Wednesday, April 25, 2012

New kitchen garden ideas 2012 - wall gardens, gates and gutters!

Keeping a kitchen garden is as much about experimenting as it is about food - your making your own mark on a small corner of the world.

I have been meaning to better fence off the kitchen garden patch for a while.

A self closing gate as a feature as much as a function. The running gear (rope) will be spliced and tidied later in a more seaman like manner as is appropriate - but its sort of a tribute to - or perhaps a momento mori of - those who went before me.
The gate was welded up by a friend. The gate body is an old drying rack from a Stanley No.8 range my Grandmother got in around 1946.
My Granddad apparently preferred the old open fireplace, so she had it delivered and installed while he was out fishing, fait acomplis.
Hinges and pulleys came from O Malleys shop in Rosmuc, Connemara - a really great family run old fashioned business who have everything you will need from the cradle to the grave. 

The counterweight is pig iron from the old sash windows of Ardmore National school which was renovated in 1987-1988.
My Dad was headmaster and salvaged them for use as ballast in Galway hookers, but I found a few in the garden when developing it.
 They were in the windows from about 1878 until 1988. Now one is still in use pretty much in its original role about 135 years after being cast.

The self closing gate itself was inspired by a dear family friend called James Jocelyn who was an artist from nearby.
As a small child I was fascinated by a self closing gate he built for his garden - much in the same fashion.
The gate was made from materiel's associated with my family, but was certainly inspired by James.
He was a fantastic floral gardener, growing all kinds of blossoms from a hard won patch of stony ground.

I loved to visit him, and even when he was busy he put up with me - how I really don't know.
There was these old swords above the fire place that I would insist on playing with. An old RN sword and a Rapier that had been made in Dublin.

Later on in life as I turned into an adult, I picked up a lot from him about art, literature, culture and history.

James had a friendly but very extraordinarily hyperactive and loud Jack Russell called Noodles, who for some reason would swing a fishing buoy on a rope like a hammer thrower, then release and chase it - In hindsight I think Noodles may have been the origin of the word barking mad.

James was in fact a distant in-law of James Bligh - he of the Bounty, so obviously the accusations of keelhauling, flogging and spread eagling noodles were too tempting to resist. In my defence I think it was only fair in lieu of the fact he frequently told my Mother, and later me, that she must have dropped me on my head as a baby.

James was always supportive and encouraging when I chose to go to Sea as a career, so I do owe him a lot of thanks.
My 21st Birthday present made by him was a wonderful model of St MacDaras church in Connemara marble which still and will always have pride of place.
I think perhaps that although the idea for the gate was in train for quite some time that it did not go up until now is a little cathartic - some time back around this time of the year James passed away, he is still missed but having had his humour and intellect as part of my upbringing will always stand me in good stead.

Anyway, there are two more experiments in the garden - the first being the pea gutter.
Old guttering affixed outside the shoring I put in last year over the drain.
I had the guttering re-done last year, so had a load of old, unsightly gutters all over the shop so I recycled them this way rather than driving them all to a recycle centre.

This way I am using both sides of the fence for peas and beans - maybe squash later.
Another set of old guttering added to the top of the supporting posts to grow lettuce/salad type food.
The inspiration for this came from a photo in the US I believe
I have got my hands on lots of climbing legumes so this is pretty much where they will go -
For me its a nitrogen fixer for the soil, and saves a hell of a lot of hassle putting up canes and supports - this is no maintainance once the transplants go into place.
I concentrated on types that do not require shelling like Mange Tout and Green beans, but for good measure I will add some Runner beans and Irish Green peas.

One thing that has defeated me over the years is tomatoes and basil, I dont have and dont thing I really want a polytunnel.
So, the south east facing wall of the house is well sheltered and quite sunny - no trees in the way.
The trellis' came from Aldi last year, very cheap - around €6 each.
The hanging basket brackets came from Lidl this year, €3 each
Using some timber I will be knocking up a few planter boxes for the base, about 1m x 30cm and 30cm deep.
These will be seeded with gherkins, climbing squash and delicate herbs like basil, corriander and quinquilla.
When established and the weather gets warmer they will be slotted in below the trellis to climb away for the summer - and with our short nights I have high hopes.
The black fabric behind the trellis will protect plaster and paint work from the climbers tendrils, and help absorb more heat into the wall.
The hanging baskets will be used to try a variety of tumbling tomato types, we will see which work best.

