Monday 30 November 2015

Harvest Monday - 30 Nov 2015

It's nearly December, but produce is still coming out of the garden. Highlight of this week was the Brussels Tops, about which I have already written. They made a perfect accompaniment to that venison dish I did.

There are still chillis coming off my plants. "Aji Limon" is always one of the last to ripen fruit, but it's worth waiting for because it has a lovely citrussy taste.

We have more chillis than we can use at present (not to mention harissa and tomato-and-chilli sauce in the freezer)!

I'm also still harvesting Lettuce and Endive

One of the things I like best about having a veg plot in my back garden is that I can just nip out and pick some salad any time I like!

That's my harvests for the week. To see what others have got, head over to Our Happy Acres for Harvest Monday.

Sunday 29 November 2015

Cloching the salads

A few of my Endives succumbed to the heavy frost last weekend. They went black and mushy, so they had to be consigned to the compost bin. Fortunately most of them survived, as did the Lettuces. However, I decided that they deserved a bit of protection, so I have covered several of them with clear plastic cloches:

This one is a nice Oak Leaf lettuce, nearly big enough for using.

This is an Endive, seen through the forest of sticks that I use to try to deter foxes, badgers etc from digging in the raised bed (it's only partially successful).

This is one of the unlucky ones. It will be harvested next time I need some salad.

These cloches will only provide limited protection. The temperature inside won't be much different from the outside temperature. Their main advantage is that they shield the plants underneath from wind, and they prevent frost forming directly on the leaves.

Most people think of lettuces as being frail, and very susceptible to frost damage, but actually if you choose wisely there are several varieties that will do OK in the Winter-time, especially if grown under cloches. A couple of years ago I tried "Winter Density" and "All Year Round" and they both did reasonably well under cover. You can read a post about this HERE.

Dave from Our Happy Acres (our host for Harvest Monday) also wrote a post a couple of years ago on this subject, which you might like to read. Follow this Link.

Saturday 28 November 2015

Venison strips with Tagliatelle

Here's an idea for an easy meal based on a very healthy meat - venison.

Venison, especially wild venison, is a very lean meat, and is also quite strong-tasting so you don't need so much of it, and therefore (weight for weight) it is probably better for you than beef. Even though venison is available all year round these days, I still think of it as being an Autumn meat, so my dish is intended to be appropriately seasonal.

This "recipe" is incredibly easy and involves very little advance preparation - which is unusual for me!

Venison strips with Tagliatelle, in a creamy mushroom sauce

Make the mushroom sauce
Peel and finely dice one large shallot. Chop some mushrooms into 1-inch pieces. Strip the leaves from 6 sprigs of fresh Thyme.

Gently sauté the shallot and mushrooms in a little vegetable oil and a knob of butter until they begin to take on a bit of colour. Add about 150ml of double cream (I used Elmlea cream-substitute, which is less inclined to split / curdle than real cream), and then the Thyme. Simmer gently for another minute or so, until the sauce is completely warmed through.

Cook the pasta
Follow the manufacturer's instructions! I used Tagliatelle made by Cook Italian, which needs 7 - 9  minutes of cooking time. Co-ordinate this with cooking the sauce and the vegetable(s).

Cook some vegetables
I used shredded Brussels Tops from my garden, complete with one or two tiny sprouts.

 All these needed was about two minutes' cooking in boiling salted water. Any green vegetable would do, e.g. kale, Cavolo Nero, cabbage, spinach, etc - or even a green salad.

Cook the venison
The meat should be sliced into very thin strips that will cook rapidly.

Venison needs to be cooked either long and slow, or very quickly, so that it doesn't go tough. I don't normally like rare meat, but I think venison is good this way. I stir-fried mine in a very hot wok, with a little vegetable oil, and it cooked in about one minute. Right at the end I added a splash of brandy just to give it a bit of zing, and a spoonful of homemade Hedgerow Jelly, which gives the meat a slight sweetness and a glossy sheen.

