Along the Grapevine


5 Comments

Hops and Cheese Biscuits

DSC03604A few years ago I planted some hops with the idea that I would get back into making beer. That hasn’t happened but I felt I should do something with this year’s harvest of flowers. Hops, or humulus lupulus, are mostly used for flavouring and as a stabilising agent in beer, and I wasn’t too sure if there was anything else they could be used apart from their shoots which in the spring make a delicious vegetable. It turns out that the bitter flavour  of the green cone-like flowers are often used as a herb. Each variety has a slightly different flavour, but to get an idea of how it will taste, just take a ripe flower and rub it between your hands and take a whiff.

The ripe flowers are dry and very light, and to store them I simply let them dry out on the counter. Alternatively, they can be frozen. Begin by using very sparingly as the flavour is strong and bitter, and will probably only appeal to those who appreciate the flavour of beer. I chopped a few to sprinkle on a vegetable quinoa salad, a tomato sauce on pasta, and allowed myself to be more generous in cooked dishes like stir fry and stew. In each case the hoppiness lent a distinctive flavour, not too different from adding beer to a recipe. I also used some of the flowers to make a tea which turned out surprisingly red. To that I added sugar and let it ferment with some kombucha – the closest I will get this year to making my own beer.

DSC03610

The next test was to use it in baking, and hence these cheesy hop biscuits. I made two versions as I prefer anything with sourdough but made another version for those who don’t normally have excesses of starter on hand.

Hops and Cheese Biscuits

  Ingredients for Sourdough Biscuit
1 cup flour
1 tsp soda
1/2 tsp salt
4 hop flowers, finely chopped
1/4 cup butter
3 Tbsp grated cheddar cheese
1 egg
3/4 cups sourdough starter

Ingredients without sourdough
The same as above, except add 5 Tbsp flour and instead of sourdough use 1/2 cup milk mixed with 1 Tbsp lemon juice.

Method
Combine the dry ingredients and cut in the butter using a knife or pastry cutter. Add the other ingredients, combine thoroughly and knead it a few times. Roll out and cut into whatever shape you prefer. If you like you can brush them with some beaten egg and sprinkle extra grated cheese on top. Bake at 375 F. for 20 minutes, or until they are golden in colour.

DSC03612.JPGThis recipe makes 6 biscuits, but the it could be doubled. I started gingerly at first with only 2 hop flowers, but found it required 4 to give enough flavour to be noticed, but not overly bitter either. And there’s no reason not to add other beer friendly flavours such as olives or nuts.

At any rate, I am pleased to add another local dried herb to my pantry, and one at that which is not commonly found in conventional recipes. If you don’t have space to grow your own hops, some of the farmers’ markets might carry them at this time of year. Otherwise they can be bought in some specialty shops.

Linked to: Fiesta Friday #240, Deb @ The Pantry Portfolio, and Laurena @ Life Diet Health


4 Comments

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


7 Comments

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.


8 Comments

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.

DSC03370

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.

DSC03374.JPG

Linked to Fiesta Friday #171


20 Comments

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


19 Comments

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


17 Comments

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