Along the Grapevine


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Snow Kachang

We are just now getting our first real blizzard of the season. It has been snowing all day, and tomorrow we may just be snowed in. This is what it looked like yesterday when we went for a walk on the lake.

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And this is what it looked like today in the early hours of the blizzard.

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So what do we do when we are getting snowed in? We make snow kachangs.

Actually, I’ve never made one before, but decided to give it a try for the second part of Angie’s Fiesta Friday first anniversary celebration where we have been invited to bring a main course or dessert.

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This recipe is based on a favourite sweet dish of mine that I used to enjoy in Singapore called Ice Kachang, usually spelt kacang. It was a while before I had built up enough curiosity to try it, but once I did I thought it the best way to cool down when on the town, and something that I would have to recreate when back home in Canada. It has taken me a long time.

When I first saw it, I was not impressed. All I could see was a tall pyramid of shaved ice, with 3 or 4 garish coloured syrups poured over it. I’m pretty sure the green colour was made from pandan, but have no idea what the others were. When I finally ordered one, I found that this pyramid covered a delicious mixture of adzuki beans, sweet corn, little cubes of agar agar or jelly and a very sweet brown sugar syrup. Sometimes other things like tapioca or coconut milk were added making a kind of sweet pudding salad. Of all the pictures I have found on line, none resembles what I had in Singapore. The original recipe is Malaysian, and seems to have a lot of the pudding on top of the ice shavings. Other pictures show all the ingredients including the ice mixed together. I am sticking with the pyramid shape and only syrup on top.

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For my recipe I used snow, of course. It takes quite a bit of the white stuff, and I failed to make a really tall pyramid. But as I assembled it outside to give me time to get pictures, my fingers were becoming numb with the cold and harvesting any more snow was out of the question.

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I intended to use adzuki beans, but was unable to find any, so settled for small kidney beans. I figured with the syrup everything would be sweet enough anyway, and I was right. Besides beans I used sweet corn, cubes from the pealed leaves of my aloe vera plant, and our own maple syrup.

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Once these ingredients are assembled in any proportion you like, just pile on the snow. The syrup I used to drizzle on top was some wild grape syrup I had lingering in my fridge, but any sweet syrup will do, preferably one made of fruit or berries, or pandan if you are lucky enough to have any.

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The result, which we did bring indoors to eat, was every bit as good as the Singaporean version but with a distinctive Canadian touch. This is a recipe you can make your own with whatever local ingredients you have, and ice shavings if you don’t have clean snow available.

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Thanks to Angie at The Novice Gardener as well as this week’s co-hosts, Nancy at Feasting with Friends and Selma at Selma’s Table for managing this event, and to everyone else, enjoy the party!


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Burmese Semolina Cake with Wild Grape Glaze

Even though I am visiting Toronto for a few days, I am still able to attend this week’s Fiesta Friday and bring with me not only a delicious semolina cake, but also Bob the Dog, whom I am cat sitting for a few days. Bob has been with us now for 18 years when we adopted him in Singapore. Since then he has been the charge of and companion to our youngest daughter. He has lived in four different countries, 6 cities, and visited several others. He likes to travel. So here he is, well behaved as always.

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And now for my recipe. If you have been following this blog at all lately, you will know that the wild grape harvest is really not happening in my neck of the woods. I had a lot of ideas of what to do with grapes, but most of it will have to wait for a better season. However, with the very small amount of pressed grape juice I do have so far, I wanted to use it in a way in which its flavour and beautiful colour could be appreciated. You could use any fruit concentrate or jelly for this recipe, or if you have wild grapes, simply simmer in water until they are very soft, and then pass them through a food mill. The recipe I chose to make  is based on one from Naomi Duguid’s Burma, Rivers of Flavours, which is more than just your usual cookbook. The author’s own travels, photographs and research provide a fascinating account of this little-known country.

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There are many different versions of semolina cake and, in my opinion, they are all delicious. I have had a Sri Lankan cake with cashews, a Brazilian one with coconut, and a Greek one covered with orange syrup to name just three. Semolina is made from durum flour, usually used in making pasta, and when it is toasted, as in this recipe, it makes for a rich, nutty flavour. I followed Naomi’s recipe fairly closely with a few minor changes. I used butter instead of oil in the mixture, and omitted the butter she drizzled on top of the cake before baking. Where she grilled the cake with some almond flakes after baking, I just added some grape and honey syrup  thickened with cornstarch and sprinkled on some toasted coconut.

