Along the Grapevine


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A Forager’s Potpourri

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As 2014 draws to a close, I would like to wish all my readers a very happy New Year. On this occasion I am sharing something seasonal to mark the occasion, and something a little different from the usual recipe post. The idea came from one of my favourite DIY blogs I read the other day on how to make your house smell amazing, a sort of stewed potpourri made of winter greens, fruit and spices. I decided to make my own version using mostly fragrant ingredients from my own garden. It seemed sumac, among other things, would be a good addition, as I’ve noticed whenever I dry sumac berries the house smells wonderful.

This is what I used:

a few sprigs of spruce, juniper and cedar

3 or 4 clusters of sumac berries

2 sticks of cinnamon

4 cloves

a few fresh lemon slices

Place all these ingredients in a pot, cover with water, heat and allow to simmer for a few hours.

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The aroma is not overwhelming, even from very close, but is a subtle woodsy outdoor smell which really does make the house smell amazing. I intend to repeat this and vary the ingredients a little each time, perhaps with some surviving herbs and berries, but in the meantime, wanted to share this easy, inexpensive potpourri with you all.

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Mole a la Canadienne – with Cornbread or Venison

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With a new batch of venison to work with, I decided to make a Mexican style mole, a spicy, savoury chocolate sauce usually served with chicken. Once I worked out a version of this which included some of my own local ingredients, I thought it too good not to share with vegetarians too, which is why today I am bringing to Fiesta Friday two dishes, one vegan and one using meat. The mole is not as complex as many of the authentic Mexican recipes out there in that I only used one kind of chili pepper. However, the other spices, dried fruit and chocolate resulted in a delicious addition to the simplest of meals, and it is so easy to prepare that you could make it and figure out how you want to serve it a few days later. Just beware that after a couple of days the heat increases, so if you don’t want it too hot you might want to reduce the amount of peppers you use.

Mole a la Canadienne

Ingredients

5 dried chilis serranos

1 cup hot water

1 dozen dried apricots

2 Tbsp sumac powder

2 cloves

3 allspice berries

1 star anise 1 2-inch cinnamon stick

1 oz. unsweetened chocolate

herbs and roasted hazelnuts for garnish

Method Soak the chilis in hot water for about 15 minutes in a saucepan. Grind the cloves, anise and allspice and add them along with the cinnamon and sumac to the chilis in water and simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove the cinnamon and pour the mixture into a blender. Add the apricots and blend until it forms a smooth paste. Return to the pan and add the grated chocolate. Heat until the chocolate is melted. This will keep several days in the fridge but might need a little extra water when reheated.

To serve it with cornbread, any savoury recipe works for this, but I highly recommend this one from The Breakfast Drama Queen. Not only is it vegan and gluten free, but it is super tasty and nutritious with the addition of squash. Coriander leaves would make a perfect garnish along with the hazelnuts, but I used some sweetened, dried dandelion leaves. DSC01593

For the venison, I used a rump roast. I sliced it so that the marinade would penetrate completely. A simple marinade was all that was needed, as the spices in the mole were sufficient. I apologize for not having pictures of the finished product – not too sure how that happened. Perhaps with the excitement of this birthday dinner I neglected to check the camera had its bit, so I will try to make another and add photo when I am focussed. DSC01592

Venison with Mole

Ingredients

1 1/4 lbs venison

1/2 cup oil

1/4 cup cider vinegar

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

fat for frying salt and pepper to taste

toasted nuts and herbs for garnish

Method

Slice the meat to a thickness of about 1/4 in. Place in a dish and cover with the garlic, oil and vinegar mixture. Allow it to sit several hours in the fridge. When ready to cook, drain and pat the slices dry and season with salt and pepper. Fry on a medium high heat a couple of minutes on each side, or longer if you want them well cooked. Garnish with toasted hazelnuts and herbs.

Serve with the mole and garnish with the nuts and herbs, such as parsley, cilantro or dandelion leaves.


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Chicken Rillettes

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If you are cooking for more people than usual at this time of year, it is a good idea to have some ready-to-serve dishes stashed away in the freezer to serve when you are too busy to cook or have an impromptu event where something a little out of the ordinary is called for. This rillette recipe fits the bill perfectly, and also allowed me to use a perfectly good, organic, albeit rather dry chicken I had to do something with.

Rillettes are really a French version of the English potted meats. They are made by long slow cooking of the meat in broth and white wine, and then potted with lots of herbs and butter. Served on slices of crusty bread with good quality pickles, they keep for at least five days in the fridge and much longer in the freezer.

