Monday 31 March 2014

Pot roast pheasant

Earlier I posted about harvesting Purple Sprouting Broccoli and herbs. In this post I want to write about using them, so I'm going to describe as dish called "Pot Roast Pheasant with Parsley Mash".

The meat of a pheasant can be a bit dry. This is why a bird is often covered with fatty bacon when roasted conventionally in an oven. Another way to produce more tender meat is the pot roasting method. Actually it is more like braising, since it involves a lot of liquid. This is the method I used recently to produce my dish of pot roasted pheasant with parlsey mash...

In the freezer we had a pheasant bought some months ago on the Farmers' Market, and it needed using up. In my opinion, pheasant is a Winter meat, and with Spring now well established, it seemed appropriate to get on and use it.

Having thoroughly de-frosted the bird, I browned it in hot oil in a large deep pan, removed it and set it aside for a short time while I lightly cooked some sliced onions and some smoked bacon, in the same pan. I also added a couple of crushed cloves of garlic. Then the pheasant went back in the pan and I added a couple of carrots, a large potato (peeled and cut into chunks), two Bay leaves, a large sprig of Rosemary, a handful of Thyme, some salt and pepper and about a litre of chicken stock.

Once the liquid had returned to the boil, I covered the pan and put it in the oven, where it cooked at about 140C for the next two and a half hours. I checked it a couple of times to make sure it was not boiling too hard, and I added a bit more water at one stage, and basted the exposed parts of the bird.

After its two and a half hours, the meat on the bird was "falling apart tender", so I removed the whole pheasant from the pan and carefully dismembered it, reserving the nice meat but discarding skin, bones, cartilage etc. I covered the meat with foil to keep it warm, while I prepared the sauce.

I strained the cooking liquor through a sieve and then pushed as much as possible of the solids through the sieve as well - by this time the veg was very soft indeed. I put the resulting liquid into a small pan and boiled it hard to reduce it, adding a teaspoonful of slaked cornflower to help achieve a suitable ("velvety") texture.

Meanwhile I cooked some potatoes and mashed them with some butter and added a good handful of chopped parlsey (all the herbs came from the garden). The final element of my dish was some Purple Sprouting Broccoli (again from the garden), which was simply steamed until tender - right at the last minute. This was probably the most difficult part! Getting broccoli to be tender without being over-cooked is a matter of fine judgement. The difference between tough and stringy and nicely cooked is sometimes only a matter of seconds.

Anyway, it all came good in the end. This is what it looked like:-

In my opinion, the star of the show was the sauce / gravy. It was lovely and smooth, and deliciously flavoured - very savoury and "Umami". The meat was good too. Pheasant meat is not particularly gamey; rather akin to Guinea-Fowl, I would say, but stronger than chicken. As I said at the beginning though, it can be a bit dry, so I was glad I had used the pot roasting method. I also think I did the right thing in removing the meat from the bone, since it was so much easier to manage on the plate.

And the broccoli? Well folks, you know it's my favourite veg (at this point in time), so of course it was "perfect"!

Harvest Monday - 31 March 2014

My harvest this past week has been a small one again, because the emphasis here has been on sowing and planting, not harvesting. All I have to show off is some Purple Sprouting Broccoli and some herbs:

All the above were served in or with a pot-roast Pheasant dish I made on Saturday night. more on this later...

To see what other people have harvested, please visit Harvest Monday over at Daphne's Dandelions.

Sunday 30 March 2014

Some new arrivals

Yay! The first of this year's Asparagus is up. You'll have to look very carefully, but you might be able to see three spears of it in this photo:

Here's a closer view of one of them:

Definitely a Positive Sighting!

I find that a small number of spears appear quite early in the season. I mean, March is not really prime time for English Asparagus that is not grown in a polytunnel - it's more like May. It's as if the early spears act as "scouts" for the rest of the plants: if they find the conditions up above ground to be suitable they tell their mates "Come on up", but if it is cold, wet and windy they say "I'd stay down there for a bit longer, if I were you". This year I'm going to try something new - as those first spears come up, I'm going to cover them with some cloches. Perhaps this will prolong the cropping season for me?

