Autumn Labours

When we were based more permanently in Spain, one of the few occasions that Big Man and I  worked together in the kitchen was for the autumn making of Quince Jelly. Practically everyone round our way over there has a couple of Quince trees and come mid October for about six weeks, we were inundated with offers of bags of Quince.

They’re a funny sort of fruit, looking like over sized pears, smelling sweetly perfumed, tasting sour and dreadful if you bite into a raw one, heavenly after cooking gently with plenty of sugar or honey.

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We were walking through Bexhill town centre this morning, where we’re blessed still with small independent traders selling fish, meat, fruit and veg, making curtains, looking after our teeth and eyes and selling us clothes and gifts. Big Man suddenly stopped in his tracks causing a bit of a pile up with me and the two dogs bundling into him, and was sniffing the air like a police tracker dog. “Can you smell that?” he asked excitedly.  Nope…nothing was jumping out at me but I’m recovering from a cold, so hardly surprising.  “Quince, I can smell Quince,  and they must be good if they smell so wonderful”.

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We reversed back up the road a few metres and outside the fruit and veg shop the marvellous sight of a small crate of smooth skinned, golden yellow Quince awaited us. Needless to say,  we snapped them all up (just over 4kgs in total) which the lady in the shop was intrigued by as she didn’t know what they were and was curious to know what we were going to do with them.

We eventually got home lugging our 4kgs of Quince,  a 5kg bag of sugar (we didn’t need that much but it was a bargain) two confused dogs and several library books.

 

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Big Man got straight to work chopping and less than two and half hours later we were done, we’ve got it down to a fine art now. We were sustained during our labours by a very large gin and tonic. He’d bought me back a bottle of Gin Mare  (a new one to us) from duty free, flavoured with olive, thyme, rosemary and basil. Absolutely delicious but very strong!

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Tomorrow we’re going to take a little tub of our Quince jelly, or dulce de membrillo to the lady in the shop so that she can try it with some cheese. Hopefully she’ll enjoy it as much as we do and if you’d like to give it a go, follow this link for the recipe which can be scaled down easily, or you could make this delicious crumble, or this incredible savoury lamb dish.

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Autumn Days and Autumn Nights – Apple and Blackberry Pudding

The days are getting shorter, the sun still shines most of the time but not with the intensity of summer. The air smells different, fresher, more invigorating. It’s time to finish off doing things you meant to do in summer and plan for the next few months.

Time to enjoy autumn fruits like prickly pears…

Chumbos (2)

Big Man and I haven’t had the great summer we had hoped for in Spain this year. That’s the way life goes sometimes. You just have to accept it and move on.  We hadn’t had a single chance to go to the beach, so at the end of last week we made it happen. Granted, we didn’t get down there until lunch time, but luck was on our side and a beachfront table at one of our favourite Chiringuitos (beach restaurants) became available as we arrived.

Beach 12 Sep (8)

Perfect, time to relax with a bottle of chilled white wine, a mix of deep fried fish and some peppers and a plate of little pieces of grilled monkfish.

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After a reviving coffee it was time for a gentle snooze down by the sea, listening to the waves and the distant sounds of murmered conversations.

What a difference a day makes, the next day Up the Mountain was grey and misty with low clouds lurking around the house.

VIstas 13 Sep (10)

A day that made me wish the blackberries here were still going strong, as they had been in England. A little bag of about 2 cups of blackberries had been picked on a seaside walk in England Down by the Sea and turned into a delicious autumn pudding.

Blackberry & Apple Pudding (3)

Apple and Blackberry Pudding

  • 2 cups of blackberries (approx.) washed, two small apples peeled and thinly sliced and both fruits mixed together and sprinkled with about 2 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • 1 cup of self raising flour, a pinch of salt and quarter of a cup of sugar mixed together in one bowl
  • 1 large egg, a teaspoon of vanilla essence, a quarter of a cup of oil and a quarter of a cup of natural yogurt beaten together until well mixed.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix well, if the mixture is very stiff, add a tablespoon full of milk.

