must be a couple of hundred plants just where we were talking!   Up I went the next afternoon - about 6 o'clock which is when he waters  as it's getting  a bit cooler but no sign of him.  Oh well.

Next day at 6 o'clock, a knock on the gate and there he was with an arm full of plants.  Come in, have a beer and tell us what they are!   Remolacha he said,  but they look at bit like a nabo (turnip to us)  John said,  well yes said Paco but these are  much sweeter  and they can grow to 4 or 5 kilos each.

He gave us planting and watering instructions - go and plant them right now......and later on when we'd settled down with a well earned drink John suddenly said ' I bet they're sugar beet - white like a turnip but long like a parsnip, large like a swede but sweet like a sweet potato'   and after a quick search on google that's what we think we've got.   And you cook them like all the root veg that they look and taste like - roast, boil, mash, whatever.

And we've got 48 of them growing.  So now when I go past Paco's field of beets I have good look to see what he's done - if these grow well then we'll let some go to seed for next year.

Monday, 20 June 2011

What a bunch.

Over the last few years we've tried to grow carrots, sometimes we have lots of feathery green tops but very strange looking carrots appear, other years very few grow at all  and we've always assumed it's to do with the soil.  But no matter what we dig into it to make it softer or richer and no matter how many times we rake out the stones to stop the carrots 'forking' we never achieve the perfect carrot.

But look at these!!

All it takes is the right sort of carrot for the soil you have and these are it.  Round carrots for stony soil or container gardening.  We tried them at the end of last years season - planted some at the beginning of June before it got too hot and they did quite well.  This year the first sowing was planted in March followed by two more lots - these are from the first sowing so they've taken about 8 weeks.  And lots more to come  :)

We ate these last night with roast wild boar, some baby turnips and the last of the fresh peas followed by strawberries and ice cream -  no, we don't make ice cream,  that comes from the supermarket.

Monday, 13 June 2011

The sound of summer.

Someone told us - but we can't remember who - that when the cicadas start singing/shrieking then you know that summer has arrived as they magically appear when the temperature reaches 27°

Yesterday it was up to 26° and this afternoon it reached 29° -  sure enough we heard the first of the cicadas.  It's difficult to describe the noise they make, it's not a gentle sound like a cricket and it's definitely much much louder.  If you happen to be under the olive tree in which they are "singing"  it seems to make your ears ache and echo with the noise.  Luckily it's only from sun rise to sunset so not for  many hours then.......  :(      

Only the males make the noise and they do it by vibrating membranes in their abdomens!   (Yes, I'm full of useless information.)   We saw  a TV programme once about the loudest insects and the cicada was  the winner by a long way. 

But leave here, go down to Yator and it's blissfully quiet.  Apart from the horns of the delivery vans of the fish man, bread van, frozen food lorry, fruit and veg lorry......

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Grinding flour.

About these beans we've been growing, I know we've got far more than we thought we'd ever have but thing about planting is that you never know for sure what is going to pop up.  Take this years beetroot for example, lots in  but almost nothing growing.  Such is life.

So we have too many beans, now nearly all dry and podded and we thought we'd try making some broad bean flour as it has lots of uses.  You can replace up to 25% of normal flour in bread making with broad bean flour, use it instead of cornflour for thickening sauces etc.  The biggest problem - for us anyway - is converting the dried bean into flour.  The food processor and liquidiser are not designed for beans, even coffee beans are not recommended and habas are much harder.  A quick look online comes up with home milling machines but at some very expensive price but what we do have is a table top meat mincer.  Worth a try.

In went a handful of beans which came out the other end into a bowl,  slightly chopped up. They then went into the liquidiser to see if we could grind them finer which we did although we then sieved them to get rid of the biggest bits left from the outside skin.  Long term it would seem that the liquidiser - as it's name suggests - is not meant for making flour and either the blades will go blunt or it's motor will burn out. 

This morning though I was up on the top terrace digging over an ex-bean bed ready for other vegetables and my neighbour was also working on her vegetable garden.  Chatting as we worked,  the subject of bean flour came up again - we talked about it a few days ago - and she offered us the use of their flour milling machine that they don't use as they have an electric one for grinding wheat flour.  It's big, quite heavy to move around though easy to use.  And it grinds anything - we've ground down some more habas for flour and crushed some coriander seeds too.  They  were quicker and easier to do than using a pestle and mortar!

And here it is!  Not the best of photos - it was taken at the end of a day of housework, digging, rushing in when the thunder, lightning and rain came at lunchtime then more digging later on.  (Anyway, the photo's meant to show the mill not me)

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Lists and more lists.

