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Happy Valentines Day!

I’m here to tell you, the mixture of chocolate and rose petals is like a love drug. So what better way to start this beautiful sunny snow-snuggled morning than with a nice cup of hot chocolate topped with a lusciously melting chocolate rose petal marshmallow? It’s guaranteed. Even the oldest and grumpiest of us will feel young and in love.

Homemade chocolate rose petal marshmallows

Homemade chocolate rose petal marshmallows

 

Chocolate Rose Petal Marshmallows

  • 1/2 cup cocoa for dusting
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar (also for dusting)
  • butter for greasing pan
  • 1/4 cup dried rose petals (food quality only–no pesticides)
  • 1 cup (240 ml) ice-cold water
  • 3 tablespoons powdered gelatin
  • 2 cups (400 g granulated sugar
  • ½ cup (120 ml) Lyle’s golden syrup
  • ¼ teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

 

Directions:  

 ♨ Oil the bottom of a 9×13” pan, wiping it down with paper towels to remove any excess. Place the cocoa in a hand-held strainer and dust the bottom and sides of the pan liberally. Place the rose petals in another strainer and sprinkle (by rubbing the petals against the screen of the strainer) liberally over the bottom of the pan, over the cocoa.

♨ Pour half the water into a large bowl and sprinkle the gelatine over the water. Leave to stand for about 10 minutes.

♨ Warm the granulated sugar, golden syrup, remaining water and salt in a large saucepan set over low heat, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat to medium-high and let boil for 10-12 minutes, or until a candy thermometer reaches 240°F (the soft ball stage). Remove from the heat and pour in the gelatin mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon until the gelatine has dissolved.

♨ Use a hand-held mixer to beat the mixture on a high setting for 10 minutes, until thick, shiny and fluffy. For a more pronounced rose flavor, you can sift more of the rose petals into the marshmallows at this point, early in the mixing stage (so the heat of the marshmallow mixture makes the roses more fragrant.)

♨Add the vanilla extract to the marshmallow mixture and mix until just combined, then pour into the greased and sugared pan, working as quickly as possible.

♨Sift the remaining cocoa evenly over the top and let the marshmallows set at room temperature for at least 4 hours, and up to 1 day until firm. *Alternatively, pipe the mixture through a pastry bag into tiny dots.

To Cut Marshmallows:

♨ When the marshmallows are set in the pan, run a thin butter knife around the edges of the set marshmallows. Turn the pan over onto a cutting board dusted with powdered sugar (or more cocoa). Lift one corner of the pan and ease the marshmallows out using your fingers. Trim the edges and cut into squares using a large knife, scissors or a pizza cutter coated in oil.

♨ Sift the excess cocoa back into the empty baking pan and roll the individual marshmallows through it to cover. Shake off any excess sugar before serving or packaging the marshmallows.

Happy Valentines Day, Love!

Happy Valentines Day, Love!

 

* Adapted from mmm…marshhmallows by Carol Hilker

     

Chard in the Cast Iron Skillet

How I cook my chard most days

How I cook my chard most days

You already know how I feel about chard; I could eat the stuff for breakfast. So you might like to know how I cook it most days.

  • 1 bunch chard
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, clarified butter, (or my favorite, thyme infused clarified butter)
  • 1 cup red onion, halved and sliced thinly crosswise
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (to start)
  • Grindings of black pepper
  • 1/4 cup slow-roasted tomatoes
  1. Remove the chard stems and save for another use. Slice the leaves into 1/4″ strips, then crosswise into 1″ pieces. Set aside.
  2. Heat the oil/butter in a large cast-iron skillet. Add the onions and sauté until caramelized. (This may take awhile… be patient.)20140203_111326
  3. Add the spices, salt and pepper. Sauté another minute or two, then add the chard. (The salt will help maintain the chard’s color during cooking.) Cook the chard on medium heat up to your liking. (I don’t cook it much, but traditionally, it’s cooked until it’s dark and silky.)
  4. When it’s almost done, add the tomatoes and enough salt to taste right. (It may take a lot.) Cook for just a minute or two, and serve. (Once you add acid, like tomato, the color of the greens can turn more muddy, both because acid discolors things in a cast iron skillet, and acid turns gorgeous greens into army greens. So…) Serve the dish soon after adding the tomatoes.

*Note: I supposed you don’t really need a cast-iron skillet. It’s just that I use mine whenever I possibly can!  (Don’t use it when you are cooking acidic foods, or very light colored foods.)