I made sure that everything else was ready before cooking the meat, because I wanted to serve it with the venison still piping hot. When plating-up, the pasta goes in first, then the mushroom sauce is poured / spooned over it; then the Brussels Tops are arranged off to one side, and finally the venison goes on top - then it's straight to the table. Service!!

I think this meal demonstrates that good food doesn't need to be complicated, or lengthy to prepare and cook. More to the point, it tasted great!

Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could use homemade pasta, foraged mushrooms, locally-shot wild venison and homegrown greens?

Friday 27 November 2015

Ammunition for the War on Waste

Having written recently about Brussels Tops and said that they are often wasted, I thought I would put something together about other parts of vegetables that are often discarded despite being edible, nutritious and frequently just as nice as the part we usually eat.

One of my favourites is the stem of Calabrese broccoli. This is almost always thrown away, and that is such a shame because it is succulent and tasty. You have to peel it of course, and remove some of the outer layer if it looks fibrous, but that is an easy task with a vegetable-peeler.

When cooked it has the texture of a Turnip, but the flavour of Broccoli.

The inner "cores" of Cabbage and Cauliflower can be used in the same way. Next time you're preparing a Cauliflower, try eating a piece of the stem raw. It's lovely!

Here are some other ideas:
  • The outer leaves of Cauliflower, Cabbage, Brussels Sprouts etc can be cooked and processed into a lovely tasty soup. When they are blitzed the coarser texture of these leaves is not a problem!
  • Winter Squash (e.g. Butternut) - roast the seeds on an oven tray with a little oil. Eat as a "nibble" with drinks, or as a substitute for pine-nuts or toasted Almonds.
  • The flesh taken out of your Halloween pumpkin to make a lantern is edible (if perhaps a little bland), so why not make it into soup or a pie?
  • Turnip leaves (aka Tops) - stir-fry or use as general-purpose "Greens".
  • Beetroot (Beet) leaves - cook the big ones as a hot vegetable; use the tiny ones raw as a salad ingredient.

  • Radishes - if they bolt, leave them to form seeds and then use the seed-pods in the way you might use gherkins, e.g. pickled as an hors d'oeuvre.
  • Nasturtiums - flowers, (peppery) leaves and seeds are all edible. The seeds are sometimes pickled in the same way as Capers.
  • Carrot leaves can be used as a salad ingredient when very small. Larger leaves can be made into a sort of pesto.
  • Pea pods  - cook, then blitz in a blender with some stock to make a soup. (Maybe add a fried onion, some cream and some bacon?!)
  • Lettuce - use the tougher / less picturesque outer leaves to make soup.
  • Potato peelings can be cooked into a variant of the potato crisp - "Potato Skins", often cooked with paprika or some such, and served as a nibble with beer!
  • Celery, Celeriac and Leek leaves can be added to soups, stews or stock.

  • Likewise, Parsley stalks are often discarded but will add flavour to a stock or casserole. Chop them finely with a large knife before adding them to the pan.
  • The peel of citrus fruit can be used to make marmalade or can be candied to make a baking ingredient. Candied orange peel dipped in chocolate???
  • The skin of a Papaya / Paw-Paw is a good meat tenderiser, and can be used in a marinade.

 Kanak Hagjer, a blogging friend from India, has written recently about using chilli leaves as a green vegetable. I can't honestly say I fancy that, but I suppose you shouldn't knock it until you're tried it!

Annemarie on Real Food Real Deals has written about making apple Cider Vinegar with apple cores and peelings.

I'm sure there must be loads of other ways in which potential Food Waste can be used as real food. I invite all my readers to add Comments telling us about other suggestions on this theme!

