Along the Grapevine


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Fiddleheads – Dehydrated

Here is a method for preserving fiddleheads that will allow you to enjoy them any time of year just as if they were freshly picked.

I wrote about foraging fiddleheads (the young sprouts of the ostrich fern) in a post last year. Fortunately, this is another great year for them and I was able to pick even more than usual. It is one of those seasonal treats you generally enjoy fresh. Only if you have gathered way more than you can consume immediately do you worry about how to preserve them. Freezing is not really an option as it changes the texture too much. I have not tried pickling or fermenting them as I expect again the texture might not be so appetizing. So I resorted to dehydrating them, and with great success.DSC00651

First, they have to be cooked, boiled in water for about ten minutes, otherwise they are not easy to digest. After boiling and draining them, use all you can as is, in a stir fry, omelette or whatever. Any excess, dehydrate at 125 degrees F (52 C) for about three hours. They will look diminished and wizened and be very crisp. Store them in a cool dark place in a sealed container. To use for cooking, simply rehydrate them with hot water. In about two minutes they will regain their size, texture, colour and flavour. Even the tiny stems! Drain them and use them as you would fresh ones.DSC03067

In the aforementioned post of last year, I used fresh ones to make fried pakoras. This year I tried baking instead of frying them. Preparing them in the same way to cook, then placing the coated fiddleheads on a parchment lined cookie sheet and baking them in a hot oven (500 degrees F) for ten minutes gives a softer, less crisp pakora. Either way, they are delicious.DSC03066

Fiddleheads - Dehydrated on Punk Domestics


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Savoury Ramps Pastries

DSC03053This is turning out to be a great year for ramps (aka wild leeks or wild garlic). The cool weather has prolonged the season and I had the good fortune to have access to a bonanza of this seasonal delicacy on the property of a kind and gracious friend. If you don’t have access to them, you are likely to find them at good markets in any area where they are grown. For information on how to identify and pick them refer to this post here.DSC03059.JPG

I used a good bunch of them to ferment, perhaps my favourite use of them, but with so many I had the perfect opportunity to devise a new recipe. Sauteed ramps mixed with eggs and bechamel baked in a puff pastry made a simple yet elegant appetizer. No need for any extraneous ingredients – the ramps work just fine on their own.

Savoury Ramps Pastries

Ingredients

3 Tpsp olive oil

6 cups ramps, chopped

2 Tbsp butter

2 Tbsp flour

1 cup milk

4 eggs

1 tsp salt

black pepper to taste

1 pound puff pastry dough

Method

Sautee the ramps in the oil until just cooked – about 2 minutes. Set aside to cool. Melt the butter in a saucepan, stir in the flour and gradually add the milk, continuing to stir and cook over a medium heat until the sauce thickens. Set aside to cool.

Divide the pastry in two and roll out each half on a floured surface to fit a pan measuring 9 x 12 inces (or equivalent). Line the pan with one half. Beat three eggs, then add the cream sauce, sauteed ramps, salt and pepper. Pour this mixture onto the pastry and cover with the second sheet. Secure the top edges to the bottom layer to prevent the top layer from shrinking. Brush the top with 1 beaten egg. Bake in a 400 degree F. oven for about half an hour, until the pastry is puffy and golden.

Cut the pastry in serving size pieces with a sharp knife.

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This can be served warm or at room temperature, as a side, appetizer or main dish. It also freezes well and makes a perfect picnic treat.

Linked to Fiesta Friday, Safari of the Mind and Fabulous Fare Sisters.

 


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Rhubarb Tart

Now that rhubarb is in season, here is a novel way you can serve it. Baked in a vegan custard and a puff pastry it is a simple recipe to add to your answers to “what do I do with all this rhubarb?” DSC03045.JPG

I developed this recipe in response to a recipe challenge set by one of my favourite food bloggers, Sonal of Simply Vegetarian. If you are not familiar with her blog, do pay her a visit. Her reliable, delicious and exotic recipes are a credit to the food blogging community.

The conditions of the challenge were to make a vegetarian semi-homemade, that is homemade with a store bought pastry base of any kind. So I purchased a package of puff pastry.

