Category Archives: recipe

Enjoying Edible Flowers

… or, “Gramma, why are there flowers in the salad?”

Yes, indeed, there are flowers in the salad. Many folks are surprised to see even the common violet or nasturtium in their green, leafy salad, but people have been eating flowers for centuries. In dayes of olde, some flowers were pounded with sugar and eaten to dispel unseemly humours, while some flowers have been fermented into delightful alcoholic beverages – another way to improve one’s humor. There are also some flowers that should never be consumed, which I will get to later.

Kitchen Herb Flowers                                                                                                        Generally speaking, all the culinary herbs – such as Basil, Marjoram, Oregano, Thyme, Rosemary and Savory – have edible flowers. Normally we try to harvest these herbs before they are in full flower, but some do get away from us, and these flowers are just as useful in the kitchen as the leaves; they pretty much taste the same as the leaf. These flowers can be tossed into salads, minced into omelets or frittatas, and added to rice or soup toward the end of the cooking time. Thyme flowers make a good tea for chest colds and sore throats.

Flowering Thyme

While not often used in cooking, the flower petals of Monarda, often called Bergamot or Bee Balm, add a spicy, minty, almost oregano-like flavor to salads, and they also make a snappy cup of tea, useful for coughs and lung congestion.

Monarda blossom, spicy and pungent

To make a simple herb-flower tea, boil 1 pint water, remove from heat. Place 1 teaspoon fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried flowers into a teapot or other suitable vessel,  pour the hot water over the herb, then cover and steep from 5 to 10 minutes; strain and serve, using honey to sweeten if desired. Do not give honey to babies under one year old.

Flowers from kitchen garden herbs make an attractive edible garnish. This includes the azure-blue flowers of the Borage plant, whose leaves have an aroma and taste reminiscent of cucumber. Flowering herb stems can also be used to make herbal vinegars. Flowering Basil immediately comes to mind, especially the purple types because they will tint the vinegar a beautiful pinkish-purple and taste wonderful.

Borage flower

A fun summer project using edible flowers is to take your favorite combination of flowering herbs – thyme and marjoram, for example – and tie a few sprigs together with kitchen string, and hang them to dry for use later in soups and stews. Put these miniature bouquets into a wide-mouthed glass jar for easy retrieval. They also make useful gifts. You can even string together several of them on a length of jute or twine and make a rustic garland to decorate your kitchen.

Sweet-Faced Flowers                                                                                                   As you may already know, all violet, viola, pansy and johnny jump-up flowers are edible, the domestic varieties as well as the wild. It’s hard to describe the taste of a violet flower; it’s almost anise-flavored, yet it isn’t… I guess they just taste like themselves. It’s my annual tradition to use violets in spring salads. The yellow variety that grow in the woods near my home blooms at about the same time as morel mushrooms are emerging, and both are great in risotto. Sweet Violet flowers make an enchanting syrup like nothing you’ve ever had. Many herbal chefs use this family of flowers to decorate butters and cheeses, creating something that resembles a tiny float from the Pasadena Rose Bowl Parade – almost too pretty to eat! Try it yourself sometime, or get your kids to do the decorating, they will have loads of fun. “Sally, stop eating all the flowers, we’re saving them to decorate the butter!”

Basic Herbal Syrup – In a small saucepan, boil 1 quart water with 2 ounces dried or 4 ounces fresh plant material; turn down the heat and simmer uncovered until reduced by half, leaving 1 pint, about 20 minutes. Strain, then add 1/2 cup honey, stirring until blended. If using sugar, use 1 cup sugar and, when adding to the strained herbal decoction, return to medium heat just until dissolved. Decant the syrup into a super-clean bottle, label and date. The syrup should be refrigerated and will keep about 3 months.

A large quantity of Elderberry Elixir, which is a syrup fortified with alcohol

Unusual and Fragrant                                                                                                         Lavender flowers don’t often make it into the kitchen, except maybe to flavor Lemonade, or in French herbal blends, but have you ever tried lavender shortbread? Simply add 1 tablespoon fresh or dried lavender flowers to you favorite shortbread recipe, and do not overbake the cookies. Be ready for something special.

