Saturday, January 22, 2011

Citrus Heaven

One of the most wonderful things about returning to Vejer from a wintry UK is the wonderful sight of the orange trees in Los Remedios, laden with glistening bright naranjas. This time of the year, freshly squeezed orange juice is at its best. Mother Nature having her hand in our winter injection of Vit C no doubt!
Everyone in town knows someone with orange and lemon trees in the Campo (countryside), so I'm luckily always being offered bagfuls of these wonderful Andalucian winter fruits. However, I remain mesmerised by the thrill of picking my own. Scratching the skin of a newly picked lemon can push me into the realms of a dream world. I wonder if in a previous life I maybe made my fortune from lemons or perhaps I was the Goddess of Lemons (who was she???). There is definitely something about freshly picked lemons that makes my heart sing.

Preserved Lemons originate from Morocco and have been used in Moroccan and Middle Eastern cuisine for centuries. Preserved in salt and spring water for weeks before use, the salt introduces another flavour to the bitterness of the lemon, creating a salty lemony explosion in your mouth like nothing else in the world!

There appears to be no definitive recipe on how to preserve lemons but the method described below, works for me. You can Google and watch films on YouTube to give you more confidence for your first time.

Preserved lemons are a shockingly wonderful addition to loads of dishes. Here are some of the ways we use them at Annie B's Spanish Kitchen - wonderfuly mixed with carrots & carrot puree, diced & mixed with other goodies through Bulgar wheat or couscous, stuffed into a chicken before roasting (breast side down of course so that all the yumminess soaks into the breast during cooking), diced & sprinkled with parsley, tuna, onion, olive oil & Sherry vinegar then folded through hot potatoes.

Before use,they need to be rinsed, the flesh pulled away, discarded and just the skin used.

In the UK, you need to seek out unwaxed, preferably organic lemons. The skin should not be shiny, which indicates it has been waxed.

Here is how I preserve my lemons.

Sterilize a jar big enough to hold the lemons you wish to preserve. Wash and scrub the lemons. Cut into quarters but NOT all the way to the bottom. The lemon should open out like a flower. Pack rock or sea salt(at least a tablespoon) into the lemon by opening out each half making sure that all exposed flesh is in contact/covered with salt. Pack lemons one by one into the jar. Add another couple of tablespoons of salt, perhaps even a Cinnamon stick and a few bay leaves and cover with bottled water. I leave half an inch at the top of the jar to fill with olive oil.. Turn the jar upside down every couple of days until you can see that all the salt has dissolved. Leave for a month before use. I never keep mine in the fridge. Lemons were preserved in the days before fridges were available.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Another glowing report - blush, blush. Thank you Margot!

Annie B's Spanish Kitchen: by Margot & Alice, mother & daughter from Auckland, New Zealand.November 2010

This is the most fun you will ever have in class. What a great decision it was to book a couple of days in Annie's Spanish Kitchen. From the first contact Annie was so helpful and informative - and patient with all my questions as I tried to work out how to get to Vejer from Seville by public transport! It is much easier to hire a car but it is possible to catch a bus at San Fernando which drops you in the village. We arrived in appalling weather, checked into the Hotel El Calif and were soon collected by Annie for the short walk up to her home. By then the rain had stopped and the evening was beautifully clear as we walked along the ancient cobbled streets of the village.

The 'Anniepov' (vodka/pomegranate) welcome cocktail soon obliterated any memory of our wet journey while we chatted to our fellow cooks and watched Annie finish the slow-roasted Spanish pork that was to be our dinner. It was melt-in-the-mouth delicious and accompanied by fabulous sherries and wines.

The next morning our cooking classes began at 10am with preparation of a Moroccan inspired lunch of marinated chicken, pomegranate couscous (incredible luscious pomegranates had just come into season) and our own designer vegetable stacks. The orange and almond cake complemented the chicken dish perfectly. We sat around the pool laughing, drinking fine sherries and wines and eating a sumptuous lunch - congratulating ourselves on the design of each vegetable stack. Annie teaches in her own home which is a delightful village house of many levels furnished with beautiful Spanish touches. The rooftop has glorious views all the way to the coast. In the evening we went bar-hopping in the old town with Annie guiding us in tastings of the finest Iberico hams, shellfish and sherries.

On the second day we visited the fish market in the neighbouring town. It was fascinating to see the varieties of fish, vegetables and fruit, many of which we had never seen before. We were intrigued to discover how many parts of a rooster can be used in cooking - and what's more there is a vacuum pack specifically designed for every part of that rooster's anatomy! Annie bought several varieties of fish and a large bag of fresh Anchovies.......specially for us to learn the finer points of filleting an anchovy. Easier than it sounds thank goodness - rip the head off, pull out the guts, gently open it out and the backbone lifts out miraculously to leave you with a (nearly) perfect flattened anchovy ready for marinating and eating. The flavour is nothing like the canned salted ones we are accustomed to. It is delicate and very more-ish. Lunch that day was whole fish baked in salt creating the most delicious moist fish. In the evening we returned for our final meal which was a paella cooked by Annie's lovely Spanish assistant with instructions from Annie as we went.

The two days whizzed by - we learned a lot of dishes and handy cooking hints (like how to deseed a pomegranate and how to make a veggie stack) but most of the time we were just having fun. Annie has the perfect touch as a hostess. She is warm, charming, generous, friendly and lots of fun as well as being an incredible cook and teacher. I cannot recommend her kitchen classes highly enough. We were sad to leave this lovely village and Annie's great company.