Neutriceuticals

I recently gave a talk at the RGBE for the current herbology class. I loved that course when I was on it, what 3 years ago now, 4?

The current crop of students are dedicated and enthusiastic and it was a pleasure being with them. I say ‘talk’ but I never even got around to introducing myself properly, never mind giving my presentation! It was all about the chocolate 🙂

During the herbology course one of the many projects is to write up the health benefits of 3 foods; hence the term ‘neutriceutical’, as you are looking into the potential pharmaceutical effects of nutritious foods. I did my neutriceutical project on cider vinegar, chilli pepper and chocolate.

The course leader is keen for all projects to have a practical element to them, so I decided to make herbal chocolate with pepper in them for one of my practical elements to this – a 2fer, as it combined 2 of my projects. And that, as they say,was that. So my herbology neutriceutical talk is what gave birth to Hedgetables! So, needless to say I’m keen to impart some of my own enthusiasm to the subject.

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As soon I got into the class and starting unpacking my somewhat large number of supplies the students were rummaging and ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’, all very satisfying 😉

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Last year I started with the talk and then we made various chocolates, with the idea of combining ‘superfoods’ with chocolate. We sadly never managed to fit in a herb infused cream to make a ganache that could then be used to make truffles. I wanted to remedy that this time around, so without an introduction to the theme we started making an infused cream.

One wee group made rose and lavender infused cream. They infused the herbs with the cream directly over a low heat for about 20 mins, then strained out the herbal material. The cream was then scalded before pouring over double the amount of chocolate. Once all the chocolate was incorporated this had to be left to cool and harden up in the fridge.

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The other group had a person in it with a bad dairy intolerance so another truffle mix was made using the raw chocolate truffle theme, they used dates and pecans blitzed in a blender, with some added coconut water and coconut flour,  maca powder, raw cacao powder and a generous dollop of ground cardamom. Very tasty.

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Both mixes were then shaped into balls and chilled before being either dipped in various outer coatings or, of course, chocolate. We were using raw cacao powder, or dried, ground orange powder, or rosehip or roe petal powder, or ground spices,  or ground up crystallised herbs such as mint, as our external coatings. This is a good way to incorporate some more herbal goodness to the finished product and gives a finished look.

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This took us to about lunch time so just before we broke for lunch I snuck in a very informal talk about chocolate, mentioning the benefits of it, the difference between varieties, chemotypes, the process of making it etc. All of which was illustrated with a taste sample where possible. I think they were beginning to OD on chocolate 🙂

After lunch we cheated with tempering, though it was discussed, as I’d brought in a tempering machine, so we had more time to concentrate on incorporating the superfoods and less time having to fret about making enough to do all the planned things. We made barks and decorated them with all mannner of things, dehydrated berries; strawberries, raspberries, cherries, goldenberries aka physallis, smoked chipotle pepper (I liked the South American theme of chocolate, goldenberries and chilli), nuts, seeds and all manner of goodies were used here.

The group dipped fruits and nuts in the chocolate, mango and brazil nuts being favourites. They also learned the potentially very messy art of dipping, losing, and re-finding their truffles 🙂 Some were dipped, dropped,and repeat several times, so much so that by the time they emerged from the final saving of them that we had gobstoppers of truffles! 🙂

So, all in all they used herbs, powders, superfoods and fruits in, infused, on and covering the chocolates, and, lest I forget, they used tincture and syrups that they’d already made, added directly to the chocolate to make an easy truffle too. Whew! A busy day, with much learning (I hope!) and fun to be had. I’m still unpacking, I think the only thing I don’t bring is the kitchen sink!

Although I had brought my camera I had a ‘Doh!’ moment as I hadn’t checked that it had enough battery power so I only have a few piccies of the day.

Here’s a  recipe we used as a base, taken from my notes to the class:

Raw Date and Cardamom truffles

We’ll work with raw cacao first as no melting or tempering is needed, but time for chilling often is.

Pit and chop 10 dates, put in blender and whizz.

Add a handful of Pecans, or other nuts/ seeds of your choice, and 2T cacao powder

Add a T of coconut flour, a T of coconut water, and 2t, or to taste of ground cardamom. Whizz in blender until a thick paste is achieved. Too runny? – add some more cacoa and or flour, too thick? – add a drop or 2 of the c. water.

Once reached a thick paste, roll into small balls and coat in a powder of your choice.

The finishing powder can make quite a difference to your end taste so feel free to experiment again here – how about more cacao powder – extra chocolatey goodness, but can be bitter, so try mixing and matching/ replacing with other powders? Dried fruit powders – orange pulp powder would be nice, rosehip powder, maca powder for extra superfood punch? You can try dipping these in melted/ tempered normal chocolate for a wonderful treat with the knowledge that you are also having a refined sugar free, healthy snack that is good for you!

