Summer Breeze

This summer finds us at our home in Bexhill on Sea. Which according to our family in Spain, is a good thing. They are all decidedly fed up of the 40 degree plus temperatures that are the norm there right now, rather than the exception. We are getting used to four seasons in one day. Loving the sunshine when we have it and racing outside to enjoy it. Joining in the with locals when it rains saying “oh well, it’s good for the garden”!

I haven’t managed to grow basil outdoors in England yet, so am sticking with my pot on the kitchen window sill.

Garden Bexhill July 2015 001

Outside in our little garden though, we’re making the most of every tiny bit of space and growing a few vegetables for the pleasure of seeing them grow. Green beans are happy climbing up against the wall and the first teeny tiny beans are starting to appear. Big Man is very entertained by the fact that the flowers in England are red. In Spain they’re white and he never believed me until this year that they are different. Oh he of little faith.

Garden Bexhill July 2015 002

We planted tomatoes which are starting to produce strange shaped fruit – we can’t remember what we planted – so we’re just waiting to see if they’ll turn red or we’ll be eating a lot of tomato chutney or fried green tomatoes this year.

Garden Bexhill July 2015 003

Various chilli plants also went in, but the little sticks telling us which were which were “reorganised” by the dogs at the time of planting so we have no idea what we’re going to end up with. We do have a very beautiful black chilli which is ready to be picked, so fingers crossed it’s a hot one!

Garden Bexhill July 2015 008 Garden Bexhill July 2015 023

The parsley and rosemary are doing well, and the chives are happy doing their own thing.

Garden Bexhill July 2015 004 Garden Bexhill July 2015 011 Garden Bexhill July 2015 013

We also bought some mint roots from Spain (it seems to have a more delicate leaf than the plant we bought in England and is lovely in salads and infusions). The plants (grown in a recycled strawberry planter) are just starting to really get going.

Garden Bexhill July 2015 012

Of course, there’s room for flowers too, most of which were already here, I love the strong colours we’ve got. The white geraniums were grown from cuttings from a plant we had in a small pot.

Garden Bexhill July 2015 010 Garden Bexhill July 2015 024 Garden Bexhill July 2015 009

The pears continue to grow, hopefully we’ll get a lovely crop in the early autumn.

Garden Bexhill July 2015 020

And the dogs, naturally, are always on hand to offer advice, help with the digging and showing us the sunniest spots when we need to take a little breather.

Garden Bexhill July 2015 014 Garden Bexhill July 2015 016

Sorry about the picture overload but the light was so lovely today…it made me happy to think how much you can do with just a little outdoor space.

 

Griddled Aubergines with Salsa Verde and Tomatoes

Our recent month in Spain was less of a holiday and more of a race to get through a list of household chores and maintenance, family visits and dealing with banks, bills and bureaucracy. Still, it had to be done, and there were of course a few special times of relaxation and fun with family and friends. Sometimes, though, it was nice just to have a couple of hours at our little cortijo (that’s a house in the country in Spain) and relax with a meal and a bottle of wine.

Berenjenas y Limones 001

The weather was all rather unpredictable going from an initial 40 degrees which knocked us sideways, to down below 20 degrees.  Then it jumped around from lovely to grey and cloudy, rainy and windy, then back to lovely. Honestly, we could have been in England! When we did have a comfortably warm day, we fired up the barbecue and cooked and ate outside. Some days we ate meat, but after a few weeks of a meat heavy diet, we craved vegetables. Luckily we were gifted an awful lot of salad so made a local gazpacho. Sounds weird but it works, trust me!

Big Man is not a fan of aubergines, but he did give this dish a go and grudgingly agreed that it was “comestible” – that’s Spanish for edible! Luckily we also had salmorejo (another variation of the more traditional gazpacho) my very favourite summer soup, to save him from fading away and I feasted on most of the absolutely delicious aubergine.

Ingredients (to serve 2 as a main course)

  • 1 large aubergine sliced into ½ cm slices lengthways and brushed lightly with olive oil on both sides
  • Some salsa verde (Spanish style) or just make up a mix of fresh olive oil with some finely chopped garlic, herbs and a pinch of salt
  • A large tomato, finely chopped
  • A finely chopped chilli (optional)

Fire up the barbecue if the weather permits or heat up a griddle pan. I never salt my aubergines as I really don’t find them bitter. Feel free to do this if you like, but don’t, of course, brush them with oil until you’ve rinsed them.

