Along the Grapevine


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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


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DSC02951Until recently, bitters were just something I kept in the liquor cabinet for the odd occasion when a cocktail was called for. Since my lone bottle was not getting a lot of attention, I started to add it to some savoury recipes for a little extra zing. Without really understanding what bitters were, my ideas for its uses were somewhat limited.

Lately bitters have been garnering a lot more attention, and rightly so since they can enhance the flavour and aroma not only of cocktails but myriad dishes including pastries, desserts, grilled anything to name just a few. Once I realized the variety of flavours on the market (for example orange, lemon, coffee pecan, cardamom, celery) I determined to find out more about this promising concoction and how I could make my own.

So I bought a book. This one is by Brad Thomas Parsons and is called A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All with Cocktails, Recipes & Formulas BITTERS. It is a riveting read about the convoluted history of this tonic, its uses, sources and how to make it. He offers a definition of bitters which I found very helpful to understand what to expect.

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Bitters are an aromatic flavoring agent made from infusing roots, barks, fruit peels, seed, spices, herbs, flowers and botanicals in high-proof alcohol (or something glycerine).  … One of the biggest misconceptions about bitters is that  using them will make your drink bitter. Although this is understandable – tasted by themselves, bitters often taste slightly bitter or bittersweet – the term “bitters” refers not to a specific flavor but rather to the category of aromatic solutions made with bittering agents such as gentian root and cinchona bark. Bitters are essentially a liquid seasoning agent for drinks and even food…”

After reading several of the recipes, I figured I would have to tweak them as the ingredients were numerous, sometimes unknown, and often difficult to find. But tweaking works, as long as you have a combination of alcohol, principal flavour, bittering agents and and assortment of spices, herbs, flowers etc. These recipes also allow me to use some of my own cultivated or foraged plants, such as hops, wild cherry bark or dandelion leaves.

Since rhubarb season is soon upon us, I decided to follow the recipe for rhubarb bitters making a few changes according to what I had available. Since my rhubarb is greener than what is recommended, something that does not affect the taste, I decided to enhance the colour with a couple of reds, namely dried hibiscus petals and highbush cranberry sauce. Most of the unusual ingredients, like cinchona bark, can be found at a good herbalist’s, such as Herbie’s Herbs in Toronto.DSC02937

The basic method is to infuse the ingredients in alcohol (usually vodka, bourbon or rye) for two weeks. After straining this infusion, set the liquid aside and add some water to the solids and cook briefly. Allow that to sit another week. Strain and combine the two liquids. Add a little honey and allow to sit for another three days.

Rhubarb Bitters

Ingredients

2 cups chopped rhubarb

zest of 2 organic lemons

2 Tbsp highbush cranberry preserve

1/2 tsp coriander seeds

3 juniper berries

1 tsp fennel seeds

1/2 tsp cinchona bark

1 Tbsp dried hibiscus flowers

2 cups vodka

water

2 Tbsp honey

Method

Place all the ingredients except vodka, honey and water in a jar. Pour in the vodka and give it a good stir. Allow to sit for two weeks in a cool place away from direct sunlight, and give it a shake daily.

After two weeks, strain* out the liquid and set aside in a jar. Place the solids in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for ten minutes. Pour this mixture into a jar and store for a week out of direct sunlight and give it a shake daily.

Strain* this mixture, combine the two liquids in a jar and stir in the honey. Set aside for three days and again, shake daily.

*To strain, I first use a regular sieve to remove the majority of the solids, then I strain it through a funnel lined with a coffee filter. This takes some time, but the result is clear and requires no additional filtering.

Rhubarb Bitters on Punk Domestics

This same method can be used for virtually any combination of flavours – I look forward to creating more flavours using local and seasonal ingredients. This recipe makes about 2 cups of bitters. At first I thought this might be excessive, but having tried it I know I will have plenty of ways to use it, some of which I hope to share in future posts.

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As a first taste test of the final results I made a very simple soda and bitters drink. I used about 1 oz. of bitters and 6 of soda, but mix according to your own taste. As Parsons explained, the result was far more aromatic than bitter, and a very light and pleasant drink.

Linked to Fiesta Friday #111, Naina at Spice in the City and Julianna at Foodie on Board.

 

 

 

 


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Sumac Drink

I have been using sumac powder as a spice for a long time, but am only now convinced that I can make the same thing with the sumac which grows all around us – except for the few hundred a year I pull out. It has a tart lemony flavour which is good in any spicy cooking, and can be used in place of lemon or lemongrass.

