Monthly Archives: March 2015

Week 29: Edible Flowers

Edible flowers2

Winter in New England has been long and cold this year, but warmer weather is just around the corner.  Nothing heralds spring so much as tender young blossoms emerging from the soil!  Many of these flowers are edible and add color, flavor, aroma and elegance to entrees, salads and desserts.  I recently ordered an Edible Flower Garden kit from http://www.bambeco.com and can hardly wait for it to arrive!

The concept of using flowers in cookery is not new. Cooking with flowers dates to Roman times, and to the cuisine of China, India, and the Middle East. The Victorians, who associated edible flowers with elegance, candied violets to decorate cakes and desserts. Italian and Hispanic cultures gave us stuffed zucchini blossoms. Chartreuse, a classic green liqueur developed in France in the 17th century, uses carnation petals as one of its secret ingredients.

It was common to dry the petals and include them in tea blends. Popular tea flowers were hibiscus, rose, jasmine and bee balm. Bee balm was used as a tea substitute when black tea became unavailable during the Boston Tea Party in 1773. To preserve violets, medieval monks made a sweet syrup from the petals.

The most common flowers used in cooking are:

Alliums (leeks, chives, garlic, garlic chives) – Known as “onion flowers,” they include the blossoms from onions, garlic, chives, ramps, and shallots. Their flavors range from mild onions and leeks right through to strong onion and garlic. All parts of the plants are edible.

Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) – Both flowers and leaves have a delicate anise or licorice flavor, which remind some people of root beer. The blossoms are excellent in salads and make attractive plate garnishes and are often used in Chinese cuisine.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) – Blossoms are bright white, pale pink, or a delicate lavender. The flavor of the flower is milder, but similar to basil leaves.  Some varieties have different milder flavors like lemon and mint.

Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) – Also called Wild Bergamot, Wild Oswego Tea, or Horsemint, wild bee balm tastes like oregano, mint or citrus like lemon and orange. It is the main ingredient in Earl Gray Tea.

Begonias (Begonia X tuberosa) – Tuberous begonia petals are used in salads and as a garnish with have a citrus-sour taste. Stems, also, can be used in place of rhubarb. The flowers and stems contain oxalic acid and should not be consumed by individuals suffering from gout, kidney stones, or rheumatism.

Calendula (Calendula officinalis) – Also known as marigolds, the calendula had golden-range hued petals and flavors that range from spicy to bitter, tangy to peppery. Only the petals are edible and add a yellow tint to soups, spreads, and scrambled eggs. Sprinkle them on soups, pasta or rice dishes, herb butters, and salads. The sharp taste resembles saffron (also known as Poor Man’s Saffron).

Chrysanthemums (Chrysanthemum coronarium) – Tangy, slightly bitter, ranging in colors from red, white, yellow and orange, chrysanthemum petals range in taste from faint peppery to mild cauliflower. Blanche the petals first and then scatter them on a salad. Always remove the bitter flower base. Young leaves and stems of the Crown Daisy, also known as Chop Suey Greens or Shingiku in Japan, are widely used in oriental stir-fries and as salad seasoning.

Cilantro/Coriander (Coriander sativum) – Like the leaves and seeds, the flowers have a strong herbal flavor. Use leaves and flowers raw as the flavor fades quickly when cooked. Sprinkle to taste on salads, bean dishes, and cold vegetable dishes.

Dandelions (Taraxacum officinalis) Dandelions are members of the daisy family. Flowers are sweetest when picked young. They have a sweet, honey-like flavor. Mature flowers are bitter. Young leaves taste good steamed, or tossed in salads. When serving a rice dish use dandelion petals like confetti over the rice.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) – Fennel has spiky yellow flowers that have a mild anise flavor. Use with desserts or cold soups, or as a garnish with your entrees.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) – Petals from the white variety of ginger is very fragrant and has a gingery taste on the tongue. They may be eaten raw or the tender, young shoots can be cooked.

Impatiens (Impatiens wallerana) – Impatiens, which have a sweet flavor, can be used as a garnish in salads or floated in drinks.

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) – Lavender flowers look beautiful and have a sweet, floral flavor, with lemon and citrus notes. They can be added to a glass of champagne, served with chocolate cake, or used as a garnish for ice creams. Lavender lends itself to savory dishes also, from hearty stews to wine-reduced sauces. Diminutive blooms add a mysterious scent to custards, flans or sorbets. NOTE:  Do not purchase and consume lavender oil, as it may be poisonous.

Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla) -\Lemon verbena sports diminutive cream-colored citrus-scented blossoms. Leaves and flowers can be steeped as an herbal tea, and used to flavor custards and flans.

