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Saturday, 27 August 2011

Grow and use herb anise/aniseed

Aniseed is an annual herb which is best grown from seed in its final position, as it does not transplant very well. Seeds can be sown in Cyprus between January and February at 3mm deep and gradually thinned in stages to 50cm apart. Aniseed likes soil with pH of between 6.0-7.5 and prefers light, fertile and well drained soils. The herb needs moderate watering and is relatively drought tolerant.

All parts of the plant are edible, but especially so the seeds but remember to keep some seeds for replanting next year. You can use aniseed leaves in salads. Seeds are useful as a flavouring during cooking or baking or for adding to home made pickles. The stems and roots, after washing, can also be added to soups and stews to provide a mild liquorice flavour. When the herb is flowering try adding some flowers to a fruit salad.

Aniseed tea is traditionally used in Cyprus to treat digestive problems. The tea can also be used to treat coughs and colds and the seeds chewed as a mouth freshener.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Aloe Vera cultivation and uses

I would recommend you grow some aloe vera either indoors or outdoors which has been used for centuries for all sorts of medical conditions.

Aloe Vera is a succulent herbal medicinal plant which grows happily in full sun or partially shaded conditions but needs a well drained soil. Being a succulent it is very drought tolerant and is resistant to most pests and diseases. The plant stores it's own water supply and should be allowed to completely dry out before re-watering in the summer months and only water minimally during the winter months.

Aloe Vera can easily be propagated from off-cuts and is an excellent indoor plant but it can be grown outside where there is no possibility of temperatures dropping below zero. Aloe Vera grown outside will result in its leaves becoming much lighter in colouring.

Once established, leaves can be harvested for many uses. Use the leaf sap to make a soothing and healing moisturising cream which is excellent for dry skin, add some sap to your shampoo to assist with itchy or dry scalps or use the sap to cool and heal any skin which has been sunburnt.

The sap has medicinal properties and is useful for treating a variety of skin conditions, athletes foot, insect stings and burns.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Why grow your own food?

If you have started to Grow Your Own or already do so, here are our top reasons why we like growing our own food!

1. Growing Your Own saves you money by cutting your food costs. It's amazing the amount of vegetables that can be grown from a packet of seeds.  And you can further reduce your costs by saving seeds to replant the next year, foraging and swapping surplus fruit, vegetables and herbs with family or friends. 

2. Growing Your Own reduces your carbon footprint.. Food grown at home does not have to travel anywhere. Compare this to food that is flown in from all around the planet and driven round the country in lorries. Also supermarket vegetables and herbs come wrapped in plastic packaging which go to landfill sites.

3. By Growing Your Own you can avoid the nasty chemicals in pesticides and fungicides used when growing our food. You know exactly what goes into the food you grow. The bottom line is that pesticides and fungicides are poisons designed to kill living organisms which can also harm humans. If you can, be organic as possible and if using chemicals try to use natural ones.

4. Growing Your Own is very relaxing and good physical exercise. There’s nothing nicer or more relaxing than spending a couple of hours tending to your plants. Garden work brings those stress levels right down and the exercise you get from digging, bending, lifting and moving will burn off lots of calories.

5. Growing Your Own allows you to taste new produce. For example, there are around 7500 different varieties of tomatoes available, compare this to the few varieties on a supermarket stand.  If you grow your own there’s no need to stick to the same old varieties,  you can grow all kinds of exotic crops and unusual vegetables. You can even help revive forgotten native species by growing them yourself, or grow your own favourite foreign crops without the usual air miles.Growing Your Own also inspires you to cook more and discover new recipes to use.

6.  Growing Your Own is a brilliant lesson for children.  Getting them involved shows them the food on the plate does not just come from a supermarket shelf and that actually it’s from the ground and we need to look after the land.  

7. Growing Your Own will help keep you healthy. Freshly picked organic vegetables are packed full of nutrients.  Transfer vegetables straight from the garden to kitchen to plate and you benefit from all those freshly picked healthy vitamins. Vegetables start losing nutrients as soon as they’re picked, so by growing your own you avoid the long, vitamin sapping journey of some supermarket bought produce.

8. Growing Your Own means you can share your home grown crop with friends, family and work 

9. Growing Your Own saves energy, farms have changed drastically few generations, from family-based small businesses dependent on human energy to large-scale factory farms. Modern farming uses more oil than any other single industry. Oil is used to drive farm machinery, produce synthetic fertilizers and to transport  produce around the planet.

