Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ready, Steady Cook!

Yes, it is marmalade time of year again. Some of you may remember my efforts last year when I was still in our rented flat with no big pans, or other equipment to help me. Then I was given a bag of bitter oranges, so I couldn't resist the challenge to turn them into marmalade. This year I am better equipped with a new five ring hob, plus my pressure cooker and preserving pan so I set about finding some seville oranges. This proved much harder than I had expected. Any jam the Spanish make is very sweet, so they don't appreciate the use of bitter oranges to make orange jam or mermelada. I asked at all the market stalls in our village and at Turre, but none of them had any or were able to get any for me. I also asked at church and at my sewing group if anyone knew where I could get them, but to no avail. Two weeks ago I went back to a lady in our market called Josephina. I am beginning to get to know her because I buy most of my fruit and vegetables from her stall. She speaks no English so I dug deep in my head and found enough Spanish to ask her again for naranjas amargas (bitter oranges). She said 'No, no my oranges are very sweet' and proceeded to cut one up so I could taste it. I said how lovely it was and duly bought some of them, and then asked again for the bitter ones 'to make mermelada'. She shook her head, but at the time she was also talking with another lady who was speaking fluent Spanish, but I spoke to her in English and I realised she was actually English. I now know that she works as an interpreter. I told her that Josephina keeps giving me her oranges to taste how sweet they are, but I want bitter ones to make marmalade. They need to be bitter for the flavour, and to help it to set. So she then talked to Josephina again, and who tapped her head to show me she would try to remember to find some. I said I would come back the next week. So this Tuesday I again went to her stall, and she asked me 'Do you want oranges, yes?' I nodded and she went behind the stall and fetched me a carrier bag full of oranges. I couldn't tell if they were bitter ones but I thanked her profusely and asked 'How much?' She shook her head and said 'Nada. They are a gift. They are not good' I thanked her again and said I would take her some marmalade, but she scewed up her face. I think she thinks that will be bitter too! I weighed them when I got home and there were five kilos of them. So that afternoon I got on with making my marmalade. I only used three kilos and that filled my preserving pan to capacity. I pressure-cooked the fruit first which makes it very easy to shred the peel. This batch made twenty six pounds of marmalade. I shall be giving quite a bit away and selling some for our church funds, and of course keeping quite a bit for us. I may try using some more of the oranges to make a few jars of darker, thick, chunky cut marmalade for some friends at church who prefer it. I like mine shredded as fine as possible. At least if I ask Josephina again next year, she will have a better understanding of what I want and why.
I told you in my last blog about the new butcher in the village and the rather large chicken I bought from him. Well I roasted it on Sunday and it was beautiful. I stripped it down that night and put away five more meals for two people in the freezer, plus enough cold meat in the fridge for sandwiches the next night, and made a big pot of chicken and leek soup from the stock I made by boiling the carcass, so all in all it wasn't so expensive after all. At the same time as I bought the chicken I also asked him for some beef mince. There was none in view on the counter, but he leaned across and picked up some big lengths of very fat beef (probably from ribs), trimmed it up and minced it in front of me. It was a very coarse mincer and the fattest mince I have ever bought. It didn't look very appetizing, but I wasn't going to waste it so I put it in my slow-cooker with a little stock, added a chopped onion, and cooked it gently for a couple of hours. Then I strained it and left the juice to settle. I removed a whole cereal dishful of fat from this, and stirred the stock back into the meat. Again I froze three boxes of this for future use, and put the last portion in a dish with a suet pastry crust for our dinner and it was absolutely delicious and very, very tender. So although my first visit to the new butcher was not quite what I had expected, it turned out to be very worthwhile. Out here you just have to adapt, and not reject things because they are not like we had in England, and sometimes we are pleasantly surprised by the results.
While I was helping Chris to sweep up the yard this week, I saw this bug creeping across the path. As our dogs will eat anything that might possibly be food, I thought I had better move it in case it was poisonous to them, so I persuaded it to walk onto a stone, and tossed it over the back fence into the rambler. But first I took a photo of it. It was a handsome beastie with a black, segmented back and a pretty pink under belly. I have no idea what it is, but I think it must be larva for something.

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