My experiment with that will have to wait, but meanwhile, here is a recipe for a concoction which can be drunk as a hot tea, a soft or hard cold drink, or an added ingredient to your own drinks. The flowers can be picked now, while bright red, or later after they have turned brown. The only difference is in the colour of the final product.

In some areas, the sumac is known as the lemonade tree, which gives you an idea of what the flower is like, and I hope to find more uses for it with a little trial and possibly error.

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Step 1
Pick some flowers from the sumac trees and rinse them.

Step 2
Scrape the flowers off the cone. I (I am not sure if this step is necessary, but it does make sense. If anyone thinks or knows otherwise, let me know).

Step 3
Mix 2 cups flowers, 2 cups water and 1 cup sugar in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 15 minutes.

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Step 4
Strain through wet cheesecloth in a sieve (or some other material), squeezing out all the liquid. Discard the flowers.

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I used about 1 part tea to 4 parts soda water for a cold drink, but this is a versatile drink, so do as you like. It was also good with a little vodka thrown in.

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Milkweed flower and lambs quarters soup

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Having just recently learned that all parts of the milkweed plant are edible at different times, I have been too late to experiment with the early spring sprouts. I did fry some young leaves in June and some fully-bloomed flowers a little later – both were good but just experiments without actual recipes.

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The flowers are beginning to wilt now, but there are still a few young plants, and the flowers before they bloom are supposedly tastier, so I came up with this very simple soup recipe.

Before going any further, I should mention that you need to make sure you can properly identify milkweed. If you have it in your garden, you probably know what to look for, but otherwise you should check with someone who does know, as there are other, not so edible plants which are similar.

Also, I am always careful to encourage milkweed as it is beneficial to monarch butterflies in particular, and many pollinators in general. I sometimes have to pull them out of my vegetable patch, and otherwise I allow myself only one or two blossoms a plant, so there is still plenty left for the butterflies. Not all the flowers turn into pods (I hope to have recipes for those soon), so the plant won’t miss a couple.Image

Other than those considerations, the soup is very easy to make, vegan (unless you choose to use milk in place of the nut milk) and contains almost all foraged plants, which means it is inexpensive and super good for you. If you are not sure about lambs quarters, refer to my previous post on these here.

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Milkweed flower and lambs quarters soup

Ingredients:

1 onion, chopped

5 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 cup milkweed flowers (not yet open)

1 potato, chopped

1 cup cooked or tinned chick peas

1 Tbsp each oregano and parsley

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 cup water or vegetable stock

6 cups lambs quarters, leaves only (the stems by mid-summer are woody)

1 cup nut milk

Method:

Fry the onion and garlic in the oil on medium heat until the onion is soft, but not browned. Add the flowers, potato and chick peas and simmer for about 10 min, until the potato is soft. Add the herbs, salt, pepper and lambs quarters, and simmer until the greens are cooked (about 2 minutes), stirring to make sure they are cooked evenly. Add the milk (I used almond) and heat through. Blend it in a food processor or blender. Serve hot.


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Falafel Chips

DSC_0157I came across falafel chips in Trader Joe’s when I visited San Francisco last year. Not knowing where to buy these here in Canada, I decided I had to come up with a recipe for them, and even considered starting a falafel chip enterprise. Recently, while still trying to work on my own recipe, I came across another brand of falafel chips in a general store in Sydenham, Ont., so my idea of commercialising my own was dashed. Nonetheless, I am pleased that someone else is doing it, even if they are imported. They are made by a company called ‘flamous’ (sic) and are sold as Falafel Chips.

Even if you can buy these, or the ones from Trader Joe’s, you might be interested in making them yourself. They are cheaper, fresher, and you can alter the recipe to your own taste and according to what is available. They are excellent on their own, or served with hummus, guacamole, or whatever you fancy.

The recipes I have come up with are not so much recipes as ‘a method’. As long as you have chick pea flour (besan) cumin and water, you can make these. You only need to make sure the dough is not too sticky but sticky enough to stick together. The method of rolling them out is suprisingly simple, as long as you remember to oil the parchment paper. Sometimes I add oil, sometimes not, it seems to make little difference. The more herbs and spices you add, the more complex the flavour, so feel free to come up with your own variations. The first recipe contains dried dandelion leaves, which give them those green speckles, and the second one contains tomato paste and some cornmeal.

