Along the Grapevine


9 Comments

Lilac Fizz

dsc03502.jpgWhile we wait for spring to arrive and hope it does before we get full-on summer, I have been feeling more and more impatient to get outdoors and collect some wild spring edibles. With bitter cold temperatures, snow and ice keeping me mostly indoors, I have been grateful to have saved some of last year’s bounty either dried, frozen or canned. So in anticipation of what I hope to be a great spring for lilacs, I decided to use some of my remaining lilac syrup to make a truly floral cocktail.

Some of you may not have such a syrup in your pantry just now, but as I post this well before the lilacs are in bloom, when they do arrive those of you who live in lilac country  will have the wherewithal to prepare enough of this treat to last you all year long. For flavouring ice cream, chantilly, meringues, icings and drinks it is definitely a flavour you don’t want to run out of.

To make the syrup I followed the recipe from this post, one of my favourite wild food blogs, which also has some appetizing lilac recipes to choose from.

For one serving I mixed in an 8 oz. glass:  1 oz. gin, 1 oz. simple lilac syrup, 1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice,  then filled the glass with soda water and ice.DSC03501

It was a lovely way to celebrate the first warm rays of the sun we have felt in a long time, and a great reminder to harvest the flowers when they finally do appear.dsc03506.jpg

I used a mixture of sugar and wild grape juice as a final touch. And of course, if you prefer it not to be hard, omit the gin. It’s still delicious.

Linked to: Fiesta Friday #220; The Not So Creative Cook; Frugal Hausfrau


13 Comments

Black Walnut Oil and Maple Walnut Scones

DSC03477Some time ago I wrote about using black walnuts, and at that time I promised some recipes, but nothing happened. I’m not sure what I did with that first batch, but as I received another gift of fresh local nuts (thank you David) I have been giving a lot of thought to how to use them. Because they are either expensive to buy or labour intensive to harvest, I was thinking of recipes where a little would go a long way. Infusions seemed a good idea because if you have trouble separating the nut from the shell and you accidentally a few bits of shell get past you, you won’t have to worry about cracking your teeth. You can read about characteristics, identification, harvesting and shelling in my first black walnut post.

This time I found shelling them much easier. I presume practice is the key, but a few gentle raps with a heavy mallet eventually weakens them to the point where they really just do fall open and the nut is relatively easy to extract. After my smashing success I have been able to use them in baking with impunity. The smaller bits I have set aside for infusions.IMG_0341

Oil infusions are a great way to extend and preserve so many flavours. I have done this with several wild ingredients, most recently balsam fir, and it proves to be a most economical way to stock your pantry with gourmet ingredients.

This oil can also be made with English walnuts, but I would use about twice as much since the milder flavour is less aromatic. It is best to use a light flavoured oil, nothing as strong as olive oil but rather sunflower, rapeseed or avocado. I used the latter.

Begin by lightly toasting 1/3 cup walnuts, then grind them. Heat 1 1/2 cups oil until it’s just hot and then turn it off. Do not bring it to a boil. Add the toasted walnuts and leave for one day. Strain off the oil through a fine filter and store in the fridge. It can be used full strength for dressings, roasting vegetables and any other way you would use a nut oil.DSC03480.JPG

Of course, after straining the oil I was left with a small amount of ground nuts in oil which I was loathe to just toss. I considered many ideas, e.g. pesto, creamed walnut soup, homemade pasta or just baking. I finally settled on scones flavoured also with maple since we are in full syrup season.

Black Walnut Maple Scones

Ingredients

3.5 cups flour

1/tsp salt

1 tsp. baking soda

2 Tbsp chopped black walnuts or twice the amount if using English walnuts

ground nuts in oil mixture (about 2-3 Tbsp) plus enough butter to measure 2/3 cup

1 cup buttermilk, kefir or yogurt

2 tsp. cream of tartar

2 Tbsp maple syrup

Method

Mix the first four ingredients together and work in the oil nut mixture until you get a crumbly texture. In a separate bowl, combine the milk or yogurt with the cream of tartar and maple syrup. Add to the flour mixture immediately and mix until well combined. Form it into a ball and roll it out to about a 9 inch (diameter) circle. Score the surface to mark serving sized pieces. Bake at 425 F for about 18 minutes.

When coolish, you can add a glaze of maple syrup mixed with enough icing sugar to make it the right consistency.

DSC03482.JPG

DSC03483

This is perhaps my favourite scone to date. The flavour of the walnuts came through well but was not too strong, and mixing the products of two of my favourite trees a total success.

Linked to: Fiesta Friday #216; Petra at Food Eat Love; Zeba at Food for the Soul


7 Comments

Balsam Fir Body Scrub

As I sat down to write this post, a recipe caught my attention because it makes good use of spruce needles for a festive cookie – spruce glazed shortbread to be precise. Any recipe using evergreens ‘resinates’ with me, and this particular post I wanted to bring to your attention because the author makes a good case for using evergreen needles both for their nutritional value and superb flavour.

