Along the Grapevine


7 Comments

Balsam Fir and Mint Cocktail

DSC03470

In my most recent post on a recipe for Balsam Fir Body Scrub I suggested using this conifer in edible recipes, which I have since done with varying degrees of success. One thing that I learned is that the wonderful flavour gets lost in cooking, so it is best used as an infusion. I began by putting a few sprigs in some olive oil and leaving it for at least a couple of weeks. This has proven to be a favourite for making dressings for winter salads.

Another way to preserve the flavour of the fresh needles is to make a syrup which then can be used to flavour all sorts of things – beverages, icings, fruit salads, or simply served on pancakes or waffles.

To make the syrup, bring one cup of sugar and one cup of water to a full boil. Turn off the heat and add two tablespoons of fresh ground needles and stir. Allow to cool completely, then strain into a jar. This will keep at least six weeks in the fridge, but for longer storage, freeze it.

DSC03467

I spent several weeks in the meantime pondering how to make the most delicious cocktail ever with this syrup. Cocktails are not complicated, but pairing the flavours is a delicate matter. I decided to use gin, as the flavour of the juniper would work well with the fir. Green tea seemed like an obvious vehicle, but I decided to make mint tea from leaves I had dried from my wild garden instead.  A little lime juice and/or some spruce tip bitters rounds out the flavour nicely.

Balsam Fir Mint Cocktail on Punk Domestics

Balsam Fir and Mint Cocktail

1 part gin

3 parts strong mint tea, cooled

1 1/2 parts balsam fir syrup

a splash of fresh lime juice

a few drops of spruce tips bitters (optional)

 

DSC03471

I singed some sprigs for garnish, but this should only be done if the needles are very fresh or else they risk being flambeed. Otherwise this was a huge success and I have definitely raised the cocktail bar with this one.

Linked to: Fiesta Friday #208

 


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.


4 Comments

Cedar Jelly

If you are one who enjoys grilled game, fish or fowl, this aromatic jelly is for you. And if you’re not one to consume any of those, you will still enjoy this with cheese and bagels, or simply on toasted sourdough bread. Either way it is a perfect condiment for any larder. 

Even knowing that cedar is one of the many flavourful and scented evergreens native to this region, I have hesitated to use it up till now. It contains a chemical called thuja which should not be consumed in large quantities, and definitely should be avoided by pregnant and nursing women. Recently I watched a cooking show about pre-colonial recipes, and noticed they used a cedar jelly as an accompaniment to game, so I figured that the quantities of thuja in this had to be tolerable. On further researching, I discovered that there are several greens which contain this chemical, most notably juniper, some mints and sage, all of which are found in most cooks’ pantries.  I also learned that early settlers used the leaves to make tea to prevent scurvy, and many campers continue to use it as an available source for a tasty drink. I therefore concluded that making a cedar jelly recipe to be consumed occasionally in small amounts would be delicious and safe, as long as you are not pregnant or nursing.

The cedar tree I am referring to is one that is commonly found in the north eastern parts of North America – the eastern white cedar. There is a similar western version, but I am only familiar with the one from this zone. It is a fast growing, hardy conifer favoured in landscaping but also easy to find in the wild. Its small scaly leaves cover the fan-shaped twigs and vary from yellowish to deep green. Its small cones grow in clumps of five or six pairs.

DSC03419.JPGThree things to note about cooking with these leaves are:

keep the simmering or steeping mixture covered to prevent the volatile oils from escaping;

use only the lighter green tips growing from sill-green branches;

the longer the cooking process, the more flavour will be lost.

So bearing these  in mind, here is the recipe I came up with.

Cedar Jelly

Ingredients

2 cups cedar leaves

2 cups water

2 cups sugar

juice of 1 lemon

1 pkg (85 ml) liquid pectin

Method

Place the leaves and water in a jar and press the leaves down to submerge. Cover with a lid and set in the sun for at least four hours. This will extract a good amount of flavour without cooking it.

Strain the liquid, add the sugar, lemon and pectin. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes, until foam forms on the top. Skim off the foam and bottle.

To date, I have no way of measuring the ph level for purposes of canning, so I am just freezing as my method of storing. This recipe makes three 8 oz jars.

DSC03439.JPG

Linked to: Fiesta Friday #184; Food Eat Love; The Not So Creative Cook.


7 Comments

Wild Flower Cordial

DSC03429Queen Anne’s Lace (daucus carota), also known as wild carrot, bird’s nest and bishop’s lace is a white flowering plant in the familily Apiaceae. Its feathery leaves are similar to those of hemlock, fool’s parsley and water hemlock, all poisonous cousins, so it is important to identify this plant correctly. At this time of year when they are in full bloom it is easy to spot with its flat-topped white umbel, sometimes with a solitary purple flower in the centre.

Leaves, roots and flowers have all been used in cooking, sometimes as a sweetener as the plant is high in sugar. As this is my first time with this plant, I decided to use just the flowers, and to make something simple and versatile, so a floral cordial it was.

Somehow I got sidetracked by the pink milkweed blossoms from which for the first time I noticed a strong fragrant scent. And while I was at it, I added lavender to my collection. This recipe could be made solely with the Queen Anne’s Lace, but by using a mixture of flowers, I hope to convey the message that any edible, seasonal flower can be used the same way, either alone or mixed with others.

dsc03425.jpg

I counted out 3 dozen flower heads including only 1 sprig of lavender. I heated 4 cups of water, turned off the heat and set the flowers in the water until the water cooled. I then strained the liquid and added to that 1 1/2 cups organic white sugar and the juice of one lemon. I brought it back to a full boil and simmered for a couple of minutes.

The milkweed gave it a rich pink colour. I presume that all the blossoms contributed to its delicious flavour.DSC03432

The photo above shows its colour in full strength, but I recommend diluting it with 2 – 3 parts water or soda water with one part cordial. Or if you are wanting something a little fancier,  dilute it 1:1 with vodka for a pretty summery cocktail.

Wild Flower Cordial on Punk Domestics

dsc03443-e1501854487122.jpg Linked to: Fiesta Friday #183; Caramel Tinted Life and Sarah’s Little Kitchen.


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.


5 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.