Saturday, 26 January 2013

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Best winter Thai pumpkin soup and acid fried blues

WTA's winter wonderland

Winter is glorious primordial time of the year on WTA. There's time to rest soil, rest the bones, go inward, contemplate, rejuvenate the soul...and write a Master's thesis! There have been 'gutsy' frosts and snow round these parts (it's snowing as I write this post) and the ground is rock solid. Summer's hard work is still paying dividends in the form of parsnips curly kale, and there's even some good feeds of carrots to be had.

Leeks and Jerusalem Artichokes destined

for the Christmas table.

WTA managed to provide more than enough parsnips, carrots, Romanescu broccoli, leeks and Jerusalem artichokes, Brussel sprouts pumpkin and runner beans to feed nine at this year's Christmas table. Digging the parsnips and carrots out of the snow was a little problematic but definitely worth it when to came to eating them.

WTA's fresh, 'naturally frozen' sprouts and broccoli

WTA's Crown Prince pumpkins have been a roaring success this year. The Brits have finally caught onto what a eating vegetable pumpkin is (something the Aussies knew yor years!). I've come up with the following recipe for a brilliant Thai-style pumpkin soup I've been enjoying over the last month so. So here it is...

WTA's Best Thai Pumpkin Soup.

1kg of raw pumpkin (peeled)

1tbsp of Thai fish sauce.

Thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger (grated)

1 tbsp Schwartz Fragrant Thai Hot crushed curry spices

3 tbsps Schwartz 'Cook art' green chili, lemongrass & cardamom spice blend

2 medium red onions

1 litre of light coconut milk

1 litre of vegetable or chicken stock

Preheat oven to about 190 degrees c.
Peel the pumpkin and cut into small chunks. Cut the onions into quarters. Place pumpkin and onions in a baking tray and coat with couple of glugs of olive or rapeseed/canola oil. Sprinkle all the spices over the pumpkin and onion Place tray in the oven and bake pumpkin and onions until both are beginning to soften.
Remove baked pumpkins and onions from oven when soft. Transfer to large heavy-based pot. Add chicken stock and simmer on cook top for half an hour. Liquidise stock, pumpkin and onion mixture. Slowly stir in coconut milk and grated fresh ginger. Add fish sauce. Season with sea salt or freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve garnished with basil or corriander leaves.

Steve's 'Acid Fried Blues'

The dark evenings have also given me time to catch with some of the music that inspires my depth psychology and gardening. Western Australian Steve Tallis - - is one such musician whose music has been feeding me over the dark months. Steve is playing around Paris right now and is definitely worth seeing play if you're in that neck of the woods or indeed anywhere the man happens to performing his 'acid fried blues'.
Listen and grow well!

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Invocation and the ritual dance of the young pumpkin and cider making

Normal service has been resumed from WTA ...Still harvesting some good feeds off WTA...not too much work on the blog or WTA due to the 'day job 'and thesis...but things are under control ... don't panic! Winter green seedlings (cabbages, sprouting broccoli) have gone in along with over three hundred winter onion sets... The last runner beans and summer carrots are also being picked.

Visitors and noteable absences

Mart the chief of staff and Author Jan have swung through and had their first full tour of WTA this morning. Mart the chief of staff picked a massive Orbit pumpkin that had been sitting proudly in the pumpkin patch ready for harvest and I also picked my first 'crown prince' pumpkin this morning. It's been the highlight of the WTA year to have them here. I also butter nut squash over the past few days and made the squash into stonking butter nut squash soup that has gone down a treat in this breezy and darkening autumn days of late. My own exclusive WTA butter nut squash soup recipe will go up on the blog soon!

I as wondering where my mate Johnny Bridgmeister had got to after long noteable absence from WTA this year. I was a little perplexed by his no-shows until but finally got a letter from one of his 'handlers' - one Howard Bigot Johnson this week informing me that Johnny was too busy to help out with weeding due to his commitments to contributing to one which has had now taken on the mantle of the blogosphere's NO.1 satirical bridge playing sites!

