Saturday, July 18, 2009

Eating Flowers

I thought I would share my favorite article of the year. I just love the idea of eating flowers!

Colorful and heaven-scented, flowers delight the eye and nose.
Now how about the taste buds?
Adding flowers to your food - and drink - can be a fast and easy way to up the aesthetics of a dish and bring new flavors to everything from a simple salad to that trusty cookie standard, shortbread.
And there's no better time than the height of summer to let your culinary creativity bloom.
"Flowers add something a little bit different. They add a sense of season, which we're always trying to promote," said Paul Zerkel, executive chef at Roots, 1818 N. Hubbard St., where members of his kitchen crew pluck petals right from an on-site garden.
"They bring a lot of colors to the plate that you aren't able to do otherwise," said Zerkel, who develops specials based on the best of available blooms, such as a rose and rhubarb float featured in late June.
Culinary uses for edible flowers date back thousands of years. The Romans were wild for violets, while ancient Persians put roses in everything from mutton stews to marzipan. Dandelions are mentioned (and munched on) in the Old Testament, and surviving medieval cookbooks list a veritable garden of blossoms to be used in salads.
Sadly, the idea of flowers-as-food has been a tougher sell in a modern world, where fast food and processed packages of non-perishables hold sway. The short shelf life and limited supply of fresh, edible flowers generally restrict their use to restaurants that focus on fresh flavors, such as Roots and Café Manna, 3815 N. Brookfield Road, Brookfield.
they make it look absolutely . . . "We'll use flowers to make the dish pop beautiful," said Joslyn Killey, chef at Café Manna, where edible orchids and peppery, bright nasturtiums often grace both dessert and salad plates.
Killey also loves the flavor that squash blossoms bring to a cream-based soup and "amazing" quesadillas frequently featured as specials on the cafe's vegetarian-friendly menu.
Sunny yellow squash blossoms, in fact, are arguably the most familiar flower food, used in both Mediterranean and Mexican cuisine, and frequently available in summer at Milwaukee's many farmers markets. Finding other edible flowers can be trickier - but just as rewarding.
"If you want to explore cooking with flowers, start with the farmers markets and develop a relationship with the growers," said Janet Gamble, director of the Farm and Food Education Program at Michael Fields Agricultural Institute in East Troy.
Gamble manages the institute's Stella Gardens, a subscription garden, and in the past has included edible flowers in a spring mix distributed to customers - although she admits a little education is often needed when introducing someone to the idea of nibbling on nasturtiums.
"People don't have it in their minds (to eat flowers). It's one of those items that's not essential. It's more frivolity than necessity," Gamble said.
"I think people are intimidated to incorporate them into their cooking," Gamble added. "But the beauty element sells them. It's really a lovely thing."
Beautiful and brightly colored, yes - but how do flowers taste?
From sweet to spicy
The intensity of the flavor varies by species. Violets and pansies have a subtle sweetness, while vibrant nasturtiums often are compared with arugula. All three varieties are welcome additions to salads because they won't overpower other ingredients.
Flowers with high essential oil content, such as lavender and rose, however, have a stronger flavor and scent, and typically are paired with other bold ingredients.
Roots' Zerkel, for example, has offered dishes in the past teaming rose with duck breast or steak, and he loves playing with the flower's cultural associations.
"The scent of rose is so ingrained in our senses with holidays and special occasions," Zerkel said.
Gamble admits she's partial to tulip petals, which have a fleshier bottom that can stand up to dips and spreads, as well as chamomile flowers steeped like tea and mixed with fruit juice. And while most gardeners pinch off basil buds to keep the more commonly used leaves from turning bitter, Gamble recommends letting a few of your basil plants bloom and then adding the flowers to a green tea infusion.
Hold the pesticides
A word of caution, however: Not every flower is fit for the table. Only certain varieties are edible, and even they should not be eaten or used as garnish unless you're sure they have been grown specifically for consumption. Do your research (start with our accompanying tips) before grazing floral.
One safe place to start, if your interest in edible flowers is just budding, is with 1-ounce packages of assorted blooms, typically multi-hued pansies, in the packaged fresh herb section of many local grocers. Supply can wax and wane with the season, but expect to pay about $3 per package. Try tossing them atop a spinach salad for added color and a mildly sweet flavor.
