Along the Grapevine


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Lavender Honey Babas

”Fiesta

F0r Angie’s First Fiesta Friday challenge calling for a recipe using yeast and a herb, I have made one of my favourite desserts with some modifications. The cake is a recipe I have used many times for baba au rhum, but decided a spring version was called for, using the flavour of lavender, sweetened with honey and made pretty with wild flowers of the season.  The lavender is from my garden, and the foraged flowers are from my lawn/fields. For the lavender infused sugar, simply mix dried lavender with sugar and allow to stand at least a week. If you have lavender infused honey, that would work too.

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Babas are easy  to make – really just a cake with yeast which gives it a spongy texture, perfect for soaking up any syrup you choose to use, although you will be hard pressed to find a recipe calling for anything other than the rum syrup traditionally used. There is no kneading involved, and the rest times are short – around 20 minutes. The syrup can be made in advance, but should be heated before drizzling over the hot babas. The batter filled 6 individual moulds and one small bundt pan, but you can also do all in one big pan or about 12 individual ones.

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Lavender Honey Babas

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: easy
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Babas

4 tsp yeast

2 cups bread flour

2 tsp sugar

1 stick or 1/2 cup butter, melted

1/3 cup milk

1/2 tsp salt

Mix all the ingredients together. You will have a cake-like batter. Let it rest, covered with a tea towel for twenty minutes (more or less depending on the temperature of your kitchen). The batter should look spongey when you stir it. Stir it thoroughly to get rid of all the bubbles. Fill the mould/s about half full, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for another 20 min. They will have doubled in size by this time.

Bake in a 350 F. oven for fifteen to twenty minutes, depending on the size of the moulds, and 30 min. if using one bundt pan. They should be golden in colour and feel cooked to the touch.

Remove them from the pans and pour syrup over them, slowly, allowing the syrup to soak into the cakes. Scoop up any that runs off and reapply it to get as much syrup into it as possible. When cooled, sprinkle with more lavender sugar, garnish with whipped cream to which lavender sugar has been added and, if you like, wild edible flowers as available or preserved flowers.

Lavender Honey Syrup

1 cup liquid honey

1 cup sugar syrup (made by 2 parts sugar to 1 part water)

3 tsp finely ground lavender-infused sugar

Just before the babas are baked, heat the honey, syrup and sugar.

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Making Maple Syrup

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Since tapping a couple of sugar maples last week, the weather has been mostly below freezing, so until today there have just been a few hours of collecting the sap. Today, with relatively seasonal temperatures, we were able to collect two large pots worth (5 gallons each) of sap and have a go at boiling it down to make syrup. The result is 1 1/4 litre from the first pot, and about 3/4 litre from the second. The second is thicker and came dangerously close to crystalizing.

If  you are thinking of tapping your own trees, this site has good pictures and instructions on how to do it. As for the cooking down, we strained the sap through a clean, wet tea towel. For fuel we used up left over propane gas, hooked it up to the base of our turkey frier, and boiled it gently for about an hour.

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You can also do it over any open charcoal or wood fire. It needs to be done outside, as there is a lot of steam, sticky steam, released. Once it was boiled down considerably, to about 2 litres, we brought it inside, strained it again and cooked it even more gently on the stove top for another half hour.

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I then strained it again through a coffee filter into sterilized jars. It was a much faster and easier process than I had thought, although it has to be watched constantly as it can boil very hot and spill over if you are not careful.

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After all the time spent outdoors, I was not up for baking, but was up for a cocktail to celebrate our success at mastering this art. This recipe is from Serious Eats where you will find a number, 12 to be exact, of cocktails using maple syrup. I chose the one for which I had all the ingredients for today – and it turned out beautifully.

Simply measure 1/2 oz syrup, 1 1/2 oz rye, 3/4 oz lemon juice and 1 fresh egg white into a shaker and shake for about 20 seconds. Add 1 ice cube and shake another 10 seconds. Strain into a glass and add a few drops of angostura bitters on top. I am using the leftover egg yolk to make pancake batter for tomorrow morning which will be served with our own home-made maple syrup.

