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.

IMG_8033

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 😉

IMG_8032

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.

IMG_8034   IMG_8035

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.

IMG_8036

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.

IMG_8037

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!

A Moroccan romance!

Spearmint and Clove in milk chocolate is one of the flavours that I make for Just Be Botanicals – a range of lovely skin care. I make flavours that use the same oils or herbs and try to tie in with the skin care ranges that is made by them. Spearmint and Clove is branded under the ‘ Active’ label.

While I was working making some more of it today I found that it was overtempering quickly. This may be because the weather had turned a little cooler today but I still had the air conditioning up full blast. The metal bowl at the top was chilling too quickly and causing the rest of the bowl to thicken up faster than I had anticipated.

IMG_4242 the overtempered chocolate isn’t releasing the bubbles even with lots of tapping and vibration, which normally works 😦

Now the Spearmint and Clove bars for Gail don’t have any topping on the back, as a result they should be smooth as a baby’s behind – hmm, not so much with today’s batch. I decided to give up sooner rather than later with this batch but thought – what to do with it now. I’ve not read her new packaging for the flavour but the flavours reminded me of Moroccan or African cuisine, and the rest as they say, is history.

As soon as I thought Moroccan, I thought -more spices! I made a cinnamon and cardamom (of course!) sugar, using fairtrade Billington’s soft granulated sugar and coconut palm sugar in a 1:1 ratio, then added ground cinnamon and cardamom to taste. I personally think that the coconut sugar gives a richer flavour but I like the crunchier texture of the granulated, so I like to mix them.

IMG_4238 Coconut palm sugar and fairtrade soft granulated from Billingham’s

IMG_4239 Not the best I know but it was what I had to hand!

IMG_4240 Wonderful stuff – beginning to wonder if I can get addicted to it?! I’m adding it to so much… I get lot of my ingredients, including this from Tree Harvest

 

Then I wanted to pick up on the mint, so added some crystallised peppermint to the bar too. While I had powdered orange I really wanted to use powdered lemon to add to the chocolate itself, but as I didn’t have it I just thought I’d wait for another time to see if I can locate some and try it later.

IMG_4241The crystallised mint

I’m rather fond of this spin off and throw together, if not a full blown romance, at least a holiday affair!

IMG_4244 Finished bars, bubbles nicely covered up! just waiting for them to cool before releasing and packaging.

Sarah’s Stupendous Sweets!

My god-daughter, Sarah, is staying over for 2 weeks (perhaps, if she doesn’t look too closely at the list of things I’d like her to do!) and she seems keen to try things out in the kitchen, permit me an evil laugh…

IMG_4176

So with that in mind she has been put to work sticking labels on, folding boxes, packing bars into said boxes and has tried her hand at decorating the bars with me. I have to say, so far she is outperforming HH and can come as an intern any time she likes!

While having a meeting with a friend at the flat today today, I thought I’d give her (Sarah, not the friend!) relatively free rein. She chose a recipe for Penuche fudge from  Peter Greweiling’s “Chocolates and Confections” – ISBN 9780764588440.

Product Details

It’s a lovely book and she seemed to find it hard to choose one recipe to try as she wants to work through the book I think!

Needless to say I didn’t have some of the ingredients so we bodged things – what’s new. I’m never good at following the recipe at the best of times, and without the right stuff, that’s just asking for multiple tweaks. It all went downhill when I didn’t even  have light brown sugar – we substituted with coconut palm sugar for that depth of flavour. Corn syrup used instead of glucose syrup, generally more sugar added as no invert sugar, and believe it or not I couldn’t find my proper vanilla, so of course used ground cardamom instead, naturally, why wouldn’t you – they’re so similar! Poor Sarah.

IMG_4179 Sarah measuring out coconut palm sugar

I gave myself the task of toasting the pecans as they can burn quickly.

IMG_4181

This also meant that I had the rather lengthy task of chopping them up. What I’ve never noticed before is how they chop up once toasted. They give a lovely shape that just cries out to be used as a  topping on individual sweets.

 

IMG_4183

It’s definitely a confectioners book – my friend was horrified/ surprised that the book/ me had her agitating hot sugar syrup on marble slabs with scrapers. Once cooled down a bit Sarah added the toasted, chopped Pecan nuts and cardamom powder and kept mixing it all together on the slab. She looked very professional.

IMG_4185

I couldn’t find my rods to make a frame with – (I KNOW they’re lurking in there somewhere…) so we used good old parchment paper in tins to decant the thicker, cooler sticky mass to cool further.

IMG_4190 It just had to taste tested – repeatedly!

Once it had cooled enough we opened it out of it’s tin and paper to let it air, cool and form a skin; as it was still quite soft. She chopped it up to help this process further.

IMG_4191

We’ll either neaten them up a bit and package as is, or may well use some as a centre and cover in chocolate so she can try dipping. That’ll be fun, and very messy 😉

Raw Strawberry Fudge- ish

I harvested a lot of small wild strawberries from my garden the other day. Most of these are being dehydrated whole for decoration to my dark Rosemary bars (Rosemary with dried strawberry and crystallised mint). I had some left over and added more locally grown strawberries to the start of the fudge.

