French Onion Soup

FRENCH ONION SOUP

This is my version of a French onion soup. We’ve just harvested this year’s onions at the cortijo so I thought it would be a good idea to cook this to mark the harvest.

French Onion Soup

The secret is to cook the thinly sliced onions for a long time so that they caramelise thoroughly. You can start the pan on a fairly high heat at first as the onions will have a lot of water and then you can adjust the flame as the onions dry out.

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 large onions, cut into quarters and then thinly sliced in a food processor (the sliced onions weighed 1100g)
  • 2 vegetable stock cubes
  • a splash of balsamic vinegar
  • a splash of soy sauce
  • a splash of Worcestershire sauce
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • a teaspoon or so of salt
  • a large knob of butter

METHOD

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan.
  2. Add the sliced onions and fry.
  3. Cover with a lid and leave to fry, on quite a high flame at first before turning the heat down gradually, checking them every 5 minutes to see that they temperature is not too high.
  4. The important thing is for the onions to caramelise slowly so that they turn a dark brown.
  5. Add the stock cubes and the butter and continue to fry gently.
  6. After about 5 minutes, pour in the water and the other ingredients and bring to the boil.
  7. Serve with croutons and grated cheese.
  8. To make the croutons, cut some stale bread into cubes.
  9. Transfer to a bowl and sprinkle over some olive oil.
  10. Cook in an air fryer on 200ºC for 5 minutes or so, tossing in the bowl half-way through the cooking time.

Vegetarian Paella with Tofu and Hard-boiled Egg

VEGETARIAN PAELLA

The paella is cooked over the flames shortly after the fire is lit. The idea is to use the heat from the flames to fry the onions, peppers and tomatoes before adding the rice and the stock and then cooking over a more constant heat once the fire has died down a bit.

We lit the fire at 13:00 and the paella was ready at 14:00.

One of the secrets to making a good paella is to get a beautiful layer of the caramelised socarrat on the bottom of the pan. You can see how much liquid is left and by cooking the paella for a final 10 minutes on a gentle flame when there is not much liquid left, you should get the socarrat of your dreams.

Vegetarian Paella

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 large red pepper, roughly chopped
  • 1 green pepper, roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • saffron
  • 1 block firm tofu
  • 4 tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • frozen artichoke pieces or baby artichokes
  • 60g paella rice per person
  • a couple of handfuls of cooked butter beans
  • a couple of handfuls of flat green beans, topped and tailed and cut into 2cm pieces
  • 3 vegetable stock cubes
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, thinly sliced
  • water
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil

METHOD

  1. The day before, pound together the crushed garlic, saffron and a pinch of salt in a pestle and mortar.
  2. Add the water and transfer to a small jar with a lid. Leave overnight, shaking hard every once in a while.
  3. An hour or so before you are ready to cook the paella, cut the tofu into cubes and marinate in a bowl with a good splash of soy sauce, some Tabasco and a drizzle of olive oil
  4. To cook the paella, heat some olive oil in a paella pan on an open fire.
  5. Add the onion, red and green pepper, season with salt and fry until soft.
  6. Add the chopped tomatoes and continue to fry.
  7. Sprinkle in the rice and stir well.
  8. Add a litre of water and the vegetable stock .
  9. Add the green beans and butter beans and stir well.
  10. Cover with a large lid and continue to cook over the fire for about 15 minutes, checking every 5 minutes to see that there is enough water.
  11. Arrange the tofu cubes on the top and pour over the marinade.
  12. Check the stock for seasoning, adding more salt if necessary.
  13. After about 30 minutes, check to see if the rice is cooked. Cook for longer if it needs more time, sprinkling water over the top if it looks as though all the water has evaporated.
  14. When the paella is almost done, arrange the sliced egg on the top. 
  15. Remove the lid and leave for another 5-10 minutes to caramelize the bottom of the pan for the socarrat.

Cherry Cake

CHERRY CAKE

Now that the cherries are ripe, it’s a race to get them before the birds finish them off and I’ve been trying out new recipes to use them up. 

Cherry Cake

INGREDIENTS

  • 225g butter, softened
  • 225g white sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 350g cherries, stoned
  • icing sugar

METHOD

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180ºC.
  2. Line a 23cm square tin.
  3. Beat the butter and sugar together.
  4. Beat in the eggs.
  5. Gradually mix in the flour.
  6. Fold in the cherries.
  7. Put in the cake tin and bake for 60 minutes.
  8. Sprinkle the top with icing sugar.

