Friday 25 November 2011

And the beet goes on ....

Today I picked the last of the Cylindra beet (betterave), sown at the end of March and eaten (or given away) one or two at a time over the summer and autumn. The first one was picked on 24th June, so that's exactly five months of good eating. Not one went "woody" (turned into something resembling a piece of tree) or bolted (sent up a flower spike, rather a shame in a way as beetroot in flower can be spectacular).

Here's one we ate earlier, along with some carrots and parsnips.

I sowed the seed in a tray and pricked out the resulting 21 seedlings into modules at the end of April, then planted them out in mid-May. Beetroot seed are "polycarpic" - they come in little clusters and you always get multiple seedlings from one lump, so you have to thin out over 50% if you sow direct into the ground (or else buy a variety called Monodet which is monocarpic and expensive). I hate to throw away seedlings I've brought into the world myself - it makes me feel like I'm murdering them. Cylindra are firm fleshed, a deep purple and, as the name would suggest, cylindrical in shape rather than "round or globe", as the allotment show schedule used to have it.

We bake them combined with other vegetables such as pumpkin, or microwave them in a lidded Pyrex casserole with a little water for 8-15 minutes depending on size (the biggest, which weighed nearly a kilo,  took 20 minutes).

I also pickled some beetroot (variety Boltardy this time, which are round). Tim doesn't like "shop" pickled beetroot which he finds much too vinegary and catches in his throat. I therefore tried Miles Collins' recipe, which suggests a little sugar. This single thread has been going since September 2007 and has lots of additional tips and fine adjustments. I added a bay leaf, white peppercorns, coriander seed, a cinnamon   stick and a star anise to 500 ml of white malt vinegar, plus four tablespoons of sugar, boiled it up, allowed it to cool then poured it through a sieve over the cooked, peeled and sliced beet in a Le Parfait jar. The pickle has now had two weeks to mature so we sampled it. I think it's excellent. Tim rates it as "better than any pickled beetroot he's ever had" but he's still not a fan. All the more for me!

Thursday 24 November 2011

Cats in clover part 2

Our cats are both catnip crazy. For Christmas last year, each got a catnip fish from Culpepers (they sent small items like this to European countries by mail, very good value). Bagger licks his fish very messily, gets it nice and soggy then sucks up the resulting brew. RonRon rolls on her fish, or Bagger's after he's finshed with it. The fish started out neat white cotton items with a colourful floral print - now are both a dirty green from Bagger's attention.

Alas! Culpepers has gone into administration! We will have to grow our own catnip, or catmint, Nepeta Cataria (I have some seed, from Thomson & Morgan) but we may have to construct an island in the middle of the Aigronne to grow it where the cats can't get at it. Particularly worrying is the fabled old lady up the road with 30 cats - what if they get wind (literally) of the catnip? Here is T&M's catmint cat - an anti-Bagger to the life!
Don't let this cat meet ours or there could be an explosion

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Cordon Pied Bleu

I like mushrooms, especially wild ones, but only use a few, readily recognizable species... and one of these is the Blewit. We used to get these on our allotment in Leeds, so the first time I saw them here under the Lime tree I was very pleased. [For more on the Blewits go here on our Aigronne Valley site]

The ones I found late on Saturday were photographed, identified [to be sure to be sure] and then sliced and cooked.

These are the caps ready for slicing.

We had a simple omlette of Pied Bleu, Turbo onion and Lidl's Black Forest ham using local, "outdoor chicken" eggs [free-range], a spoonful of the "stand your spoon up in it" La Borde 'treble' cream.

Being fried up with the sliced onion, before the addition of the ham.

And talking of eggs... I wonder if there were a few broken windows in the vicinity of where this egg was laid. An 'En with a rifled bum!?

Ooooooo! Sqwaaaaaak!!

This was served up with a couple of leaves of 'salad' with Benedicta Citron mayo and finely grated carrot in a lemon and hazelnut oil dressing.

This is what it looked like on the plate with a hunk of pain épis to mop up the juices.

Simple healthy eating

Tuesday 15 November 2011

25 Carrot gold

The last vegetable we expected to do well in our stony soil was carrots. Stones are one of the reputed causes of "fanging" - forking into lots of little roots instead of one nice big one (another is fresh manure). Imagine our surprise when fine fat straight carrots emerged from the soil!

There was very little damage from carrot fly, too. This again was a surprise, as one of the commonest meadowland weeds around here is the wild carrot, daucus carota. Thinking about it though, the carrot fly population will be in balance with its natural predators, so the same level of damage - almost nil - as that of the wild carrot should be expected. The wild carrots come up with long slim white roots with a lovely aroma of carrot, though rather tough and not much taste.

