02/01/2014

Sharing my love of Dandelions


Happy 2014!!!

Last year,  in January I wrote a post about dandelions, things-to-do-with-dandelions well it was actually a round up of links to recipes and ideas of  how to use dandelions. It has been my most popular post ever!!   I was and still am surprised  that  dandelions are so popular or have become more so of late. I see them popping up everywhere !



When I first started becoming interested in wildcrafting/foraging I was really chuffed and excited every time I recognized a new wild plant,  especially if it had medicinal properties and it tasted good.  I have always admired Hippocrates frequently quoted words
"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food".
Ok, so every one knows what a dandelion looks like, don't they?  Can you tell the difference between a dandelion, catsear or hawksbeard?  I'm just beginning to easily spot the differences now.

The only problem that I had was that I lacked ideas for how to use my wild plant discoveries and sometimes they do need creativity to make them taste good. Italians have a rich, inspirational history of incorporating wild foods into their diet, but there aren't many wild food recipe books.  Italian mammas always seek to find the best, freshest, local produce that they can afford and friends or family members often make gifts of mushrooms, home-grown produce or freshly picked fruit. Food is so much more important  here than it was in the UK when I lived there,  although encouraged by popular chefs like Jamie Oliver, perhaps that is changing now.

Wild food is becoming more main stream, there are many more ideas, books, recipes, websites etc than there were two years ago. I think it's easier to find interesting ways  of using wild plants now. My round-up of dandelion links was a way to put my favourite ideas  in one place. Pinterest is a really great resource for this reason, you can save a lot of time looking for inspiration there (if you don't get distracted) pinterest.com/wildcraftvita.

Anyway, I'm pleased to announce that my dandelion post has been nominated by a group of bloggers who organize a blog hop called "wildcrafting wednesday",  a place to share and find ideas for using herbs, homesteading, healthy recipes etc.


Wildcrafting Wednesday People’s Choice Nominee

 If I have contributed, in even a small way, to improving the status of this amazing but often overlooked and badly treated weed  I  admit that I am rather pleased. If you like dandelions and  are so inclined you can click on the above  button and vote for my dandelion post, you may also  find something else  interesting on the list,  or at the host blogs linked below. There are 10 nominated posts from different bloggers. You can vote at any or all of the following blogs:

http://mindbodyandsoleonline.com
http://www.woodwifesjournal.com
The Entwife's Journal-http://visionherbs.tumblr.com
http://bellavistafarm.wordpress.com
http://www.blessedinhomemaking.com
http://www.herbanmomma.com



11/12/2013

Zuccherini - a spoonful of sugar helps.........

If you have been thinking of making a liqueur for Christmas and haven't got around to it you may like this idea. It  would be better to make these at least a month before consuming them, but they are pretty tasty even after a week or so.

Although I've been living in Italy for ages, I discovered "zuccherini" for the first time in the Summer. I was undecided whether or not to write  about them, as I was actually rather scandalized to learn about them and to try one.......... 

You must promise not to abuse them if you do make them. 



Italy has so many undiscovered secrets and countless ways of using any ingredient. This is a cross between a sweet, a liqueur and a herbalist's tincture.
I was offered  zuccherini in a newly opened  "osteria" (a restaurant which serves simple, local  food).  It's common to be offered a  liqueur in many restaurants at the end of a meal or even if invited to eat with friends of family. Quite often these liqueurs are home-made and are always considered "digestive".  Italians aren't really big drinkers, they just have a small glass to help digest the meal. "Amaro" means bitter in Italian  and bitter is known to aid digestion. "Amaro" liqueur  is produced by macerating herbs, roots, flowers, bark and/or citrus peels in spirits or wine  and allowing the liquid to age.

"Zuccherini" follow the same principle, but are made with 90/95° alcohol.  Layers of sugar cubes are packed in  jars with layers of the chosen herb/spice etc. and covered with alcohol.

 The following photo shows the original choice I was offered to choose from in the osteria: 
basilico(basil), cannella (cinnamon), rosa canina(wild rose),
ginipro (juniper), limone(lemon), alloro(bay) and  menta(mint).
  I chose wild rose. Which one would you choose?