 

Cherry Jam with Powdered Pectin

cortijoblog cherry jam

CHERRY JAM

I try to use the least amount of sugar for jam-making but it will always depend on the sweetness of the fruit. Sorry about the mixed up measurements, but I liked the simplicity of whole numbers in different systems. 

Cherry Jam

INGREDIENTS

  • 8lb cherries
  • 17 tablespoons powdered pectin
  • 2kg sugar

METHOD

  1. Roughly pulse the cherries in a food processor.
  2. Transfer to a large preserving pan.
  3. Sprinkle over the pectin and mix thoroughly.
  4. Bring to the boil.
  5. Add in the sugar and stir well.
  6. Bring the jam to a rolling boil and boil for 1 minutes (this takes quite a bit of time).
  7. Skim the scum off the surface with a  slotted spoon.
  8. Pour into jars.
  9. Cook the jars in a water bath for 15 minutes.

Introducing New Hens into the Flock

INTRODUCING NEW HENS INTO THE FLOCK 

I’ve now owned hens for about 15 years now and over the years, I have tried different ways and methods of introducing new hens. I do not believe that any method enables you to magically introduce the new kids on the block to an established flock and not expect there to be some teething problems. I have found that as long as the original flock is happy and well-balanced then new hens can be introduced without any problems but invariably it takes time.

I have installed two security cameras in the chicken coop, one on either side. The original idea was to detect mice so that I could block up any holes where they were coming in but I’ve found them invaluable for keeping an eye on the hens to check that all is OK and they have everything they need regarding food and water. It also means I can keep a closer check on what is happening when I get new hens.

The pecking order exists for a reason and it is important for every bird in the flock to know their place and to respect the older hens. It is not something that can be achieved overnight and it can take at least several weeks before they are fully accepted.

I’ve found that 3 is the ideal number when buying new hens. This way, they have their own little gang who they feel comfortable with so that they are not so isolated.

I thought it would be interesting to keep a track of how long it took for them to become part of the flock and accepted. 

The cage is something I bought way back when I first had hens and I now use it for new hens or if a hen needs to be separated from the rest if they are sick, etc.

DAY ONE
I bought the 3 newbies in the morning of Friday 19th May. For the first three days, I kept them in the cage with food and water. I installed a new wire mesh with finer squares on the floor so it was nicer for them to stand on as I didn’t like the way that the chickens’ claws went through the gaps in the original floor. I simply cut a new piece of mesh and attached it to the base with pieces of wire.

DAY FOUR
I let the older hens out of the hen coop and let them wander outside before closing the coop door. I then opened the two doors of the cage and encouraged the new hens to step outside. Eventually they did. I left the new hens inside to explore the coop and have a drink and some food.

I also installed a second ladder so that they easily get up onto the manger to sleep.

Their “safe” space was the area under the egg-laying boxes. I allowed them access to this space for the first three days but then gradually reduced the amount of space by blocking it with crates. They then began to spend most of the day on the manger, flying down every so often for food and water.

I would go in every night to help them up onto the manger which is where they sleep.

The breakthrough day was DAY TWENTY-FOUR, Sunday 12th May 2024.

DAY TWENTY-FOUR
Over the past few days, the newbies had been gaining in confidence. There had been no excessive bullying form the other hens, apart from the occasional peck to show who the bosses were.

That night, the new hens got themselves up onto the manger to sleep, with a small space separating them from the other hens.

DAY TWENTY-FIVE
The hens slept the entire night in the same positions.

DAY TWENTY-SIX
This was the first day when the new hens were fully integrated in the flock, moving with the older hens as one flock.

That night, the new hens had gone up onto the manger early at about 18:00 but had then got off. Meanwhile, the older hens had gone up onto the manger to sleep and were huddled around at the top of the longer ladder, which is were they normally slept. This meant that the younger hens couldn’t access the manger. 

This was the first time that the new hens had tried to get up onto the manger using the longer ladder. Eventually, they sorted themselves out and they all went to sleep on the manger. Here is the picture:

DAY TWENTY-EIGHT (16th May 2024) – HEN UPDATE
Today one of the new hens laid her first egg and amazingly she laid it in the egg box. Here is a photo.