Signs of Spring in London

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Since my last post, I picked up stakes and moved from sunny California to London, arriving in mid-October. The city is quite a contrast to my suburban West Coast home with it’s large garden and temperate climes. Here, the constant frigid grayness of January has merged into rainy, chilly February – which had me searching last weekend for signs of spring.

Delicate snow drops are peeking out of just-thawed dirt throughout London’s vacant lots, public parks and gardens. I took this photo at Chelsea Physic Garden last weekend.

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Another sign showed up on the produce shelves at my local Waitrose grocery store. Known as “forced rhubarb”, this typically spring vegetable (that is treated like a fruit) is grown indoors under curious circumstances. Coming from an area known as the rhubarb triangle in Yorkshire, the rhizome is initially started outdoors where it absorbs nutrients from the sun, and is moved indoors after the first frost in November. Once inside the rhubarb shed, it is grown in complete darkness and harvested by candlelight (Image courtesy ChicagoNow) throughout the winter months.

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This treatment creates ruby red, subtly sweet and tender stalks. In 2010 the EU designated the rhubarb triangle a PDO – Protected Designation of Origin status – a recognition bestowed on such lofty products as Stilton for its cheese and Champagne in France.

The cheery crimson sticks make a great compote when cooked up with exotic spices. I used star anise, whole cloves and a cinnamon stick along with orange juice and zest and layered the compote with rich rice pudding in parfait glasses.

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However the mixture would be tasty paired with your morning porridge or yogurt and granola or delicious served alongside sausages, roast pork or duck, turkey and chicken.

Start by cutting the trimmed stalks in 1 inch pieces.

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Then simmer them in a wide saucepan with the sugar, spices and orange until just soft.

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My hope is that this little taste of spring will stay with me until the days get longer, the gray skies clear and London bursts into the blooming, bird singing springtime of my dreams.

Spiced Poached Rhubarb

1 pound rhubarb, washed, trimmed and cut in 1″ pieces

2 whole star anise pods

1 cinnamon stick

2 whole cloves

Juice and zest of 1 large navel orange

6 tablespoons brown, muscovado or coconut sugar

Combine all the ingredients in a wide saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat so mixture is on a gentle simmer and cook until rhubarb is just-tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and serve warm, room temperature or cold.

Yield: About 1 1/2 cups

 

 

 

 

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Artichoke Love

Artichokes are one of my favorite vegetables and this year I’ve been lucky to have several healthy plants in the garden.

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Since mine aren’t quite ready yet, I’ve been buying them at the market and cooking them up for dinner. You want to look for chokes that have tight leaves and feel dense and solid when squeezed.

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First I cut them in half lengthwise.

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I use my biggest soup pot with a lid and add plenty of water as well as a whole lemon, cut in half and the juice squeezed into the mix.

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Put the lid on, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until a leaf pulls off easily and is tender to the bite, usually about 30 to 45 minutes depending on the size of the choke.

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Once the delicious chokes are cooked, drain, put on plates and serve with your favorite dip. Here are some of my favorite dip choices, pictured here:

Chunky, spicy guacamole

Hummus mixed with olive oil and a little lemon juice until thin and dip-worthy

Melted butter with a good squeeze of fresh Meyer lemon juice, salt and pepper

Nonfat Greek yogurt mixed with pesto, salt and pepper

Mayo mixed with fresh lemon juice (equal parts), salt and pepper

Bon Appetit!

IT’S FINALLY APPLE TIME

When I started this blog, I came up with a list of possible names for it that tickled my fancy. Then I went to buy the domain name and the entire list was already taken. So it was back to the drawing board, but I was out of ideas. One day I was talking to my friend, Judy, and put the question to her. She immediately came up with “Too Many Apples”, because every September I am buried with the bounty from three very productive apple trees.

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One of my favorite things to do with fresh picked apples is to make applesauce, which is a snap if you use a food mill.

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Wash the apples.

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Cut them into quarters, removing anything that is ugly, but otherwise leaving the skins and cores on.

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Load into a large saucepan and add about 3 inches of water, then cover and bring to a boil.

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Lower the heat to a simmer and stir the apples up from the bottom every 5 minutes, until the apples break down and are completely soft, about 20 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, move the apples to the food mill, which you have perched over an adequately sized bowl.

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Keep adding apples to the mill until they have all been processed.

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Taste the sauce and add brown sugar, a good dose of cinnamon and a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg then stir to combine. Taste again and add more sweet or spice to your liking. Served warm, the applesauce is akin to a down comforter on a dark, stormy night, the essence of comfort in a mouthful.

HOMEGROWN APPLESAUCE

4 lbs of apples, washed and cored

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons of cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

If you don’t have a food mill, follow the same method but peel and core the apples then, when they have softened, mash them with a potato masher to your desired consistency.

PEACHY KEEN

We are on the downhill slope towards the end of peach season, so I’ve been experimenting lots with this fruit. I have a pot of spicy red peppers going crazy and wanted to use them with peaches somehow.