10. Growing Your Own promotes biodiversity. Mono-cropping is the practice of planting large plots of land with the same crop year after year. While this approach expanded farm production, the lack of natural diversity of plant life has left the soil lacking in natural minerals and nutrients. To replace the nutrients, chemical fertilizers are used and often in ever increasing amounts. Single crops are also much more susceptible to pests, making farmers more reliant on pesticides and some insects have become genetically resistant to certain pesticides and stronger pesticides have become necessary.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

What are we eating -pesticides in our food

One of the primary reasons we started growing our own vegetables, herbs and fruit, over twenty years ago in the UK, was the worry over what we were feeding our young family.The over use of  pesticides which are toxic chemicals mainly used to kill weeds, insects or fungal growth leave residues in most of the food we consume. 

These toxic chemicals can harm our health, wildlife and the environment. Every year agricultural workers are accidentally poisoned or after constant exposure to these harmful chemicals many suffer from long term health problems such as cancers. After researching the control of pesticides, I found that the government tests thousands of foods a year for pesticide residues. These results are published by the Pesticide Residues Committee quarterly.

These reports show that between a third and half of all fruit and vegetables sampled contain detectable traces of pesticide residues and somewhere between 3% and 4% have residues over the legal limit. Residues get into the produce when overused on crops or when crops after harvested too soon after pesticide usage but can even be detected if used according to the pesticide manufactures instructions.

A few thousand tests are a very tiny percentage of the fruit and vegetables consumed and can only provide an indication of which produce are more likely to contain residues. A high dose of chemical residues may cause a short term problem such as a stomach ache but I am more worried about the long term damage caused by small amounts of a chemical cocktail. Although the manufactures tell us that individually these chemicals are safe in minute doses, it is the damage caused by a lifetime of exposure to a cocktail of chemicals which has never been tested.

The amount of pesticides applied to crops is high and one crop may be treated with several different chemicals all leaving residues. For example, a lettuce may be treated up to five times and strawberries about twelve times.  

So it is wise to grow as much of your own food as you can. Or alternatively buy organic fruit and vegetables. If using conventionally grown crops - thoroughly wash all fruit and vegetables and scrub root vegetables, discard the outer leaves of leafy crops, don't use the peel or zest for cooking and for small children peel all fruit.. 

Monday, 8 August 2011

Marigold's can help with sunburn

With temperatures soaring in the Mediterranean, the one thing most people forget is the effects of  UV rays on the skin. Rather than purchasing expensive products full of artificial chemicals to soothe your skin, why not try some natural skin care made from pot marigold or calendula petals.

Marigolds have natural chemicals which can help repair cell damage from UV rays. To make your own marigold treatment harvest two cups of flowers and steep them in three cups of boiling water . Allow the mixture to thoroughly cool and strain the flowers. Keep the liquid in the fridge and dab it onto affected areas with a soft cloth or with a cotton ball.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Cypriot kofte or meatballs recipe

Delicious walnut sized meatballs are traditionally always part of Cypriot mezze.

Ingredients: 500g of minced lamb or beef; 750g of finely grated potatoes which after grating are squeezed to extract as much liquid as possible; one onion finely chopped; one medium sized egg; 75g of finely chopped parsley; 2 teaspoons of cinnamon; 2 teaspoons of dried mint and salt and pepper to taste.

1. Thoroughly mix all the ingredients in a bowl.
2. Shape into walnut sized balls and either shallow or deep fry in hot oil until golden brown
3. Serve hot or can be served cold with a fresh salad

Friday, 5 August 2011

kolokas or Kolokasi (taro) recipe

Taro is known in Cyprus as Kolokasi or Kolokass. The plant is toxic when raw due to the presence of calcium oxilate which is reduced to safe levels by cooking. Taro is usually planted in March and harvested between September to October. Plants require a lot a water.

Ingredients - 450g of kolokasi, 3 sticks of celery, 1 large onion, 3 Tbsp of tomato puree, olive oil and salt and pepper.

(1) Chop the onion and celery
(2) Peel the kolokasi and wash and dry, before cutting into large chunks
(3) Fry the onion until browning and then add the celery and kolokasi and continue frying, stirring                
      occasionally, for about 15 minutes until the kolokasi starts to brown
(4) Dissolve the puree in hot water and add
(5) Cover with water and add salt and pepper to taste
(6) Simmer for about an hour or until the kolokasi is soft

Serve hot with fresh bread

Thursday, 4 August 2011

How to grow, harvest and preserve basil

The basil started indoors in February and planted out in May is growing well. Basil germinates easily and grows happily in a warm sunny spot but protected from the wind. And there are many varieties to try growing and include red and purple varieties.

Harvesting basil is very easy. Just pinch off as many leaves as you need but leave some leaves on each branch so the plant will keep growing. You can alternatively cut off whole branches which makes it easier to wash and remove leaves for preserving.

For the best flavour, pick your basil early in the morning before the hot sun has come out and dried the plant and pick leaves when young.