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Burmese Semolina Cake with Wild Grape Glaze

  • Servings: 10
  • Print

Ingredients for the cake                                   Ingredients for the Glaze

1 cup semolina flour                                                1/3 cup concentrated grape juice

1 cup brown sugar                                                    1/3 cup liquid honey

1/2 tsp. salt                                                                1 Tbsp cornstarch

1 cup fresh or canned coconut milk

1 cup warm water

4 eggs, lightly beaten

1/4 cup melted butter

1/2 cup toasted coconut (optional)

Method

Heat a heavy skillet on medium heat and add the semolina. Stir it as it cooks until the colour turns noticeably from a pale yellow to a deep golden colour. Remove it from the heat and continue to stir until the pan cools down. Add the sugar and salt and transfer it to a bowl. Add the coconut milk, the warm water and eggs and mix until thoroughly combined. Let rest for about half an hour.

Melt the butter in saucepan over a medium heat and add the semolina mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon as you would making porridge, until it becomes thick and comes away from the side of the pan (about 10 to fifteen minutes). Pour it into a slightly greased pan or skillet and pat down until flat. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about half an hour, until the top feels dry and firm.

While the cake is baking, put the cornstarch in a small bowl and pour the grape juice over it and mix until well blended. Heat the grape mixture with the honey over a medium heat for about five minutes, until it is well heated through and slightly thickened. Set aside. If using the coconut, brown it in a skillet over medium heat until golden in colour.

Remove the cake  from the oven and drizzle the glaze over it. Sprinkle the toasted coconut on top.

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As you can see from the pictures, this is not a light fluffy cake. It is more like a halva with a distinct flavour of semolina. It stores well to.


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Wild Cocktails

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Crab apple Cordial

It’s another Fiesta Friday with The Novice Gardener, and although it has been a busy week with so many Olympic events to watch, I have managed to contribute some bar fare. After all, this is one party for which I don’t have to be the designated driver.

These recipes are, as often, not really recipes, but simply ideas of how to use the ingredients I have stored in the pantry/freezer/bar which this blog is all about – wild edibles. It is all very well to know what is edible, how to identify it, and maybe even why it is good for you, but it is just as important to know what can be done with it once you have it.

Anyone who has been reading this blog from last summer might remember that I made fruit cordials, all of them sugar and fruit in a 1:1 ratio, soaked in vodka for a few weeks, then strained and bottled. The fruits I used were grapes, crab apples and high bush cranberries. I also made some spruce infused vodka for which there is already one recipe posted. I have been enjoying all these since December, but luckily have not consumed them all yet.

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Cranberry and Grape Cordials

I am not usually one for sweet or mixed drinks, but recently have enjoyed the odd cocktail in restaurants which has inspired me to try out some of my own formulas. I have limited myself to what I already have – no special purchases. I think this helps with originality as well as cost. I encourage you to do the same, and let me know what you come up with.

If the amount consumed is any indication, then the grape cordial is my favourite. The amount of sugar is right on – it is dry, but not at all sour. It makes a great little digestif all by itself, so I offer this with no frills – just straight up grape cordial.

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The high bush cranberry has a very strong flavour on its own, and even with all that sugar is not sweet. It does benefit from mixing it with something to lighten, but not extinguish the flavour.

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Cranberry Cream Cocktail

1 oz high bush cranberry cordial

1 heaping Tbsp coconut milk

1 oz pomegranate juice

5 oz. cold water

ice cubes

a few pomegranate seeds for garnish

Mix everything in a blender and strain into a glass.

The crab apple infused vodka has a wonderful apple flavour, but is a little sweet for my taste. Next time, a little less sugar. The flavour goes a long way, so it is possible to dilute it without losing its flavour. In this one, I just added a small can of ginger ale to 1 ounce of cordial and a splash of lemon juice to help cut the sweetness. I think a little ginger would be good too.

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The spruce infused vodka has a very strong, dry flavour. Not so pleasant on its own.  I would call it an essence rather than a cordial. So I used very little and mixed it with sweet and cream, and it was perfect. Especially if like me you enjoy herbal drinks, such as Chartreuse or Fernet, this is a good one.

Spruce Cream

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1/2 oz spruce infused vodka

1 oz Triple Sec

1 oz full cream (35%)

a pinch of nutmeg

Mix or blend all the ingredients and pour into a glass.

