Along the Grapevine


7 Comments

Solomon Seal Shoots

polybi4

The best thing about foraging is that while all the gardeners are busy planting and fighting the weeds, we foragers are already enjoying some of the best harvest of the season. The dandelion greens are at their sweetest, roots easy to dig, nettles young and not too sting-y, edible flowers blooming and my lawn looks like a veritable smorgasbord. We don’t have to worry too much about what the weather does either – even after a blizzard this week, it only freshened up the wild edibles of the garden.

One of the spring treats I have been anticipating has just made its appearance.  After learning about the edibility and nutritional value of Solomon seal shoots, I was eager to give them a try. Especially as I noticed last summer that my scattered patches of the plant have spread alarmingly, and really do need some control. Their arching branches and drooping white flowers in the early summer are beautiful, and among the most popular with the hummingbirds (who needs feeders!) which is why they grow near the house, so cutting some shoots had to be done carefully, just as a little spring tidying.

True Solomon seal or Polygantum biflorum can be a tricky plant to  identify. The edible shoots have similar lookalikes, namely hosta and false solomon seal, both of which are also edible. The mature plant is not edible, except for the root which is used both as food and medicine but best left till autumn to harvest. It grows in shady, wooded areas, but unless you are sure of its identity, better to leave it alone.DSC02997

If you plant it in your garden or somewhere you can track it, there is no problem recognizing it when it first appears in the spring, before any leaves form. I pick them when still tight spears up to about 3 inches in height, and remove the one brownish layer around the base of the spear. Most sites I read referred to boiling them in water for 10 minutes, so I stuck with that advice. The flavour and texture is very much like asparagus, and can be served as a substitute.DSC02999

After harvesting the shoots, I cleaned them and dropped them in boiling water for the suggested 10 minutes. I then sauteed them lightly in a generous amount of butter mixed with ramps and mint. If you don’t have those greens, you can leave them out or substitute them with garlic or other herbs. To this mixture I added some cooked egg noodles. A little shaved parmesan can be added if you like, but for me the richness of the butter was adequate.DSC03003.JPG

And that is one way you can enjoy a delectable spring green long before even the earliest asparagus is up.

Linked to: Fiesta Friday; Frugal Hausfrau; Unwed Housewife

 

 

 

 


12 Comments

Ramps Butter

DSC00645Ramps (aka wild garlic or leeks) season is here in Eastern Ontario, and the window for picking it is brief. To make things tougher for us ramps fans, care must be taken not to over harvest and deplete the crop for future years.

In order to lessen our impact from foraging, especially where growth is sparse, it is possible to just remove a leaf or two from each plant and leave the bulb in the ground so the plant will still be there next year. The leaves on their own are

A couple of years ago I transplanted a small clump into my garden where it is doing very well, but still not the acreage I am aiming for. However, a few leaves taken will do it no harm and anticipate a larger crop next year.DSC02995.JPG

To spread it as thin as possible, I decided to make a spread! Butter mixed with chopped steamed ramps leaves and a little fresh mint – other herbs or seasoning as desired. DSC03005.JPG

This is not only an excellent spread, but can also be used to add flavour to soups and sauces. Stay tuned!

Related posts: Fermented ramps; Ramps omelette


34 Comments

Maple Baked Beans

Somewhat sweeter and spicier than most baked bean recipes, this is a dish that is bound to please all those who love maple syrup. The mixture of spices gives enough flavour that no meat is needed, although for some a little chopped bacon could be added into the mix.

DSC02990.JPG

This has been a record year for maple syrup – a record that is for us in our third year of tree tapping. At this point the sap is still running, but with the sudden change in weather, I expect all will be dried up by tomorrow. Our small ‘operation’ of two trees gave us a full 8 litres of syrup, and would have been more had we not given up some time ago. This is more than required for our small household, so to celebrate I decided to splurge and add some to baked beans.

