Foodie Firsts: Edible Flowers

wooden spoons-001Foodie Firsts is a Move Eat Create weekly feature focusing on my adventures in the world of food.  Over the course of a few short years, I have transformed from a picky, fearful eater to a curious and open-minded foodie.  In a commitment to continue to expand my culinary experiences, I have started Foodie Firsts.  Each week I will commit to trying something new and sharing that experience with you.  My endeavors may include experimenting with cooking techniques I’ve never tried before, testing a single new ingredient, or drawing upon my creativity to combine foods in ways I never imagined.  Whatever it is, I will eat (or maybe drink) it and share it all with you.  You can decide for yourself whether you, too, would like to try.  Let’s be bold and eat good food!

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You know how people say not to play with your food?

I don’t get that.

Why not?  Why not play with your food??

Salad Close Up - Edited

From my perspective, food is an ideal opportunity to have fun, to play, to experiment and to be adventurous.  I sometimes think that one of the reasons I didn’t enjoy cooking or appreciate good, real food for so long is because I didn’t see the fun in it.  It felt so serious.  Essentially, there were a few, rigid categories of food in my world.  They looked something like this:

  1. Food I ate at home daily – Due to my family dynamics and lifestyle this was most often fast food, microwaveable meals, or things easily heated up in a microwave or the stovetop.  This food was eaten quickly, for survival mostly, with little joy or variety.  Perfect examples are McDonald’s, pizza, spaghetti-o’s, meat and cheese sandwiches, Kraft macaroni and cheese, Top Ramen, and TV dinners.  (Yes, this was how I ate once upon a time!)
  2. Food I ate in my car – Once I started driving, I ate a lot of food in my car.  Taco Bell was a stalwart of this routine, as was Wendy’s, grocery store doughnuts, and Diet Pepsi.  There was no fun in this.  No play.  This was totally rushed and utilitarian.
  3. Food I ate on special occasions – This was the closest I came to fun, I guess, though it was still a stretch to call it that.  A dinner out at an actual restaurant was occasionally on the schedule.  As far as home cooked meals, though, they were few and far between.  Once in a while, on a holiday for instance, there would be a meal of standards.  A meat.  A potato.  A canned vegetable.  Store bought rolls.  Nothing unexpected.

As you can surmise, my relationship with food was mostly functional.  Eating was just something I had to do to get through all the other stuff I was doing and cooking was a chore best avoided.

Cocktail Collage

So, back to today’s point – fun, playful food.

The revelation that food could be fun was one that came slowly, incrementally, over time.  I noticed other people in my life who enjoyed cooking, baking, and eating in a way I hadn’t ever really considered as an option before.  I also credit part of this revelation to cooking shows.  Watching shows like Top Chef, Iron Chef (the original Japanese version is stellar), Barefoot Contessa, Two Fat Ladies, and so on, was an enlightening process.  Here were people who were supposed to take food seriously, right?  They were, after all, earning their living producing perfect dishes, executed with precision and meticulous detail, but threaded throughout all of it was a sense of fun.  A sense of play.

They totally played with their food!

Food was tossed into the air!  Set on fire!!  Sprinkled, frosted, crumbled.  Food was piled high, spread low and thin, and layered up for inches.  Food was frozen, whipped, baked, grilled, and decorated.  There was so much action.  There was laughter.  There was joy and pleasure.  There were moans when bites were taken, chuckles when something was unconventional, and friendly stories shared of mistakes and mishaps.

It was kind of cool and I wanted to try it.

cake 3 - edited

So, I started playing with my food, too.  True, I did so in less flamboyant ways, but I sprinkled spices and tossed things around.  I tried my hand at shaking my wok around so veggies flipped up over the edge and back into the pan.  I tried different methods of cutting things.  Julienning was fun.  My mandoline provided a thrill.  I started to use garnishes and I considered how I put things on a plate.

I played like a kid in a sandbox.  I still do and it’s changed my whole relationship to food.  All of this rambling brings me to today’s ingredient – edible flowers.  Edible flowers, like the ones I used, have no taste, really, but they are great for playing around with.  Without adding much flavor or texture to a dish, they exist primarily for making food playful, fun, and visually interesting.  They had been on my mind since seeing them stocked next to the fresh herbs in my market.  This was the week I gave them a try.

First of all, I was totally surprised at how many of them were crammed into my little clamshell container that I carried them home in.  I expected to have to use them sparingly, but once I opened them up and started pulling them out I say that there were loads of them, leaving me ample opportunity to try them in different ways.

I started by eating one straight out of the container, of course.  Even though I knew it wouldn’t really taste like much, I wanted to experience one in its pure state.  It was chewy and felt a bit tissue-like in my mouth.  Not unpleasant, but just pretty indistinct.

Then, I got to playing.

Ice cubes in glass 3 - edited final

I decided to use the flowers for fun, frivolity, and flourish in various ways.  I wanted to start by including them in my evening meal.  I had already planned on making a Mexican dish that night, so I decided to serve a side salad featuring the flowers alongside it.  Made simply of thinly sliced radishes, summer squash, and green onions, and dressed with a cilantro vinaigrette, the salad was a perfect foundation for my flowers.  As a garnish, the flowers added spunk to a simple plate.

Next came the cocktails.  Edible flowers and cocktails?  What about that isn’t fun??  This one was simple, mixing up a couple of drinks (gin, of course) and finished them off with a flower floater on top.  Beautiful.  Elegant.  Sophisticated play.  It may sound silly, but that cocktail seemed to taste a little better that night.  It also felt good held in my hand with such a distinct visual touch playing with my eyes.

