Friday, April 16, 2010

Eat Your Flowers

In Chicago I don't declare it Springtime until I can see full-fledged leaves unfurling on the occasional tree. That being said, I think we've finally arrived to that time here.  I thought it might be a good opportunity, then, to do a little four-part series on flowers in food.  This is mostly just an excuse for me to buy roses for myself, perhaps, and to take pictures loaded with petal colors.  What can I say?  I'm a girl.

I'm not going to tell you what all of the recipes for this series are going to be, but I can tell you that they will include all of the flowers seen in the below photo, with each focusing on one or two in particular: Hibiscus, Violet, Rose, and Lavender were chosen to be the main players. Two of the dishes, including this first one, are savory.  The other two are desserts.

This first dish feels a little like an exception when you look at the pictures since I went a little wild buying a confetti pack of edible flowers of a dozen varieties to sprinkle on the finished salad.  The focus is supposed to be on the hibiscus flower vinaigrette, but I will admit that in the plated finish it's the look of a sea of wildflowers on the greens that steal the eye away from the deep plum-colored dressing.

Still, when it comes to flavor, the hibiscus' role reigns supreme.  There is a wonderful tart, fruitiness to these flowers that makes their tea perfect for dressing a salad, which is how I did it - by making a tea out of the dried flowers.  I found the flowers in a Persian shop near my home, but you could also use dry tea blends or hibiscus juice, even, which is available in health food stores, etc.  Just adjust things like honey or vinegar according to your tastes.

If you'd like to use the flowers, which are great for all kinds of things, like this amazing jam from Sanjana at KO Rasoi, here is a good source for them at a decent price.

I served this dressing over fresh organic mesclun mix with goat cheese croquettes (just goat cheese mixed with fresh chives and dredged in egg/flour mixture before a quick pan-fry) and mixed edible flowers.  The flowers should be labeled "edible" in florists or found in the fresh herb section of the grocers, and are grown without harmful pesticides.  If bought in packs, they often include certain varieties of chive flowers, marigolds, nasturtiums, etc.  They all have their own flavors that range from "nutty" to "citrusy", but tend to be subtle in flavor. 

Next week I'll share another fun recipe including flowers, I hope you'll stop by!

Recipe: Hibiscus Flower Vinaigrette

What you need to get...

1/2 cup hibiscus flowers
8 oz boiling water (to make a strong hibiscus tea)
3/4 cups olive oil
2 tablespoons thin-sliced shallots
Small handful of fresh tarragon, chopped
Small nob of fresh ginger, grated or minced very fine
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (red wine vinegar also works - if using balsamic, omit honey)
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon kosher/sea salt
Cracked pepper

What to do with it all...

Add your boiling water to your hibiscus flowers and allow to steep for 10 mins. Remove flowers and allow tea to cool to room temperature.

In a medium non metal bowl, combine the rest of your ingredients except the olive oil and allow them to "mingle" while the tea cools.  Once tea is cooled, whisk in.  Whisk in olive oil, adding in a steady stream until incorporated.  Store in refrigerator for at least an hour before use.

Makes 2 cups of dressing

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Moss Cupcakes You Say?? I Do!!!

Ok, I know this is a sort of ridiculous thing to be posting, but I don't really care.  The idea popped into my head and it just wouldn't go away... Cupcakes. Made to look like moss balls.  "You know, those moss balls you see sold at home decor places."  I said, explaining the idea to Jason.  "What?  Like, the kind you put in your closet?" he replied.  He was driving in his car and on a headset, so there was a good deal of static on the line.  Still, I was pretty sure he said "closet" and I was really confused.  "No, what?  Why would you put cupcakes in the closet?" I said, shaking my head (to no one).  "I was going to ask the same thing!" was the reply.  "And since when are moth balls GREEN?".  "OH!  No, not MOTH balls, MOSS balls..."  I said, almost rolling my eyes and then realizing "moth balls" might actually have made more sense.  "Um, oh... well... I'm sure it'll turn out great, sweetie... Moss balls...". 

I could picture him nodding his head on the other side of the phone.  Convincing himself, mentally, that he was not dating a crazy person.  Jason really is so supportive.  Even when my suggestions scare and confound him... and everyone else around me.  But it's okay if people are worried, because in my head this stuff makes a weird kind of sense. Sometimes my little brain says "You know what would be fun?  Making some cake balls that look like sheep."  And off the couch I go, zombie-like, to the kitchen to see if I have any Pocky around I can use for legs.

Most of the time people come around to my way of thinking once they see the results.  That, or they're too frightened to say otherwise.  "I LOVE the cheese snowmen, really!" they say, grabbing the tray I bring to their party... smiling a little too widely as they make a mental note not to invite me to their next one.  That's what I imagine.  But I'm hoping they will amuse someone.  Moss may not be the most exciting substance to want on a dessert.  It's not cute.  Or even logical.  But I had a surprising amount of fun making them, and I think they're perfect for Spring, really.  REALLY.  They're pretty tasty, too, when you combine the chocolate bases with the minty green tops and then coat them with more minty chocolate cake crumbs.  

By the way, this recipe asks you to buy mint oil to flavor it.  There's no reason why you should have to listen to that, though.  I think these would work perfectly well if you chopped up a handful of chocolate mints to put in the cupcake base and called it a day.  I wouldn't be a good Chicagoan if I didn't ask that those chocolate mints be the classic Frango Mints from the old Marshall Fields stores (now Macy's, boo) if you can help it.  But really anything minty would work.  Use your imagination!  I do... even when it tells me to make odd things like this...

Recipe: Chocolate Mint Moss Cupcakes

Makes 16 cupcakes

For the cupcakes... (adapted from Joy of Baking)
1/2 cup cocoa powder (Dutch-processed preferred)
1 cup boiling hot water
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons mint oil


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