Berenjenas y Limones 004

Grill lightly on both sides and drizzle over some salsa verde. Cover tightly with foil or cling film so that they sweat slightly, and absorb the dressing at they cool down. Serve at room temperature with the tomato and chilli sprinkled over. That’s it, easy eh?!

For another grilled aubergine dish, take a look here.

Take One Bag of Flour

I don’t know who discovered that by grinding grains, flour could be produced. And whoever then went on to figure out that by adding simple ingredients like water and air, you could end up with a delicious loaf of sourdough bread. As for pasta, whoever had that great idea of adding an egg and a pinch of salt to make a beautiful silky dough….well, I raise my glass of wine to them.

Not really much of a recipe today, more an acknowledgement that good food doesn’t need to be complicated or sophisticated. Ingredients, as long as they are fresh and good can produce the most incredible tasting meals with just a little effort and time invested. Oh yes, and love. Good food needs to be made with love.

Pasta with Tomato and anchovy sauce (4)

Lunch the other day was a homage to simple ingredients. Home made pappardelle (thick pasta as opposed to thin as the pasta cutting attachment on my machine has died, so I had to cut by hand) served with a (home grown vegetables) tomato and vegetable sauce with anchovies. Home made bread, dipped in our own olive oil and a glass of not home made wine. I’ll leave that to the experts!

Slow Cooked Vegetable Sauce with Anchovies (serves 2-4)

  • 3 cloves of crushed garlic
  • Half a courgette (zucchini) coarsely grated
  • One carrot peeled and coarsely grated
  • One stick of celery, finely chopped
  • Half a red pepper thinly sliced
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of tomato purée
  • 1 cup (or can) or chopped tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Seasoning
  • Herbs (I used basil)
  • A small glass of red wine
  • About 4-6 fillets of salted anchovies

Hand Cut Pasta

Start by slowly braising the garlic, courgette, celery, carrot and pepper (but don’t brown them) until they start to soften. Add the tomatoes, the purée, the wine and the herbs and bring to a gentle simmer. Season lightly and cook slowly for about an hour (or longer). If the sauce becomes too thick, add a splash of water. When nearly ready, remove the herbs if you have kept them whole and stir in the anchovies (leave these out if you want a vegetarian dish). Check for seasoning (you probably won’t need more salt) and serve.

Pasta with Tomato and anchovy sauce (3)

Home Made Pasta

I use (per person as a main course) 100g strong plain flour, 1 egg, a tiny splash of olive oil and a tiny pinch of salt. Mix together by hand or in a machine and knead for a few minutes until the dough becomes soft and silky. Leave to rest for 30 minutes. Check out Chgo John’s excellent recipe for more tips and help.

Groundhog Day Peperonata

If you haven’t seen the film Groundhog Day, you won’t know what I’m talking about. In summary, it’s about a man who wakes up each morning and experiences the same day over and over and over again. Of course, he learns from his experiences and it all ends well.

When we got back Up the Mountain we were dreaming of months of rest and long lazy days which did not involve DIY, house repairs or anything to do with a paintbrush. There was a slightly damp smell in the house which we put down to the very wet winter which Andalucía has experienced and the fact that our house has been unheated and unlived in for quite some time.

Alas, we were deluding ourselves and some damage caused a few years back by a leak in the roof plus the wet winter has caused a significant amount of damp, particularly in my beloved “despensa” or larder.  Today we had to remove everything, including the shelving, from the despensa.

Groundhog Day (2)

The house is in chaos and we are climbing over things to get from one place to another. It will all be put right soon, I know, but I think we both had a moment or two today of wanting to run away and hide from it all.

Groundhog Day (3)

Salvation lay in the freezer and with the arrival of Fish Man with fresh calamares.  Last summer’s produce was tucked into the freezer and there it awaits us.  I cooked a quick peperonata (for which there are quite possibly as many recipes as there are Italian Mammas) and served it with calamares cooked on the griddle pan and drizzled with our olive oil and some sweet balsamic vinegar.

Ingredients for the Peperonata (serves 4) Serve hot or cold

  • About 500g of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 large onion finely sliced
  • About 4-6 large peppers (use a mix of colours if you can) cut into bite sized chunks
  • 2-3 large clove of garlic, crushed
  • A small glass of red wine (optional)
  • Fresh herbs (I used oregano but basil is also good)
  • Olive oil
  • Seasoning

Peperonata (3)

Simmer the garlic and onions in a little oil until soft, then add the peppers. Turn up the heat and fry until the edges of the peppers start to turn brown.  Add the tomatoes, herbs and wine (if using) season lightly and simmer for about 30 minutes until reduced and the sauce thick and the peppers starting to melt.

