Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Update, Garden & Other

Well, as undoubtedly noted, there has not been much action around here lately. And by around here, I mean the blog, not my life. There has been plenty going on in my life, some of it not good. The last 3 weeks in particular have been crazy. It started with the long-awaited visit from Ireland of Dad's partner's brother and his wife, who stayed with us for a week. That was exciting, but since it happened at the end of a quarantine at the nursing home and with the notice that Dad and T were to be transferred to their preferred nursing home back in their home town, it was a bit of a roller-coaster ride. At one point we were afraid they would be transferred in the middle of the visit, but fortunately not.

The next week was taken up by moving them both down, and naturally they were not able to go down on the same trip thanks to the joys of bureaucracy. There are still lots of loose ends to be taken care of there; moving is a big job. However, while we were making the second trip down, Mr. Ferdzy's mother's housemate - who does a lot to keep things on track around here - suffered a stroke, and is still in the hospital, outcome not completely known although it looks like there will be quite a bit of recovery. Still, a long road of rehab ahead with even more chauffeuring of parental units required, along with many other modifications to daily life.

Not surprisingly the blog is not the only thing being neglected. Why do these things always happen in May? We are 3 weeks behind in a gardening season that has only been about a month, so far. Peas are in, one trellis is up, but we have scarcely had time to look at anything since then.

On the bright side, peas are looking good, including some peas which are cross between Dual and Spanish Skyscraper. I found them in the garden last year and I am looking forward to growing them out and seeing if any of them are of interest. Last year they were an F1 hybrid and so very uniform. This year they should start segregating out into a wider range of phenotypes, although so far they look pretty uniform too.

Mr Ferdzy snatches a moment to week the asparagus. We are so behind on weeding we will likely hire someone for a day to come in and help us. Mr Ferdzy is quite grumpy about this; he says we have a garden so we can garden, not for someone else to do it. I agree, but... this year, I think it is required to get some help.

A walk in the woods showed that the wild leeks (ramps) we planted a couple years back are established and doing well, but not really spreading yet. None for us to pick, unfortunately.

More bad news - the prolonged cold snap this winter has killed a number of the fruit trees that we planted in the last few years. Saddest to me is the death of our quince, but all the paw-paws, an apple, and a cherry have also died. Our peaches and nectarines - 4 trees - are about 90% dead, but show signs of sprouting on some lower branches. This will put them back for years, assuming they manage to struggle through this season. We are debating whether to replace these trees or not - we are getting old enough that we are not sure we will see them to maturity.

Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, watermelons and melons, and a few other things were seeded in pots and are ready to go out as soon as it warms up. We were thinking of doing it last week, but the prediction of this week's cold snap dissuaded us. Hopefully next weekend, though, most of these will go into the garden, ending 2 months of dragging these trays in and out according to the weather.

One of those trays contains tomatoes from a chance hybrid found in the garden a few years back. I have been growing it out, a few plants every year, and I am very pleased with it. This year I am giving 20 plants or so to a local market gardener, with the proviso I get the first ripe fruit from each plant. This will let me know if this is as stable as I think it is, and give me a lot of seed. If it is found to be a success, it will be a new variety and I will need a name for it! You will be hearing more about this, assuming it works out.

And finally, we do have some garden besides vegetables. Of the ornamental plants, peonies are my favourite, and we now have over 30 varieties in the garden, about half of which are well established enough to put on a good show. The first to bloom this (and most) years is Nosegay. Peony blooms are rather fleeting, but it is hard to imagine any flower more spectacular. I will try very hard this difficult year to get out and take the time to look at them.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Stewed Rhubarb & Figs

Rhhhuuuubarb! It's just starting up, so it's not a bad idea to stretch it out with something else. Dried figs provide sweetness and a complementary flavour.

Like rhubarb, figs are a sufficiently high-fibre food that this recipe should perhaps be thought of in terms of dosages rather than servings. I ate most of this for breakfast over a week, with plain yogurt. Very good.  

8 to 12 servings
30 minutes prep time

3 cups chopped rhubarb stems
200 grams dried figs
2 cups water
a stick of cinnamon (2 to 3inches)
1/4 cup honey

Wash, trim, and chop the rhubarb. Trim the stems from the figs and cut them into 3 or 4 pieces each. Put the figs in a pot with the water and cinnamon, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 5 or 10 minutes until softened, then add the rhubarb and honey. Continue to simmer for another 5 or 10 minutes, until the rhubarb is cooked and the figs quite soft. Stir frequently. 

Last year at this time I made Oyster Mushrooms in Oyster Sauce

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

One-Pot Creamed Spinach with Mushrooms

'Cause if there's anything I hate, it's a 3-pot side dish, although I will admit to having posted a few. I really try not to, though. This still requires a fair bit of attention, and so is best served with things like steamed rice or barley, baked potatoes, baked chicken or fish, or other simply cooked dishes which do not require much in the way of last minute attention.

