Simple Bruschetta

You saw this in my bread recipe.

It’s all I eat all summer. I have very little to say about this bruschetta recipe. It’s delicious. Garlicy. Summery. Balsamic vinegary. All of the best things. You can make it in less than five minutes and pair it with bread and wine and a porch. In this recipe, I used fresh frozen basil from a brand called Dorot that sells trays of cubed herbs. My boss picked up a container for me from Trader Joes, and I have used it to add that uniquely summer taste to everything from scrambled eggs to spaghetti.

Enjoy.

Simple Bruschetta
Makes 2-3 Servings

1 large tomato, chopped
1/2 clove garlic, diced
1/2 cube Dorot basil, or a small handful fresh basil, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium bowl, combine the tomato, garlic, basil, olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Stir until wholly combined. Set aside at room temperature for at least 15 minutes – time allows the flavors to blend – before eating.

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Candied Violets and Lilac Blossoms

They are beautiful. They are exotic. They are delicious.

Have you ever eaten a flower?  They taste exactly like they smell, and taking time to crystallize them is artfully therapeutic.

However, if you are hoping for a buddy to assist you’ll probably need to bribe them.  I’m thinking wine but if you don’t drink – this takes tons of time – I’m still thinking wine.

OR…

this could be the perfect distraction for the “chat” you need to have with ____.  Both will be so engaged in candying flowers that there will be no awkwardness.  Where was this idea when I was stumbling through awkward chats?

The photo below is of our beautiful lilacs under branch breaking wet snow. This was dubbed Snowpril by the media.  The biggest snow in late April in recent memory.

And this…

…made me pick all these sweet violets and lilacs so they would not freeze.

Candying (crystallizing) flowers kind of suspends them in time.  I like that!  In December I can bite into one of the tiny lilac flowers, close my eyes, and be back in May for a moment.  That will be very nice, let alone how beautiful they are even underneath a layer of crisp sugar.

THESE ARE SO BEAUTIFUL.

Enough tiny flowers that will be lovely on cakes or petit fours, cupcakes.   I learned how to do something new, all because of a big bad storm. I work several jobs, most of us do; you know how life gets going and you can’t stop until one day you take a deep breath and say “Where did Spring go?”.  “I think I missed it.”.

To get started you will need bunches of very fresh edible flowers: violets, lilacs, borage, pansies, rose petals and even mint leaves.

Very Important:  Do NOT ever use flowers that have had chemicals used on them.  If there is any uncertainty do not use them.

Choose only perfect flowers and leaves that have not begun to wilt at all.  This is important.  Even the smallest amount of wilting will collapse under the little bit of weight of egg wash and sugar. Look back at the lilacs under that wet snow.  A healthy fresh flower has amazing staying power.  That was a 48 hour heavy snow they survived.

Egg White(1): beaten with a fork until frothy (If you have concern about raw eggs choose instead powdered egg whites found on the grocery store shelf).

Refined Sugar(1 cup) : (not powdered, not granulated)  Can take granulated sugar, whir it in a blender for about 15 seconds and it becomes what is called refined sugar.  Too long and it becomes powdered

Waxed paper, 2 small bowls and a small paint brush for each person.  Also, a cookie sheet or cooling rack to on which to dry flowers.  To store, you will need a tin or plastic container to layer flowers between waxed paper so they will keep for up to a year.  If tightly sealed, the flowers can be frozen in the container and keep longer than a year.

You are ready to start.  Remember – only fully fresh flowers. Discard weak or fading flowers.

Here is an example of perfect:

Take the paint brush and dip it into the foamy egg whites and literally paint every exposed part of the flower, including the inside and the back and tops of the stem.

This takes time so just let go and give yourself over to it.   I’ve read about the idea of immersing the whole flour into the egg whites to save time, and some flowers might do okay but mine got all snarly and bunched up and it ended up either ruining them or I had to take even more time unfolding the petals again.  Just go for the right method.  Put the flower on the waxed paper if it helps.  Then you will immerse the flower in the refined sugar, again making sure every visible part is covered.

After that process is finished make sure the petals look the way you want them to and place the flower gently onto the waxed paper to dry

Do the same with lilac blossoms.  Lilacs separate in small “bouguets” and can be candied  like I did in the photo above, or do individual flowers.  Lilacs are much easier to work with than violets because they are sturdier.

Candied flowers should be saved for only extremely special occasions or gifted to someone who will appreciate them.

Fresh lilacs on a carrot cake!