The difficulty was to choose the appropriate spices and quantities to do justice to this local specialty. Garlic, chili, sumac, mustard and bay leaves seemed like obvious choices, and I have enough experience with all of these that I wasn’t too worried about how to use them. But then I came across my asafoetida, and wondered if it would fit. I have used it many times before when following other people’s recipes without really understanding what it was. Time to do a little research. And this is what I learned.

  1. It is the dried gum of the tap root of severals species of ferula, a perennial herb native to Afghanistan and Iran and cultivated in India. That explains why I had some in my pantry.
  2. As its name suggests, it is considered to have a ‘fetid’ smell. I actually like the smell, something like mild onion and garlic, but this smell is rendered less offensive to sensitive types once cooked. Interesting!
  3. It is used  mostly in the preparation of condiments, pickles and dals and has the effect of harmonising sweet, salty and spicy flavours. It is also used specifically in vegetarian dishes to add flavour and aroma. Perfect for a vegetarian bean dish.
  4. It also has a host of health benefits, not least of which being good for digestion and with the opposite effect of beans. This should have been my first choice of spices.

In short, what I learned is that this is a very useful spice, one I should and will use more often. If you are interested, here is the link to the wikipedia site where I got all this information.

Maple Baked Beans

Ingredients

4 cups cooked beans (I used navy)

1 large onion, chopped

5 cloves minced garlic

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup tomato concentrate (preferably home-made)

1/2 cup maple syrup

a few bay leaves

2 Tbsp sumac powder

2 Tbsp chili powder

1 tsp mustard powder

1 tsp asafoetida

1 tsp salt

Method

Mix everything in a slow cooker. Set on high and cook for five hours, stirring occasionally if at all possible. It it becomes too dry, add a splash of boiling water.

When cooked, remove the bay leaves and serve.

DSC02987.JPG

DSC02988.JPGIf you don’t have a slow cooker, it can be done on the stove top, in which case it won’t take much more than an hour. However, with my bean baking experience, I prefer to give it about two to three hours at medium low, and just add water and stir if it gets too dry.

DSC02991

Linked to Fiesta Friday #115, Hostess at Heart and Too Zesty.


20 Comments

More about Bitters & a Recipe for Rhubarb Ginger Ice Cream

This ice cream and the meringues are both flavoured with rhubarb bitters , the recipe for which I posted a couple of weeks ago. The flavouring is very subtle, not at all bitter, but really does enhance the flavour of the dish. These are just two examples of how a fragrant fruit bitters can be used.DSC02979

Since I made my first batch of bitters, I have been curious as to just how to make use of them. After all a good half litre is a bit much for the odd cocktail. I have used it to make a salad dressing for fruit salad, mixed with fruit juice, zest, ginger and honey;  I used it to glaze sweet buns; best of all I added a teaspoon or two to my coffee. In each of these applications, the bitters enhanced the flavour of whatever it was added to with the most delicious floral notes and aroma.

Ice cream seemed a good place to start, and if you have a favourite recipe of your own, I would recommend adding the bitters to that. Frozen desserts are one of my favourite ways to experiment with flavours, so I decided to stick with the rhubarb theme and mix that and fresh ginger in a sauce which was mixed into a standard ice cream custard mixture. If you are not convinced that it is worth making your own ice cream, just consider the wonderful variations you can create which you would never find even in the best ice cream parlours – much less any supermarket.

Rhubarb Ginger Ice Cream

Ingredients

1/2 cup sugar or honey

1/2 cup chopped rhubarb

1 tsp grated fresh ginger

2 cups 10% cream

3 egg yolks, lightly beaten

4 Tbsp rhubarb or other fruit bitters

Method

Mix the first three ingredients in a sauce pan, bring to a boil and simmer until the rhubarb is soft and the ginger cooked, about three minutes.

In a separate pan heat the milk to just below boiling. Gradually add a small amount (about 1/4) cup to the egg mixture and blend, then add another of the same amount and do the same. Pour the egg mixture into the milk and simmer until the custard coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and mix in the rhubarb mixture. When the custard has cooled, add the rhubarb bitters. Chill, process in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions, then freeze. Makes 3/4 litre.

