Along the Grapevine


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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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Fiddleheads – Dehydrated

Here is a method for preserving fiddleheads that will allow you to enjoy them any time of year just as if they were freshly picked.

I wrote about foraging fiddleheads (the young sprouts of the ostrich fern) in a post last year. Fortunately, this is another great year for them and I was able to pick even more than usual. It is one of those seasonal treats you generally enjoy fresh. Only if you have gathered way more than you can consume immediately do you worry about how to preserve them. Freezing is not really an option as it changes the texture too much. I have not tried pickling or fermenting them as I expect again the texture might not be so appetizing. So I resorted to dehydrating them, and with great success.DSC00651

First, they have to be cooked, boiled in water for about ten minutes, otherwise they are not easy to digest. After boiling and draining them, use all you can as is, in a stir fry, omelette or whatever. Any excess, dehydrate at 125 degrees F (52 C) for about three hours. They will look diminished and wizened and be very crisp. Store them in a cool dark place in a sealed container. To use for cooking, simply rehydrate them with hot water. In about two minutes they will regain their size, texture, colour and flavour. Even the tiny stems! Drain them and use them as you would fresh ones.DSC03067

In the aforementioned post of last year, I used fresh ones to make fried pakoras. This year I tried baking instead of frying them. Preparing them in the same way to cook, then placing the coated fiddleheads on a parchment lined cookie sheet and baking them in a hot oven (500 degrees F) for ten minutes gives a softer, less crisp pakora. Either way, they are delicious.DSC03066

Fiddleheads - Dehydrated on Punk Domestics


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Ramps Butter

DSC00645Ramps (aka wild garlic or leeks) season is here in Eastern Ontario, and the window for picking it is brief. To make things tougher for us ramps fans, care must be taken not to over harvest and deplete the crop for future years.

In order to lessen our impact from foraging, especially where growth is sparse, it is possible to just remove a leaf or two from each plant and leave the bulb in the ground so the plant will still be there next year. The leaves on their own are

A couple of years ago I transplanted a small clump into my garden where it is doing very well, but still not the acreage I am aiming for. However, a few leaves taken will do it no harm and anticipate a larger crop next year.DSC02995.JPG

To spread it as thin as possible, I decided to make a spread! Butter mixed with chopped steamed ramps leaves and a little fresh mint – other herbs or seasoning as desired. DSC03005.JPG

This is not only an excellent spread, but can also be used to add flavour to soups and sauces. Stay tuned!

Related posts: Fermented ramps; Ramps omelette


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The Greatest Scapes

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In this part of the world it is scape season, and they are commonly found in markets, CSA boxes and if you grow hard neck garlic, in your own garden. They are the long shoots that bear the flower, and this should be removed from the plant when it appears and before the flower starts to open in order for the garlic to grow big and healthy.

My scapes are not quite there yet, but I did get an entire bushel from a kind neighbour who had a bit of a windfall. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I accepted them happily and then set to work.

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Scapes are a wonderful addition to the pantry in the winter. Milder than garlic, they can be added to just about any savoury dish. My usual routine is to make scape pesto, but this would have been a monumental task and required more nuts than I have. Also, I wanted to do things a bit differently this year. Considering convenience, space and of course taste, I came up with three ways to preserve them.

Freezing: Very simple, but a bit bulky, so I packed just a few bags. To freeze them, first remove the long bit on top of the flour. Chop the scapes into roughly 3 inch pieces which will make packing the bags easier. I then steamed them for about three minutes, just enough to heat them right through and kill any bacteria. Run under cold water and when cool, pack them tightly in bags and squeeze out as much air as you can.

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Drying: After removing the long bit again, chop into fine strips. I used the slicing bade of a food processor for this. Place in the dehydrator at 125 F or 52 C for about eight hours, or until they are thoroughly dried and crisp. Place in a jar and store in a cool dark cupboard.