Spring Carrot and Mint Salad: What shall I do with all that Mint?

Perhaps an Easter dinner accompaniment?

Ever come across a recipe that combines ingredients that read so prettily you have to try it?  Here it is – and it’s easy to prepare for a meal or picnic, yet so yummy it may become your healthy answer when that urge for a crunchy munchy hits.   This salad delights with the surprise of freshly ground pepper and mint.  And it’s economical, especially if you are blessed and cursed with an invasive patch of mint like we have.   Many moons ago a friend gave me a copy of The Silver Palate Cookbook where I found this recipe, called Carrot Rapees (rapees is the French word for grated).  We planned to share many meals together from this book, but our lives turned in different directions and it has been, as I said, many moons. Although this wonderful book has fallen apart it is far too good to toss.

A little background on this dish places it in France: a sort of national food found nearly everywhere in one form or another. While essentially grating carrots and adding a little vinaigrette can do the job….this combination is heavenly.  

What you’ll need:

3 large carrots,cleaned and peeled (I don’t peel mine)

1/2 cup dried currants (can use raisins)

juice of 1 medium sized orange

juice of 1 medium sized lemon

1/4 cup mild vegetable oil (I use canola)

1/2 cup chopped fresh mint

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (the pepper is very important)

Coarsely shred carrots.  I’m going to go ahead and confess here that I actually get kind of itchy when I see people cut off half the strawberry in order to remove the stem.  I feel the same way about all veges and fruits (thanks to my Scottish heritage), wasting as little as possible. A great way to prevent grating parts of your fingers in to the salad is to scrub the carrots well and just take off the tiny end tip.  Leave the top intact and use that end to hold your carrots while grating.  That way you can grate almost down to the end without wasting much carrot.  Easily strip the leaves of the mint from the stems by lightly sliding your fingers from the top of  the stem down, then coarsely chop. For the lemon and orange I appreciate the juicer I inherited from my mother-in-law.  It gets all the juice!

Once all ingredients are assembled, toss together in a bowl, like this:

 

This beautiful bunny bowl was a find at a fair. I knew the woman who had hand-made it.  She was a lovely person and I like that this bowl gets a new life. It always waits patiently. 🙂

This will keep for several days if you make enough of it.  Today I’m taking a bit of culinary artistic license and adding a touch of lemon balm from the garden – as equally invasive as the mint, and using golden raisins because I don’t have currants on the shelf.  Currants are uniquely different from raisins and golden raisins, and I prefer to use them.  It turns out this variation is also nice.  Serves 4-6 hungry bunnies!

Cooking with Saffron; A Means to a Beautiful Garden End

Spring is in the air and in the ground.  Purple and golden crocuses are dotting the landscape, hugging the ground against the unpredictable weather.  It was a surprising discovery to learn that the incredibly expensive saffron spice  comes from a lowly crocus.  Even more surprising was the discovery that the saffron crocus, Crocus Sativus, grows easily where I live.  See the long red saffron threads below? They are known as “red-gold.”

I had passed over many recipes because of the cost prohibitive little vials of saffron.  Then we had a special dinner party where my husband requested Spanish Paella to celebrate his memories of Spain.  I believe I spent $17 on a tiny glass jar containing three delicate threads of saffron wrapped in paper. The threads are so delicate they must be picked carefully by hand, ergo the whopping price tag. Paella would not be authentic without the threads.  Moors brought Crocus Sativus (autumn blooming saffron crocus) to Spain a few hundred years after their conquest. Paella is a very pretty dish with things like sausage, mussels, shrimp, tomatoes, and peppers tucked into the huge pan of scented rice, and every region of Spain boasts it’s own take on the dish.


The scent of saffron is somewhat elusive.  Dusty and slightly bitter but sweet is the best I can offer, other than that I’d say it tastes like a flower, which it is.  Since I’ve not eaten many flowers you see how I’m going in circles with this? I read one report that likens it to honey and fresh cut grass.

Let’s go back to the fun part of this story where the saffron crocus grows cheerfully in western Pennsylvania.  I like that.  If there’s a way to have the most expensive spice in the world and get it by going out into the back yard  to harvest the stigma’s of this crocus I’d think that’s pretty fine. Imagine the small cottage industry potential! They increase in numbers over the years, just like any other crocus.  

