Along the Grapevine


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Lilac Ice Cream

In this recipe I have, to my delight, figured out how to capture the intoxicating scent of lilacs and make it accessible to the taste buds. Having experimented before with wild flowers, I know how their delicate aroma and colour are not always easy to use for edibles, and I considered lilacs another one of those barely-worth-it ingredients. The flavour of the blossoms is bitter, and cooking them leaves little flavour apart from the sweetness of the recipe.

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I decided to make a no-cook ice cream, realizing that the result might be bland or even bitter. Also, how to infuse the blossoms without using heat or alcohol?

Some flowers I ground finely with equal parts sugar. I also took one cup of blossoms and mixed them with milk, set them in a sunny place outdoors for three hours, which was as long as the sun lasted. I then left this milk/blossom infusion for another 12 hours in the fridge.

The rest was easy. I strained the blossoms from the milk, and feared the flavour was not as strong as I needed it. However, once I mixed the lilac sugar with the milk and an equal amount of cream, the flavour was definitely that of lilac – sweet, aromatic and superb.

“Lilac

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So now I have another favourite ice cream which inspired me to use lilac in other no-cook ways. One is to preserve some in raw honey, leaving the infusion for a few weeks and leaving the blossoms in to serve. I will also try and preserve as much as I can in sugar which I have no doubt will be useful in all sorts of creamy ways.

Related Links: Honeysuckle Ice Cream


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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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Dandelion Flower Syrup

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With all the rain we have been having lately the fields are greener and more lush than ever – and that means the dandelions are at their absolute best. When I first started this blog four years ago this month, I had only a few ideas on how to use them in cooking, but in that time I have found they are a lot more versatile than I had imagined. I have been using the roots, buds and leaves, but today I decided to share a recipe I devised using the flowers. I am very pleased with the results, and more so because it is such an easy method for making a delicious floral syrup. A few minutes of picking the flowers and little else, as there is no need to separate petals or do any more than wash them.

Using 4 cups of flowers, I let them stand with 2 cups of sugar overnight or up to 24 hours. This will extract quite a bit of liquid from them just sitting there as you can see in the pictures below.

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At this point, I added 1 cup of water and heated the mixture to a boil, allowing it to boil for about 1 minute. I then strained off the liquid through two layers of cheesecloth into a sterilized jar and ended up with almost three cups of syrup.

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The consistency is like that of maple syrup, the flavour sweet and floral. It can be used as any syrup would be, as a sweetener for drinks, fruit salads, baking, glazes, etc.  A new and original recipe using this syrup will follow within a few days.

 


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Out with the Old, in with the Fermented

At this point in the holidays, some of us are looking for ways to render our indulgences somewhat healthful. These two shrubs are made with fermented ginger and apple. The ginger could be replaced with a dry ginger ale or better yet a ginger beer, but that would take the shrub out of it, which is the really healthful part. Likewise, the apple version could be made with cider vinegar. It is also worth noting that you could omit the alcohol, and that would be very healthful, but not to everyone’s taste.

Shrubs are usually made with vinegar and some kind of fruit syrup. They are delicious and definitely worth trying, but I find that using the liquids from fermented fruits are even better than the vinegar, and of course offer all the probiotics therein. If you have never fermented fruit before, this is a good reason to start. These are just two of my most favourites.

I have described the method for fermenting fruit scraps in the part on scrap vinegar in this post, and how to make the ginger ferment, called a bug, in this post.

These measurements each make one cocktail.

Cocktail #1: Apple Bourbon Shrub

1 part liquid from fermented apples

1 part bourbon

3 parts soda water

a splash of bitters (I used rhubarb bitter)DSC03333.JPG

Cocktail #2: Moscow Mule Shrub

2 ounces liquid from fermented ginger

3 ounces  soda water

1.5 ounces vodka

1 tsp lime juice

1 tsp maple syrup (or to taste)

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As a Happy New Year greeting to all, I share this “Canadian Gothic” picture made with some of this glorious white stuff recently besnowed on us along with a few foraged bits and pieces.DSC03318.JPGLinked to: Fiesta Friday #152


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Wild Grape Curd

DSC03249.JPGA delicious adaptation of lemon curd, this wild grape dessert has just as many uses. By using fresh or frozen wild grape juice, it is ready in a matter of minutes. It can be used as a topping for pound cake, ice cream or baked in tarts or pastry or even just as is – it’s that good. All you will need is a few wild grapes which are available now for the picking!

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This is a rare year in S.E. Ontario. The grapes appeared about 6 weeks ago and are still going strong. It is the first time I have been able to harvest them even after a frost which is when they are at their sweetest. The only drawback is there are few leaves left on the bushes, so they are a little harder to identify. Be sure that they are in fact grapes and not Virginia Creeper. The former grow in a dense, elongated bunch as seen in the photo above, while the Virginia Creeper grows in a widespread bunch, and have redder, fleshier stems as seen below.

20091003153904 Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) vine with blue berries - Oakland Co.JPGIn a past post, I produced the juice by heating the berries until soft, then straining them This time I tried a different method as I wanted some fresh, uncooked juice for making sodas and juice. For 6 cups of fruit, I added two cups of water and then pressed them through the food mill. It was this juice I used for making the wild grape curd.

Wild Grape Curd

Ingredients

1 cup grape juice

4 eggs and 1 egg yolk

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup butter, cut into small pieces of about 1 Tbsp. each

Method

Beat together the first three ingredients in a heatproof bowl. Place the bowl (or use a double boiler) over simmering water and stir constantly. Once the mixture coats a metal spoon (about 8-10 minutes) remove it from the heat and gradually add the butter one spoonful at a time and mix until it has all melted and blended in with the curd. Cool and refrigerate. It will keep for five days in the fridge.