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Fermenting: Remove the long bit and the flower. Put the flowers aside to be used later. One recipe for these follows, but they can be used to flavour soups, salads, sauces or whatever. They should not be fermented with the stalks as they are softer and will not hold up to the amount of fermentation required for the tougher stalks. I sliced the stalks as for the drying method so that they would be easier to spoon out, but if you want them larger or even whole, that is an option. Pack in a clean mason jar, pour brine over them (2 Tbsp salt dissolved in 1 litre of non-chlorinated water). To prevent them from coming into contact with air, I placed a few grape leaves on top and weighted them down. I used marbles. Place a clean cloth on top to prevent any foreign matter (like flies) getting in. They will take about five days to be ready to eat, but check periodically that none of the scapes have risen to the surface. With the grape leaves and the marbles, this is not likely to happen. The first few days, you will notice some bubbles coming to the surface. This is normal. When it subsides, after about five days, taste and see if it is fermenty enough for you. If so, cover and place in the fridge or other cool place. If you want it a little stronger, leave a day or two more. Remember that fermentation will continue as it ages but at a slower pace, so you should open the jar about once a week to allow any gas to escape.

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Scape flower butter: With the half cup of flowers I had left over from my fermented batch, I mixed them with an equal amount of butter, 2 Tbsp of olive oil and salt to taste. This all blended together made a delicious garlicky spread.

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The Greatest Scapes on Punk Domestics

Now I have enough scapes in different guises so that I can make pesto or whatever I like over the coming months, not to mention the scapes in my own garden I will have to contend with at a later date. Scapes anyone?

This time last year I posted: Plantain and Scape Pesto


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Maple and Date Upside Down Cornbread Muffins

DSC01948 It seems only fitting that I post one more maple syrup recipe as maple syrup is what is happening at our place. There is still snow in the ground and while a few green edibles are just barely visible, there is nothing but sap for us to harvest. DSC01946 Besides enjoying our own syrup, I had a chance to try some butternut syrup – a much appreciated gift from a sister. Made the same way as maple syrup, it takes four times as much sap, but if you have butternut trees I would say it is well worth the effort, especially since it is not available at the supermarkets. It has a buttery, fudge-like flavour and on pancakes or waffles is second only to maple syrup.

For Angie’s 63rd Fiesta Friday, which I am pleased to be co-hosting this week with Julianna at Foodie on Board, I made gluten-free cornmeal muffins with a buttery, maple date sauce. I hope you will drop in and see what Angie’s other guests have prepared. If you have a recipe you’d like to share, just follow the guidelines – so easy!

Since most cornbreads are served with butter, I made these with a generous amount of butter in them. That and the sticky sweetness from the dates and the syrup means they are good just on their own.

Maple and Date Upside Down Cornbread Muffins

Ingredients 2 cups cornmeal 1 tsp baking powder 1 tsp salt 3 eggs, beaten 2 cups milk 3 Tbsp melted butter 1/2 cup butter plus 3 Tbsp 1/2 cup maple syrup plus 3 Tbsp 9 medjool dates

Method Mix the cornmeal, baking powder and salt in one bowl and in another the eggs, milk and melted butter. Combine the two mixtures well and allow to stand for about 10 minutes. Divide the butter into 18 pieces, one for each muffin, and place in muffin tins. Do the same with the syrup. Pit the dates and cut them in half lengthwise. Place them on top of the butter maple mixtures with the cut part facing up. Spoon the batter into the muffin tins. Bake at 450 degrees F for about 12 minutes, or when they spring back when pressed. Remove from the oven, loosen with a knife and invert then onto a rack to cool.

DSC01949 These could be made just as well in a cake or loaf tin. If you don’t have maple syrup, another sweet syrup or honey can be used.DSC01954


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Sumac Pepper and the Best Popcorn Ever

Dried sumac

I have posted many recipes calling for sumac. I just love its distinctive lemony flavour and the ease with which it can be processed and stored. Lemons figure on my shopping lists a lot less frequently since I have been using sumac regularly, but am still trying to find more ways to use it.