Thursday 26 November 2015

Brussels Tops

After providing us with two 2-person servings of sprouts, my single "Brilliant" Brussels Sprout plant is finished - all but the Top, that is. The Top (growing tip) of a Brussels Sprout plant is just like a Cabbage and should be treated as such. You seldom see Brussels Tops for sale in the shops, despite the vast quantities of sprouts that we consume, so presumably they are thrown away and thus wasted. Not in my garden, they aren't!

It was cold and wet when I cut my Brussels Top, so I didn't photograph it outdoors like I normally do, but here it is, disassembled ready for cooking:

I have kept only the best bits, and discarded any damaged leaves, or ones affected by the Sooty Mould. There was still a decent amount left, including some dark green leaves, some pale green ones, and even a few more sprouts - though these are very tiny.

Maybe if I show those sprouts in close-up I can pretend that they are big...?

I am planning to cook a meal based on Venison tomorrow, so this Brussels Top will make a suitable accompaniment. I'll serve it very plain - just shredded and then boiled in salted water for a couple of minutes until tender.

Any that is left over will probably go into some Bubble and Squeak, just like the Savoy Cabbage from last weekend...

Wednesday 25 November 2015

The PSB thermometer

I often joke about this, but I really can judge the temperature outside from my armchair. Looking out through the glass doors I can see the Purple Sprouting Broccoli plants, and the position of their leaves gives me a good indication of the temperature.

If they are upright like this, the air is relatively warm:

Whereas if they are drooping downwards like this, it is cold - below freezing temperature!

When the leaves droop, the flower-head remains upright and is therefore much more visible.

This one is "Rudolph", and you can see that it won't be long before I can pick some spears from it.

The central flower-head of "Red Spear" has yet to form, but the side-shoots are getting bigger very rapidly.

OK, here's a test for you: what temperature is it in the photo below?

And here?

You probably guessed, we got our first frost of the year at the weekend. I would say it's about a month later than usual.

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Putting the Asparagus to bed

'Tis done. The cutting of the Asparagus fern, that is. It has gone from this...

To this...

I have left the "stubble" a bit longer than normal, so that I can be sure I know exactly where each plant is. I am gradually replacing my old raised beds with new, much sturdier ones, and the Asparagus bed is due for replacement next Spring. My intention is to try to transplant the best of the plants, like this one for instance, which put up a lot of spears. Bear in mind that what you see here is only the ones I didn't harvest.

I'm not sure whether this one will make the cut. Individually the spears it produced were fine (amongst the biggest, in fact), but there weren't many of them.

In a similar vein... At the weekend I did, as promised, collect-up some of the fallen leaves in my garden, but not as many as I had hoped. The leaf-sucker / blower contraption doesn't perform very well unless the leaves are completely dry - which they weren't. After stopping about half-a-dozen times to unclog the machine, I gave up on it and did some of the task by hand. It was hard work and I didn't have the energy (or willpower) to do much. Furthermore the hand-gathered leaves didn't get chopped up like the machine-gathered ones, so they wouldn't be so good for composting. Whole leaves break down an awful lot more slowly than shredded ones! I now have three big sacks of leaves in the garage. Any takers?

Monday 23 November 2015

Harvest Monday - 23rd Nov 2015

This week I harvested the first of my Brussels Sprouts. It wasn't a big batch of course; it never is in my garden, but enough for a 2-person serving. This batch was 270g when prepared for cooking.

This year I have one plant each of four different varieties of Brussels Sprout. These ones are from the "Brilliant" plant.  I have grown this variety a couple of times before, and it is always the earliest to mature.

My plants have (as usual) suffered a lot from an infestation of Whitefly, whose secretions promote the grown of the unsightly and debilitating Sooty Mould. Because of this I had to remove several leaves from each sprout, but the end result seems OK, if perhaps smaller than I had hoped. Last week we bought some Brussels Sprouts from a supermarket and they were absolutely perfect - not the tiniest blemish. How do they do that? I presume that loads of chemicals are involved...

I harvested more Carrots - but you guessed that already...

These ones are a mixture of "Early Nantes" and "Autumn King". The big ones are of the latter type.