Anyway, it goes to show with even only a wall, you can still grow your own from the plot to the plate, and even if my peas are in the gutter - they are staring at the stars!

Please feel free to comment if you use any ideas or experiment with something like this

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Monday, April 23, 2012

Monkfish and Sorrel in Mousseline a la Simon sauce

Well, got a great gift recently from a friend - a few Monkfish tails.
In the old days Monkfish was seen as a by-catch, used for lobster bait. But the Scottish really pushed it as a food and a few TV recipes later and it became a very fashionable food and expensive to buy.

However, any meaty whitefish like ray will also do. Its also a good recipe to stretch a lobster tail when used as a very plush starter.
Monkfish stirfried with nettle leaves in mousseline sauce garnished with marigold petals
I love using Hollandaise sauce, but hate the waste of egg whites. Mousseline sauce is traditionally made with cream, but I just use the egg whites whipped to give a lighter sauce, better for this time of year.
Its probably a healthier option as well.

The mousseline sauce is a great one to know how to whip up, unlike hollandaise it uses all the egg and is great with seafood, asparagus or broccoli. Using different herbs infused through the whipped eggwhite it is very versatile and adaptable

This recipe is an ideal 'Hungry gap' dish from the garden. As a sort of celebration of butter I did it with some beetroot fondant and a few carrots thrown in for good measure but pureed parsnip is also a great accompaniment.

For the fondant and the sauce I would recommend Cuinneog butter - it may cost a little more, but seriously, if you have bought the monkfish it deserves that extra touch of flavour.

I only wish my asparagus crowns were growing better to add to the meal, I must say that the (rather expensive and very delayed in delivery) Mr Middletons asparagus crowns planted and cared for from last year have been very poor performers thus far in comparison with the Lidl types that I bought on impulse.

This recipe in itself is a great way to show off the herbs from the garden, with the fennel and russian tarragon in the sauce, sorrel stirfried with the monkfish and the Rosemary and thyme in the beetroot fondant.

Monkfish does require careful filleting and skinning, it may be best to ask the fish monger to do it for you.

Mousellelin sauce a la Simon is technically tricky to make. Main thing is keep it moving.

100 gm Cuinneog butter
2 eggs, separated
pinch of cayenne pepper
Good squeeze of lemon juice
Optional Herbs - I use fennel and tarragon

Melt the butter in a bain marie
Separate the eggs, reserve the yolks
Whip the egg white until frothy - I whip in the herbs at this point to let them infuse

Now, remove the bowl of your bain marie from the heat
Add the egg yolks to the melted butter, keep it moving - dont let it set, add a good squeeze of lemon.
After the lemon is added the sauce changes colour from a deep egg yolk yellow to a lovely looking light yellow - essentially a hollondaise sauce
Add a good pinch of cayenne pepper and then add the mixture to the egg whites in the cold bowl, mix in to give a nice light texture.
The sauce is served over the food, let the food and a heated plate heat the sauce, it is very light and heats up quickly - dont risk leaving it on the heat unattended or it will set - this is not what you want. You can heat it up in the bain marie prior to serving, but it needs to be watched carefully.

Monkfish is easy, simply cut the fillets into chunks, dust with flour and stirfry.

I serve this with monkfish chunks strifried with some sorrel or blanched nettles added to the wok at the last minute to add a bit more colour and zing.
Serve with a few slices of home made soda bread.

I hope as always that you find the posting helpful or useful, please feel free to leave a comment.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Early veg - seasons first. Witloof in mushroom sauce with chicon salad

This time of the year there tends not to be much in the garden.It is sometimes referred to as the hunger gap, the space between last years harvest and this years crop.
But with some planning you can have fresh food from the garden all year round, its just a question of working with the seasons.

In addition to spring cabbage, Kale's and leeks, last November I set up endive or chicory roots to force into Chicons.
The type was Witloof, one I am familiar with from my time in the Netherlands.
The seeds were hard to find but I finally sourced them from Garden Plants by Post in limerick.

