One Long Islander in town for the Philadelphia Flower Show this month found herself with a rapt audience as she answered a question that, while it may not previously have been foremost in the mind of anyone present, in retrospect seems so obvious it’s amazing we all don’t ask it with the coming of every spring: Yes. Yes, you can eat the flowers.
Herbalist and confectioner Miche Bacher was there talking up her new book, Cooking With Flowers, set to be published April 2 by Philly-based Quirk Books. And while it sounds a bit like a Portlandia sketch gone horribly right, upon flipping through the book, PW had to admit that these floral recipes looked pretty damn sweet. So without further ado, we hereby present a short excerpt from Cooking With Flowers, including three of Bacher’s dishes—one of which deploys ham in a manner that looks suspiciously like bacon—and accompanying photographs by her collaborator Miana Jun.
Pansy Tea Sandwiches
Traditional afternoon tea is a meal that has fallen out of fashion, but I think it has its place. Tea sandwiches are perfect when you want something light and delicate livened up with flowers. Serve these for a birthday or Mother’s Day luncheon or put them on your Easter plate. Makes 24 sandwiches.
1 seedless cucumber
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
4 ounces goat cheese, room temperature
24 pansy flowers, sliced chiffonade-style
12 very thin slices white bread
(Note: “Chiffonade” might sound fancy—the term is French—but it’s really a simple method of cutting things in long, thin strips. Stack petals or leaves and then roll them in a tight cigarlike roll. Cut across the roll with a sharp knife. This technique is a time-saver that minimizes bruising that can happen when cutting flower petals and herbs.) >>>
1. Slice cucumber as thinly as possible, using a mandoline if you have one. Lay slices on a paper towel to absorb excess moisture.
2. Stir to thoroughly combine cream cheese and goat cheese in a small bowl. Gently stir pansy flowers into cheese mixture.
3. Spread a thin layer of cheese mixture onto each slice of bread. Arrange a single layer of cucumber slices on half of the bread slices. Place remaining bread slices on top, cheese side down.
4. Trim crusts. Slice sandwiches in quarters diagonally so each sandwich makes 4 triangles.
Variations: For nasturtium tea sandwiches, use goat cheese, nasturtium flowers and chopped leaves, and butter on whole wheat bread. For pineapple sage and ham tea sandwiches, use pineapple sage flowers and finely chopped pineapple sage leaves, thinly sliced ham, and a thin layer of butter and Dijon mayonnaise on rye bread. For a pretty touch, spread the edges of the sandwiches with a thin layer of butter, and then dip the buttered edges in roughly chopped petals.
Clafouti is a humble French confection that’s a cross between a custard, a pancake, and a puffy omelet. It comes together in minutes and is incredibly versatile. You simply pour the batter over cherries or any kind of fruit, stone or otherwise. I have had great luck with plums. Serves 6, or a few hungry teenagers.
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups cherries
1 cup hollyhock petals (from about 4 to 6 flowers)
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish or an 8-inch square ceramic baking dish.
2. Combine everything except cherries and hollyhock petals in a blender and process until fairly smooth. Make sure you scrape down the sides of the blender so the flour doesn’t sick to the sides.
3. Pour half the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle with cherries and half the hollyhock petals. Cover with the remaining batter. Top with the remaining hollyhock petals. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until puffed and brown; a tester inserted in the center should come out clean.
This is one of those desserts that is fantastic to slip in the oven just as you’re sitting down to dinner and pull out to eat just as the main course has been cleared. Plan accordingly.
Dandelion Ham-and-Egg Cups
If you ask me, brunch is the ideal meal. Unfussy and packed full of protein (but just as friendly toward sweets), it is a repast full of smiles. I make ham-and-egg cups for brunch all the time, and this variation with dandelion blossoms tucked in makes for a great rendition of a classic. Makes 12.
24 slices ham*
1/2 cup dandelion petals
About 1 cup (1/4 pound) soft goat cheese, crumbled (optional)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
(Any deli ham will work; try a nice maple-glazed ham in a medium cut. Nitrate-free organic ham is another favorite of mine.)
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line each cup in a muffin pan with 2 pieces of ham, overlapping so there are no holes.
2. Break an egg into the center of each cup. Top each with a generous pinch of dandelion petals and a crumble of goat cheese, if desired. Gently slide pan into oven and bake for about 15 minutes, or until eggs no longer jiggle when pan is moved.
3. Let cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes before transferring cups to a serving plate. Just before serving, sprinkle salt and pepper over top.
Excerpted from Cooking with Flowers by Miche Bacher (Quirk Books; 2013).
Hopefully this week's issue will send good vibes to Mother Nature. It's time for warm weather, the Phillies and new adventures.
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PW's Taste of Philly 2014