Mix the cake mix into the fruit and pour into an ovenproof dish. Bake at 180º for about 30 minutes or until a skewer poked into the centre of the pudding comes out clean and the top is slightly browned.

Blackberry & Apple Pudding (1)

Serve with cream and/or ice cream whilst making sure your dog does not sneak up on you and pinch a mouthful.

Autumn Quince and Apple Crumble

You have probably noticed that there are not so many dessert recipes on my blog. There are several reasons for this.  First of all, I don´t really have a sweet tooth, and as I´m the cook in this house, if you want sweet, there´s always chocolate in the larder!  Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, Big Man and I do need to be a bit sensible about the calories – so dessert is a special treat for us rather than an everyday occurrence.  Finally, Spain doesn´t really have a culture of home made desserts.  Yes, we have our Flan (Crême Caramel), Arroz con Leche (Rice Pudding) and Natillas (Cold Custard) but mostly it´s a piece of fruit to finish the meal. As we are able to get hold of such delicious seasonal fruit, that´s mainly what we eat and enjoy.

Having said that, quince are now in season, and we´ve made our annual supply of Quince Jelly or Carne de Membrillo. Our kindly neighbour is still providing us with a couple of quince (or is that quinces?) as the last few ripen and a nearby village has some delicious sweet, crunchy apples…which make a lovely change from the usual inspid, spongey monsters that are typically available to us.

Sunday lunch recently, after a hard morning´s work on the house and garden, most definitely warranted a delicious dessert and I must have been feeling nostalgic for England.  I decided to make a delicious autumnal crumble with quince and apple and to serve it with hot creamy custard.

Ingredients

  • 1 large quince peeled and chopped (or one large sour cooking apple)
  • ½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons of honey and 1 tablespoon of water

Put the above ingredients into a saucepan with a lid and simmer until soft and all the liquid has evaporated

Peel and slice two large apples and stir into the cooked quince and sprinkle over 1 teaspoon of mixed spice.  If you like your desserts sweet, add brown sugar to taste.

For the crumble

  • One cup of plain flour, half a cup of oats, 100g grams of grated chilled butter and half a cup of brown sugar.

Put all the above ingredients into a food processor and blitz for a few seconds until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. You can also do this by hand.

Put the fruit mixture into a pie dish, cover with the crumble topping and bake on high for about 30-40 minutes until slightly browned on top.  Some of the fruit mixture is likely to bubble out and caramelize, so I recommend putting your pie dish onto a baking tray lined with foil.

Serve with custard and fight your nearest and dearest for the crispy caramelized bits.  Serves four.  ¡Buen provecho!

Gardens and Puff Pastry with a Side Order of Steak and Chips

Bushy Garden Oct 2011

It´s that time of year here when you need to “put the garden to bed”.  Before you tuck it in for the winter, you can hack back the summer growth and give it a little room to breathe.

The interent and phone were down most of Sunday and all day Monday.  Frustrating but being “incomunicado” forces you to get up off your nether region and do something!  Gardening was the answer.

After a morning of hard work in the garden, we needed something to reward ourselves with – what better than steak and chips?  Steak is a rare treat for us, so we tend not to mess around with it too much.  A little massage with olive oil and seasoning, and onto the grill pan.  Chunky potatoes cooked in olive oil, and a little English mustard mixed with mayonnaise do it for me.

I had some leftovers from making my Chicken, Mushroom and Bacon Pie (recipe to follow another day) , so decided to make an easy dish to go with the steak and chips.

I cut what remained of the puff pastry into two rectangles and lightly cut (but not all the way through) another rectangle about one cm inside the outer edges of the pastry.  I brushed the pastry with milk and baked at 200ºC for about 15 minutes until puffed up and golden. When the pastry had cooled down I pushed in the middle section of the rectangle to leave a hollow space.

