Friday, December 14, 2007

Garlic Update

Broadleaf Czech

The garlic started sprouting just a couple of weeks after it was planted back in mid-October. All of the Czech Broadleaf, Georgian Crystal, and white-skinned Tochliavri bulbs are growing nicely. About half of the red-skinned Tochliavri bulbs have not sprouted and the rest are smaller than the other varieties.

Georgian Crystal in back, Tochliavris in Front

I've fertilized once with fish emulsion and will be applying some more today.

Olive Leaf Rapini

Last night my husband requested risotto when I asked him if he hand any preferences about dinner. Risotto is one of my favorite dishes for impromptu "what have I got on hand" meals. I always have at least one type of risotto rice in the pantry, Vialone Nano at the moment. And, since my favorite grocery store is 15 miles away, I usually have the fridge and freezer pretty well stocked. Plus, there's usually something to harvest in the garden as well. So I took a look at what I had on hand and came up with Risotto with Olive Leaf Rapini and Teleme.

I use a pressure cooker to make my risotto. The 2.5 liter Kuhn Rikon pressure fry pan is perfect for making risotto for two. The purists are likely looking down their noses as they read this - and perhaps aren't bothering to continue on. I agree, you can make really bad risotto in a pressure cooker. You can also make great risotto in a pressure cooker if you keep a couple of things in mind. One, don't shoot for perfect risotto the moment you open the cooker - cooking time varies according to the type and age of the rice. I cook under pressure for 5 minutes only. I've always opened the cooker after 5 minutes to very al dente rice which allows you to continue cooking the risotto in an open pan until it reaches the desired degree of doneness. Don't add all the cooking liquid at the beginning, reserve about a third of it for finishing the risotto. PC risotto required less liquid so you might want to use a more concentrated stock. Most vegetables will need to be cooked separately and added at the end otherwise they may just disintegrate under pressure. Great for using up leftovers, of whatever.

So, last night's dinner:

Risotto with Olive Leaf Rapini and Teleme

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 sweet onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt to taste
1 cup Vialone Nano rice
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 1/2 to 3 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade, hot
about 4 ounces Franklin's Teleme cheese
1 bunch Olive Leaf Rapini, blanched and chopped
freshly ground pepper
Olio Nuovo or your favorite extra virgin olive oil
freshly grated Parmesan

Melt the butter in the pan over medium heat and let it brown a little. Add the onion, garlic and a pinch of salt, and cook until the onion is translucent. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until the rice is opaque. Add the wine and stir and cook until absorbed. Add 1 3/4 cup of the stock, stir it in. Lock the lid into place and bring the cooker up to high pressure. Reduce the heat to low and cook at high pressure for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and release the pressure using the appropriate quick release method. Taste the risotto for doneness. Return the pan to the heat and continue cooking, using however much additional stock is required until almost done. Add the Teleme to the pan and stir in until melted and completely incorporated. Stir in the chopped rapini and cook until heated through. Season with freshly ground pepper and taste for salt. Serve in warmed bowls with a drizzle of olio nuovo and freshly grated parmesan.
Serves 2.

I also roasted a smoked duck breast in a 500 degree F. oven for about 12 minutes, sliced it thin and served it alongside.

Olive leaf rapini is a lovely looking and tasting variety of Broccoli Raab. It is a little sweeter than the raab that I've found at stores and markets. I start the the plants from seed in the fall and harvest through the winter. The plants start off looking like most other rapinis, with somewhat prickly, serrated leaves. When it starts to send up flower stalks the leaves become elongated and smooth-edged and gray-green colored (vaguely olive leaf like). I pick the outer leaves until the flower stalks start to come. The flower stalks are harvested just as the flowers start to open or before. If you pick the stalks with a leaf node or two remaining at the base the stalks will resprout and you can harvest successively through the season.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Gopher Update

The gophers have been active lately. Caught two last week in the same run, which is unusual since gophers don't share runs. A new one must have taken up residence as soon as the previous one was gone. I caught these two before they found tasty treats in the front garden. But, now I've got mounds and holes where they were active. I hate to fill in the runs right away because a new gopher that moves in will block the opening - the first sign of new activity.

Unfortunately, the latest gopher wasn't evident until I found one of my Portuguese cabbages wilting and rootless. I set traps yesterday and found them this morning clogged with dirt and unsprung. More digging and setting. Hope this gopher isn't too smart.

Rootless Portuguese Cabbage

As I was sitting here writing this entry I heard a distinctive thunk out in the garden - the gopher trap? Yes. The cinch traps have an extremely strong spring that makes a loud thunk when sprung. That makes four gophers caught in three weeks. Too bad I couldn't get the muncher before it got my cabbage. Fortunately one Portuguese cabbage produces quite enough to keep this family of two happy. Although, It would have been nice to save seed from more than one plant.

