Awakening

This section focuses largely on foraged ingredients and fresh garden vegetables.

Fir Mousse and Sea Buckthorn Cocktail

Sea buckthorn, fir needles, vodka, sugar and gelatin

We aren’t completing these recipes in any particular order, so we have finally gotten around to making the very first recipe of the book! This recipe was a challenge for us as we had no idea where to find sea buckthorn berries. Since a number of ingredients in the book are foraged, we put off doing this recipe until we could find a reliable source (or at least until we knew where to forage!). We were lucky to learn that some friends of ours knew where to find a sea buckthorn shrub, and were kind enough to able to nab us a branch of the berries before the birds and the cold got to them.

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With the most difficult ingredient of the recipe sourced, we took the dog out for a long walk to forage for fir needles. It’s nearly impossible to estimate how many needles is equivalent to any particular weight, so we brought quite a lot home.

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We measured out a comparatively small amount of fir needles than we had on hand and added sugar and water.

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The mixture was brought to a boil in a pot and then steeped for 15 minutes to incorporate as much of the flavour as possible. While the needles were steeping, we bloomed gelatin in cold water.

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Next, we strained the needles from the liquid and combined the conifer tea with the bloomed gelatin.

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After the mixture cooled to room temperature, we poured it into a siphon, charged it with N2O and put it in the fridge overnight.

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Next, we prepared the base of the cocktail–a sea buckthorn syrup which was prepared by boiling the berries in a simple syrup until they started to pop. We crushed the berries in the pot to release all of their flavours, a step which was not mentioned in the procedure for this recipe. The resulting syrup tasted super-sea buckthorny, so we were happy with that!

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Finally, the sea buckthorn syrup was strained using a coffee filter and cooled in the fridge. The following day, we prepared the flavourful cocktail by combining the syrup with vodka and siphoning the fir mousse on top of the beverage.

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We finished the cocktail with a singular sea buckthorn berry (which surprisingly didn’t sink in the foam) and some of our many leftover fir needles.

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The resulting cocktail tasted very strongly of the berry, which we loved! If you’ve never tried these berries before (like us prior to trying this recipe) they have a tangy, citrus-like flavour. The fir mousse was a big surprise for us because it complimented the flavour of the berries really well! This is a flavour combination we’ve noticed is used quite a bit in this book (we paired citrus with fir needles in the Chicken Casserole and Jar of Pigeon recipes) and so far it has yet to disappoint! We can’t wait to see what else this book has in store for us!

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Explosive Toffee

Maple syrup, sugar, baking soda
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This was a very quick recipe that we did Mother’s Day weekend while entertaining family… and then again last week so we could capture more pictures. The procedure was straightforward. Mix sugar, maple syrup and water in a pot, bring to hard crack stage, then adding baking soda and stir. Voila! 1 The only issue we encountered was that the initial saucepan we chose was too small–so the second time around, we used a larger pot. The ingredients were transferred to a large pot and brought to temperature.

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Explosive Toffee (2 of 9)
The boiling mixture took a while to reach temperature, and the bubbles changed over time. They went from looking like this…Explosive Toffee (3 of 9)
to this!Explosive Toffee (4 of 9)
After we added baking powder the mixture did appear to explode!
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It was really interesting to see the dark caramel lighten in colour and puff up with the addition of baking soda. The toffee was then transferred to a parchment paper lined pan to cool.
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This turned out to be delicious! The toffee was rock hard and easy to snap, and had nice little bubbles inside. We thought it would be cool to try to capture a picture of this explosive toffee exploding, so we set out to throw toffee at the ground for about 30 minutes. The results were really fun and the process strangely cathartic!
Explosive Toffee (8 of 9)Explosive Toffee (9 of 9)

Rhubarb Cannoli

Rhubarb, long pepper, thyme and strawberries

Rhubarb Cannolo

This weekend, we decided to give ourselves a challenge, and attempt one more of the desserts in the cookbook.

We started the process by making a cannoli batter which involved mixing together sugar, flour, butter, orange juice and long pepper (substituted in for Guinea Pepper, we liked the smell/taste better). The mixture then needed to rest in the fridge for 24 hours to hydrate the flour and infuse the flavour of the long pepper.