Another not-so-common flower in the kitchen is the romantic Rose. There are dozens of ways to eat a rose, from the silky petals to the voluptuous hips.

Rose Petal Honey – Gently press 1 pint clean rose petals into the bottom of a saucepan. Pour room-temperature mild honey into the pan to cover the petals, about 2 cups honey, possibly more, and slowly heat over low until the honey is just warm, a few minutes only; too much heat destroys the healthful enzymes. Put this sticky mixture into a clean jar and close tightly. Store at room temperature for about 2 weeks to allow the rose flavor and fragrance to permeate the honey. Reheat honey again over low heat by placing the jar in a small pan of water (like a double boiler); after it softens, strain out the petals and recap immediately. You could also start over again and make a batch of double-infused honey for more flavor. If you have the time and inclination, you could heat the honey in its jar in the warm sun for these procedures.

She Loves Me…                                                                                                                       … and I love her too! I am referring to the sunny marigold, but not just any marigold. The orange-petaled flower with the golden center we call Calendula is also referred to as “pot marigold” or simply marigold. Calendula was widely used in Elizabethan times as a food and potherb. The petals can be made into a tonic tea for toning the lymphatic system. Calendula petals are well known as an herb for sensitive skin, and the petals make a golden hair rinse.

Calendula, sometimes called pot marigold
Lemon Gem Marigold, note the tiny flowers

You can also eat the petals of the delicate Gem Marigolds (of the common garden-variety marigold), and these have a citrusy aroma and flavor such as lemon or tangerine. You can take the petals of either the gem marigolds or calendula and toss them into pancakes, muffins, or even birthday cakes. I have seen wedding cakes decorated with calendula petals and even the white petals from daisies, much to everyone’s delight. Any of these could be folded into a tub of whipped butter. Just use the petals, as the whole head of any of these would not be palatable.

Wedding Cake decorated with edible flowers

Dandelion petals also fall into the category of edible flowers, even the unopened flower bud is used as food. I’m thinking a wilted spinach salad with dandelion buds quickly sauteed in a dab of bacon grease and chopped hard-cooked eggs – kind of bitter, but tasty.

Flowers with Attitude                                                                                                       My favorite edible spring flower blooms atop the slender chive stem. The flavor is sweet and biting, with a crisp texture. The separate florets radiate from the central stem and are easy to snip off all at once to use in salads, soups, and scrambled eggs – my favorite! Nothing says spring to me like fresh green chives and their purple blossoms… even now, in my mind’s eye, I am out there in the early morning garden getting my slippers wet and picking chive blossoms.

Chive blossoms

Other edible flowers that are more of a by-product of over-mature garden vegetables include radish YUM! and arugula, which I think taste much better than the leaves.

One popular edible flower with bite is the nasturtium. The leaves are edible as well, but personally I prefer the flowers. Not only are they tasty torn up into a salad or floating blissfully on the sea of a cool summer soup, they can also be dried and used in winter soups too. In fact, the nasturtium, which is native to Peru, contains a natural antibiotic and enhances the immune system. They also fall into the next category of edible flowers.

Nasturtiums in bloom

Stuff It!                                                                                                                                        And I mean that in a most tasteful way. Nasturtium flowers are great stuffed with a bit of garlicky cream cheese and eaten raw. So are hollyhocks (my Gramma Lil called them Polish Roses); just remove the large stamen in the middle before stuffing, and may I recommend a lemony-chive flavoring to the cream cheese, or perhaps a bit of curry powder. Hollyhock flower is also a gentle diuretic when made into a simple tea; it is related to the marshmallow plant, which has been used as a soothing emollient for centuries. Hollyhock makes yet another soothing tea that is good for sore throats and coughs.

Pink Hollyhock flower

Another edible flower suitable for stuffing, which must be cooked before eating, is the squash blossom, especially from summer squash. Be sure to take the male flowers on the long stems and not the female flowers on the swollen stems, or you’ll be robbing your plants of all the zucchini. Squash flowers are also delicious torn up into soups and scrambled eggs.