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Hope to try some of the others soon, and maybe even add a few of my own.


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Jerusalem Artichoke and Fennel Soup

100_0653In the midst of dehydrating jerusalem artichokes, I decided to put a few fresh ones aside to make a soup. I also have an abundance of fennel in the garden, so the two ingredients seemed to make sense.

Just remember that if you are not accustomed to eating the artichokes, go easy at first. It is because of the inulin that some people have difficulty with them, but I read that if you cook them at a low temperature, it makes them more digestible. I don’t want to put you off – just want to be cautious.

My recipes are usually just a suggestion for how to use the not-so-familiar ingredients. There is no reason you can’t substitute whatever other than the main ingredient. If you don’t have fennel, celery, celeriac, turnip etc. would all work well.

Jerusalem Artichoke Fennel Soup Recipe

1 lb. (2 cups) chopped jerusalem artichokes

1 large potato, chopped

oil for frying

1 small fennel bulb, finely chopped

1 onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

salt and pepper to taste

2 cups stock (recipe follows or use your own)

1 cup milk (I used almond, but any milk or even cream would work)

juice of 1 lemon or lime

Method

Boil the artichokes and potato in the stock until tender. Blend, roughly if you prefer. Fry the onion, garlic and fennel. When they are cooked, but not browned, add the vegetables in their stock along with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the milk and heat through. Just before serving, add the juice.

For the stock

A bouquet of fennel greens, stems and flowers. Put them in a pan with 2 cups of water, bring to a boil and cover, then simmer for about 15 minutes. Strain.

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Note: I prefer soups not to be over blended, so I blended the potato and artichokes separate. The fennel and onion I just chopped finely enough for soup. If you like a velvety consistency, you can cook and emulsify everything together.


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Crab Apple Chips

Two varieties of crab apples

Two varieties of crab apples

I found another variety of crab apples which were there for the taking when I was in Toronto last weekend. More like radishes in size, they are a little easier to work with for slicing. So, searching for another experiment, I have Valerie to thank for suggesting this one. It had occurred to me briefly, but I was intimidated by the thought of the mess it might make. Knowing someone out there was interested in the result, I was up for it.

The result was far better than I expected, and the mess – not so bad after all.

First, slice the fruit very fine. I used the slicing disc on my food processor.

I put them in a bowl, and sprinkled sugar liberally on them to coat. Almost immediately, a sugary syrup formed at the bottom of the bowl.

I tried two methods of drying: in the dehydrator overnight; in the oven for about six hours, depending how thickly they are placed, and just how much liquid sugar ends up in the mixture.

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Oven dried on the left, dehydrator dried on the right.

The oven ones worked better, in that it was much easier to remove the sticky fruit from parchment paper than from the plastic trays of the dehydrator. For unsweetened dry fruit, I will use the dehydrator, but not with the sugary ones.

Place the slices (and syrup) on a parchment lined cookie sheet. I started the process at 225 F to let some of the liquid evaporate, then after about 15 minutes, turned it down to 175 F and left it about 6 hours. This will vary depending on how well you can spread it all out.

I did not let them get crisp at all – just dry enough to handle without any perceivable wetness, but still flexible (like a dried apricot or raisin). The ones in the dehydrator were a little dryer, in part because the syrup dripped down to the bottom tray. This accounts for the slight difference of colour.

Valerie, you were right. So much better than apple chips. They make a great snack on their own, – good in baking.  They would be an excellent substitute for dried apricots in something like a tagine dish, and of course with cereal or trail mix for those who like the sweetness.


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Crab Apple Preserve

Crab apples are one of the easiest fruits to preserve with more pectin than most – it is even recommended as an addition to some jams and jellies to help them set. I thought I would try a preserve which, in South America, is often made with quince, guava or sweet potato, known as ‘dulce de’ whatever. So I will call this dulce de manzana silvestre.

