Thursday, May 24, 2012

cooking with dandelions

we live out in the country on 17 acres. and most of those acres are currently abloom with dandelions. after a long, dark winter, the bright sunshine yellow of those flowers is as welcome as the seldom sight of sunshine in the danish sky. i actually often joke that there's no word for "sun" in danish because it fell from use and everyone forgot it, but that's a slight exaggeration. there are a few elderly people who still remember it.

i'd never really tried eating dandelions before this year, aside from adding the odd leaf to a salad. i'll admit the bulk of the ones we pick actually go to our bunnies, as they're the bunnies' favorite food. they love the tender leaves and gobble up the golden yellow flowers like candy. bunnies are generally on a pretty healthy diet, so i decided they must be onto something and so i picked a colander full of the bright flowers and decided to give it a whirl.

the most time-consuming part is preparing the flowers. you have to cut off the stems and carefully peel away the little "eyelashes" of green that are stuck there - at least if you're going to make jelly or cordial. i like that amy left a bit of it on for her fritters and i'll definitely do that with the next batch. i think what's probably most important is to get rid of any of that bitter hollow stalk in the parts you're going to eat.

i've done my share of traveling the world and so i'm not afraid to mix flavors and cultures. the other night, i was making a stir-fry with black bean and garlic paste and i wanted a little snack to go with it. we love onion bhajis around here and tho' those are indian and i was making more of a chinese meal, i decided i'd give them a chinese twist by throwing in a bit of 5-spice powder. i had already decided to give them a nordic twist with the dandelion flowers, so what did another layer of culture matter?  i have to say it worked pretty well and i would repeat it.

chinese 5-spice dandelion & onion bhajis

3 medium onions, sliced
generous handful prepared dandelion flowers
2 eggs
120grams/4 oz. plain flour (or gram (chickpea) flour if you have it on hand - you can find it in indian markets)
1-2 teaspoons chinese 5-spice powder
oil for frying

slice the onions and separate them into rings. whisk together the eggs, flour and 5-spice powder in a bowl, then add the onions and dandelions and coat well.  if your egg and flour mixture seems too thick, you can add a another egg (our chickens lay rather small eggs, so i often use an extra one) or a little milk to thin it a bit. it should coat your onions and dandelion flowers nicely. heat up oil in a wok - i use sunflower oil, as it's lighter than olive oil and can tolerate high temperatures better than rapeseed oil. test with a little dollop of dough to see if the oil is hot enough. place spoonfuls of the mixture in the oil and fry in small batches.  serve it with chutney or chili sauce.

i've seen beautiful jellies made of dandelion flowers, but my family isn't into jelly, so the other thing i made with those dandelion flowers i slaved over was a cordial. i like to invent new cocktails and i used this as the basis for an early spring concoction involving vodka, fizzy water and a slice of lemon. it tasted just like a little ray of warm sunshine.

dandelion cordial

1 colander of prepared dandelion flowers
1.5 liters (6 cups) boiling water
1 kilo (4 cups) of sugar
juice of one lemon

place your prepared dandelion flowers in a glass or ceramic bowl and pour over the 6 cups of boiling water. cover with a plate and leave to set overnight. strain out the flowers using cheesecloth and a strainer and place the dandelion tea in a medium saucepan. add the sugar and lemon juice and slowly heat it to boiling. meanwhile, prepare your bottles - i generally run mine through a dishwasher cycle so they're clean and hot. then, for good measure, i rinse them with boiling water from the kettle. then i give them a little rinse with atamon, a preservative. pour in the hot liquid and seal immediately. i usually can fill one 750ml bottle and one smaller beer-bottle-sized bottle with a batch, but that actually varies - based on how much liquid you squeezed out of the flowers and how much evaporates. 

violet cordial and dandelion cordial
there's something about these foraged flower concoctions that is very satisfying. whether you're gathering violets or dandelions and preparing them, it simply takes time. there's no way around it - it takes the time it takes to pick and to prepare. and slowing down and just doing it, without trying to find an easier way or a shortcut is surely good for the soul.

*  *  *

also posted on forage: east-west

Thursday, May 10, 2012

cooking with nettles

i can't count the times i've sworn at the patches of stinging nettle around our property (and they are many) as they stung my hands or my legs. but i won't be doing it anymore. not now that i've learned how wonderful nettles are to eat! they're also really good for you - with one of the highest protein contents in the plant world and loads of medicinal uses (which i won't go into here, as i'm no expert and haven't yet tried them).

for each of the recipes below, i picked one colander full of nettle tops (not heaped, to the top is just fine). i wear gloves and snip the tender top sets of leaves with a little herb scissors. i can recommend that you do not let some temporary insanity come over you and poke your nose into your colander full of nettles and smell them. that can be rather painful and cause quite an interruption in your process.

to remove the stingy part of the nettles, get a pan of water with a pinch of salt in it on the boil and dunk your fresh nettles into the pot for 2-3 minutes (they should remain bright green). these early spring nettles have been clean and pretty bug-free, so i didn't do much rinsing before the boiling water bath. i might as the summer progresses. if you fish them out of your hot water bath with a strainer, the sand and dirt will sink to the bottom of your water anyway, so you'll be ok. after removing them from the hot water bath, transfer them back to your colander, it's ok to squeeze out the excess liquid with your bare hands now, as the sting has been taken out of your brilliant green nettles.