Squash blossom

Stuffed Squash Blossoms – Pick the blossoms mid-morning after the dew is dried and before they wilt in the heat of the day; remove any insects that may be inside. Do not wash these flowers, and keep cool until ready to use. Carefully stuff a thin slice or two of jack or mozzarella cheese inside, securing with a toothpick if necessary. Next, lightly dredge in seasoned flour; dip into beaten egg; then dredge again in seasoned breadcrumbs or cornmeal. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, fry the squash blossoms in a bit of oil, turning once, until golden brown.  Sprinkle with a dash of salt, serve immediately and watch them disappear.

 

Squash blossoms, stuffed and fried

Just Because they’re Pretty…   …doesn’t mean they’re edible! Never eat flowers from the florist; they’re all treated with fungicides, insecticides, and other chemicals, rendering them toxic and inedible even if they’re not poisonous flowers.

Under no circumstances should you eat any of the following flowers, no matter if they are wild or domestic. They are noxious, poisonous, toxic, deadly, or worse. Don’t even touch ’em.

ACONITE       BLEEDING HEART (and Dutchman’s Breeches)    BUTTERCUP       CLEMATIS       DEATH CAMAS     DELPHINIUM       FOXGLOVE (digitalis)                                                 HEMLOCK (not the tree)       HYDRANGEA (snowball bush)     IRIS       LUPINE (including the seeds)       NIGHTSHADE     OLEANDER       PEONY       PERIWINKLE       POINSETTIA     SWEET PEA (not the vegetable pea, but the fragrant flower)    TANSY       WISTERIA

There are others, but these are the most common. I would also advise against eating wildflowers (or any other part of the plant) that resemble the dill plant, even though many are edible, since the Umbel family (their flowers look like umbrellas) has some virulently poisonous members in their ranks. So do certain members of the lily family, like the above-mentioned Death Camas, but onions and chives are lilies too, so I guess you can’t judge a whole family on account of one or two members. If you are gathering wild flowers to eat, be sure to make a positive identification first before picking.  If you want to eat garden flowers and aren’t sure which is which, ask at your local nursery or County Extension Master Gardeners for help in identifying the safe from the sorry… Oops! Pulmonary arrest, how inconvenient…

 

The wild Rose, fragrant and edible

 

 

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Zucchini Pizza on a spooky Friday night

 

Just a quiet Friday nite in the Shababy/Veitch household, and like many families, Friday Night is Pizza Night. And spooky movies night (or tv shows), like The X-Files.

it’s Spooky out there

In our household, one of us is diabetic, and can’t eat much in the way of what the rest of us would call a “crust” or “bread”, at least not without spiking blood glucose. Gluten-free crust isn’t the answer either to a low-carb pizza, since rice flour and other alternatives to wheat are actually higher in carbs. For this pizza, the approximate total carbohydrate value is around 25g.  This doesn’t consider any sort of glycemic index since that doesn’t always seem to apply for measuring responses. http://nutritiondata.self.com/ 

So we compromise and make a breadless pizza. You could easily serve breadsticks or garlic bread on the side for folks who can eat them.

When I think about it, this dish is more like a vegetable lasagna w/o the noodles, particularly since you have to eat it with a fork, but we like calling it pizza, so humor us if you will.

What I am offering here is a simple photographic instruction on how we make this dish. Slather on the sauce if you wish, pile on the peppers, mound up mushrooms, make it how you like it for your family. In the summer when the CSA is overflowing, I like to use eggplant (my personal fave) instead of zucchini, but since it has twice as many carbs as the squash,  we sometimes make both! We love our local CSA, Mountain Cloud Farm. https://www.mountaincloudfarm.com/  

Pan-frying in olive oil

First I prep the squash whether peeling or not, then slice into 1/4″ pieces. I usually slice them into rounds, but not this time. Just brown the seasoned zucchini in a medium hot skillet in a bit of olive oil , they do not need to fully cook.

Aren’t they cute?

