Posts Tagged ‘cooking’

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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.

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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!