IMG_4159

IMG_4156

IMG_4168

This fudge recipe is adapted to one from  http://chocolatecoveredkatie.com/2014/07/10/chocolate-covered-strawberry-fudge-bars/.

The recipe for the truffle/ fudge is raw and you can use a raw chocolate to coat, or cheat and use normal chocolate. If you coated in dark, it will still be dairy free. The recipe in the link above gives a proper fudge while the runnier fudge that I made can be used as a desert, mousse, ice cream substitute, or used as a filling for chocolate.

I had some issues; being American there is of course the cups to grams measurement and a slight difference in language, or at least, my understanding of what is meant, which may well be a different thing entirely! 😉

This all may have lead to my fudge being more fudge-‘ish’ than fudge. ‘Ish’ to the point of being entirely different, but it’s still tasty and being thoroughly appreciated by Helpful Husband. So here’s the fudge-ish recipe:

Sightly less than a pack of creamed coconut – 180g

IMG_4174

A punnet of strawberries- 200g

Good couple of turns of salt mill

1/4 tsp of ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp of ground cardamom

1 1/2 tbs of syrup (Agave or maple was recommended, but I used my Blackthorn flower syrup that I made earlier in the year for a more herbal component)

Tempered chocolate for coating

Method

1. Hull and blend the strawberries with a stick blender. Use a high sided container or by the time everything else is added the mix will attempt to coat the kitchen walls, your hair, glasses etc! 😉

2. Melt the coconut cream and blend it in with the puree. The original recipe called for coconut butter, which is apparently the solid white version of coconut oil, which I have loads of but that is ‘oil’ to me, not butter. So my version is much softer than the original recipe turns out to be. If you want a more fudge consistency – use 1/2 cup of melted solid coconut oil.

3. Add the salt, spices and syrup, and blend again. (Bet you’re wishing you’d gone for the taller container now, eh?)

4. Fill up a plastic container and smooth out. Put container into the freezer for a while.If you used the solid oil this will turn into proper fudge like consistency that you can cut easily and dip in chocolate if you want. If, like me, you used creamed coconut this will never really firm up to being solid until it’s totally frozen and will start to melt almost immediately. Don’t panic.

5. The softish mix can be used a desert in and of itself, almost like a mousse. It can also be left to become firm in the freezer. Then it can be shaped into small balls. Put these back in freezer to firm up again (the handling will have softened it up quite a bit).

6. The firm balls (ooh err missus, that didn’t turn out as I’d intended!) can now be dunked in the chocolate of your choice. I had some Jasmine flavoured white chocolate that I had left over from making bars of said flavour. I thought it would be nice with the strawberry. I found that the white chocolate was warm enough, even when tempered, to start melting the truffles. This meant that the coating was decidedly patchy, and so needed to be left to dry and then be re-coated.

Though I felt that the jasmine hint complemented the fresh strawberry taste that was still strongly present, I find that the white addition was a bit sweet overall for my taste, but I’m not big on white, I like my chocolate like my men, as the joke goes, rich and dark! 😉

Not many pictures here, as I got incredibly sticky, oily and covered in pink goo. I didn’t think the camera would appreciate being handled by me in that state! Bad Jill, hangs ears down in shame, must try harder.

Enjoy your messy pink goo and dipping in chocolate. There is a knack to that in itself which really only comes with practice, and I’m still hit or miss getting a good finish, so feel free to do lots of chocolate kersplunking!

 

Honeysuckle and Strawberry Ice Cream

I had one of the older godchildren over to stay for 5 days recently. I mistakenly thought that as was involved with the Scouts and seems to like Bushcrafty things that he would be into foraging. No such luck – though it might have been because it was with me… he definitely preferred HH’s ‘man crafts’ this time round. They made small aluminium stoves out of drinks cans, hobo stoves from cutlery drainers, and spent quite some time tweaking them – many thanks HH 🙂

However the one plant related thing that seemed to go down well was, you guessed it, ice cream. nom nom nom lol.

First get reluctant teenager to pick lots of Honeysuckle blossoms. Then go and get lots more yourself as 5 flowers does not an ice cream make.

Image

I went for quite a large bowl full to get as much pollen and nectar into the cream as possible.

Try to make sure no wee beaties are present. Pick on a dry day and early on so that all the oils haven’t evaporated off in any midday sun – this has actually become an issue for us in bonny Scotland recently as we’re in the presence of a decent summer! It’s not something I normally have to worry about 😉

Cover the blossoms with cream, either double or single. Both have a good fat and water content. Leave to steep, covered, overnight in the fridge. The water soluble components will dissolve in the water phase of the cream while the fat soluble compounds will be absorbed into the fat in the cream. This way we get as many constituents out of the honeysuckle as we can.

