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!

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Colour in the garden

Since I am primarily a veg-gardener, lots of the plants in my garden are green or nearly so, such as this immature "Tundra" cabbage:

But right now some of them are definitely NOT green.

Most of my Blueberry plants lost all their leaves without developing any of their usual spectacular colours, but this one plant is showing them how it ought to be done!

Even the Hydrangea plant still has more to offer:

And now that they have lost their foliage, the Dogwood shrubs are showing their Winter colours:

In a few weeks most of this colour will be gone (the Dogwoods are the exception), and we will have a period of drabness before a new season begins, so let's make the most of the colour while it lasts!