I began using evergreens in recipes for Christmas baking a few years ago, and have since found that they can be harvested at different times of the year for different flavours. My fermented spruce tips made in the spring, for example, last all year refrigerated and are now a much used ingredient. As for the cedar jelly, the only problem is that I failed to make enough of it.

While I have experimented with pine, spruce and cedar, I had never thought of using any fir species because we have none on our property. It seems the only variety in this area is the balsam fir, and if you are familiar with Christmas tree options, you will know that the firs, especially the Douglas and Fraser from the west coast, are favoured for their scent and longevity. So when I discovered an area where balsam firs grow profusely, I was curious to try it.

It is relatively easy to identify. It looks similar to the spruce, which usually grows in the same area. The three things to distinguish it are:DSC03458

  • The needles grow opposite each other from two sides of the stem, while the spruce grow out from all around the stem.
  • The needles are flat, unlike the round needles of the spruce. If you can’t see the difference, you can feel it when you roll them between your fingers.
  • The back of the needles is not as bright green as the top, and has a striped effect with the lighter colour divided by a dark line down the middle and along the edges.

Its flavour is sweet, with citrussy overtones – perfect for Christmas baking, which I fully intend to do, but I began with making a body scrub, not so different from others I have made but substituting the fir for orange or lemon zests. Because I had a good quantity of fresh branches, I ground some and mixed it with butter to be frozen until I get around to baking. To do this, simply remove the needles and grind them in a spice grinder or any appliance which will give you a fine grind.DSC03463

For the body scrub, I removed the needles, chopped them coarsely and gave them a quick massage. I then steeped them in warm oil, warming the oil after it cooled four times. This is similar to the method I used with the cedar, except then it was summer and I was able to leave it in the sun for several hours.

I then strained the oil and added coarse sugar, mixing it thoroughly and then filling the jars. The proportions I used were 1 cup balsam fir needles, 1 cup oil and 5 cups sugar. I used 2/3 olive oil and 1/3 coconut oil. DSC03456This made approximately 6 cups. I put most of it in 4 oz jars. It will keep for 2 or 3 months, but if any moisture gets into it, its shelf life is reduced to 1 week, so smaller is better. Also, it takes only about a teaspoon for a full body scrub.DSC03460If you are hesitant to cook with this ingredient, you might change your mind after trying this scrub. Delish!

Related posts: Tips on SpruceDark Spruce Honey NougatA Forager’s Pot Pourri; The Edible Christmas Tree

Linked to: The Not So Creative Cook,  Everyday Healthy Recipes,  Fiesta Friday #201, 


16 Comments

Spicy Chinese Cucumber Salad

DSC03449.JPGI first wrote about prickly ash (zanthoxylum americanum) aka Szechwan pepper last year in this post and now is a good time to revisit this prolific plant and for me to give an update. As I mentioned in my previous post, the berries can be picked at any time of the year once there are leaves on the plants, while it is still green or even when the berry has fallen and only the brown husk remains. This year I started picking in August when the berries were a bright red and easy to spot. Most are still red now in mid-September, but they are beginning to fade. I found the best way to pick them was just to cut off the branches and remove the berries in the comfort of my kitchen. No worries about over harvesting these berries. They are an invasive weed and we can’t eradicate them from our property no matter what we do.DSC03451DSC03450I dried them on the countertop and within a day or so the husks turned from deep red to brown and the shiny black berries were exposed.dsc03453.jpgNow they are ready to be stored and used in so many ways. So far I have made spice mixtures, added them to fermented pickles, to sauces, dressings and even to some sweet dishes. They are not hot like black pepper or chilis but have a citrussy smokey tang to them which pairs well with so many flavours.

For today I made a simple spicy cucumber dish, a popular item on Chinese menus, and one in which the flavour of the Szechewan pepper really shines. I made it rather hot and garlicky, but you can tone down those flavours by reducing the amount you use, and by removing the seeds from the pepper. I did not have chili oil on hand but infused one chopped, dried chili pepper in 2 tablespoons of oil.

Spicy Chinese Cucumber Salad

1 medium cucumber, thinly sliced

2 Tbsp chili oil

3 garlic cloves, mashed and chopped

1 tsp Szechwan pepper

2 dried red chilis

1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar

1 tsp sesame oil

1 tsp white sugar

Roast the Szechwan pepper and the chilis in a skillet until they release their aroma, but being careful not to scorch them. Mix these with the other ingredients for the dressing and pour it over the sliced cucumbers, toss and serve.

IMG_4505

Linked to Fiesta Friday #188, Jhuls at The Not so Creative Cook and Nimmi at Adorable Life.


10 Comments

Milkweed Pakoras

Here’s a simple recipe using wild milkweed blossoms and/or pods and transforming them into an exotic snack. A simple chickpea flour batter and a little oil for frying is all you need. If you don’t have access to milkweed, this recipe can be used for any edible wild leaves, shoots or flower buds.

DSC00932

I’ve noticed a good amount of traffic at this time of year to all posts milkweed related, which means there are those who are foraging for these plants and interested in learning new ways to use them. If you are new to this, please refer to this post here  and here for identification and precautions. Remember that they are an important food source for pollinators, especially monarch butterflies, so avoid excessive harvesting.

