Along the Grapevine


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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


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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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Dark Spruce Honey Nougat

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Here is another sweet treat for the holidays – a dark honey nougat flavoured with preserved spruce tips. I have written about foraging for pine or spruce needles, both in the winter and the summer. My favourite in the winter are white pine as written in this post because they are so easy to identify. My other favourites for cooking are the spruce tips collected in early spring which I preserve in either salt or sugar, a 1:1 ratio as described here.

I should add here that soon after I made this sweet preserve, I read somewhere that it was better just to salt them, as for some reason they taste bitter when mixed with sugar. Luckily I didn’t chuck them or use them for a while, and the next time I tasted them, they were perfectly sweet – so it is a question of giving them time to age in the sugar.

Always on the lookout for ways to use these preserves I was delighted to find this recipe from Gather Victoria for a Grand Fir Dark Nougat. Being on the west coast their evergreens are different from ours, but I saw no reason not to use my own, and wherever you live, as long as there are some sorts of edible evergreens, you might want to experiment with them. And if you are wary of making your own sweets, this one is a super easy one to start with you will be amazed at the difference of flavour from the store bought ones.

I had to alter her recipe just a bit, as I already had my spruce preserved in sugar, so I mixed some of the sugar with the honey.

Dark Spruce Honey Nougat


1 cup honey

1/2 cup spruce tips in sugar

2 cups roasted almonds (or hazelnuts)

a little butter

Mix and heat the sugar and honey stirring often. While this is cooking, roast the nuts in a pan on medium high heat. When the syrup reaches the hard ball stage, or 235 degrees F., add the roasted nuts and stir. Pour it into a buttered pan 50-60 square inches – any shape. Allow to cool and cut into squares.

As suggested by Gather Victoria, I served it with a light nougat, in the case my maple walnut nougat.

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It is quite soft and toffee like, and I recommend you don’t pile them up as they do have a tendency to stick, but can be separated with a sharp knife if need be.

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Linked to: Fiesta Friday; Caroline’s Cooking and Iwanttobeacook.


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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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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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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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Savoury Apple Juniper Soup

DSC03243.JPGThis has been a great year for apples – so good in fact that I have heard pleas on the radio for people to do the trees a favour and pick the fruit because the branches are breaking from the weight. The fruit may be smaller than usual because of the horrific drought, but they are more numerous and, even better, sweeter than ever.

The problem is what to do with all those apples. Those I can’t use right away I preserve either by making applesauce, and when freezer space runs out I dehydrate the rest. For the applesauce I cut them in half to make sure the insides are not infested or bad, chuck them into a pot of water, seeds, skin, core and all and cook them until soft. Once they are pressed through a food mill they can be frozen. The rest get peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch cubes (roughly) and dehydrated, while the cores and peel are used for scrap vinegar.

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For my recipe this week I wanted to make a savoury dish so I did a search for soups. I read several tempting recipes from around the world, especially China and Eastern Europe, but either they called for ingredients I didn’t have or they were too sweet and better suited for a dessert. This one was perfect – a spicy Norwegian soup using juniper berries, a local ingredient I had just been collecting and drying and was keen to find a use for.DSC03219.JPG

If you don’t have any in your area, they can also be purchased at a good spice shop.

I altered the recipe somewhat, including using applesauce instead of chopped apples and then pureeing the whole batch. I liked my method because there is still some texture with the onions which I prefer, it being less like baby food. The combination of spices is not too strong, none overpowers the flavour but adds a subtle taste of exotica to the apples.

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Savoury Apple Juniper Soup

2 Tbsp oil

1 onion, chopped fine

1 inch ginger

1 Tbsp juniper berries

4 cardamoms

3 allspice berries

1 stick cinnamon

a few sage leaves

4 cups chicken stock

1 cup water

4 cups unsweetened applesauce (preferably home-made)

2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

Fry the onion and ginger in the oil until soft. Add the stock and water. Wrap the other spices and herbs in cheesecloth and place in the stock. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 40 minutes. Remove  the spice bag, stir in the applesauce, salt and pepper and heat through.

dsc03241Serve hot garnished with sour cream or apple slices.

Linked to Fiesta Friday #141, Foodie on Board and Food for the Soul.