Sunday, January 31, 2010

Valentines Day Flowers..... Let's cook with them!

I was thinking, Valentine's is right around the corner and lots of people will be receiving beautiful, aromatic flowers for those memorable moments. I love flowers, especially those with incredible scents and I've been known to make marmalade & jellies, sauces and desserts with them and so, capture their special qualities for a little while longer.

With this in mind I thought that along with the flowers on the table there could be flowers in the food as well, creating a complete atmosphere for such a romantic occasion, n'est-ce pas? Lovely aroma wafting from the floral arrangement complemented with savory or sweet dishes, exotic and comforting, infusing you and your "special someone" all the way down to their toes.... Sounds pretty incredible if you ask me..... So let's plan some romantic dishes you can serve and create a truly special holiday....

Now you're saying: "Yes, flowers are beautiful, but what would they taste like?".... Bean blossoms have a sweet, beany flavor. Nasturtiums have a wonderfully peppery flavor similar to watercress and their pickled buds can be substituted for more expensive capers. (How about that?) Borage tastes like cucumber, and miniature pansies (Johny-Jump-Ups) have a mild wintergreen taste.

Violets, roses and lavender lend a sweet flavor to salads or desserts. Bright yellow calendulas are an economic alternative to expensive saffron, though not quite as pungent. Other flowers may have a spicy or peppermint flavor. Zucchini Blossoms are delicate and sweet and much favored around the world. The Victorians loved to cristalize all sorts of flowers and Violets were among the favorites (and very easy to do!), but you can make: pansies, violas, snapdragons, lavender, miniature roses, mint leaves, calendula daisies, borage flowers and day lilies too! (and they look so lovely and used in candies and wedding cakes).

Here's some ideas for your extraordinary "Valentine's Day Celebration".... or any other special day as well.....

Quail in Rose Petal Sauce.- Adapted from the "Como Agua Para Chocolate" novel made famous some time ago and lauded for their romantic representations of food. This was the "passion" recipe....
4 quail, cleaned and ready to cook
12 aromatic roses, petals only, cleaned (organic only)- reserve some for serving
2 tbl honey
4 garlic cloves, chopped fine
1 tsp anis seed
2 tsp pistachios, chopped
2 tsp almonds, chopped
2 tbl butter
Sesame Oil
salt & pepper

Salt and pepper the quail well and then rub them all over with a fresh orange, allowing them to become impregnated with the pulp and juice. Allow to rest.

In a mortar or food processor, place the rose petals, anis seeds, pistachio and almonds and chop very fine. Add the honey and reserve.

Put some of the oil in a pan and add the garlic. Fry lightly over med heat, then add the butter and the rose paste. Mix well before adding the quail and insuring they are covered by the paste. Add a cup of water to the pan, to prevent burning or sticking. Cover and lower the heat to simmer and allow the birds to cook slowly for about 10-15 min. Turn off the heat and allow them to rest in the covered pan until they cool.

When you are ready to serve, turn on the heat again (med-low heat) and check to see if the sauce is on the dry side; if it is, you can put 1/4-1/2 cup more water (or white wine) so you can heat it up once more and not let it stick to the pan. Top with some petals and serve over white rice.
NOTE: Use only the most aromatic roses you can find if possible, choose different colors too. If you want to have a stronger rose flavor and aroma, add some rose essence or make rose water (see below).

Rose Chicken.- A very traditional and simple dish that began in Spain and became a part of Mexican cooking as well. An easy to prepare yet special dish....
1 whole chicken, cut in parts
12 roses, petals removed, cleaned
2-3 tbl sugar (or to taste)
1-2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup white wine, light
Canola or vegetable oil
salt & pepper

Salt and pepper the chicken well. Fry the chicken in a little oil until golden brown on all sides. Add the cinnamon, sugar, the rose petals and the white wine, cover and allow to cook for 30 min.

Before serving, remove the chicken and run the sauce through a sieve or colander, it should be a light sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings to suit your taste. Can be served alone or with rice or vegetables.

Lamb Kaftas with Rose Infused Dipping Sauce.- From North Africa and the Middle East comes this wonderful dish that is sure to become a family favorite!
Rose-Infused Dipping Sauce:
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup finely chopped, peeled and seeded cucumber
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon rose water

Lamb Kaftas:
1 pound ground lamb
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
2 tablespoons Poppy Seed
1 teaspoon Cumin, Ground
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper, Coarse Grind
1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon, ground
1/4 teaspoon Red Pepper or Ground Cayenne
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons oil
12 wooden skewers (6-inch)

For the Dipping Sauce: Mix yogurt, cucumber, mint and rose water in medium bowl. Cover. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

For the Lamb Kaftas: Mix lamb, onion, poppy seed, cumin, salt, black pepper, cinnamon and red pepper in large bowl. Add egg; mix well. Form 2 heaping tablespoons of the lamb mixture into a 3-inch long roll. Repeat with remaining lamb mixture to make about 12 kaftas. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in large skillet on medium heat. Add 1/2 of the kaftas; cook 7 minutes or until cooked through and browned on all sides. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining kaftas, adding remaining 1 tablespoon oil as needed.

To serve: Carefully slide a wooden skewer lengthwise through center of each kafta. Serve with Dipping Sauce.