It was our first time using long peppers in our cooking. The long peppers have a beautiful floral/cinnamon/clove smell to them, with a fiery floral taste that I think works amazingly in this dessert.

Long PepperWith the cannoli batter sitting in the fridge, we turned our attention to the thyme custard cannoli filling. The custard was made by infusing milk with a Madagascar vanilla bean, thyme and sugar, then thickening it with cornstarch, gelatin and egg yolks.  Thyme CustardWe then made strawberry purée in a blender with some simple syrup and fresh local strawberries.Strawberry Puree

Using this purée, we once again attempted to make a sugar powder as we’ve done many times before for the Nothing Ice Cream recipe.

Boiling Strawberry SugarAmazingly, even though we have made at least half a dozen powders by now, we still struggle with this technique! This time around, we encountered something entirely new. While adding the strawberry purée to the boiling sugar, it boiled over the side of the saucepan, instantly catching fire. What are the chances of a small sugar fire getting out of hand? We figured very little! Instead of quickly putting out the fire, we took the time to get a good picture for the blog! Sugar FireWith the fire extinguished and the strawberry purée safely turned into a powder, we turned our attention to the rhubarb. RhubarbAfter its photo shoot, the rhubarb was peeled, chopped, and placed into a saucepan to cook. After this step, we looked around the kitchen and at ourselves. There was red splatter everywhere! The walls, the cabinets, even the white pages of the cookbook were affected which was surprising given it was 2 meters away from ground zero. Maybe next time we’ll peel rhubarb under running water?Peeled RhubarbThe chopped rhubarb was cooked with some sugar and water until it was soft. Chopped RhubarbOnce cooked, the rhubarb purée was thoroughly blended, and painstakingly passed through a fine meshed conical strainer (chinois). The liquid that went through the chinois was was processed in our ice cream maker to make sorbet, and the thickened purée from the chinois was set aside to use in the final plating.The next day (after some extensive cleanup), we set about finishing this dessert. Using a vegetable peeler, we made some rhubarb strips that were subsequently laid out on a silicon baking mat.Rhubarb Strips Rhubarb LatticeNext, we sprinkled some sugar onto the rhubarb strips. In the last recipe, Mock Smoked Salmon, we attempted to take a picture of a curing mixture being sprinkled onto the salmon. After some reading online about our camera settings, we tried this again, and I think we succeeded! We’re pretty sure better action shots would require a better camera.Sugar Sprinkled on RhubarbThe sugary rhubarb strips were put in the oven to soften and caramelize.Sugary RhubarbNext, we turned our attention to the actual cannoli. The plan here was to spread the mixture thinly onto a baking mat, and bake in the oven until the batter turned transparent and lightly browned around the edges.Cannoli BatterAfter about 15 minutes in the oven, the brown and translucent cannoli “strips” were taken out of the oven. We had about 30 seconds to get the molten hot batter rolled into a cylinder, which resulted in many burnt fingers–and sadly, no pictures of this process. We were really proud of the final results!

With all of the components finally done, we started on the final plating of the dish. First, one of our best shaped cannolo was filled halfway with the thyme custard using a piping bag, topped with diced strawberries, then filled completely with more custard.Filling a CannoloThe filled cannolo was then wrapped with a sheet of the baked rhubarb strips.Rhubarb Cannolo with Thyme CustardThe final plating of the dish involved putting down a smear of the rhubarb purée, placing the cannolo on top, then a sprinkle of the strawberry powder with a quenelle of rhubarb sorbet on top.Rhubarb Cannolo with Puree Rhubarb Cannolo with Puree, Sorbet and Strawberry Powder Rhubarb Cannolo with Puree, Sorbet and Strawberry PowderWow! This has to be one of the most complex deserts we have ever made! The mixture of different textures, temperatures, colours was impressive. I must admit that I was not 100% happy with the texture of the custard–it was over set, which I attribute to the conversion from sheet gelatin that the recipe asked for to the powder form that we had on hand.