6 to 8 servings

8 cups loosely packed spinach
225 grams (1/2 pound) button mushrooms
2 to 3 green onions OR shallots
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup 10% cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Wash the spinach, discarding any bad leaves and tough stems. Chop it roughly and drain it well. Clean, trim, and quarter the mushrooms. Wash, trim, and finely chop the green onions, or peel and chop the shallots. Peel and mince the garlic.

Heat the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Cook the mushrooms until lightly browned and reduced in volume, stirring regularly. Add the green onions or shallots and the garlic, and cook until wilted. Sprinkle the flour over mushrooms, and mix in well until no white flour can be seen. Cook for another minute or two, stirring, then add the chicken stock.

Bring the mixture to a simmer, then add add the spinach by handfuls, stirring after each addition and adding more as the spinach wilts down until it is all in. Simmer until the spinach is done to your liking, then add the cream. Bring the mixture back up just to the simmer. Keep stirring all the while to keep it from getting lumpy. The sauce should be just thick enough to coat the spinach and mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper - the amount of salt suggested assumes the chicken stock is unsalted.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Herbed Goat Cheese Pasta

Apart from  the time spent wandering around the garden, gathering a bit of this and that, this is as quick and simple a dish as you are likely to find.

I had both green onions and chives, parsley, sorrel, and the tops of leaf celery that overwintered very nicely. I really don't know if it will go to seed soon (it seems likely) but right now it is a lovely addition to salads and other things. The cream should be just enough to make the cheese coat the pasta smoothly, rather than staying a bit sticky. I like whole wheat pasta for this, but I suppose it is not absolutely required - regular will do very well.

Daffodils, I should add, are strictly a decorative plant.

2 to 4 servings
20 to 25 minutes prep time, not including gathering the herbs

2 to 3 cups mixed fresh herbs and greens
1 clove garlic, OPTIONAL
250 grams (1/2 pound) whole wheat spaghetti, spaghettini, or cappellini
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
150 to 200 grams (1/3 pound) soft goat cheese (chevre)
2 to 3 tablespoons light cream
salt & freshly ground black or green pepper to taste

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta.

For the herbs, use a mixture of chives, green onion, garlic, or shallot tops, wild leeks (ramps), parsley, sorrel, spinach, or arugula. Stronger herbs such as thyme, dill, or oregano can be added in small quantities. Overwintered leeks or celery shoots can also be used, as could pea shoots. Wash them well, pick them over, chop them finely, then set them to drain thoroughly. If you like, peel and mince a clove of garlic.

When the water boils cook the pasta according to the directions until just done. Drain well, but leave the stove on.

Immediately return the empty pot to the stove, and add the butter, chevre, and cream to the pot. Stir well, breaking up the chevre, until you have smooth mixture. Add the herbs (and garlic, if using) and cook  until they are just wilted. Add the drained pasta, toss until thoroughly and evenly coated in the cheese and  herb mixture. Season with salt and generous quantities of fairly coarsely ground pepper, toss again, and serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Steak & Mushroom Pie.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Martin's Jerk Chicken Adobo

The recipe for this fusion dish came from my brother-in-law Martin. I've made both Jerk chicken and Adobo before, but it wouldn't have occurred to me to combine them. It works well though - I love all the intense flavours. I love them so much I pass the cooking liquid as a sauce with the chicken, but it really is strong so be cautious with it. Rice or noodles would soak it up beautifully.

2 to 4 servings
8 to 12 hours marinade time
30 minutes cook time

Make the Spice Rub & Marinate the Chicken:
1 tablespoon allspice berries
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1 teaspoon thyme
4 to 6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
OR other pieces of chicken
the juice of 1/2 lemon or 1 lime

Grind the allspice and pepper, and mix them with the remaining spices. Rub the spice mix evenly over the chicken pieces, and put them in a container with a lid. Pour the lemon or lime juice over them, cover them up, and refrigerate them for 8 to 12 hours  until ready to proceed.

Cook the Chicken:
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup vinegar
2 to 3 bay leaves
2 to 3 cloves of garlic
2 to 3 slices fresh ginger
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil

Mix the water, soy sauce, vinegar, bay leaves, peeled and trimmed garlic, and ginger slices in a bowl and have them standing by.

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed pot that will hold the chicken in a single layer, but snugly. Brown the chicken pieces well on the skin side (7 to 10 minutes) then turn them over. Pour in the sauce, trying not to wet the tops of the chicken much. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, without a lid, for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the chicken is done.

Remove the chicken to a serving dish with a slotted spoon. The remaining liquid should be quite reduced in volume; you may either discard it or remove the bay leaves, garlic, and ginger, and pass it with the chicken. It will be very salty and intense, so it should be applied with discretion.

Last year at this time I made Egg Fu Yung.