I also used this same juice to make a quick and easy jam by mixing together 2 cups of juice, 1 1/2 cups sugar (1/3 cup of which was lavender scented) and 4 Tbsp chia seeds. I cooked all this together on the stove top until sufficiently thickened. I had never heard of making jam this way, but have since learned it’s been done before. No wonder, it so easy, can be made in small amounts and is also great for baking. I used it to make pop tarts.

As for the seeds and skin which get separated for the juice, no need to throw them all out. Fill a jar about 1/4 full with the pulp, then fill with white wine vinegar and allow to sit for at least three weeks before straining, longer if possible, and you will have a fruity vinegar which can be used as is or reduced and thickened with butter to make a gourmet sauce.DSC03268.jpgRelated posts: Wild Grape Ketchup;  Burmese Cake with Wild Grape Glaze.

Linked to: Fiesta Friday #143; Cooking with Aunt Juju, Spoon in a Saucepan.


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From Lawn to Table

Even in times of drought such as we are currently experiencing in this area, the wild greens are flourishing and there for the picking. Our vegetable gardens are still struggling, and as I am not a keen shopper I am happy that our lawn is such a great provider. This recipe is another example of what you can do with some of those nutritious, albeit pesky weeds. And if you don’t have such a lawn, you can find all these in any good foraging spots such as meadows, hedgerows and abandoned areas – even in the city.

The main ingredient for this is lambsquarters. This particular weed is most prolific, and as I tidy up my vegetable plots I still have to throw out the bulk of it. I have taken to drying it for use in the winter – in the dehydrator, the oven (at a very low temperature) and even on the dashboard of any vehicle parked in the sun, the most economical method of all. But be careful – vehicles can get really hot, so I had to stir them every hour or so to prevent from burning.

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I also used young goutweed leaves (top left) to give it a herbal flavour, and some plantain (on the right). The lambsquarters are below the goutweed. At the last minute, after taking this shot, I added dandelion leaves.

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All these mixed with some seasonings and topped with eggs made for an easy, inexpensive and super nutritious meal – and yes, even delicious! You can add more spices and herbs as you choose, and mix and match whichever wild greens you have growing. This is how I did it.

Foraged Greens and Eggs

Ingredients

3 Tbsp olive oil

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 Tbsp chopped green chili pepper

1 tsp cumin powder

salt and pepper to taste

4 cups lambsquarters

1/2 cup goutweed leaves (only the young ones from plants which have not yet flowered)

a handful of dandelion leaves

1/2 cup plantain leaves

4 eggs

Method

If using plantain, boil it in water for four minutes, drain and set aside. It is tougher than the other greens and will blend with them better if cooked longer.

Fry the onion until translucent. Add the garlic and chili and fry another couple of minutes. Add the cumin, salt and pepper. Add enough water to the pan just to barely cover the bottom of the pan. Stir in all the greens and cook at medium heat until they have all wilted completely and the water has evaporated. Break four eggs on top of the mixture, cover the pot with a lid and allow to simmer for about 4 minutes, or until the eggs have cooked sufficiently. Remove from the heat and serve. I sprinkled a little sumac powder on top for garnish.

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Linked to Fiesta Friday #129; The Not So Creative Cook and Faith, Hope, Love and Luck.


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Fermented Wild Grape Leaves

I couldn’t let this season pass without giving a nod to my signature ingredient – wild grapes. Who knows if there will be any grape harvest with the serious drought we have been experiencing, but the leaves are as lush as ever and begging to be picked. You can read about how to identify them, where to find them and why you would want to here.

Always looking for new ideas, I decided this year to ferment them. Fermenting is arguably the most healthful way of prolonging their shelf life, provided they are stored properly. The flavour also gets a boost, – no disappointment there.DSC03139.JPG

The only consideration is they do need some acid added to them, so I decided to use a combination of fresh lemon juice and a little liquid from a previous ferment – in this case wild apples. For every two cups of water, I used a heaping tablespoon of salt, the juice of one half lemon and a tablespoon of liquid from fermented apples. If you don’t have any fermented liquid, just double the amount of lemon juice. After removing any trace of stem, I stacked the leaves in piles of five, rolled them like cigars, and placed them in a mason jar. I poured the brine over them to cover and allowed them to sit at room temperature for six days. It is important to keep the leaves completely submerged, so I used a porcelain egg cup, placed upside down on top as a weight. By the sixth day, shorter or longer depending on the room temperature, the bubbling will subside and the liquid will have a good, tart taste. At that point, put a lid on them and store in a dark, cool place. I do not recommend using a square jar like mine as round ones are safer – less likely to succumb to any pressure built up, but I intend to open mine every few days to be on the safe side and let any gas escape. Even in a cool dark place, fermentation will continue so the occasional ‘burping’ is recommended if storing over a long period.

Fermented Wild Grape Leaves on Punk Domestics

Like any pickle or fermented vegetable, they are a great addition to salads and dips. They could also be filled and rolled like dolmas, something I intend to try next. I used some as a base to a quinoa salad, made with garden herbs, cooked sweet potato and fresh red currants. DSC03164.JPGRelated posts: Grape Leaves with Roasted Vegetables;  Pickerel in Grape Leaves; Quiche in Grape Leaf Shells; Grape Leaf, Herb and Yogurt Pie; Vegetarian Dolmas; Dolmas with Meat and Rice