This year we grew a French variety called Nantaise améliorée 3, available in the UK under the name "Early Nantes Improved". The "early" tag of this tasty stumpy-rooted variety means that it has a short growing season, enabling us to grow two crops in a year. The May-sown row suffered in the drought, despite watering, but we still got a few meals out of them. We sowed again in late July, on ground previously used for onions and shallots. The second sowing has benefited firstly from the rain and then from the Indian summer we are experiencing at the moment. They are producing an excellent crop and the next cake could well be a carrot cake.

We are also growing January King, a hardy favourite from England which we have grown for many years. They are also doing well. Carrot fly mined our former allotment crops into inedible black-and-orange mush, until we started growing under mesh, so thank you, nature's balance!

Friday 11 November 2011

Do the saumonette rock

The Thursday market in Le Grand Pressigny has a new fish stall - infinitely superior to the old one. No mégots behind the counter - "a little fagash with your fish sir?", I don't think so! The fish on the new stall looks very fresh, with bright eyes and a pleasant smell. The stallholders are apparently based in Normandy, but they are running at least four weekly markets in Touraine and Tim thinks they are using local facilities as a pick-up point for freshly-caught fish. Some of the produce that caught my eye were organic salmon, a large monkfish and an even larger whole cod, about a metre long. They had a good queue of customers last Thursday, so we thought "Friday - fish!" and joined the queue.

A popular choice was saumonette, which had a long cylindrical pink-and-white banded body devoid of skin. This was being sliced into steaks rather like salmon, but it was clearly a cartiliginous fish such as dogfish. Rock Salmon! That takes me back to my childhood when the chippie in Yardley served "rock". So rare was the treat of a chippie meal that I have no memory of what rock salmon tasted like, but Tim remembers it as tough. Well, overcooked fish is tough, and frozen fish can be tough too. It looked good, and at 14.95 a kilo was just over half the price of the salmon, so we bought a couple of steaks on the spot.

Once at home we googled our new purchase, and had our ideas confirmed. Wikipedia defines saumonette as the commercial name used in France for a number of small species of shark and dogfish, once anything that might put the prospective purchaser in mind of Jaws, such as the head, tail and skin, has been removed. Because of the size of the 'body' Tim suspects that the fishmongers' specimens may have been of the species known to fishermen in the British isles as "tope".

Google suggested a few recipes, all very simple. As we have a basket of late tomatoes ripening in the kitchen, a simple tomato sauce seemed ideal. I softened a chopped small onion in a little olive oil, then tipped in a small bowl of chopped tomatoes and a couple of garlic cloves, minced. Lid on the pan, cook for about twenty minutes until nicely mushy, then stir vigorously. You could skin the tomatoes, you could blitz the sauce, but I like a chunky sauce, so that I can taste the fish or whatever. Saumonette steaks into pan on top of simmering sauce, lid back on, cook on low with heat diffuser mat to steam for fifteen minutes turning once. I served them with pak choi and plain boiled potatoes. Saumonette has two new fans! Delicately flavoured, meaty, tender flesh and no waste except for the central bone. That's definitely coming again! I suspect it might make good kebabs....

Thursday 10 November 2011

Brioche Osborne

No not a way of cooking the Chancellor, or the budget for that matter, but a variation on Osborne Pudding. [Itself a type of Bread and Butter pudding]
The Good Housekeeping recipe uses brown or wholemeal bread.
But for this version I used a commercial sliced Brioche and NO butter.... except the 9% that was in the loaf... and also no sugar.

Ingredients are as follows:
The better part of a packet of sliced Brioche [all I had left were the crusts and four slices... but it is all down to the size of the dish you filling with the bread.]
A jar of marmalade [to use for spreading on the slices.]
Two eggs and 500ml of full milk [this is 'comfort' food!]
Some Vanilla extract - to taste [NB: not essence]

Spread one side of each slice with some marmalade [to taste] and arrange it in the dish.
You are trying to get a good amount of the top crust of the loaf in the air when it is cooking.
Once the dish is full [you may have to use some half slices towards the middle... tuck them in so that the middle slices are forced apart, or lifted up.]
Then, using a large bowl, whisk the eggs well and then whisk in the vanilla and milk... try and get a lot of air into the mix and then pour it over the marmaladed brioche in the dish... and leave it to stand. It needs at leaste 10mins to allow the custard to soak into the bread.
Then pre-heat oven to 180C [350F/Gas Mark 4] and once it is up to temperature put the pudding in for 45 minutes [or 40 if the oven is on fan assist.]
Meanwhile make some Bird's Custard!!
When the top is nice and dark and the pudding is well risen remove from the oven and serve up quickly with some custard [or cream or creme fraiche!]


Variation: Use Apricot Jam and some chopped moist-dried apricots [the ones that are sold to snack on!] soaked in Apricot brandy [or just use brandy if you don't have the liqueur].