Thursday 31 January 2013

Cavolo Nero - on its last legs

My Cavolo Nero's days are numbered.

We have had several "uses" of it this Winter, and I have been pleased with its performance, but after all our depredations the plants are looking very depleted! Each plant now has just a small tuft of little feathery leaves at its tip, and all the big leaves down below have been used.

When you examine the tops of the plants, you can see that some subtle changes have occurred. The tiniest leaves are much wider than before, in relation to their length, and they are now a more yellow colour. Also, little flower buds will soon begin to form at the leaf axils.

The flowering shoots of Cavolo Nero are certainly edible, and quite nice to eat, but in comparison with the leaves that have gone before, they are not so much of a delicacy, and they do tend to be a bit stringy. Besides, they are completely outclassed by the Purple Sprouting Broccoli growing right next door. I shall therefore be aiming to use up the last of the Cavolo Nero very soon. This will release the bed in which they are growing for the Broad Beans which I am planning to sow some time in February.

To conclude this post, I want to show you some more photos of this really attractive plant, which I find irresistibly photogenic. The next three photos are actually the same shot, progressively enlarged, using the editing suite This first one is the original photo, completely unaltered.

Does anyone else see Kermit the Frog?

It seems almost a shame to get rid of plants like this!

Wednesday 30 January 2013

A couple of bargains

I got what I consider to be a couple of bargains at my local Morrisons supermarket last weekend. The first of these is this pack of 8 plastic pots for just 99p.

I believe they were originally intended to be Florists buckets, and they were on sale in the flowers section of the shop. They are 10 inches in diameter and just over 10 inches tall, so with some drainage holes drilled in them they will make quite nice flower-pots. I have some like this from a previous purchase, and I have successfully grown potatoes in them - one tuber in each. They are quite lightweight and not likely to last more than a year or two, but I think they are good value for money. Certainly better value than the ones offered for sale in Garden Centres.

My second bargain is this packet of Marrowfat peas. 500g for 89p.

Of course they are intended as a culinary ingredient - you can see that on the pack it says "a versatile ingredient for soup recipes" - but I am going to sprout them and make peashoots in they way I wrote about a few days ago (which you can read about HERE if you missed it previously). At only 89p they are really good value as a food item - wholesome and nourishing - (imagine them made into Pea-and-Ham soup...), but they also compare very favourably with "seed" peas bought from a seed-supplier. I'll let you know how they do.

On a related (money-saving) theme... If you don't want to spend lots of money on plant-pots for all those little seedlings that will be appearing soon, why not use pots like these, from Elmlea low-fat cream substitute?

These make ideal pots, because they are quite tall, allowing the seedling's roots to develop with less restriction. They are also fairly narrow (small diameter), so you can fit lots of them on a tray or in a propagator. Just remember to make a drainage hole in the bottom!

Tuesday 29 January 2013

The snow recedes

After a week or so of snow, we have now reverted to rain. It's still very cold, so the snow has only melted very slowly, but at least the plants are now getting the chance to see a bit of light. Poking their heads through the holes in the snow here are Endives and Parsley:

I think the wooden sticks must absorb sunshine well, and then radiate its heat, because you can see how the snow has melted more quickly around the sticks than elsewhere.

I have also noticed that the snow in flowerpots tends to melt from the outer edge towards the middle - presumably because the outside is being exposed to some slightly warmer air.  This pot has some Wild Garlic in it, brought back last year from my MIL's house. I hope it has survived all right.

This potted Aquilegia has done the same:

Take a close look at the tiny leaves sticking up through the melting snow:

I still have a few Radicchio left.  They are pretty hardy, and seem to have emerged from the snow with little more damage than a few browned outer leaves.

Are you itching to get on an sow something, like I am? I know our Winter is not severe by many peoples' standards, but it still makes you appreciate Spring when it finally arrives! I'm already reading on lots of blogs about people sowing chilli seeds and tomato seeds. I know these plants benefit from a long growing season, but I'm not going to be tempted to sow mine just yet. They would only end up going leggy for want of light. If you want to sow seeds in January / February you really need some sort of grow-light arrangement, which I don't have at present (though I have put one on my Wishlist, since my birthday is coming up soon...)

Monday 28 January 2013

The last of the Parsnips

I didn't think I would have anything to put forward for Harvest Monday (hosted by Daphne at Daphne's Dandelions) this week, but now that our snow has melted I have been able to harvest the last of my parsnips.