If not cooked quite long enough, you will get a rich, dark jam. Cook it a little longer, and it will set into a firm paste, which can be sliced or cut into squares – the former is served with fresh cheese and the latter eaten as a candy. But I find it has other uses too. I blended it in water and used it instead of orange juice in a pumpkin cake recipe, which added a subtle aroma. It could also be used like tamarind in savoury dishes. It would  be excellent as a condiment, particularly for a Thanksgiving turkey dinner, or with pork or game. Again, I think I didn’t make enough of it to experiment as much as I’d like, but still hoping to find some more apples.

I used the small ones from my tree in the garden, but any crab apples would work well.

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Dulce de manzana silvestre

1 lb. crab apples

2 cups water

1 cup sugar

Cook the crab apples in water until they are very soft. This takes about an hour, but don’t rush them. The mushier, the better.

Strain the fruit, pressing out as much fruit as you can, much as you would making apple sauce. Return the juice to a pan, add the sugar and cook on a low heat until it looks dark and is about 1/3 the volume you started with.

I put mine in a jar because I didn’t expect it to set as much as it did. Had I known, I would have used a square, non-metallic cake pan and cut it into squares.

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Marganita

This is turning out to be a great year for grapes, at least in Eastern Ontario. I have managed to cut down on the labour of picking them by putting stems and all into the food mill. If you don’t have a food mill, it is a great investment for around $20. You often see them in flea markets, and they do exist in some kitchen stores too. I use it for apple sauce, ketchup, grapes, tomato sauce, etc. and especially at this time of year, it is indispensable.

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In an effort to come up with more ways to enjoy this bounty of grapes, I made a margarita-like drink with some of the granita from yesterday’s post, and named the drink marganita. Definitely a success, and with this hot weather continuing at least for to-day, will have another when my day’s work is done. Here is the recipe.

Marganita

For each glass, mix in a blender,

1 oz. tequila

juice of 1/2 lime

2 ice cubes

1 generous Tbsp. granita

Pour into glasses which have been wetted and dipped in a mixture of chili pepper and salt. Garnish with lime zest.

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Wild Grape Granita

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Granita is the simplest frozen dish ever – just a mixture of fruit, sugar and water. It makes a refreshing snack on a hot day like today, can be used as a dessert, or served alongside cheese. I like to think of it as a gourmet popsicle.

There are plenty of recipes out there for granitas of all kinds of fruit, but the only ones for grapes I found were for cultivated grapes. The wild grapes have so much more flavour and colour, not to mention nutrition. Also, I have just too many grapes and felt it was time I experimented some more.

Method

1. Make a sugar syrup of 3 cups sugar and 1 cup water. Just mix these, heat and stir until all the sugar crystals have dissolved. Set aside to cool. If you don’t use all of it, you can put it aside for ice teas, lemonades, etc,

2. Remove the berries and put in a saucepan. Cover with water, bring to a boil, and simmer for about five minutes. Strain, discard seeds and skins, and return to the saucepan.

3. For 3 cups of juice, add 3 cups of sugar syrup and the juice of 1 lemon. Mix together and pour into a container with a lid to be frozen. Once it starts to freeze, break up the ice with a fork. Repeat this about every 45 minutes until the mixture is frozen right through.

Tip: Use a shallow container with a tight fitting lid. It will freeze much more quickly. Also, when adding the sugar, don’t add it all at once so you can test for sweetness. If you pick your grapes after the first frost, they will be sweeter than the ones I am using, so might require less sugar.


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Beets with wild grape glaze

This is a quick and easy recipe using the wild grape ketchup from my last post. You could do it equally well with other berry preserves or chutneys, but I find the flavour and colour of the grape goes particularly well with the beets, which are now ready to be picked from the garden.

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You can vary the ingredients and quantities as you like, but for those who like clearly written recipes, this is what I did.

6 medium beets

4  onions

1/4 cup oil

2 Tbsp honey

2 Tbsp wild grape ketchup

salt and pepper to taste

Cut the beets and onions into wedges or rings. Fry them together on a medium heat in the oil until the onions are soft, but not brown, about 10 minutes.