Old Sleningford farm

Went one of my annual off-allotment forays into the North Yorkshire wilds today with Mart the Chief of Staff, Author Jan and the Hearing Scientist today and visited the folks at Old Sleningford farm (see WTA links)to press my own apple/cider juic gathered from apples from Annie's place adjoining WTA. The Sleningford farm crew are a brilliant lot and have set up community apple juice pressing operation that is inspirational in it's social vision and community inclusivity. We maged to get about 18 litres of the most fragrant and luscious apple juice from the 37 kgs we brought with us. The hearing scientist brought along some apple wine we made last year which was generally considered a rather ribald little number, so much so I have been asked to up the apple wine recipe we used by one particularly keen punter of Norther origin. At this stage I must acknowledge the apple wine recipe's source which comes from the legendary C. J. J. Berry's First Steps in Wine Making (Standard Press -Andover).
So here it goes!
WTA's Apple wine recipe
10 kgs of mixed apples (windfalls)
1.5kgs of Sugar (to the gallon of liquor)
4.5 litres of water
Method: Chop the apples into small pieces an put into a bowl. Add the yeast an waters(water will not cover the apples). Cover with fine netting (to prevent vinegar flies getting in). Leave for a wee k, stirring vigorously several times a day to bring the apples from the bottom to the top. Kep the bowl covered and in a fairly warm place. Then strain the juice from the apple 'pulp'. Press the juice from the apples and add to the rest of the liquor. To every gallon add 3lbs of sugar.. put into a cask or glass fermenting vessel (demijohn) and fit an airlock, racking when it has cleared. TGhe win willb ready for drinking within six months,but improves being kept for a year.
Grow and drink well.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

And the winner is...WTA!

Great excitement last week as WTA picked up three first prizes in three classes and a third at the local village show. The hearing scientist also got in on the act successfully showing some runner beans from the kitchen garden.
This vegetable show virgin got so excited that he ended up actually arriving at the village hall sans produce and cake a day before the event and had to return home and keep his veg as pristine and fresh as possible until the next day. I had to admit I was totally sucked in by the whole event, running around WTA at 7am in the morning looking for the best examples of courgettes, carrots, salsify, broccoli that I could find. Pre-show preparation involved carefully washing and drying my entries, deciding how `i would display them and then of course making my 'Favourite Cake' entry - which took two attempts!
The irony of the whole affair wasn't lost on me as I made my show perapratiions while 'listening' on an episode of The Archers on BBC radio 4 in which the characters where doing the same thing? me thinks ' old foggeydom' could be closer that I think!
In the end WTA took out the following categories:
  • Box of seasonal vegetables - 6 varieties. (Pic above)

  • Onions (Button's Show Stoppers)

  • Courgettes (Soliel)
WTA was also might happy to fight off some stiff country baking competition and pick up a third place for it courgette and pecan loaf in the 'favourite cake' class (see previous post to get WTA's the prize-winning recipe)

The hearing scientist's runner beans (White ladies) (pic above) from the kitchen garden impressed the judges and also picked up first prize in their class - something we know Norm the Vet and Captain Ken would have been proud of! Many thanks must go to the hearing scientist for properly making the onions suitable for show by tying raffia around their stalks and then using some dynamic arranging skills to organise the box of veg.

WTA's success even tore Johnny Bridgmeister away from writing now his highly influential Bizarre World of Bridge blog and had him phoning for updates for on how WTA had fared at the hands of the judges. In the end however It was great and a privilege to just be a part of what I reckon is an vital and important part of English country cultural life. The word's of Rudyard Kipling's famous poem 'If' :
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same...

were also enough to help me take a valuable check on the old ego. In the end it's about getting the hands in the earth and staying grounded! Talking of which, my over wintering onion sets and garlic (purple wight) arrived last week and I've arrived home today to find two small boxes of live 'spring greens' seedlings (Mr Fothergills) I ordered a little while back. Author Jan and Mart the chief of staff are also scheduled for a visit soon so I'm keen to have the 'autumn plot' well and truelly in and starting to grow before their arrival.
Show and grow well!