Squid with Balsamic (1)

Taste and adjust the seasoning and remove any large pieces of herbs. Great too stirred into pasta but I love it best eaten cold with a little squeeze of lemon juice and plenty of crusty bread.

For a quick lesson on how to clean squid (calamares) if you can’t find it ready prepared, take a look here.

Ok, lunch break over, back to work Chica!

Veggie Garden Eggs

Well, we´ve been home a week and, as expected, it´s been a week of running around seeing folk, catching up with all that awaits you after a 2 month absence and lots of eating and drinking!

Veggie Garden Eggs (10)

When I first used to visit Big Man before I lived in Spain, he was puzzled as to why I used to complain at the lack of vegetables in our diet. Spain has beautiful vegetables pretty much all year round. The problem is, when you live in the mountains and are eating in restaurants, the focus is on heavy mountain dishes – predominantly meat. Of course, this week, he´s come to understand what I was talking about and started groaning that he couldn´t face another meat heavy meal.

No problem, the little bit of veggie gardening we managed to do this year was tucked happily in our freezer and our lovely hens were happy to oblige with delicious free range eggs.  The result? A delicious, home cooked, not too heavy, but satisfying meal made entirely from home grown ingredients.

It´s similar to a Spanish dish called Huevos a la Flamenca, which I´ll show you another time, but today it was less about the jamon and the chorizo, and all about the vegetables. Leave out the eggs and you have a vegan meal, add them in and it´s vegetarian.

Ingredients for 2 people as a main course

  • 1 sweet onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 cup of crushed tomatoes
  • 3 mixed peppers, cut into thick slices
  • About a cup of a favourite green vegetables (I used our runner beans, thinly sliced)
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato purée
  • A sprig each of oregano and rosemary
  • A glass of wine (or water) Salt & Pepper
  • Olive oil

Start by gently frying the onions and garlic in a little oil until they start to soften then add in the peppers. Cover with a lid and when the peppers start to soften add the rest of the ingredients. Cover with a lid and allow to simmer gently for about 20-30 minutes until the peppers have broken down and are very soft.  Taste and adjust the seasoning and if too liquid, cook for a minute or two to reduce the sauce and remove the herbs.

Veggie Garden Eggs (2)

Transfer into individual (heat proof) serving dishes if you like, then crack two eggs into each portion. You can either pop the dishes into the oven on a medium heat for about 10 minutes until the eggs are set, or continue to cook on the stove top (this is what I did). If you like a soft yolk, using a chop stick or the “wrong” end of a spoon, gently stir the white into the vegetables as it cooks, avoiding the yolk. The white will “scramble” into the vegetables and the yolk will stay soft.

A foggy morning Up the Mountain
A foggy morning Up the Mountain

Eat with plenty of crusty bread and listen to your body thanking you for giving it a welcome hit of Vitamin C. A glass of wine also helps, but then it´s made of grapes and grapes are fruit…right?!

Boulangère Potatoes

I have a rather too close relationship with potatoes. Damn Christopher Columbus or whoever it was who bought them back from the Americas.  I particularly like them smothered in butter if they are baked in their jackets, or cooked in olive oil when roasted.  Or how about butter, cream and cheese if they are mashed? Oh dear, I can´t always have naughty potatoes and sometimes plain boiled with a drizzle of olive oil just doesn´t do it for me.

Boulangère Potatoes are a good option if you are trying to be a little sensible with the calories, or if you just want to go mad with the dessert. They´re also wonderful when you are entertaining, as apart from tasting fantastic, they can sit quite happily in a warm oven for quite a while and come to no significant harm. Boulangère is the French word for Baker.  Many families in the past did not have ovens in their own homes.  They would take a dish of these down to the village baker who would kindly pop them in to cook in his still warm oven when the bread baking was done. What nice people bakers are.

To serve four people you´ll need about 1kg of potatoes peeled and thinly sliced (I used a mandolin slicer but you can also do this by hand or in a food processor), 2 medium onions thinly sliced, olive oil, seasoning and about half a litre of vegetable or chicken stock.  If you have it, some fresh thyme is also good but right now I´m in a bit of a huff with Big Man as he dug all mine up a while back thinking it was a weed! Rosemary also works well with this dish.