This season's crop has been a bit of a mixed bag. I sowed two different varieties (Gladiator and Panache), and I sowed them in two batches. The first batch of both varieties did well, but the second batch did hardly anything at all. They never really grew beyond the 'tiny' stage, so were effectively a washout. The batch I harvested this week was the last of the 'Gladiator' ones, from the first sowing, and it certainly included a few decent specimens. They don't look very appealing when they are fresh out of the ground, but as the saying goes "they scrub up well"...

Before scrubbing:

After scrubbing:

And in close-up - before:

And after:

That was 800g of parsnips there, so enough for at least 2, possibly 3, two-person servings. I'm pleased with this, but I would be even happier if half of my crop hadn't performed so badly! Still, it reinforces my conviction that sowing seeds in at least two batches is good tactics: if one fails, maybe the other will do

Roast pork was on the menu last night, and some of these parsnips accompanied it. And the best thing is - we still have more parsnips to look forward to, since we used less than half of the batch.

Sunday 27 January 2013

Under Ottolenghi's spell

You can hardly have failed to notice that I have recently been very impressed with the cookery style of Yotam Ottolenghi! Loved his TV series; loved his new book "Jerusalem". So many of his recipes appeal to my taste, and I really admire his down-to-earth, sometimes even rustic, presentation of food. He is not a vegetarian, but he handles vegetable cookery so well, and knows exactly how vegetables and meat go together best.

Yesterday I wrote about a Lentil and Red Onion salad that was directly influenced by an Ottolenghi recipe, and today I am going to write about the rest of the meal of which this was a part. The meal was definitely "in the style of" Ottolenghi, but not following any specific recipes. It just happens to be a meat-free meal, but it could easily have been otherwise. Here is picture of the "organised chaos" in the kitchen as I was putting the meal together - otherwise known as "mise en place"...

This was my menu:

First (as a starter) the Lentil and Red Onion salad, which I have already described.

Then (all served simultaneously)
Baked Field mushrooms with garlic, Thyme and lemon
Celeriac chips fried in Rosemary butter
Soft Polenta with fried onion and Parmesan cheese
Plain boiled Savoy Cabbage

The end result:-

Here are the mushrooms, ready for baking, sprinkled with crushed garlic and black pepper and topped with a knob of butter, a small piece of the Blue Cheese, and a little slice of lemon. These were huge mushrooms and they had quite thick skins, which would probably have been unpalatable, so I peeled them.

Here's a view of the semi-dried tomatoes that went into the Red Onion and Lentil salad, along with the Celeriac chips in their raw state.

Here are those Celeriac chips again. Celeriac does tend to go brown when exposed to air, so to prevent this I put my chips in water acidulated with a couple of slices of lemon.

Here is the whole thing plated-up. Soft polenta at the back, with slow-fried crispy onions and parmesan cheese stirred into it. At the right the Savoy cabbage, boiled plainly in salted water for just a few minutes. This was perhaps the least exciting element of the meal but that doesn't mean it was not nice. To be honest though I included it mainly to give us some variety of colour and texture.

The Celeriac chips were fried in butter and vegetable oil, into which I had put about a dessertspoonful of finely chopped fresh Rosemary. These chips don't go crispy like potato chips, but My Goodness, they are tasty! Much more so than potato chips.

I made too much polenta (as usual). It is actually quite difficult to make polenta in small quantities! Never mind, you can tip out any that is left over onto a piece of clingfilm or greaseproof paper, chill it and use it later. Fried polenta chips are nice...

As I said, this meal did not include any meat, but having said that I see no reason why you could not add some if you wanted to. A grilled Pork Chop or a couple of Lamb Cutlets would have been nice with this - as indeed would have been a few Lamb Koftas or some brochettes (aka kebabs), or even a grilled chicken breast.

Saturday 26 January 2013

Lentil and Red Onion salad

My post today is simply a description of a salad I made a few days ago. It is inspired by the work of my current Food Hero, Yotam Ottolenghi. It is very similar to a recipe I found in his book "Plenty", with one or two adjustments.

OK, doesn't than look YUMMY? (You couldn't possibly say No!)

You'll want to know what's in this salad, I'm sure.

