Tuesday, 24 April 2012

April Showers and Spring Birds.

A busy afternoon in the garden as the sun was out for a change not that I am complaining about all the recent rain as we really need it (and more). It has prevented me from doing a few things outdoors that I would have rather got done by now, but nothing too urgent.
The week or so of constant showers has really bought the hedge rows to life though, lots of late spring flowers sprouting up nettles, burdock etc and the earlier ones such as cow parsley, lords & ladies and jack-by-the-hedge are coming into flower now.
Plenty of wildlife in the garden too the afternoon sun bought out a few orange tip butterflies and plenty of bird activity at this time of year - the shrill alarm calls of blue tits alerted me just after lunch, they were disturbed by the presence of a little owl perched on the branch of one of the birch trees right next to a nest box. Later on a green woodpecker spent a good five minutes perched on one the neighbouring birches.
Plenty of great tits, chaffinches and robins around also - on pair of robins are nesting in the bank under the oak. I don't fancy their chances much though as a pair tried in the same place last spring and as soon as the chicks hatched it took about two or three days before the nest was dragged out of its hollow during the night. this year its more overgrown on the bank so they maybe lucky - I hope so.
I got four globe artichokes planted that had been over wintering in pots in the greenhouse after being split last autumn and put a few borage plants in the borders as well as potting on some tomatoes (tumbling toms) and planted out more broad beans.
The asparagus has been very slow growing up to now, and we have only harvested four spears so far (which made a very nice asparagus pea and mint risotto). The first spears appeared at the end of March after a lovely unseasonal warm spell but the return to colder weather during this month seems to have slowed the growth down to a snails pace, thankfully though all the crowns i planted are putting out spears which means they survived the winter frosts. With any luck we will be eating it again this weekend.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Baked Mushroom with Stilton and Thyme.

Pre heat the oven to 180.
Cut the stalk out of the mushroom and chop return to the centre of the mushroom with a small slither of garlic.
Season with salt & pepper and brush with olive oil.
Chop the thyme and scater over with a squeeze of lemon juice.
Finally cover with crumbled stilton and cook for 10-12mins.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Mussels with wild garlic, spring onions, fennel and cider.

A very simple supper using fresh ingredients from the garden.

Soften the chopped spring onions in butter or oil.
Add the shredded wild garlic and chopped fennel and cook for a few minutes to release their flavours.
Add some cider and when the cider comes to the boil add the cleaned mussels.
Cook for a couple of mins and give the pan a shake and continue cooking for another minute or two until the mussels have opened.
Discard any that have not opened and serve with frites or crusty bread to soak up the delicious liquor.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Wildflower Survey & Ramsons

This year I am undertaking a wildflower count for the Plantlife charity and yesterday took a walk along all the footpaths in my allocated square kilometre. If you don't know about Plantlife or the wildflower count you can get more info by clicking on this link .
Its very easy to do and you don't need to know anything about wild flowers so I urge anyone with a spare afternoon to register and do the count at least once this summer.
My allocated area is very close by, but an area of fields and wood I have never walk around in the few years I have been here, so I decided before choosing which paths to do the survey along I would walk all of them. You can just do a 1km walk in your allocated square and you can also choose two patches, a central square and a strip, and fortunately my area contains hedge rows (a wonderful display of mayflowers pictured), a small wood and a brook running through it so I have a few options as to what kind area i wish to do in more detail should I choose to do the more detailed study.
I also came across a large wooded hollow next to one of the footpaths that was carpeted in ramsons (wild garlic). However it was the other side of a hedge and on private land so I wasn't able to pic any, besides I have a small plot of them in the garden that I planted a few years back and now also know of a very large patch of them only half a mile from the cottage.
If you have never eaten or cooked with them you are missing one of the best free foods available.
It is the leaves of ramsons that you eat and they have a mild garlic flavour compared with the bulb variety you buy in shops. You can use them as a leaf in salads, shred them and add them to a broth to make a soup or just about any other way you would use bulb garlic. A recent dish I made was a wild garlic and mushroom sauce for a chicken breast, or try stuffing a shoulder of lamb with them for a very seasonal twist on an Easter roast.
They also make a great pesto - blanch the leaves first and make in the conventional way, or use walnuts and rapeseed oil instead of pine nuts and olive oil for a truly British pesto. This will last for weeks if not months in the fridge and means you can continue enjoying them well after their season finishes in a month or so.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Cheats Hollandaise and Sorrel Potatoes

Disappointingly the asparagus spears that have appeared are still not long enough to harvest, I put this down to the cooler days and nights this week- maybe by Easter Monday.
Reading up on asparagus recipes this week, amongst others, I came across a very good one for Duck Egg with Asparaugus Soldiers which sounded great and one for a cheats hollandaise made inside the egg!! Despite my lack of asparagus and a duck egg, I plowed on regardless, after all the purple sprouting broccoli was ready for picking and would make a great subsitute.

Cheats Hollandaise with Broccoli Soldiers.

Soft boil an egg (around 3 mins on a rolling boil).
While the egg is boiling steam some purple sprouting broccoli spears.
Just before the broccoli is cooked put a knob of butter, a dash of white wine vinegar, and a squeeze of lemon juice in a small container and place in the steamer to melt.
When the egg is cooked take off the top season with pepper and pour the melted ingredients into the soft yolk.
Serve immediately with the broccoli, rolled in melted butter, use the soldiers to mix the yolk into a cheats hollandaise inside the egg!

A great starter and i can't wait to try it with asparagus and maybe a duck egg.

To follow I had a steak with sorrel potatoes. To prevent the sorrel discolouring to the unappetising brown that it usually does, let the potatoes cool slightly first, then add butter and let melt, finally adding the shredded sorrel just before serving.
The sorrel aparently only discolours at a certain temperature so with a little practice and judgement you can get the potatoes down to a low enough temperature not to brown the sorrel but still hot enough to serve.
I must try this with sorrel soup sometime.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Salad Burnet and Burnet Vinegar

Rain at last and god did we need it - not a great deal but enough to give all the plants a drink.
Spaghetti meatballs in tomato sauce tonight (all home made of course), and to go with it a simple green salad made of mixed leaves from the garden - rocket, lettuce (lambs and a few radicchio leaves) also in there will be the tender young leaves from Salad Burnett a native wild flower that I grew from seed. Its a very attractive plant that is just coming into flower now - the flowers are very dense and purple coloured not like conventional blooms at all.
Its leaves can be used in salads and have a slight cucumber flavour to them. They also make a very nice vinegar.

Salad Burnett Vinegar

Crush your Burnett leaves with a mortar & pestle and place in a bowl.
Bring a saucepan of white wine vinegar to the boil and pour over the Burnett leaves.
Allow to cool and pour into a jar or other container.
Keep for a couple of weeks - shaking the jar every day or so.
Strain to remove the leaves and re-bottle.