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A Grand Day Out

Saturday was a dog and boy free day so we thought ‘ Wahay!’ I’ve been planning out next year in terms of shows, food faires etc. and had been told that this weekend the Foodies Festival in Edinburgh’s Inverleith park was on. We wanted to check it out and see if it was worth going to for next year, so off we toddled.

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It was a surprisingly big event – both in terms of the number and variety of stalls, and in the number of people that came. A word of advice if you plan to go today, or next year – go early. I’m biased in that I don’t like crowds much, and at around the lunch mark you could hardly move! Heaving mass of bodies everywhere so we made our escape around then.

There was a surprising number of gin stalls…oh dear, too bad, never mind, what a pity! snigger….apparently it was gin o’clock quite early in the day for me!

IMG_4263I’ve seen this driving around recently so it caught my attention – as designed to do! It was pulling  a dinky little trailer which turns into…..

IMG_4264Ta dah! a gin cocktail bar!

 

 

IMG_4265 I just had to force myself to try the Lady Pickering – which I have to say was scrummy, slurp!

IMG_4266 The drink itself coyly hiding behind the array of spices and herbs that flavour the gin. I had a good talk about them which was very interesting.They do tours and tasting at the distillery  www.pickeringsgin.com

I was amazed at the number of booze, especially gin stands there were, here’s a quick review of some, not all by any means…

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We (me, he was restrained) staggered on buying a wide variety of cheeses, chorizo, olives until we were told firmly by a sign to…

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And being relatively biddable people, we had to do what the sign said….:-)

There were a wonderful array of light, fluffy marshmallows from The Marshmallow Lady  (www.TheMarshmallowLady.com) so we had to try and buy some of them, the quote from Despicable Me comes to mind – “It’s so fluffy!”

This just whetted our sweet teeth so our sensible eating plan degenerated further with …

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Perfectly made, chewy on the inside, lovely flavours, though I could have done with the flavours being a bit stronger, though no website to order from, but he is in south of England, so you probably want local macaroons rather than being in the post. What you could order through the post is brownies – which he also does….and so does….

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Amazing GF brownie, scoffed already, oops!, a wide variety of normal brownies of varying flavours, and chocolate spread. This is something I’ve been thinking of making as an addition to hampers for Christmas and perhaps corporate hampers. What is interesting is that when I opened the jar to try it this morning, there was mold on it! Not so good, and with a sell by of end Oct I’d not expect that, though there is a high cream content in it. So this is something I’m going to tell them about, and something to be wary of myself if going down this route.

All the sweet stuff, I had to get my savoury mojo back, aided by…

IMG_4284 SeaVeg dried seaweeds.

Tees is a huge fan of Dulse, I suppose he is Irish after all! He bought a LARGE bag of Dulse, with my caveat that he wasn’t allowed to sit down and eat it like a packet of crisps! Which he would left to his own devices! I sampled their many other varieties and came away with a free bag of serrated wrack for skin care and small jars of all their dried, roasted seaweed seasonings. If you use a mix of red and green seaweed in your diet you cover all your trace mineral needs! No added salt, just seaweed.

IMG_4286 With my therapist hat on I recommend seaweed baths for skin conditions, or boiling it up for a gel that is better than your fancy expensive serums…

Taste buds refreshed by salty things we had to heal ourselves using Chinese medicine by tasting other things, next stop, chilli’s.

I’ve been trying to get a local chilli for my chilli bars but although Ceres has Chillilicious they don’t do ground chilli, which is really what I’m after. Unfortunately, none of the other 2 or 3 chilli producers did either. 😦

I loved the Chilli Bothy stall though

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And of course, reverted back to my alcoholic habits, and bought Chilli and Lime Gin! Haven’t  tried it yet, honest! Getting Chilli on my tongue is like coming home, perhaps because I convince myself that it’s helping my joints…so on that note the Chilli Lemonade had to be tried, Tees woosed out with a lovely tasting Lime Lemonade.IMG_4267 IMG_4268The Fresh Lemonade Company and my chilli lemonade, with yes, Scotch Bonnet Chilli floating around in there. They have their lovely tart proper old fashioned lemonade and add the extras, shake it up Martinin style, et voila!

We went ostensibly to see what the chocolate competition was doing, how it was faring, and to check out to see  if it’s worth our while going.

Charlotte Flowers was there and Fiona Sciolti, botanical chocolates. They were the only 2 remotely like us. In fact they were the only 2 chocolatiers, full stop.

