Archive for the ‘Food & Drink’ Category

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Green apricot salad

June 9, 2012

A day or two I stumbled across a recipe for using unripe peaches. You know the sort: they look ripe and promising but in reality they are never, ever, going to ripen and nothing you can do is going to change that. The recipe was from Food52’s Genius category and you can find it here.

Here we sometimes get a problem with nectarines in August so I was intrigued. But, it’s a little still too soon for the main nectarine crop (we’re still in cherry and strawberry season) so I filed the recipe until later in the year …

… only for a neighbour to drop by this morning with a bag of apricots in his hand.

About half of the fruit were underripe so were prime candidates for testing.

And the result?

Absolutely fantastic.

From crunchy flavourless apricots to juicy, glistening fruit in less than
ten minutes.

While the apricots were doing their thing I knocked up a leaf salad with some cold chicken and shavings of parmesan and then added the apricots and their dressing. Sadly we were too busy eating it to have the sense to take photos but you can see the gorgeousness of the fruit in this photo from the original recipe.

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Pomegranates

June 2, 2012

Just how do they do it?  How is it possible for a fruit tree to thrive on neglect and to oscillate between ugly-as-hell and drop-dead-gorgeous?

It’s the time of the year when we fall in love with the pomegranates all over again.  Lush greenery, abundant growth and masses and masses of the most beautiful and showy scarlet blossom.  And all of this from trees which get no care or attention, no watering or feeding, no pruning.

Blossom

Scarlet blossom

The empty house next door has a mature tree, perhaps 20 feet tall, and we have a similar one just next to our back door.  Their tree gets no attention as they only visit the house once or twice a year; ours gets some fairly inept pruning once a year and that’s it.  In return each produces hundreds of massive pomegranates each year.

Next door’s pomegranate tree

Between you and I, I prefer them right now when they are full of blossom.  The colour, that sharp pop of orangey-red, is a reminder that summer is really on its way.  And as the flowers are pollinated and the fruit sets the blossom falls away from the tree and makes the most gorgeous red confetti on the ground.

A sprinkling of blossom

And all this from a tree that, in winter, looks like it should be chopped down to put it out of its misery.  It’s hard to imagine a tree that looks more desolate and unloved than a pomegranate in January.  But right now … it is just gorgeous.

Taken January 2010

Plenty of fruit to come

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Tried & Tested: Spice Cubes

January 16, 2012

We are big fans of having a freezer full of building blocks ready for use. Sliced and frozen lemons, berries for morning smoothies, herbs which have been washed and frozen and are ready to drop straight into a dish.  These are all things that save us time, and often money.

A while ago we realised that whilst we often cook with garlic or ginger or chillis there are times when we buy them and don’t get around to using them  as we intended and therefore things sometimes go to waste.  We solved the problem with the garlic: instead of buying a head of garlic and using it a clove at a time we took to buying three or four heads at once and processing them all at once then freezing them.

It doesn’t take much longer to prepare a dozen cloves than it does one or two but there is no extra cleaning up and no more garlicy-scented hands. Whole cloves of garlic freeze fantastically and defrost in less time than it takes to chop an onion while ginger, if it is peeled and cut into single meal chunks, can be ready in a few minutes.

Having got into a routine of buying garlic and ginger every month or so and preparing them for the freezer it occurred to us that quite often we use both together and about half the time if we are cooking with garlic and ginger we use copious amounts of chillis too.  And so the idea of the freezer spice cubes was born: instead of preparing garlic ready to be used and preparing ginger to be used straight from the freezer could we go one step further?

The answer is yes:

  • Take one head of garlic, peel the cloves and toss them into a food processor
  • Take a piece of fresh ginger of a comparable size, peel, roughly chop and toss into the food processor
  • Add fresh or dried chillis to suit your taste buds
  • Blitz in the food processor until they’re the right size for your cooking needs
  • Spoon into an ice-cube tray, drizzle a little oil over the top and freeze
  • Once frozen pop the cubes from the tray and transfer to a suitable container
  • Keep in the most accessible part of the freezer so they are close to hand when you want to cook

When we make these we’ve found that one cube is about the equivalent of one clove of garlic and a corresponding amount of ginger. If you use dried chillis (buy them in bulk when you come to Cyprus as they are absurdly cheap here) then you can make the cubes as spicy as you want.

