Plum Blossom

It´s that time of year again.  Spring has sprung, or at least it´s starting to spring and our plum tree which sits quietly in our little olive grove has exploded into blossom.  Couldn´t resist taking a few snaps.

A Very Happy Plum Tree

The olives are showing their first very tiny flower buds which will start to open up very soon.  This, alas, I´m not looking forward to as I am hideously allergic to olive pollen and have suffered terribly for the last few years.  Fingers crossed that the 3 year programme of medication I´m signed up to with Malaga hospital does its thing.  Have been taking drops daily since October, so it will be interesting to see if I suffer any less this year than last….!

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Ruby Jewel Jam – Mixed Berry (Fruits of the Forest) Jam

The Colour of Rubies!

A day when I feel like an exhausted mother who has been given an hour´s respite while her partner takes the children to the park for an hour.  Big Man has taken the dogs out for a walk and I´ve just made myself a cup of Lady Grey tea and plonked myself down on the sofa.  I´m sure real mums have it a lot worse, as it´s constant, but I have spent a lot of time with little people today and it´s worn me out!  Probably because I´m not used to it, at least that´s my excuse. 

Having said that, it´s been a fun day.  Tomorrow in Spain it´s the feast of San José, Saint Joseph, which means it´s Father´s Day here.  One of Big Man´s sisters is a teacher at the local primary school and I went along to help her out with classes today to get gifts and cards sorted out for the Dads. 

The day was focused on healthy eating, balanced diets, and talk about vitamins, minerals, calcium, protein etc.  All pretty advanced for 7 year olds I thought, but they loved it.  We made Fruit Salad, which is called Macedonia here, and the children ate this in their morning break.  We also squeezed some oranges that one of the dads grows and made a Moroccan dessert of sliced oranges sprinkled with a little sugar and cinnamon.  All were made with much laughter and consumed without a single cry of “I don´t like fruit”.

Cards with hearts and sunshine were also made and finally we moved on to some Moroccan pastries (a recipe from one of the mums who comes from there) made with ground almonds, eggs, butter, grated lemon and coated in icing sugar.  Good, sticky, messy fun. 

This afternoon was spent with Big Man´s niece who is studying English at the University of Malaga and we had a conversation class.  To get the ball rolling, I asked her to help me prepare some jam, which she happily did, and we covered a whole new cooking vocabulary which is not usually studied in a typical language class!

A few weeks ago I bought a bag of frozen mixed berries.  I think they´re called Fruits of the Forest sometimes.  We only used a little which I had whizzed up with yogurt, but I think the fruit had been picked very much out of season and was eye wateringly sour.  There was nothing for it but to convert the remaining 600g from a 1kg bag into a delicious, and beautiful, mixed fruit jam.  Here´s how we went about it:

  • 600g berries
  • 600g sugar (any amount if fruit and sugar will do, but they need to be equal quantities)
  • 2 apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped
  • The juice of 1 large lemon
  • 2 tablespoons of water
  • A large, deep saucepan
  • Wooden spoon
  • A saucer
  • 2 or 3 clean jars and lids

Start by putting the apple and water into the saucepan and bring to a simmer.  As it simmers, mash with a fork or potato masher.  This will only take a few minutes. 

If you´re going to sterilize your jars in the dishwasher, put them in now as this jam doesn´t take long to make.  Put your saucer in the freezer for testing the setting point of the jam later.

Warm gently until the sugar has dissolved

Add the lemon juice, fruit and sugar to the pan and warm gently until the sugar has dissolved.  Once the sugar has dissolved, turn the heat up and bring the jam to a boil.  This only needs to boil for 5-10 minutes to reach setting point which you can test with either a jam thermometer or by putting a teaspoonful onto your icy cold saucer.  If the jam wrinkles when it has gone cold and is pushed slightly with your finger, it´s ready.  If not, boil for a couple more minutes then retest.  Be really careful with the boiling jam as it burns incredibly if it splashes onto you.

When it´s at the right point, leave to cool down a little while the dishwasher finishes its cycle and then pot your jam, screw the lids on while still hot but label the next day when the jam has cooled down completely.

Now all you need to do it bake some delicious scones to go with your beautiful jam!

Spread that on your toast...

Croquetas de Jamon – Spanish Ham Croquettes

Love ´em or hate ´em – my friends and family seem to be divided in their opinion of croquettes.  I´m most definitely in the “Love” camp, as is one of my god daughters who can eat them non stop.  Big Man sits in the other camp and every now and then I try a new batch on him to see if I can convert him.  He loved the Falafel I made recently, which are pretty “croquettey” in my view, so I haven´t given up hope.

Love, love, love ´em!

