Category Archives: flower

Bye-Bye Summer: Squash Blossom Tart with Leeks and Cheddar

When does the summer end? For those of us living in a cold climate it is definitely not August 31st or September 1st, not even the Labor Day (first Monday of September). The fall in Eastern Canada begins around autumnal equinox time (22nd of September) with sudden gusty winds and rains bending and rocking the trees, blow-drying leaves into their new colors and flocking the birds to swarm into the their long journey down South. Although it’s still possible to make some BBQ, the goose-bumping temperatures usually lock us in to experiment with pies and breads. This tart was a pure impromptu caused by our unexpected garden find – squash flowers. 

I went to collect leftover fine herbs and discovered the bunch of newly spread squash twines carpeting most of the garden with dozens of yellow blossoms that topped the tiny swelling orbs of squash here and there. We already had a first frost the night before, so I rushed to salvage these little heartthrobs into this beautiful savory tart. Leeks and fine cheddar cheese were already in my fridge waiting to blow some lacto-ovo-vegetarian minds and the squash flowers have sparked the tart idea.
Really, what a delight it turned out to be! We couldn’t have enough of it! It has everything in it to say good-bye to the summer and to welcome the colder times in the most appreciative fashion, like: ’Hey, there’s still summer freshness, but you can now also enjoy the fall bounty, both wrapped in winter crust of cheese and flaky dough.’
I understand squash flowers might be kind of exotic at this time of the year, but thinly sliced zucchini, peeled squash, pumpkin or sweet-potato would make some good alternatives.  Naturally, the blossoms give this tart that special freshness raw tang zucchini flowers lovers know so well.
This pie is also featuring Perron Cheddar cheese (generic aged Cheddar or Gruyere are also fine for this tart). 
Earlier this month, I visited Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean area, famous for its Boreal-rich agriculture and products, and brought some local specialties with me including Chocolate Coated Blueberries made by monks and few slabs of Perron cheddar cheese, known for its taste and reputation. FYI, Perron is the oldest cheese factory in Quebec, and is the only private company exporting its cheese to England for more than a century. 
They also produce the best fresh curd squeaky cheese I’ve ever tried in my life, so if you are in that area and wish to try a fool-proof best poutine  in the world (I’m not lying), don’t miss the opportunity and stop by a little bistro Chez Perron in the Saint-Prime town. Poutine buffet is its specialty with mountains of their own squeaky cheese on top of fries and variety of exotic gravies. I suggest you pass, however, on the other specialty, fondue, as it has so much pepper it kills the taste of their famous cheese…
And so, equipped with new travel memories, experiences and the stash of nice cheese and leeks, I was back home discovering the squash blossoms… When it came to the crust, I couldn’t decide: flaky pie or puff pastry? So I tried with both and both worked out very well. Flaky pie crust turns it into a quiche category, while the puff pastry sets the tart into appetizer and side dish. Steps took less than then 15 minutes in prep. First, par-baking the crust, sauteing leeks and scallions:
Then making egg-cheese mix.
Pouring the mix over the crust layered with leeks and topped with squash flowers:
In the end, I liked the pie-crusted tart still warm with handful of roasted hazelnuts scattered over and a little arugula salad on a side. As for the puff pastry crust, it was excellent next day at the room temperature to accompany a plate of hot boiled dinner.  
I used the Tenderflake store-bought dough for, both, to save time (I’m supremely confident in their dough: it has been tasted by me for years), but feel free to use this pie dough recipe  for the flaky shell and replace flour by gluten-free if wish be. Enjoy!
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SQUASH BLOSSOM TART WITH LEEKS & CHEDDAR
Ingredients:
1 pie or puff pastry crust enough to fit into 9-inch tart round, or 5×10-inch rectangular pan
1 tbsp olive oil
1 leek, thinly sliced (white part only)
2-3 scallion, minced
6-8 squash or zucchini flowers, cut in half if with baby squash part attached, OR 2 thinly sliced zucchini
½ tsp fresh or dried thyme
3 eggs
½ cup 10% cream
1 cup grated savory cheese (Old Cheddar, Gruyere, etc.)
½ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp freshly pepper
¼ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 375F. Form the crust into the pan. Bake it for 15 minutes. Remove and set aside.
Heat the frying pan to medium-high, add olive oil and saute the leeks with scallions for about 5 minutes until wilted. Spread leek and scallions into the bottom of the pie shell.
Place squash or zucchini flowers over the leeks. Sprinkle with thyme.
Beat the eggs in a small bowl. Add cream, cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Mix well. Carefully pour the egg mixture into the tart.
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the egg is set and the cheese is golden brown and bubbling. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.  Serve for breakfast, lunch, brunch or dinner as a main or side course.  

