A highland fling

our wee adventure on the Black Isle

Winterising a favourite recipe

We have loads of recipes that we love, some from cookbooks and some made up from our own little heads. Some are only good when made in the summer, from our own summer garden. Some are best in the winter, likewise from our garden, but this time from the root vegetables of the winter garden.

A favourite in the summer is a tomato and onion bake. It is super simple, but delicious, and relies on the ‘wonderfulness’ of the ingredients that go into it. It only contains tomatoes, potatoes, onion, basil and cheese – see what I mean by simple?

Last night, we were craving this dish, as it was such a cold and windy night. We wanted something flavourful and warming. But as this recipe relies so much on the great tomatoes you can only eat in the summer, was it even possible to enjoy it in the winter?

What to do? Kenton had the solution! Instead of using store-bought tomatoes, why not use our own tomatoes, preserved in the summer? And instead of fresh basil, why not use our own oregano, dried in the autumn?

So I did – and the result was a warming, comforting meal full of flavour and richness. It was every bit as good as our summer version, if not even better!

Why not give it a try?

Summer version of our casserole. We ate the winter one before I could take a photo!

Summer version of our casserole. We ate the winter one before I could take a photo!

Winter warmer tomato and potato casserole

potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly
1 large jar of home-preserved tomatoes
4 oz tomato puree, home-preserved
onions, sliced thinly
6 oz cottage cheese
salt, pepper
4 T dried oregano, home dried
good grating cheese mix, such as cheddar + parmesan + gruyere

Grease a casserole dish – I use a round casserole, but any type is fine, as long as it is deep enough for several layers.

Lightly cook the tomatoes and puree together until slightly thickened, but make sure to leave some juice so the casserole isn’t dry.

First, put a layer of onion on the bottom. Next, add some spoonfuls of the tomato mix to cover, then the slices of potato. Salt and pepper, add some of the oregano, then a few spoonfuls of the cottage cheese, and lastly add some of the grated cheese.

Continue layering as above (I had 3 layers), ending with the grated cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees (gas mark 4) for 1 hour, or until the potatoes are cooked. If the dish seems dry part way through, add a few teaspoons of water.

Comfort food

It’s a cold November evening and the wind is howling. The central heating is on, and the fire in the wood burner is blazing away. How cozy does this house feel?

Last year’s improvements are really paying off. The double glazed windows and doors, despite our reluctance to install them, have been a real blessing. Can you imagine — windows and doors that actually keep the wind and rain out? Sheer luxury.

Amazingly yummy criolla!

Amazingly yummy criolla!

We decided to celebrate by fixing a terrific comfort food dinner – an Argentinian dish called “Criolla Carbonada”, from one of our great cookbooks. It has a huge range of surprising ingredients – corn cobs, pumpkin, meat, tomatoes, peaches – that come together to form a rib-stickingly (sic) great dinner!

It’s the Argentinian version of beef stew, I’m sure – you remember how your mother used to fix that on a cold winter’s night, topped by fluffy dumplings? Heaven.

Garden’s leftovers

Here we are, almost the middle of October, and we are still getting lovely veggies from the garden!

OK, so they don’t look that good. We picked a bag full of peppers, aubergines and tomatoes, and I would imagine that if you saw them in a supermarket, you’d never buy them! They are scabby, a bit soft, and some are split.

heritage tomatoes

Coming to the last of the summer veg!

But oh, the taste! The ones that are in good shape we save for sandwiches, or on our toast in the morning, or in salads.

The others? They’re really not good enough for preserving in the normal way. However, I came across a fabulous way of roasting vegetables in the oven! You chop them up, put them in a big roasting pan, roast in a hot even, then put in ziplocs for freezing.

How to use them? Better to ask how not to use them! We have used them in soups, stews, on pasta, on pizza, spiced up for a curry, you name it, it’s great.

And all winter long, we will be able to revel in the tastes of summer – luxury!

Roasted vegetables 

Green peppers
Ripe tomatoes
6-7 rosemary sprigs
olive oil

Rough chop all the vegetables, and put in a large roasting pan. The proportion of each is up to you!

Drizzle olive oil over the veggies, then add the rosemary and lightly turn over.

Bake in a hot oven (gas mark 7, 425F) until the vegetables are roasted nicely and most of the liquid has cooked away.

Freeze in ziplocs when cool.

Ready to roast!

Ready to roast!

Ready to use

Ready to use


Autumnal feelings

Since we returned from a visit to the UK, it has felt decidedly autumnal here at Casa Tyr. Before we left, the days were very warm, and we’d sit out on the terrace of an evening until it was too dark to read. Lovely.

Now, the days are quite cool, and there is a different feel to the air. Today, we ventured down to the garden to collect fruit and veg, and to water.

The tomatoes are starting to look soooooo sad. The leaves and stems are starting to die off, and there is no new growth. We have only a few cantaloupe left in our melon patch.

Tomato, onion and basil salad

Using the last tomatoes of the season!

I’m already mourning not having fresh tomatoes every day. All summer long, we eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and still I crave more. As Kenton says, though, no matter how long we could continue picking them, I’d still feel the same way.


We picked 2 big bags full, so tomorrow, I’ll be roasting peppers and tomatoes ready for “Roasted tomato and rosemary soup” come winter. Man, will that taste good, and eating it will bring back in an instant the fresh tomato smell of summer.


bella Italia mia!

As much as we love Spain, I think Italy is our spiritual home. When we were ‘in the life’, we’d holiday there all the time, in an apartment by an old water mill in the mountains about an hour from Pisa (mountains, rural, farming, sound familiar??). We would try to sneak away for a week a couple of times a year – we would seldom do much, as we are not committed sightseers, but we would sometimes take a trip into Florence for the day.