One Remaining Cabbage and Gopher Hole Set With Traps

Now I need to figure out what has been beating me to the side shoots on the broccoli plants. Probably rats. Time to set a different type of trap.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Habaneros Without The Heat

Datil Sweets

The habanero is a chile that is guaranteed to be hot …right? Certainly every habanero that I’ve ever purchased has been hot. Macho hot! I don’t go for macho… On a perceived hotness scale of 0 to 10, 0 being totally sweet and 10 being off the chart hot, I max out at about 6 – that’s just toleration, not enjoyment. Habaneros hit the chart at 9 or 10.

A home gardener will easily find generic habanero seeds and plants. But, if you look a little further you can find named varieties, most of them notable for either unique colors or extreme hotness. Just what is the point of hotter than hot anyway? Must be that macho thing – bragging rights - whatever. So, why am I even discussing this cruel capsicum? It’s obviously not the heat that piques my interest, rather, it’s their unique flavor. It has been described as being fruity, floral and smoky, among other things. But I’ve never been able to get past the heat to experience the flavor. How can you concentrate on flavor when your mouth feels like an inferno and you’re gasping for breath and your brow is dripping with sweat and you can hardly get that glass of beer to your mouth without dribbling it down your front?* What can a semi-wimpy chile aficionado do?

I finally learned that habaneros have taste-alike siblings (some of them look-alike) that don’t lay waste to your taste buds. The range of heat in chinense chiles (the species of chiles that includes habaneros and their siblings) starts at almost non-detectable and climbs the hotness scale to the habanero heights. Yippee! Here was my chance to experience that elusive flavor. But, it took quite a bit more searching before I found sources for seeds and plants.

Cross Country Nurseries offers a number of mild chinense chile plants which I ordered from their website. The plants got to me in great condition and they all thrived in my garden. Actually, most of them survived the winter and went on to produce for a second season. The next winter we had a hard freeze and the plants finally hit the compost pile. Unfortunately, I didn’t bother to do any proper seed saving. This year I placed another order with Cross Country for a more limited selection of plants including Datil Sweet, one of my favorite chinense varieties from the previous seasons. The chiles this year had only a trace of heat in the placenta and none in the flesh. Oh, and they did taste marvelous.

Chile plants tend to get off to a slow start in my garden because my location only 10 miles inland from the cold Pacific produces nighttime fog and cool evening temperatures well into the summer. Daytime temps are generally delightful until late in the year. And since we don't generally get frost until December I usually pick chiles well into November. I picked the bulk of the Datil Sweets and Rocotos after Thanksgiving and even now there are still some hanging on the plants.

So, here’s a roundup of the chinense chiles that I grew in ’05-’06. They all came from CCN except for the Cachucha which I grew from seed purchased from Peppermania (and not carried by them at the moment).

Aji Brown
Aji Dulce 1
Aji Dulce 2
Aji Dulce - Cachucha
Aji Panca
Datil Sweet
Grenada Seasoning
Puerto Rican No Burn
St. Lucia Red Seasoning
St. Lucia Yellow Seasoning
Trinidad Perfume
Trinidad Seasoning

This year I want to try a few more chinense varieties, including some spicier ones.

Tobago Sweet Scotch Bonnet
Tobago Seasoning
Cheiro Recife
Numex Suave Orange and Red
Bido Tacana
Venezuelan Sweet Habanero
Belize Sweet Habanero
Red Globe

One of my favorite things to make with mild chinense chiles is Pepper Jam. It is a favorite accompaniment to cheese of many kinds. The latest batch was made with mostly Datil Sweets and a cup of Red Rocoto chiles for spice.

Pepper Jam

5 ½ cups chopped peppers, with or without seeds (about 2 lb)
1 box low sugar pectin (Sure-Jell)
3 ½ cups sugar
½ cup lemon juice
½ cup 5% acidity vinegar (apple cider is good)
½ cup water

Mix pectin with ½ cup of sugar. Put fruit and liquids in blender and blend until liquid or leave chunky if desired. Cook fruit until boiling. Mix in pectin mixture and return to a rolling boil. Add sugar until all mixed in and bring to a rolling boil and boil for one minute. Remove from heat. Ladle into clean jars and top with boiled lids and rings. Process for 10 minutes in boiling water bath.

Makes about 6 cups jam.

Red & Yellow Rocotos

*Beer is my favorite fire extinguisher. Other chile wimps that I know swear by milk or something sweet like maple syrup or hard candies. Keep away from water though – capsaicin is water soluble and a mouthful of water will just spread the hot stuff further around your mouth.