Brewing Your Own Specialty Vinegars


There are million ways to capture the essence of season. Home making herb flower or berry vinegar at the end of summer is my favorite. Not only it’s dumb-easy and fast to make, it can be a child’s play. You can enjoy the results as soon as within 3 days. Use it in variety of stews, dressings, sauces and gravies in upcoming fall and winter and they will always remind of the beautiful and warm summer afternoon you were making them. Give it as a surprise hostess gift to your guests, decorated with tag and nice ribbon and they will always remember you.  Add it to your home spa and it will relax and sooth you beyond imaginable.  Rinse your hair with nettle infused vinegar/water solution and it will shine better than after any L’Oreal professional product. And the list of benefits goes on. Sounds convincing? Great!
First though, a brief digression for fun and to challenge some fellow Montrealers.
This Sunday, August 24th foodie enthusiasts will have a chance to attend the International Gourmet Fair at Cosmodôme in Laval, where they can sample all kind of gourmet foods from local producers  or from around the globe, from Australia to Brazil, Europe to Africa, Mexico to Alaska.  Note: you can save a few bucks on specialty vinegars after this post, because from now on you’ll be able to make them yourself – ta-dah!
Another event (which is quite unusual) designed for singles with dogs is ambiguously called ’Finally, Speed Dating with Your Dog! . For only $5.00 participation fee it can lend you with a perfect match provided you have a dog and are ready to speed-date. That’s if your dog is a well-trained ice-breaker who makes strangers say: ‘God, he’s so cute!’ and wears no muzzle. In this case, I assume you can easily approach a similarly-looking dog’s owner who appeals to you saying: ‘Hey, do I know your dog?’ If the person responds: ‘Yes, it’s the same breed’ it’s a sign he-she is interested. You can now proceed to the ice-breaking topic on how to remove the fleas or make the coat shiny with home-made nettle vinegar and fatty acids  and see where it goes with his/her/dog’s reaction and body language… But if you don’t find your ‘Gerard Butler’ at this event, don’t despair, keep in mind that sometimes ‘a coatrack with a leather jacket on it’ (Tina Fey’s excerpt quote) can be a safer speed-dating option.
All right, enough with entertainment, let’s take a closer look at the infused vinegars. The infused vinegars take the taste and blush of the herbs/flowers/berries along with the part of their nutritional value.  

They can be made with practically any edible herb, flower or berry. Use the herbs you grow in your garden, balcony or you just bough at the farmers market, they are all good as long as you know they are fresh and organic.