Image

Don’t forget to put your ice cream tub or container into the freezer to solidify and chill down properly. I used a small, home ice cream maker; the kind with a bowl you put in the freezer, add the contents, and its churned up in the bowl with a paddle. Takes about 15-30 mins from adding your cream mix to the bowl and switching on.

Next day strain out the cream from the blossoms

Ingredients

2 egg yolks ( so avoid this recipe if you’re pregnant)

70g icing sugar

200 ml milk (again you can infuse blossoms in the milk – I didn’t as we were running out of fridge space)

200ml of the infused cream

300g of fresh strawberries. I used mainly normal ones via the market but I also used some of the little wild strawberries that are trying to take over my monoblock and front garden.

1. beat the egg yolks and icing sugar until light and creamy.

2.Add the milk and stir in.

3, In a separate bowl, whip the cream until it is stiff.

4. Add the cream to the egg mixture and combine thoroughly.

5. Puree the strawberries and add to the mixture. It’s your choice whether you want a smooth puree or leave it chunkier with bigger bits in. With a fussy eater of a teenager our version had to be smooth, and triple checked for no ‘bits’ in. He was unhappy with the seeds, but even he conceeded that it wasn’t really an issue.

6. Chill in fridge for 4 hours or put mixture in freezer for 30 mins or so to chill down.

7. Set up ice cream maker, ignoring helpful teenage interventions, and add mixture. let paddle do its work, et voila! Delicious ice cream, well technically a parfait I believe, as it’s basically a custard. Even a teenager has given it a seal of approval, what more could I say! lol. The honeysuckle, although a mild, subtle flavour, lingers after the fresh hit of the strawberry and so makes it appearance at the end of the mouthful. It softens the strawberry and makes it a bit more elegant.

Other options for this might be to use coconut cream and milk if you are dairy intolerant, although i would be tempted to also substitute the flowers then, and use Gorse flowers instead. Try other variations and see what works for you. My next version is going to be with sweet cicely or lemon balm, tho’ the lemon balm might be nicer as a sorbet…. so many things to try now, might need to let that waistband out (again! ) oops.

Not many photos for this, sorry, but it all chuntered along so quickly that by the time I had thought of them it was all over with – and eaten!

Wild Garlic Pesto

I found a sheltered place recently where there is a veritable sea of Ramsons – Wild Garlic. I love the smell and taste of it. I use the leaves steeped in oil for around a week for making flavoured cooking oils, which can then be made into potent unguents, the flowerheads in white wine or cider vinegars give a great hit in stir fries and can be added to honey for a healing anti-cold remedy (oxymel) and my personal favourite – the leaves make a great pesto.

Image

Above – a sea of Ramsons (Allium ursinum)

A starting point for me was using a recipe from ‘The Foragers Handbook’ by Miles Irving (ISBN 978-0-09-191363-2) which is a great source of inspiration and advice. Of course I tend to modify things a bit…

3/4 cup of good quality Olive oil

75g fresh ramsons leaves

100g nuts toasted lightly – you can use all pine nuts, or  half pine nuts, half walnuts, or  all walnut, or try adding hazelnuts for a slightly different taste again. I like half pine nut, half walnut.

2 tablespoons grated strong cheese. If vegan you can omit this and add more nut – ground this time. Normally Parmesan is the cheese of choice but I like to use a local variety. In Fife we have a wonderfully strong local cheese called Anster, if you’re local, please try it.

Salt and Pepper to tase

Some recipes use lemon juice to cut through the oiliness, however what I like to use is a good handful (around 20 ish ) of Seabuckthorn berries (Hippophae rhamnoides). I collect these in Autumn and freeze them by the branchful. Pop off the frozen berries into the mix, they thaw quickly and it saves you wasting thawing the branchful.Image

I try to use the younger leaves from the Ramsons as they’re not so strong and give a nuttiness to the overall taste. When young the leaves are wonderful added to salads or as a topping to other cooked vegetables.Image

Roughly chop the leaves and mix in the oil. I like Olive but again you can go for other variations – a good Rapeseed oil or Sunflower oil is lighter in colour and taste. Try mixing them.

Image

Blend in a processor or a stick blender works fine.

Adjust seasoning to suit your taste.

Add some Seabuckthorn berries. Some people find the taste a bit peculiar so ca’canny and put a few in at a time and taste frequently as you add them. The last lot I made had about 20 in it and even HH (Helpful husband) found the taste ‘zingy’ but pleasant. Quite a complement from him as he views any experiments with suspicion. Good grief, it’s not as if he’s even got life insurance! lol.

Image

This amount doesn’t make up a lot as I find it’s best to freeze the Ramsons and use them a little at a time to keep the pesto fresh.

If the amount of Wild garlic is overpowering for you, you can try to cut back the amount used and substitute young fresh Ground Elder (a good way to try to kill, sorry, use the pernicious blighter – Aegopodium podagraria) or lightly blanched young nettle tops, for a really good spring pesto tonic.

Hope you enjoy trying it out and some the variations. See what you like best and let me know how you get on.