Lightly oil the base of an oven proof dish and start making layers of potato, onion, herbs and seasoning. Finish with a layer of potatoes, season and then pour over stock to completely cover.

Cover the dish with foil and bake in a at 200ºC/Gas 6 for about 45 minutes, then take off the foil.  The potatoes and onion will be soft now and most of the liquid will have disappeared.  Continue to cook for another 15 minutes or until the liquid has all gone and the potatoes have browned.  If you find it has cooked through but the potatoes are still a little pale, put under the grill for a few minutes.

Either serve immediately or leave at the bottom of a low oven until you are ready to eat.

Baked Chicken Breast with Cream Cheese Stuffing and Tomato Sauce

When you breed chickens for eating, you´re going to have to deal with the chicken, the whole chicken, and nothing but the chicken.

Most of our Fat Boys end up being cut up into individual portions with the skin off – they´re easier to store in the freezer that way and you don´t have to pluck them.  Chicken Breast has always been my least favourite part…typically it can be a little dry and bland.  Now that we get to eat our own chickens, I can at least say that the breasts are neither dry nor bland and taste great just done on the griddle with olive oil and salt and a squeeze of lemon juice at the end.

Some of our chickens are real monsters though – and with no artificial feed.  Just corn, wheat and a long-ish life (at least in terms of chickens for eating) pecking around our olives.  One chicken breast can weigh about 500g and is plenty to feed two.  Sometimes it´s nice to jazz it up a little, and this is a firm favourite.

  • One monster chicken breast or two regular
  • Two tablespoons of cream cheese mixed with one crushed clove of garlic, a sprinkle of salt and a tablespoon of your favourite herb finely chopped (I like basil or chives with this)
  • About four tablespoons of tomato sauce (i.e. made from fresh or tinned tomatoes)
  • Grated cheese
  • Seasoning
  • Olive oil

Split the chicken breast in two without cutting all the way through.  Fill with the cream cheese and close.  Season with salt and pepper and drizzle a little olive oil over, massaging it in all over.

Put into a baking dish and pour over the tomato sauce.  Bake on medium for about 30 minutes.  Check that it is done by piercing it – if the juices run clear, you´re done.  If not, cook for a further 10 mins, check and repeat if necessary.  When cooked, grate cheese over the top, pop it under a hot grill until the cheese is melted and bubbling, and serve.

This is a great prepare ahead dish (up to the stage before you start to cook) and if the breast is large, serve cut into slices with a little extra tomato sauce on the side for your loved ones who prefer things saucy!

Garlic and Herb Cream Cheese

 
Creamy and Delicious

Not long ago I posted on how I make Greek style yogurt.  Rachel from And Then Make Soup, commented that if I left the yogurt to drain for a little longer, I would end up with a spreadable cream cheese (rather like Philadelphia or Boursin). Thanks for the tip Rachel!

So, in a double experiment, I gave this a go.  It was a double experiment as I didn´t have any fresh milk.  I know this sounds a little odd, but in Spain it´s still quite hard to buy fresh milk, apart from in the larger supermarkets in the bigger towns.  Almost all the milk available here is UHT or Long Life.  It´s not a huge problem as I don´t take milk in my coffee and only really use milk in cooking.

So…with a litre of semi skimmed UHT at my disposal, I made a batch of yogurt to see if it would work.  Nothing ventured, I thought!  To my surprise, the process worked equally well as using fresh milk and tasted the same.

Instead of draining it overnight, I put a weight on it and drained for 48 hours.  I saved the liquid that came off it to make soda bread, but more of that another day.

This is what it looked like after 48 hours, straight out of the mould. 

After draining for 48 hours

I beat it up a little and then added one clove of crushed garlic, a sprinkle of sea salt and about 2 tablespoons of very finely chopped parsley.

Add your favourite herbs

The next morning I spread it on bread for my breakfast, and accompanied it with a very funny looking peach!  They´re called Paraguayas here, they have a whitish flesh inside and are very tasty.

Luckily I was not going anywhere that morning, as I was rather garlicky for a few hours!

The Vegetable Garden – One Month On

I realised tonight that a month had flown past since we planted our vegetable “plugs” this year.  We´re catching up as we´ve has plenty of rain followed by sunshine and a few misty evenings, which the plants seem to love!

Our herbs are doing well, apart from my parsley and cilantro (coriander) which are still looking a bit sad.

I´ve let the sage flower as I think it looks so pretty.  I sometimes deep fry the large leaves in very hot olive oil for a few seconds and sprinkle with coarse sea salt as a little nibble with almonds and olive…and wine, of course!

