26 January 2014

To force or not to force rhubarb?

To be honest, I've never been keen on the idea of forcing rhubarb. It just sounds so.. well, forced, or aggressive whereas I prefer to grow my veg and fruit with love and by using peaceful methods, haha. We inherited two big crowns of rhubarb when we took over our plot and shortly after we were given a smaller crown to add to our rhubarb bench. With the exception of tidying up the weeds, removing old leaves and giving some manure to the crowns at early spring, we have left the rhubarb to its own devices to crop naturally and we've always had plenty. I'm already looking forward to making rhubarb and strawberry jam and rhubarb syrup again this year.
Recently, however, I've heard quite a lot about the advantages of forcing rhubarb and have thus become intrigued trying this technique to produce more tender and sweeter stems. Of course, I wouldn't mind being able to pick the first rhubarb 2 to 3 weeks earlier than otherwise during a time when there is lack of harvestable produce at the allotment.
Therefore, this year, I decided to have a go at forcing one of our crowns. I believe this is what is recommended generally, so that you can alternate between crowns and no single crown is forced two years in a row.
My plan was to go to the allotment today with this little project in mind, but it was not meant to be: the on -off showers kept me away from there. Come to think of it, the large plastic bucket I had ear marked for forcing rhubarb would most likely fly away with these winds.  Luckily, it's not too late to force rhubarb yet, so I will get back to this project next month. Who knows, maybe by then we could've had more exposure to colder weather which the rhubarb needs before shooting.
Have you forced rhubarb with good results or do you let the rhubarb do its own thing?
Mrs V x
Photos are from last year, at different stages of rhubarb's life.

18 January 2014

Pumpkin Pasta with Rosemary

From pumpkin bread to pumpkin pasta! I have taken a liking to this James Martin's pasta dish as it is simple, quick(ish) and tasty- the building blocks of a great mid week meal. However, cooking with wine in the middle of the week always makes me feel a bit naughty, so that's why I prefer to cook this at the weekends; little bit of herbs, little bit of wine, little bit of good quality ingredients, little bit of music at the back ground, and boom- you have an extra fine pasta dish. You get the vibe, I'm sure.
The recipe is based on the gorgeous and trusted combination of pumpkin and rosemary and a classic creamy white wine sauce. Making this dish is simple, but like with any sauce, patience will be required to get it right. Instead of conchiglie (pasta in the shape of large shells) I used fusilli tricolore (spiral shaped pasta in three different colours) to add colour to my dish and it worked well. This recipe is a great way of using a piece of leftover pumpkin ensuring it does not go into waste.  
The recipe can be found here.

Mrs V x

15 January 2014

Is it Spring yet?


 I'd really like it to be..
Mrs V x

(Edit: Photos from last spring)

12 January 2014

A Savoury Loaf of Pumpkin Bread

When you grow pumpkins in large quantities you end up.. well, with pumpkin in large quantities, if your lucky. We still have quite a few pumpkins stored away and although not strictly seasonal anymore, we still have use for pumpkin based recipes. Therefore, if you have any delicious pumpkin recipes you swear by, I would love to hear from you. On return, I will share a pumpkin recipe every week on the blog... until we run out of pumpkin.

A Savoury Loaf of Pumpkin Bread
I made this savoury loaf of pumpkin bread for our brunch on New Year's Day- it was just what the doctor ordered. The bread is light with a crispy crust and flavoursome. The pumpkin does not make the bread particularly sweet, but adds its distinctive flavour as an undertone to the bread. And as they say, the proof is in the pudding- there were only crumbs left after the brunch! That makes all the kneading worthwhile. The adapted recipe I used below is originally from here, but I found it from the How to Cook Good Food -site.

A Savoury Loaf of Pumpkin Bread

500g strong white bread flour
2 tsp fast action yeast
2 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika
450 g of pumpkin, roasted
75 ml water
pumpkin seeds for the topping (optional)

Roast the pumpkin and blend it into a smooth puree in a food processor or mash it with a potato masher.  Put the flour, yeast, salt, paprika into a bowl and mix. Add the pumpkin puree and combine with the flour mixture. Add the water and mix. Then it's time to take out your frustrations on the bread: knead for 10 minutes (kneading techniques can be found for example here). If you're lucky enough to have a food mixer with a dough hook, let the heavy machinery do all the hard work for you. After kneading, place the dough into a bowl, cover with cling film and let it slowly rise for 2 hours in room temperature. Turn the dough onto a work surface, knock the air our of it, build some structure to it, shape it and place your bread to a baking tray. I shaped mine into a bloomer (instructions here). Let it raise for another two hours. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees. Spray the top of the load with water, dust with flour and sprinkle the pumpkin seeds on top (optional). I then scored my bloomer, but this is not necessary if you've chosen a different shape. To make the bread's crust crispy, fill a deep tray with water and place it at the bottom of the oven. It will create a steamy environment for the bread, which in turn will create shiny and crispy crust. Bake for 30-40 minutes.
Please don't wait till next New Year's Day to make this- make it now!

Mrs V x

8 January 2014

Rain, rain, go away..

Between the storms we managed to pop to the allotment the other day to see if the shed was still there (still there, very much to our surprise) and if the plot was very water logged (somewhat, very little to our surprise). While the rain was staying away, we started to replace the ground sheets the wind had blown here and there and before we noticed the apple tree had been pruned, the raspberries had been cut, rest of the carrots, parsnips and leeks had been picked and a little bit of weeding had been taken care of. The poor artichokes think it's spring with these temperatures and had grown quite a bit (photo above). I wasn't really sure what to do with it, so decided to cut it back too. We had a cup of tea to keep us warm while making plans for the allotment for next year before the dusk descended and rain continued. I can't wait for the spring and getting back to the allotment for some proper good gardening sessions. But before that the rain must go away.. 
Mrs V x

Cranberry Whipped Porridge

I recently visited my mum and could not believe I had nearly forgotten about one of my favourite treats as a child: she had made lingonberry whipped porridge. This porridge is smooth and sweet, whisked until light and fluffy and is usually served as a cold dessert with milk and sugar. However, I like my whipped porridge with just a hint of sugar and quite a sharp edge, so it makes a welcome change for breakfasts too. The porridge is  made from semolina, water, sugar and berries. I did not have any lingonberries at home but had some frozen cranberries which substitute brilliantly. You could, however, use pretty much any berry, strawberries or red currants, for example.  
Cranberry Whipped Porridge
serves four
700 ml water
400 ml frozen cranberries
100 ml semolina
1/4 teaspoon salt
sugar to your taste- I add less than 50 ml, but for a sweet version add 100 ml
Bring water to boil in a medium sized pan. Add the cranberries and let it simmer for about 3 minutes. Blend it in a food processor or with a hand blender and return to the heat.  Add the salt and the semolina while whisking to avoid any lumps. Let it simmer for about 8 to 10 minutes whisking one in a while. Leave to cool. Once it has cooled down whisk the porridge with electric whisk until the porridge has reached beautiful pink colour and its consistency is light and fluffy, nearly mousse-like. Serve with milk and sugar.
Mrs V x

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