I have made popcorn with sumac before, but this recipe  from Zester Daily caught my attention because it is for a spice mixture I had not tried, a mixture which is useful for a lot more than just popcorn. I have also written about making za’atar, but there is always room for more variety in my spice cabinet.

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This recipe also gives me a chance to show off my own home-grown popcorn. It is called Black Dakota, and while any popping corn is good, this one is so pretty before and after popping that I jump at the chance to talk about it and maybe encourage others to grow this organic, non-GMO, easy-to-grow corn. The kernels are a deep purple, and when popped it is very white with a striking black centre.

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I have copied the recipe as written on Zester Daily.

Sumac Pepper


2 Tbsp ground sumac

2 Tbsp ground black pepper

1 Tbsp salt (optional)

1/2 tsp sugar

1/2 tsp granulated garlic

1/2 tsp granulated onion

Mix all the ingredients together and store in a cool place.

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It doesn’t matter what kind of popping corn you use. It is by far the best flavoured popped corn I have ever had. Just drizzle a little melted butter or olive oil over the corn and sprinkle on the sumac pepper. Likewise it is excellent in a marinade, added to vegetable or meat dishes, on sandwiches, pastas, salads etc. Have fun with it!


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Chicken Rillettes

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If you are cooking for more people than usual at this time of year, it is a good idea to have some ready-to-serve dishes stashed away in the freezer to serve when you are too busy to cook or have an impromptu event where something a little out of the ordinary is called for. This rillette recipe fits the bill perfectly, and also allowed me to use a perfectly good, organic, albeit rather dry chicken I had to do something with.

Rillettes are really a French version of the English potted meats. They are made by long slow cooking of the meat in broth and white wine, and then potted with lots of herbs and butter. Served on slices of crusty bread with good quality pickles, they keep for at least five days in the fridge and much longer in the freezer.

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You can adapt this recipe to what you prefer in the way of herbs, but I used my spruce salt, juniper berries and some fermented dandelion buds as garnish giving it a distinctively local flavour.

Chicken Rillettes


Ingredients

1 whole chicken, approximately 4 lbs.

2 Tbsp oil

1 cup dry white wine

2 cups water

2 onions

1 large carrot

3/4 cup of unsalted butter

2 tsp spruce salt

1 dozen juniper berries

a handful of chopped parsley

Method

In a large Dutch oven, brown the chicken on all sides in the oil. Pour the water and wine over it. Add 1 onion and the carrot, both roughly chopped. Cover and put in a 300 degree F. oven for about 2 1/2 hours. The chicken should be well cooked and fall away easily from the bones. Strain the broth into a bowl and discard the vegetables (or better yet use them in something else) cool, and then store the broth and the chicken separately in the fridge. There should be about 2 cups of broth. This can be done a day or two ahead.

To make the rillettes, using a couple of forks, pull away all the meat in small bite-sized strips, discarding the skin and bones. In a saucepan, cook the second onion, finely chopped in 1/4 cup of butter until translucent. Add the chicken, the rest of the butter, juniper berries and salt. Continue to cook on a low heat until most of the liquid, but not all has evaporated. If you pull the meat to one side of the pan, there should still be liquid visible at the bottom, but the whole mixture will not be covered in liquid. Just before it is ready, add the parsley, mix well and check for seasoning.

Transfer it into serving dishes and/or mason jars and cool completely, cover and refrigerate or freeze. Bring back to room temperature before serving.

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I am bringing this dish to Fiesta Friday #47, hosted as always by Angie and co-hosted by Indu at Indu’s International Kitchen  and Jhuls at The Not So Creative Cook. Many thanks to these three for keeping this party going this week. Feel free to drop by and see join in the fun.