nettle pesto

100 grams toasted pine nuts
1 colander of blanched nettles, excess liquid squeezed out
2 cloves of garlic
a generous grating of fresh parmesan
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil to the desired consistency

toast your pine nuts (taking care not to wander away while you're doing this or they will burn). place them in the food processor with the blanched nettles, garlic, salt and pepper and several tablespoons of good olive oil. blitz it up. if it's not liquid-y enough, add more olive oil until it's how you like it. serve with fresh bread, over pasta, or as a healthy alternative to sauce on a pork chop or steak. i even coated a chicken in it recently before roasting it in the oven. it's very versatile. you may even want to just stand in front of the refrigerator and furtively eat a few spoonfuls when no one is looking.

nettle pesto
nettle hummus

250 grams chickpeas (canned or soaked dry ones)
1 generous tablespoon tahini
2 cloves garlic
1 colander of blanched nettles
olive oil to the desired consistency

put it all in the food processor and blitz it together. drizzle olive oil until it's a smooth, creamy consistency. great with freshly-baked bread or as a dip for veggies.

nettle hummus
homemade pasta always seems posh and as if you went to an extraordinary amount of work, but it's much easier than it looks. even if you start by making your own ricotta. i did so, because ricotta can be hard to find in our grocery stores, so i was missing this key ingredient when i wanted to make gnocchi with my nettles.  all it takes is milk, cream and a little bit of vinegar.

homemade ricotta

1 liter of whole milk
1/2 liter of cream
2 generous tablespoons of vinegar (use white if you want the ricotta to be creamy white, use apple cider vinegar if you don't mind it a bit more yellow)

pour the milk and cream into a heavy saucepan and heat gently until it just begins to bubble*. remove from the heat, add the vinegar and stir. it will curdle immediately. pour it through a strainer that's lined with cheesecloth or a tea towel and allow it to drain well. the longer you leave it to drain, the firmer it will be. i found that for the gnocchi, i didn't want it to be too firm, as it was harder to work with that way.  save the whey (the liquid you drain off the cheese curds) and use it the next time you bake bread instead of the usual liquid. it's delicious and nutritious! i just keep the whey in a jar in the fridge 'til i'm ready to use it.

*i read a lot of recipes for homemade ricotta and made multiple batches before arriving at this one - many of them are very fussy about the precise temperature of the milk, but i've found that didn't much matter, so i don't bother to use a thermometer. i'm all for keeping it simple.

ricotta and a jar of whey
nettle gnocchi

1 batch of homemade ricotta (it yields approx 250-300 grams/1 generous cup)
1 egg
1/2 C flour (i adore italian tipo 00 flour)
generous half cup of blanched nettles, finely chopped
salt & pepper

mix well. if the consistency is too liquidy, add a bit more flour. if it's too dry, add another egg. it all depends on how much you drain your ricotta and how much liquid you squeeze out of the nettles. if you buy commercial ricotta, you'll likely need a bit more flour. it should be firm enough to work with by hand. you roll it into a thick rope and slice it into small bite-size gnocchi. turn the gnocchi in flour to coat. put them into salted boiling water, in small batches, a handful at a time. they initially sink to the bottom and then rise when they're nearly done. i serve them very simply with a bit of butter and salt, or a spoonful of the pesto. simple and delicious. we've not yet had leftovers.

there are many other uses for nettles. i have yet to try tea.  i intend to dry some and make a seasoning salt.  sabin made nettle soup when she was in kindergarten, so we'll try that, cooking outdoors at some point this summer. when the stalks are larger and a bit more tough, it's possible to cut them, let them dry a few days and give them to your horse as a treat with their hay. they love it! i'm starting to feel downright lucky my yard is positively full of them!

*  *  *

also posted on forage: east & west

Sunday, March 18, 2012

hindbærsnitter - a little slice of heaven

hindbærsnitter - a perennial favorite in any danish bakery. small squares of crisp, buttery dough, stuck together by raspberry jam and topped with a simple frosting glaze and a few sprinkles. my child loves them and i often grab one of those packages of four that's temptingly laid out by the cash register at grocery stores that have a bakery. but no more will i be tempted by the kind the you buy, because i have discovered how sinfully and deliciously easy they are to make. and how much better the homemade ones taste, especially if you use your own homemade raspberry jam.

the ingredient list is not long, the effort is minimal and result absolutely delicious. they're sort of a danish version of a pop tart that doesn't need toasting.