And since I had three egg whites, I whipped them with 3/4 cup sugar, 1/3 tsp cream of tartar and a splash of bitters. Dried in the oven for an hour at 220 degrees F and allowed to cool in the oven once done. I made some ice cream sandwiches with the small ones, and the larger ones I used as a base. Either way they were great.

DSC02983

Linked to Angie’s Fiesta Friday #113, Sonal at Simply Vegetarian and Laurie at ten.times.tea.

Related posts: Anise hyssop and Peach Ice Cream; Olive Oil Ice Cream with Balsamic Wild Strawberries; Salted Caramel Spruce Ice Cream


38 Comments

Paneer Tikka Masala

This classic vegetarian North Indian dish made easy can be served as an appetizer or main dish. With a complex blend of spices, mixed vegetables and creamy paneer, it is an ideal dish for experts or novices alike, either to prepare to be served.
DSC02966I undertook the making of this delicious North Indian vegetarian dish in response to a recipe challenge presented by a fellow blogger at Lin’s Recipes. I seldom feature Indian dishes on my blog even though I often do make them, so I was pleased to have an incentive to develop a recipe for my blog with these wonderful flavours. Thanks to Lin and also to Parul  at Gharkepakwan who has graciously offered to act as judge.

I am bringing this to Fiesta Friday #112 which I am co-hosting with Natalie at Kitchen Uncorked. Feel free to drop by and and see the wonderful recipes, tips and stories contributed by a host of talented bloggers.

The title of this recipe says it all. Paneer is simply a fresh cheese, made from strained and pressed yogurt. Tikka refers to the pieces of meat or, as in this case cheese in the recipe. Masala means mixture and in this case refers to the mixture of spices used.

I based my recipe on this one, but made a few changes according to what I had on hand. For example, as I am not able to buy ready made paneer in my neighbourhood, contrary to all recommendations on any recipe for this you will find, I had to make my own. Home-made paneer tends to be too soft, and therefore is difficult to mix into the sauce and keep its integrity. However, I found that straining the yogurt, pressing it with a weight to squeeze out as much liquid as possible over a mesh strainer, and then setting it in a very low oven (170 degrees F) for about an hour was all it needed to make it firm enough to cook with. In fact, it was the best paneer I had ever had, but if you can buy it, you can skip this step altogether. I also added sumac powder, not a commonly used spice in Indian cooking but one I use regularly to add a lemony flavour and red colour. To stay with the local theme of my blog I served it with rice made with maple sap, the delicate sweetness of which complements the spiciness of the masala beautifully.

DSC02960

Home-made paneer

Paneer Tikka Masala

Ingredients for the Marinade

250 grams paneer, cut into cubes

2 medium sweet peppers (I used red)

1 small zucchini

5 Tbsp yogurt

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp ground fresh ginger

1 tsp finely grated fresh garlic

1 tsp. garam masala

1 tsp ground coriander seeds

1/4 tsp freshly ground  nutmeg

1/2 tsp cornflour

oil for grilling

Ingredients for the gravy

oil for frying

1 large onion

2 Tbsp thick tomato paste (preferably  home-made)

1 Tbsp grated ginger

1 Tbsp ground garlic

1 Tbsp garam masala

1 tsp chili powder

1 Tbsp sumac powder

1 tsp ground coriander

pinch of methi (dried fenugreek)

1/2 cup water or stock

Method

Mix the yogurt, spices and flour in a bowl. Cut the peppers into roughly 1 inch squares, cut the zucchini into 1/4 inch rounds and place in a casserole with the paneer. Pour over this the marinade, stir to coat and allow to sit for at least an hour or up to 24 hours.

Meanwhile, to make the gravy, chop the onion very finely. A food processor is useful for this process. Fry it gently in about 2 Tbsp of oil until it softens. Add the ginger and garlic and fry for another 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and spices and continue to cook, stirring frequently until the mixture is quite dry and is like a thick paste which will come away from the sides of the pan. Add the water and cook a further 2 minutes, stirring to make sure it doesn’t stick. Set aside until the vegetables and paneer are ready to be added.