These are best made in an ice-cube tray that isn’t destined to be used for making real ice-cubes, unless you don’t mind ginger tasting gin and tonics after dinner.

New freezers always seem to come with a spare tray so we keep one specifically for the purpose.  You can reduce the chance of the tray becoming tainted with the spice flavours if you wipe it out with a little light cooking oil before you start.

Since we started doing this we have massively increased the amount of garlic and ginger we use, and with hardly any wastage.

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Christmas post …

December 23, 2011

… is AWOL.

This year there seems to be an island-wide issue with post from the UK and continental Europe.  90% of the Christmas cards that we’d expect to receive haven’t appeared; orders placed online in early December, intended as presents for each other, are missing; presents from family and friends in the UK have not arrived.

This isn’t an isolated problem: many of the Cyprus online forums have ongoing discussions about missing post.

Our lovely, if slimline, local tree bought courtesy of the local Forestry Commission, looks really rather lost without any parcels underneath.  Our best guess is that we might expect to see things arrive in the second week of January, after the Christmas and New Year and Epiphany holidays.

On the positive side we have a beautiful rib of beef ready to cook and piles of books to read and enough logs to see us through to the new year.  Not the holiday we’d planned but we’ll make the most of it and throw another log or two on the fire and perhaps in time we can chuckle about 2011 being the Christmas-of-no-presents.

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Kleftiko ovens

September 17, 2010

Traditional cooking is a corner-stone of Cypriot family life.  Every weekend, every holiday, every festival is an opportunity to gather family together and spend time together, preferably whilst eating.

When we lived in Aradippou our neighbours had a traditional kleftiko oven next to their house.  Technically it was built in their driveway but every good Cypriot knows that the street is a perfectly good place to leave a car so why not utilise the driveway for something useful?

We’d been in the house a month or two when we were woken early one morning, perhaps 3 or 4am, by an unusual noise outside.  A quick check out of the upstairs windows showed the source of the noise: the neighbours were lighting their kleftiko oven.  Clearly there was an upcoming celebration that we weren’t aware of.

Kleftiko is a lamb dish, although in Cyprus young goat is sometimes used.  The lamb is cooked very slowly over the course of many hours resulting in meat that is tender enough to cut with a spoon.

According to local legends the dish was made from stolen sheep and to disguise the cooking process from the shepherd the lamb was cooked in a pit in the ground so that no smoke could be seen.  Today the dish is cooked in an external wood-fired clay oven.  A wood fire is lit in the heart of the oven and then allowed to burn very low; meat, and later potatoes, are added in shallow containers. The oven is kept sealed with clay until the cooking process is complete, many hours later.

On that first occasion it was too dark to get photos but the neighbours obliged by lighting the oven again a month or two later.  The second photo shows quite how fierce the wood fire is at the start of the process.

For anyone who is interested in trying kleftiko without the expense of building their own external oven there’s a nice recipe on the Waitrose website here.  With such a relatively short cooking time the dish won’t be as meltingly tender but should still be a nice taster of how superb good kleftiko can be.

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The garden, mid-July

July 21, 2010

The builders have gone, the garden still looks mildly chaotic, summer is here with a vengeance and the yuccas are in flower.  Such is life here at Aradippou Tales.

Who knew that yuccas produced beautiful creamy-white flowers each year?  Well, perhaps lots of people did but we certainly didn’t until we moved here.  Perhaps they only flower under certain conditions?  We were out and about a week or so ago and spotted a yucca in flower: it was only when we got home and investigated that we discovered ours was too.  In our defence the tree is twenty feet tall and the only way to see the top is to climb up the outside stairs.

At some point later this year the yucca will need some care and maintenance, the removal of old leaves if nothing else.  It is not an easy job: twenty feet of tree, razor sharp leaves and a fair amount of catching up due to the previous owner’s belief that pruning or cutting back a plant breaks its spirit.

