Saturday, December 26, 2015

Punched Potatoes

While planning side dishes for the Christmas Roast Beast, potatoes naturally come up. My wife loves potatoes but I try to avoid them because of the carbs. So the compromise was I would buy a bag of the cute little mini spuds, since I do not grow them. The idea of preparing them as punched potatoes came to mind after recently seeing a recipe on the Internet. If you do grow potatoes, there are always the runts and this is a good way to use them.

Punched potatoes, or Batatas a Murro, is a Portuguese dish that is simple and delicious. I first encountered the idea of punched potatoes while planning a trip to a nearby Portuguese restaurant. We live surrounded by a lot of Portuguese Americans whose ancestors came from the Azores, so there are Portuguese bakeries and Portuguese food items in the stores. But other than the kale soup I make, which is Azorean in origin, I haven’t had a lot of authentic Portuguese cuisine.

So I researched the restaurant menu online and decided I was going to order Polvo à Lagareiro, grilled octopus served over a punched potato. The octopus is boiled for an hour, then tossed in olive oil and grilled over charcoal for a few minutes to char it a little. It is served over a punched potato that was crisped in garlic-infused olive oil, with the extra oil poured over the dish. The octopus was wonderful but the “punched” potato I received was half a huge restaurant-size russet potato, grey and gummy inside. Not the crisp, garlicky potato I was expecting.

Batatas a Murro are not hard to make and what I decided to do for our Christmas dinner. There are plenty of recipes around and there are many variations. What I will provide is simply a concept with some suggestions for variations. The basic idea is you cook (bake or boil, but baked is preferred) some small (golf ball or slightly larger)  potatoes until they are done. Let them cool a bit, then using your fist or the bottom of a glass or mug, slightly smash (“punch”) the potatoes to break their skin and slightly flatten them. Then heat a small frying pan and sauté some garlic in olive oil until the garlic is fragrant and just starts to brown.

The final step is where there are many possible variations. You can:
  • Place the punched potatoes in a serving bowl, drizzle with the hot olive oil and serve.
  • Put the punched potatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet, brush with the olive oil and bake until slightly browned and crispy. This is what I decided to do, putting them in the oven for the final minutes of the roast. Not a beautiful presentation but tasty.
  • Sauté the potatoes in the pan with the garlic and oil until they are browned and crispy. This is what I expected to get with my octopus but did not get.
  • Or, brush the potatoes with the olive oil and brown them on a gas or charcoal grill. If making the Polvo, you could grill the octopus and potatoes at the same time.

 Hope everyone enjoys their holidays. It is warm and balmy here, not typical for early winter. I am not that upset about it and the oil tank (and my wallet) is happy. But El Niño keeps pumping out winter storms and Goliath is on its way, so we will see. After last year, I can deal with anything.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Making Kimchi


There was nothing new from the garden this week but I used some of the Napa cabbage I harvested last week to make a batch of kimchi/kimchee, the Korean soul food. Kimchi is a fermented product and a good way to preserve some of the garden harvest. The kimchi I made is called mak-kimchi or “easy” kimchi, because it uses chopped cabbage leaves rather than whole cabbages and is simpler and faster to make. Napa cabbage is best to use because it has thinner leaves which will make the fermentation faster. This recipe calls for 2 pounds (1 kg) of cabbage.

In addition to the cabbage, there are a few other ingredients, counterclockwise from upper left:
  • A bunch of scallions, including greens
  • A small leek, including greens
  • A carrot or two
  • A 2 inch piece of fresh ginger
  • A head of garlic, cloves peeled
  • 1/4 cup Korean chili flakes (gochugaru), or more to taste
  • A turnip or daikon radish
  • An apple or Asian pear, peeled and cored
  • 3 Tbsp. fish sauce or fermented shrimp paste

The first step is to chop and brine the cabbage. Cut through the root end of the cabbage to quarter it, then pull the quarters apart. Each quarter is sliced lengthwise in half, then chopped into 2 inch pieces. Place the chopped cabbage into a glass or earthenware bowl.

Prepare a brine using 3 Tbsp. of sea salt to 6 cups of water. Pour the brine over the cabbage, then place a plate on the cabbage to make sure the cabbage remains submerged. Drape a towel over the bowl and set aside for 3-4 hours. Another method just salts the leaves and leaves them to wilt. The leaves are then rinsed several times to remove excess salt. I used that method last year and found the leaves to be very salty. Mac commented that the brine technique produced a less salty kimchi, so that is what I am trying this year.