Save on the washing up and have a starter and main on the same plate

With very little oil I fried 4 thinly sliced mushrooms with 2 crushed cloves of garlic until soft then added 2 heaped tablespoons of chopped bacon.  I then added 1 heaped tablespoon of plan flour and stirred until it was cooked through.  I gradually added splashes of milk (about 5 or 6 in total), stirring all the time until I had a thick sauce and then filled the pastry cases with this.  I put them back into the oven on a low heat until I was ready to dish up the rest of the meal.

Bald Garden Nov 2011

A lovely glass of El Coto Rioja went down well with this and we sat outside for 15 minutes in the last of the afternoon´s sunshine admiring out work and drinking a good strong coffee.  It was a good day.

It´s Getting Chilli in the Garden

Well, they say there´s no rest for the wicked, and no sooner was I back home than I was out digging up chilli plants and other sad looking vegetables.  It´s been a fantastic year for the chillies, I have grown five varieties, although I don´t know really what they´re called.  Long chillies, medium chillies in red and yellow, round chillies and tiny ones which are probably cayenne. Anyway, it´s a lot of chillies.

This is about two thirds of the crop, the rest have already been pickled, frozen, dried or made into sweet chilli dipping sauce.  Check out this amazing recipe from Natalie at Cook Eat Live Vegetarian.  I´m also going to try Fati´s recipe here later this week.

I spent a happy couple of hours putting my sewing skills to use in rather a different way.  Using strong cotton thread and my own special patented (!) stitch, I strung a couple of hundred chillies up to dry in the sun.  If the weather turns bad, I´ll hang them up in the shed where it´s nice and dry.

When we moved to the house three and a half years ago we planted our lemon three which this year finally took off and started producing lemons.  It´s gone a little mad now but we´ve been advised not to prune it until May.

Fortunately we now have lemons which have very kindly decided to turn yellow.

And new flowers every new moon.

Then, just to take us by surprise, although I think it knew its days were numbered, our Bougainvillea finally decided to stop looking like a dead twig and make our garden look Mediterranean.

So the roses decided to join in.

The garden seems to think it´s spring, so “shhhh” don´t say a word and for goodness sake don´t tell it it´s really autumn.

Green Summer Vegetable and Chicken Casserole

Now that we are starting to have a little drop in temperatures during the day, and a nip in the air first thing in the morning and last thing at night, we know that autumn is just around the corner.  While this means saying a gradual farewell to summer, it also means an autumnal welcome to the next season and the food and change in cooking it brings.

Off out for a busy morning and knowing I was not going to be in the house while it was still relatively warm, prompted me to cook the first casserole for a long time.  We came home to delicious chicken, vegetable and brothy smells and apart from opening the wine and grabbing the loaf of bread left for us earlier that morning on the gate by Bread Man, there was nothing more for us to do other than set the table and enjoy lunch.

The dish was a celebration of almost the last of many of our summer vegetables.  The bobby (french) beans finally started producing yellow as well as green beans, with kilos of them stored in the freezer for the months ahead.  The green peppers are still doing well, we´ll see how much longer they last.  Our onions have dried out nicely and are sweet and delicious and I had been hoarding the last handful of potatoes we had left from our first ever potato crop.

Into a big pot went two large legs (drumstick and thigh) of our free range chicken, some chopped peeled potatoes, large chunks of courgette given to us by a neighbour along with some whole unpeeled garlic cloves.  A few chopped green peppers, a roughly chopped onion, a few handfuls of green beans and some seasoning finished off the ingredients.  I covered everything with water and bought it to the boil then put a lid on the pot which then went into a very low oven for about 5 hours. You could, of course, cook it much more quickly on the stove top with equally good results if you´re not off out shopping for the morning!

And that was it…memories of summer and anticipation of autumn all in one delicious bowlful.

Am off to London to visit my family tomorrow for a week.  Will try to keep up with all your lovely blogs and posts, but apologies if I can´t always comment.  Looking forward to a proper catch up when I return!