Along the Grapevine


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Cured Duck Egg Yolks Sweet or Savoury

I have been wanting to cure some duck eggs but had a long wait. Duck eggs are not commonly available in this area except when the ducks feel like laying. Finally it is the season, and I acquired a nice pile of them from a dear neighbour who owns some lovely Muscovy ducks. muscovy ducks

Any kind of eggs can be cured, but either goose or duck have a much bigger yolk ratio so they are better suited for this purpose. It is worth noting that this larger yolk is the reason for the bonus nutritional value of duck eggs – more micro nutrients, more protein and omega-3s. Here is a duck’s egg next to a chicken’s egg. Not difficult to tell which is which. DSC02248

Of course, duck eggs can be prepared the same as chicken eggs, and we have been enjoying them in many ways, not least in baking. Curing the yolks (the whites got used in blueberry buckwheat pancakes) makes a great cheese substitute. They also absorb any flavour they are cured in, so you can use your imagination and available ingredients to this end. I used spruce salt. You will need about 1/3 cup of coarse salt for each yolk. Just make sure there is enough to cover the bottom, sides and top of the yolks. Put half the salt in a suitably sized dish, gently place the egg yolk on the salt and cover with the rest of the salt. Place in the refrigerator for two days. DSC02249 DSC02251

Remove the yolk gently from the salt, brushing off any excess. Place the yolk on some cheesecloth, pull the cloth together at the top and tie with a string. Hang in a cool, dark place for another five days. At this point, the yolk should feel firm, but not hard, when squeezed gently. Grate it and use it as a garnish for salads, soups or pasta. I was inspired to make a sweet version by Forager Chef who in his post on curing eggs in truffle salt suggested sugar should also work. The method is the same, except you use sugar instead of salt, and again a flavour added to the curing process. I used lavender. I also followed his method and timing for curing.

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DSC02269At the end of the curing time, the yolks were equally firm and had the same texture, so I concluded the sugar method worked as well as the common salt method. I will be posting recipes using both eggs, so stay tuned!


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Introducing Herb Robert

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You’ve maybe come across Herb Robert before, otherwise known as geranium robertarium. He can grow just about anywhere, is shade tolerant but is just as happy in full sun. I usually find him in my flower beds, lodged in amongst rocks, and I recently saw him in abundance while walking in the woods. A delicate plant with lacy leaves and dainty pink flowers, too pretty to pull out, but too invasive to just ignore.

I only recently started to find out more about this plant which has a long history of medicinal uses, most notably the leaves taken as a tea to boost the immune system. If you are interested in reading more about this remarkable little weed, its history and uses you can read here. I was most interested in the fact that it is considered a natural insect repellent. It has what is considered a ‘foxy’ odour which rabbits and deer stay clear of, but is not that strong to humans. I have followed some advice I read and planted bits of it around my cabbages and cauliflowers to deter bunnies. So far, it seems to be working!

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It flowers from spring through late summer or fall and spreads its seeds on a regular basis.

When walking in the woods, I decided to try it as an insect repellent to defend myself against the hoards of mosquitoes. I rubbed the leaves and smeared them on my skin. I noticed some difference, but was not ‘out of the woods’ exactly. Then a fellow joined me, and I noticed all the mosquitoes attacked him, so it must have made some difference.

I decided to try an insect repellent that could be applied more easily and evenly than the leaf-rubbing method. After all, the heat and sun are nothing when gardening compared to the discomfort of the mosquitoes.

I put two parts herb Robert leaves and flowers, one part mint and one part lavender flowers and pressed them down with a plate or lid which would fit inside the pot. I barely covered that with water, brought it to a boil, turned off the heat. Then I left it to cool covered with another lid to keep the essential oils from escaping.

Strain off the liquid and mix with equal parts of rubbing alcohol. Apply it liberally all over.

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In the late morning, I headed out with my pitchfork to do some heavy mulching and see if my concoction worked and if so, how long it would be effective. I lasted a whole hour with very little trouble from mosquitoes. I finally gave up because now the heat and sun were my biggest problems.

I’m not sure what its shelf life is, but it can be easily replenished and costs next to nothing. It has a lovely fragrance, and I expect I will go through it rather quickly to help me through the season.