Croquettes in Spain are generally made with a béchamel base to hold them together, rather than potato, which is the way I´ve always done them.  I´ve never tried to make them Spanish style, but after making a fish pie the other day I had a small bowl of béchamel sauce left over and I thought I´d give them a go.  What with having dogs and chickens, it´s unusual now for me to have many leftovers in the fridge.  The chickies get the sad vegetables, salad and fruit (if I haven´t already turned them into soups or jams) and the dogs get bones and scraps of meat.  Anything else should go onto the compost heap, but there never seems to be enough left!

Croquettes can be made from any filling, but I really recommend searching through your fridge and using up any little scraps of leftovers.  I had a small bowl of cubed jamon which hadn´t gone into the soup and a few leaves of chard which were looking a bit floppy, so my decision was made.  Other suggestions could be cold veg, tuna, leftover chicken, cheese, hard boiled eggs…ooh, I could go on, but I´ll just get on with telling you how they were made.

Not a lot of photos today as my hands were getting mucky (despite wearing latex gloves) when making the croquettes and Big Man wasn´t around to take snaps for me.

Ingredients used were:

  • About 2 cups of cold béchamel which had gone quite solid.  If you need to make it from scratch, use about 250-300ml of milk for your béchamel and then leave it in the fridge to get really cold.
  • About a cup and a half of filling – I had a cup of very finely chopped Spanish jamon and a cup of shredded chard which, when cooked, reduced to half its volume
  • A tablespoon of plain flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • A beaten egg
  • Dried breadcrumbs for coating the croquettes
  • Oil for deep frying
  • A pair of latex gloves if you don´t want to get too mucky and a couple of tablespoons
Mix it all up

 

Start by mixing your filling into the béchamel and season to taste. Add the flour to bind together slightly.

Beat your egg in a shallow bowl and prepare another bowl with some breadcrumbs.

Take heaped spoonfuls of the mixture and shape either by hand or with the spoons into croquettes.  I went for the traditional cylinder shape but this is really up to you.  As soon as you start to work with the béchamel it will soften (hence my recommendation of using gloves!) but persevere as things will get easier once you get to the breadcrumb stage.

Roll your croquette in the beaten egg mixture.  Using a spoon to lift it in and out and spoon the egg over seems to help here, then drop it into the breadcrumb mix.  Roll it around and then put onto a plate. 

When all your croquettes are ready, and I got eight pretty big ones from the above mixture, pop them back into the fridge for at least an hour or until you are ready to cook them.

Get your oil nice and hot, once it starts to smoke, turn it down a little and gently drop the croquettes in.  They probably take less than a minute to cook – just enough time for the outside to turn a golden brown and the centre to warm up.  Lift them out with a slotted spoon onto some greaseproof paper and then to a serving plate.  You can make them in advance and then gently warm them up for a few minutes in the oven if you are not serving straight away.

Pour yourself a nice cold glass of white wine or dry Spanish sherry and imagine a hot Andalucían summer´s evening in a noisy tapas bar while you enjoy your Croquetas de Jamon!

Sad Chairs, Happy Chairs

            Big Man hasn´t exactly gone hungry over the last two weeks, but a lot of my time has been taken up with recovering my dining chairs so we´ve eaten a lot of tortilla.  I´ve never been taught properly how to “do” dressmaking or upholstery, but have just picked things up as I went along. I´m sure the finished results are not perfect, and certainly not to a standard that I could get paid for the work, but I was really pleased with the way my most recent project turned out.  Big Head me!

Sad Chair (right), Half way through makeover (centre), Happy Chair (left)

            When we moved into the house 3 years ago, we bought a lovely dining table in a light oak colour and six matching chairs which were upholstered in a cream cotton type fabric. Obviously over time the colour started to look a little sad.  Particularly at the top where the chairs are held and moved around.  I tried fabric shampoo on them but it didn´t seem to make much difference.  At a fabric shop near Malaga, on a sneaky trip to Ikea (to buy napkins and candles, what else?!) I saw some lovely fabric in a burnt orange colour at a bargain price.  I had already measured the chairs and knew I needed just over six metres, so asked for seven (allowing for any mistakes).  There was eight and a half metres of fabric left on the roll, so the shop very kindly discounted the last metre and a half and I went home a happy woman.

            I started out by pinning large sheets of plain paper to a chair.  I had had to stick several together to get the pages wide and long enough.  Then I drew around the outline of the chair marking corners and edges and then cut the pattern out.

Making the Pattern Template

            The pattern was then pinned to the fabric and cut out, leaving a 2cm edge all around.

Pin Pattern to Fabric and Cut Out Leaving 2cm Edge

            The hard work then began, as the next part took the longest, particularly on the first chair which I needed to make sure was absolutely right before cutting out any more fabric.  Luckily it all worked out well!  I pinned the fabric, inside out, to the chair, using the pins as though I was tacking the material together.  This allowed me to pull it tight and manoeuvre it to get a good fit around the chair.  The fabric was then tacked in a contrasting cotton and the pins removed. 

