Monday, November 21, 2016

Nasturtium Butter

This year, spring and early summer were super hectic for me, so the window boxes that hang in the little courtyard just inside the back gate remained empty and neglected well into June. 

There are no less than five good-sized window boxes in this small courtyard. Filling them with annuals can get pretty pricy, so I decided to be frugal, and despite the late start, grow flowers from seed. Trailing nasturtiums seemed like a perfect choice.

Growing Nasturtiums

I love nasturtiums! They are such bright, happy flowers. They're also really super easy to grow from seed. Nasturtiums like lots of sun and rather poor soil (if the soil is too rich, they will produce lots of leaves and very few flowers). Nasturtiums seedlings prefer not to be transplanted, so its better to plant the seeds directly out in the garden after all danger of frost has passed. Little green shoots should appear 7-10 days after the seeds have been planted.

As well as the familiar bright orange, yellow and red flowers, nasturtiums come in a range of colors including a soft butter yellow, pale peach and deep red. 

The growth habit of most types of nasturtiums is quite bushy, but there are cultivars that climb/trail. There are even varieties with interesting variegated foliage.

Both nasturtium foliage and flowers are edible. Pick the flowers or leaves from the plant, rinse them in cool running water and pat them dry before eating them. The flavour is peppery and spicy and is often compared to the taste of radishes.

 A couple of years ago I tried making some flower petal jellies and I loved how they turned out. I wished there had been more free time available to make them again this summer. Sooner than I'd like, the gardening season was ending.

Fall was uncharacteristically mild this year, and even late into October, my nasturtiums were still going strong. Frost was bound to strike at any time, so I decided there wasn't a moment to loose if I was going to experiment with this year's flowers.

Just before the end of the month, I went out into the garden and picked every flower that remained.

It wasn't a huge harvest, but it was just enough to try making some flavoured butter.

I looked up several recipes and combined their best features into my own version of a recipe. Here's what I did:


3 or 4 tablespoons for chopped nasturtium flowers

1/2 cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter

Pinch of salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon of freshly grated lemon rind


Set your butter out in a small bowl to bring it to room temperature.

Wash your flowers carefully under running water. Snap the petals off the nasturtium flowers and let them fall onto a sheet of paper towel. Gently pat them dry.

Place the dry petals on a cutting board and cut them into fine pieces with a sharp, serrated knife. (Note: Nasturtium flowers have dark striping on the petals that I was concerned might make the butter look unattractive, but the darker pieces blended in without a problem.)

Add the nasturtium petals to the butter, along with a small pinch of salt, and some freshly ground black pepper. Grate in a small amount of lemon rind. 

With a rubber spatula mix the petals into the softened butter until combined.

Spoon the finished butter out onto a piece of parchment paper. Roll the butter into a small log and refrigerate until firm (about an hour).

 Store in the refrigerator. Warm to room temperature when you plan to use the nasturtium butter.

Now, incase you are worried that the flavour of nasturtium butter would be too strong or too spicy to be to you're liking, let me reassure you. The flavour is really quite delicate. In fact, I would caution you not to add too much grated lemon rind or lemon will be the dominant favour note. This butter is rich and creamy with just a very subtle peppery note. 

Nasturtium butter takes minutes to make, yet it looks very gourmet. See how incredibly delicious it looks slathered on some golden cornbread. Next time I make this butter, I'd love to try it on a piece of salmon. Nasturtium butter also might be nice on a party tray along with cheese and crackers.

Next summer, it's on to new experiments. I am excited to try making pesto with the leaves following this recipe I found on the blog You Grow Girl.

Bookmark this post to try 
making nasturtium butter yourself!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Cool Kitchen Tool: Salad Dressing Shaker

Usually I am not  one for gadgets, but I do like handy kitchen tools that make my life easier. Recently, I discovered this neat salad dressing shaker, so I thought I would share.

For an upcoming cookbook review, I found myself whipping up a number of salad dressings. 

I was surprised how easy they were to make and thrilled with how fresh and light the homemade dressings tasted.

The only issue I had with producing my own was finding a handy container for storing any leftover dressing. 

Many people make and store dressings in Mason jars, but I find that the dressing can slop down the side of the jar when you pour it. I found myself wishing I had something better to use. 

Then I saw this Oxo Salad Dressing Shaker on a television cooking show. It was a little eureka moment. 

The lid twists open allowing you to use the bottom section to mix the ingredients by using the measurements on the side of the shaker or by eye balling it.