The tomato seeds I sowed last weekend have mostly germinated now, so I have thinned them to one seed per pot, choosing to keep the strongest-looking one. I don't necessarily choose the biggest one, because even seeds sown in the same pot may germinate at different times. The shorter, stocky ones are usually best, and any that look leggy are candidates for removal.

I will keep the little tomato plants in the Growlight House for at least another week or two, maybe longer, so that they get enough light in their early days and do not go tall and spindly.

I also have a couple of new arrivals in the Chilli department. This one is "Aji Limon", a variety that has lemon-yellow fruits. I grew it last year and was impressed with not only its beautiful colour, but also its citrussy flavour. I hadn't initially planned to grow it again this year (simply because I wanted to try some other varieties), but looking back through my photos I decided that I couldn't live without it, since it is so incredibly photogenic! (Not just yet, though...)

I am also proud that I have finally managed to get some of my home-grown "Nosferatu" chilli seeds to germinate. Again, you'll have to look carefully, because the seeds are only at the "just germinated" stage: 

These were from the third batch I sowed. I tried a variety of different methods to get them to germinate: the first one went into the airing-cupboard; the second was on a bedroom windowsill directly above a radiator; and the third one was under the growlights. I don't know whether this is significant or not, but the third sowing was the only one which was not inside a plastic bag (which is normally recommeded for increasing humidity).

By the way, the bigger chillis got their first day outside yesterday. It was a beautiful sunny day - if a little cold and windy - so they spent the day in the garden, sheltered by one of the plastic greenhouses. They came indoors again in the evening, though.

Saturday 29 March 2014

New cloches

A short while ago I bought a batch of cloches from They are actually made by Botanico, and are therefore widely available. I got two packs of the medium-sized ones (3 per pack) and two of the small-ones (4 per pack). I put them into service this weekend:

Medium and small dome cloches

They were on special offer at the time, so very reasonably priced. Although they are made of fairly flimsy plastic, they are quite flexible and therefore not too prone to damage. If you look after them they will last for several years.

Medium dome cloche

In March and April we often get warm days but very chilly nights with occasional frost, so plastic cloches like this are ideal at this time of year, when you are trying to establish new young plants that are vulnerable to the ravages of wind, rain and frost. The Botanico dome cloches have vents at the top (even on the small ones), so you can regulate the temperature a bit even when it is sunny. 

Small dome cloches

All sizes come with pegs or staples to keep them in place, though I have found that these are sometimes too small to do the job in the face of a howling gale, so I have made some much longer ones from heavy-guage wire.

One other good thing about these cloches is that they fit easily one inside another so you can stack them up very compactly when they are not in use, which is a bonus when storage space is at a premium.

Just in case you thought this was a sponsored post, it isn't. I just genuinely think these products deserve some praise. So does the company that supplied them (, whose service has been prompt and efficient every time I have bought from them.

Friday 28 March 2014

The value of spares

Whenever I sow seeds I always sow a few more than I think I'll need, because you never know when a casualty may be incurred. Take this row of healthy-looking Broad Beans, for instance. They look OK, don't they?

Now take a closer look:

One of those bean plants is so much smaller than its siblings that there must be something wrong with it. There was. I dug it up, and it had hardly any root at all - something had evidently nibbled it away.

Both beans sown the same day

Not a problem though, because I had a spare!

So out came the "runt", to be replaced with the healthier one in the pot. I forgot to take an "After" photo. Not like me, is it?

As well as the spare plant pictured, I have sowed a couple of extra bean seeds at the ends of each of my two rows on Broad Beans - just in case... When you only sow a small quantity of something, every plant is precious.

By the way, did you notice the row of Radishes next to the beans? This is what you call a "catch-crop" - a fast-maturing crop that will grow alongside the main crop, but will mature much earlier, before the main crop crowds it out and blocks its light. Radishes can be ready in about a month from sowing (less in ideal conditions), so they are perfect for this purpose. I have three 2.4 metre rows of Radishes on the go at present, sown at different times to provide a succcessional harvest, and I may try to squeeze a few more in somewhere else later on. 