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Dinning at St Nigel of Slater's table and "Getting back" to Apple

It's been mainly weeding and caterpillar control on WTA this week. There's this plenty of produce to be had but it's clear some the massive bounty of seasonal summer crops is starting to slow.
Two apple trees that have somehow found their way over the years into a hedge bordering WTA have produced a small but well formed crop of large cooking apples. The appearance of the apples and the start of the blackberry season prompted me to get stuck in and make a blackberry and apple crumble. Getting the blackberries meant a bit of off-allotment foraging in some nearby farm hedgerows which have bountiful blackberry brambles producing some of the best free soft fruit you'll ever taste. The thing I love about making a crumble the WTA way is that it can be used for a great dessert but also a great breakfast with its rolled oats-based topping!
So here it is...

WTA's Blackberry and Apple Crumble
Approx 1 kg of apples

500-600gm of Blackberries

For the crumble topping

1 cup olive oil

3 cups whole grain rolled oats

1 cup plain flour

1 cup of pine nuts or chopped walnuts or almonds

Peel and core the apples. Cut the apples into 'bite-size pieces and place on a microwave-proof dish. Microwave on high for about 5 minutes until apples soften. Wash blackberries, drain and then mix with apples. Sprinkle lovely mixture with about 3 table spoons of demerara sugar.

To make the crumble topping, combine flower, oats and nuts. Add the olive oil and stir until the mixture begins to form into thick clusters. Spread evenly, on top of apple and blackberry mixture. Bake in an 180C oven for 45 minutes or until topping is lightly brown. Serve hot or allow to cool overnight for a fabulous rustic breakfast.

Digging in the Dirt
Harvesting the last crop of onions for the year has left some space on the upper bed. After digging over the bed I sowed 120 over wintering broad beans (The Sutton) and then sowed another 40 in an adjacent bed which has been left fallow over summer. The Sutton is a shorter variety and supposedly less susceptible to being blown over by winds.

With next year's onion crop in mind , I'm experimenting with growing some of my crop from seed instead of just using sets and have sown about 120 Senshyu Semi-Glob Yellow Onions (Suttons Seeds) in cellular seed trays. The success of the cauliflower crops has also prompted me to sow about 50 'Snowball' cauli's (Suttons Seeds) in individual seed cells. The latest dry spell has left my beans needed some additional watering.

'St Nigel'

Great to see Nigel Slater championing vegetables and sharing more of his great cooking via television this week. Nigel and Jamie Oliver are two of WTA's patron saints of cooking vegetables, and are often called on via their respective publications for advice and prophetic guidance. 'St Nigel's intervention was sort again this week after I picked my first pumpkin - a smallish but beautiful 'Orbit' variety. I didn't want to go down the usual soup or baked pumpkin route so after devling back into some of St Nigel's ancient epistles that are have appeared in the Observer (UK) newspaper's brilliant magazine, I stumbled across one of Britain's national cooking treasure's superb pronouncements:

