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Technique Tuesday: DIY Herbal Tea


It always is the case that this time of year is when I finally start to think about drying and putting away some fresh herbs from the garden.  Maybe it is because I am so busy using them fresh in the previous months, or I'm subconsciously trying to put them away as late as possible to have them fresher longer (or I procrastinate...).  Regardless, it is not until the the temperatures flirt a little with the upper 30s (like it did last week!) (and which can be the kiss of death, literally, for basil and other more delicate herbs) do I seem to motivate to do anything long-term with them.

Along with the weather dipping lower, and Friday's first day of fall, I also start craving warm cups of tea, and, just as big marketing execs would want, start thinking ahead to the holidays.  This project helps satisfy both categories.


Herbs at the Jean-Talon market in Montreal last month.


Giant, and criminally inexpensive, bunches of gorgeous, fragrant, vibrant herbs are still available in the farmers' markets, and until a frost, perhaps in your yard or garden.  Drying an assortment will give you great building blocks for your own herbal tea.  Endlessly customizable, and super-natural, will be far more flavorful than anything that has been sitting on a store shelf for months and months.  And putting away more than you need will also give you the raw materials for a lovely on-the-fly holiday gift.

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Flower Adorned Ice Cubes


Remember those old lady knickknacks of the late 70s of a flower completely frozen in a globe of lucite?  There were a few geriatric abodes I visited during that era, and those stopped-in-their-tracks flowers were always a fascination.  So perfect and yet so bizarrely frozen.

You can make your own, a bit more ephemeral, version as another gorgeous use for edible flowers.  Encase your posies in ice cubes to chic up late summer cocktails or mocktails.  You can use any edible flowers for this project.  The flower doesn’t impart all that much flavor to the cube or drink when simply frozen or floating, so it is possible to just focus on color.  However, if you think they’ll be eaten, or floating around for a while after they’ve thawed, there are a few pairing ideas below.

This is a super quick, nearly effortless way to bring some garden to your cocktail hour.  I think it would also be a stunning addition to the season’s bridal and baby showers.

Ring-a-round the spritzer, a pocket full of on the rocks.

 

Directions:

1.  Wash your flowers gently and carefully, making sure to get rid of any unsuspecting bugs so you don’t accidentally go all fossilized wooly-mammoth on your guests.  Tiny, perfect flowers can be frozen whole, but large, somewhat less perfect blossoms, can be torn for an equally pretty effect.

2.  In an ice cube tray, pour the slightest amount of water to just cover the bottom (which will be the top) surface.  Place your flowers in, facing the bottom (so ultimately right-side-up) touching the thin layer of water as much as possible.  Remember:  The larger the ice cubes, the longer it will take them to melt…

3.  Place trays in the freezer, until the first layer is solid.  Remove from freezer, and top with a bit more water and another layer of flowers, if desired, or fill completely.

4.  Return ice cube trays to the freezer until frozen and ready to use.  Unmold and cheers!

 

Ideas for Use:

--  Clear drinks work best.  This is even a great way to doll-up a simple glass of seltzer.

--  Use flowers from mint, lemon verbena, chamomile, lemon balm, lavender, and even thyme for lemonade.

--  Try mint, leaves and flowers, in ice cubes for mojitos

-Try thai basil blossoms in ice cubes for thai basil mojitos.

-Mint, chamomile, apple blossoms, rose petals and rose hips would be delish in iced tea.

-Elderflowers or cucumbery Borage in a gin and tonic on a summer evening.  Oh my.



 


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Technique Tuesday: Using Edible Flowers
 



These weeks the gardens are bursting with flowers.  Not the flower gardens, but the herb and vegetable gardens.  Some of the flowers I planned on (nasturtiums and chamomile), some are part of the journey (pole bean blossoms which will become bean pods), and some are a result of me not harvesting fast enough and a bit of the plant going to seed (cilantro, basil, dill, oregano, and radish).

I'm a big proponent of using as much of a plant or vegetable as I can.  One of my favorite "tip to toe" recipes doing this is Chef Bill Telepan's Beet Greens Pierogi with Mixed Summer Beets and Brown Butter Sauce.  I also got much too excited when I learned in a master class in culinary school, with chef Michael Anthony of NYC's Gramercy Tavern, that I could pickle the technicolored chard stems I had been pushing aside and composting for years.

It is equally exciting for me to use flowers in dishes.  As mentioned, some are planned, some are not, but there is a lot of flavor, and a ton of color and texture there that would otherwise go to waste.  They are not just a pretty face--and frequently fetch a premium price at the markets.  Certainly make sure you know what you are serving and eating, so as not to go all Arsenic and Old Lace on unsuspecting BBQ guests.  But there are so many varieties of edibles around right now, and just a small edition of a few feels very very special.

Cleaning and Storage

Try to pick the flowers as close to use as possible.  Store them, unwashed, wrapped gently in paper towel in the refrigerator, protected in a bowl or open container.  Teeny tiny bugs love to hide out in their petals and folds, so examine each blossom carefully.  To wash, and to refresh flowers that are a little droopy, plunge the entire blossom in a bowl of cold water for about five minutes, and then allow to dry on a paper towel.  After washing, flowers can be floated. right side up, in a bowl of cold water until ready to go onto the plate.

Ideas for Use

- Salads!  Whole or torn, little bursts of blossom color are a magnificent addition to salads.  Nasturtiums in particular, leaves and flowers, with a wonderful peppery zing, are a great addition.  But also think about the flowers of complimentary herbs like dill, basil, cilantro, and chervil.  Then consider adding some of the same herb to the dressing to tie it all together.

- Garnish soups by floating a single blossom in the middle of the bowl.  This is particularly effective with cold soups, as it won't wilt the flower.  Try it with Borage, a beautiful purple flower with a taste very similar to fresh cucumber.

- Decorate cakes, cupcakes and pastry with a blossom here and there.  Edible flowers definitely each have their own flavor, so stick with the sweeter and more floral plants for this, like chamomile, lavender, and mint.

- Tear up some petals and sprinkle them over a plate or platter like confetti right before serving.  Or make a tiny micro salad of flowers to top a piece of grilled fish or meat.


A quick snapshot from lunch--Buttermilk with Fuji Apple Dashi, Market Herbs and Flowers, and Pine Nuts at Momofuku Ssäm Bar, NYC.





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Catie Baumer Schwalb is a chef, food writer and photographer, who splits her life between the city and the country. Not too long ago Catie was a New York City based actress and playwright for more than a decade. She has her Master of Fine Arts from the National Theater Conservatory, and her Grand Diplôme in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. ... Read More

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