There were a few slug-eaten ones and a few split ones, but still a decent quantity left for the kitchen.

They wouldn't win any prizes for good looks or uniformity, but once peeled they will be fine, and I know that they will be very tasty.

I cut another of the little "Mila" Savoy Cabbages. The outer leaves were a bit ragged - slug-eaten - but the heart was good and untouched by the molluscs.

"Small but perfectly formed", as they say.

I have picked a few more of the Rocoto chillis this week. They look just like plum tomatoes. In terms of texture and heat they are more like a pepper than a chilli - thick, firm flesh and a very modest heat level.

Here's a late addition to the post I drafted yesterday... I picked another batch of Brussels Sprouts. These ones are "Napoleon", about 200g.

That's my harvest for the week. Please drop by at Our Happy Acres and see what other people have contributed to Harvest Monday this week.

Sunday 22 November 2015

Jamaican patties

It's no surprise that almost every food culture has its own version of this type of food - the Cornish pasty, the curry puff, the hand-pie, the Jamaican patty, the empanada, the panzerotto, and many others. The reason is that they are not only delicious but also convenient! Since they can be made in advance if necessary, they represent a good option for food-on-the-go. Cornish pasties are allegedly what the Cornish tin-miners used to take for their lunch, supposedly discarding the crimped edge of the pasty which is the bit they would have held with their grubby hands.

Yesterday I made the Caribbean version, the Jamaican Patty.

I made these once before, and the recipe I used was so successful that I used it again this time. If you want to see it (maybe even use it?), then follow this LINK.

Last time I made the Jamaican patties, we had some as a starter before a main meal, but to be honest they were a bit too filling, so this time the patties were the Main Event. I deliberately made them smaller this time, so that we could eat just the quantity we wanted.

I was tempted to serve something else with the patties, like the Rice and Peas I did last time, but I resisted the temptation to overdo it. The patties are a good balance of protein and carbohydrate, they just need a vegetable accompaniment, so I served the patties with a sort of salsa / salad dish of my own invention, striving for a sort of Caribbean vibe.

It's probably nothing like what they would eat in Jamaica, but let's preserve the illusion shall we? My dish used diced fresh tomatoes (seeds removed, for texture reasons), some mild white onion,, some Spring Onions, one red and one green chilli (seeds removed), some mango and some fresh coconut. The amounts and proportions were all a matter of judgement based on our personal preferences (in other words, I made it up as I went along!). The final touch was to add the juice of a lime and a sprinkling of salt.

I can tell you, it was absolutely delicious. A good contrast of sweet and savoury, and lots of different textures too - we particularly liked the crunchy fresh coconut.

By the way, as well as the salsa, I also served the patties with a little bowl of Mango Chutney, which went really well with the strong curry flavour of the spiced beef.

Here is a little tutorial on making the patties.
(Read my earlier post, to which I linked above, in order to see how the pastry and filling are made.)
When the pastry is thoroughly chilled, cut it into pieces about the size of an egg (my mixture which used 250g flour was enough for 12). On a floured pastry-board, roll out each ball to make a rough disc about 5mm thick. Then use a dish of some sort as a template and cut round it with a knife.

Place a spoonful of the cooked spicy mince over towards one side of the pastry disc.

Then fold the other half of the pastry over the filling to make a semi-circular patty. Crimp the edges with a fork. [Hint: I misjudged the filling. The earlier patties had a lot more filling than the later ones! It would probably be best to divide the filling into 12 equal portions in advance, on a plate or something.]

Place the patties on an oven-tray lined with baking parchment.

Brush the patties all over with beaten egg,

Cook at 200C (180C fan) for 25 to 30 minutes, until nicely golden in colour. Then you get this:-

Why is the one at top right so much darker than the others, I wonder???

We didn't eat ALL of the patties in one sitting, so one of those is going in my lunchbox tomorrow, that's for sure!