So, how to you serve them?
Well, you definitely don't drink the alcohol. The alcohol needs to stay in the jar.
The waitress taught us what to do. A "zuccherino" is taken with pincers (allowing the excess alcohol to fall back into the jar)  and placed on a saucer. It is then flambéd (set on fire) and allowed to burn for about 20/30 seconds. The flame is put out by covering with a cup or glass and the cube is eaten hot and allowed to melt on the tongue.  Amazing!!
 We left the restaurant  with  sparkling eyes, scented breath and tingling mouths. 






Be careful not to burn your mouth and don't eat and drive!!!



I have just prepared some for Christmas or Hostess gifts;
Wild mint and Lime peel
Rosehip and Anise
Rose and Cinnamon

You can create any combination that your taste buds fancy.....
Here are some other ideas:
Sage and Lemon peel
Coffee bean and Vanilla pod/Orange peel
Cardamon
Ginger
Herbs
Berries (dried as too much water content will dissolve the sugar)
Chili pepper (not for the faint of heart)
Lavender/Sweet violets

 They can be topped up the next day if the level of alcohol goes down after making.  
Keep in a dark place for a month.   When they are finished, more sugar cubes can be added.
The alcohol needs to be 90% volume and the ingredients quite dry, otherwise the sugar will dissolve.
90 proof means the alcohol content is 45%, by volume.
200 proof = 100%180 proof = 90%and so on.
I use food-grade alcohol which is sold for liqueur making (190 proof - 95%volume).


Other ideas in English about zuccherini @



03/12/2013

Sweet Chestnuts Italian-style (Castanea sativa)





If you ask my daughter what her favourite food is, without a moments hesitation, she will tell you that it is chestnuts. It has been her answer for as long as I can remember. Since she was a small thing and her answer made everyone smile, as it was unexpected. Although,  perhaps it's not such an unusual answer for Italian kids, from this region at least. Eating roasted chestnuts in the autumn is very popular and is often even part of nursery school.  At least it was when my kids were at nusery, 7-10 years ago before the crisis set in. I hope it  still continues..... 
Every year  the  nursery school would organise a "castagnata" a chance for the educators, children and their families to get together and eat  roasted chestnuts. The fathers and grandfathers  spent their time outside organising the chestnut roasting. The ladies  served the chestnuts in cones of brown paper.
Italian school isn't obligatory until kids turn 6, it's 4/5 in the UK. The State does however provide "la Scuola Materna"(age 3-6)  where parents can choose to send their children or not. Most  kids have  very fond memories of these schools where they wear a "grembiule"(apron) over their  clothes and do lots of play/discovery/singing/motory activity/art/nature study/theatre and thoroughly enjoy themselves  with  dedicated educators.

photo from wikipedia
There are also lots of "fieras" and "sagras" where the hero is the chestnut and you can easily buy chestnuts at the market or even at supermarkets, although they are seen as a special treat as they are quite expensive, some years more than others depending on the yield. 

 

 You can also buy them already roasted by vendors who appear on street corners in the autumn.
The best  and largest chestnuts (castagne)  are known as "marroni". 

There is a strange and frequent saying in Italian often accompanied by a rude gesture,"che due marroni!",  which refers to the male anatomy, "what two chestnuts!" which can be roughly translated "what a pain in the a***!"



 Wild sweet chestnut trees  do grow in the alpines close to here , but as many  have an owner (official or unofficial) my preferred way to obtain them is to "make a day of it" and pick them myself, but pay for the privilege, preferably with family and friends.  There are  cultivated "castagneti" which are open to the public, where you can pick your own from the ground and pay by weight.  Thick gloves are a must. They usually cost about half the price than in the shops or at the markets. 



