Archive for March, 2009

Chomping on chard

I refused to buy any greens in the supermarket this week as an incentive to use what I’ve grown. So whilst Abi was out at her Italian class I cut some chard that was growing well and wilted it in a small pan on the stove. It went, undressed or seasoned with a pork chop in mustard sauce and some beautiful baked Shetland Black potatoes that are currently being sold in Waitrose.

Sigh…it was heaven.

The pork chop recipe was plucked from Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries and had a zingy creamy sauce. It didn’t last long.


Pink Cauliflower Soup

One of the things I find with growing vegetables, is that it’s similar to Eddie Izzard’s skit about putting fruit in fruit bowls, I never fancy eating or cooking with them….one of the things I’m trying to change this year. Another part of this is a huge personal push to cook more seasonal foods, open up my repertoire, try new things.

Back in February we had a very good habit of popping down to the local farmers’ market at Parliament Hill. We could grab the seasonal produce that we needed, I could grab a tasty sausage sandwich from The Giggly Pig before we headed off to a local cafe for coffees and for Abi to grab a panini or something. The market is wonderful, but little hot food choice for a vegetarian other than cakes and pastries.

So one weekend, before tucking into some piping hot pork sausages, we saw some unusual pink cauliflowers sitting amongst the melancholy range of green and beige vegetables on display at this time of year. Abi has a clichéd love of all things pink, so it duly went into the shopping bag; whilst I mused that the only things I could do with it were either cauliflower cheese or cauliflower tempura.

Having a vegetarian girlfriend has been a great excuse to procure a number of cookbooks to keep things interesting and when I got home I adapted this recipe from one of my all time favourite cookbooks:

Pink Cauliflower Soup with green peppercorns and avocado oil

100g floury potato
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 sprig thyme
800mls vegetable stock
1 large pink cauliflower, about 450g net weight
120mls white wine
salt, to season
1 tbsp avocado oil
2 teaspoons freeze-dried green peppercorns

Peel the potato, chop it and put it in a pan with the onion, garlic cloves, thyme and stock. Bring it to the boil and simmer until the potato is soft and breaking up. Remove the thyme sprig and blend the rest to get a smooth, slightly thickened, liquid.

Chop the cauliflower into small pieces, put it in a pan with the wine, over a low heat. Cover and braise the cauliflower for about five minutes until it is tender but not too soft. Add the blended stock, bring to a boil and simmer for one minute. Blend the soup to a smooth puree and season with a little salt.

Serve in bowls with a drizzle of avocado oil on top. You’ll notice that the peppercorns on the photo look remarkably like chives, well in the supermarket I felt positive that I had peppercorns in the cupboard.

The recipe is from Denis Cotter’s Paradiso Seasons which I first heard about on Radio 4 in 2003. It is certainly one of my desert island cook books should I be stranded on a desert island with a good range of produce.

Building raised beds

This project took a couple of weekends, mainly because I’m a late starter and I end up working until the light truly fails. My Kiwi friend Alistair, keen to get his hands dirty and who was taught horticulture at school helped with plank and plant moving, which was very useful because I was pretty ignorant of moving plants before then.

I usually fork plants up and hope they’ll get on with things, and then wonder why their leaves wilt. Alistair insisted that we move the fruit bushes properly, by digging around them with a spade to help protect the fine ends of the roots and transferring them to containers. I have him to thank for the crops that I got last year, yields would no doubt have been less without his root saving tips.

The raised beds were made from a mixture of long planks and short planks, both kinds were bigger than me which is about all I can say about them. They were handily delivered by Jewsons, as it was expecting too much of my Polo to fit them all in the back, or on the top, and with delivery in the region of £15 it wasn’t too pricey. All told, I think it cost in the region of £250 for all the materials.

The planks are pressure treated timber, no toxic wotsits in them that could contaminate the soil; they were joined together using regular timber stakes at the right angles of the structure. I later used the off cuts to build two planters that are about 50x50cm in the back garden.

I use two compost bins, subsidised ones from Camden Council, which you can see in the top right. We also have a huge water butt that is connected to the downpipe for our block of flats. This was a freebie, left outside a cafe on Upper St, Islington for anyone who wanted it. I’m planning on covering it with sweet peas this year, as it’s a hideous green one.

The beds were double dug, and the bricks and rubble removed. We filled them with peat free compost, around 8-12 bags from Homebase, which were topped up with compost from two local city farms:

  • Kentish Town City Farm: the compost is kept right at the end of the farm, and you need to bring a spade and dig it up yourself. Please leave a donation to help their good work.
  • Freightliners City Farm: around £5 per rubble sack, which are ready filled for you. You can keep or return the sacks, I found them useful for moving compost and rocks around.

You can find City farms in London by following the link, but most have a web presence.

In the months to come I’ll regret leaving the rhubarb where it is (top left). It will thoroughly enjoy all the extra compost that was added and flatten all the plants around it. Still, it did feed us and neighbours got plenty of stalks.

That’s history taken care of, the next post will be about getting sowing for the year ahead.

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