Thursday, 27 November 2014

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

You know I have recently been showing off a few really good-looking Parsnips? Like these ones...

Parsnips "Duchess"

I harvested those Parsnips today. The bigger one weighed 240g. Long, straight and practically unblemished - just how Parsnips should be. However...
At the same time I harvested this one:

Parsnip "Guernsey Half-Long"

It's not quite so good-looking, is it?

As you will have seen from the captions, I am growing two varieties of Parsnip - "Duchess" and "Guernsey Half-Long". The distorted (or "forked") parsnip seen above is the first one of the "Guernsey Half-Long" ones. I hope they are not all going to be like that!

What is it that makes one parsnip straight and regular, and another one squat and forked? Forking in parsnips is supposed to be caused by either too many stones in the soil (there are none in my raised bed), or recently-manured soil (my raised bed had a little pelleted chicken manure added last Autumn). But anyway, both of my types are growing in the same bed, so it can't be anything to do with the soil, which is exactly the same for both.

This specimen is not entirely useless. I will remove the long straggly bits, leaving an apple-sized central core which will be OK, but it's not going to be as nice as the straight ones.

I'm impatient now to see what the other parsnips will be like. You just can't get any clue about that until you pull them up.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

A very English meal

These days Britain is a very multi-cultural place, and it's harder than ever to define "British" food - still less "English" food. Apparently Chicken Tikka Masala is just as popular as Fish and Chips, and I can see why! Jane and I love food of many different types - European, Asian, Mexican, Middle Eastern etc - and at home we eat a very varied diet, but today I'm going to write about a meal I would consider to be very English in its character: roast pork with Brussels sprouts and carrots. This is an example of the traditional "Meat and two veg" which is eaten in many English households as their Sunday lunch or dinner.

My present enthusiasm for British food is as a direct result of my (our, because Jane is included too) involvement with The Great British Cookbook. Attending the launch party for the book last week we had the honour to meet Johnny Pusztai, the butcher featured in the book. He is a larger-than life character - stout of physique, and unstoppably garrulous in a most engaging way. At the party he and his team of helpers were serving up a Hog-roast - a whole pig cooked long and slow, so that its meat was very very tender. The portions of meat were served on a large granary bread roll, accompanied by apple sauce and sage-and-onion stuffing. It was amazingly good! Now, I'm not about to start cooking a whole pig for just Jane and me, but having experienced the Hog-roast I certainly did fancy cooking a piece of pork.

I found a suitable piece in our local branch of Morrisons. It was a loin joint - effectively 6 huge chops still joined together. Before you go thinking that this was extravagant, let me just put it into perspective for you. This piece of meat, weighing about 1.5kg (including bones), cost £8.83, in other words about the price of one fairly ordinary pub-food meal, and it provided food for two of us for two meals. If we had eaten meat like this in a fancy restaurant, we would probably have had one chop each and been charged about £20 per person!

I roasted the meat in the oven, closely following the instructions on the label - "Cook in a pre-heated oven at 200C. Allow 30 mins for each 500g and 30 mins extra, plus at least 20 mins standing-time after cooking." Here it is when cooked:

The only disadvantage with this cut of meat is that it has only a thin layer of skin and fat, so it does not produce any crackling. What a shame, because I love crackling! As you can see in the photo above, it did not produce much juice either, so lots of gravy was called for. When it came to making the gravy I drew on inspiration from Johnny once more, because his "House" gravy is one made with onions and cider. I can vouch for the fact that it goes with pork very well indeed.

To accompany the roast pork I cooked two different vegetables - Brussels Sprouts and carrots - both from my own garden. Oh, and some potatoes too, though these were not from my garden.

I kept them plain. With vegetables as fresh as these it makes sense not to mess about with them too much, just enjoy their flavour.

Right, so let's put it all together:

 Do you see that I have chosen an end-piece of the pork? I do love the rather caramelized taste of the "Well Done" part of a joint. Inside, though, the meat was soft and tender; not at all dry. I took my photos with just a little gravy poured over the plate, but you can rest assured that after the photos were taken I added a lot more gravy!

On the plate you can probably see a dollop of Apple Sauce too. This is another very traditional accompaniment for roast pork.

So there you go then. It's not a sophisticated meal by any stretch of the imagination, but wholesome, hearty and comforting.

By the way, as I hinted earlier,that piece of meat gave us two meals. The leftovers went into a Chinese-style dish!

