Apple Challah Cake

From Crafts

Yum yum… I dual-layered my leftover whole-wheat “5 Minute” challah dough with apples, brown sugar, butter and oats, and got a lovely coffee cake with a minimum of effort. I wholly recommend the cookbook.

From Crafts
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‘Looking Glass’ Plum Cake

One of the best college events I ever helped with was a Science Fiction and Fantasy Feast – a potluck replicating foods featured in favorite SF/F books, tv shows and movies. Great imaginative descriptions can extend to food as well, and there are certain books that just make you hungry. So, I have declared a tiny personal quest to recreate recipes suitable for such an event.

Why?

  • No one has published a recipe for butterpies, from Diana Wynne Jones’ A Tale of Time City! Aargh!
  • Every child reading Lewis Carroll should have the opportunity to make a Plum Cake that cuts itself, after it’s handed round…
  • Terry Pratchett excels (as usual) with Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook, but most of the other published works are simply collections of recipes from sff writers (like Anne McCaffrey’s Cooking out of this World and Serve it Forth, although they do contain the party-ESSENTIAL liquid nitrogen ice cream instructions), or semi-lame tie-ins (wookie cookies might taste good, but were definitely not part of the original series. ;))

I will begin with my contribution to the original event –  Alice’s Plum Cake, from Through the Looking Glass.  Recipe and Instructions For How to Hand it Round follow the break.

This recipe is nice to hand out with the fall’s bounty of plum preserves, if your backyard tree is producing more than you can handle.

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Grow Your Own Marshmallows

As promised – how to make marshmallows from the marshmallow plant (Althea officinalis). I will caution you now, it took four days for me to achieve the 75% success that I did – please heed my mistakes below. 🙂 If you have better success with this, please share!

Why does it work?

 All parts of the marshmallow plant contain mucilage, but the roots are an especially good source. Do you remember the Chia Pet? Soaking the seeds in water produced a clear slime that allowed you to stick the seeds to the clay base. This goo, also found in flaxseed, okra, purslane, nopales, etc can be overwhelming if these foods are cooked alone, but makes a wonderful thickener when they’re added sparingly to soups and stews. My grandmother’s generation steeped flaxseed in boiling water to make a hair gel for their Marcel waves… and now the exact same preparation is used as a vegan egg replacement in baked goods. 🙂 (Grind 1 tablespoon flaxseed, steep in 3 tablespoons warm water for 10 minutes, equals one egg.)

Just like egg white, the liquid produced by simmering any part of the marshmallow plant in water can be whipped and used as a stabilizer for meringues, etc. This binding power was central to the first manufactured marshmallows. Producers soon switched to gelatin as a more easily standardized binder, but you can still use the marshmallow plant to make your own marshmallows today.

Technically, this means:

You can use fresh roots, well-scrubbed and sliced; or LOTS of dried shredded roots from your past preservation or the health food store. (If you go the health-food store route, pick over the herb – i found some small bits of dried mud in mine, which aren’t exactly possible to strain out afterwards.)MAYBE you could go the flaxseed route, but I don’t think you’d be able to strain out the ground flaxseed from the mucilage – which would give you little crunchy bits in the finished candy. (I don’t remember whether the trick will work with unground flax – try it!) I feel the flavors would blend well, though. If all else fails, use unflavored gelatin. Based on my experiences I might use 3-4 packets right away.

There are a few marshmallow-marshmallow recipes kicking around the web – here’s a no-egg, and thus no-bake version perfect for summertime. (Translated to American materials from the Semi-Traditional Marshmallow recipe over at  Celtnet.) Continue reading

Linden

Looking for a good leaf crop to fill the early early spring niche?

How about a pretty one?

A linden from underneath. Genus Tilia, also known as Basswood.

Very young linden leaves taste like the best sweet lettuce – not bitter, and not watery like some of the lettuces can be. Best of all, they’re ready way before (at least my) garden lettuces.  You can harvest a few when the trees begin to leaf out, or pick from the growing tips later in the season – the tasty new leaves are a bright lime green quite distinct from the rest of the foliage. I’ve read of permaculturists coppicing linden trees to keep a good supply of young growth within reach – so you might be able to fit them into a smaller space than you’d expect for a tree.

Awesomely, the flowers that develop later in the season make a fragrant relaxing tea, often used as a cardiovascular tonic. They may be dried for use later in the season – but make sure you pick them in time.

To identify a linden – Flowers extend from long, narrow lighter-green bracts, as shown below. This family is the only one with this sort of a flower structure, and all family members are edible. The leaves form an asymmetric dent like the top of heart shape at their point of attachment to the stem – also unique to the genetic group.

Below is a baby – you can see how the flowers just cover the foliage, in June/July. The tree will keep this nice pyramidal shape through its life. My North Dakota town seems to have adopted it as the new Boulevard-Tree-Of-Choice, and NDSU plant breeders have done a bit of work on it recently, so you should be able to grow this comfortably in USDA Zone 3, perhaps even 2.

I love the unique shape of the bracts, and the leaf attachment point is quite visually interesting – this will be the next in my series of botanical booties.

Fun with Brassicas

I don’t know why, but suddenly I really enjoy cabbage. I don’t know if it’s my repressed German heritage creeping out, or that I finally found a good way to cook it (stuffed cabbage rolls in tomato sauce – yuck!) but it now ends up on my menus fairly often. Which is convenient, because cabbage holds up well in storage and would therefore fit easily into a grow-your-own scenario.

I am incredibly surprised that even sauerkraut qualifies in that list – I was almost ruined for sauerkraut by a 5th-grade class cooking demonstration featuring a casserole of mashed potato, ground beef, sauerkraut and bananas. I THINK the bananas were meant to cut the acidity of the sauerkraut but… no.  My husband kept extolling the virtues of “knoephla and kraut”, and as I have started enjoying more sour and pickled things, I thought I’d try it again. A local restaurant’s spaetzle + sauerkraut + corned beef + dijon cream sauce = AWESOME.