Here’s the little lady showing off her first blooms last fall.  We planted her in honor of our Rosie girl, the best dog ever.  She had a great appetite – we knew she’d approve.  A brief history of how central Pennsylvania became a major exporter of saffron: The ancestors of the Pennsylvania Dutch widely grew this crocus in Europe and brought it with them when they left and came to America for religious freedom.  Saffron cultivation into the modern culinary world can be traced to these diligent farmers. It is generally accepted that saffron grown in this area is the finest in the world.

Just reading the romantic history of saffron and that I can grow it makes me want to make some tasty something with it. Since Spanish Paella, which blends a multitude of flavors, is the only dish I remember using it in, I’d like to try something that showcases the delicate nature of saffron.

If saffron has been mysterious to you and you love to garden, this could be an interesting multifaceted experience.  Let’s see where it goes and maybe we’ll all be planting the lovely Crocus Sativus this coming autumn!

Raspberry Cordial~A Good Reason To Plant Berries

Imagine you are sitting in front of a cozy fire, warm and snuggled in with the cold of winter howling at the door.  In your hand is a tiny crystal glass filled with ruby red liquid, sweet and thick.  You lift it to your lips, close your eyes and are transported to a soft summer day, picking berries from a fully ripened patch that no one else has yet discovered.  That, dear reader, is what Raspberry Cordial tastes like. Really.

When my daughters were little they loved watching Anne of Green Gables.  We still laugh about the guilty Anne Shirley offering raspberry cordial to her best friend, who became “drunk” on it.  I wanted a piece of that action and went on a little discovery of how to make it.  There are as many recipes out there as types of raspberry bushes, but I wanted to go for  one that would be simple and require old fashioned labor to create. This one includes vodka so that it can be sipped or poured over vanilla icecream, but there are recipes that are alcohol free.   I started it on our anniversary, September 21, because that was when  there was a “glut” in the raspberry crop along with reason to celebrate a long happy marriage.  Everyone should experience that kind of generosity of nature at least once in a life time.  I mean the raspberries of course…. if you’re fortunate enough to have a happy marriage that’s a generosity of nature to be enjoyed as well.

This is so simple.  The harder part is getting your hands on a quart of fresh raspberries..although I suppose frozen could be used.

Raspberry Cordial

1 pound fresh red raspberries

3 cups vodka (a mid- price range)

1 1/2 cups sugar

Find a large glass or ceramic jar that will hold all of the ingredients.  Place raspberries in jar, cover with sugar, then pour vodka over the top.  Gently mix together with a spoon, cover it and set it on the counter where you won’t forget it.  Every day stir it and return cover.  Do this for a month or even two.  Strain the berries from the liquid and put the beautiful red cordial in a pretty bottle.  It will keep like any other liquor. But more about the berries:

In this part of the country it’s time to prepare the soil to plant raspberries.  Past experiences with raspberries, for me, amounted to watching my father dig manure into the sides of  raspberry rows in late winter, followed by thinning out the thorny brambles, then trying to beat the birds to the berries on a sweltering summer day, completely covered against the thorns and potentially unhappy bees.  But the ruby red juicy berries were worth the risk.  There are some things helpful to know about raspberries to succeed.  Wild brambles can interfere with your berry bush production, so you want to give them some distance. This is particularly true of blackberries.  Planting in early spring is better than in the fall. A spring feeding of manure is important and once established raspberries will be difficult to ruin. And if you have a sunny corner of the house in the suburbs or the terrace of an apartment you can grow a few of these plants. But the most valuable thing I learned is that there are berries out there that will produce amazing berries and are thorn free.  Are you smiling?   I’m about to give away the farm here, but Joan J Primocane Raspberry bushes start producing in mid June and continues all the way into late October or a hard frost.

Raspberries and roses are close relatives.  Isn’t that cool?  The next time you smell a rose think about raspberries.  They are members of the Rosa family.

Photos Add Spice to the Recipe Called Life

It's February. You needed this

There are moments and events in life that are pivotal for us. A friend once described life as a tapestry of individual threads woven through it that are difficult to identify, yet together make a beautiful pattern. Those moments are like the  threads in the tapestry, which are like spices in a recipe….which is what I’m permitted to blog about…but I wanted to share a photo I took last summer.

When we cook we season the dish with salt, pepper, cinnamon, thyme and so forth.  Scents, the feel of the air, music, design and the textures of nature are the spices in this recipe called life. February in this part of the country is bland, but full of promise that spring is  around the corner.  For me taking pictures  is much like harvesting herbs from the summer garden for the winter pot.  I know I need to preserve those moments to spice up those less than brilliant days of the year. Fairy Roses    are beautiful!