Ah, that week. So relaxing, so quiet. The nearest village was a couple of kilometres away, and had only a couple of restaurants and shops, perfect for us. Our favourite restaurant was run by a local family. We liked to go there for Sunday lunch, when it would be packed with noisy families enjoying the terrific, always-fresh food. There wasn’t a menu; the waitress would read from a list of items that were ‘on’ for the day, and you’d pick – the surprise was when you received each course, to see if you had actually ordered what you thought (we didn’t speak Italian)!

So what is it about Italy? The food comes to mind first. It’s hard to get a bad meal, unless you eat at one of the touristy squares in, say, Florence. We are passionate about our food, and so are the Italians! The food in Spain is also wonderful, but I really swoon over the pastas, polentas and sauces of Italy.

I like the irreverence, too – a trait shared by Spaniards, or at least in our own Andalucia. Rules are there, laws are there, and they are good and necessary – but it is, of course, necessary to bend them! Very little is sacred, from the paying of tax to the speed limit.

So in honour of our love for Italy, here is our own take on Italian food, perfect for a light summer dinner. Enjoy!


Polenta with eggs

Polenta with eggs

For the polenta: Use 1 cup polenta to 3 cups fresh chicken broth. Slowly add the polenta to the boiling broth, then add 2 T chopped fresh sage, and cook until thick. Pour into a greased loaf pan and cool.

Note: polenta meal is hard to find in our area, so I use regular cornmeal.

  1. Slice the polenta, and fry in olive oil until the outside is slightly crisp. Arrange overlapping slices on a plate.
  2. Fry a free range egg or two until desired ‘doneness’, arrange on the polenta slices.
  3. If desired, sprinkle with some fried, chopped bacon, but this is optional.
  4. Slice some fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes, and arrange on the plate; top with fresh basil and a bit of olive oil.
  5. Grate fresh Parmesan over the top and serve.



Sumptuous eats from the garden

I know – we’re lucky. We have absolute control over what we eat, because we grow almost everything. We know what we do (and do not) put on our food. No sprays, no chemicals – all natural.

Sure, this means they don’t look perfect – but then, who cares? The taste of our vegetables is out of this world, and we gorge on them all summer long.

To celebrate summer, here is a light and delicious vegetarian casserole for you. Our version used all our own ingredients (except the cheese), including our own Yunquera Gold olive oil! You can make this ahead, and bake it later, or bake it early and eat it room temperature (which, given our high summer temperatures, is my preferred way of eating it).

Exact amounts are not given, as the amount depends on the size casserole you are making! I used 3 large-ish potatoes, about a dozen tomatoes and 3 onions, but my home-grown veggies are variable in size, so use your own judgement! I also use more cheese than some might, because we love it!

Potato, basil and tomato bake

Potato, basil and tomato bake

Potato, basil and tomato bake

potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly
large tomatoes, sliced
onions, sliced thinly
olive oil
salt, pepper
fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
good grating cheese mix, such as cheddar + parmesan + gruyere

Grease a casserole dish – I use a round casserole, but any type is fine, as long as it is deep enough for several layers

First, put a layer of onion on the bottom. Next, add a layer of overlapped slices of tomato and potato. Pour a light drizzle of olive oil over the layer. Salt and pepper, add some of the torn basil leaves, then add some of the grated cheese.

Continue layering as above (I had 3 layers), ending with the grated cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees (gas mark 4) for 1 hour, or until the potatoes are cooked. If the dish seems dry part way through, add a few teaspoons of water.


Yes, indeedy – I’m back!

Dear diary, it’s been a month or more since I last wrote to you.

Well, it’s certainly been a month, and I’m so sorry! I’ve definitely been thinking about you, lovely readers, but between getting ready for a family visit and actually having that visit, there has been no time for anything web!

One brief, hectic week of having our lives turned upside down, and they are gone.

Peggy and Matilda with Freddy

I know we all have to get our lives back, but oh man, is this house quiet! I have to say, though, it was usually noisy due to our daughter rather than the delicious Matilda! 🙂 We are well used to spoiling our daughter Peggy rotten on her visits to us, and nothing has changed – we delight in preparing her favourite meals, or finding new recipes for her to try!

And Matilda? Well, she also loves our cooking. Grandma’s baby meatballs and Grandpa’s special crispy pork were real favourites. Another generation to spoil!

This week, it’s been back to work with a vengeance. We were way behind on our usual summer work, so the weeds were quite…amazing. This week, it was weeding, watering and harvesting! Although the weeding isn’t so fun, the harvesting of our great potato crop and our very own garlic was extremely gratifying.

All this garden work was accomplished in sweltering hot weather, too! After a mostly cool June, summer hit with a vengeance. Gee, thanks, Andalucia, for striking hot right when we needed to garden!

So tonight, a hot day. It’s World Cup night again, and we don’t want to swelter over a hot stove. What to have for dinner? Huevos rancheros!


Great hot night dinner!

Great hot night dinner!

Huevos Ranchero

free range eggs, fried
tomato salsa (homemade puree cooked with garlic, cumin, coriander, hot chillies, salt and pepper)
wheat tortillas
batch of refried beans (cooked pinto beans mashed and fried in olive oil with onion, garlic and chillies)
grated cheddar cheese

In half the tortilla, put a layer of hot refried beans, and fold over. Fry briefly in an ungreased frying pan, then top with the desired amount of salsa. Top with 1 or 2 fried eggs, then top with grated cheddar cheese.