Add just enough water (about 1 cup, depending on the surface are of the pan you are using) so that they will not dry out completely. Cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally and checking that there is enough liquid. Add the ketchup, honey and seasoning and simmer another couple of minutes.

This recipe can be made ahead and reheated in the oven. The extra cooking improves the glaze.

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Waldorf Salad with Purslane

With all the ripening apples falling off the trees, I decided to use some in a waldorf salad so they could be used fresh rather than cooked. Not having any celery growing in my garden this year, and finding little in the local markets, I decided to use purslane instead. In this version, I used very little mayonnaise, and a little lime juice just to prevent the apples from going brown during preparation.

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These are the ingredients I used, but feel free to use whatever you fancy.

apples

purslane

walnuts

juice of 1 lime

mayonnaise

salt and pepper to taste

I mixed the lime juice with the purslane, then added the apples and stirred after each apple, adding them one at a time. I left some of the skin on the apples because they are organic, and add some nice colour. Then, I added the rest of the ingredients.

And a nasturtium flower.

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Wild Grape Ketchup

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The wild grapes are finally beginning to ripen in our area, so I am now able to work on some recipes which were the ‘raisin’ d’etre for this blog. The birds have already taken many, so I picked what I could should they disappear soon. I am not sure of the exact variety of the ones I picked. These ones, as you can see are very small, about the size of a blueberry. I hope to find some larger ones for other recipes, but these small ones are excellent for this one.

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I started making grape ketchup a few years ago, as finding myself with a good supply of wild grapes, and not wanting to make either wine or jelly, I decided if there was not such a thing as grape ketchup, there should be. Sure enough, I was not the first to think of it, and there are plenty of recipes out there. However, most use cultivated grapes, which are larger and sweeter, but do not have the strong flavour or the nutrients of the wild variety. Also, I do not add water, which reduces the cooking time – good for me and the quality of the end product. Most any grape would work with this recipe, but I would recommend a fairly sour variety with a thick skin, which will add enough pectin to the mixture for it to thicken nicely.

It is good not only as a condiment but as a marinade for game and poultry, and I expect would go very well with lamb and pork too.

Apart from the picking, the ketchup is really very simple. Just wash the grapes and pick the berries off the stems, discarding any green ones. Place them in a pan, heat and simmer for about five minutes. Juice will begin to form at the bottom of the pan, but to help them along, use a potato masher to get as much juice out as possible.

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Then, strain the mixture through a food mill or sieve, measure, and return the juice to the pan.

For every cup of puree:

1/2 cup brown sugar (or more to taste)

1/2 cup wine vinegar

1/2 tsp. pepper

1 tsp. allspice

Simmer the mixture until it is the right consistency, a little over an hour. I test it by cooling a small spoonful. I make it less dense than a commercial ketchup, but about as thick as a creamy yogourt. I do not process the jars – just freeze them.

This is a fairly tart ketchup as I prefer it, but it could stand probably up to double the amount of sugar. You can easily add more as it cooks and taste it.

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I left a small amount in the bottom of a pan, and as a first use i deglazed it, added venison meatballs I had in the freezer and some quartered fresh plums. From that I deem the ketchup recipe a success.

One experiment often leads to another. Left with a pile of grape seeds, which are supposed to be highly nutritious and, I have noticed, are sold in granular form in health food stores, I decided to dry them and see what I could do. I rinsed and drained them, removing some of the skin that rose to the top, but certainly did not get it all. I then put the dripping seeds in the oven at 275 for about an hour, and as they were getting too hot and the water had mostly evaporated, I spread them out in the sun for another couple of hours. I don’t leave anything in the sun too long, for fear of botulism, but by that time they were sufficiently dry. I ground them in the coffee grinder – and then on to my next experiment.

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I mixed a large spoonful in some hot water. It was a creamy pinkish colour but the seeds at the bottom were not very appetizing. Next experiment was to simmer the same amount in a small pot of hot water for about an hour and strain. The colour was browner, but the taste was equally good and no junk at the bottom. All in all, a pleasant surprise as experiments go, and for anyone who wants to get all the goodness out of the grapes, might be worth trying.