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Japanese Quince Paste

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Japanese quinces of varying colours, sizes and shapes, all from one plant

I posted two recipes last year using Japanese quince (chaenomeles) – for jelly and chutney. Both were delicious, and I hoped to find more of this wonderful, seldom-used fruit to continue experimenting with it.

Japanese  Quince Paste on Punk Domestics

The more traditional quince (cydonia oblonga) is not commonly used here, so it is no surprise that this Asian variety is even less popular. It is grown for its beautiful flowers early in the spring, and the fruit are usually left to fall and rot on the ground. If you have one of these shrubs, you could not be blamed for considering the hard, irregularly shaped fruit was inedible. But once cooked, its lemony flavour is apparent, and it can be used in any recipe calling for quince. Even raw, it has a wonderful scent.

If you don’t have one of these shrubs, you will have difficulty finding the fruits since they are not sold in markets, but it is not impossible. You may know someone who has the plant and will spare you a few fruits, especially if they don’t know how good they really are. They are such hardy little shrubs, they are sometimes left standing in what once was a garden and now abandoned. I am still in the position of having to collect them from other people’s gardens, but I did successfully germinate some seeds from last year’s bunch, and if they survive this winter outside (their first), I may have my own fruit producing bushes soon. And just in case, I am going to repeat the process again this year with some carefully preserved seeds.

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Young quince shrubs in a pot

I decided this time to make a quince paste – a popular dish of Spanish and Portuguese origin, usually made with the actual quince. Based on the success of the jelly I made, I found the level of pectin is very high, like in quinces, and just sugar, fruit and water are required for a well-set jelly. I decided to use honey instead of sugar, because with all the preserving and jelly making I’m doing, I’m using too much sugar. As I was not sure if this would work, I decided to make a small amount first, so used just half a vanilla pod.  Now that first batch has been such a success, I might vary the recipe a little and try adding some other flavours, but meanwhile here is my recipe. Note, you do not have to peel or core them, just chop them in large bite-sized pieces.

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Cooked Japanese quinces in a food mill

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Strained quinces

Japanese Quince Paste


Ingredients

Japanese quinces, chopped  in quarters (I used about 4 cups)

Water

Vanilla pod

honey or sugar

Method

Put the chopped quinces in a saucepan with a piece of vanilla pod and cover with water. Heat to boiling and then simmer until they are all fully cooked and soft, about 1/2 hour. Put them through a food mill. If using sugar, measure 1 cup of sugar for each cup of pulp. If using honey, use only 3/4 that amount because it is sweeter. Continue cooking on low heat, stirring often to avoid sticking. The mixture will thicken and get darker. After about 1/2 an hour to 45 min., the bubbles will become audible, and look sort of like lava in a volcano erupting.

At this point, pour it into a shallow pan lined with lightly buttered parchment paper and allow to cool.

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Quince paste cooling

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Quince paste with cheddar cheese

Usually served with cheese (manchego in Spain), this sweet goes well with most cheeses. Or try it simply with toast for breakfast.

It can be kept for several weeks covered in the fridge, or wrap it and freeze it for longer to enjoy all winter long.


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Walnut and Sumac Eggplant Rolls

The sumac shrubs are at their height now in terms of colour. There are masses of them along the roadside, but I decided to photograph my own for this post. The first one is the focal point in one of my flower beds, and the others are just little shrubs growing next to the shed.

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I need to collect more of the berries, but the weather has been so wet, I have to wait until they are drier, as they lose some of their flavour when rained on. We might need to reach freezing temperatures before they are pickable, but at least it will be dry, and the berries will wait. If you need any information regarding sumac, please refer to this post.

Meanwhile, I used some of my store of powdered sumac to use in this recipe using walnuts and eggplant (or aubergine). It is a very popular Georgian recipe which I discovered in Russia. I was told the stuffing was made with just ground walnuts, but additions can be and are made. In Georgia, there are often several spices added, and sometimes petals of edible flowers to give it some colour. I have made it many times, always trying to duplicate the distinct flavour of the ones I bought in the Russian market. This is the recipe I came up with.

