Archive for the ‘Tried & Tested’ Category

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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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Tried & Tested: Frozen Lemons

July 1, 2010

Having two mature lemon trees means that we have masses of fresh lemons for much of the year.  However, even when our lemons were sourced from UK supermarkets we went out of our way to get every last bit of use from them.

To make sure that they were ready to hand whenever needed, and had no chance of going off, we do the following:

  • Slice, overlap on a freezer-proof tray and freeze.  The slices behave best if they aren’t flat on the tray so use the ends to provide a support at one end of the run of slices
  • Once fully frozen separate the slices, bag and keep on hand until the next time a gin and tonic, vodka and tonic or glass of coke is poured
  • Because the lemon is frozen it’s possible to dispense with, or at least reduce the amount of, any ice needed

Frozen lemon slices

To squeeze the very last use out of the lemons:

  • Retain the end slices
  • Once frozen bag up separately to the slices and keep until kitchen-cleaning day
  • Boil the kettle, put two or three frozen lemon ends into a microwave-proof dish and add cold water
  • Make a cup of coffee
  • Place the lemon bowl in the microwave for two or three minutes on hot, go away and drink the coffee
  • Once it’s drunk return the kitchen, remove the bowl from the microwave and wipe down all the inside walls and surfaces with a cloth.  The lemon-scented steam generated by the bowl of water will have loosened any baked-on food, the lemon oil and juice will have fragranced and disinfected the microwave

Feel cheerful at the lack of effort involved in cleaning the microwave and the economy of using nothing but lemon ends which would have been discarded otherwise.

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Tried & Tested: Citrus Body Scrub

April 1, 2010

Sometimes for a little effort, and perhaps some mess, it is possible to make a product that is superior, cheaper, bespoke and more natural than similar items in the shops.  Citrus body scrub is a fantastic example.

If you know people who don’t follow this blog (Really, you do?  How is this possible?!) then you may even be able to take said item, pop it in a pretty jar, wrap some ribbon around it and gift it as a Christmas present or similar.

Think of the eco-kudos.

No darling, it’s just a little organic/natural/customised thing I made for you myself!

If truth be told this Tried & Tested came about from a glut of useless oranges.  To backtrack … when we first looked at the house MadAlex declared that the oranges on the tree in the garden were the best he’d ever tasted.  “They are fantastic, dahhhhhling!”  He was as designer with a fairly relaxed grasp on reality.  Perhaps you may have gathered that from previous posts?  Anyway, he picked two oranges from the tree and presented them to us.  As we drove home the car was filled with the most fantastic citrus smell.  With great anticipation we tried the oranges.

Imagine, a house with a whole tree of the very best oranges in our garden; we’d have to buy the house!  Suffice to say the oranges were absolutely rubbish.  They look great, they smell wonderful … they taste of water.  We tried palming them off on folks but got nowhere.

There’s an outside chance that the lack of taste is due to lack  of watering on MadAlex’s part, only time will tell.  Until then we needed a use for a tree’s worth of un-orangelike oranges and so the citrus body scrub was born.

So;

  • Take a pile of oranges, or lemons/limes/grapefruit or any other citrus fruit you have handy
  • Into a large bowl add about a kilo of salt.  Cheap and cheerful is fine; regular sea salt is perfect
  • Using a medium kitchen grater remove as much of the zest of your fruit as possible.  Do this directly over the bowl so that you don’t loose any zest or oil
  • Once you’ve zested the first fruit use a spoon to work the zest through the salt.
  • The amount of zest you’ve been able to remove and how much oil is in that zest will depend entirely on your fruit.  With our oranges fresh from the tree three or four of them will colour, frangrance and oil a kilo or so of salt.  Shop-bought fruit will yield less but once you’ve removed the zest the fruit can be used for juicing or eating
  • Work the zest through the salt until it’s even distributed.  Feel the salt between your fingers to see if you can feel any oiliness.  If not zest another orange or two or, for a heavier scrub, add a spoonful or two of almond oil or similar
  • When the consistency seems right, decant into jars

Such promise from just oranges and salt

Lashings of zest

Distributing the zest

Finished orange salt scrub

Ready for the shower

To use;

  • Apply to damp skin and work in a circular motion.
  • Rinse to remove the salt but do not then use shower gel or body wash on the skin.  If you do you’ll lose both the benefit of the fragrance of the citrus oil and its moisturising properties
  • This is best used in the shower but it will leave residual oil so the shower tray needs to be washed out with some detergent (diluted shower gel is fine) so it isn’t slippery
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Tried & Tested: Freezer Herbs

November 19, 2009

Freezer Herbs

Fresh herbs are a bit of a rarity here.  In due course we’re hoping to have a small herb garden up and running but clearly that’s a mid to long term solution.  In the meantime we have to make do with what’s available in the fruitaria, the fruit and vegetable shop.