Screw the top back on, a few quick shakes of the wrist and the ingredients are combined. Flip the stopper to the open position and your ready to pour the dressing. Close the stopper again and any extra dressing is ready to store for another use.

I took the dressing shaker for a test drive when I made this quinoa salad. It worked perfectly, although in this instance, I used all the available dressing. 

I used this Canadian Living magazine recipe with the minor modification swapping green onions for red and adding a tablespoon of honey to salad dressing (honey mellows tahini so nicely). This salad would make a great summer side for grilled chicken.

It may be available in numerous stores, but I found my Oxo Salad Shaker at Crate and Barrel*.

* Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and I am not benefiting in any way from the sale of salad dressing shakers.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Cookbook Review: 3 Times a Day

Recipe 1: "Lemon & Olive Chicken with Feta Couscous"

The chicken, onions and garlic are nicely browned and its time to add the pitted olives, but I realize as I fish the green olives from inside the jar with a fork, that I have no idea how to pit an olive!

I roll my eyes and think, "Too late now! I am just going to have to wing it." I sigh when I remember the recipe calls for a quarter cup of the purple olives and a quarter cup of the green ones.

Thankfully, I have opted only to use as many olives as is required to remain relatively true to the recipe. I am plotting to sneak this dish past my husband, who claims to detest olives of any kind.

My fingers get to work on the slippery olives.

I am hoping the pit will just pop out, but no, the flesh of the olive seems reluctant to part with the pit that hides at its centre. Mutilated pieces of olive fall into my measuring cup.

"At least I won't have to do much chopping," I think attempting to console myself.

The chicken dish I am trying out is from the French Canadian cookbook 3 Times a Day.

3 Times a Day is a great title, don't you think?

If you were to see it on a generic list, you might wonder what the book suggests happen three times each day. Once you know it's a cookbook, the answer is clear: it's eating three times a day.

As a teenager Quebec singer/songwriter Marilou Champagne began her career in the entertainment business where the pressure to be thin is enormous. Though she loved cooking and food, Marilou struggled with anorexia into her early twenties.

Marilou's pledge to herself to eat at least three times a day was part of the healing process. She also started a blog with her husband Alexandre to share her journey toward a healthy relationship with food. Marilou began experimenting with table setting, food styling and creating recipes. Alexandre, who had a passion for photography, took the pictures.

The blog quickly found an audience in French Canada. The cookbook Trois fois par jour followed and sold 200,000 copies in French. Three Times a Day is the newly released English version.
(Listen to Marilou and Alexandre tell their story in a CBC radio interview with Shelagh Rogers on The Next Chapter.)

Back to my chicken.

The next hurtle turns out to be the cream sauce. I grate the lemon zest, squeeze the juice and add the chicken stock. Then I pour 15% cream over my beautiful looking chicken only to see it curdle.

I let out a scream of pure frustration!

The two older dogs quickly hustle out of the kitchen and down the hallway to cower. Little Piper runs all the way to the top of the landing to hide.

Damed if I will let this chicken recipe defeat me!

I fish out the cooked chicken, rinse it off and start over again. Using a little extra chicken stock to compensate for the pan juices, I brown more onions, add garlic and yet more olives.

Was it the lemon juice and cream in combination? The recipe offers the option of 15% or 35% cream. This time I opt to use 35% cream just for good measure.  In a separate bowl, I mix the chicken stock and the lemon juice really well and stirring vigorously, I add the cream. Yeah! No curdling!

A couple of minor deviations from the recipe: I used chicken breasts instead of thighs. The meat of chicken thighs would be even more juicy, but breasts happen to be on sale. I also added some dijon because I love the look and taste of those little mustard seeds.

So how did the chicken taste in the end? The answer is DELICIOUS!

The lemon adds a light, fresh note to the cream, which is rich and sweet.

The olives contribute a subtle flavour, but they are not so in-your-face that my husband called me out for using olives. In fact both he and my son loved the chicken, when I served it later that evening.

The side dish is a couscous with crumbled feta cheese. The fast, simple dressing for the couscous uses dried Oregon, dijon mustard, a little vegetable oil and tons of fresh parsley.


Recipe 2: "My Favourite Chocolate Cake"

The next thing I wanted to try from 3 Times a Day was a recipe for a very decadent looking chocolate cake.