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Lemon Balm and Mint Sun Tea

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June is a super busy month for all of us who garden and/or forage. I am in the midst of several ‘projects’ in the kitchen and the garden, but not wanting to miss Fiesta Friday #74, I chose to take a break and make something very simple, and yet an appropriate treat for anyone who is exposed to the heat, sun and insects which are all part of the great outdoors experience.

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Moving this plant away from my flowerbeds is just one of my projects.

Sun tea is a method of making ice tea involving mixing the tea and cold water and setting it in the sun for a few hours to infuse. I’d never made it before, as I worried a little about the effect the sun and heat would have on it and any bacterial growth. However, as I wanted to make a lemon balm tea, I figured this was the only way to do it without destroying much of the fragile flavour of the leaves.

To play it safe, I considered a few factors.

First, very clean water. Ours is well water which is filtered through a reverse osmosis system, so all good there.

Second, adding mint, which has anti-bacterial properties, might help. To be honest, I have no idea how much or in what form this is effective, but I felt somewhat reassured. And mint in any tisane is good.

Third, I used a little unpasteurized honey, another anti-bacterial ingredient as well as providing a little sweetness.

And finally, I decided to leave it in the sun no more than five hours, which worked out fine because that’s as much sun as we get anyway.

At any rate, I really find it hard to believe a sun tea can be all that risky. The more I thought about it, the more confident I felt.

To make the tea, I filled a 500 ml bottle with a handful of lemon balm leaves and a few sprigs of mint. I dissolved a Tbsp of honey into half a cup of warm water, let it cool, poured it into the jar and filled the jar with tap water. Then into a sunny spot it went and sat there for five hours.

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Five hours in the sun

I cooled it in the fridge and then served with lots of ice.

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A super refreshing treat after a morning working in the garden

This made two full 8 oz. glasses. I wished I had made a lot more, but the ingredients are there for the taking and the method is ridiculously simple, so there will be a steady supply of it from now on.

Thanks to our hostess Angie @ The Novice Gardener and to her two co-hosts, Loretta @ Safari of the Mind and Caroline @ Caroline’s Cooking who make this virtual party possible. Don’t be shy about dropping by and sampling the fabulous fare. Everyone is welcome!


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A Dessert of Wine and Roses

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This is a dessert I have been thinking about for some time, but had to wait for wild strawberries to be in season. It has taken me a couple of weeks to collect the berries, about half a cup which I picked every time I was out weeding, and popped them in the freezer until I had enough.

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This is a super light dessert – a perfect finale to a rich dinner. It contains wine, fruit and sugar. All sorts of variations could be tried, and strawberries are not essential – any other fruit would do. It consists of three simple parts: a mixture of unsweetened apple sauce and wine; a jelly made of rose scented geranium syrup with strawberries; some kind of garnish.

For the base I used apple sauce made from last year’s feral apples and a dry red wine. I mixed 1 part of wine with 2 parts apple sauce.

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The jelly was made from a simple syrup made from a ratio of 2:1 sugar and water mixture boiled with the addition of the rose geranium. Rosewater to taste is a possible alternative. I added the strawberries to the jelly and when set, cut it in small cubes. This is the sweet part of the dessert. Spoon applesauce/wine mixture into individual bowls alternately with cubes of jelly.

As a garnish, I made a granita from watermelon and more rose syrup. This was done by blending some fresh, ripe watermelon with syrup according to how sweet you want it. I processed it in an ice cream maker, but it can also be done just by scraping with a fork several times during the freezing process.

I am bringing this to Fiesta Friday #73, and hope that some of the guests will be inspired by this simple, delicious and romantic dessert.

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Related posts:

Olive oil ice cream with balsamic wild strawberries

Wild greens and strawberries with chocolate balsamic dressing

Wild apple and rose geranium jelly


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The Greatest Scapes

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In this part of the world it is scape season, and they are commonly found in markets, CSA boxes and if you grow hard neck garlic, in your own garden. They are the long shoots that bear the flower, and this should be removed from the plant when it appears and before the flower starts to open in order for the garlic to grow big and healthy.

My scapes are not quite there yet, but I did get an entire bushel from a kind neighbour who had a bit of a windfall. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I accepted them happily and then set to work.