 

Spoon Bread — Warm Winter Comfort

Spoon BreadOn these very cold days I’m looking for substance… and I find it with whole grains. Not just ‘stone-ground’ bags of feed, I like my grains whole. Wheat berries, oat groats, corn kernels, that’s what I’m talking about. If I don’t use them in their whole form, I grind them right when I need them, which keeps the vitamin-rich germ fresh. (The germ is usually removed in pre-ground grains to extend shelf-life.)

Today, I’m making old-fashioned spoon bread. A bit like like corn souffle, spoon bread differs in that it has no wheat flour–just good, honest, corn. It’s hard to find the whole dried kernels around here (as much as I see it growing in the fields all around), so I order the non-GMO variety online at Rovey Seed and keep it in my freezer. One more note… Whenever I can, I cook corn in heavily oiled cast iron. It makes the perfect crunchy crust and it just adds to the look of the thing.

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Corn and Onion Spoon Bread

Serves 4

  • 1 cup cornmeal (yellow or white)
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 cup fresh (or frozen) corn kernels

Preheat oven to 375°F. Generously butter a soufflé dish, bowl, or ramekins. Combine the cornmeal and 1/2 cup of the milk in a small bowl. Stir to moisten the cornmeal.

Melt the butter in a wide saucepan. Add the onion and toss to coat. Stir over medium heat until the onion is tender. Pour in the remaining 2 cups milk, and heat to a scald (not yet boiling but surface wrinkles.) Gradually stir in the cornmeal–milk mixture. Cook over medium-low heat until the mixture is very thick.

Add the baking powder, salt, and pepper, to the cornmeal mixture. Blend well. Beat the egg yolks in one at a time, then stir in the fresh corn. Add the beaten egg whites and fold together. Pour into the prepared dish and bake for 35 to 45 minutes (20 for the ramekins), until bread is puffed and richly browned. Serve immediately.

*From Judy Gorman’s Breads of New England

If You Feed Them They’ll Behave!

The bad news is my bees died, probably late last winter; and my yard this spring, though bursting with wildflowers, lush greenery, chickens, and wildlife, seemed like a ghost town. How I missed my girls following me around the yard like paparazzi. According to the news, winter bee losses have been catastrophic this year, and the buzz amongst my bee-keeping fellows is that they have felt the sting as well. I was lucky to get  more bees so quickly from Tassot Apiaries. I picked up a ‘nuc’ box full of them just this morning.

I arrived at Tassot where owner Jean Claude carried the ominously humming box to my Mini Cooper and placed it in the back. He instructed me to suit up fully when I got home, set them in their new place (next to the hive they’d soon inhabit), tear off the screen, and run. “They’ll be very angry about then, and go right for you!” he warned.

Slumping, I said “…Don’t really have a suit, I just tie a veil over a straw hat and call it good.”

“Good luck, then!” he said with a sweet, concerned smile, and slapped down the back hatch.

It was a bit of a rush, that hour driving home. The Mini had never felt so small with that box full of 10,000 agitated bees pressing against the screen… angry, scared, hungry, and all staring at me. I called my teacher, Bee Man Paul Scutt. He gave me some further instructions to help the bees adjust after arrival, with the promise that he would come over and help me make the transfer into the hive in the morning.

bees 001A protected spot, nestled in my woods, was the place for them; They were left to settle while I fixed them a snack of last year’s honey (from my old bees) still full of wax and pollen, and diluted with a little water. (Feeding bees with honey might be dangerous for them as it might spread disease. But I felt pretty sure my old girls didn’t die of disease in that way. The thinking was that the complex sugars of honey might be less agitating than white sugar, and I really wanted these new ones to love their new home.) So before freeing them, I tipped the spoon full of this honey-water against the screen and watched a few minuscule tongues appear. More spoonfuls a few minutes later resulted in exponentially more tongues sticking through the screen. Word was spreading in there … Yeah, I had ’em eating out of my hand.

Then, per Bee Man Paul’s instructions I placed branches in front of their entrance. I was ready.

Then I swallowed hard, yelled, “Welcome Home, Girls!”,  ripped off the screen and ran like the wind. (Ok, maybe an august wind.) I returned a few minutes later to find them contentedly buzzing about their new surroundings, taking no interest in me. I returned a few minutes later to find them happily exploring their new home with no interest in me. Anyway, no stings today! bees 011

It’s amazing, isn’t it… that offering a little homemade something to eat, created by people (and critters) who care, is such a loving welcome and gives a fresh start to a rough day.  So, welcome home to you, Everyone! and may you change the course of any crummy day with this Honey-Poppy Seed Tea Cake recipe!