Perhaps because I was always a working Mom or maybe because we were a small family of three, I could count on one hand the number of times I have made a cake from scratch! It takes the three of us forever to make our way through a big cake, so I have always favoured homemade cookies or squares instead.

But cakes are perfect for special occasions and for entertaining guests, so I have always felt that there was something missing from my small repertoire of desserts. 

One of my culinary ambitions has become a search for the ultimate chocolate cake recipe; one that is both easy to pull-off and tastes amazing.

Could this be the recipe?

The icing

One of the interesting things about this particular chocolate cake recipe is that it uses mayonnaise as a secret ingredient in the cake batter rather than butter or oil.

I could see why the moment I whisked the mayonnaise into the mixture of beaten eggs, sugar and vanilla. The combination of ingredients was so light and foamy!

The icing on the top of the cake calls for a pound and a half of butter, so it goes without saying that it's good. (Marilou suggests in the recipe's introduction that this is not the healthiest dessert, but is instead a cake intended for special occasions like birthdays.)

The cake in the book is topped with red raspberries. I thought that it looked so pretty, I wanted to top my cake in the same way.

So how was the chocolate cake? It was lovely!

One minor thing: the cake recipe calls for the addition of a 1/2 cup of dark chocolate chips. If I make it again, I'd leave the chocolate chips out. I didn't like, and this is purely personal, the change of texture the chocolate chips made in the cake. But if you like surprises, you may find that the little pieces of dark chocolate are an unexpected delight. 

Is this the ultimate chocolate cake recipe I am searching for? It is certainly a candidate! But it's early days yet. I want to try other recipes out, before I settle on one.

If you would like to give this recipe a try, you can find it here. I'd love to hear what you think!

Visit the Trois fois par jour website where you can find recipes in both English and French. There are a number of wonderful recipe videos, but unfortunately they are only in French. The website has links to the Trois fois par Jour shop and French language magazine.

3 Times a Day is available through Amazon and Chapters.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bren's Green Bean Noodles

In my humble opinion, people don't change, but they do evolve. 

Their priorities shift. Mine certainly have! 

There was a time when I jokingly threatened my husband, that if he ever bought me something as practical as a toaster for a present, it would be a case for instant divorce. Of course I wasn't serious about the divorce, but I wouldn't have been happy if he decided to tuck something like a blender under the tree for me on Christmas morning.

I feel a bit differently now. 

I have enough perfume and trinkets. I am beginning to prefer things to have some sort of practical application. 

Hey, one Christmas soon I might even ask for the gift of a fancy mixer to replace the handheld model that I currently use.

There was a time in our marriage when my husband did most of the cooking. It was a simple matter of scheduling. In those days, he was home from work well before I was.

Now things have changed. I am the one doing most of the cooking. For me, cooking has become more than a matter of simply preparing meals. Rather late in life, I am trying to learn to cook the kind of food I like best to eat: fresh, light and healthy.

I read cookbooks. 

I watch cooking shows and take mental notes. 

I have even begun to acquire some fancy tools.

So when I saw Gardeningbren in Nova Scotia's post that featured, among other things, a fancy little bean slicer I got all excited. 

I had barely finished reading Brenda's post when wasn't I off searching online looking for a local Paderno, so I could get a bean slicer of my own. 

Bren's simple recipe for green beans sounded positively delicious!

I was dismayed to find that the only store in the area had closed and the company's website was next to impossible to navigate when looking for a specific tool.

I left my comment on Bren's post expressing my admiration for her Green Bean Noodles and my disappointment on not being able to find a place to purchase a bean slicer. 

Sweetheart that she is, didn't she email me to say that she had an errand in the city, and would be passing by the local Paderno store, would I like her to pick me up a bean slicer?

I was so touched by her thoughtfulness! Garden bloggers are the best!

The bean slicer arrived a couple of days later in the mail. Thanks so very much Brenda!

As you can see, I immediately put the little gadget to good use.

To make Bren's Green Bean Noodles, she advises that drop your sliced green beans into a pot of salted boiling water for 2 minutes.

Then she says to drain them, add a few drops of toasted sesame seed oil, and a slash of tamari. Top the beans with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds (I also added some fresh ground pepper).

Brenda suggests that the beans can be served hot or cold.

More Information and Links:

The Bean Slicer and Stringer can be found at a Paderno store near you.

Canadians can see more of Brenda's beautiful garden on Nova Scotia's south shore in the Fall 2012 issue of GardenMaking Magazine.