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Scapes are a wonderful addition to the pantry in the winter. Milder than garlic, they can be added to just about any savoury dish. My usual routine is to make scape pesto, but this would have been a monumental task and required more nuts than I have. Also, I wanted to do things a bit differently this year. Considering convenience, space and of course taste, I came up with three ways to preserve them.

Freezing: Very simple, but a bit bulky, so I packed just a few bags. To freeze them, first remove the long bit on top of the flour. Chop the scapes into roughly 3 inch pieces which will make packing the bags easier. I then steamed them for about three minutes, just enough to heat them right through and kill any bacteria. Run under cold water and when cool, pack them tightly in bags and squeeze out as much air as you can.

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Drying: After removing the long bit again, chop into fine strips. I used the slicing bade of a food processor for this. Place in the dehydrator at 125 F or 52 C for about eight hours, or until they are thoroughly dried and crisp. Place in a jar and store in a cool dark cupboard.

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Fermenting: Remove the long bit and the flower. Put the flowers aside to be used later. One recipe for these follows, but they can be used to flavour soups, salads, sauces or whatever. They should not be fermented with the stalks as they are softer and will not hold up to the amount of fermentation required for the tougher stalks. I sliced the stalks as for the drying method so that they would be easier to spoon out, but if you want them larger or even whole, that is an option. Pack in a clean mason jar, pour brine over them (2 Tbsp salt dissolved in 1 litre of non-chlorinated water). To prevent them from coming into contact with air, I placed a few grape leaves on top and weighted them down. I used marbles. Place a clean cloth on top to prevent any foreign matter (like flies) getting in. They will take about five days to be ready to eat, but check periodically that none of the scapes have risen to the surface. With the grape leaves and the marbles, this is not likely to happen. The first few days, you will notice some bubbles coming to the surface. This is normal. When it subsides, after about five days, taste and see if it is fermenty enough for you. If so, cover and place in the fridge or other cool place. If you want it a little stronger, leave a day or two more. Remember that fermentation will continue as it ages but at a slower pace, so you should open the jar about once a week to allow any gas to escape.

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Scape flower butter: With the half cup of flowers I had left over from my fermented batch, I mixed them with an equal amount of butter, 2 Tbsp of olive oil and salt to taste. This all blended together made a delicious garlicky spread.

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The Greatest Scapes on Punk Domestics

Now I have enough scapes in different guises so that I can make pesto or whatever I like over the coming months, not to mention the scapes in my own garden I will have to contend with at a later date. Scapes anyone?

This time last year I posted: Plantain and Scape Pesto


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Quiche in Wild Grape Leaf Shells

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I hope I’m wrong, but I suspect there won’t be many wild grapes along the grapevine this year thanks probably to a frost in late May. On the bright side, the leaves are doing fine and at their best for picking now and for the next couple of weeks.

As I have described in past posts at this time of year, the leaves can be preserved easily by freezing after blanching lightly. For a change I decided to use fresh leaves for this recipe, but frozen or preserved in brine, which is how they are usually sold in markets, would work just as well.

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So for Fiesta Friday #72 I wanted to share some of my delectable harvest in the form of a shell for quiche. The custard is a very simple cream, egg and vegetable mixture. You can choose from any type of seasonal vegetable, but I decided to roast the vegetable first. If you have milkweed flowers available, they make a perfect pairing with the flavour of grape leaves, and can usually be harvested in roughly the same place at the same time. However, asparagus would be a fine alternative, and if you live in a part of the world where neither is available, any vegetable will do. But if you are picking milkweed, please bear in mind – given that most milkweed plants have six flowers, you should leave at least three on any given plant so that it will bloom and feed the pollinators, notably monarch butterflies. They should be picked before they open, while they are still green or just beginning to develop a rosy hue.

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To make these quiches which I baked in muffin tins, first snip off any stem from the base, then brush the bottom side – the side where you can see the veins – with olive oil. Place them in the pans, bottom side up and slightly overlapping. In muffin tins I used two large leaves or three small ones.

Brush the vegetables with oil and roast until tender. For the custard, mix thoroughly 2 eggs, 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup cream, 1/4 cup grated cheese (I used feta). Stir in about 1/2 cup roasted vegetables chopped.