hindbærsnitter (danish pop tarts)

the dough:
200 grams butter
100 grams powdered sugar
300 grams flour
2 egg yolks

raspberry jam

the frosting:
200 grams powdered sugar
a few tablespoons of milk
a little dash of vanilla


put the butter and powdered ingredients in your food processer and blitz them up until they are thoroughly combined and the contents look a bit grainy. add the egg yolks one by one. mix it only until it comes together into a ball of dough. my dough is very yellow thanks to the eggs coming from our own chickens. i have made these three time and on one occasion i needed to add 3 egg yolks to make it come together properly - but that's because some of our eggs are smaller than the kind you can buy in the store. you can see whether the dough has come together properly or not - if it hasn't come together in a ball, it probably needs an extra yolk.

divide the dough into two discs of equal size and refrigerate for up to an hour. roll out the dough between two pieces of baking paper into discs of roughly equal size and shape. bake them in a pre-heated (180°C/350°F) oven for approx. 10 minutes. keep an eye on them, as the dough is delicate and will brown alarmingly quickly! slide one crust onto your counter, keeping it on the baking parchment. spread it with a generous layer of raspberry jam. then, carefully slide the other disc of dough onto the top, fully covering the jam. i have yet to do this successfully - the dough is very delicate and will easily break - however, you can cover the cracks with frosting and it will not affect the taste, so it's ok. 

while they are cooling a little bit, mix up your frosting - you could use a squeeze of lemon instead of milk if you'd like a lemony touch to your frosting - put in only enough liquid to make an easily-spreadable/pourable glaze and put it immediately on top of your dough. add sprinkles if you like - i do it because it's traditional, but they don't really NEED the sprinkles.

brew up a fresh pot of tea or coffee and watch them disappear. my family is absolutely madly in love with them and they disappear like crazy around here. in fact, this is the last one and i'm off to make another batch right now.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

rainbow cupcakes!

squee! rainbow cupcake!

if you've been on pinterest at all in recent months, you know that rainbow cakes and cupcakes are all the rage. since it's sabin's 11th birthday tomorrow, i just had to jump on the rainbow bandwagon. today, we baked rainbow cupcakes to share with her class (thank goodness in denmark, it's still ok and even encouraged to bring homemade treats to school) and with our friends at the riding club. sabin's best riding buddy actually shares the same birthday, so it's even better!

i had been dutifully pinning rainbow cakes for some time, but was a little shocked to find that most of them called for a box cake (oh the horror!). i guess that would make it slightly easier, but honestly, when a scratch cake is as easy as it is, why on earth settle for box?

i found this recipe and modified it (of course) to fit my local ingredient availability (there's no such thing as self-raising flour in denmark) and the size of the eggs my chickens produce. it's also a remarkably small recipe, so i not only doubled it, i ended up making FOUR batches of the doubled version. i give you my revised rainbow cake here:

rainbow cupcakes

250 grams butter (i always used salted, but you can go with unsalted if you like)
1 cup of sugar (fill your 250ml measuring cup to the top, my metric friends)
5 medium eggs (fresh from under the hen if you can get 'em)
1 generous glug (that would be the technical term) of vanilla
2 cups flour (again, fill your 250ml measuring cup to the top if you're doing metric)
1/2 C (120ml) milk
2 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt

cream the butter in your mixer, then add the sugar and further cream until it's smooth and light yellow. add your eggs, one at a time and then the vanilla. then add flour (+ baking powder and salt) and milk, alternating until they're well mixed.

separate into 5 smaller bowls to make red, yellow, green, blue and purple - i actually used two full batches for this, to have a good amount of each color and because i was making a lot of cupcakes. because i was making 60 cupcakes in total, i actually made four batches of the above recipe in total - but my cupcakes are pretty tall, so you could get more out of this recipe by putting less of each color in each cupcake.  but i started with combining two batches to get started. then, as we worked and realized it wouldn't be enough, we made another batch of batter and added to our existing colors - twice.

rainbow cupcakes

the original recipe gives how many drops you should add of food coloring. with the liquid food colorings that are available in denmark, these amounts were FAR too little. and adding red and blue together did not result in purple, but to our horror, an awful shade of grey. luckily, i had a stash of wilton paste colors and we got the beautiful vibrant hues you see here (only slightly enhanced by instagram on my iPhone). i HIGHLY recommend using the proper wilton colors - you only do a rainbow once in awhile, so go all out.  it's not THAT poisonous. :-)

process : rainbow cupcakes

once you've got five colors - put a spoonful of each into your cupcake papers. i started with purple on the bottom, tho' we experimented and tried it on top once, but it goes awfully dark and doesn't show how prettily purple it really is if it's exposed to the heat on top. my color order was purple, blue, green, yellow, pink. we also tried with yellow on top, but then they look a bit like an ordinary cupcake.  bake them 10-12 minutes at 180°C/350°F.

in the oven : rainbow cupcakes

see how in the heat of the oven, the colors even out? tho' you can make them as messy as you like, it's really up to you. i really think you can't go wrong with this recipe.

test cupcake : success!

as i write this, i haven't frosted them yet. but when i do, i will use my best and favorite white buttercream - the one that started with a cooked milk/flour combo and ends up a bit lighter than regular buttercream. sprinkles (rainbow of course) on top and we'll be good to go. i expect when i get home, it will be with an empty tray and a whole lot of these....

eaten : rainbow cupcake


Related Posts with Thumbnails