Interestingly neither seemed to be particularly busy – but my mum, has always said people don’t buy chocolates when it’s hot ( I do, but then I’m a chocholic), and it was hot. Perhaps there is something in what she says – people buy choc to make them feel good, all those lovely chemicals in there, seratonin, theophylline, etc, and people feel good when the sun is out so they don’t need to buy choc to get that happy vibe.

Anyold hoo, I think it’s worth our while booking this for next year as it will raise our profile. Though I’ll be behind the stall and not having a great time tasting everyone else’s wares…. mixed feelings about that!

If you’re interested in going, there are some great talks and demos, but they are very oversubscribed – so prebook online if possible, or get there early and get your tickets in advance – the queues  were horrendous for the tickets! You have been warned…

 

 

Re-purposing the garden

Weedin’ Wednesday comes round quickly. I’ve been trying to pace myself as I find pulling up weeds hard on my hands, so it’s been little and probably not often enough for any noticeable difference. although the brown bin for compostables is full and there is a healthy pile of weeds sitting in the drive ready to go to compost recycling.

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It all feels a bit of a waste. I thought that there must be something I can do with the weeds. So far in the area that I’ve been tackling the main weed varieties have been Rosebay Willow Herb  (Epilobium angustifoilium aka Chamerion angustifolium)and Nettles.

Rosebay Willow herb (RWH) is a stately plant with a striking  pink  cone of flowers. Tees rather likes it, so do I for that matter, however it spreads like wildfire, reminiscent of one of it’s other names ‘Fireweed’, as it has an impressive root spread and growth and a full head of cottony seeds that billow and spread easily.

So to find other uses for this invader.. I tried a variety of things today…

1. RWH tea – I tried a variety of leaves in different cups of tea. I tried young leaves in one teapot and older leaves in another. I know that they are quite astringent and that’s why you choose young leaves to eat in salads in Spring (note; this is Summer, perhaps the young leaves are still not young enough?) I’ve read about them being used as a drink and with the tannins thought they might be relatively ‘tea-like’… No. Both cups of tea were strongly Green tasting and not very pleasant. If I thought I was getting a great deal of good out of them I might persevere, but while it may help with diarrhoea (which I don’t have) and may help with a respiratory condition (thankfully nope again to that) there are plenty of others that I would go to first.

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2. A syrup from the flowers. In one word…Ugh! I gently heated up several racemes of the flowers and got a beautiful tinted infusion, strained it, tried it and thought it tasted revolting. Undaunted I thought a bit of lemon juice might help and went on to make a syrup by adding equal amounts of sugar to the infusion. Nope, still revolting.

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3. Using the canes from last years stems. This works pretty well if you use the really sturdy ones. They are lighter than bamboo, and still quite strong due to the hollow nature of them. I put them around my young sweet pea plants for support. We’ll see how they last in the weather away from other stems to protect them.

4. Dyeing. I tried dyeing a paper bundle a la India Flint using the RWH and a few other plants I picked from the wilderness that is the front garden. The paper worked surprisingly well and coped with the saturation and steaming process, which I wasn’t sure it would. It was a pretty standard water colour paper.

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IMG_4163 A good way to use up herbs past their use by date too – just throw them in for good measure!

Unfortunately, my weight arrangement wasn’t great and so the bundle didn’t stay effectively clamped. It was a proper bodge job as I hadn’t thought I was going to do this, it just sort of happened and so didn’t have all the kit and caboodle required.

IMG_4165Impromptu wight arrangement, oops, no disrespect intended.

I got nice tints to the paper but no prints. I know I can get them as I managed before on the workshop. Ah well lesson learned.

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The seeds aren’t ready yet but they can provide tinder for fire lighting, and the inside of the stems has fibre that can be dried and used as tinder too, though there are easier sources.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARWH leaves giving a good print on India’s workshop. The flowers didn’t and were hard to seperate from the paper as the mucilage in the flowers became more glue like.

All in all a good day for experiments, tho’ not many were overly successful. The books definitely make RWH sound much more appetising than it actually is, though I have eaten the young leaves fine in Spring. I don’t plan on keeping lots of it around as a salad crop or plant supports.

 

 

Fermentation class with Russell James and Amy Levin

The day after my raw chocolate course with Amy (https://hedgetables.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/raw-chocolate-course-with-amy-levin/) I had a class on fermentation. This was held in the same place; in the lovely, light filled kitchen cum studio of Russell James.