I like to line the pan with parchment to keep everything from sticking.  Next we put the sauce on and some pre-grated parmesan cheese, not necessarily top shelf, but appropriate for this application. I had also fried up a hot Italian sausage that I removed from it’s casing to layer on it’s great flavor. We sourced the sausage at Winter Ridge Market where they make it in-house from local pork.  http://winterridgefoods.com/departments/meat/

zucchini pizza in progress
Italian sausage kicking it up a notch
ready for the oven

After the sausage,  we added mushrooms and roasted red peppers, along with a sprinkling of mozzarella.

The red peppers were also sourced from the CSA. When we got them home, we roasted off the skins, laid them flat on a tray, and froze them. Then they were placed in zipper bags with parchment in between to keep them from sticking together. We were able to extend the harvest from our CSA, since during some of the summer weeks there is sometimes more produce than the two of us can eat, so we learned to choose what works best for us… yes, we can pick and choose at this farm, can you?

Then of course there is the waiting… I start out with a hot 425-degrees F. oven for about 10 minutes, then reduce heat to moderate and check every 15 minutes or so. Use a fork to see if the zucca is tender; I had to drain off a little liquid in last nite’s batch, perhaps a little more browing in the skillet would have made that unnecessary.

The pizza takes 30-40 minutes, which means you can enjoy some pre-supper libations if you choose, or a game or two of gin rummy. And the results?

be careful, it’s hot!

 

This dish is plated – bring on the movie!

As for The X-Files, it was the last episode of the series, a bit of a let-down in a way… but after all, it’s only a TV-show, right? I mean, just because you don’t believe in them doesn’t mean…

how much libation did you have?

 

 

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We’re Crazy for spiced Nuts

 

I love nuts! I’m nuts about them. I’ve never met a nut I didn’t like. So I wanted to share a couple recipes with you for two varieties of spiced nuts.

pecans on the tree

 

cashews on the tree

The first recipe for cashews is delicious, with no added-fat, while the second recipe is not for the faint-of-heart since it uses a healthy dose of black pepper for flavoring.

 

cashew nuts

Sugar & Spice Cashews

2 egg whites

1/3 cup natural sugar or ½ cup coconut sugar

1 teaspoon each, sea salt, cayenne, cumin and chili powder

¼ teaspoon each, allspice and ginger root powder

6 cups cashews, whole or large pieces

Pre-heat oven to 300-degrees. Line 3 ungreased baking pans with parchment.

In a large bowl, whip the egg whites until foamy but not stiff. In another bowl, mix all the spice ingredients together, then stir into the egg whites. Stir in the nuts. Spread the mixture evenly in the prepared pans.

Bake the cashews for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, then toss and separate the nuts using a metal spatula. Return nuts to oven, reduce heat to 250-degrees, and bake another 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove cashews from oven, stir again, then place pans on wire rack to cool. Store in airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

 

pecans, loose and in the shell

Peppered Pecans

1/2 cup natural sugar

2 tablespoons sea salt

2-3 tablespoons ground black pepper

4 cups (about 16 ounces) pecan halves

Mix dry ingredients in a small bowl. Heat a large heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, over high heat, add the pecans and toss for a minute or so, to bring the nut oils out. Remove from heat.

Sprinkle half the spiced sugar over the pecans until the sugar begins to melt, about 1 minute. Add remaining spice and repeat.

After 1 minute or so, pour pecans onto a baking sheet, spreading to cool. Seal air tight to store.

 

peppercorns

 

black pepper on the vine
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Delicious Flavored Butters

Go ahead, butter me up!!!

 

The photos below picture two of the flavored butters we sampled at the Sandpoint Library in September 2010, at the Herbal Pantry Staples and Fall Comfort Foods demonstration, above. There were over 2 dozen folks who attended, and it was a lot of fun. Here are two recipes, neither of which are in my book The Wild & Weedy Apothecary.

