Along the Grapevine


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More on Lilacs and a Pavlova

DSC03518.JPGI have been looking forward to lilac season and now that it is full upon us, it is time to remind readers of this wonderful flower  and its uses for culinary purposes. They will not last for long, but if picked while fresh they can be preserved in several ways to be used all year. It takes some patience to pick off the flowers, but a little goes a long way. The flavour is unmistakably lilac, but less strong than would you expect given their powerful aroma. Different varieties will give different flavours, but all can be used in these recipes.

Here are the ways I have already preserved them:

  • lilac syrup which can be used to flavour drinks, in baking and desserts
  • lilac sugar, made by blending lilac blossoms and sugar in equal parts by volume, used to flavour cakes, biscuits, and desserts
  • lilac extract, made as you would vanilla extract. To make a quick version, I used the Instant Pot, loosely filling a mason jar with blossoms and filling it with vodka, then processed it for one hour on high heat. Good for flavouring whipped cream, drinks and desserts.DSC03520.JPG

So far I have only managed to make one recipe with these, but wanted to get this post out before it is too late. I made my usual recipe for meringues for a pavlova of sorts. The lilac sugar had not had time to dry sufficiently, so the meringue was a little more browned and chewy than it should be, but good nonetheless.

For the Meringue

3 egg whites

1/4 tsp cream of tartar

2 tsp. cornstarch

3/4 cups lilac sugar

Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until almost stiff. Add the sugar mixed with the cornstarch and continue to beat until stiff. Spoon them onto a parchment lined baking tin and make a small depression in the middle. Put them in a preheated 275 F oven and reduce it to 250 F. Bake them for about 50 minutes until they are dry and firm. Turn off the oven and allow them to cool in the oven. Makes 8 medium meringues.

Once cool, fill with whipped cream and serve with seasonal fruit. I used about 1 tsp. of lilac extract in the cream, and for wont of fresh fruit I used some wild grape and lavender preserves.DSC03521Related posts: Lilac Fizz; Lilac Ice Cream

Linked to Fiesta Friday #225, Antonia at Zoale.com


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Eccles Cakes with a Difference

As a follow up to my last post on spruce tips bitters, I wanted to make a recipe to show how they can be used to flavour some baked goods. The first idea that came to mind is eccles cakes, and although not particularly seasonal, I think a good eccles cake has its own place any time of year. For anyone not familiar with these, eccles cakes are a cross between a tart and a biscuit. I have been using a very easy and reliable recipe from Davinia at Married with Cauldron, making some changes in the fruit and alcohol I use. While she calls for mixed berries, I have used a mixture of raisins and candied highbush cranberries. Instead of Jaegermeister, I’ve used spruce bitters. Feel free to use whatever combination of dried fruits you fancy!

What I like about this recipe is that it seems to work every time, no matter what variations I make. Since I discovered that spruce and dried or preserved fruits are a perfect combination, I have favoured my spruce infused vodka, but I believe these bitters work even better. The spruce flavour is subtle once mixed with the fruit and baked in these flaky shells, but the overall effect is complex and surprisingly delicious.

Eccles Cakes

For the pastry

225 grams plain flour

175 grams butter or lard

1/2 tsp. salt

120 ml cold water

For the filling

50 grams butter

100 grams soft brown sugar

250 grams dried fruit

5o ml spruce tip bitters

1 egg white, slightly beaten

1 tbsp granulated sugar

Prepare the pastry. Cover and let it rest refrigerated for at least half an hour.

Heat the first four ingredients for the filling in a saucepan until the sugar has dissolved and the fruit expands and softens. Allow the mixture to cool before assembling.

Roll out the pastry and cut into circles, about  2 or 3 inches in diameter. I made the smaller ones, which gave me 3 dozen cakes. Place some filling in the centre, moisten the edges with water and draw them up to seal. Flip them over and flatten slightly into a circle. Perforate the pastry either with a fork or by making three small slits in them. Brush with the beaten egg white and sprinkle with a little sugar. Refrigerate for 20 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 20-25 minutes until golden and crisp.

Thank you to Davinia for teaching me how to make the best eccles cakes, and so many other things on her beautiful blog. Thank you also to Angie, our gracious Fiesta Friday host and her co-hosts Suzanne at A Pug in the Kitchen and Monika at Everyday Healthy Recipes.


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Dandelion Cake

DSC03373The nutritional value of the dandelion is becoming increasingly understood, yet the number of appetizing ways to use the plant are still rare. While the flowers are not the richest source of nutrients compared to the roots and leaves, they do contain some health benefits, including antioxidants and vitamins A and B12. For more about the flower as a food source, this article is worth reading.

I just finished making a syrup from dandelion flowers which I found so good I already have a second batch on the go. I have used it to make a cocktail and a sourdough fruit bread, adding some to the batter as well as a glaze when it came out of the oven.