While the cabbage is soaking, prepare the other ingredients. The whites of the scallions and leek are cut into 2 inch lengths, then sliced lengthwise into slivers. The greens are sliced diagonally into small pieces. The turnip or daikon is cut into matchsticks, as well as the carrot. Or you can slice the carrot diagonally into thin slices as I did here.

After the cabbage is finished brining, spoon it into a colander using a slotted spoon and squeeze out any liquid. Place the drained cabbage in a bowl and add the diced fresh vegetables and mix thoroughly. Reserve the brine for later use. 

Prepare the pepper paste by putting the ginger, garlic, pepper flakes, fish sauce or shrimp paste, a teaspoon of sea salt and the apple or pear into a food processor and blend until smooth. Add some brine if you need to thin it. The pepper I used is gochugaru, the traditional Korean red pepper flakes. The gochugaru in the bag above from my local Korean grocery was grown in Korea. All the other bags in the store were of Chinese origin and I try to avoid Chinese produce if possible. The Korean pepper was only available in 1 kilo bags, so I probably have a lifetime supply.

Note that the Korean red pepper is flaked, not ground, and is seedless. Supposedly it is less spicy but more flavorful than other peppers such as cayenne. There really is no substitute for it so a search is worthwhile, or you can mail-order it. You certainly could use your own dried pepper flakes if you have them. Results will likely have a different flavor and heat from using gochugaru, but go ahead and experiment.

Spoon some of the the mixed vegetables into a large mixing bowl and add a scoop of pepper paste. Using disposable gloves, work the paste into the cabbage mix with your fingers until the cabbage is well coated. Continue with layers of vegetables and paste, mixing well, until all is done.

Pack the kimchi into quart canning jars, pushing down to compact the kimchi into the jars. Spoon reserved brine into the jars until the top of the kimchi is covered. My batch filled 2 quart jars. Cover the jars with a loosely-fitted plastic cap and set in a dark, cool place for 3-6 days. Taste the kimchi and when it is sour enough, tighten the caps and store in the refrigerator.

There is a lot of onion in this version which I found to be pretty strong initially. That strong onion flavor subsided as the kimchi fermented. I didn’t use a follower in the jars, but they could have used one. The kimchi was tightly packed in the jars and tended to rise as a mass from the gasses of fermentation. I used a spoon daily to push the mass down below the liquid level. After a week, the kimchi is now pleasantly sour and flavors have melded a bit. It is very tasty, not as salty as my previous attempt,  and the the amount of pepper I used adds enough bite without making it painfully hot (your taste may vary).

That’s my offering for Harvest Monday. Head over to Our Happy Acres, our host for Harvest Monday,  to see what other gardeners around the world are doing in their gardens.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Harvest Monday 7 December 2015

I took a calculated risk last week when I left my cabbages in the garden and visited my daughter in South Carolina. I figured the cabbages would maintain better in the soil under the row cover than in the refrigerator. It looked like night time temperatures would be above freezing, so I would not have to worry about freeze damage. Of course, one of those pesky Canadian cold fronts descended so temperatures were lower than the 5-day forecast predicted, but the cabbages seemed to do well

These are two heads of Soloist cabbages that I have been nursing, hoping they would head up enough to give me enough to make kimchee. These heads were tied up so the interior has blanched but they have not formed a tight head. That is OK, these will be perfect and the good news is no slugs or earwigs in these. Each head weighs about a pound and a half (.7 kg) and with a smaller head will give me the 2 pounds I need for a small batch of kimchee.

These weird looking objects are two more Solist cabbages that I did not tie up to blanch. The leaves laid flat so the inside leaves are green and not the nice yellow color of the first two cabbages. The proximity to the ground also made it easier for something to munch on the leaves. These heads are about a half pound (.25 kg) each. So one of these and a full head will give me the 2 pounds (.9 kg) I need for a batch of kimchee or kraut. Maybe I will make one of each.

I also salvaged two out of three Joi-choi plants left in the bed. These two have had their leaves munched on but the third was down to stubs. With this harvest, I have nothing left in the garden (except for maybe a couple of small carrots).  I still need to clean up some beds but those might wait for Spring, depending on the weather. With the seed catalogs arriving, it's time to think of Spring.

That is all from my garden this week. To see what other gardeners around the world are doing, visit Our Happy Acres, our host for Harvest Monday

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Tomato Review 2015

The 2015 tomato season was not bad, given the dry summer we had. The dry weather led to some water stress as I could not water the tomatoes every day, but at least there was no late blight, just the usual Septoria spot that happens every year. What was new this year was I tried a soil drench for the tomatoes when setting them out, which also included adding some extra mycorrizhae inoculant.  I did not do a comparison of untreated and untreated plants, but that would not necessarily show anything because of so many other variables. The drench was simple enough that I will do it again and I trust the research done by others.