As ice was being used for mixing drinks, I decided to use some of my flowers in ice cubes, reserving them for future playful food nights!  I made a tray of ice cube with flowers frozen within them.  I absolutely believe they will be a perfect way to add a bit of joy into a tired or dark day that may come down the road.  Tossing one of those into a drink of any kind, even a simple glass of water (my most common beverage of choice) will make for a lovely experience.

Finally, I made cake.  Specifically, I made my hummingbird cake.  I love this cake.  I LOVE this cake.  It tastes absolutely wonderful, but isn’t necessarily much to look at it on its own.  But, this is where I had the most fun.  Picking petals apart, I had a blast sprinkling them across the top of my finished, iced cake.  The result was wonderful.  It turned my cake into a centerpiece.  Something as beautiful to look at as it was to eat and I it made me smile to look at.

Food that can make you smile before you even eat it is a truly great thing.

Notes & Final Thoughts cake close up 2

Serving Suggestions:  See above.  I highly recommend all of the uses I described here.  I’ve also heard of using edible flowers in DIY flavored salts.  What a great gift that would make!

Lessons Learned: There is a place for serious food and a place for utilitarian food, but there is also a place (a very important one) for fun, playful food.  Life is full of utility and seriousness, and, frankly, I think most of us could use a bit more joy.  Play in your kitchen.  Splurge a bit on something that will be fun and bring you excitement in the kitchen or at the table.  It’s worth it. 

 

Recipe: Hummingbird (Banana-Pineapple) Cake with Pineapple Frosting

Earlier in the week, I mentioned a birthday cake.  As the week has gone by I have been eager to come back to that topic.  This birthday cake, you see, has been on my mind.

It has lingered in my consciousness because it was (I think) a big success!  I still get nervous about baking cakes, in a way I do not about baking other items.  I don’t feel apprehensive about baking cookies, muffins, brownies, scones, or even cupcakes; but there is something special about creating a quality cake, particularly if that cake is to be presented and shared with someone as a celebratory gift.

I had inquired with the birthday man in question about what kind of cake he would like and he expressed a desire for a banana-pineapple cake.

Whoa.

I’m not sure why that seemed so intimidating to me – but it was.  After doing some research, I discovered that banana-pineapple cakes were actually, like, a thing.  They had a proper name and all.  Hummingbird cake.  It’s a lovely name, isn’t it?  It sounds like a delicate and beautiful baked treat.

Finding several recipes for hummingbird cake, I settled upon one that looked like the best bet to me, made a couple of adaptations, and set to work.

The process? = Much easier than I had anticipated

The result? = A deliciously moist cake, rich with flavors from the fruits, cinnamon, and vanilla

Hooray for cake success!

This cake was quite fitting for the season, too.  It felt like a farewell to summer, served on the first day of fall.  With the pineapple providing a last hurrah for warm weather days and the warmth of the banana and cinnamon welcoming autumn, it was a great cake for transitioning the seasons.

The recipe for the pineapple cream cheese frosting which finished the cake is also included below.   I hope you enjoy it all as much as we did!

Hummingbird Cake

Adapted from myrecipes.com

Makes 1 8-9 inch square or 8-9 inch round cake

Ingredients:

1 cup Whole-Wheat Cake Flour

½ cup White Whole Wheat Flour (or AP Flour)

½ tspn baking soda

¼ tspn kosher salt

3/4 cup raw cane sugar

½ tspn ground cinnamon

1 tblspn egg replacer + 3 tblspns water (or 1 large egg)

¼ cup unsweetened applesauce

1.5 tblspns coconut oil, melted (15-30 seconds in a microwave should do it)

1 cup mashed, very ripe bananas (2-3 bananas)

1 tspn vanilla extract

4 oz crushed pineapple, with juice

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Coat the square or round cake pan of your choice with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, salt, sugar, and cinnamon.  Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the egg replacer and water mixture, applesauce, melted coconut oil, mashed bananas, vanilla extract, and crushed pineapple.  Stir until all ingredients are combined.
  4. Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients.  Stir well with a spoon until the mixture is combined and all the flour is incorporated.
  5. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  6. Let cool in pan for approximately 10 minutes, then remove from pan and allow cake to continue cooling on a wire rack.  Once completely cooled, top with pineapple cream cheese frosting (or frosting of your choice).  A smattering of chopped nuts on top of the frosting is purely optional, but makes a lovely presentation.

Pineapple Cream-Cheese Frosting

Makes more than enough to frost one 8-9 inch cake

Ingredients:

4 oz reduced-fat cream cheese/Neufchatel (standard or vegan)

½ tblspn butter or Earth Balance

2-3 cups powdered sugar

½ tblspn vanilla extract

2-3 tblspns crushed pineapple, with juices

Preparation:

  1. Combine cream cheese, butter/Earth Balance, and vanilla in a bowl and beat on high speed with a mixer until combined and somewhat creamy.  (It will be fairly stiff at this point.)
  2. Add the powdered sugar in batches, until you have reached your desired level of sweetness (I used about 2.5 cups), continuing to beat mixture after each batch is added.
  3. Add in pineapple, a tablespoon at a time, beating after each addition.  Check for flavor and consistency.  If you want a thicker frosting, you may need to add additional sugar, but for a thinner frosting (more similar to a glaze), add more of the pineapple liquid to the mixture.

*** The frosting will continue to thicken up after it sits for a while.  I made my batch a bit thinner than a traditional cream-cheese frosting, so that it almost seeped over the edge of the cake when I frosted it.  I thought it was delicious this way and it did firm up further as the cake sat for a couple of hours.