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!

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The Great British Cookbook

Would you be prepared to donate £12 to Macmillan Cancer Support ? Or to Hospitality Action ? Especially if I gave you a book in return...?

These are both very respectable charities, worthy of  your support, and I am proud to be part of a great fund-raising initiative on behalf of them both. I am particularly grateful to Macmillan because they supported my Dad (who died of lung cancer) in his final days, as well as providing support for me and my brother afterwards.

The two charities are aiming to raise £200,000 before Christmas through sales of a fabulous ebook called "The Great British Cookbook", which is being officially launched on 20th November. It will be downloadable via all the main sites, at a price of £12. You will also be able to purchase it HERE

The exciting part of this venture for me is that Jane and I have contributed a chapter to the book, which is supported by some very well-known names - such as Rick Stein, Anna Hansen, Michael Caines, Richard Corrigan, Galton Blackiston, etc. One of my photos has even been chosen to appear on the front cover - Yes, it is the one of tomatoes, Runner beans etc!

To quote from the official website: "Celebrating our very diverse culture, uncovering extraordinary dishes served up in the hundreds of restaurants, hotels and pubs across our great nation. As well as recipes of mouth-watering dishes, there will be features on seasonal produce, growers, suppliers and featured articles on butchers, bakers and fishmongers."

I have written about growing fruit and veg in my garden (representing "Home Produce") and Jane has written about cooking with it, specifically concentrating on the aspect of seasonal produce. 200 chefs and restaurants from all over Britain will showcase 50 Starters, 100 Mains and 50 Desserts, and there will be additional articles about specialist producers of meat, fish and bakery.

It sounds as if this is going to be a very special publication! I sincerely hope that some of you, my loyal Followers, will see fit to purchase it, and thereby add your donation to a worthy cause. Thank you.

    Soda bread

    This is probably the easiest type of bread in the whole world! Ready to eat in 20 minutes from a standing start...

    I don't claim to be an expert on making Soda Bread (I think I have only made it twice before), but I learned how to do it from an expert - Catherine Fulvio, food writer, chef and proprietor of Ballyknocken Cookery School in County Wicklow, not far from Dublin.

    This is the recipe:

    225g Plain flour
    225ml Buttermilk (or ordinary milk soured with lemon juice)
    Half tsp Bicarbonate of soda
    Half tsp sugar (or Sweet Freedom)
    Half tsp salt
    Half tsp Cumin seeds (optional.) I added these because I wanted the bread to complement the Butternut Squash soup I wrote about a couple of days ago, which was also flavoured with Cumin.)

    Pre-heat the oven to gas Mark 8 (230C)
    Place the dry ingredients in a large bowl
    Add the Buttermilk and mix everything together to form a fairly loose dough (if the mixture is too dry, add a little ordinary milk.)
    Tip the dough out onto a floured surface and knead briefly and gently
    Form the dough into a rough loaf shape (very rough is OK!)
    Place onto a baking-tray, either greased or lined with non-stick paper
    Sprinkle with the Cumin seeds and lightly press them into the dough
    Bake for approx. 15 minutes, checking frequently
    When cooked the bread will be lightly browned on the outside and should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

    Soda Bread goes stale very quickly (so they say), and is best eaten very soon after eating, preferably smothered in lots of butter!

    The texture of this type of bread is very crumbly, more like cake than most breads. It's lovely and light. If you left out the Cumin seeds, this bread would be nice at breakfast time, with orange marmalade or blackcurrant jam.

    Well, don't you agree that this is really simple? You must give it a go sometime.

    Tuesday, 18 November 2014

    What a fine pair!

    More roots today: this time a very fine pair of "Duchess" Parsnips.

    They are nice and long (about 12") and very smooth and regular.

    When they are like this, cleaning them up is the work of moments. There is just one tiny patch of brownish canker about halfway down one of the roots, but other than that they almost perfect.

    Since they are this straight, peeling them should be a doddle!

    My Parsnips have not been grown for exhibition purposes, but it is gratifying to think that maybe I could produce something of exhibition standard if I wanted to. If you are into this sort of thing, why not have a look at the blog of my friend Damien Guttridge, called Two Chances Veg Plot Blog. An enthusiastic member of the National Vegetable Society, he grows some very fine Parsnips.

    By the way, the Parsnips are displayed in my latest "basket". That container is one which was used to supply take-away sandwiches for one of my training courses, instead of the usual plastic trays. Whilst very unlovely, the plastic food-trays are at least re-useable, but those wooden containers are considered disposable. Such a waste!

    On a different note... The other day I was looking round for some seeds to send to a friend and I happened to spot this:

    That single pack, priced at a mere 90p, contains six types of seed: carrot, Dwarf French bean, lettuce, chilli, spinach and tomato. I reckon this would make a really good "Starter Pack" for someone who is going into veg-gardening for the first time, perhaps a child. For a very small outlay they could have a go at growing a range of very different plants. I think maybe this could end up as a Christmas stocking-filler for my granddaughter Lara.