Cooking with Amy B. — Jujubes

PLC 4-18-13 001
Amy came over again last week with a glorious bag of oddities. As always happens with my magical cooking muse and good friend Amy Brummer, I never know what she will show up with… But it’s usually something I’d never considered bringing home myself, and that’s saying something!

This time, Amy showed up with a breathtaking huge mottled emerald emu egg, some fern fronds, watercress, foraged chickweed, and a bag of jujubes, which she describes as a sort of Asian date.Jujubes

We started with the jujubes, slicing it into thin strips, which revealed a spongy pale inside bordered by a thin ribbon of sturdy, glossy peel. The taste was delicately sweet, something lovely but easily overwhelmed. Paired with duck confit, which happened to be a fortuitous left-over from a recent cooking class/dinner party featuring Griggstown Quail Farm Muscovy Duck, it made a perfect combination of savory and sweet. So, we set to work…

PLC 4-18-13 012I whipped up a batch of semolina pasta, making it paper thin and wide–about 3/4″, while Amy sauteed up a handful of the thinly sliced jujubes until almost crispy but not yet overly browned. She removed those from the heat, then sauteed a bit of shredded confit while I boiled the pasta. When the pasta was done, I threw it in the pan with the confit. Served on a bed of watercress or the chickweed tossed in vinaigrette freshened up the whole dish, and a sprinkling of chopped hazelnuts finished it off superbly.
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And that emu egg, I just can’t stop looking at it. Who knows what we’ll do with that!PLC 4-18-13 007

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake for Two

Pineapple Upside Down Cake 002How often have you wanted to make some cake, just for the two of you? And it’s gotta be fresh, and warm… You’d like to give it a finishing touch, but you don’t want to spend the time actually making frosting. Ever get that kind of craving?

But then, you don’t want the leftovers hanging around because you know you’ll eat more of it than you should. And some cold cakes, like cold muffins, are just plain depressing. Here’s the solution… a sweet little pineapple upside-down just for you, and just for the moment!

I love to make my desserts in single servings most of the time. It helps in those cooking class – dinner parties, because they cook up faster. But I tend to make single serving sized desserts anyway, because it’s my personal belief that people love to put that first spoon or fork into a perfectly pristine little confection. Up until now, I wasn’t able to manage this with upside-down cakes. They need a cast iron skillet to create the perfect browning of butter and sugar. Yep, for some things,  only cast iron will do.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake 004So imagine my delight when I found tiny cast-iron ramekins  with lids the other day in Princeton. They were cheap, so I bought them all (and am still keeping my eye out for more!) I’ll be using them this month in my Full-Moon-Feast class. But here’s a preview for you.

Fresh Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cups cake flour (or mixture of AP and cake flour)
  •  ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch salt
  • 2 slices fresh pineapple, cored, and peeled (canned pineapple is ok too.)
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 small or medium egg
  • 1/4 cup (or a little more) well-shaken buttermilk (mixed with pineapple juice if any)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream for whipping (adding 1 teaspoon sugar, a drop of vanilla)

 

Directions:  Preheat oven to 350°F.

♨ Whisk together flour, baking powder and soda, and salt into a bowl. Cut pineapple crosswise into very thin 1/4-inch-thick wedges.

♨ Melt a tablespoon of the butter. With a brush, butter 2 8 oz ramekins lightly on side and drizzling the rest on bottom. Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over bottom and arrange pineapple, overlapping slices slightly over ramekins.

♨ Beat together remaining butter, granulated sugar, and vanilla until fluffy, then add egg, beating well, then add buttermilk and flour mixture. Batter should be thicker than typical cake batter, but thinner than muffin batter, so it may be necessary to add a little more liquid. Do not over mix.

♨Spread batter evenly over pineapple and bake until a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 20 minutes. Remove from oven, rest for about 5 minutes, then invert onto plates. Serve warm with whipped cream.

 

 

Arsenic and Old Lace

Death Valley Putty

Death Valley Putty

So, being a cook doesn’t always mean being good, and today is an example. Spring, which has brought neither warmth yet, nor tulips, nor beloved nettles, has brought ants. They showed up in my kitchen yesterday, and it pains me to say that I do have a recipe to fix that. If you don’t mind the bad ant karma that might come your way, you can make some too! It’s done with basic household ingredients and is very easy to make. Once stirred into a nice putty, it can be formed into pea-sized balls and pressed near the paths of those unsuspecting workers. Made from honey, sugar and borax (that salt that comes from Death Valley), the ants will happily eat it up for its sweetness, then take the deadly salt back to the nest, where (sad to say) it will make raisins of everyone. Be careful, that the tiny blobs of death are not in a place where your dog or cat can lick it up.