Overall, the bitterness of the rhubarb, the sweetness of the powder, the crunch of the cannolo, and the interesting taste of thyme in the custard made for an amazing dessert that I wish I could get the opportunity to eat more often!Eating Rhubarb Cannolo with Puree, Sorbet and Strawberry Powder

Asparagus Mousse with Burnt Butter

Asparagus trimmings, cream, burnt butter

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The following is an actual conversation with Melissa:

Melissa:   So what goes in the dish your making?
David:      Trimmings of asparagus.
Melissa:   But what else is goes in it?
David:      Full fat milk and cream!
Melissa:   Okay, but what is it served with?
David:      Butter… and a spoon!

This was a fun recipe to make, it was the perfect opportunity for us to play with our new whipping siphon!

We started by peeling and chopping green asparagus. I’m pretty sure this recipe was intended to minimize waste, so rather than discard the naked asparagus, we steamed them the next day for dinner.

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The above picture shows the parts of the asparagus we actually used for this recipe. We lightly simmered the peels and trimmings in milk until they were soft and subsequently blended the mixture into a purée.  We then added whipping cream and poured into the siphon.

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After charging the siphon with N2O, we left it to chill in the fridge. While the cream was chilling, we burned some butter on the stove. This was a very quick  process, and the butter was almost black when we took it off the heat.

After some time had passed, we couldn’t wait anymore and decided to try plating. Our plan was to siphon a small portion of asparagus foam into a bowl, add some burnt butter sauce, then photograph and eat. What actually happened? We siphoned some asparagus foam–wait, I think I’m using the wrong word here–we splattered asparagus foam all over the place and spent the next 5 minutes cleaning up the aftermath (this involved our clothing, table, light box, faces, walls, and the floor). Then Melissa gave it a try… although this time the mess was slightly less devastating since we had relocated to the kitchen counter (that’s what back-splashes are for!). We decided to abandon the shallow bowl–we figured a cup was the best bet for success. We ultimately were able to “plate” this dish in a cup and dress it with the burnt butter sauce.

One of the challenges we faced with this dish is that the asparagus foam easily liquefied under the hot lights. This made the photography aspect slightly more stressful, but I think we were able to get an okay final picture.

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It was interesting to eat–it tasted very strongly of  asparagus, which was surprising given that we only used the peels and other trimmings which would usually be considered garbage. I can’t say that we’re excited to make this again, but it’s possible that it was intended to be enjoyed alongside a protein or a salad. If we do make this again, we’ll pair it with something for sure!

Maple Syrup Caramelized White Asparagus

White asparagus, Maple, fir sugar

White Asparagus Final Dish

Since all of the recipes we’ve done up to this point have been either fish or chicken, we decided to try a few dishes Melissa could also enjoy. The first was this recipe for maple syrup caramelized white asparagus.

The recipe required some more Balsam Fir in the form of “fir sugar”–luckily we planned for this in advance and made the fir sugar after last week’s forage. This involved grinding together some fir needles and cane sugar which resulted in a bright green mixture with a pleasant aroma of fir needles.

We prepared the white asparagus by bending the stalks to allow for them to snap at the point where the woody asparagus starts. We had previously read about this practice but had always cut the ends flush at an arbitrary point for nicer presentation. Having snapped them this time around, the cooked asparagus had a uniform texture with no fibrous sections–it really is a great technique!

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The cooking process involved blanching the asparagus in a pot of salted boiling water. I’ve been cooking for a while now, and I still have no idea how much salt to add to the water when blanching or boiling food. I’ve read that the water should have the same degree of saltiness as sea water, but that seems a little arbitrary since water from the Black Sea is ridiculously salty and differs greatly from the salt content of the sea in Jamaica (this is based solely on my tasting experiences of oceans). This also seems to be of little help since different foods absorb different quantities of salt. In any case, I added some salt to some water.

After a quick blanch, the asparagus were sautéed in butter and maple syrup until they were glossy with the maple caramel.

Cooking Asparagus

We then seasoned with the asparagus with salt, pepper and fir sugar.

Cropped Asparagus

The final dish was great, and we really loved it! The maple syrup and butter made it taste more like a dessert than a side dish of vegetables (this would be a great dish to trick your kids into eating asparagus). As we had leftover asparagus, I made this dish again the next day as an after-work snack–it’s quick and delicious!