Fill the leaves with the mixture and bake for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees F.

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The leaf ‘pastry’ will be brown and crispy. The flavour of the grape leaf is what makes these little quiches so special.

Related Posts:

Devilled Eggs with Milkweed Flowers;  Milkweed Bud Fetuccine;  Milkweed Flowers and Lambsquarters Soup;

Grape Leaves with Roasted Vegetables;  Pickerel in Grape Leaves with Mushroom Za’atar Sauce;  Grape Leaf. Herb and Yogurt Pie;  Vegetarian Dolmas;  Dolmas with Meat.


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Stinging Nettle Ravioli with Sage and Black Garlic Butter

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When I first figure out how to use a wild edible from the garden, I like to keep it simple to see how the particular ingredient tastes and feels. I have done enough with stinging nettles that this time I wanted to make something a little more complex – and find a way to use up my prolific patch before it all goes to seed. Stinging nettle tastes very much like spinach, and loses its sting once cooked. It can be used in any recipe calling for cooked spinach, and vice versa.

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I’ve made plenty of pasta dishes before, but never ravioli, so that seemed a good place to start. I also wanted to make a sauce to serve with it, one which is not so substantial that it would take over the dish, but with enough flavour to jazz it up. Enter black garlic – an ingredient I have been wanting to make myself but not sure that with the risk it involves it would be worth using the amount of electricity required. I did pick up a package of black garlic when in Spain, so this seemed a good time to try it out. Mixed with sage, butter and a little lemon sounded like a plan. Some might like a little grated parmesan on the finished product, but hardly necessary.

If you are not familiar with black garlic, it is garlic which has been cured over several weeks at a warm temperature, and then aged further. The cloves turn a definite black, are soft and gooey in texture, and have a wonderful smokey, sweet flavour which works in just about any dish calling for garlic. These came in a box of two heads with the papery skin all in tact. It is expensive though, and if you don’t have it, roasted garlic would be a good substitute.

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For the pasta

2 cups flour (I used whole wheat)

3 eggs

2 Tbsp cooked, pureed sweet potato (optional)

1 tsp salt

1 tsp olive oil

1 beaten egg

Make a well in the flour salt mixture and pour in the sweet potato, eggs and oil. Gradually mix the dry ingredients into the egg mixture until it is well combined. Wrap it up in a wet cloth or plastic and refrigerate for at least a half hour or up to 24. Bring it back to room temperature before rolling it.

Using about one-fifth of the dough at a time, form it into a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick then roll it out either with a rolling pin or a pasta machine. Either way, roll it several times. I started with the widest setting on the machine, folded the pasta over and passed it through again, repeating this several times. As I worked down to the thinnest setting, I folded the pasta in two each time, aiming for as rectangular a shape as I could get. This repeated rolling makes the pasta stronger and less likely to rip, even when very thin.

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Remember to keep the dough you are not using covered so it does not dry out.

Place the rectangle on a board and cut in two. Brush the edges of one sheet with the beaten egg, including around where you expect to cut the ravioli. I brushed all four edges, one line down the centre lengthwise, and then across according to the size I wanted. Bigger is less work!

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Fill the centres with a heaping tsp. of filling and place the other sheet on top. Press down around the edges of each piece and cut. Fork the edges to secure. Set on a floured surface and cover with a damp towel while you do the remainder.

For the Filling

1 1/2 cups cooked, chopped stinging nettles

1 Tbsp dried onion flakes

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Squeeze any excess water out of the nettles. Mix all the ingredients.

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For the Sauce

1/2 cup butter

one handful of fresh sage leaves

3 cloves black garlic, chopped

1/2 tsp salt

a splash of freshly squeezed lemon juice or a lemon zest

Melt the butter in a saucepan. When it starts to foam, add the leaves and garlic. Continue to cook about 3 minutes. Add the salt and lemon.

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Cook the ravioli in boiling salted water, about five minutes. Serve with a little of the butter sauce drizzled over it.

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The sauce with the sage and black garlic is a winner. I will either have to cure my own, or maybe travel back to Spain for more, depending on which is more cost-effective.

I apologize for my late arrival at Fiesta Friday this week, but hope there are enough party-goers around to give this 3-part recipe a try.

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