The weather forecast for this week is all grey and miserable - although it's not actually raining and hasn't really done much more than drizzle occasionally,  there is a complete blanket of cloud  causing almost 100% humidity and no view of anything at all. It seems to be coming  from the East which is unusual.  In fact, it's more like we'd expect in November or  March with low cloud swirling around us - certainly not June's normal sunshine.

I've still been checking the vegetables are ok,  planted lots more seeds on Tuesday to take advantage of the damp conditions, tied up the tomato plants and picked 68 walnuts for pickling.  After pricking holes in them all and putting them into brine to soak, I look like a very heavy smoker as my fingers have gone all yellowy-brown coloured from the walnut juice.  Should have remembered from last year and worn rubber gloves!

John has retreated to his shed, he's trying to organise it by putting up shelves and hooks for his tools.  Discovered a rat's nest in there on Tuesday but we're not sure how it got in unless it was a very slim rat as the only gaps are tiny.  Or were tiny - now they are all blocked off and unless it can get through chicken wire it'll have to find a new home, preferably further away.  Last year a rat or rats tried to nest in the garden shed but we emptied everything out, the rat disappeared under the bushes and the gap under the door was blocked up.  I think we're winning!

I have taken to making lists a lot - to do lists, planting lists, then a new list when one goes missing....Shopping lists  as we don't go very often so without a list when we get to the shops we come home without something and that something is quite often the main reason that we went.  My seed planting list is quite something.  It's in alphabetical order as that's the way I store the seed packets, then next to each  vegetable/herb are the months that they need to be planted, then I cross off the month as I plant plus a tick if they've grown or a cross if not.  Last year I also kept a log of everything we harvested to see what was best - especially if we'd bought the plants.  Didn't want to buy plants if it wasn't economical. 

I don't want to seem obsessed by lists but there are more in the kitchen!  We usually cook large meals and freeze half,  have tapas ready,  soups and stocks,  and you need to know what is frozen and where it is so there's a list for that.  Also we have fruit and vegetables frozen and you need to know what you've got for out-of-season and where it is - especially if you have 3 freezers on the go as we do.  Do I get through lots of paper?  Well, no because I use the inside of the cereal boxes cut up to make freezer labels and for lists. 

One of the freezers is a chest type,  not huge just a cube, but it's very easy to loose track of things in there.    No list needed  but different types of meals/soups/tapas are boxed and put into supermarket carrier bags which have a tag on the handle so we know which bag to take out when looking for something.

All this labelling and list making has just crept up slowly over the years.  Partly I think it's because we keep so much stock here due to having had unreliable access before the road was concreted and partly because we now grow or have access to so many vegetables  and fruit.  And if it's not organised, things will be forgotten about and be found in years to come lurking in the ice at the bottom of a freezer.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Cherry time.

Fresh cherries are wonderful but it's quite difficult getting to them before the birds have eaten them.  One day the cherries are changing colour and we think hmm, couple more days and we'll be able to start picking, the next day they are much redder and riper so we start to pick the ripest, one more day and they are all ready.  Off we go with a bucket and get several kilos - too many to cope with really all in one go but better that than lose them altogether.

Three days later and the tree has been stripped clean, just loads of cherry stones on the ground.

So we've eaten them straight from the stalk,  de-stoned and had them with ice cream,  (strawberry cheesecake flavour which tasted like vanilla but was nice and then with triple chocolate which was scrumptious)   de-stoned half a kilo and put in a large wide necked jar with brandy and sugar which we have to keep for at least a month before trying and  then I made a very large pudding called Cherry Clafoutis  which made 6 portions.  It's a French dish apparently... easily made, only needs basic ingredients which we always have.

Half a kilo of de-stoned cherries,  put  them in a buttered oven proof dish.   The recipe said  10" diameter but mine is an 8 by 10 rectangle and it was fine.   Whisk together 3 eggs and 11 fluid ounces of milk until it's frothy, then add it to 2 1/2 ounces of flour, mixed with 2 ounces of sugar.  Beat well and pour over the cherries.  Bake for 1 hour at 200°C  till it's golden brown, well risen and a skewer pushed into the middle comes out clean. That's it - simple but tasty.  You're supposed to dredge it with icing sugar when it's cooked but we didn't have any.

Leave for 15 minutes - it's meant to be eaten warm for some reason that's beyond me, I'm sure it tastes just as good piping hot!  Also I have 3 variations of  this recipe,  one from a French cook book uses more cream than milk, also you can soak the cherries in 3 ounces of kirsch first so then you need less milk.

I have a cherry de-stoner - actually it was given to us as an olive de-stoner and is used more often for olives than cherries.  But it's still a messy business, juice was dripping off my hands and squirting everywhere - John said I looked like something out of  a gory horror movie!  Lots of different de-stoners available but this is the closest I can find to the one we have.