Place the marinated vegetables and panner on a grilling sheet and drizzle with a little oil. Place under a broiler and when they start to sizzle, turn them over and broil until they look cooked and slightly browned. The time this takes will depend on your broiler and proximity to the heat. I found it took about 5 minutes per side, but keep a close watch on it.

Mix all this with the gravy, reheat and serve it as an appetizer or a main dish with rice or flatbreads.

DSC02964

Gravy mixture before adding water

DSC02965

Grilled vegetables and paneer

DSC02971.JPG

Paneer Tikka Masala with maple sap rice

 

 

 

 

 


29 Comments

DSC02951Until recently, bitters were just something I kept in the liquor cabinet for the odd occasion when a cocktail was called for. Since my lone bottle was not getting a lot of attention, I started to add it to some savoury recipes for a little extra zing. Without really understanding what bitters were, my ideas for its uses were somewhat limited.

Lately bitters have been garnering a lot more attention, and rightly so since they can enhance the flavour and aroma not only of cocktails but myriad dishes including pastries, desserts, grilled anything to name just a few. Once I realized the variety of flavours on the market (for example orange, lemon, coffee pecan, cardamom, celery) I determined to find out more about this promising concoction and how I could make my own.

So I bought a book. This one is by Brad Thomas Parsons and is called A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All with Cocktails, Recipes & Formulas BITTERS. It is a riveting read about the convoluted history of this tonic, its uses, sources and how to make it. He offers a definition of bitters which I found very helpful to understand what to expect.

DSC02949

Bitters are an aromatic flavoring agent made from infusing roots, barks, fruit peels, seed, spices, herbs, flowers and botanicals in high-proof alcohol (or something glycerine).  … One of the biggest misconceptions about bitters is that  using them will make your drink bitter. Although this is understandable – tasted by themselves, bitters often taste slightly bitter or bittersweet – the term “bitters” refers not to a specific flavor but rather to the category of aromatic solutions made with bittering agents such as gentian root and cinchona bark. Bitters are essentially a liquid seasoning agent for drinks and even food…”

After reading several of the recipes, I figured I would have to tweak them as the ingredients were numerous, sometimes unknown, and often difficult to find. But tweaking works, as long as you have a combination of alcohol, principal flavour, bittering agents and and assortment of spices, herbs, flowers etc. These recipes also allow me to use some of my own cultivated or foraged plants, such as hops, wild cherry bark or dandelion leaves.

Since rhubarb season is soon upon us, I decided to follow the recipe for rhubarb bitters making a few changes according to what I had available. Since my rhubarb is greener than what is recommended, something that does not affect the taste, I decided to enhance the colour with a couple of reds, namely dried hibiscus petals and highbush cranberry sauce. Most of the unusual ingredients, like cinchona bark, can be found at a good herbalist’s, such as Herbie’s Herbs in Toronto.DSC02937

The basic method is to infuse the ingredients in alcohol (usually vodka, bourbon or rye) for two weeks. After straining this infusion, set the liquid aside and add some water to the solids and cook briefly. Allow that to sit another week. Strain and combine the two liquids. Add a little honey and allow to sit for another three days.

Rhubarb Bitters

Ingredients

2 cups chopped rhubarb

zest of 2 organic lemons

2 Tbsp highbush cranberry preserve

1/2 tsp coriander seeds

3 juniper berries

1 tsp fennel seeds

1/2 tsp cinchona bark

1 Tbsp dried hibiscus flowers

2 cups vodka

water

2 Tbsp honey

Method

Place all the ingredients except vodka, honey and water in a jar. Pour in the vodka and give it a good stir. Allow to sit for two weeks in a cool place away from direct sunlight, and give it a shake daily.

After two weeks, strain* out the liquid and set aside in a jar. Place the solids in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for ten minutes. Pour this mixture into a jar and store for a week out of direct sunlight and give it a shake daily.

