25 June 2013

Tuscan Kale Crisps

In my previous research for nasturtium recipes I also discovered that Kale Chips are allegedly addictive.

I have some Tuscan Kale (Cavolo Nero) coming up in the back yard, so I thought I'd give it a go out of curiosity.

So, as per the recipe, I chopped out the stems, then mixed up the leaves in a freezer bag with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and ground sea salt. Then I popped then into the oven on 200 degrees, admittedly a few minutes too long out of absent-mindedness.

I'd aim for ten - fifteen minutes but they were in for about 20 by accident, and turned out a touch too browned/black.

They came out crunchy, salty and delicious, but the bitterness of the Tuscan cabbage and the "furry tongue" spinach after taste were a bit too much for me, I only ate about a third of the batch before feeling overwhelmed. Fortunately they keep perfectly fresh and crispy in a zip lock bag. That was Friday, today is Monday/Tuesday (night) and they are still there as a handy zing of texture and flavour to have when I get home from late shift. If you love bitter greens and that spinach-y/dark-greeny flavour, I can see how they'd be morish, but unfortunately it is just too much for me.

I have a feeling the curly kale used in the recipe will be a more mellow bite, and I've seen bunches of curly kale in the local grocer's so I've got that as another option to try, I'll let you know!

12 June 2013

Nasturtium Stir'ems

As you know, my front garden is alight with nasturtium plants this winter, and I had heard that they are quite edible. Eaten raw they are SUPER peppery; even for me who is in love with watercress as a salad base. So I thought I'd pick a bagful and try them out cooked. They really are quite appealing, lovely looking leaves and stems:

So I decided to add them to my standard Duck and Glass Noodle Stirfry Salad in place of the usual watercress (which is getting easier to buy, but is really rather difficult to grow).

All in all it was pretty straight forward, I just cut up the stems and leaves with a pair of scissors and added them into the wok at the appropriate time.

I only used duck, green beans, garlic and ginger as the other stuff so I could really see what the nasturtiums had to say.

It turned out nicely (although I have a right wrist injury in a splint so left-handed stirfrying caused a bit of kitchen carnage I must say):
...but I must say the nasturtium didn't really add much flavour that I could notice, not like watercress does; but the stems add a nice texture, and you are left with a funny tongue coated peppery feel once you finish eating, which is a new sensation.

I think the verdict is that I'll use the front yard plants for my stirfries if I haven't got watercress to hand, but I can't say it will be replacing it all together. I'll carry onto the next nasturtium experiment...

Fire and spice

Time for a confession: I am a massive chili WUSS! I love a little tang of chili on the tip of the tongue, such as my favourite Italian restaurant puts in their alio olio; or as a pinch of chili flakes in my stir fry sauce but that's about as far as I can go.

However, I love having chili plants in the garden, and I have put in two gorgeous dwarf ornamental pepper plants - one has purple foliage and produces deep purple to red chilies; whilst the other has standard green leaves and green to red chilies. My parents saw this and decided to give me another MONSTER chili plant which had been rambling wild in the rosebeds and growing too fast to harvest:

Oddly enough, my little black dog has been quite taken to wrapping her mouth around the chilies and gumming on them like lollipops. I'm worried about what might happen if she actually chews so it's living on the patio table for the moment. I used a couple in a stirfry the other day, and of course my family decided to have a chili chew-off - my bro-in-lo who is a chili gun was a teensy bit red in the face! My seestah had tears streaming down her face! I sensibly had picked out the volcano pods of doom and quite enjoyed the stirfry. The trick is to leave them whole as it is the seeds which are the killers!

So. Too many chilies. What to do? Make chili oil! It's great as to douse on things in the same way you would use any good olive oil - to oil a pan; finish a pasta or even dress a salad. You can opt to use the soaked chilies themselves or just the infused liquid if you are a chili wuss like me.

I made a small jar for my friend Tina recently as I had not had enough time to knit up a baby blanket for her and was finally able to catch up with her and her gorgeous bub, and I hated to turn up empty handed:


Sterilise a jar (by which I mean, put it in the dishwasher, if you are lazy like me)

Harvest a handful of thyme (I used lemon thyme for the jar above) and as many chilies as you want to fill your jar with and wash thoroughly. Trim the stalks off the chilies. You can leave them whole, which is pretty, or halve them lengthways to show off the seeds and increase the heat of the oil flavour more rapidly.

Skin and chop up a couple of cloves of garlic.

Place the thyme, chilies and garlic in the jar. You can simply chuck it all in; or put them in layers for a large jar. In the case of a small jar like the one I made for Tina, I like to keep the thyme on its stems and wind it around like a big bird's nest inside the jar - this provides a framework for the chilies and garlic chunks - just tuck them in with a fairly even distribution all around the jar (layering as you go in a circular motion).

Add a pinch of black peppercorns from your grinder (this way you'll get some whole ones and some semi-smushed ones).

Then pour over the oil, tapping or agitating the jar as you go to try to release the tiny air bubbles out of the centre of the chilies. In theory, by getting all the air out and having all the organic matter covered by the oil, it shouldn't be able to spoil, and will keep for ages and ages.

A simple yet effective way to use up all those chilies!

- Variation - I like the flavour profile of thyme, chili and garlic; but if you don't have thyme or you want to try something else, you can also use any or all of the leafy stalky herbs such as rosemary, oregano or marjoram. Try them all, it's so easy!