Ingredients: Puy Lentils, Red Onions, semi-dried Tomatoes, Parsley and Blue Cheese. There is also a drizzle of olive oil and a splash of red wine vinegar - the latter an improvisation by me aimed at loosening-up the texture a bit.The original recipe calls for Gorgonzola cheese, which would be perfect, but unfortunately on the day I wanted to make this salad I couldn't get any Gorgonzola and I had to content myself with a "value" (aka economy) product simply called "Blue Cheese". It was a little too firm for my liking - Ottolenghi's choice of the softer Gorgonzola was spot-on.

This salad could easily be put together using pre-prepared ingredients, but since I had plenty of time I made some of the elements from first principles. I cooked the tomatoes on a very low heat for about 2 hours, until they were soft and gooey, not crisp. Likewise, although I could have used tinned lentils, I didn't. I cooked mine myself. This way you can have exactly the quantity you want, without feeling obliged to use a whole tin or sachet. The Puy lentils can be cooked in about 35 or 40 minutes, without the need for pre-soaking.

The onions are basically raw, though they are "marinated" in salt for about half an hour, which softens them a little, as does the addition of the red wine vinegar I mentioned earlier. What can I say about the Parsley? Parsley might be seen by some as unexciting, but I truly think it is a wonderfully versatile herb. This salad would certainly be incomplete without it. It contributes subtle flavour, but texture and vibrant colour too.

This salad has enormous visual appeal, and my assembly of it recognises that. I have done my best to be faithful to the original salad pictured in Ottolenghi's book. [For those of you who have the book - see page 222.]

We ate this salad as a Starter, part of a fairly comprehensive all-vegetarian meal, and it was wonderful. Almost good enough to be a meal on its own - possibly with the addition of a large chunk of crusty bread.

P.S. I'm putting this forward for the Credit Crunch Munch, hosted by Helen at Fuss Free Flavours and Camilla at Fab Food 4 All

Friday 25 January 2013

Altered images

Regular readers will know that from time to time I like to have a bit of a dabble with some "altered images". Well, this post is the result of one of those occasions...

This is an image of Dogwood "Midwinter Fire"

But it started life like this:

The red colour of its branches is offset nicely by the white snow, but the temptation to take those colours up a bit by adjusting the temperature and saturation was just too strong!

Here is a fairly ordinary photo of a bell cloche covered in snow

A little bit of tinkering around with Picmonkey produced this spooky result:

I must say at this stage that my altered images are not usually deliberately planned - I just experiment and see what comes out. If I make something I like, I save it. Otherwise the photo remains in its unchanged form.

This humble half-brick covered in snow is being used as a weight to keep in place a grille over the top of some plant pots (a fox-deterrent).

I have transformed it into a Black Hole!

This image of a small Broccoli plant draped in a snowy shawl...

...becomes a time-weathered skull:

But most bizarre of all, whilst smartening up this photo of Cavolo Nero

I saw a giant spotty caterpillar! :)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go and take some more of my pills...

Thursday 24 January 2013

The Peashooter

I have given up trying to grow peas in my garden. But I haven't completely given up growing peas.

Peas never do well in my garden, and they always suffer from Powdery Mildew. Last year I grew "Boogie" which is allegedly "Very resistant to Powdery Mildew", but obviously not resistant enough... The "Purple Podded Desiree" produced more of a crop than most varieties I have tried, but it was still a meagre harvest - and I felt that the peas themsleves were quite floury even when young. Not the best result.

Sorting out my box of seeds the other day I found 3 part-used packets of peas and was just about to throw them out when I changed my mind and decided to grow them for pea-shoots, which make a small but very nice salad ingredient. My method is simply this: line a small plastic tray with several thicknesses of paper towel, moisten the paper and sprinkle the peas on top. Put them in a warm place - in my case a windowsill above a radiator. Then it is just a case of adding a little more water every now and then, and in a few days the peas will begin to sprout.

Since my peas have now begun to germinate, I have got out my macro lens...

The green peas (above) are ones called "Premium" and they have germinated a bit quicker than the darker Purple Podded Desiree ones, which are only just getting started.

These will be ready to cut when the shoots are about 3 or 4 inches tall, hopefully in another week or 10 days. If I remember, I'll photograph them at harvest-time.

P.S. Thanks to those of you who contributed suggestions towards my Survival Challenge. Some interesting ideas...