Strain* this mixture, combine the two liquids in a jar and stir in the honey. Set aside for three days and again, shake daily.

*To strain, I first use a regular sieve to remove the majority of the solids, then I strain it through a funnel lined with a coffee filter. This takes some time, but the result is clear and requires no additional filtering.

Rhubarb Bitters on Punk Domestics

This same method can be used for virtually any combination of flavours – I look forward to creating more flavours using local and seasonal ingredients. This recipe makes about 2 cups of bitters. At first I thought this might be excessive, but having tried it I know I will have plenty of ways to use it, some of which I hope to share in future posts.

DSC02952

As a first taste test of the final results I made a very simple soda and bitters drink. I used about 1 oz. of bitters and 6 of soda, but mix according to your own taste. As Parsons explained, the result was far more aromatic than bitter, and a very light and pleasant drink.

Linked to Fiesta Friday #111, Naina at Spice in the City and Julianna at Foodie on Board.

 

 

 

 


32 Comments

Spicy Maple Pinwheels

DSC02939The sap is running from our maple trees, the buckets are hung, and we are keeping one eye on the pot (and the other up the chimney) when boiling the sap. I am also busy using up last year’s stock which gives me lots of opportunity to experiment with new recipes, and I am trying to come up with new flavour combinations. Maple syrup is such an icon in Canadian cooking we sometimes prefer to stick with the tried and true, but I felt adventurous with this recipe. Since I discovered that hot spices are the best addition to chocolate, why not do the same with maple syrup? Sweet and spicy are a good bet for me, and to experiment I used two flavours, ginger for half the recipe and chili peppers for the other half. If you choose to go with one, then double the quantity of that spice in the filling.DSC02943

These “cookies” are made with a yeast dough – neither very sweet nor rich. I also deliberately made them not too pillowy or sticky. I used spelt flour which has a delicious nutty taste, although regular wheat flour would work too, and I kept them vegan by using coconut oil just because. I expect butter would be just as good.DSC02945

Spicy Maple Pinwheels


Ingredients for the dough

2 tsp instant yeast (or the equivalent of fresh yeast if you have it)

1 1/2 cup warm water

2 Tbsp maple syrup

4 1/2 cups flour (approximately)

1/2 cup coconut oil, softened

1 tsp salt

Ingredients for the filling

1 cup coconut oil

1 cup maple syrup

1 tsp chili pepper flakes

3 tbsp chopped candied ginger

1/2 cup granulated maple sugar (or other granulated sugar)

Method

Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of the water. Add to it the 2 Tbsp of maple syrup, 1 cup of warm water and 1 cup of spelt flour. Cover with a cloth and set in a warm place until it becomes spongy, about 2 hours.

Mix in the softened coconut oil, salt and the flour, a little at a time. When the dough comes together, turn it out onto a floured board and kneed for about 5 minutes. Place in a bowl and allow to rise for a second time until it has doubled in bulk. Meanwhile, make the filling by beating the coconut oil and maple syrup with a beater. Add the spices, chili to half the mixture and chopped ginger to the other half.

When the dough has risen, divide it in two and roll each piece into a rectangle of about 20 x 12 inches. The dough should be quite thin. Spread the filling evenly over the dough and sprinkle the granulated sugar on top.  Roll up from the long (20 in.) side. Slice the roll into 1 inch pieces and place them on a parchment lined tray to rise covered with a tea towel – about 1/2 hour.

Before baking, press each cookie down to flatten somewhat. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 to 35 minutes. Makes 24 cookies.

DSC02941

DSC02942

The pepper ones are pretty hot, but I was correct in supposing that spice and maple syrup is a winning combination for those who like a little piquant to our snacks. The ginger is also very good, and might be better for those who are not great fans of chili. DSC02947

Linked to Angie’s Fiesta Friday #110, Jhuls’ The Not so Creative Cook and Apsara’s Eating Well Diary.

 

 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 531 other followers