Simple how-to: fill the glass container half-way with herbs/flowers/berries (wash them only if see necessary, otherwise use them as is). Pour the vinegar of your choice (from regular white to wine to rice to apple cider to champagne vinegar) to the top. Cover and store in a cool dark place for three days. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve, discard the herbs/blossoms and pour vinegar back into the bottle. Cover tightly with non-reactive plastic or cork. Store the infused vinegar in a cool dark place for up to two months.
Tips for the stronger and better quality infusion: warm the vinegar up to the hot, but not boiling point before pouring over the packed herbs/blossoms. Let cool, cover tightly with the cork or plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-3 weeks, shaking from time to time to blend the flavors. Equally, you can skip warming up the vinegar and store it for brewing in the sun on the window seal, however, expect the color of the vinegar to fade a little in this case. Final tip from the folk magic: collect your herbs, berries and flowers either in the morning or later in the afternoon to attain the best flavor results.
Below I am giving three recipes for herbal, flour and berry infused vinegars, respectively.
I selected the stinging nettle for herbs because of its versatility. Not only it makes a great, nutty tasting, refreshing component of the salad, stew or soup dressing, it is an amazing skin and hair product for the anti-bites of the insects, soothing baths or the hair rinse (50/50 mix with water). For centuries stinging nettle has been known to add life and vibrancy to weak, distressed and dull hair and help the skull dryness issues as well as the hair loss. Use organic or homemade apple cider vinegar for an extra goodness. And don,t forget the doggie’s coat if you really love your pet!
The rose petals vinegar of an amazing fragrance and lovely magenta color has properties similar to nettle vinegar, except of course you would not add it to the soup (well, a cold almond gazpacho maybe?)  It adds a wonderful floral touch to baking goods, pancakes (try blueberry pancakes with it), fruit salads. It has a cooling and anti-inflammatory effect on insect bites (anti-itch), sunburns, small cuts and even rosacea (mix of 3 parts witch hazel water and 1 part rose petal vinegar). It can be successfully used as a rub to bring down the fever. As for the home-made spa soaks and baths I would only compare it with the luscious lavender vinegar.
Finally, the mix of herbs and berries in vinegars is also an outstanding way to bring the best out of both. My current favorites are: currants & mint (recipe below); juniper berries and sage; blackberries, lemon balm mint and lemon peel.
Good luck brewing your own herbal vinegars!
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One Year Ago: Grilled Sardines 
 
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STINGING NETTLE INFUSED VINEGAR
Ingredients:
2 cups fresh stinging nettle leaves
2 cups white or apple cider vinegar
Glass jar with wide mouth
Instructions:
Pack the glass jar with the stinging nettle leaves wearing the gloves. Warm up the vinegar in the non-reactive container in the microwave for 30-40 seconds, or on the stove up to the hot, but not boiling point. Pour over the packed leaves. Mix well gently.  Let cool, cover tightly with the cork or plastic wrap and refrigerate or keep in the cool dark place for 2-3 weeks, shaking from time to time to blend the flavors. Use in salads, baths, or as a hair rinse (mixed 50/50 with water).
ROSE PETALS INFUSED VINEGAR
Ingredients:
2 cups fresh organic rustic rose petals
2 cups white or apple cider vinegar
Glass jar with wide mouth
Instructions:
Pack the glass jar with the rose petals. Warm up the vinegar in the non-reactive container in the microwave for 30-40 seconds, or on the stove up to the hot, but not boiling point. Pour over the packed leaves. Mix well gently.  Let cool, cover tightly with the cork or plastic wrap and refrigerate or keep in the cool dark place for 2-3 weeks, shaking from time to time to blend the flavors.
BERRY MINT VINEGAR
Ingredients:
1/4 cup fresh and clean mint leaves
2 cups white wine or rice vinegar
1 ½ cups raspberries, blueberries, currants or blackberries
Glass jar with wide mouth
Instructions:
Chop or slightly rub the mint leaves between your palms. Pack half of the leaves into the jar, add berries, then the rest of mint. Place vinegar in the ceramic or glass container and warm it up in the microwave for 30 seconds. Pour hot vinegar over the berries and mint, gently stir to combine. Set aside to cool. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-4 weeks. The longer the vinegar stands, the stronger the flavors will be. Gently stir the vinegar every few days to blend the flavors.
The last recipe was adapted from: William Sonoma