FALAFEL CHIPS I
2 cups chick pea flour
2 Tbsp dried vegetables (greens or root vegetables, such as onions, carrots, turnips)
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp coarse salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 large clove garlic, minced (or dried garlic)
1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp water

Mix together all the dry ingredients. Add water until the mixture holds together, but is not sticky.
Lightly grease two sheets of parchment paper and put small dobs (about the size of a grape) of batter spaced about 2 inches apart.
Place the other piece of parchment over this, and roll out with a rolling pin, until the chips are thin enough that when touched with your finger, you can feel the hard surface below.There should be no squishy feeling of the dough.
Peel off the top layer of parchment, place the chips, still on their paper, on a cookie tin, and back in a preheated oven for 20 minutes at 275 Fahrenheit.
The chips should be an even gold colour. Store in a container with a tight-fitting lid to keep them crisp.

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FALAFEL CHIPS II
1 1/2 cups chick pea flour
2 Tbsp dried onion
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin 2 tsp coarse salt
2 garlic cloves, crushed, or equivalent dried garlic
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp tomato paste or 2 Tbsp tomato puree
1/4 cup + water.
Follow the same procedure for the first recipe.


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Dandelion Syrup

I have often hoped to come across a recipe for floral drinks such as the ones found in Swedish shops (or Sweden). I just discovered dandelions do the trick very nicely. I made a syrup first, then diluted it – every bit as good as elderflower etc.  I am sure it can be used equally well for cocktails or toddies, but for now am just using it for a tall summer non-alcoholic drink.

Syrup

2 cups dandelion petals, packed tightly

2 cups of sugar

2 cups water

juice of 1 lemon

Wash the flowers and remove the petals. Cover them with water, bring to a boil for no more than a minute, then remove from heat and leave them to steep overnight.

The next morning, strain the liquid and discard the petals. Add the lemon juice and the sugar, bring to a boil and then simmer for about an hour and a half.

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Dandelion Drink

Mix one part syrup to four parts water.


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Things to make with dandelions

Welcome to my blog. I have created this to explore some of the wild things I have growing on my property, ingredients seldom found in the grocery stores and markets, and often mowed or thrown on the compost heap. So many of these edible weeds are plentiful, nutritious, and offer an inexpensive alternative to imported and store-bought produce.

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My first thought was to focus on wild grapes and their leaves. However, they are still not ready to be picked in this area, so I shall begin with the humble dandelion. Rather than be irritated by their persistance and size, I began to experiment with the flowers, roots and leaves in my cooking. It is somewhat labour intensive, but at least I end up with very fresh, organic and free ingredients. If you have young children around, I recommend ‘allowing’ them to help you.

If you are skeptical about eating the flowers, unless you suffer from ragweed allergies (the same family) or if you have a history of gall bladder problems, you might wish to avoid these or consult your doctor. Otherwise, most people find the honey sweet taste of the flowers surprisingly pleasant.

If you are still not persuaded to try them, note that they are high in anti-oxidants, contain vitamins A and B12, and have long been considered a remedy for headaches, backaches and cramps.

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The first recipe I am sharing is for dandelion flower pakoras. This is an interesting variation of fritters, and this batter can be used with almost anything edible.  It is so simple and quick to make, it hardly deserves to be a called a recipe.

Dandelion Flower Pakoras

1 cup chickpea flower

1 tsp. chili pepper

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup water

Pick about 1 cup of dandelion flowers. Wash gently, and remove the top of the stem right under the flower. If you remove too much, the flower will fall apart, but the loose petals can be used in the batter along with the whole flowers.

Mix the chickpea flower with the salt and chili. Stir in the water until you have a smooth batter. Dip the blossoms in the batter. Remove each batter-coated blossom with a spoon and fry in vegetable or coconut oil until brown and crispy.

Serve warm, as is or with a condiment such as chutney, tamarind sauce, or even ketchup.

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And now for the dandelion greens. These are often used when young in salads, but why stop there? They are a good source of calcium (even more than kale), iron, high in vitamins A and C and are a source of  vitamins E and K. They are often used in detox recipes, contain all essential amino acids and are 14% protein.

Dandelion Pesto

1/2 lb. greens

1/2 cup parmesan, freshly grated

1 cup olive oil

1/2 cup toasted walnuts

4 cloves garlic

2 tsp. salt

Blend all ingredients in a food processor, adding the greens a bit at a time.

Serve with pasta and add some freshly grated parmesan. Or use it as a base for a pizza. Freeze any leftovers.

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