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

On close inspection...

The weather here is still very mild for the time of year. Not that I mind not having to scrape ice of the car windscreen before heading off to work...!

I love photographing frost on things. This picture of mine appears in the newly-published Great British Cookbook

No opportunities like that have arisen just yet, but the next couple of photos show you that we have definitely had some rain. The photos were taken early in the morning, so the lines of droplets on these Brussels Sprouts may be partially dew as well as rain.

This is the head of one of my PSB plants. This photo makes it look big, but it's really very small.

Amazingly, I still have a Raspberry plant that is producing ripe berries - just one or two. This photo was taken on 20th November.

Some of the Dogwood bushes have shed all their leaves now (see red stems in photo below), but this one hasn't. It's Cornus Alba "Midwinter Fire".

The Buddleia seems to think that it's Springtime already, as it's covered in fresh leaf growth. I love the colour and texture of those steely-grey downy leaves!

P.S. I drafted this post last weekend, and of course since then the temperatures have taken a dive, so maybe next weekend I'll be able to start photographing frost again!

Monday, 24 November 2014

Harvest Monday - 24 November 2014

My harvests this week have been very meagre. But considering it's nearly the end of November, that's only to be expected.

I did at least get another batch of Brussels sprouts. Here they are in their "just picked" state:

They look pretty scruffy like that! Any damaged or yellowing outer leaves need to be removed, and the woody bases trimmed.

This is the same batch prepared and ready for cooking:

Here they are next to a bowl full of baby carrots from last week's crop. Together they made the ideal accompaniment to a joint of roast pork which I cooked on Saturday.

Other than the sprouts, I think the only thing I have picked (apart from a few herbs) was a very small lettuce which provided a garnish for the Smoked Duck dish I wrote about yesterday.

So that's my contribution to Harvest Monday for this week. Maybe someone else will have grown something a bit more impressive?

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Smoked Duck with quick-pickled pears

Inspired by the recent publication of The Great British Cookbook, I felt that I ought to put in a bit more effort than usual when it came to my turn to cook dinner. We don't normally have a Starter, but this time I reckon it was justified. This post describes what I made, and maybe in a day or two I'll describe the Main that followed it.

It's a long time since I used my stovetop smoker, and I felt it was time to give it another turn to earn its keep, so my chosen dish was Smoked Duck breast with quick-pickled pears.

My technique for the duck was to smoke it for about 10 minutes to give it the right amount of flavour, (I used Alder wood chips) and then put it under a hot grill for a while to finish cooking the meat and give the skin a nice colour. Smoking the duck doesn't give me much opportunity to show you the technique - just a stainless steel pan with a few wisps of smoke coming out of it...

After 10 minutes I checked the meat and felt that it could do with a couple more minutes, so it ended up being smoked for the best part of 15 minutes, after which it looked like this:

While the duck was smoking, I heated up the grill to a high temperature and subsequently transferred the meat to it, cooking it initially skin side uppermost to give the skin a nice colour, and then turning it over to cook the flesh.

Judging when the meat was sufficiently done was difficult - I don't have much experience of this - so it was very much a matter of trial and error! I sliced into the meat with a very sharp knife a couple of times to see how things were going. When I judged it ready, I lifted the meat onto a chopping-board and left it to rest. As you can see in the photo below, the duck breast was very juicy, and juice continued to run out of it for quite a while.

When the duck was completely cold, I put it in the fridge. Later on I sliced it thinly:

I know that opinions on how to serve duck differ widely, but that looks just right for me!

Meanwhile, I made my pickled pears. Pickling pears in the traditional way takes a fair old while (I have described it HERE), but this time I used a super-quick method instead. I peeled and quartered one large firm pear and then poached it for about half an hour in water to which I had added about 25ml of Cider vinegar, a quarter teaspoon of Mixed Spice (a mix of sweet spices like Cinnamon, Cloves, Ginger etc) and about a tablespoon of Sweet Freedom (a diabetic-friendly sugar substitute).

Cooking the pears in an open saucepan like this allows the poaching liquid to evaporate, thus concentrating the flavours. When sufficiently cooked the pears were soft (easily pierced with the point of a knife), but still firm enough to be sliced. I put them in a covered plastic box in the fridge to chill.