Go Wild and Try Some Violets

Today is special: my best college friend happens to have her anniversary. We never collected violets together, but we did have some crazy-wild, beautiful times that I will never forget. Happy Birthday, dear Ira! Here’s to our friendship: make a dive back into the 90s with this good old school gem from our past. You’re probably too busy now to do anything with violets, but I hope one day you will return from wherever in the world you are now celebrating, and check your e-mail, and find this message, and will be set adrift on memory bliss like me today. And then, eventually, maybe you will even try some of my recipes. Cheers!
My other best friend from Toronto will have her birthday around Victoria’s Day and what can be more Victorian than violets on that day? Happy upcoming B-Day to you, my friend AB, I love you dearly and think about you very often! Another Cheers!  
Back to our food business. Blissfully, our (not chemically treated) lawn is currently invaded by wild violets this spring which I’ve been previously collecting for flower arrangements, but this year I put my hands on developing recipes with them. I always knew that wild violets are highly medicinal: anti-inflammatory, anti-cancerous, high in vitamin C and A, great to relief coughs and sore throats. Never before though I tried them on my palate, but following the Nordic cuisine focus on the native produce, and René Redzepi’s inspiration credo that ‘there’s no conflict between better meal and better world’ I decided to go foraging  and experiment with this new ingredient.  It took no time to figure out that freshly picked edible wild violets (please make sure you are dealing with wild violets, not the decorative ones) are mostly used to garnish dishes, but the vinegar based on them can be applied to an array of foods. I’ve made some research and here are the dishes I came up with using violets and/or violet vinegar:  Cucumber Almond Violet Cold Soup for a hot day; Green Pistachio Violet Salad for a light healthy lunch; Bacon Asparagus with Violet Vinegar Reduction Appetizer for a decadent treat and, finally, Violet Dressed Cupcakes for celebrations. I’ll begin with the violet infused vinegar.
Violet Infused Vinegar:
I used rice vinegar, but you can use any kind of basic vinegar as a base, depending what kind of result you’re looking for – delicate (based on a rice, apple cider or champagne vinegar) or more acidic (white, red or white wine vinegar). Collect violets from clean and pesticide-free areas, preferably where cats or dogs do not make their breaks. Fill the glass bottle/jar about half full of violets and pour vinegar of your choice over them to fill up. Use a non-metallic cork to close and let the vinegar sit for a week in a cool dark place. It will become between a pink and magenta color hues depending on the flowers-stems ratio and the hue of the violets. Strain the vinegar and store for a year or longer in a glass container. You can use only flowers for a darker color, or flowers with stems for a lighter one. Here are the steps:

Cucumber Almond Violet Cold Soup inspired by classic Spanish Cucumber Almond Gazpacho and a lovely Spanish girl (Hola, Ana!). When freshly picked, the violets faintly smell like a cucumber or a grape candy, so I had the idea to use them along with violet vinegar in a cold gazpacho-style soup with almonds, grapes and cucumbers. An absolute must try on a hot spring-summer day, with or without the violet garnish. Killer app: add some red grapes to the soup mix to enhance the color-coordinated violet look.

Green Pistachio Violet Salad inspired by Watercress Pistachio and Orange-Blossom Salad by Chef Yotam Otolenghi: 
I replaced the watercress with spring mix, skipped the herbs and swapped the lemon juice for the mix of the violet vinegar mixed with ½ teaspoon of rose water in otherwise similar dressing, and of course, added some fresh violets. Light, slightly flowery, pistachio crunchy and well-balanced dish to go with toasted bread or the next dish (bacon!).

Inspired by Pork Neck and Bulrushes with Violets and Malt by Chef Redzepi:

Most of us have experienced the power of pork and vinegar combination in cooking or marinating. Most of us also love bacon (and some are ready to kill for it). Inspired by Chef René Redzepi’s recipe of Pork Neck and Bulrushes with Violets and Malt from his cookbook NOMA, I cooked the bacon, made a reduction of bacon cooking juice (½ cup) with a mix of apple cider (1 tbsp), violet (1 tsp) and balsamic vinegar (1 tsp) and laced the mix of crisp bacon and crunchy steamed asparagus with it. To die for: 
Inspired by Poulet let au Vinaigre de Vin (Chicken With Wine Vinegar) by Chef Bocuse:
The low-acid violet flavoured vinegar suggested a take on a classic French country dish, which celebrity Chef Paul Bocuse is famous for. I baked it instead of pan frying and replaced tomatoes with scallions for a spring touch. And, of course, I garnished it with some fresh violets – stunner of a great tasty dish! 
Finally, edible violet flowers make glamorous dessert topping on the cakes, muffins, cupcakes, parfait, yogurt, sorbet, ice cream, salted caramel, you name it, as well as the violet essence that can give totally different taste. Check how to make candied violets to use in desserts here. 

I had a wonderful time experimenting with violets and I do hope you will try some of them or that some of them will be an inspiration to you.

Enjoy!
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CUCUMBER ALMOND VIOLET GAZPACHO
Yields: 2 servings
Ingredients:
200 g blanched almonds
200 g white bread, crust removed
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 cucumber
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp violet vinegar (optional)
1 tbsp olive oil
10 ice cubes
Salt & pepper
Garnish:
100 g white grapes
50 g blanched almonds
few slivered slices of cucumber
5 fresh violet flowers (optional)
Instructions:
Mix garlic, bread, almonds, cucumber, ice cubes, vinegar, salt and pepper in a food processor. Start adding olive oil gradually to reach the right consistency. Taste for the seasoning, ad a bit of extra salt. Put in a fridge for a few hours. Wash the grapes and cut them and almonds in half. Slice the cucumbers very thinly. Garnish the soup with grapes, almonds, strips of cucumber and fresh violets right before serving.
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CHICKEN IN APPLE CIDER AND VIOLET VINEGAR
Yields: 4-6 servings
Ingredients:
1.5 to 1.8 kg chicken parts (preferably free-range)
Coarse salt & freshly ground pepper, to rub the chicken
1 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp unsalted butter
6-8 cloves garlic, crushed
½ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup violet vinegar (or champagne, or rice vinegar)
1 bunch (6-8) scallions, chopped
¾ cup chicken stock
Small bunch of parsley, chopped
20 fresh violet flowers for garnish (optional)
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 400F. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper, rub salt and pepper in and set aside to air dry for at least 30 minutes. Pat dry chicken pieces with paper towels, rub with olive oil. Place (do not crowd) the chicken in a deep baking pan (2-3 inches) greased with 1 tablespoon of butter, skin side down and cook in the oven uncovered for 10-15 minutes. Turn once for another 10 minutes to brown the chicken on all sides.  Add garlic, return to the oven for 5-7 minutes. Gradually add vinegar mix and scallions and return to the oven uncovered for 10 minutes. Lower the oven to 350F, cover with aluminum foil and finish roasting in the oven for another 15-20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and to your taste. Remove the chicken and transfer to warmed platter. Collect the cooking juices, bring them to boil and simmer in a small saucepan to reduce by 1/3. Add remaining butter and adjust the seasoning adding salt, pepper and parsley. Pour over the chicken. Garnish with fresh violets (if available). Serve with roasted or steamed veggies of your choice, a green salad and crusty bread.

”La Vie en Rose” Moment

”A Cup of Water and a Rose”, by Francisco de Zurbarán, 1630.
The objects in this painting may be intended to have a symbolic character: the water in the cup perhaps refers to the Virgin’s purity and the flower recalls her title of ‘Mystic Rose’.