Chickpeas with Pumpkin, Lemon Grass and Coriander

200g chickpeas ( I used a can)
2 medium sized onions
2 tbsp ground nut oil (I used virgin olive oil)
4 garlic cloves,peled and thinly sliced
a thumb-sized piece of ginger
3 large stalks of lemon grass (I used 3 tbs of lemon grass past from a jar)
2 tsp ground coriander
2tsp ground tumeric
ground seeds of six cardamom pods
2 hot, red chillies
500g peeled and seeded pumpkin
250ml vegetable stocks
400ml coconut milk
1tbsp of yellow mustard seed
a large handful of coriander leaves
Drain the canned chickpeas. Peel and finely chop onions. Pour oil into a deep casserole and add the onions. Cook the onions on a low heat until they are translucent. Meanwhile, peel the garlic and ginger and cut relatively finely and mix. Add three to four tablespoons of grass paste. and then make all three into a rough paste in a food processor. Stir into softened onion and continue to cook. Add ground coriander and turmeric. Peel and lightly crush cardamom seed pods. Add them, together with the fresh chillies, seeded and finely chopped. Keep the heat fairly low and don't let the ingredients brown.
Chop the pumpkin into large mouth-sized chunks. and ad to the pan with the chickpeas and stock. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer and continue to cook at a gentle bubble till the pumpkin is tender. Stop as soon as the flesh can yield to the point of a knife..
Stir in the coconut milk and continue to simmer. Put a little oil in a non-stick pan and ad the yellow mustard seeds.. When they start to pop add them to the pumpkin, together with the coriander leaves. Serve with rice and limes, halved ready to squeeze over at the last Minute. Give thanks to St Nigel and eat!

Well done the Rossdorf crew!
A big congratulations to one of WTA's favourite blogs. the Rossdorf Allotment on their recent show wins. Rossdorf's success has motivated me to enter some of WTA's produce in a nearby village show scheduled for next weekend. The experience of actually putting vege into a show and helping bolster a great rural tradition of exhibiting produce should be a hoot. Entries close this Friday and I plan to enter some onions, courgettes, french and runner beans and possibly some calabrese that's look set to harvest. I'm not sure if WTA's produce will measure up to the exacting standards of the horticultural judges - my beans need a little straightening and I'm not sure if my onions (Bunton show stoppers) have perfectly matching circumferences. Still, the entry form goes in tomorrow and the produce fronts the judges on Saturday morning. Exhibit and grow well!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

It's later than I think! Time for old cook books and Thai Cauliflower!

The English bank holiday weekend is like a gigantic signpost pointing toward autumn for me. It's a great time of the year - as is each of the transitional cusps between seasons. WTA is looking fine, although there are odd gaps of bare earth beginning to show where crops have been harvested and autumn seeds sown. The last of the cauliflowers were picked today and it won't be long before the second broad bean sowing will have had its day, stripped of any remaining pods and pulled out. It's gratifying to grow your own but it comes as a bit of shock when you realise how quickly some things get used and the gaps they leave. It's always later than I think on WTA! Still, WTA's pumpkins are pulsating and continue to grow and set fruit unabated. The rough ball onion seeds planted a few weeks ago are beginning to raise their heads above ground.

Francaise Jo, made a guest appearance on WTA last Saturday morning and helped pick French climbing beans, courgettes, gladioli and gather the last of the potatoes still in the ground. It's always a great to have Jo around and I get feeling allotments and 'growing your own' is beginning to get under her skin.
WTA Cooking...
WTA's Cauliflowers have been a revelation this year I adapted this recipe from one found in an old Ken Hom 1996 book - Ken Hom's Hot Wok - a is gem. The book was brought charity shop about 4 years ago for £3.50 on a whim and has become a bit of a foundation for some of my Thai/Vietnamese cooking. I've tended to 'pimp' and some of Ken's recipes to give them an even bigger South East Asian taste - the recipes themselves area brilliant base for some experimental fusion cooking.

Thai Cauliflower a la Hom
1 medium cauliflower head divided into small florets
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
6 crushed garlic cloves
1or 2 medium red chillies seeded and finely chopped
1 tablespoon of finely shredded spring onions (or one finely cut small red onion)
1 tablespoon of lemon grass paste
2 tablespoons of finely chopped basil or coriander
1 tablespoon of soya sauce
1 teaspoon of palm or caster sugar
1 tablespoon of Thai fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
450ml water
2 teaspoons sesame sesame oil.

Heat up your wok or large frying pan until extremely hot. Gently pour in the vegetable oil. When the oil starts to smoke, toss in the chili, garlic, spring onions and lemon grass paste, moving them quickly around the pan for about 30 seconds. Toss in the cauliflower and stir fry for 1 minute. Add your basil or coriander, soy sauce, sugar turmeric water and fish sauce. Reduce the heat of your cooker, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender. Stir in the sesame oil and sprinkle with fresh coriander and serve immediately.