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You can adapt this recipe to what you prefer in the way of herbs, but I used my spruce salt, juniper berries and some fermented dandelion buds as garnish giving it a distinctively local flavour.

Chicken Rillettes


Ingredients

1 whole chicken, approximately 4 lbs.

2 Tbsp oil

1 cup dry white wine

2 cups water

2 onions

1 large carrot

3/4 cup of unsalted butter

2 tsp spruce salt

1 dozen juniper berries

a handful of chopped parsley

Method

In a large Dutch oven, brown the chicken on all sides in the oil. Pour the water and wine over it. Add 1 onion and the carrot, both roughly chopped. Cover and put in a 300 degree F. oven for about 2 1/2 hours. The chicken should be well cooked and fall away easily from the bones. Strain the broth into a bowl and discard the vegetables (or better yet use them in something else) cool, and then store the broth and the chicken separately in the fridge. There should be about 2 cups of broth. This can be done a day or two ahead.

To make the rillettes, using a couple of forks, pull away all the meat in small bite-sized strips, discarding the skin and bones. In a saucepan, cook the second onion, finely chopped in 1/4 cup of butter until translucent. Add the chicken, the rest of the butter, juniper berries and salt. Continue to cook on a low heat until most of the liquid, but not all has evaporated. If you pull the meat to one side of the pan, there should still be liquid visible at the bottom, but the whole mixture will not be covered in liquid. Just before it is ready, add the parsley, mix well and check for seasoning.

Transfer it into serving dishes and/or mason jars and cool completely, cover and refrigerate or freeze. Bring back to room temperature before serving.

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I am bringing this dish to Fiesta Friday #47, hosted as always by Angie and co-hosted by Indu at Indu’s International Kitchen  and Jhuls at The Not So Creative Cook. Many thanks to these three for keeping this party going this week. Feel free to drop by and see join in the fun.


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Pine Salt Chocolate Brownies

 

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Last April I wrote a post on collecting and preserving spruce tips and promised recipes using these ingredients later on. Now that winter is fully here, it is the perfect time for me to start experimenting, so I hauled out the spruce salt to put it to good use. When I saw David Lebovitz’s recent post on salty brownies, I decided to make my own version using my spruce salt. His of course is excellent, but called for ingredients I don’t have. Also, I wanted to make a vegan version just because I try to cut down a bit on the use of eggs in baking, except when really necessary. What I ended up with is definitely the best brownies I have ever had – something resembling a dark, chewy salted chocolate bar! After having missed Fiesta Friday for the last couple of weeks, I am bringing this to the party because I suspect that some of the guests, like me, enjoy a rich, not too sweet, salty chocolate treat. The pine flavour, though not very strong in this recipe at all, is a nod to the season.

In Lebovitz’s post, he describes how to line a pan with foil so that removing the brownies is made easy. A helpful tip for sure, but as I like to avoid using aluminum foil, I thought I’d share my own tip for baking. I often use edible leaves – grape leaves or corn husks from my garden which I blanche and freeze. I happened to have a huge pile of dried husks for making tamales, which I still haven’t got around to, so I used these instead. No waste! They will end up in the compost. To begin with, I poured hot water over four husks to soften them a bit, shook them dry and lined an 8″ square pan. Then I sprayed it with a little oil just to be safe. If the husks don’t lie absolutely flat, not to worry – the batter will weigh it down.

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And now for the recipe.

Pine Salt Chocolate Brownies

Ingredients

2 Tbsp ground flax seed mixed with 3 Tbsp water

6 oz unsweetened chocolate

4 oz coconut oil

1 cup cocoa powder

1 cup granulated sugar

3 Tbsp flour

2 tsp spruce salt

Method

Soak the ground flax seeds in the water and set aside. Melt the chocolate and oil in a bowl placed over a pot of boiling water. When it is liquid, add the sugar and stir until it is completely dissolved. Add the cocoa powder and the flax seed mixture, and mix well until the flax seeds are evenly distributed. Remove from the heat and add the flour and salt. Spread in a baking pan, 8 inches square or smaller if you want thicker brownies.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Allow to cool completely in the pan before removing.

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If you don’t have salt made from spruce tips, you can use spruce picked in the winter too. The flavour of this amount is not very strong, and although the winter pickings are a little more bitter, it wouldn’t be a problem in this particular recipe. If you don’t have any edible greens, just use a coarse sea salt and some other flavouring, like cinnamon, chili or vanilla.