Just a note on my use of cloches:- they are providing good shelter from the wind (and from the severe frost we had earlier in the week), but I am conscious that they also "protect" the plants under them from the rain, so I am careful to remove them temporarily every now and then and give the plants a drink. I also noticed today how much green algae has built up on them - I really must give them a wash, because they will not be letting through enough light. This can normally be achieved swiftly with a hosepipe and a soft broom.

Thursday 27 March 2014

Buds and blooms

After lying dormant for so long during the Winter, the plants in the garden always seem to be in a hurry when Spring finally arrives. You almost feel as if you can see them grow. One minute the garden is dull and grey and the next there are buds, leaves and flowers all over the place. Last week the fruit trees showed few signs of life, yet now the buds are bursting left, right and centre:

Apple "Scrumptious"

Having been very careful with the pruning this year, I really think I deserve a decent fruit crop this year, don't you? 

Pear "Conference"

Along the line of the fence, beneath the fruit trees, new Raspberry canes are shooting up in profusion.

Raspberry "Autumn Bliss"

Th flower spikes on this Aquilegia appear to have grown six inches in as many days:

The Snakeshead Fritillaries have buds now:

Last year when the Fritillaries had finished flowering I deliberately scattered their seeds all over the area round about, and these are germinating in droves now. The little green shoots look rather like onions...

My "reluctant" Hellebore is still playing hard to get. It has put up several fresh new leaves, but those buds still refuse to open.

It is a "Helleborus Orientalis Red Spotted Hybrid", which has very attractive flowers - though I suspect I won't get to see any of them until next year at least!

One of my Rosemary plants is covered in a mass of delicate pale blue flowers:

This one is growing in a pot. The other plants, which I pruned so severely a couple of weeks ago can hardly be expected to flower just now. I can't really blame them if they decide to have a bit of a sulk!

There's not much to be seen in the veg-patch just now. It's mostly seeds in the ground, and tiny seedlings in pots in the mini-greenhouses, but I think this one qualifies in the "Buds and Blooms" category all right:

PSB: "Red Arrow"

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Planting potatoes

I have now planted the first of my potatoes, the First Early ones. This batch was two each of "Sharpe's Express", "Leontine", "Marilyn" and "Red Duke of York".

My technique is this: I use recycled plastic pots from pelleted chicken manure wherever possible. I fill the pot about one third full with good compost to which I add a handful of chicken manure pellets. I then put a single (chitted) tuber into each pot and cover it with a layer of compost about 4 inches deep. Later on, when the shoots of the plant start to poke through, I progressively add more compost until the pot is full.

Since night-time frost is still highly likely, I protect the pots inside a plastic greenhouse-ey thing officially called a Seedling Greenhouse", made by Kingfisher:-

Unfortunately, the cover of the Seedling Greenhouse is badly damaged. Despite being kept over Winter in the garage, it has gone very brittle and it broke apart in several places when I was stretching it over its frame:

I have been trying to remember how long I have had this thing, but I can't. It is probably about 5 years, so I can't really complain. I think I will try to make it last the rest of this season, and then replace it. It has been really good value for money, because I only paid about £15 for it.

The remaining seed potatoes are still in the garage, continuing to chit.

I will plant the Second Earlies in about two week's time, and then the Maincrop ones at about the end of April.

Seen in close-up, don't those chits look wierd?

Anyone else planted their spuds yet??

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Experiments with Middle Eastern ingredients

Inspired by the work of Yotam Ottolenghi, I have become a bit more adventurous in the use of Middle Eastern ingredients. The other day, while visiting our daughter Fiona in France, we were lucky enough to be able to visit a Palestinian grocery shop. The object of the exercise was twofold: to buy some nice fresh items for an evening meal with the family; and also to buy some nice things to bring home with us - especially things that are either not so good in England, or even not readily available. Success was achieved on both fronts!