Now I’ve never had much luck with yeasts and fermenting – be that from a bread or alcohol producing point of view, but looking into the raw food phenomenon and it’s health benefits I was seeing articles on Kombuchu and Kefir all over the place. I’d had some difficulty in imagining the taste so it was hard to know if I wanted to make it. The course also encompassed lacto-fermentation. A lot of foragers know of this and it had also been highly recommended in various books as a method of preserving seasonal greens,lacto-fermentation is more commonly known as the method for producing Sauerkraut. So, definitely wanting to know about the Sauerkraut method and curious about a couple of other things that the course was offering, and not wanting to go to London for just one day, the decisions to go the fermentation class was a pretty easy one.

The day was started with James going into the benefits of making nut cheeses. Nut cheese I thought, I’d barely heard of them… wonderful things. Not as bland as I thought they’d be as nutritional yeast is added for flavour along with any spices, dried or fresh herb you want. They take only a couple of days to make – and that is due to overnight soaking first, then after blitzing in the, you guessed it – the Vitamix (getting one for sure! ), there is the process  of pressing the nut pulp to get excess water out; which takes several hours.

There is no waste – the water and ‘milk’ that is pressed out – effectively the curds and whey, is bulging with healthy bacterial cultures from the probiotic powder that was added to the nuts when they were blitzed in the blender. This curds and whey can be added to smoothies and drinks, or used to start another culture of cheese.

The almond cheese is particularly good, in that it can be aged to give a cheese that is genuinely tasty and can be cut like cheese, unlike the others, like macadamia, that make a soft cheese that is best made and eaten frequently.

The cheese can be used for sweet as well as savoury, as James proved with a wonderful, coffee, maple and vanilla almond nut cheesecake, needless to say it was deemed likely to get damaged in transit and had to be disposed of immediately :-), sorry HH – just have to make another one now…

Kimchi was not something I’d even heard of, but loved when I tasted it – a hot, tingly, zesty dush made from sturdy vegetables coming from Korea, so lots of chillis can be added.

We tackled the weird fungal bacterial hybrids that makes Kombuchu and Kefirs and got to sample lots. Amazing the differences that the second fermentation makes. You can add herbal and floral infusion, spices and all sorts here to make really flavourful, refreshing drinks.  We not only got to taste lots of variations but got to take samples of the cultures and ‘mothers’ home with us. Lots of practicing to be had…

IMG_3954  Kombuchu ‘scoby’ – the bacterial/ yeast symbiote floating in black tea and sugar mix to ‘feed’ it.

IMG_3957  the kefir grains that grow in water with sugar medium. They feel quite firm and gelatinous.

The lunch provided was flavourful and healthy. We were given a tasty raw salad and cumin-y dressing with a variety of the chutneys, cheeses, krauts and salsas that were also to make that day.

I left the class fizzing with kefir juices, excitement and new ideas. Thanks you James and Amy for an enlightening and tasty day.

Floral waters by distillation

I generously was given a small copper still by HH for Christmas.

I only got around to using it recently when a couple of friends prompted me to use it. We meet up monthly to experiment on all things herbal. With our recent trials under my belt I thought I would see how elderflower works.

In general  flowers and petals don’t work too well; the steam being too harsh and causing the petals to go all soggy and impact into the perforated container so that the steam doesn’t penetrate well, or falls back into the bottom section of the still. However I’d heard good things about elderflower water so thought I’d give it a try.

I collected an entire bag of elderflower blossoms.

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Treating the process as I would anything herbal with the plant I stripped the flowers from the stalks – an extremely laborious process.

It seemed to take forever to work my way through the bag, while the amount in the holding vessel never seemed to increase 😦

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Eventually finishing the separating of the petals, boiling water was put in the base unit, the flowers above that and the swan neck on top. I made a paste/ putty out of flour and water to seal the joins.

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A hose was connected to the cold tap to provide running water in a condenser unit.  I started to smell the most amazing aroma as low as 50 C. Fresh, light, potent and floral.

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I do wonder if the water I managed to get has any redeeming features as it came off at 100 C, hopefully not destroying fragile components. Reassuringly the water I got at the higher temperature still has a pleasant smell and taste.

There was a fine layer on top that may well be an oil from the resin off of the pollen. The water had a subtle but nice smell, always a bit green; is this from the flowers themselves or from the tiny stalks that still worked their way into the the mix?

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i bottled up 3 small , clip lid syrup bottles and 2 wee 20 ml jam pots. I’ll use the bottled floral water (stored in fridge) in face creams but use the jam jars as a toner on its own to see how it feels and behaves.

I’ll keep you posted on how it performs and how long it keeps.

Overall a worthwhile experiment, if only for that amazing initial smell; it lifted the whole room and my spirits with it! Now if I could only capture that smell (disturbing images from the film Perfume running through my head now , though that probably says more about me than the scent!).