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My sister-in-law, Anne, made a delicious salad for a recent family get-together that inspired me to pick the peppers, get some peaches and head to the kitchen. Here is my attempt at her creation.

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SPICY PEACH SALAD WITH CUCUMBERS

1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut in large dice
1 softball-sized peach, cut in bite sized pieces
1-2 hot fresh chiles, minced (use the amount based on your taste)
Juice of half a lime
1/2 teaspoon honey
pinch salt

Mix the cukes, peaches and chiles in a bowl. Drizzle with the lime juice, honey and salt and toss gently together to meld flavors. Set aside for 10 minutes then serve.

Yield: 2-3 servings

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PLEASE READ MORE ABOUT WHAT I HAVE TO SAY ON PEACHES IN A RECENT ARTICLE ON ZESTER DAILY:

http://zesterdaily.com/?p=49248

TOMAYTO TOMOTTO

Look at these volunteer tomato plants that came up with my beans this year:

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I transplanted a couple into a spot in one of the garden beds and they are doing great. There are even a couple flowers on the plants:

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Volunteers from the compost pile that come up in other parts of the garden have worked really well for me. They have produced hearty plants that flourish with an abundant harvest.

So, in anticipation of the boatload of tomatoes in my near future (and yours!), here are a few global ideas for tomato platters. If you are inspired, you can always buy some at the market now. There are tasty tomatoes from greenhouses, Mexico or southern California available, including heirloom varieties, that are juicy and sweet. Pretty soon, local, vine-ripened ones will be here.

Just Tomatoes: alternate slices of yellow, red, and different colored heirloom tomatoes (such as Green Zebra) on a plate. Scatter halved cherry tomatoes overall. Season with salt and pepper.

The Calabrese: slice ripe, red tomatoes and place in a circular pattern on a plate. Top with halved small balls of fresh mozzarella and slivered fresh basil leaves. Finish with a drizzle of good olive oil, fresh ground pepper and salt.

Summer Garden: scatter blanched corn cut off the cob and chilled, blanched green beans over sliced red tomatoes. Sprinkle with chopped, fresh oregano, olive oil, a little balsamic vinegar and some salt and pepper.

The New Mexico: alternate slices of peeled cucumber, tomato and cantaloupe. Sprinkle with pure chile powder and squeeze fresh lime juice overall.

French: dab some fresh, soft goat cheese here and there over a plate of sliced tomatoes. Drizzle with a ribbon of pesto and scatter pitted nicoise olives decoratively on top. Finish with salt and pepper.

Spain: make a platter of sliced tomatoes with roasted red peppers that have been cut into thick slices. Shave Manchego cheese over the platter using a vegetable peeler. Splash a garlicky sherry vinaigrette on top and season with salt and pepper. o

BEANS FROM THE GARDEN

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I grew these beans last summer in our garden. They are cranberry beans, a.k.a borlotti beans, traditionally used in the Italian soup Pasta e Fagioli. This is the second year that I grew them. The first year they were the size of small pearls but this year they were much larger, which I attribute to my super compost pile.

I got the seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds two years ago then saved some of the beans to plant after that first year and grew them last summer. The beans were planted in large, metal wash tubs with drain holes in the bottom. Bamboo stakes were used in a teepee shape as supports for the bean vines. The vines bloom with pretty flowers then pods form that initially look like long green beans. The pods get bigger and fatter and develop spots. They stay on the vine until dried, which here in Northern California was in mid-October, then are picked and shelled. I planted 12 seeds, 3 per pole, which yielded about one pound of dried beans.

With the wintry weather blowing in, it’s a good day to make some soup with my beans. The flavors of greens and beans comes through, with creamy notes contributed by the parmesan rind. Finished with a drizzle of fresh, local olive oil and grated parmesan sprinkled on top, it makes for a hearty lunch or supper.

RECIPE

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1large carrot and 2 celery stalks, chopped

2 leaves of fresh sage, minced or 1/4 teaspoon dried

1 small sprig fresh rosemary, minced or 1/2 teaspoon dried

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 lb. dried cranberry or borlotti beans, soaked overnight or 5 cups of canned beans, drained and rinsed

1 can diced tomatoes with juice or 1 1/2 cups fresh tomatoes, diced

1 quart chicken stock

2 inch piece of rind from parmesan cheese

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

4 packed cups kale or Swiss chard, tough stems and ribs removed, leaves sliced into thin ribbons

1/2 teaspoon salt and 6 grinds of fresh pepper from a mill

Extra virgin olive oil and grated parmesan for serving

METHOD

First soak the beans overnight, they will swell to double their original size:

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Heat oil in a 4 1/2 quart saucepan until shimmering. Add onions, carrots, celery and herbs and sweat, covered, over low heat for about 10 minutes, until vegetables are soft but not browned. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add the beans, tomatoes, stock, cheese rind, pepper flakes and greens and bring to a boil.Image

Puree half the soup using a submersion blender or food processor.

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Taste and adjust seasoning. Ladle into bowls, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with grated parmesan. Buon Appetito!

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