The evening meal included things like hummous, tabbouleh, flat-breads, baba gannoush, kofte, kibbeh, etc, and very nice it was too, but it is not that which I want to write about today. I want to write about a meal I cooked inspired by these ingredients...

For some time now I have been wanting to try Frekeh, which Ottolenghi often advocates in some of his Israeli / Palestinian dishes. Frekeh is a type of wheat which is harvested green and then "toasted". In the olden days the wheat was burned to remove the chaff, but I suspect that this procedure has been replaced by a more sophisticated industrial process! 

This is what it looks like raw:

Since I have no experience with cooking this stuff, I followed the manufacturer's instructions - soak in water for 12 hours and then cook for 35 - 40 minutes. I found that after 40 minutes cooking the Frekeh was still very firm, so I gave it a few more minutes. This is what it looks like after cooking:

It looks a bit like Pearl Barley, but it is much firmer, with a definite "bite" to it. I hope that is how it is supposed to be!

I made my Frekeh into a Tabbouleh, with lots and lots of fresh Parsley from the garden:

To add a bit more interest (and to be truthful, more "foreignness") to my Tabbouleh I added some Barberries. I'm sure this is NOT authentic, but hey, I was in the mood for experimenting! The Barberry is again something I had seen mentioned in Ottolenghi's books, but I had never encountered the real thing. We bought a small pack of them in the Palestinian grocery store:

They are sold dried and have to be rehydrated before use. They look very similar to dried Cranberries. Ottolenghi says that Sour Cherries are a reasonable substitute if you can't find Barberries. They are quite sour and he recommends adding some sugar to the water when rehydrating them. (Of course, with Jane being diabetic, I substituted Sweet Freedom).

Here is the finished dish:

Well, despite all this palaver with making my so-called Tabbouleh, that dish was in fact only a side-dish. The main was some Lamb Chops that I had trimmed and then marinated for several hours in a rub made from olive oil, crushed garlic, black pepper and fresh Mint and Rosemary (the latter two from my garden).

I also made a Juniper and Thyme foccacia loaf, some of which we ate dipped in olive oil as a starter, and some of which we ate with the main course:

If you would like the recipe for this loaf, you can find it in another post of mine - HERE

I don't have any photos of a "finished dish" this time, but this is the next best thing - the chops sizzling in the searingly-hot griddle pan, with smoke swirling around them:

I'll leave you to imagine the sounds and aromas..... (Sorry, vegetarians!)

So what was the verdict? Well, our opinion of the Frekeh was "OK but unexciting". We didn't notice much of the alleged smoky taste. I think I still prefer Bulghur. The Barberries were quite nice - very like dried cranberries - but they weren't really necessary in my Tabbouleh-style dish. It would probably have been more sensible to omit them and concentrate on the fresh taste of Parsley. But (though I say it myself) the bread was excellent - tasty and with a pleasant springy texture - and the chops were deee-licious!

Before I finish today I also want to mention another product we bought at that Palestinian grocery shop: tinned Hummous (or Hommos):

It was unexpectedly good. In the past we have had tinned Hummous that has been rather dry and "chalky", but this one was smooth as silk, and the flavour had a nice hint of lemon. Next time we go to France we'll want to buy a few more tins of this. (Sorry, no pics of the product, only the tin. This was an afterthought!)

Monday 24 March 2014

Harvest Monday - 24th March 2014

After a couple of weeks with no harvest to report, this week I do have something - and something very special, in my opinion: the first of this year's Purple Sprouting Broccoli:

PSB "Red Spear"

 I took the tips out of three of my plants this past week:

Taking out the tips first encourages the side-shoots to increase in size:

A few days after cutting the tips I took the first batch of side-shoots:

As well as PSB, I have harvested a good amount of Parsley ("in vegetable quantity" as Jane would say - i.e. not just a sprig or two for a garnish!):

Much of this went into a sort of Tabbouleh dish, served alongside some Lamb chops, about which I plan to post tomorrow:

Lots of sowing and planting is going on in my garden just now, but not much harvesting, I'm afraid.