OK, so here is the finished dish, plated-up:


My enthusiasm for the stovetop smoker has been re-kindled. The duck was really nice - not overly smoky (The Alder wood is relatively mild), and still succulent, and the spicy-sweet pears were an excellent foil to the fatty meat. The little garnish of tiny Celeriac leaves was good too - we are very fond of those these days. I shall definitely be growing them regularly from now on.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Tidying up, clearing down...

Last weekend I had a serious "Sort out the garden for Winter" session. I cut down all the Raspberry canes along the fence

My Raspberries are "Autumn Bliss", a primocane variety that fruits on new wood, so they get cut right back every year.

One cane had a temporary stay of execution because it still had one or two fruits left on it:

The Asparagus has also been cut back for the Winter. In the photo below you can see the "stubble" from two plants. These stems are of course only the ones which were left to produce fern after the main harvest was finished, so you can see that each plant produces a lot of spears. (Never quite enough, though!)

Now that I have washed and put away all the big pots in which my tomatoes were grown, there is space alongside the house to put my coldframe and little plastic greenhouses.

The coldframe is now full of potted herbs - Mint, Oregano, Thyme and Chives.

The plastic greenhouses are also filled with herbs, in this case Parsley, Pineapple Mint, Lavender and more Thyme - oh, and my little Bay tree (the one that is about 12" tall).

I have had to throw away one of my plastic greenhouses and the big wide one called the "Seedling Greenhouse", because the plastic had gone brittle and had split in several places. These things don't cost a lot (about £12 for one of the 2-tier greenhouses) so you can't expect them to last for ever. I think the one I threw away was probably about 4 years old. I'll need to replace it in the Spring, because they play a major role in my production of tomatoes and chillis.

I have also tidied-up my other potted plants (mostly flowers), cutting away all the old leaves and stems and removing any accumulated debris and moss. I have brought most of the pots close to the house, where they will be a little more sheltered and possibly fractionally warmer.

The patio has been swept too, and the pots there re-arranged neatly.

Notice Strawberries in black boxes, and the Leeks in the "terracotta" planter

There is one big job still remaining though - collecting up all the fallen leaves:

My excuse it that since the leaves are currently wet, my electric leaf-sucker / blower thingy won't pick them up well (or safely), so I have to wait for a suitable dry day. I might be in March or April...

Friday, 21 November 2014

Great British veg

I thought it fitting, in the light of yesterday's launch of The Great British Cookbook, to write a post about the great British vegetables currently growing in my veg plot...

One of my most favourite vegetables is Purple Sprouting Broccoli. This year I have six plants, 2 each of 3 different varieties. This one is the rather unimaginatively-named "Early Purple Sprouting":

Although this vegetable is not due to produce its crop until Late Winter / Early Spring, you can clearly see that it already has lots of well-developed sprouts.

This is the crown of one of the other varieties, "Red Spear". It looks almost like a tiny cauliflower.

Here is one that needs no introduction - the Brussels Sprout. This one is "Bosworth", no doubt named after the battle of Bosworth Field (1485) in which King Richard III was defeated by Henry Tudor who went on to become Henry VII.

This next one is named after one of Britain's most well-known adversaries - "Napoleon". I'm not sure that it is aptly named, because it is very tall and slim, whereas the real Napoleon Bonaparte was rather "vertically challenged" I understand!

Elsewhere I have these "Toledo" Leeks. You can see the big difference in size between one of the original batch of 16 and one of those planted later to fill in the gaps left by harvesting.

Not many of the first batch remain - three, I think - and the later ones are not ready for harvesting yet.

Down at the far end of that bed are my Swedes, about which the less said the better. Only one of them has reached anything like a decent size:

One of the others is worthy of a prize, but not the usual sort of prize! It has two heads, but practically no root. (Was this yet another effect of my contaminated compost problem??)

I also have a few cabbages on the go, though they are still pretty small. This one is "Tundra".

I have three like that, but also one of "Caramba" - officially a Summer cabbage, but this particular specimen got out of phase for some reason. It is only very tiny and may never come to maturity, but you never know...

Another archetypically British vegetable is the Parsnip. My bed of Parsnips is currently not very exciting to look at:

...but underneath that foliage there are hopefully plenty of these little beauties:

All of the above are vegetables which are considered British, but I wonder how many of them are actually native to our isles? And how long will it be before the Aubergine, Capsicum, Okra and Mooli are thought of in the same way? These days we are a nation very diverse in its food culture, and I think the same applies to the plants we grow too. I'm all in favour of that, because it gives us gardeners so many more opportunities - and challenges!