 

A Delicious but Deadly Snack for Ants1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon sugar

1-2 tablespoons borax

Place the honey and sugar in a bowl and microwave until it begins to bubble. Stir in enough borax to make a thick putty, then cool enough to handle. Form into pea-sized balls and press onto surfaces near ant activity. They will gather ’round and take care of the rest themselves. The ants may clear up the whole thing, but if not, keep the putty there for a few days at least.

 

Virtuously Coarse and Unrefined

Graham Crackers 002-001I remember reading about the creation of the ubiquitous graham cracker. It was a Presbyterian pastor by the name of Sylvester Graham, who decided that the reason children were so ill behaved and un-Godly those days was because they were eating too much refined flour. So, around 1829, he (or possibly, was it his wife?) created a snack made from coarsely ground wheat and just a bit of sugar to temper the impulsive behavior of those little heathens. It probably worked, until the Girl Scouts s’mored them out with marshmallows and Hershey bars.

Graham wasn’t the first to blame impulsive behavior on refined flour, however. The French, back in the day, wrote laws against the lower classes eating white bread for the same reason. It was felt that only the upper classes had the ability to handle the lustful vigor that refined flour bestowed.

But me? Freshly ground whole grains is where I live, and they work especially well in crackers. Crackers really show off the natural nuttiness and deeply satisfying crunch that only whole grains can muster. Lord help me! I have this incurable romantic vision of old fashioned ‘biscuits’, you know those ‘digestives’  you find in British tea stores, made from oat or wheat meal… the kind you dunk into coffee or tea? You tend not to binge on them because they are kind of heavy, but so satisfying on an afternoon when you are hungry and want something to comfort you and hold you over until dinner. That’s what I’m talking about. Yeah, I’ll say it right here. I even have a lust for grahams. Not so much what they are today, but what they could be, if they only dared.

I’m always trying to make them–coarse and unrefined, the way that would make our Sylvester G. proud (if pride weren’t a sin). Alas,  they never turn out crispy enough. I’ve tried without success to make a truly crispy-crunchy whole grain cracker for years. And today, it finally happened.  I found a graham cracker recipe by Kim Boyce in her wonderful cookbook Good to the Grain. She turned me onto the secret ingredient, teff flour! You might have heard of it in the Ethiopian bread ‘injera’, but somehow, it really puts the crisp into the cracker. Starting with Kim’s recipe, I made a few changes, leaving out the white flour and replacing half the butter with water; and the final technique that really took the cake was cooking the thinly rolled crackers on pre-heated cast iron. Glory be… I’ve just secured myself a place in heaven–at least during four o’clock tea!Real Graham Crackers 002

Recipe:

  • 1 3/4 graham flour (or freshly ground hard winter wheat)
  • 1/2 cup teff flour
  • 1/2 cup sucanat (or brown sugar)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon unsulphured molasses
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • very finely chopped nuts (optional–but really, when are chopped nuts not a good idea?)

1. Whisk together the dry ingredients (up to an including the spices) in a large bowl.

2. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the melted butter, water, honey, molasses, and milk. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and stir until well mixed. Shape this into balls the size of a large orange. You can wrap them, then press them into 1-inch thick disks, and refrigerate if you don’t want to cook them right away.

3. Preheat an oven to 350°F. If you have a cast iron griddle, place that into the oven to heat. If not, a cookie sheet will do. Roll one of the balls between two sheets of parchment paper (keeping in mind the shape of your griddle) and roll 1/8 inch thick. If you have too much, just throw it back into the bowl.  Gently remove the top sheet of parchment from the dough, and sprinkle the dough with the chopped nuts, if using.Graham Crackers 004-001

4. Remove the griddle or cookie sheet from the oven. Place the dough and bottom parchment onto the heated surface and bake for about 10 minutes. Remove from oven, and quickly while still warm, slice the sheet into squares or rectangles (I prefer 1 1/2 inch squares.) Once the crackers have cooled a bit, they should crisp up. If they have, you can remove them (keeping them on the parchment) to a cooling rack. Otherwise, put them back in the oven for a few more minutes until they do crisp up, without turning too brown.