In the meantime we’re enjoying the sight of the gorgeous flowers.

Yuccas, from below

Yuccas in flower

Elsewhere one of our mystery plants appears to be suffering in the heat.  This plant grows and grows and grows during the spring putting on nearly five feet of growth in as many weeks.  Come the summer heat it begins to collapse back on itself but  at the same time produces a dozen or more flower stalks.

MadAlex said it was a lily of some sort; we are not so sure.  It may be a white agapanthus but we’re really not sure.  For one thing it is significantly bigger than they normally grow, that could just be the Cyprus effect though.

Mystery plant

Flower stalks

Elsewhere the fig tree growing behind the house is covered in fruit.  So far they are only small but once more there are hundreds of them.  Also in a growth spurt is the garden bougainvillea: it is absolutely covered in coloured bracts.

Fresh figs

Obligatory bougainvillea photo

And finally this month a tiny piece of thievery.  When the empty plot next to us was cleared a half pithari was uncovered.  Pithari are common sights here in Cyprus; we have already have two in the garden, one containing the bougainvillea and the other our recently planted lavender.  But there’s always room for another, they make such fantastic planters even when they are broken or in two parts.

This newly revealed pithari remained in the cleared plot for week after week with Mands lusting after it.  Because the entire village is built on a slope houses are often set at different levels.  Despite being the next plot over the ground is actually 10 feet below us so getting the pot out would mean climbing down the drop and lifting the heavy pot out or carrying it on a 10 minute trek through the village.

Perhaps not the best plan when, technically, the pot wasn’t ours.  So the pithari remained where it was.

After the builders were finished onsite the scaffolders came back to take down the scaffolding.  After plying them with mugs of strong tea and freshly baked lemon cake Mands cheekily asked them if they’d be able to help with a tiny job.  Pointing out the pithari she explained that it didn’t actually belong to us but that no one else, including the owner, seemed to want it.  The scaffolding boys caught on very quickly: it’d be a shame for it to go to waste they said.   Perhaps if they re-homed it into our secret garden we could make use of it?

Half an hour later they’d man-handled it up from the lower plot and positioned it against a couple of walls.  It’s now sitting there waiting while we decide what to plant it with … and while we see if the rightful owner comes to reclaim it.

The acquired pithari

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Cyprus Cost of Living #5

July 10, 2010

The Guardian recently had an article in their Life & Style section about the spice saffron.  Their tagline for the piece was “It’s hard to produce and more costly than gold“.

These things are undoubtably true: each stem of saffron started life as a stigma on a crocus.  Each bulb flowers only once each year, producing just two or three stigma which must then be harvested by hand.  The writer of the article was provided, by Harrods, with a sample:  2g of saffron produced by over 400 flowers and costing £25 (at the time of writing about 30€ or $37).

Saffron’s usage, and cultivation, goes back an incredibly long way:

For as long as there have been people, people have known about saffron. A dye from its stigmas colours 50,000-year-old cave paintings in what is now Iraq. Ancient frescoes on the Greek island of Santorini depict a goddess watching – or perhaps blessing – a woman picking saffron, presumably for medicine. No one knows how old this painting is: a volcano buried it in around 1500BC, and the work could have been hundreds of years old even then.

Now here’s the oddity: saffron, and many other herbs and spices, are surprisingly inexpensive in Cyprus.  That’s not to say that it’s possible to buy premium grade saffron cheaply but it is certainly cheaper than the UK.

At the time of writing Carrefour are selling 30g of Syrian saffron for 3€; that is about 7% of the price of the saffron sold by Harrods.

For anyone coming on holiday to Cyprus it would be a great shame not to reserve a corner of the suitcase for a supply of herbs and spices bought from any of the supermarkets.  In the space it would take to re-pack a novel it should be possible to re-stock the kitchen stocks of herbs and spices for a year.

Saffron, peppercorns, coriander, mustard seeds and crushed chillis are all great buys here.