Unlike in the UK supermarkets simply don’t stock many herbs regularly.  Corriander is widely available, and is absurdly cheap, but it is considered more a salad leaf than a herb.  Basil grows very well and is often cultivated in huge pots in restaurants to deter flies.  There’s a place in Larnaka that has an avenue of basil trees five feet tall for that very reason.

Those apart both of our regular fruitarias tend to have a single box of cut bunches of herbs.  Sometimes there’s a bunch of chives, occasionally some mint, and from time to time rosemary and thyme may make a rare appearance.  So, when we find something we tend to buy it and then try and figure out how we can make it last.

With that in mind, some of the lightly woody herbs not only freeze well but do so in such a way to reduce the necessary prep work.  How can this not be a good thing?!

So …

  • Wash the herbs, discarding any stalks that are damaged or tired
  • Line up the stalks as much as possible and place them in a sturdy freezer bag
  • Place the bag in the freezer, flat on the freezer plate if possible
  • Periodically (and ideally when the freezer is open for something else) rub the stalks, through the sealed bag, between your hands
  • Smile as you realise that all of the work of stripping the leaves is being done for you by the freezer
  • When the stalks are pretty bare snip a corner off the bag and decant the leaves into small container(s)

The total work is probably less than 10 minutes.  In return for that you get a handy stash of fresh herbs with no wastage.  The herbs can be used straight from frozen, just as you would fresh.

Freshly washed thyme

Bagged and ready for the freezer

Part-way through the freezing process

Part-way through the freezing process. Leaves at the bottom, stalks near the top

Snip the corner from the bag, decant. No mess, no waste and very little work

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Tried & Tested: Dried Tomatoes

October 8, 2009

One of our hopes in quitting work and moving here was that we would be able to live a simpler life. In financial terms we certainly needed to live more frugally, but we also wanted to shift down a gear or ten and live a quieter life.  Not so much “The Good Life” but with a healthy nod towards the mindful philosophy of the “Slow Food” movement.

With that in mind one of the things that we have enjoyed since we arrived is having the time to research and investigate and experiment some of the things that previously we could only say “Oh, that’s a great idea. I wonder if it actually works?”

Three years in we’ve been able to do some of that so we thought we’d share some of the things that have worked well. Some are money saving tips, some are time saving, some are using resources differently, some crafty, and so on.

To kick off, a foodie Tried & Tested.

Oven-Dried Tomatoes

From time to time (ok, a couple of times a month) we end up with a small bowl of sad and tired tomatoes languishing in the cupboard. Grocery shopping is approaching, it’d be a shame to waste the tomatoes but they’re, well, a little past their best.

And yet, it’s possible to not just refresh them but make them into something that can be used in any of half a dozen dishes. Their flavour concentrates, their texture changes entirely.  When Ian sees these being prepared he smiles. A suspicious soul would suggest that he over-buys tomatoes to make sure this happens regularly :-)

So;

  • Cut the tomatoes in half, or quarters if they are absolutely huge
  • Place them cut-side up in an oven proof dish (in this case, the lid of a pyrex dish bought for Mands by her grandmother as a housewarming present many year ago. Pyrex goes on forever!)
  • Drizzle over a little olive oil, sprinkle a little salt and freshly ground pepper. Add some herbs if there are any hanging about … in this case some thyme straight from the freezer
  • Put the dish in the oven on a very low heat for an hour, or two or even three, and allow the tomatoes to dry out
  • Once they are cooked put them in a tupperware, cover them completely with oil and pop them in the fridge, or even the freezer. They’ll keep happily in the fridge for a couple of weeks, though they tend not to last that long in this house.

Slightly tired tomatoes, pre-cooking

Slightly tired tomatoes, pre-cooking

To use them;

  • Toss them through pasta or add them to an existing pasta sauce
  • Add them to salads, using some of the oil to make the salad dressing
  • Stand at the fridge door and eat them direct from the tupperware, remembering to mop up the telltale oil dribbles before anyone notices
  • Drain them and pile them, with some parmesan or olives or herbs, onto lightly toasted bread to make bruschetta
  • Add them to homemade pizzas, or to shop-bought to make them a little more interesting

Things worth noting;

  • When the tomatoes are all gone the oil is great for adding a tomatoey flavour to other dishes
  • If the oven temperature is low enough they can be cooking along with something else. If the oven is on but the temperature is a little high they’ll probably be ok but do keep a close eye on them
  • They can be made in huge batches which is useful when the summer tomato glut comes
  • They cook really well in a halogen oven, particularly if there are round containers to hand
  • They are fairly robust in terms of the flavours they’ll accept. Thyme, oregano, garlic, chilli, balsamic vinegar (but skip the drizzle of oil) all work well
  • They are a great fridge standy-by for when folks drop by unexpectedly … a little like biscotti
Post-cooking

Post-cooking

Bruschetta with oven-dried tomatoes, smoked turkey & parmesan

Bruschetta with oven-dried tomatoes, smoked turkey & parmesan

Happy cooking!