Growing Power, the Milwaukee-based nonprofit that promotes fresh food for all, sells squash blossoms and most of its hothouse edible orchids and nasturtiums directly to area restaurants. The center sometimes has a limited supply of the delicate blossoms for sale at its headquarters, 5500 W. Silver Spring Drive, or at area farmers markets, for about $4 per dozen. Growing Power staff recommend calling ahead, (414) 527-1546, to check availability.
While the season for edible, locally grown flowers is fairly short in Wisconsin, using dried flowers and flower-derived products such as rose water can let your kitchen creativity keep blooming year-round.
Dried lavender is available locally for $3.49 per ounce at the Spice House, at 1031 N. Old World Third St. and at the Milwaukee Public Market, 400 N. Water St., or online. Try adding it in small doses - a little goes a long way - to cakes, cookies and other baked goods.
Trader Joe's, 5600 N. Port Washington Road, Glendale, regularly stocks dried hibiscus flowers, $1.99 for an 8-ounce package. The deep reddish-pink flowers have a taste and texture similar to dried cranberries and can be used in the same way if chopped, or as an interesting garnish for desserts, salads and even stuffings.
Rose water, one of the world's oldest flavorings, is making a comeback. Once found only in select ethnic grocery stores, the clear liquid is now available in many supermarkets.
Its cousin, the less common iris water, can be found in stores that specialize in South Asian and Middle Eastern ingredients. It makes a delicious sorbet.
The use of flowers has grown far beyond the plate, too, and is now blooming all the way to the bar, thanks to trendy liqueurs such as the elderflower-based St. Germain.
Delicate to handle and store, sometimes expensive and altogether missing from the Food Pyramid, flowers may seem like an extravagance to the home cook. But that's kind of the point.
In a world where everything moves at the speed of Twitter and it seems as if our food, as well as our daily routines, comes pre-packaged, why not take time to stop and smell the roses?
And then eat them.
Flexibility is the middle name of this easy summer salad, adapted from
Consider the ingredient list as a suggestion, and feel free to mix and match the flowers you include based on availability and personal preference - the purple chive blossoms add a subtle onion flavor, for example, that many people love. For an earthier flavor, try substituting sunflower seeds for the almonds.
Mixed Flower SaladMakes 4 servings
½ cup small arugula leaves
2 cups tender lettuce such as mache (sometimes called lamb's lettuce)
1 cup baby spinach
1 small head of butter lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
2 teaspoons fresh mint, chopped and bruised (rub between your fingers to release fragrance)
½ cup violet flowers
½ cup nasturtium flowers
¼ cup chive blossoms
1 tablespoon honey
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup good-quality neutral-tasting oil
Salt and white pepper taste
2 tablespoons salted smoked almonds, chopped
Carefully wash all the greens, herbs and flowers and let dry on paper towels. Mix gently in a wood or glass bowl.
In separate bowl, mix honey and apple cider vinegar, then whisk in oil. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Pour dressing over salad, tossing gently to coat all ingredients. Sprinkle with the chopped almonds and serve immediately.
Chef Joslyn Killey of Café Manna, 3815 N. Brookfield Road, Brookfield, frequently includes these squash blossom quesadillas as a popular special on her menu.
Fast and flavorful, this easy summer dish can be made with tortillas of any size; go big for entrée portions or try smaller, palm-sized tortillas as tasty finger foods.
Although Killey uses a grill and oven to prepare the version served in the restaurant, we've adapted the recipe for use in a home kitchen.
Squash Blossom QuesadillasMakes 2 servings
Olive oil to sauté
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 poblano pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded and diced
10 individual fresh squash blossoms (available at specialty food stores)
½ cup vegetable stock
3 sprigs fresh epazote, finely chopped (see note)
Salt and black pepper
4 flour tortillas (about 12-inch), preferably cayenne-flavored
¼ pound white cheddar cheese, grated
Sour cream and fresh salsa for garnish
Heat a large sauté pan with a little oil and sauté the onion, garlic and roasted poblano pepper 5 minutes, until onions have become translucent.
Add squash blossoms and deglaze with vegetable stock. Add epazote and cook another 5 minutes until squash blossoms have wilted. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside to cool.
To make the quesadillas, lay 2 of the tortillas on a flat surface. Distribute cheese equally on both tortillas. Spread squash blossom filling equally between the two tortillas. Cover with remaining tortillas and place in medium-hot nonstick pan. Heat until cheese is "nice and gooey," turning quesadilla over after a few minutes for even cooking. Cut into quarters and serve with sour cream and fresh salsa.