When years ago I was planting my rose garden, I wanted to look out the window and see ”indefensible” amount of beauty that can lift my spirits, inspire and bring clarity in my life. Sadly, once the roses have grown to give that fragrant abundance each June, I was too busy to even notice them most of the time. Until last week, when a chain of some very un-inspiring events has brought me to this Carnegie’s quote: ”One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today.” I decided to fix that human error and take a day off rose-meditating. 
Many things needed to get done, but I stopped everything and firmly pushed myself to do nothing but to catch this moment. Breathe. Smell the roses. Watch the bees. Listen to the warm summer breeze. Absorb the sacredness of the nature. I meditated, I read, I did yoga, I took the warm bath with salts and rose petals. My ”universe is expanding” state slowly dwindled away and down. Nothing really mattered anymore, but a virtue of a beautiful empowering scent – a virtue of a true beauty and happiness which is always there for us. But we rarely notice it because the blooming time is short and the smell is elusive and we can not possess it … Or can we?
Suddenly I had an urge to make that rose smell last and be with me for the fall and winter and next spring until I can be back in my rose garden and catch this moment again. I found myself looking for a rose water tutorials and there I was, an hour later, collecting the rose petals and assembling my own little distillery.

”Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May”, by John William Waterhouse, 1909

The invigorating smell of roses filled up the house with some magical aura carrying away the rest of my sadness, healing my emotions and replacing them with an excitement of an alchemist. Science is wonderful! Three hours later I decanted the fragrant distilled liquid in the plastic container and placed it in the fridge to cool down to develop a full scent.

The next morning I opened it – it really smelled like an air filled with a bunch of roses on a hot summer day! I used it as a face toner and cleanser and – WOW! If there is such thing as a feeling of a baby Jesus skin, that was it. The real toner of youth and good times as if designed for ”angels and butterflies”: it softened and refreshed the skin and closed the pores instantly! I assume you can also keep it in a spray bottle and mist your face and hair with it any time you want a natural a smile. I promised myself to find a nice dark glass Art Deco bottle to keep my rose water refrigerated in it to use it for many months to come and, hopefully, until next June. But for that I have to make another batch, so I am off to go…
It’s so easy, it can actually be a great craft to do with kids. All you need is: a bottle of a distilled (or spring) water, a large stock pot or a Dutch oven with the lid slightly bigger that can fit tightly on your chosen stock pot (or a big metallic sauce pan instead of the lid), a brick or a flat stone, a small heat safe bowl that will sit securely on the brick to collect the rose water, a large quantity of fresh fragrant rose petals and a bunch of ice or a sauce pan with an ice cold water. Put the stone in the stock pot; add water to top the level of the brick; place a dry heat-resistant bowl on the brick and the rose petals around the brick; start heating and cover with the lid (upside down) filled with ice cubes or a bowl with the ice cold water. Evaporate the rose water for up to 3 hours on the low heat, refreshing the ice cubes or ice cold water to enhance the condensation process. Check out these images, or follow the instructions of this less than 2 minutes tutorial on how to make your own rose water.

Wrapping up, this was my handful of sunshine and the aha moment for the day to prove that life can be great under any circumstances. What is your way to detox the emotions?
HOMEMADE ROSE WATER
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 3 hours
Ingredients:
1 quart (liter) distilled or spring water
1 basket (size of your choice) of organic fragrant rose petals, freshly collected
1 big bag of ice cubes or ice cold water
Tools:
1 three quart + (3 liters+) large stockpot
1 big lid that can close the stock pot well when upside down, or a big metallic bowl
1 brick or flat stone
1 small heat-proof bowl to place on the brick inside the stock pot
Instructions:
Place the brick in a center of a deep large stockpot. Add water to top the level of the brick; place a dry heat-proof bowl on the brick. Distribute the rose petals around the brick. Start heating and cover the stockpot with the lid (upside down) filled with ice cubes or with the bowl of the ice cold water. Lower heat to simmer. Evaporate the rose water for up to 3-4 hours, refreshing the ice cubes or ice cold water on top to enhance the condensation process. As the mixture of petals boils, the steam rises and hits the cold top, which causes it to condensate and drip down into the inner bowl. When done, the small bowl will contain the rose water, which will have a thin film of rose oil that is essential oil or extract. Decant the rose water into a container and let cool in the fridge to develop a full scent. Keep it in the fridge and enjoy as toner, cleanser, refresher, moisturizer. Equally, you can use it in baking, desserts or making other culinary concoctions, such as rose jello, apple cider vinegar, etc.