Bestest Sauteed Cabbage (for sides!)

  • 1/2 a firm green cabbage head, cored and sliced thin
  • a bit of oil
  • salt and pepper
  • up to 1 T white sugar if you want
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth

Heat the oil in a 12″ saucepan, and add the cabbage. Salt and pepper well, and add sugar if you like. (I don’t know if I agree with replacing the traditional bacon fat with sugar, but see if you like it.) Saute until tastily well-browned, maybe 10 minutes. Pour in the chicken broth and cover to let steam until soft. Maybe add some bacon bits if you miss the old ways…

Russian Cabbage Baked with Feta 

From “Please to the Table: The Russian Cookbook” by Anya von Bremzen. (Serves 6)

  • 1 head cabbage, 2.5 pounds, cored and slivered
  • 3 T butter
  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh dill (optional)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 1/3 cups finely crumbled feta
  • 1/3 cup coarse dry breadcrumbs
  • 1 – 2 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 5 T butter, melted
  1. Blanch the cabbage in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain and pat dry (using an UN-linty towel.)
  2. Heat the 3 T butter and the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the cabbage until browned, about 15 minutes. Let cool until you can handle it easily.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375 F.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream and eggs, and mix into the cabbage. Add dill and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a casserole dish.
  5. Combine the feta and breadcrumbs, and sprinkle over the cabbage. Sprinkle the whole with paprika and the extra melted butter, and bake till bubbly and browned, 15 minutes.

 Cabbage Pie Soup!

The Winter Vegetarian, Darra Goldstein. Serves 8.

Dough

  • 2 cups unbleached white flour
  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup sour cream

Filling

  • 4 T unsalted butter
  • 1 small head cabbage (2.5 pounds), cored and slivered
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 6 T sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • Pepper
  • ——
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 quart of your favorite vegetable broth

First, prepare the dough – blend the flour and butter together in a food processor or using a pastry blender, till about the size of fine cornmeal. Add the sour cream and mix until just blended and beginning to hold its shape. Split into two balls, wrap in wax paper, and chill for at least an hour.

For the filling, melt the butter in a large skillet, and stir in the cabbage. Cook covered over medium-low heat, until cabbage is softened. Uncover and cook further until liquid is evaporated.

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Roll out half the dough into a rectangle 12×15″, to fit a 9×13″ pan. Add the filling, and cover with a second crust. Brush with beaten egg and bake until brown, 25 minutes. Cut into large squares.  Place a square into a large flat soup plate, then pour broth over. Serve at once.

Using Garden Greens

The silliest gardening problem I have is using what I grow. I tend to plant one or two each of many different special plants, and then as “I only have one!” of the adult, find myself “saving it” for some occasion which never arrives, and it overmatures or rots in the fridge or gets eaten by rabbits. This is made more likely, as due to an immense maple shading most of my backyard, I primarily focus on greens-producing plants as most likely to yield well – and many leafy things require a good-sized patch in order to make a meal.

What to do with tiny amounts of random green leafies?

  • Assortment salads, of course. But to control the unruly texture of tasty-but-fuzzy things like radish thinnings and young borage leaves, kale thinnings and silvery young lambsquarters, it can be fun to stack the leaves and thinly slice them into a chiffonade. Dress the ribbons with something light like vinaigrette. This also works well to incorporate bright citric sorrel, oxalis or purslane without it being tooo surprising to bite into.
  • Soup! Chopped carrot greens make a great addition to soup you’ve used the young carrots in; same with beets.
  • There is a traditional German/Ukrainian dish that wraps bread dough in beet leaves, then bakes the rolls touching each other in a pan with a bit of cream and onions underneath.
  • Consult your nearest Greek cookbook. Greek cuisine is expert at using lots and lots of different kinds of greens (horta), as their islands are famous for their horticultural variety. Where do you think the word “horticulture” came from?

Use this tasty Greek pie filling baked between layers of pie crust, puff pastry, thick phyllo, or wrapped up in individual egg roll wrappers and fried. Continue reading

Onigiri

Just because I watch too much anime, doesn’t mean that onigiri (rice balls) aren’t a totally awesome portable snack food. They appeal to my love of “elemental food” – simple to make, unprocessed foods with few ingredients, which usually happen to be a major part of cultural traditions. One of my (many) favorite parts in Spirited Away was when Chihiro was fading away in the spirit world and Haku brought her some rice balls to make her solid again – this is food that brings you back to earth.

At their most basic level, onigiri are simply shapes formed out of sushi rice (short grain rice seasoned with vinegar). They can be wrapped in nori seaweed, filled with fish or umeboshi paste,  coated with sesame seed furikake for flavor, shaped in balls or triangles or cutesy rainbow and flower shapes, etc etc… I prefer the standard sushi-rice version, stuffed with canned tuna with mayo; but my husband prefers a sweet version, made with brown sugar and cream or almond milk. As you can see, I cheat in the shaping, using a little wooden mold I ordered online – as my first attempts at shaping them by hand with my Love Hina-besotted little sister were tasty, but funny-looking. Use of a mold makes them much faster to assemble.

One more anecdote before the recipe… my bag of rice had a New Crop sticker on it, which always makes me a bit melancholy. Niea_7 was a beautiful, funny, and sad story that was a little bit about growing up away from home – and even years later I still remember starving student Mayuko’s joy at being gifted with a bag of rice from the new crop. Food that can make someone that happy is food that should be celebrated. I wish more people would open their eyes and appreciate simple food for the pleasure that it can be.  (^_^)

Basic Onigiri Recipe

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