Along the Grapevine


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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


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Sourdough Soda Crackers

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Sourdough soda crackers, some with za’atar, some just salt 

If you happen to make sourdough bread, you might find yourself in the enviable position of having an excess of starter. Recipes for sourdough always suggest you discard half of it, but that seems an extreme measure. I have managed to add it to all sorts of baking which, while allowing me to use up the excess,  does not make it a real sourdough recipe. So I was very pleased to find a great recipe for banana sourdough pancakes from Justyna at Garlic Matters. These are so simple to make, and the sourdough combined with the baking soda make the lightest and tastiest pancakes I have every had.

Of course, one good recipe often leads to another. As I was thinking of how to use even more of my sourdough, I decided to try this soda trick to make crackers. I have been trying to come up with a fool-proof recipe for a simple cracker, and as luck would have it, I finally succeeded with this one. Light, crispy and good for at least a week in a closed container, they are the perfect snack to have on hand. For my first attempt, I used plain salt on half of them and some za’atar for the other half since I was processing sumac at the time. I expect every time I make these, they will undergo some change of flavour depending on my mood.

Ingredients

1/4 cup water

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 cup sourdough starter

enough flour to make a workable dough, about 2 cups

salt, herbs, seeds or other topping (optional)

Method

Dissolve the salt and baking soda in the water. Add to the sourdough and mix thoroughly. Use a large bowl, because the mixture will bubble up and almost double in volume. Gradually mix in enough flour to make a workable dough and knead it until all the flour is incorporated. Divide the dough in half and roll each half to about 1/8th of an inch thickness. I found a pasta maker at the widest setting worked well for this. If using any seasoning or salt, sprinkle it evenly over the surface, then roll it lightly again to keep it from falling off. Puncture the surface with a fork. Cut the crackers in whatever shape and size you want and place on a parchment lined baking tray. Bake at 425 F for 8-10 minutes, or  until the edges turn a golden brown. Makes about 6 dozen 1 inch square crackers.

Needless to say, there is no need to stick to this recipe. I repeated this same process using rye flour instead of wheat, added 1 Tbsp of dark molasses to the water and soda mixture, and sprinkled liberally with caraway seeds before baking. The next one might be cornmeal! So now my problem with excess sourdough starter is solved, and I am now faced with the problem of not having quite enough!

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Sourdough soda crackers with rye and caraway seeds


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Savoury Yucca Petal Biscuits

I am discovering that more flowers than I had previously thought can be enjoyed by almost all the senses – all that is but hearing. This season I have experimented with floral flavours, wild and cultivated, and in so doing have discovered that they add a whole range of tastes, colours and aromas to all sorts of dishes. It was only recently that I learned that one of my favourite plants, the yucca, has edible blooms. Not to be confused with yuca spelled with only on ‘c’ which is what tapioca is made of, the yucca is a perennial evergreen shrub of the asparagaceae family. It grows mostly in arid regions, which is no doubt why it is so happy in my parched garden. I have taken pains to grow some from seed, successfully so, only to find that it spreads quite well on its own. Still, you can’t have too much of this dramatic plant with its gorgeous spikes of white flowers.DSC03153

So far, I have only tried the blossoms. They should be young and not fully opened, as they tend to get more fibrous with age. The flavour is delicate, a little like artichoke. They should be parboiled before using, and avoid all but the petals. There is conflicting advice on this, but I am sticking with the safe and sure. I first tried them in an omelette, but there are lots of recipes out there already. So to come up with something a little more original, I thought of making them into a savoury biscuit. I probably could have used more than the ten flowers I chose. The flavour is very delicate, and you can remove a lot of these blooms before the the plant looses any of its splendour. DSC03156.JPGDSC03160.JPG

Savoury Yucca Petal Biscuits

Ingredients

2 cups flour, sifted plus extra for rolling

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp finely grated organic lemon peel

1/2 cup cold butter

petals of 10 yucca flowers

1 cup buttermilk, plus extra for brushing on top before baking

Method

Separate the petals and discard the centre part of the flower. Blanch the petals in boiling water for 20 seconds. Drain and chill.

Mix together the first five ingredients. Cut in the butter.

Add the petals and mix to combine. Stir in the buttermilk. Turn onto a floured surface and knead lightly until the dough holds together. Pat into a rectangle about 3/4 inches thick and cut with a sharp cookie cutter. Place on a parchment lined baking tin and brush with buttermilk. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden at 450 degrees F.

DSC03161To be honest,  these biscuits would be delicious even without the yucca, and I will undoubtedly try them with other flavourings too. I wish I could tell you that the yucca blossoms are some kind of super food, but I have been unable to find any information on their nutritional value. Nonetheless, I managed to satisfy my curiosity, and at the same time add to my repertoire of garden recipes. If you know something I don’t know about this plant, or have a recipe you have tried, I would love to hear from  you.

 


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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.