Note: Epazote is traditionally used in Mexican cuisine. It can be found at El Rey (various Milwaukee locations) and other specialty ethnic grocers.
Working as a pastry chef in Colorado, I made these delicate cookies to serve as after-dinner treats.
Use a fluted pastry wheel (think of a ripply edged pizza cutter) or small, flower-shaped cookie cutters for added visual interest.
The key to working with the dough is keeping it cold. Return to refrigerator if it starts to soften.
Lavender ShortbreadMakes about 3 dozen 1 1/2-inch square pieces
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces
½ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups pastry flour (see note)
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ tablespoons dried lavender
Granulated sugar for garnish
Using a stand mixer with paddle attachment or sturdy hand mixer at medium speed, beat butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. In separate bowl, sift flour and salt. Add lavender. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture and gently mix at low speed until just combined.
Shape dough into a flat disc and wrap tightly in plastic. Refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place cold dough between two other pieces of parchment, lightly flouring if dough starts to stick, and roll to even 1/8-inch thickness. If dough begins to soften, slide dough (still between parchment) onto a baking sheet or cutting board and place in freezer for a couple minutes until firm again.
When ready to cut, dip fluted pastry wheel or cutters in flour and cut dough into desired shapes, leaving as few scraps as possible. Dough scraps should not be rerolled, which would result in, pardon the expression, some tough cookies. Using a thin spatula to avoid tearing or stretching the dough, transfer pieces to lined baking sheet.
Sprinkle evenly with granulated sugar and bake in preheated oven 10 to 12 minutes or until bottoms of cookies are just golden. Do not overbake. Cool completely and store up to 1 week covered in air-tight container at room temperature.
Note: If pastry flour is unavailable, substitute all-purpose.
In Italian, panna cotta means cooked cream, but in any language it's a silky-smooth, refreshing no-bake dessert. This version has a strong floral aroma and taste that is best balanced by the tartness of fresh berries. You can use silicon molds or serve in a martini or wine glass.
Rose and Elderflower Panna CottaMakes 4 to 6 servings
1 ½ tablespoons rose water
½ teaspoon, slightly rounded, powdered gelatin
1 cup heavy whipping cream
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons St. Germain elderflower liqueur (see note)
¾ cup buttermilk
Candied pistachios to garnish (see recipe)
Fresh berries and no-spray, edible rose petals to garnish
Pour rose water in small bowl, sprinkle with powdered gelatin and reserve.
In small pot, combine cream and sugar. Heat, stirring gently, until sugar is dissolved. Do not boil. Remove from heat. When cooled to about bath water temperature, add gelatin mixture, stirring until melted. Let sit until lukewarm.
While cream mixture is cooling, set silicon molds (if using) on a flat baking sheet. In a bowl, combine liqueur with buttermilk. Add to lukewarm cream mixture, stirring until combined. Mixture will begin to set as it cools, so work quickly and pour into molds. Refrigerate until set, then transfer to freezer.
Once firm, pop frozen panna cotta out of molds and store in freezer, tightly wrapped in plastic, up to one week. An hour before serving, transfer to dessert plates and allow panna cotta to thaw in refrigerator.
(Alternatively, pour room-temperature mixture into martini, wine or shot glasses and refrigerate, covered, at least four hours and up to one day.)
To serve, scatter plate with candied pistachios, petals and berries of your choice. You also can puree a small handful of berries with a splash of liqueur and drizzle the sauce on the plate and panna cotta.
Note: For a non-alcoholic version of both sauce and panna cotta, you can substitute equal amount of white grape juice, but the dessert will not have an elderflower flavor or scent.
Candied pistachiosMakes 1/2 cup
¼ cup water
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup raw pistachios (nutmeats only)
Preheat oven to 275 degrees.
In small pot over medium-high heat, combine water and sugar; cook, stirring gently until it reaches a boil. Cook just until sugar is fully dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in pistachios. Working carefully - sugar syrup will be hot - pour into metal strainer to remove excess syrup from pistachios. Using spatula, spread nuts on baking sheet lined with parchment or nonstick, oven-safe silicon baking mat.
Bake in preheated oven about 15 minutes or until nuts are aromatic and glossy but dry, taking care not to burn them. Cool completely before storing at room temperature in airtight container up to 1 week.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Summer Garden in NEw England