The other experiment this year was planting several varieties of tomatoes in both the raised bed plot and the in-ground plot. Both variants did well, partly because the plants in raised beds did better this year than last. For example, last year Jaunne Flamme was pathetic, but I tried it again. This year it did very well in both environments, setting multiple large trusses of fruit, with really no significant difference.

As far as the individual varieties of tomatoes, I do have some opinions. For one, I think I will give up on paste tomatoes. I’m tired of the low yield and the BER. This year I wasted eight spots in my garden on Opalka and an unnamed Roma type. I lost most of my Opalkas to BER and the few I harvested had a fairly bland favor. I don’t remember even tasting the Roma. If I had planted another 8 Juliet tomatoes, I would have bushel baskets of fruit and gallons of sauce. The high-speed blender technique of sauce making really changes things, and non-paste tomatoes tend to have superior flavor anyway. Who cares if you have to cook them down a little longer.

Here are my opinions of some of the tomatoes I grew in 2015:

I saw Opalka growing at Tower Hill Botanical Gardens and was intrigued with it. It is a Polish heirloom first obtained by Carolyn Male from a co-worker and submitted to SSE in 1997. Last year I tried growing it but managed to kill all the seedlings. This year I had enough seedlings to plant four and gave several away to gardeners in the community garden. Vines grow very tall, well over a 6 foot stake, and fruit ripens late summer. A lot of people like this variety but my problem was BER. I lost 75% of the fruit to BER so it was pointless to waste the space growing this one. I did slice up some for table use and flavor was OK but nothing special. I will not be growing this again.

This is my second year growing Sunkist, an F1 orange slicer from High Mowing Seeds. This is a great tomato, assuming you are OK with it being orange and not red. Vines are healthy and very stocky. It sets clusters of fruit that ripen to an attractive orange color. Fruit are very meaty with small seed cavities, but still juicy and flavorful. Fruits are almost always perfect, unblemished by cracks or warts., and I have never encountered BER Vines are disease resistant and always one of the last to succumb .A great tomato and one I will plant again next year.

Jaunne Flamme
I tried this one last year after reading about Michelle's experience with it. It was a bomb, unhealthy vines that produced a few fruit and then croaked. This year I gave it another chance and it was great. Vines were healthier and more vigorous and it set large trusses of apricot-colored fruit, about inch and a half (4 cm) in size. Flavor is very tart and fruity, soft and very juicy. This was another tomato that frequently wound up in salads. The vines appeared they were going to repeat their semi-determinate behavior of setting fruit and then croaking, but after a period of time resting they resumed their growth and set new fruit right up to frost. This is a tomato unlike others I have grown and I will likely grow this again next year.

Not much to say about Juliet except what a great tomato. Sort of a large grape/small Roma in shape and size, it is far better than those. When red ripe, flavor is terrific. Split resistant and disease resistant, early to ripen (always one of my first) and keeps producing heavily. Good for salads, sauce, and drying. This one will always be in my garden. One thing I noticed about the Juliet planted in-ground was the production of fruit in the first few feet of the plant. It was staked rather than trellised and seemed to have multiple trusses of fruit produced within a few feet of the ground. It was late season before I was picking fruit more than a few feet off the ground.

Sweet Treats
This is a pink cherry tomato I first saw growing at Tower Hill Botanical Gardens in Boylston, MA in 2013. The weather that summer was horrid and Sweet Treats was a knockout due to its health and vigor. I decided I wanted to try it but seed was not easily available until last year when Fedco started carrying it. This is an F1 hybrid from Sakata Seeds of Japan and reflects the Japanese preference for pink tomatoes. It is the first pink cherry tomato available and is outstanding.

Vines are tall and vigorous and produce long trusses containing 12-15 tomatoes. Fruit are up to an inch (2.5 cm) in diameter and ripen to pink and finally a deep rose color, with a beautiful matte finish. They are gorgeous and when fully ripe taste as good as they look. They have a good, full-size tomato taste, not  the insipid candy sweetness of some cherries. When I wanted a tomato for my salad, this is the one I chose. Fruits are crack-resistant and I had very few split on me. They ripen later than Juliet and Esterina, but once they start producing they keep up right into first frost. The vines are fairly disease resistant. There really is no reason not to grow this one. Check Fedco’s description in this years catalog, which rates it in its top 5 in taste (among cherry types).