How to cook Chestnuts 

Before any method of cooking  they need to be cut widthways from side to side (some say the fattest, others say the flattest side). Some people cut crosses, I don't think there is any need, it's just extra work. You can use a short, sharp knife but it's easier to use a special tool (snips). I use ones similar to these, which you can find  @amazon.
The best way is to roast them on an open fire (caldarroste) or burning embers,  shaking and turning them for even cooking. You  need a cast iron/steel pan with holes in it. Cook for  about 10 minutes and place in a brown paper bag for 10 minutes before serving. No bags? Wrap them in a clean tea towel.





If you haven't got a fire,   you can roast them on  a gas hob,  if you have one.  We use a metal ring over a burner to rest the pan (I think it was from an old cake stand). This method is not for everyone as unfortunately it does have it's drawbacks. It's very messy and it does leave a strong charred chestnut smell. Every time one of my family members leaves me a mess to clean up I say never again,  but  the next time always give in. Who could  say no to these? (10-15 mins)


In the oven
Cook in a hot oven (200-220°C) for 20-30 minutes turning them a few times

In the microwave
Soak in cold water for 15 minutes before cooking.
Cook at 750 for 4/5 minutes

Boiled
Cover them with cold water and add some herbs (bay leaves/rosemary/wild fennel)
Bring to the boil and boil for 40-60 minutes.
Leave them in the water and peel one by one (otherwise peeling becomes difficult)

Chestnuts are really good friends with red wine. They are often served with "vino novello", very young red wine,  the Italian equivalent of Beaujolais Nouveau.

further reading @


shared @
wildcrafting-wednesday-special-christmas-edition
waste-not-want-not-wednesday
lavenderandlovage.com/december-cooking-with-herbs-challenge-and-christmas-spices

17/11/2013

20 lovely free printable tags/labels for herbs, spices, home-made preserves and gifts



I'm feeling rather smug as I've just prepared two Christmas gifts, but I  will probably now do nothing until two days before Christmas and then panic. I love home-made gifts and I always have intentions to gift more than I actually do.  Home-made gifts  not only  indicate  good intentions but also love, thought, consideration,  dedication of ones time,  planning and  more......If they taste  and look good too, so much the better.

Spending a little extra time to add a tag or label to a home-made item or gift really does improve it's appearance and value,  not only to others but also oneself. I often add stickers to label the contents and date of my concoctions, but since discovering so many lovely free printables my home-made stuff looks so much better.

There are so many talented designers out there who generously share their work.  The graphics world is very competitive,  much thought and time goes into design, colours and calligraphy  and  I can understand why graphics design and marketing is so important.



I added tags to some bottles of hedgerow vinegar. The vinegar is very tasty. I followed the same procedure that I used last year for  elderberry-red-wine-vinegar , but also added  some sloes, blackberries and crab apples and simmered it for a little longer so it is denser. The tags that I used are a lovely vintage design from eatdrinkchic.com. I am sharing them along with other favourite free printable tags and labels. I hope they inspire you to gift something home-made this Christmas.

The tags can be glued to card stock to make them sturdier. Make holes with a hole punch.
The labels  look good attached with sticky back plastic ( self-adhesive vinyl film).
Click on the websites not the photos;


Tags
botanicle tags @ tinyinklings.com


floral tags   @ packagery.com


hand made with love @ omnia-praeclara-rara.blogspot.nl




more mason jar tags @ cottage-industrialist.com


chalkboard gift tags @ elli.com
*beware, a reader reported possible trojans when downloading chalkboard gift tags,
although I haven't had problems- is your anti-virus up-to-date? 25/11/13


holiday chalkboard mason jar tags @ craftswithjars.com


merry christmas tags @ lilac-n-lavender.blogspot.com

Labels


herb and spice labels @ blog.sassaby.com.au


more herb and spice labels @ jillmckeever.blogspot.com


oil and vinegar labels @ eatdrinkchic.com


apothecary labels @ blog.worldlabel.com


vintage apothecary labels @ eatdrinkchic.com


hand made beauty labels @ freshpickedbeauty.com


French country jam labels @ elli.com


mason lid labels @ limeshot.com


mason jar labels @ southernweddings.com


canning labels @ gardentherapy.ca


jam time labels @ fun.kyti.me


create your own round labels @ thenerdyfarmwife.com