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The recipe in this post was inspired by a recipe for revani, a Greek cake soaked in syrup after baking.  I found this recipe in my newest cookbook called “Three Sisters – Back to the Beginning” by Betty, Eleni and Samanth Bakopoulos which I noticed has just been shortlisted in the Taste Canada awards. Their cake calls for coarse semolina, which I substituted with casava which has a similar texture, but either can be used. It also calls for orange and lemon zest, but of course I didn’t need those with my own fresh and local dandelions, both in the form of petals and syrup. It makes a pretty dense cake, something like cornbread, and is sweetened mostly by the syrup which is poured over it right after baking. The cake could have absorbed more than the cup of syrup I used, so if you want a really sweet dessert, add another cup.

Dandelion

Ingredients

1 cup butter

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup dandelion petals (approx. 12 flowers)

5 eggs

1/4 tsp vanilla

2 cups casava flour or coarse semolina

1 cup flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 cup dandelion syrup
Method
Cream the butter with the sugar and petals. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat well after each addition. Mix the dry ingredients together and add to the batter, beating well. Pour into a greased 9 inch square pan and bake at 350 degrees F. for about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately cut it into serving size pieces. Pour the cooled syrup over it slowly, letting it be absorbed by the hot cake gradually.

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Linked to Fiesta Friday #171


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Maple Syrup Tarts

This is a great seasonal recipe for maple syrup fans. Not as cloyingly sweet as the ubiquitous butter tart, they are made with pure maple syrup and walnuts, although other nuts, fruit or nothing at all can be added. Less than one cup of syrup makes two dozen small tarts.

Maple syrup season is just winding down now. We got an early start this year, and the quality of the syrup seems better than ever – either that or we are just becoming pros. I still have some to use up from last year so decided it was high time to invent some recipes.

Most recipes for maple tarts use a combination of white and/or brown sugar along with the syrup, but I wanted mine to be pure maple. Even so, I didn’t use that much, a mere 200 ml,  and the flavour of maple is so much better on its own. Some recipes also called for flour or cream, neither of which I wanted. So the recipe I came up with is as simple as it gets – just syrup mixed with eggs, a splash of cider vinegar to cut the sweetness, and walnuts. A really good pastry is a must, but whatever crust pastry you like would work well. I have been following a recipe from Married with Cauldron, much the same as mine but I find it is actually easier and better with the measurements given in weight rather than volume. I also replaced a bit of the water with lemon juice. dsc00438.jpg

Maple Syrup Tarts


For the pastry

175 grams butter or lard

225 grams flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp of lemon combined with enough cold water to make 120 ml.

Cut the shortening in the flour and salt until you have a crumbly mixture. Gradually add the cold liquid, stir and pull together into a ball. Cover and refrigerate for an hour before rolling out on a lightly floured surface. Cut into rounds, set them into muffin tins and chill in the refrigerator while you make the maple filling.

For the Filling

200 ml syrup

2 eggs

1 tsp cider vinegar

3/4 cup walnuts

Beat the eggs well. Add the syrup and vinegar and beat again. Place walnuts (chopped or whole) into the chilled tarts, then fill with the syrup mixture. Bake in a 350 F oven for about 30 minutes.

DSC03350This recipe makes 2 dozen small tarts (2 in.) or 18 medium (3 in.).

Linked to: Fiesta Friday #166


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Crabapple Squares

DSC02649I consider myself very fortunate  to have a crabapple tree growing in our front lawn, just steps away from our verandah. In the spring it produces showy pink blossoms, and the tiny red apples that appear in summer last well into the winter, although I only pick them before the first hard frost. The rest are for the birds – literally! The other day the tree was visited by some grey jays (aka whiskey jacks) which may soon be Canada’s new national bird emblem, and some winters bohemian wax wings pay us a visit. If the seedlings I transplanted survive this winter, I hope to have a few more of this magnificent tree in the future.

With the last harvest I picked some to make a jam – something so obvious but have never done before. It is really the same as the preserve I made before, but cooked for less time and, as a result, a little softer. Because crabapples have so much pectin, there is no need to add anything more than sugar and water – the jam kind of makes itself.

The first step is to cook the fruit in enough water to cover them plus an inch. Cover and simmer until the apples are really soft. Strain them through a food mill or press them through a sieve. To this liquid I used an equal volume of sugar, in this case two cups of juice and two cups of organic sugar. I then cooked it until it reached the ‘wrinkle’ stage, which is when a little is poured on a plate and tilted, the jelly wrinkles. Otherwise, 235 degrees F on a candy thermometer.DSC03295.JPGThis jelly is thicker than most, perfect for using as a filling. I also use it to add to dressing, marinades and sauces. This time I chose to make something resembling date squares but substituting them for the more exotic dates. DSC03297.JPG

Instead of using sugar for the oat mixture, I used a small amount of regular apple jelly, but any fruit jelly, honey or maple syrup would also work well.

Crabapple Squares

Ingredients

3/4 cup butter (or lard or coconut oil). I used equal parts of all of them.

1/4 cup fruit jelly or alternative sweetener, such as honey or syrup

1 cup flour

2 cups large flake oats

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp baking powder

a pinch of salt

crabapple jam

Method

Soften the butter and stir in the sweetener. Add the dry ingredients and mix well. Put half the mixture into and 8 inch square pan or equivalent. Spread the jam evenly, then cover with the remaining oat mixture and pat lightly to flatten. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 30 minutes, or until the top is nicely toasted. Allow to cool before cutting.

