Along the Grapevine


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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.

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Linked to Fiesta Friday #188, Jhuls at The Not so Creative Cook and Nimmi at Adorable Life.


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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.

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


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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.

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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.


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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.


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Stuffed Fermented Grape Leaves

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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.

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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.

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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.


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Eccles Cakes with a Difference

As a follow up to my last post on spruce tips bitters, I wanted to make a recipe to show how they can be used to flavour some baked goods. The first idea that came to mind is eccles cakes, and although not particularly seasonal, I think a good eccles cake has its own place any time of year. For anyone not familiar with these, eccles cakes are a cross between a tart and a biscuit. I have been using a very easy and reliable recipe from Davinia at Married with Cauldron, making some changes in the fruit and alcohol I use. While she calls for mixed berries, I have used a mixture of raisins and candied highbush cranberries. Instead of Jaegermeister, I’ve used spruce bitters. Feel free to use whatever combination of dried fruits you fancy!

What I like about this recipe is that it seems to work every time, no matter what variations I make. Since I discovered that spruce and dried or preserved fruits are a perfect combination, I have favoured my spruce infused vodka, but I believe these bitters work even better. The spruce flavour is subtle once mixed with the fruit and baked in these flaky shells, but the overall effect is complex and surprisingly delicious.

Eccles Cakes

For the pastry

225 grams plain flour

175 grams butter or lard

1/2 tsp. salt

120 ml cold water

For the filling

50 grams butter

100 grams soft brown sugar

250 grams dried fruit

5o ml spruce tip bitters

1 egg white, slightly beaten

1 tbsp granulated sugar

Prepare the pastry. Cover and let it rest refrigerated for at least half an hour.

Heat the first four ingredients for the filling in a saucepan until the sugar has dissolved and the fruit expands and softens. Allow the mixture to cool before assembling.

Roll out the pastry and cut into circles, about  2 or 3 inches in diameter. I made the smaller ones, which gave me 3 dozen cakes. Place some filling in the centre, moisten the edges with water and draw them up to seal. Flip them over and flatten slightly into a circle. Perforate the pastry either with a fork or by making three small slits in them. Brush with the beaten egg white and sprinkle with a little sugar. Refrigerate for 20 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 20-25 minutes until golden and crisp.

Thank you to Davinia for teaching me how to make the best eccles cakes, and so many other things on her beautiful blog. Thank you also to Angie, our gracious Fiesta Friday host and her co-hosts Suzanne at A Pug in the Kitchen and Monika at Everyday Healthy Recipes.


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Rhubarb Chutney

I have been making rhubarb chutney as long as I have been cooking. It is more than an condiment for Indian dishes – it can be added to sauces, meatloaves, dressings, dips and sandwiches. It is simple and quick to make, and takes care of all that surplus, if that is a problem, in a way that will preserve it for the months to come. I have not made it the same twice – the choice of spices is endless and it is worth trying different combinations. Starting with rhubarb, sugar and vinegar, just add whichever spices you fancy. Make it as spicy or sweet as you wish, and just follow your nose (the olfactory part that is).

The problem with my rhubarb is that it is not of the ‘pretty’ variety. The middle is green, and although it tastes as good as any, it makes the chutney brown. In this recipe, I attempted to make an appealing red colour, so I offer a few tips to achieve this, as well as a method to prevent overcooking the rhubarb which I think also detracts from its appearance.

In order to do this, I used forced rhubarb, a method I described in an earlier post. This is not necessary, but it did make a difference in the colour. Below is a picture of my freshly picked forced rhubarb. It really is a bit sweeter and more delicate than the grown-in-the light variety.

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I also made a rhubarb custard pie with some of it, just to highlight the beautiful colour.

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To reduce the cooking time of the rhubarb and prevent it from collapsing into a stringy sauce, I cooked all the other ingredients first and added the rhubarb just for the last few minutes.

I processed half the jars in boiling water for ten minutes, and this also had an effect on the colour, so if you want a really pink product, it’s best to seal in jars and store them in the freezer. I also used a red vinegar, namely one in which I infused red choke cherries, but I’m not sure this made a significant difference.

Rhubarb Chutney

Ingredients

6 cups rhubarb, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups cider or red vinegar

1 onion

3 red chili peppers

1 tbsp fresh grated ginger

1 stick cinnamon

3 tsp minced garlic

1 tsp fennel

1 tsp salt

1 cup raisins (or other dried fruit)

Method

Mix the sugar and rhubarb and allow to stand overnight or about 12 hours. Strain the syrup from the rhubarb and mix it with all the other ingredients. Cover the mixture with a tight fitting lid, bring it to a boil and simmer for about 1 hour. Remove the cinnamon stick and add the rhubarb. Continue to cook for a further 20 minutes or until the rhubarb is just soft but not disintegrating.

Makes 1.5 litres.

DSC03387.JPGLinked to Fiesta Friday #172

Dandelion Flower Syrup on Punk Domestics

Other rhubarb recipes: Rhubarb Ice Cream;  Crabapple, Rhubarb and Ginger Jam;  Sumac and Rhubarb Soup;  Rhubarb and Berry Crisp;  Spruce Tip Panna Cotta with Rhubarb Sauce;   Wild Berry Tarts with Rhubarb Curd;  Rhubarb Crabapple Ketchup