I can’t recall why I first decided to try growing asparagus peas (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus). Maybe because I’ve always loved asparagus — and these pods do, when young, have a mild asparagus flavor.

They’re also one of the simplest vegetables you can grow — if you have some space. That’s a polite way of saying that this is an aggressive plant that would enjoy taking over it you let it. On the other hand, if you have a spot to let a 10-foot vine with pretty pale blue flowers (and unusual looking pods) do its thing, it’s a great plant.

Like most-edible-podded peas, it can be started a bit before the last frost date in the spring, which is when most gardeners are itching to plant something — anything! — that doesn’t require hot weather.

At least, that’s my experience (and it appears to be the experience of Geri Harrington, author of “Growing Chinese Vegetables in Your Own Backyard, But some places on the Web say it needs warmth and shouldn’t be planted till all chance of frost is past.

The problem with that is that the plant flowers only when daylight is less than 12 hours daily. In USDA zones 8-9, it makes a nice fall crop.

To hasten germination, you may want to soak the seed overnight in water or scarify the seeds.
Among asparagus peas’ advantages: They aren’t fussy about soil, they begin bearing in less than two months after sprouting, and all parts of the plant are edible (leaves, flowers, pods, even the roots). Ms. Harrington says the pods are high in protein.

The frilly pods are best picked when small — less than 4 inches long. In high season, you’ll be harvesting daily.

There is quite a bit of common-name confusion surrounding asparagus peas. There’s also an asparagus bean (yard-long bean) and a different species (Lotus tetragonolobus) that goes by the same common name (it has pretty red flowers instead of blue ones). Other common names are winged peas, goa bean, asparagus bean, princess pea, four-angled bean, short-day asparagus pea, and various Chinese names. Make sure you get Psophocarpus tetragonolobus.

You can serve them as you would snow peas, include pods in stir-fries and Asian dishes, add blanched pods to salads, and used the blossoms for garnish.

I’ve never tried the roots, but Harrington’s excellent book says they can be cooked “any way you’d cook a sweet potato.” Maybe next year.

When you serve them to anyone who’s never seen asparagus peas before (they grow throughout Asia), you’ll gets lots of funny looks — and questions. Unless you’re in an ethnically diverse neighborhood, you’ll probably be the only one growing them. But that’s OK – the others are missing out on something unusual and definitely easier to grow than asparagus

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Were back!


Well we are back from our flower-buying trip to Holland. It was beautiful!!
Pictured in our blog is an item we tripped on and quite frankly keep tripping on – Rainbow Roses. We have hesitated to buy the Rainbow Rose, as we have been unsure if our customer would appreciate this particular type of rose. So feedback would be greatly appreciated would you but this rose for $7.00 a stem?

Keep us on our toes ! ! ! Tell us what you think, tell us what you want!!