Mint (Mentha spp) – The flavor of mint flowers are, as their name implies “minty,” but with different overtones depending variety. Mint flowers and leaves are great in Middle Eastern dishes.

Nasturtiums Tropaeolum majus) – Nasturtiums are my favorite edible flowers.  They come in brilliant sunset colors with peppery flavors. Blossoms have a sweet, spicy flavor similar to watercress. Stuff whole flowers with savory mousse. Leaves add peppery tang to salads. Pickled seed pods are less expensive substitute for capers. Use the entire flower to garnish platters, salads, open-faced sandwiches, and savory appetizers.

Pansy (Viola X wittrockiana) – Pansies have a slightly sweet green or grassy flavor. If you eat only the petals, the flavor is extremely mild, but if you eat the whole flower, there is a winter, green overtone. Use them as garnishes, in fruit salads, green salad, desserts or in soups.

Violets (Viola species) – Sweet, perfumed flavor. Related flowers, Johnny jump-ups or violas, and pansies now come in colorful purples and yellows to apricot and pastel hues. They are great in salads or as a garnish for desserts. They can also be crystallized. The heart-shaped leaves are edible, and tasty when cooked like spinach.

NOTE:  Do not use herbicides and pesticides on plants whose blossoms you want to use in the kitchen, and NEVER collect flowers from along the roadside or from the florist.  Not all flowers are edible and could make you sick if you digest the wrong ones. Remove pistils and stamens before using.  Only the blossom petals should be consumed.

Resources

homecooking.about.com

http://www.gardenguides.com

http://www.whatscookingamerica.net

http://www.wikipedia.org

 

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Perfect Eggs

Here are some tried and true methods for egg preparation.

scrambled eggs

Scrambled

Use 2 eggs and one egg yolk per person. Whisk until well blended and add a small amount of heavy cream.  Melt butter over medium low heat in a skillet.  When butter begins to foam, add eggs.  Using a wooden spatula, gently scrape eggs from bottom of pan until eggs begin to set. Cover pan and reduce heat to low for 1-2 minutes. If you want to add diced onion, mushrooms or green peppers to your scrambled eggs, sauté the vegetables in a separate skillet until onions are translucent and mushrooms and green peppers are tender. Add vegetables to egg and cream mixture before you transfer it to the saucepan for cooking.

Boiled

Place eggs in a saucepan and cover with water.  Bring to boil over high heat.  Once water begins to boil, time eggs for 8 minutes.  Remove from heat and drain off hot water.  Fill saucepan with cold water and allow eggs to cool.  Crack eggs under water for easy peeling.  Older eggs will peel easier than fresh ones.

Fried

A perfectly fried egg should not have crusty edges nor a browned bottom. Using a well-seasoned cast iron griddle or a nonstick skillet, melt butter over medium low heat until it begins to foam. Break eggs into skillet. Cook until white turns opaque. For over easy, turn with spatula and continue cooking for about 30 seconds or until egg white covering the yolk has turned opaque.  For over medium, cook slightly longer so yolk has begun to set.

Poached

Fresh eggs work better for poaching.  Crack and egg into a small dish.  Meanwhile, fill a skillet half full with water and bring to boil.  Reduce heat to medium low to keep water simmering.  Add 1/2 t. salt and 2 T. white vinegar to water.  Using a whisk, stir water in a circle until a vortex or depression forms in the center.  Carefully, pour egg from bowl into the vortex. Cook for 4 -5 minutes.  Remove with slotted spoon.  The salt and vinegar helps keep the egg white compact. Serve on toast, English muffins or fried corned beef hash.

 

Week 28: Eggs

Eggs

Eggs have been eaten by humans for thousands of years.  They can be cooked in a variety of ways and are commonly eaten for breakfast, are healthy additions to soups, salads, sandwiches, entrees, and are essential for baking.

Eggs are laid by females of many different species, including birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish. The most commonly consumed egg is from the chicken, although duck, goose and quail eggs are prominent as well. The largest bird eggs, from ostriches tend to be used only as special luxury food. Gull eggs are considered a delicacy in England and Norway and guinea fowl eggs are commonly seen in African marketplaces. Although pheasant and emu eggs are just as edible, they are not as widely available. Most laying hens in the U.S. are Single-Comb White Leghorns.

History

There is evidence of eggs eaten in Southeast Asia and India as far back as 7500 BCE and Egyptian and Chinese records show domesticated birds producing eggs for human consumption as in 1400 BC. In ancient Rome, meals often began with a preserved egg course. During the Middle Ages, eggs were forbidden during lent because of their richness. The word mayonnaise may have been derived from moyeu, the medieval French word for the yolk, meaning center or hub.