What's been ordered...
Maybe I'm a sucker for punishment but in a triumph of hope over experience I've decided to sow some garlic on WTA. Autumn orders have been placed, with respective seed and set suppliers and I girding my loins for some planting and sowing over the next few weeks.
  • Garlic Vallelado (Chase Organics)

  • Winter Cress (Chase Organics)

  • White Lisbon winter hardy (Chase organics)

  • Radar Onion sets (Chase organics)

  • Early purple wight garlic (Thompson and Morgan)

Whats going in...
Kale seedlings - Calvanero

Winter Broad Beans (the Sutton)

What's gone in...
Onions - white Lisbon.
What's my scene?
Browsing through a magazine, which claims to be the "UK's No1 for allotment holders" I came across a column by one Edwin Oxlade, in which Ed bemoans the fact that the "Popular Media" have "lost sight of what kitchen gardeners and prospective kitchen gardeners are really into" and in doing so "have put superficial short-lived appeal before reality". Ed goes onto claim much of the media coverage of growing-your-own is no more than "self indulgent lifestyle froth". I'm no fan of the popular media, but Ed's assertion knows what all kitchen gardeners are "really into" seems rather grandiose. And even if the media's preoccupation about writing on growing your own is self indulgent "lifestyle froth" (another subjective generalisation made by Ed), by my reckoning if it attracts more people to experience or at least try to experience veg gardening then it's fine by me! Short-lived or long-lived the experience of growing-your-own is just that, an experience!
Anyone who spends a month working on allotment/kitchen garden realises it's not always than some halcyon garden of paradise... but isn't that the whole point? Carl Jung in the Transcendent Function said: "Man needs difficulties; they are necessary for health". For me the processes involved in having an allotment is more about having my hands in the earth - remaining psychologically grounded. Difficulties in the allotment, as they are in life are numerous, but so are the joys and no one has a mortgage the subjective nature of human experience or how they experience growing-their-own. Grow Well!

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Last pickings and vege regenerations

WTA's first cucumber!

WTA's first cucumber (Marketmore) was picked amid much celebration yesterday. I hate to boast, but it was a taste sensation - crisp, succulent and cool! This gorgeous green gem will be used to make a Japanese-style cucumber salad.
Operation Red Hot Chili pepper continues to go well - The savaged Romenescu look like they might even recover yet, and look to be sprouting again. Caterpillar numbers have dwindled dramatically and now appear to be under control, with little further leaf damage.

This week Autumn's cool fingers felt like they were beginning to edge closer and gently wrap themselves around WTA of a morning. The weekend brought some hot weather that seemed set back the onset of chilly winds and turning leaves - it's strange to think I'll be planting my onion sets for next year's crop in the net few months.

I managed to harvest another lot of broad beans from a late crop of about a dozen plants that are still standing but looking a bit worse for wear due to chocolate spot infection. Foraging bits and pieces left over at the end of the crop can be really rewarding and provide some excellent and unexpected meals.

Part of the tail end of this year's broad beans

Saturday saw the last of the Parmex carrots and some of the first broad bean planting being pulled out and the ground they were in turned. Both have produced excellent crops and will be definite starters next year. The broad beans were a particular revelation, and I plant to try and double the amount of plants I had this year - broad bean bruschetta has me in its grip!

The carrots below were pulled yesterday and needing a quick salad for dinner, I came up with the following 'recipe'...

WTA's Carrot and sesame salad
3-4 large carrots

1.5 tblspns Sesame oil

2 tblspns black sesame seeds

Grate three to four largish carrots into a bowl. Add one and a half tablespoons of sesame oil and mix through the grated carrot. Sprinkle with two table spoons of black sesame seeds. Mix the black sesame seeds into the carrot and sesame seed oil.

Passers-by steam in for WTA's Carrot and sesame salad
Grow well!