Monday, August 29, 2011

Rose Water

Today I tried a nifty trick I saw on Alton Brown's masterpiece show, Good Eats: making rose water at home.

The idea of eating my provincial flower excites me.  Unfortunately, our true wild roses have already lost their petals and developed hips.  There are, however, several late-blooming domestic varieties still flowering.

Wherever you get your roses from, make sure that they haven't been treated with any chemicals.

Rose Water
adapted from Good Eats

  • 1 L rose petals, chemical free
  • 2 L water
The set-up is simple.  Start with a very large pot.  I used my canning pot.  Put a clean brick or heavy ceramic dish in the middle of the bottom.  Scatter the rose petals around the brick.  Add the water.  There should be enough that the flowers are more or less submerged.  Next put a stainless steel bowl that is slightly narrower than the canning pot onto the brick.  (The brick simply keeps the bowl above the boiling water and prevents it from floating around.)

Now invert the lid of the canning pot and cover the pot.  Put about 2 L of ice in the hollow of the lid.

Place the pot on medium heat and simmer for an hour.  The aroma and flavour of the rose petals is captured in the steam.  The steam rises to the top of the can, where it meets the cold lid and condenses back into water.  Because of the roughly conical shape of the inverted lid, the condensate rolls to the centre, where it drops into the expectant stainless steel bowl.

A diagram:

After an hour I had about two cups of rose water.  Be careful not to spill any of the melted ice into the stainless steel bowl when removing the inverted lid.

At this point I have no specific plans for the rose water, though I suspect it will make its way into some whipped cream shortly.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Raspberry Leaf Tea

This is a quick one.  I just learned that raspberry leaves make good tea.

Pick the leaves, dry them in a low oven, and store in an airtight jar.

To serve, steep in hot water for 4 minutes, as you would any other tea, and strain.

I'm not good at describing the subtlties and complexities of something like tea.  To me, raspberry leaf tea tastes a bit like green tea...

It's good.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Squash Blossoms

If any food can be described as ephemeral, it's squash blossoms.  They're only around for a short while, and once picked they deteriorate rapidly, which is why you usually can't get them at grocery stores, only farmers' markets and neighbourhood gardens.

Squash plants actually produce two different types of flowers: male and female.  The male flowers grow on the end of long, slender stems.  The female flowers grow on thicker stems that buldge where they meet the flower.  This bulge is what will eventually become a squash.

Generally there are more male flowers than female.  The male flowers can be picked without affecting the production of fruit, so long as a few are left behind to pollinate the females.  Some sources say to remove the stamens from the interior of the male flowers before eating.  I don't.  I hope it's not a safety thing.  Picking the female flowers will prevent fruit from developing on that stem.  Even so, it's worth picking a few females, especially once the buldge on the stem has grown into a tiny, malformed squash.

The flowers of both summer and winter squash are edible.  (Summer squash are varieties that are picked young, and therefore have tender, edible seeds and skin, like zucchinis and pattypans.  Winter squash are varieties that are mature when picked, and therefore have tough, inedible seeds and skin, like butternut squash and pumpkins.)

While they can be eaten raw, squash blossoms are usually lightly battered and fried.  They can also be stuffed.

Below are two blossoms from a pattypan plant.  The flower at the back is female, as you can see from the small, green pattypan attached to the base.  The front flower is male, with the characteristic long, slender stem.

The blossoms are filled with a homemade ricotta (something my ancestors would have called "clabbered milk") mixed with lemon zest, lemon juice, an egg, and basil.  I used a piping bag to stuff the flowers.

The batter is just skim milk thickened with a bit of flour.  Tempura-style batter is also popular.  The flowers are lightly coated with the batter, then fried in canola oil at 350F.  You can shallow fry in a straight-sided pan (just add enough oil to come about half way up the side of the flowers) or deep fry in a pot.  Once the batter is crisp and the interior hot, maybe one minute, remove the flowers to a bowl lined with paper towel.  Season and consume immediately.

August on a plate:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rhubarb Onion Jam

I've had recipes for rhubarb relish passed to me from both my family and Lisa's.  Though one is from Ontario and the other from Alberta, they are uncannily similar: one part chopped rhubarb and one part chopped onion, stewed together with cinnamon, clove, and other "pumpkin pie" spices.

This has been my default rhubarb sauce to accompany meat and hearty bread for the past couple years, but I have to admit it's not a show-stopper.  I've been trying to elevate this recipe, and a friend of mine recently found the way.  His discovery of rhubarb onion jam was one of those rare times when something in the kitchen goes horribly wrong, but the food turns out better than if all had gone according to plan.  I think many of our favourite foods were probably discovered this way: grape juice was left out, and mysteriously started to ferment; dry leaves fell into a pot of boiling water; or a marshmallow was accidently impaled on a stick and left too close to a campfire.  Rhubarb onion jam resulted from a similarly serendipitous mistake.

The mistake was that a pot of simmering rhubarb relish was left unattended for an hour.  By divine providence the pot was covered, and enough moisture trapped within that the relish didn't really burn, but rather stuck to the bottom in a thick mat of caramelized "jam."  With a little water and scraping, that jam was retrieved and found to be delicious.

This happy accident can be reproduced in a controlled manner through an intensive cycle of developing and capturing fond.  Remember that word, "fond"?  The one with the nasal "on" and the silent "d"?  We discussed it briefly here.

To create good fond, you need a stainless steel pan.  To capture it, you need a wooden spoon, and possibly some liquid.

Start with the abovementioned ratio of rhubarb and onions.  Cook them in a bit of hot oil.  When the rhubarb and onions have broken down to a paste, spread them evenly across the surface of the pan.  Once a layer of caramel-coloured fond has developed on the bottom, use the wooden spoon to scrape the fond into the paste. Redistribute the mixture and repeat.  If the fond is difficult to remove, add a few tablespoons of water; they should help lift the sticky residue off the pan.

The mixture will slowly darken and thicken.  Continue the process until a jam-like consistency is achieved.  I finished the mixture with honey, to balance the concentrated tartness of the rhubarb.

The rhubarb and onions shrink dramatically in the process.  Starting with 300 g onions and 300 g rhubarb (about four cups of ingredients all told), I finish with less than one cup of jam.

Rhubarb onion jam gets along famously with cornbread and pork.