Along the Grapevine


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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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Elk Filet with Highbush Cranberry Wine Sauce

As I continue to learn about the abundance and variety of wild edibles in our area, it is only reasonable that this knowledge should affect my cooking and menu planning. What better time to develop a really special recipe with some of the under-used ingredients than a holiday like Christmas. There’s no rule saying I have to prepare a turkey, or anything else for that matter, so for our celebration I bought elk filets wrapped in elk bacon – an easy option and very elegant. All I needed was a marinade and sauce to make this lean meat worthy of a special occasion.

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While foraging in my freezer, I found some cranberry sauce I made some time ago. I thought the acidity of this sauce would be perfect for a marinade, and the tartness of the berries a perfect accompaniment for wild game of any sort. From there on my task as chef was easy.

For marinading six filets, I combined 1/4 cup oil, 2 tsp. highbush cranberry sauce, 1/2 tsp onion powder, 2 cloves garlic and 1/4 cup red wine.

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Pour the marinade over the meat and allow to stand about three hours, flipping half way through. Meanwhile, for the sauce, melt 1 Tbsp each of butter and olive oil, 1/2 cup red wine, 2 Tbsp highbush cranberry sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer the mixture until it has reduced by half, then add 1 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup water. Heat until cooked through and thickened.

Fry the filets in a hot skillet for about 2 minutes on each side (depending on thickness and how you prefer them) and spoon the sauce over them.

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Served with brussels sprouts roasted with sumac powder, potatoes mashed with olive oil, garlic and parsley, it was a deliciously local and refined mix of flavours.

Linked to Fiesta Friday #100

 


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Highbush Cranberry Toffee

Making up recipes with foraged ingredients in the winter usually means a little foraging in the pantry for all that is dried, pickled, frozen or fermented. I never actually expected to find fresh edibles well into February in this area, and certainly not juicy berries. But here is one little shrub, much overlooked and maligned, which is at its best in late winter. highbush cranberries #1highbush cranberries #2 Highbush cranberry (viburnum trilobum) is not a cranberry at all but a deciduous shrub which can grow to 4 meters in height. Its leaves are similar in appearance to maple leaves. Clusters of white blossoms appear in the spring, and the green berry turns to orange and then a bright red in October or November. No wonder it is often used as a decorative landscaping plant, standing out particularly in winter months where the berries afford a beautiful contrast to the snow. It is an easy plant to identify with its clusters of berries measuring about 15mm in length and 12 mm in width. They have a single, flat white seed, and a pungent smell which is less strong in the winter after a few freezes and thaws. Rich in vitamin C, it is maybe a too bitter for many palates, but like many bitter foods has a good flavour once sweetened. DSC01817 Further to my experiments with cooking with these wild cranberries, I decided to make a vegan toffee using just sugar and coconut milk with the berries. First I pureed 1 cup berries. If you want a very smooth puree, pass them through a food mill to remove all the seeds and skin. DSC01821 This was added to 2 (400 ml) tins of coconut milk and 2 cups of sugar. Cook the mixture on a low heat until it reaches 270 degrees F on a candy thermometer, or between the hard and soft ball stages. This took approximately one and a half hours. DSC01818 DSC01820 Once cooked, pour into a 9 inch sq. pan lined with parchment paper and allow to cool completely. Cut into whatever size and shape you like and store in a very cool place. They are quite sticky when at room temperature. DSC01836 The flavour reminds me of a tamarind sweet – very creamy and soft. I will be taking these to Fiesta Friday – do drop by to see what the other guests have brought.


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Homemade Ketchups

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Highbush Cranberry Ketchup

If I were permitted only one type of recipe to work on, it would have to be for condiments. Even the simplest dish can be greatly improved with a good quality sauce, chutney, spice mixture or yes, even ketchup. Ketchup has a bad rep among foodies, no doubt as a result of the association with the over-processed, overly sweet products we find in the grocery store. Maybe we should call it ‘sweet and sour sauce’ instead, but the fact remains that a home-made ketchup has so many uses besides tarting up our macaroni and cheese or burgers. It can be used in dressings, marinade, added to sandwiches, soups, stews and vegetables.

I have already given a recipe for wild grape ketchup in a previous post, and I regularly make my own tomato ketchup. Instead of making a big batch of it in tomato season, I just freeze tomato puree, made by heating whole tomatoes, passing them through the food mill and then cooking them down to a thick sauce, to be used throughout the winter as needed. Now I can make tomato ketchup in a few minutes, and change the recipe according to how I plan to use it. Recipes vary according to the spices used: hot and spicy or sweet and tangy. For my recipe here I used sumac powder, but of course you can add any spices or herbs according to what you have around or what kind of flavour you are looking for.

This ketchup is not very red, because I used all varieties of tomatoes, including some yellow ones. If colour matters, then use red tomatoes, or even tinned puree if necessary. I have also made yellow ketchup  with yellow tomatoes, tumeric and mustard.

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Tomato Ketchup with Sumac

Tomato Ketchup with Sumac

1 cup tomato puree

2 Tbsp sugar (any kind)

1/4 cup cider vinegar

pinch of salt

1 Tbsp sumac powder

Mix all the ingredients together in a pot, heat and simmer until the right consistency, about 10 minutes.

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Frozen Highbush Cranberries

I have still quite a few highbush cranberries in my freezer to use. So far, I have used them to make liqueur, cranberry sauce and candied fruit. The good thing about them is, besides being easy to pick, they freeze well and are even better after being frozen because they become juicier. I was concerned they might be too runny, so decided to add apple sauce, but in fact after I strained them, they were pulpier than expected. I also decided to try a few sweet spices so that I wouldn’t need to sweeten them with too much sugar. Again, other spices can be used, but I was looking for sweet so came up with a mixture of licorice root, cinnamon and fennel seeds. This was made by putting 1 stick of licorice root, 1 stick of cinnamon and 1 Tbsp of fennel seeds in a cup of water, simmering it until there was about 2 Tbsp of dark syrup.

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Highbush Cranberry Ketchup

Highbush Cranberry Ketchup

2 cups highbush cranberries

1 cup sugar

2 Tbsp spiced syrup

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce

Put the cranberries and sugar in a saucepan with the spiced syrup and bring to a gentle boil. Simmer until the berries are really soft and appear cooked. They will get a little dark. This will take about 15 minutes

Strain this through a food mill or a sieve using the back of a spoon to press it through. Return to the pan, add vinegar and apple sauce. Continue to simmer until the right thickness, another 15 minutes.

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Falafel Burger with Pickle and Cranberry Ketchup