The Cut and Thrust

I’ve just been having a hacking time in the garden again. All the rain over the last few months has given everything in the garden an urge to spread its wings, which, in turn, urged me to have a cut-back.

I had an arsenal of tools to aid me: long-handled loppers, secateurs, tree saw and hedge-trimmer. I got a bit carried away and ended up with a huge pile of debris. The worst bit about cutting back in the garden is the clearing up, all those clippings and branches to gather up and deposit.

One of the plants I gave a bit of a tidy  was the vine. Now don’t get excited- this isn’t a juicy grape bearing variety. It’s very decorative but the grapes are small, full of seeds and never usually get sweet enough to eat. Though they have made quite a good chutney in the past. The last couple of years sadly there haven’t been many grapes, the photo was taken a few years ago when there was an abundance but the very cold winter of 2010/11 has  upset it and then all the rain this year hasn’t helped. However the leaves are good and these are excellent for harvesting and storing to make koupebia.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the community garden in my village and the glut of potatoes and onions this has now moved on apace and we are into the marrow, courgette overwhelm.

We have several varieties of courgette growing including these rather dear little round courgettes. The trouble is if they don’t get picked when small, they grow at a rapid rate a day and end up pumpkin size!! I have large and small in the kitchen and today I thought I would stuff one. In Cyprus most vegetables are candidates for stuffing and collectively are called Yemista. The stuffing mixture I’m using will be minced lamb with onions, herbs, seasoning and tomatoes. As it happens we are also starting to get a good harvest of tomatoes and I’ll use a few of these to make a delicious filling for the courgette.

The filling ingredients are fried in a little oil and  cooked first then the centre of the courgette is cleaned out and the filling added. These will then be placed in a deep dish with a little water covering the bottom and placed in a moderately hot oven for about an hour. Deelicious.

I’ll have to think of a few more butternut squash recipes as well as we have a few of those in the pipeline. Aren’t we lucky by Jove!

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Inspiration- Stifado!

Red onion slices

Red onion slices (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve not been feeling very inspired lately, mundane jobs have been on my agenda like decorating and gardening which are taking up a lot of my time. I find my brain just seems to switch off and focus on the job in hand at these times, which I suppose is a good thing. But doesn’t give me any food for thought when it comes to writing a blog on Cyprus! But inspiration came and the result is – Stifado

Of course always I have “Androula’s Kitchen- Cypus on a Plate” on my mind and trying to work out my next step towards getting in print. That never goes away in fact it goes around my head constantly buzzing like some persistent mosquito! I think I know exactly where I should go next and then a new bit of information comes my way and scuppers my plan so it’s onto the next idea. But it has been said by many wise people that determination wins the day so that helps me re-focus and move forward however slowly it may feel to me, every step I take is one step closer to success.

The gardening I mentioned has been mostly at the community garden to which I belong in our village. It has been quite a stressful growing season this year as we have had so much rain together with cold temperatures. I was tending quite a big plot of potatoes and onions and these took up a lot of my time it seemed, battling against the elements and disease. Surprisingly we still managed to get a fair old crop and now it’s potatoes and onions with everything.

Onions are a major part in cooking, so many dishes use onions as a base for flavour and they are good for you too. Onions are good for the prevention of heart disease and also act as an anti oxidant. We have also been growing garlic , which is of course the same family and the thing I found surprising is how sweet fresh garlic tastes. As we have had such wet weather some of the onions have suffered and needed to be eaten straight away as they would rot if stored. So it was a hunt for recipes that use onions. I have been making onion tarts which in fact are a bit like a pizza but with just caramelised onions, anchovies and olives on top. Delicious, but it’s really a French recipe and as this is a blog about Cypriot things I think a Cypriot recipe is in order.

There are several Cypriot recipes that use lots of onions, my favourite is Stifado which also uses potatoes so perfect for my  purposes at this time. Rosie, a friend of  Androula’s and a great cook, gave me this recipe and I use it a lot. Enjoy.

Stifado

Serves 4

1 rabbit or hare cut into pieces

500 g shallots whole or onions quartered ( usually the weight of onions is equal to the meat)

500 g potatoes (optional) peeled, quartered or left whole if small

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

2 bay leaves

1 stick cinnamon

300 ml red wine

140 ml red wine vinegar

1 dessertspoon tomato puree, thinned with water or 284 ml passata ( sieved tomato)

salt

2 tablespoons olive oil for cooking

Fry the rabbit pieces in the oil until the meat turns golden then take out and put aside. Peel the shallots or onions, if using onions cut them into quarters but leave the shallots whole, peel and cut the potato if necessary and add to the juices in the pan, cook until the onions are soft. Put the meat back in the pan together with the peppercorns, salt, bay leaves, cinnamon, red wine and red wine vinegar together with the tomato juice or puree give everything a good stir. The liquid should cover the meat so add a little water if required. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then cover and leave to cook on a low heat or cook in a moderate oven gas mark 5/190C for 1½ to 2 hours until the meat falls from the bone and the juices are reduced.

Garden of Delights

I feel  complete content standing in my garden, the sun shining and  the breeze  rustling the leaves and flowers, the birds singing. April and May are my perfect months in my garden as all the blooming happens then. The daffodils

of course are first up in March or sometimes even February, bringing that lovely cheerful golden yellow to cheer us on after  barren, dark months of winter, promising life and light to come along with the hellibore bearing the soothing pale lime green floral abundance.  Hiding beneath this green glory are the shyer pale purple and green ones, their heads always bent in modesty but when you lift up their heads their perfect beauty takes your breath away.. In January looking out of the window at the brown earth and naked twigs and branches, it is hard to believe that in a brief two or three months a dense mass of varying shades of green will take its place.

Sweet cicely is first, it seems overnight its ferny mass shoots up and fans of delicate cream flowers stand tall amongst it’s green frothy cushion. The ornamental cherry then puts on a magnificent show of dark pink blossoms that makes your heart sing for joy at its beauty.  The day lily leaves all shoot up like arrows along with the flag iris; every year these promise to put on a good show of flowers the buds thickening and bulging under their fine wrapper of petal, I wait in anticipation for the first flower to throw off its cover in a dah dah moment, and then, overnight, the dreaded slug strikes biting into the stem just under the buds, leaving them with no channel of nourishment. This year however, as the weather has been exceptionally dry the pesky slugs and snails have retreated to moister climes and the flags are flying in their purple glory.

The aquilegia flowers  shoot up from their clover like leaves, white, aubergine, purple, blues and pinks every one different ,my favourite has a white ruff around a blue base and nods like a lantern.  One day I’m watching the peony break through the earth alongside the spear shaped heads of the Solomon seal, ten days later the peony buds are opening to reveal their voluptuous cerise lushness, soon to be blowsy, the green edged trumpet flowers of the Solomon seal neatly arranged in pairs along their delicate stems , nodding gently over them, with a mass of lime green euphorbia flowers spread underneath.

Everything is in a rush to show off its finery, each one vying for your attention, look at me, over here, the bees having a feast. Even without the rain everything is lush and cool. Yet to come are the burning orange of the day lily, the wonderful scents of honeysuckle, jasmine and apothecary rose and the jolly yellow saucer shaped flowers of hypericum not forgetting the calming scent and soothing blue of lavender. Such a garden of delights.