I invite you to drop in at this week’s  Fiesta Friday which I am co-hosting with one of my favourite food bloggers, Julianna from Foodie on Board. If you would like to share one of your own recipes, just follow these guidelines and join the party!DSC03300.JPG


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Spicy Buckwheat Apple Cake with Sea Buckthorn Icing

DSC03246.JPGI have made more than a few recipes lately with the applesauce about which I wrote last week. All were good, but this one I particularly wanted to share as I thought it ideal for the fall season. It has the delicious, almost nutty flavour of buckwheat which makes it gluten free and is lightly sweetened and spiced. Once I was satisfied with the texture and flavour of this cake, I ‘tarted’ it up with an icing made from sea buckthorn berries, another ingredient I wrote about recently. Although I have made a few recipes with this superfood, this is the first where it was not necessary to cook the berries at all.

Rather than cooking before straining, I simply pressed them through a garlic press to extract the juice. You only need a small amount, so this is very easy to do. The flavour is perfect in an icing, tasting like a mixture of orange and lemon – but oranges and lemons don’t grow in my backyard so they don’t make it into very many of my recipes.

Spicy Buckwheat Apple Cake with Sea Buckthorn Icing

1/3 cup coconut oil

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

3 eggs

1/2 cup plain yogurt

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 Tbsp ginger juice plus 1 tsp dried ginger (or if no fresh ginger is available, 2 tsp dried ginger

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp soda

2 cups buckwheat flour

Cream the oil and add the sugar gradualy. Add the eggs, yogurt, applesauce and ginger juice. To make ginger juice, take about 1 sq. inch of fresh ginger, chop it and press it through a garlic press. Mix the dry spices, soda and flour  and add gradually to the wet mixture. Bake at 350 degrees F in a greased 9 inch square pan for 35 minutes.

Serve as is, or ice it once cool.

For the icing, soften 1/3 cup coconut oil or butter. Gradually add 1 cup icing sugar, and between additions add about 3 Tbsp sea buckthorn juice.

This recipe can be baked in different forms. I did some in small muffin tins, perfect for freezing for when emergency snacks are called for.dsc03223

Linked to Fiesta Friday #142, Foodbod, and O Blog Off


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Chokecherry Chiffon Pie

100_1819Light and airy, sweet and tart, this dessert is based on a classic I have not made or even seen in a while. For some reason the strong flavour and colour of the now ripe chokecherries is perfect for this otherwise bland pie.

In the world of foraging, it is often either feast or famine. Berries and fruits in particular have a habit of not showing up at all, or appearing in such profusion it can be overwhelming. After all, if you find a fruit which only appears once every few years you want to make as much use of it as you can. In my six years on this property, we have only had one decent harvest of wild grapes, and this year is another bust in that department. However, I have discovered several chokecherry trees I hadn’t even known existed. My jelly I made last year was made from berries foraged on a friend’s property, but this year I have my own!

They are only just barely ripe enough for picking now – very dark red – not at all sweet, but when sweetened and cooked (not to be eaten raw) they have a deliciously tart cherry flavour. If you don’t have chokecherries in your area, you could use another wild fruit or berry with equally delicious results.DSC03177.JPG

This recipe calls for chokecherry juice. To make the 1 cup called for, I placed 4 cups of fruit in a pan with 1 cup of water, covered and simmered it for about 15 minutes until the fruit was very soft. I strained the juice through a sieve, only pressing lightly on the berries to extract the juice but careful not to crush them. I did not want it pulpy.

For this kind of pie, a biscuit type of pastry is often used because it is less likely to get soft from the mixture. I used a gluten free quinoa flour pastry made with coconut oil and a bit of water, so the pie will not keep as well, but then I don’t intend to keep it long.

Chokecherry Chiffon Pie

1 pre-cooked 9 inch pie pastry

Ingredients
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp gelatin
1 cup chokecherry juice
3/4 cup sugar
5 egg yolks
5 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
2 Tbsp sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream (35%)
2 Tbsp powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
syrup or pieces of fruit to garnish (optional)
Method
Dissolve the gelatin in the water. In a saucepan, combine the juice, sugar and egg yolks. Cook gently over a medium low heat, stirring constantly for about 10 minutes until the mixture coats the back of a spoon which occurs at 140 degrees F if you have a thermometer.
Remove from the heat and stir in the gelatin until it has completely dissolved. Set aside to cool in a basin of cold water until it is about room temperature but not set.
Meanwhile, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until it starts to mound. Add the sugar and continue to beat until soft peaks form. The mixture should not be too dry. Fold the egg whites carefully into the chokecherry mixture and fill the pastry. Set in the fridge to cool for at least four hours.
Whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla and spread on top. Garnish with pieces of fruit or a drizzle of syrup or softened jelly.

DSC03179.JPGLinked to Fiesta Friday #130, cookingwithauntjuju and Food, Eat, Love