Rose Ice Cream.- A wonderfully aromatic and a perfect end to a celebratory meal!
4 roses, the most aromatic you can find, cleaned
2 egg whites
2 cups rose water
2 cups water
4 tbl lemon zest
2 cups sugar
For decoration we will need:
a large rose, cleaned, petals only
1 egg white
1/4 cup sugar

Take the rose petals (not the ones for decoration) and place in the water and allow to boil for 15 min. Through a sieve to separate the petals and then add the sugar, allowing to boil for 3-4 min more. This will be rose syrup.

Once done, we will remove from the heat and add the lemon zest and the rose water, once again incorporating the cooked petals. Put all this in a container and freeze during 3 hours after which you beat the egg whites (until stiff peaks form) and add to the frozen mix.

The petals for decoration will be painted with the egg white and covered well with the additional sugar, allowing them to dry on paper towels at least for 2 hours before using. Serve the ice cream with some of the cristalized petals as decoration.

Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms.- From Greece, Italy, Mexico and parts in between, these flavorful flowers are used in all types of dishes and loved by all!
1-2 Zucchini blossoms per person, clean the insides carefully
1 tsp yeast
1 cup flour
1/2 cup milk or more as needed
1 anchovy fillet per flour
Mozzarella cheese
salt & pepper
oil for frying

Open the blossoms and clean with care under the tap, don't allow them to become waterlogged. Prepare the breading by mixing the milk, flour, salt, pepper and yeast until a med thick smooth mix is the result.

Put some oil in a pan and bring to heat for frying over med-high heat. Place a piece of mozzarella and one anchovy fillet in the inside of each blossom and close to form a packet. Place in the batter and cover well and then place the blossoms, very carefully into the oil and fry until lightly golden. Lay on paper towels for 1-2 min and serve at once.
NOTE: You can serve as is or top with some Marinara Sauce or a cream based sauce as you desire.

How To Make Old Fashioned Rose Water or Essence.- This can be used in many ways since it has been known as having beauty and medicinal uses throughout the ages. As a face astringent it is well known, just as it was used as a perfume and a flavoring agent for many drinks, foods, desserts and candies.....
You will need:
Rose Petals, about 2 cups, packed
Distilled Water
Enamel Pot (any size)

Fill the bottom of an enamel pot with the rose petals a few inches deep. Pour distilled water over the petals until they are just covered. Turn on heat for the water to be steaming hot, but do not boil. Let the water steam until the petals have lost their color, the water has taken on the color of the rose petals and you see rose oil skimming the surface. This will take approximately 60 minutes. Strain the water and squeeze out the liquid from the rose petals, this is your rosewater.

Old Fashioned Rose Petal Vinegar.- You can use for: Salad dressing or vinaigrette, Facial splash and skin freshener (dilute with water, Headache soother (soak cloth with vinegar, squeeze out, then place on forehead, Shampoo rinse, Bath soak (approx 1 cup per full bath)....
2 cups white wine vinegar (heat to near boil)
1 cup rose petals
3 or 4 whole cloves

Gently wash and drain rose petals thoroughly. Carefully remove the white/yellow part of the petals (just snip with scissors). Gently crush the petals to bruise a bit.
In a sterilized jar, place the rose petals and cloves. Pour hot vinegar over top, roughly mash the petals a bit with a wooden spoon and seal immediately. Set aside for 10 days (room temperature and dark). Shake occasionally. Strain vinegar and discard the cloves and rose petals. Using small decorative jars (sterilized), pour the vinegar and seal.

Lavender Vinegar.- Lavender is a wonderfully fragrant herb that can be used in cooking. When combined with vinegar, it can also be used for cleaning. Looks pretty and smells nice!

Handful of Lavender flowers
1 Pint White Vinegar

Combine lavender and vinegar, seal and let sit for 6 weeks before using.

Lavender Syrup.- Can you imagine adding this to your food?
1 cup sugar
1 cup boiling water
2 Tbl dried lavender buds
1 strip lemon zest

Dissolve sugar into boiling water. Remove from heat. Add lavender and lemon zest. Sit for 20 to 30 minutes. Strain and refrigerate, use for cooking or on foods

Uses for Lavender Vinegar: I'm sure you can think of more!
* Fruit & vegetable salad dressing
* Marinade for meats and vegetables
* Use to clean floors, mirrors, glass (smells wonderful)–don’t use the sugar recipes for cleaning
* Hair rinse (adds shine and helps with dandruff–dilute first and use 1 part vinegar to 8 part water ratio)
* Facial rinse, blemish aid (dilute with water, use a 1 part vinegar to 8 part water ratio)
* Body splash/deodorizer
* Use in facials (good for oily skin)
* Laundry rinse
* Add to baths

You could also bottle the lavender vinegar in small jars to give as gifts, people will love it!

I hope I've inspired you to have a very fragrant celebration this year and you have decided to try some or all of these. I'm off to hunt for organic flowers with local growers to see if I can create more memorable moments for my family..... A lot of these ideas are very old and used to be among the most prized recipes in many families around the Victorian era, yet with the advent of "ready to wear & eat" items from perfume to food essences and flavored waters and liquors, people stopped making their own and little by little the tradition of passing on these recipes or tips, began to disappear until now in our "modern times", these little jewels are precious since they involve one's time and care in order to produce them and now "time" is a rare thing indeed, especially when given for other's enjoyment.... right? So make, share and celebrate... Enjoy!

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