Pin and tack to chair

            With the first chair I turned the fabric the right way round and slipped it back onto the chair to see how well it fitted.  Phew, all ok, so I was ready to sew.  Out came the trusty sewing machine and I machined the tacking in a matching thread with a straight stitch.  In order to ensure the fabric wouldn´t fray at the edges, I switched the machine to a zig zag and stitched all the edges to tidy them up.

...and stitch away...

            The final part was to turn the fabric right side out, slip it over the chair, and pull it tight at the bottom.  The chair was then flipped upside down and with a fine, flexible sewing needle, I tacked the zig zagged edges onto the underside of the chair.  I guess this could have been done more quickly with a strong stapler, but after Big Man put the wrong sized staples into ours the other day (we still can´t get them out), it was hand sewing for me. 

Hand sew or staple to base of chair

            The first chair took me the longest, probably about 8 hours in total over a couple of days, but by the time I got to the sixth and final chair, I think I was down to about 4 hours!  They´re all finished now and I´m happy with the results.  Here´s to many delicious meals eaten whilst sitting on the newly covered chairs.

Falafel – Chick Pea Patties

My birthday falls at the end of January.  A month of cold and damp here and after the excesses of Christmas, it feels like a time to shy away from more celebration.  Especially when you´re suffering from bronchitis like I was.  Big Man asked me what I wanted to do to celebrate my birthday and I told him I wanted to be like the Queen of England and celebrate on a second date, preferably when the weather was warmer.  Anyway, last year he surpassed himself and surprised me with our rescue puppy, Luna, so I didn´t think a bottle of perfume or a box of chocolates was going to tick the boxes for me. Selfish moo that I am.

The local town hall often organises “cultural activities” for the village folk, not something I have ever been interested in.  Probably a bit of smug self importance creeping in, thinking I´m already culturally aware enough already and mixed with a healthy dose of a severe fear of group activities of any kind.  When Big Man surprised me (again!) on my birthday by telling me that we were going to join 35 other villagers on a three day trip to Tangier at the end of February, I wasn´t really sure what to think.  It´s a destination I´ve always wanted to visit, but Big Man had always said it didn´t interest him, and we both hated anything that involved coaches and tour guides.  I decided to keep an open mind about the whole thing, dose myself up with cough medicine and make Falafel to get us in the mood.

Here´s how we got into the Moroccan vibe and made six Falafel.  Enough for 2 as a light lunch or 6 “tapas” sized servings:

  • 1 tin (400g) or jar of cooked chick peas
  • 2 spring onions
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • Salt
  • Half a teaspoon of ground cumin
  • Half a teaspoon of ground coriander
  • Large pinch of chili powder (optional) or a chopped fresh green chili
  • 2 level tablespoons of flour plus extra for dusting.
  • Parsley (enough to chop down to about 2-3 tablespoons according to taste)
  • Oil to fill a frying pan to a depth of about 1cm (I used olive oil)

Serving Suggestion

  • Pitta or flat bread and chopped lettuce and mint, a squeeze of lemon juice (optional)

This is a dish which is very fast to prepare if you have a food processor.  It took me longer to wash up than to whizz the ingredients.  It can also be done by hand with a potato masher and a bit of fine chopping and mixing in a large bowl.

Put all of the ingredients apart from the oil and serving suggestions in a food processor and whizz them up for about 30 seconds then pulse until they reach the texture of grainy, wet cement. If it looks really sloppy add a little more flour but it will still be fairly wet when it´s ready.  Add salt to your taste.

Put a couple of tablespoons of extra flour in a bowl and drop in a heaped tablespoon full of the chick pea mixture and using two spoons get it lightly covered in flour.  If you can work quickly just drop this straight into your frying pan of hot oil, or if you prefer to work more slowly, prepare the falafel first and put them onto a plate, then heat the oil and drop them in.

Sizzle those Patties!

Make sure your oil is hot, let is start to smoke then turn the heat down slightly.  You only want to get a nice crust to the outside, the chick peas are already cooked.  Flatten the balls of mixture down as you put them into the pan and after about a minute flip them over (but make sure they´re nice and browned first).

The second side will take slightly less time, so just check on them, take them out and place onto kitchen paper to blot the excess oil and you´re ready to serve.  They´re great with a squeeze of lemon juice then stuffed into pitta bread with some finely chopped lettuce and mint and a spoon full of natural yogurt mixed with an equal quantity of mayonnaise.  I´m not sure how authentic that is – but it´s delicious!

The Missing Falafel was Eaten By The Chef!