This is a great veg, already it has provided summer greens for salads and potato dishes last summer, now it provides a salad and a hearty warm meal. Now the roots could be roasted and added to coffee! One pack of seeds, three uses over 7 months.

The recipe is based on a meal I had in Ghent, Belgium, and it is a fairly common dish there.
I had two types of chicon, one Witloof, the other radichio.
The Witloof grew very well over the mild winter despite little attention or care - the radichio was smaller.

This meal was designed to show off both of them, a warmed witloof complimented by a radichio koolsla on the side.

Coleslaw comes from the German or Dutch Kool-sla, literally cabbage salad. This is not the soggy mayonaise soaked lump we get here, but a fresh and very healthy winter salad.
As I have tried to demonstrate with other recipes and processes like zuurkool/ kapusta kizona/Chacroute there are so many more ways to work with cabbage and greens than just boiling them.

Anyway, first things first - the main part.
Preheat oven to 180, while its warming up you can get the rest ready.
Ingredients are very simple,
Some chicons - one per person,
ham slices, two per chicon.
Tsp mustard
I found and added some sea corriander, but cilantro or corriander will do.

Remove any damaged outer leaves from chicon.
Overlap two slices of ham.
Spread with a little mustard
Optional - Add finely chopped herb of choice 
Now, roll the chion into the ham, creating a wrap.
Secure with a tooth pick. Transfer to a shallow oven dish.
Next we do a quick sauce. You will need
75 grams grated cheese
200ml milk
Tablespoon flour
Knob of butter.
Fresh Chives, finely chopped
Herb cutter, demi luna and board - a gift to myself from Joyces in Recess, Connemara.

Chop the mushrooms and sautee in a pot
When sweated and slightly browned add the flour and work into a roux.
Add the milk and grated cheese - reserve some of the cheese to sprinkle over the dish.
When the sauce thickens add the chives and stir in, pour over the prepared chicons, sprinkle over a little cheese and chuck in the oven for 20 minute.

In the meantime you can get your real coleslaw made.
Finely slice your chicon.
Get the top half of a small winter cabbage - remove any part of the core, its the leaves only that you want.
Slice into ribbons, very fine.
Take a carrot, grate - or as I prefer, use a potato peeler to create broad ribbons.
Mix together.
Add some raisins or grated apple if you have it - wallnut is also very nice in the mix and this is a great, fresh, crunchy salad.With the honey in the dressing it helps compliment the slight bitterness of the chicon.

Dressing is
a teaspoon of mustard,
 pressed clove of garlic,
salt and pepper
A teaspoon of carroway seed well pounded
A teaspoon of honey.
Add this to 200 ml Donegal rapessed oil and 50ml cider vinegar and shake well.
Pour over mixed salad and toss well.
With the colours, a bit of fresh chopped parsely as a garnish looks great as well
Remove the chicons from the oven, serve with the coleslaw and rice if you wish.

With this meal itself the salad tastes wonderfully fresh and crunchy with those bitter and sweet flavours, and add to that the rich, smooth warming mushroom/cheese/chive sauce with the crunchy cooked witloof.
The raw cabbage I am told is very good for you, full of fibre vitamins etc - but I really do cook for taste as opposed to health.
And, at this time of year it is incredibly rewarding to be able to produce a meal with so many veg still fresh from the garden.

As always feedback is very welcome - any suggestions for additions or ommissions are appreciated.

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Sunday, April 1, 2012

April fool surprise!

Being the fool I am, some Nicola were left in the ground last year and with the mild winter had even started to crop!
Turning up the new brassica bed this year for rotation, my work was rewarded with a nice little surprise, a box of lovely earlies. It was great to be able to share them with friends this early in the year.
Also growing is Cardoon, cooked it - not all that mad about the favour but will experiment further. It is a perennial so that means I have years.
Also, a nice find was some small but sweet parsnips
Still coming from the garden are winter and spring cabbage, leeks, scorzanera, salsify and endive chicons, or witloof.
Radar winter onions planted during the winter seem to be doing well.
Goes to show, a bit of planning and a lot of luck gives food from the garden all year round.

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