Before the invention of the egg carton, eggs were gathered and carried in egg baskets. A predecessor to the modern egg box was invented by Thomas Peter Bethell of Liverpool in 1906 and marketed as the Raylite Egg Box. He created frames of interlocking strips of cardboard. These frames were themselves packed in cardboard or wooden boxes for transport by road or rail. In 1911, the egg carton was invented by Joseph Coyle in British Columbia to solve a dispute about broken eggs between a farmer and the owner of a hotel that he supplied. Early egg cartons were made of paper.

Grading

Eggs are composed of the shell, albumin or white, and the yolk.  An egg is a prolate spheroid, with one end larger than the other. The air cell is on the larger end of the egg and its size is used in grading the eggs. A very fresh egg has a small air cell and receives a grade of AA. Its “spread” is compact, the albumen is clear, thick and firm, the yolk stands round and high. Grade A eggs have a slight spread, clear and reasonably firm albumen and a yolk that stands fairly high and practically free from defects.  A grade B egg spreads over a wide area, has a clear, weak or watery albumen and an flattened yolk. As an egg gets older, the larger end of the egg will rise to increasingly shallower depths when the egg is placed in a bowl of water. A very old egg will actually float in the water and should not be eaten. Eggs come in sizes of jumbo, extra large, large, medium, small and peewee.

Health

Eggs contain significant amounts of protein, vitamins, antioxidants and are about 70 calories each.   More than half the calories found in eggs come from the fat in the yolk. Thus, people on a low-cholesterol diet may need to reduce egg consumption. The egg white, however, consists primarily of water (87%) and protein (13%) and contains no cholesterol and little, if any, fat. Despite their nutritional value, however, there are health concerns involving allergy, storage and preparation. To prevent salmonella poisoning, always cook eggs thoroughly.

Culinary Uses

An egg can be boiled, scrambled, fried, poached, made into an omelet or pickled. It is used as an emulsifier (help suspend one liquid in another, as in salad dressings) and as a thickener. The proteins in egg white allow it to form foams and aerated dishes. Egg whites, which contain the protein and very little fat,  may be aerated or whipped to a light, fluffy consistency, and are often used in desserts such as meringues and mousse. Eggs can also be soaked in mixtures to absorb flavor. Tea eggs are steeped in a brew from a mixture of various spices, soy sauce, and black tea leaves to give flavor.

Pidan (also known as hundred year or thousand year eggs) is a Chinese method of preserving duck, chicken or quail eggs in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, lime and rice hulls for several weeks to several months. In the process, the yolk becomes dark green to gray in color and develops a creamy consistency with an odor of sulphur and ammonia.  The egg white becomes a dark brown, translucent jelly with a salty flavor. Century eggs are often eaten without further preparation, on their own or are used as a side dish, sometimes with ginger root or tofu.

A Balut is a developing duck embryo (fertilized duck egg) that is boiled and eaten in the shell. It is commonly sold in the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The broth surrounding the embryo is first sipped and then the undeveloped chick inside is eaten, often with salt and/or a chili, garlic and vinegar (white or coconut sap) mixture as seasoning.

Storage

Uncooked eggs can be kept refrigerated for up to 4-5 weeks, while hard-boiled eggs left in their shells should be used within a week.

Commercial Production vs. Cage Free

Commercial factory farm operations often involve raising the hens in small, crowded cages, preventing the chickens from engaging in natural behaviors, such as wing-flapping, dust-bathing, scratching, pecking, perching and nest-building. Many hens have their beaks removed to prevent harming each other and to prevent cannibalism. In the United States, increased public concern for animal welfare has resulted in the United Egg Producers program which includes guidelines regarding housing, food, water, air, living space, beak trimming, molting, handling, and transportation. However, some organizations such as the Humane Society, claim that the UEP certification is misleading. “Certified Organic” labeling, which requires hens to have outdoor access and be fed only organic vegetarian feed and so on, is considered the most humane.

Cultural Traditions

During Easter in many countries, eggs are dyed, decorated and hidden for children to find. Before the spring equinox in the Persian New Year tradition, each family member decorates a hard-boiled egg and sets them together in a bowl. The tradition of a dancing egg is held during the feast  Corpus Christi in Barcelona and other Catalan cities since the 16th century, which consists of an emptied egg, positioned over the water jet from a fountain, which starts turning without falling.

Resources

Labensky, Sarah R., and Alan M. Hause. On Cooking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals.

Wikipedia

http://www.eggnutritioncenter.org

http://www.incredibleegg.org