It is really just the beginning of rhubarb season here, and my rhubarb was not quite ready for picking when I baked this. However, a couple of weeks earlier I had started an experiment to force the first shoots. I covered one small patch with a ceramic chimney (actually our well cover) and placed a stone on top – any tall opaque vessel would do. Two weeks later I uncovered my experimental patch and this is what I found.DSC03026

The covered patch was much taller and ready to pick while the other rhubarb was close to the ground as seen in the above picture on the right. The leaves were smaller and yellowish, but the rhubarb was bright pink or red with snowy white interior.DSC03030

This variety of rhubarb is usually green inside with only streaks of red on fairly green stalks – fine for cooking but not the prettiest. This was much prettier. It was also sweeter and a lot less fibrous. Of course, any rhubarb will work, but the redder the variety you get, the better the appearance. I will definitely be doing this again next year and more of it.

I also wanted to make a vegan custard. As the challenge is for a vegetarian dish, though not necessarily vegan, I wanted to make it appealing to as many readers as possible. Also, I was running low on eggs. This was definitely another experiment for me, and again one that worked. For the custard-like consistency, I simmered some flax seeds and strained them. A little sugar, cardamom for flavouring and almond milk for bulk, it really couldn’t be easier or more fool-proof.

Rhubarb Tart

Ingredients

500 grams puff pastry

a few stalks of rhubarb

flax seed liquid+

2 cups almond milk

3 Tbsp thickening flour (I used tapioca flour)

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp freshly ground green cardamom

1 Tbsp rhubarb or other fruit bitters (optional)

Method

+ To make the flax liquid, bring 2 Tbsp flax seeds to a boil in 1 cup of water. Turn the heat down and simmer for 30 minutes, uncovered. Strain the liquid through a fine sieve. Use the seeds in the strainer to add to a smoothie! For a lighter colour than I achieved, use golden flax seeds rather than the dark ones.

Roll out the puff pastry to fit a pan 12 inches by 9 inches and prick all over with a fork. Mix the flax seed liquid, milk, flour, sugar and cardamom and heat gently, stirring frequently, until it thickens and the flour is cooked. It will still be more liquid than the final product since the flax seed won’t set until cooled. When semi-cooled, add the bitters if using them.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and place rhubarb pieces of about 3 inches in length and slit lengthwise if very thick neatly on top. Bake in a 350 degree oven until the crust is golden and the rhubarb is cooked, about 30 minutes.

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The custard will be very liquid when it comes out of the oven, but will set as it cools. Serve as is or with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar or drizzle of syrup. I used honeysuckle syrup.

Many thanks to Sonal for her initiative and for inspiring me to try something new! I enjoyed every bit of it.


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Dandelion Blossom Madeleines

Here is a seasonal and tasty take on the classic French madeleines. Just add a few petals from everybody’s favourite spring flower to a simple cake recipe and voilà!DSC03042.JPG

I have made many variations of madeleines in the past. A simple batter of butter, eggs and flour, plus whatever flavouring you like, be it vanilla, lemon, lavender or chocolate makes a perfect treat to have with your tea. As I’ve recently come across recipes using dandelion flowers in muffins and quick breads, I thought why not make something just a bit fancier.

A couple of pointers on this recipe. You will need just the petals of the flower. Snip off the base and remove as much of the green as possible. Usually I find a few specks remain, but that is not a problem. If you have a madeleine pan, all the better. If not, small muffin tins could be used. The batter should be well chilled before baking, as should be the baking tin. This will give you a better shape with the distinctive hump which gives it its form.

Dandelion Blossom Madeleines

Ingredients

1 cup fresh dandelion petals

2/3 cup sugar

1 cup flour

2 eggs

1/2 tsp vanilla

4 oz  melted butter plus butter for greasing pan

Method

Mix the petals and sugar in a food processor. If not using a food processor, chop the petals as finely as possible. Add the flour to the petals and mash with the back of a spoon to avoid any clumps forming. Beat the eggs and vanilla well and add to the dry mixture. Blend in the melted butter. Cover the batter and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour and up to 24. Grease the baking tin liberally with butter, then place in the freezer to chill it well.

Spoon the batter evenly into the pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes. When ready, the centre will be firm and bounce back when pressed. Best eaten warm, and within two days of baking. Serve plain or with a light sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar.

Makes 1 dozen.DSC03035

You may be wondering about the flavour. There is no bitter taste at all – just an aromatic floral flavour. It is comparable to the delicious scent of a spring lawn covered in dandelions – something that I experienced this afternoon as I happened to be cavorting in the garden.

Linked to Fiesta Friday #118, Life Diet Health and GFLife 24/7.

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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.

Solomon Seal Shoots on Punk Domestics

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

 

 

 

 


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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


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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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