Esterina is a yellow cherry I have grown two years now in place of Sungold, a cherry that I love. It is supposed to be more crack resistant than Sungold, which splits horribly after every rain, and it is, early in the season. But by the end of the season, Esterina is as prone to splitting as Sungold. I also think the color and flavor is good but not not quite as good as Sungold. The vines of Esterina seem to be the first to be attacked by Septoria but they still keep producing right up to frost. Esterina has been OK but not great and I am not sure what I will do next year. Maybe I will try Sungold again next year, and maybe I will replace it with something like Fedco’s  Honeydrop, or maybe both.

Chocolate Pear
I have tried growing Chocolate Pear (from Baker Creek) twice, as a replacement for Black Cherry, a tomato I love but can not seem to grow productively. Chocolate Pear is touted as a productive tomato and it is. It is late to ripen  for a small tomato, well into August before you get ripe fruit. It is also highly prone to splitting after a rain, which often renders almost every fruit on the vine useless. Fruits are bountiful but small and taste is not exceptional. The vines have purple stems and also seem prone to browning of the lower foliage. While the vines are still healthy, you look at the brown foliage with dark stems and you think, OMG, late blight! I gave this variety two years but I will not grow it again.

Pruden’s Purple
This is an heirloom beefsteak tomato I bought on impulse when I found out the Rose de Berne I wanted was sold out. I did not expect much but this tomato did well. I lost several of the largest fruit to BER unfortunately, but the vines kept producing. I did not expect much and did not get much, but I was surprised how well this tomato did. That said I will not be growing it next year.

I grew this one because someone offered me a plant. Celebrity is a 1984 AAS winner with a lot of disease resistance. It is a determinate variety but definitely not an early producer. It developed a cluster of fruit that ripened in late summer. The 4-5 fruit I got were OK but I do not plan on growing this one again.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

Reedy River, ,Greenville

These are the Falls on the Reedy River in downtown Greenville, viewed from the Liberty bridge. It was T-shirt weather down here while it was a bit frosty up north in my garden. We picked the week of Thanksgiving to visit my daughter in Central, South Carolina. She is working in Greenville and planning to start classes in January at Clemson to finish her degree. Thanksgiving is her favorite holiday and she is definitely a foodie like her dad.

Before the trip, Kate gave me a shopping list for some New England treats she can not find in the South. Apples (Macintosh, Macoun, and Empire), fresh apple cider (including Bolton Orchards’ amazing Golden Russet cider that tastes like an explosion of bananas and apples), maple syrup, and maple sugar candy. I also brought some sugar pumpkins (including Cinnamon Girl) and some winter squash (Autumn Crown and Kikuza, both smaller Long Island Cheese types). Also brought a selection of wines from Nashoba Valley Vineyards, including a couple of bottles of the Vignoles we helped harvest in 2012 and the Apple Cranberry that is popular for Thanksgiving. Threw in a maple Whoopie pie for good measure.

We kept Thanksgiving dinner simple. Kate had to work that day (she is a server at an upscale restaurant in Greenville that had all of three customers all day) and we didn’t want to leave her buried in left overs. So I cooked. We did a turkey breast, mashed potatoes, gravy, candied sweet potatoes, home made apple sauce, Brussels sprouts, rolls and pumpkin pie.

On Friday we avoided crowds by driving west, away from the malls in Greenville, to enjoy the mountains. This is a view of Table Rock mountain (with the cliffs, elevation 4100 feet) taken from the lookout on Caesars Head mountain (elevation 3215 feet).

Another view from Caesars Head. On the drive up the mountain, I noticed the forest understory had a lot of rhododendron and mountain laurel, some of which you can see in this photo. Maybe there is some dogwood out there as well. At the right time in the spring when all this is blooming, the mountains must be beautiful.

Turns out the area’s only winery, Victoria Valley, was nearby, so we sat on their terrace for an hour and enjoyed a cheese plate and glass of wine. South Carolina has very few wineries, mostly near the coast. However, North Carolina has lots of wineries, many easily accessible from I-77 on the way home. Unfortunately, traffic Sunday was insane, so stopping was not feasible. We finally had to stop for the night short of our intended layover and make it up on Monday. Regardless of the commute home, we had a good visit with Kate, ate at lots of great Greenville restaurants, and enjoyed a Thanksgiving dinner with (most) all the trimmings. Hope you had an equally good week.
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