Sage flowers

The mint is going crazy…these were the stragglers which I had to pull up later.

Rampaging Mint

I´ve also let the chives go to seed as the flowers are also lovely in salads.

Delicious chives...great for potato salad

The basil is almost ready for the first batch of pesto.

Fragrant Basil

We´ve got plum tomatoes.

A Future Sun Dried Tomato

We´ve got a “wild” tomato which has sprung up from a leftover seed from a squashed tomato from last year.  It has such a desire to live, we´ve let it do its own thing!

Born to be wild....!

We have some (very) bitter salad leaves and the delicious chard.  The celery tucked in there is slow to get going, but we´ll let it take its time.

Green Leaves and Bitter Leaves

Tomatoes, beans and the little muscat vines.

View down to my kitchen window

We´ve got rocket seedlings (must plant some more though)

Aaah....less than a week old

The first of the runner beans should be ready to pick in a few days

Teeny, tiny beans

The onions are doing well too

Onions in neat rows!

We´ve got long thin green peppers and large bell peppers – but we can´t remember which are which.  We´ll soon find out!

Which one are you then?

Cucumber flowers

Grown from last year´s seeds

The aubergine flowers are so pretty – wish they´d hurry up as I love aubergines (eggplant!)

Hurry Up! Hurry Up!

Dwarf French beans (yellow and green) which we only planted a week ago

Not quite Jack & The Beanstalk, but working on it!

And finally, radish seedlings…not long now!

Peppery and Pretty!

As I said, we´re a little behind this year because of the very wet spring that we had, but we´re happy with progress so far and already dreaming of grilled vegetables, salads and bunches of grapes.  Happy growing to you all!

The Vegetable Garden – El Huerto – A Late Start

5 Days Ago...the story starts

It´s the end of May and we only got round to planting out all those little plant plugs on 21st May, shame on us.  We´re usually at least a few weeks earlier, but never mind.  The weather seems to be turning to summer, and I took a little look around this morning to see how things were doing.  Five days on, and I couldn´t believe my eyes.  Fortunately things catch up quickly here and I know, at least if the weather stays fine, we´ll be eating most of what we´re growing now into November.

The runner beans seem to be growing a few cm each day.  Luckily we have plenty of canes for them. We had to put down some slug pellets, not really in keeping with our organic aims, but there seems to be a plague of slugs and snails this year.

Jack and The Beanstalk...

The broad beans are still in full production, the freezer is also well stocked for when they do die off in a few weeks.

Beans, beans are good for you...!

We´re very excited about our potatoes as we´ve never grown them before. Big Man was reluctant as they do take up a fair amount of space.  However, they´re drying out now and will be ready to dig up soon, then once we´ve dug over the soil and given it whatever (organic) feed it needs, we´re going to put other things in.  I have seeds for dwarf runner beans (including some very funky yellow ones, which I´m quite excited about).  We´ll definitely put some radishes in as they grow so quickly, and then some lettuces as choices here in the shops locally are mainly limited to lettuce hearts or iceberg.

Tired Potato Plants - which is good!

Last year a neighbour gave us some little cucumber plants which he had grown from seeds of his previous year´s crop.  They went crazy and we had loads of delicious little cucumbers all summer long.  We took his advice and saved the seeds from one cucumber which we let grow fat and sad looking.  We planted them 5 days ago, and despite Big Man being convinced that nothing would come of them, this morning we found lots of little sprouts…we´re so proud!

Tiny Cucumber Sprout - Future Gazpacho Ingredient

Our artichokes continue to flourish, but we will put some new plants in this year as the current ones are now three years old and getting tired.

Artichoke leaves, a perfect snack for slugs

Our tomatoes, peppers and aubergines have taken root well. 

Pepper or Pimiento

Big Man hates aubergines (or eggplants) with a passion. I, on the other hand, adore them. Sometimes I sneak them into dishes without telling him and he cant always tell.  I love Melanzane Alla Parmigiana, and make this as a treat all to myself so we have planted a little row of them to keep me happy.

Aubergines. Love ´em or hate ´em?

And our lovely little lemon tree seems to have found its pace and keeps us supplied with juicy fruit for squeezing over grilled meats, making dressings and slicing into our “sun downers”.

Ice and a slice anyone?

And just to prove that it´s not all about veggies, here´s a gratuitous shot of one of our roses…

Roses are red...

Happy growing!!!