5. Store in an airtight container. I don’t know how long they will last, they probably won’t make it through the day at my house.

 

 

 

 

 

Shopping with a Mission

Telling me what he does with those banana leaves!

Telling me what he does with those banana leaves!

I feel like I’ve done my job when the checkout person at the grocery store has to ask me what produce item is in the bag. But I really LOVE my job, when I ask for an exotic item at the grocery store, and it starts a whole conversation.

That happened today. I was shopping for my next cooking class-dinner party and looking for banana leaves. They have them now at Wegman’s in Princeton. Can you believe it? I knew I had recently seen them in the frozen foods, so I asked a gentleman working in that section if he knew where they were. Speaking in a gorgeous Jamaican patois, he told me they were “Waaaaaaayyyyyy over there” in the foreign foods freezer. I thanked him and went on my way when he stood up and called me back.

“What are you doing with them?” he asked.
“A Mayan dish, chicken cured in achiote seasoning then wrapped in banana leaves and grilled.” I said. “What do you do with them?”

“Ah,” he said with a dreamy look. “When I was a boy, my mother would make a pudding! She would take yams, potatoes, corn meal, and sugar. Then wrap them up in the banana leaves and put them in a pot. We didn’t have ovens, so she put the pot on the fire, with hot coals on top. It was sooooo good! I think I’m gonna go make some of that for my kids.”

I thanked him, took his picture, and told him he’d be the subject of my next blog post. Now I’m thinking seriously about doing a Jamaican menu…

It’s amazing how a love of good food makes friends out of strangers!  Has an interesting item in your cart (or someone else’s) started a great conversation at the store or farmers market? I’d love to hear about it.

Tasmanian Pepperberries… and other treasures

A few months ago, while wandering through the Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle, I came upon a new treasure in the spice shop. I had asked the shopkeeper what she thought the most interesting spice in the place was. She answered that she was particularly into Tasmanian pepperberries these days, and gave me one to taste. They were much like black pepper, but crackly-crunchy…kind of like piquante Kix with a hint of fruitiness, and a tiny bit of hay. Intriguing! I bought a bagful, brought them home here in Princeton, then promptly forgot about them…until a few days ago.

I came upon them again in my spice closet when preparing for a cooking class dinner party last week. We were making Pork Chops Au Poivre (pork dredged in cracked peppercorns, then seared and served with a sherry cream pan sauce) and I decided it would be fun to use those berries in the recipe instead of the traditional black peppercorns.

Everyone in the cooking class tasted one. The team that was making the pork chops decided to create a mixture of crushed black peppercorns and pepperberries on most of the chops, but one chop was done solely with the pepperberries. One brave student went for that one, and compared his to the others.

When I tasted it, I thought it was awesome. While the black peppercorns pack a punch on those chops, the Tasmanian pepperberries kick in ten layers of subtler flavor. I made it the next day for my husband, who loved the original recipe but went nuts for the Tasmanian pepperberry version. He described it as “a kaleidoscopic explosion of flavors!”

I stopped by that wonderful spice shop here in Princeton called Savory Spice, and asked the owner Jon Hauge if he had ever heard of Tasmanian pepperberries. It so happened that he was just getting them in, and was curious as to how I would use them! (It makes me wonder if that Tasmanian pepper is going to be the new black!) Anyway, now I’ll have a ready supply and I plan to change that recipe in my classes for good. The conversation with Jon, by the way, turned into a long one about food, business, mothers, life goals, and ended in ‘let’s all get together and cook!’ Now I’ve got a new friend, and so do you! This month if you go in there and mention Ezekiel’s Table, you’ll get $1 off!

This becomes a lesson about keeping an eye out for life’s little delightful oddities–the unique, and tucking them into the everyday. I’m sure that if I had read ‘Tasmanian pepperberries’ in a recipe, I would not have given it a second look. Who wants to mess with obscure ingredients when there are so many other more accessible recipes to be had?

But I have a lot of good simple recipes, ones that can handle a little variety; and that’s a great way to run a kitchen. Have some trusty basics that can incorporate the little exotics that you find along your way. Making a place for such odd little treasures can turn an ordinary recipe… and an ordinary life, into something that wakes you up, and gives you a story to tell at dinner.

Happy New Year. I hope you’ll join me this year in looking to the odd little treasures along our way.


Hi, I'm Marcia Willsie, owner of Ezekiel's Table and a shameless food-adventuress. Join me here, as I talk about my latest kitchen experiments and culinary wanderings. Learn more.

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