Raspberry Butter
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened at room temperature
1/2 cup raspberry puree (from unsweetened fresh or frozen berries sieved for seeds)
1-2 tablespoons honey

 

Garlicky Dill Butter
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill leaf
1-1/2 tablespoons chopped garlic, about 3 or 4 cloves
2 teaspoons lemon juice, optional

 

The method of preparation for the Garlicky Dill Butter is the same as for most other flavored butters, that is, let the butter soften at room temperature, add the other ingredients, whip it good (into shape!), and either place in a pretty crock or roll into a log on some waxed paper and then chill to make rounds or pats (the process is messy but good). Just about everyone at the class loved the garlic-dill butter, but I wouldn’t use the lemon juice option unless you’ll be using it on fresh steamed veggies; if it’s just for bread or rolls, I think it tastes better without the lemony flavor, but that’s just me.
For making the Raspberry Butter, I used a food processor, because there was no way the puree was going to blend willingly with the butter. It made a real mess whether I used a spoon or a wire whisk. However, the effort and experimentation was well worth it, because the result tasted sort of like raspberry whipped cream. In other words, Excellent

 

Please share your own favorite flavored butter combinations with me, I’d love to try them out!
To see more about Herbal Pantry Staples, check out my article in Llewellyn’s 2015 Herbal Almanac, which you can purchase directly from them.http://www.llewellyn.com/product.php?ean=9780738726892

You can also get it from Amazon.

http://www.amazon.com/Llewellyns-2015-Herbal-Almanac-Gathering/dp/0738726893

 

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To your Good Health – Wassail!

 

wassail in bowl

Soon we will be facing the longest night of the year, it will be here sooner than we realize! Creating new traditions out of old ones is something that can bring a feeling of satisfaction to our lives. As we connect via invisible airwaves, it is comforting to know we are still nourished by the same things that sustained our ancestors. In this case, The Apple.

apple cut to show star

Here is a short excerpt from my book, The Wild & Weedy Apothecary, about the tradition of Wassail – both the verb and the beverage.

The curious custom of Wassail — from the Anglo-Saxon wes hal, meaning “be whole” or to drink “to the health of” — is a midwinter toast to the apple orchard, and possibly dates back to the fifth century; some believe it is a relic held over from Roman sacrifices to Pomona, goddess of fruit. It was certainly practiced in the West Country of England up until very recently, and many neopagans and period-revivalists still do so — and why not?

The tradition took place on Twelfth Night, usually around January 5.  A biscuit or cake doused with cider was laid on a tree branch, doused again, and then all the folks who had gathered in the orchard would sing carols or hymns — “Hats full! Caps full! Bushel-bushel-sacks full!” and bang pots and pans together, with the men sometimes shooting their guns into the air, generally making a great noise to ward off uninvited bad spirits and to let the beneficent spirits know where the apple trees were.

wassail festivity

The wassail bowl was sometimes passed around and shared as a “loving cup” or was brought door to door to wassail the neighbors and their homes. Sometimes even beehives were wassailed. Proclaiming a toast to those things in life that are vital and necessary, such as food and friends, makes a lot of sense, and we can see that wassail is an activity as well as a food item.

Some recipes for wassail feature baked apples floating around the punch bowl. Most wassail recipes include brandy, stout, or some kind of alcohol, although you could certainly make it without.

 ripe apples

Here is a recipe that takes a little bit of time and fussing, but the results will be fun to share with your fellow revelers.

English Wassail

12 small red apples

3  each, whole cloves, allspice berries, and cardamom seeds

1 cinnamon stick

2 quarts good English ale

1 teaspoon each ground ginger and nutmeg

2 cups natural sugar

1 fifth bottle dry sherry or port

6 eggs, separated

Bake apples at 350-degrees for 20 minutes, set aside. In a large saucepan, place the whole spices, 2 cups of the ale, and the ground spices, and slowly heat for 10 minutes. Strain ale into a bowl, discard spices, and return ale to the pan. Add remaining ale, the sugar, and the sherry or port, heating on low for about  20 minutes; do not boil! In the meantime, beat the egg whites until firm, beat the yolks until creamy, then fold in the whites. Slowly beat the hot ale mixture into the eggs until smooth (you can see why you don’t want it to boil). Carefully pour the hot liquid into a heatproof bowl. Float apples on top. Serve warm in heated mugs.

wassail cup

 

Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too!

 

http://www.llewellyn.com/product.php?ean=9780738719078

https://www.amazon.com/The-Wild-Weedy-Apothecary-Concoctions/dp/0738719072

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