I currently have plants at every stage of growth which is why I was able to pick both blossoms (unopened and green) and pods (around 1 inch in length). The pods need to be immersed in boiling water for at least three minutes, and to be on the safe side I left them for five, drained them and ran cold water over them immediately.

DSC00988

DSC00873

I made a simple chickpea flour batter, salt and chili powder (optional) to taste and enough water to make a batter. Less water will give a doughier batter – I opted for a thin batter in order not to mask the shape and colour of the blossoms.  Coat the flowers and pods with the batter, fry a few at a time in hot oil until crisp and golden. Remove and allow to drain on paper towels for a few minutes. 

DSC03422

Serve with a dipping sauce of your choice. I prepared a mixture of tamarind, chili, jaggery and other spices for a piquant Indian flavour.

Related posts: Cooking with Milkweed Pods;  Milkweed Flower and Lambsquarters Soup; Milkweed Flowers; Milkweed Bud Fetuccine; Stuffed Milkweed Pods; Spicy Roasted Milkweed Pods

Linked to: Fiesta Friday #182;  Spades, Spatulas and Spoons and Jenny is Baking.


4 Comments

Stuffed Fermented Grape Leaves

DSC03414.JPG

It’s that time of they year again when the grape leaves, be they wild or cultivated, are ready to be harvested. Last year I described the method for fermenting them and at the same time proposed stuffing them with something. I finally got around to doing it, and while it’s not a hard and fast recipe as such in that you can alter it to your taste, it is a very easy and delicious way to use the fermented leaves. Easier than dolmas to make as there is no stacking or prolonged cooking period, they are just as tasty and make a perfect appetizer or picnic dish.

Before I divulge my ‘recipe’, I must point out what I learned from fermenting the leaves. Not only are they arguably the easiest thing to ferment, they have many uses in salads, dips, sandwiches and whatever. What surprised me was that they lasted the entire year without any scary changes, the texture of the leaves and colour of the liquid did not suffer over the winter. I did not even refrigerate them – just stored them in a cool place in the basement. Knowing that, I feel it is worth fermenting an even larger batch this year, which  means I need to have even more ways to use them.

For the stuffing, I used cooked sticky rice as a base. The only thing to note here is that your rice will be much better if you soak it in water for a couple of hours before cooking it. To the rice I added a little lemon juice, salt to taste, sauteed garlic and mushrooms (I used morels). Chopped roasted nuts, seeds, dried fruit or a combination of any of these would also work very well.

DSC03410.JPG

Roll the rice mixture in the leaves, vein side up, cover and refrigerate for up to one week in the fridge. I covered them with some loose fermented leaves which work as well as any plastic or aluminum wrap.

DSC03413.JPG

Linked to Angie@Fiesta Friday, Ai@Ai Made It For You and Jhuls@The Not So Creative Cook.

Related Posts: Wild Grape Leaves, Fermented Wild Grape Leaves, Grape Leaves with Roasted Vegetables, Pickerel in Grape Leaves with Mushroom Za’atar Sauce, Grape Leaf and Yogurt Pie and Quiche in Wild Grape Leaf Shells.


10 Comments

Spruce Tip Bitters

This is arguably the greenest recipe I have ever come up with – not so much the actual colour, but the aroma and flavour are as green as it gets. This is my second bitters concoction, a process I describe in full detail in an earlier post on rhubarb bitters.

IMG_0115

When I collected this year’s crop of spruce tips, it occurred to me that they would be a perfect ingredient for a novel flavour of bitters, and mixed with other greens from my garden – namely dried hops, mint and fennel seeds, I had all l needed to come up with a unique recipe, which is what I did.

DSC00803

Spruce Tips Bitters on Punk Domestics

If there are no longer any of the tiny spruce tips on the trees, you will probably find that the new growth is still soft and relatively sweet enough they can be used for this recipe.

Spruce Tips Bitters

Step 1

Mix together the following ingredients in a large mason jar.

1 cup spruce tips

1 cup fresh or 1/2 cup dried mint

1/4 cup dried hops

zest of two organic limes

1/2 tsp cinchona bark

1 tsp fennel seeds

Cover with vodka, approximately 1 1/2 cups. Cover and set aside out of direct light for two weeks, stirring at least once daily.

Step 2

Strain the liquid off and store in another jar. Place the solids in a pot and barely cover with water. Simmer it for ten minutes and allow to sit for 4 days to one week.

Step 3

Strain off the liquid and mix with the vodka infusion from step 1. Add 2 tbsp of honey or maple syrup.

If you think that bitters are only used medicinally or for cocktails, you may be surprised to find just how versatile they can be with just a little imagination. I have found they are a great flavour enhancer for ice cream using about 1 tsp per cup of dairy. I have also used it in baking, and hope to have such a recipe with these bitters very soon.

Until then, I leave you with this dry vodka martini to which I added 1/4 tsp spruce tip bitters and in lieu of the olive a spruce tip I salvaged from the discarded solids.

IMG_0150.jpg