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Walnut and Sumac Eggplant Rolls

  • Servings: approx. 10 rolls
  • Print

Ingredients

2 medium eggplants

oil for frying

1 cup walnuts

1 clove garlic

2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar

1/2 tsp fenugreek

1 Tbsp sumac powder

Method

Slice the eggplants (skin on) lengthwise  about 1/4 inch thick

Place them in a shallow dish and sprinkle liberally with salt. Leave them for 30 minutes to 2 hours. Rinse the salt off completely, and pat dry.

This step can be omitted, but it helps to remove any bitterness from the eggplant. Because I always detect some salt even after rinsing them, I did not put salt in the recipe.

Fry each piece in some oil on both sides until they are lightly browned and cooked right through.

For the paste, put all the ingredients in a food processor and blitz really well until it all holds together. If it is too crumbly, add a few drops more vinegar.

Place a spoonful of the walnut mixture along the base of the aubergine slice and roll up.

That’s it! These little rolls are a great appetizer, picnic food or served with a salad or rustic bread. They are eaten either chilled or at room temperature, which is how I prefer them. I wish I could describe how they taste, so much better than the sum of their parts, but there are no words that convey their distinct flavour.

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I am bringing these tasty appetizers to Angie’s 38th fabulous Fiesta Friday. I hope you will drop by this virtual party, and if you have a dish you would like to bring along, click here for the simple instructions.

 


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Coconut Lime Jerusalem Artichoke Chips

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I made Jerusalem artichoke (or sunchoke) chips last year, and was so pleased with the result that I had to try it again this year, now that the tubers are ripe for digging up. They should be even sweeter after a little more frost, but if I wait too long, the ground will be too hard and many will go to waste. These vegetables are not usually eaten in large quantities, but a few little crispy chips are really very easy to eat, and unless you overdo it, you should not have any ill effects. Fried snacks should only be eaten in moderation anyway.

If you are not familiar with these, you might see them in some farmers’ markets and good grocery stores at this time of year. They are not really artichokes, but rather of the sunflower family, and have a distinctive artichoke flavour. They grow beautifully in a sunny area, produce year after year with absolutely no care whatsoever, and provide bright yellow flowers in the fall when most other flowers are shutting down. Roasted, boiled or fried, they make a delicious side dish, but I dry most of mine, which makes storing them easy. Once dried and ground into flour, they make a great thickener for sauces and can be added to lots of savoury baked recipes.

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I am bringing these chips flavoured with lime and coconut oil to Angie’s 37th Fiesta Friday, which I will be co-hosting with fellow-Canadian and co-host extraordinaire Julianna of Foodie on Board. Feel free to visit Angie’s site, and see what the guests bring this week. If you are still looking for some original recipes for your Canadian Thanksgiving dinner this weekend, I am sure you will find something perfect for the occasion.  Should you wish to bring a dish along to the party, first read the guidelines here.

To make the chips, just follow these steps:

1. Slice the Jerusalem artichokes very thinly, as you would for potato chips. If they are fresh, no need to peel, just give them a good scrub. If the skin has become brown and thicker, then it should be removed.

2. Place in a bowl and pour freshly squeezed lime juice over them so that each slice is covered, and add a little grated lime zest for extra flavour.

3. Place them on a baking tray and put in a barely warm oven until they are no longer soaking wet. They will still feel damp, but most of the juice will have evaporated.

4. Heat the coconut oil, and fry just a few at a time, until they are golden brown. Remove and drain on absorbent paper.

5. Serve while still warm. If they are left at room temperature for a while, they will lose their crispness, in which case just reheat briefly in the oven on a tray until they crisp up again.

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The flavour of lime makes these Jerusalem artichoke chips extra delicious, although lemon could also be used. They don’t even really need salt.