So bottoms up to all the guests this week at The Novice Gardener’s Fiesta Friday. I hope you are inspired by the idea of making your own wild cocktails – and I would love to hear any suggestions you may have for names for these concoctions.


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Sour Dough Grape Rye

In a recent post I gave a recipe for baked squash slices and used purple bread crumbs. Those breadcrumbs were the result of a failed experiment which also turned out to be one of the best breads I ever made. In that post, I promised to explain my source once I figured out to make a bread that was worthy of more than just being crushed into crumbs, even though the squash recipe doesn’t need any special type of bread. It is not a recipe you will necessarily be able or want to make yourselves, but if you are curious about bread making methods, you might appreciate what I learned, namely how to make a good sourdough without any commercial yeast, and about using wild grapes in a sourdough starter.

I should explain that this past summer I came across a title of a recipe using a small amount of fermented wild grape pulp. However, after the title, the rest of the recipe had disappeared, but the idea stayed with me. When I returned from over a week’s trip, I found in the fridge a large container of wild grape juice which had gone horribly bad. So I had to put it to good use!

The other thing that happened at about the same time was I came across a blog on bread making which had, among many others ‘must-tries’, a recipe for Borodinski bread. This is a variety of Russian black bread which I have often tried to recreate, with little success. I have also bought it an any Russian store I have come across in the US or Canada, but it is never quite right. Reading this recipe, I realized I had put yeast in it – and should have been using sourdough. Maybe the Russian shop bakers had done the same thing to make it more like North American bread. So, Borododinski it would be.

I was so unconfident that this bread made of really off juice would be any good, and could not believe that the grape mess would serve as a starter, that it was doomed from the start. Convinced the whole experiment would end up in the bin, I did not give it the attention it deserved. I barely kneaded it, nor did I grease the pan. When I took it out of the oven (and finally managed to extract it from the pan in pieces) I could hardly believe how tasty and authentic it was. So I was inspired to try again. For my second attempt, I added water, doubling the amount of liquid. I wanted to make sure I could make enough bread to last me a while. I also added the coriander, baked it at a cooler temperature, and yes, I greased the pans. And behold!

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This is a very dense and moist rye bread, a close relative of pumpernickle. But there is no other bread quite like it. It should be sliced very thin, and if you don’t have caviar, sour cream, or smoked salmon around, you can serve it with cheese. In Russia I toasted it for breakfast and served it buttered with thin slices of tomatoes when they were in season. Still one of my favourite meals.

The quantities are not that important. I am sure I could have made it with less juice and more water, and the amount of flour is determined by the amount of liquid. The time to prepare the starter mixture for me was about a week, but I would leave it at least four days, depending on the temperature of your place. As long as you keep adding ‘feed’ to it, and it is still alive, it is ok.

Sour Dough Grape Rye Borodinski Style

2 cups mixture of water and fermented grape juice

1 Tbsp salt

1 tsp ground coriander

2 Tbsp molasses

rye flour

Add a heaping tablespoon of rye flour every day to the grape juice. Occasionally I added a little warm water to speed up the process, as my kitchen is pretty frigid. After 4-7 days, you should see some small bubbles forming on top of the liquid. Pour it into a bowl and add the salt, coriander and molasses. Add about 1 cup of rye flour, mix well, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap (the fruit flies love it) and let it sit – preferably in a warm place – for another day. Add gradually enough rye flour to make a firm ball. Turn it out onto a clean, floured surface and start to knead, adding a bit of flour at a time until it is not able to absorb any more. At this point, it will not be sticky. Place it in a greased bowl, cover again and leave for a few hours, or if your kitchen is warm, just a couple of hours. Punch it down (it will not have risen much at all), and knead it a few more times. Form it into loaf sizes, and place in well-greased bread tins. Bake at 325 F. until it looks done, about an hour and 15 min. To check for doneness, tap it on the top and it should sound hollow. Remove immediately from pans and place on a rack to cool.

This bread is not fluffy, and doesn’t rise, so I’m not sure if all these wait times are really necessary, but I don’t think they hurt, and it just feels right after my other bread making experience. Also, it is great not to have to do it all at once.

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Now that I have made a true sourdough bread, I am inspired to try my hand at other recipes, without the grape for now. The texture and flavour of this have convinced me that I have been making bread wrong all my life.