Besides being an important culinary herb, with its warm spicy flavour, basil has other uses. Place a pot of basil on a windowsill to deter flies or infuse some leaves as a tea to aid digestion. However, we think its at its best when added to freshly picked tomatoes in a simple tomato, basil and olive oil salad.

To preserve your basil for use in the kitchen there are several options but, whichever you choose, always wash your basil thoroughly first and dry well before preserving. 

To freeze basil, chop the leaves and mix with olive oil before freezing or place two teaspoons of chopped basil in ice cube trays and fill with water and freeze.

You can also dry by hanging bunches for 2-3 weeks in an dry and breezy area such as by a kitchen window and once thoroughly dry crumble your basil for storage into an airtight jar.

Basil will also keep in the fridge for several weeks. Firstly heat olive oil to very warm and add chopped basil, remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature before pouring into a clean jar and seal. Once fully cooled keep in the fridge. 

Finally, you can make your own pesto and freeze it or keep it in the fridge for a couple of weeks. There are endless recipes available on the internet and include pesto without nuts for those with an allergy or using walnuts if pine nuts are not available.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Cypriot lokma or crisp doughnut recipe

These small golden fried doughnut's are served hot with honey, a sugary syrup or simply dipped in a bowl of sugar. The following recipe will make between 25-35 lokmas.

Ingredients: 250g of plain flour; 6g of dried yeast or half a Tbsp; a pinch of salt; 275ml of warm water; 1 tsp of sugar; vegetable oil for frying; honey or sugar and cinnamon to serve.

1. Sift the plain flour into a bowl and add the salt, dried yeast and sugar.

2. Add the warm water whilst continually stirring until the mixture is smooth. 

3. Cover an allow to rest for an hour, in a warm place, until the mixture has doubled in size.

4. Heat oil until very hot and drop teaspoons of the mixture into the oil. Dip your teaspoon into cold water before each drop to prevent sticking.  Turn them as they are frying and remove when golden brown 

5. Dribble with honey. a sugary syrup or sugar and sprinkle lightly with cinnamon before serving.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Cypriot dolma or stuffed vine recipe

A traditional Cypriot recipe which is made with vine leaves, from which the stems have been removed, however, the filling can also be used to stuff vegetables such as capsicums, tomatoes, onions or cabbage leaves. Vine leaves are best collected when they are nice and tender in May/June but can be frozen or stored in brine for use throughout the year. 

The following recipe requires approximately 60 vine leaves; 500g of beef or lamb mince, a medium sized onion; 2 cups of rice; olive oil, a lemon; a small bunch of fresh mint or if unavailable dried; 5-6 tomatoes or a tin of tomatoes; cinnamon; salt and pepper.

1. Wash the freshly picked vine leaves and put into a pot of boiling water for about five minutes and then straight into cold water.

2. Peel and chop the onion finely and chop the tomatoes finely. Place the onions and tomatoes into a bowl and add the mince and rice. Add the juice of a lemon, a little olive oil, finely chopped mint, a pinch of cinnamon and salt and pepper to taste. 

3. Thoroughly mix all the ingredients and add a little water if needed.

4. Place a leaf on a large plate and add about two tablespoons of the mixture and fold the left and right sides over and roll the leaf tightly. Place in an oiled pan and repeat till all the mixture is used. 

5. Cover the top with vine leaves, place a plate on top and a weight (usually a stone) to keep the dolmas submerged and in place.

6. Cover with boiling water, bring to the boil and simmer for about 75 minutes on a low heat.

7. Allow to stand for about 45 minutes and serve with a fresh salad.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Prickly pear sorbet

Prickly pear (babutsa or papoutsoyska) is a member of the cactus family and is found growing throughout Cyprus. The fruit is ripe and harvested between August and September. We have planted the prickly variety and a non-prickly variety which are growing rapidly. Prickly pear fruits are a good source of dietary fibre, calcium, magnesium, potassium and vitamin C.

The prickly pear must be harvested wearing gardening gloves to protect yourself from the small but very sharp spines. Gloves are also necessary to peel the fruit. Start by cutting off both ends , cut a vertical slit down the fruit and peel back the skin to leave the fruit. The fruit can be eaten raw but is an acquired taste as it full of hard seeds.  

To make the sorbet pick 8-10 fruits, peel as mentioned, and using a fruit press extract the juice until you have about two cups. Add half a cup of water to thin the juice and one tablespoon of vodka which is required to keep the sorbet smoother as alcohol does not freeze. Stir in sugar to your own taste. Freeze for 45 minutes, remove, whisk and re-freeze for a further 30 minutes. After the second period of freezing your prickly pear sorbet is ready to serve as an appetiser or dessert. A wonderful flavour - enjoy.