Hungary Water: Part 2


March 21, 2022  •  No Comments

This is the continuation of this jars filled with herbsblog describing the recipe and my first try at recreating Hungary Water. I left the test batches to steep for about three months. I waited some months more to let the scents settle down and blend.

My first observation is that volume is important. By the time I strained the vegetable matter from my test batches, I didn’t get much yield—maybe half a cup per jar. The results were also very concentrated. When I do this again, I’m going to use at least a quart-sized container and more liquid.

The rosemary scent dominates the results, but that could be because it was the one element that was home grown and therefore freshest. All three bases initially overpowered the scent of the herbs but calmed down with time. The witch hazel version was fairly raunchy when it first brewed but is now the most pleasant of the three. It is a nice addition to a bath and as a facial astringent. I used the cider vinegar version (diluted) to rinse my hair after shampooing it. This is an excellent way to add scent and shine, but please be careful with color-treated hair as the vinegar can be drying. The vodka version was my least favorite. It killed some stubborn weeds in the driveway and probably any other living entity within five yards. I’m pretty sure the driveway glows after dark and the raccoons are building a bomb shelter.

My honest assessment is that a) a greater liquid volume would create a better balance of scents, b) the combination of herbs could possibly be simplified, and c) I need to do more research into a good liquid base for this purpose. The witch hazel is acceptable, but I’d like to keep exploring.

Bottom line: this experiment opened the door to some interesting possibilities for more research and experimentation.

 


Pesto!


February 20, 2022  •  1 Comment

As a follow up to our previous post about basil, here is my favorite pesto recipe. Substitutions are easy–if pine nuts are too expensive, walnuts, toasted pumpkin seeds, orpesto any combo of the three can be used. If basil is not in season, I’ve used spinach or a blend of spinach and arugula for a punchier sauce.

Put into blender or food processor:

  • 4 cups of basil or other greens (such as spinach, parsley, arugula and/or other fresh herbs)
  • Crushed fresh garlic (3 cloves) or good-quality powdered garlic to taste
  • Half cup pine nuts or other nut/seed combo
  • Scant cup of grated parmesan cheese
  • Dash of lemon juice

Blend the above until smooth, adding olive oil to thin to the desired consistency (about 1/3 to 1/2 cup).

Pesto literally means “paste” and can be treated like any other condiment. It’s brilliant on pasta, but can also be combined with yogurt to make a great salad dressing. I also use it as a flavoring in wraps and sandwiches or as a veggie dip.

 

 


Mysterious Green Sauce


July 5, 2021  •  No Comments

pasta dishDespite the title, I resist the term “green sauce” because (something like the enigmatic “brown sauce” encountered in the UK) I feel as if the creator won’t admit to what’s in it. Lots of things are green, but I won’t put all of them in my mouth.

No need to fear this version!  This green sauce quick, easy, and very taste-bud friendly. Although the obvious use is on pasta, it’s also good as a garnish on potatoes, a mixed vegetable plate, or even salad. I also suggest trying it on fish.

Recipe:

I start with two large bunches of kale, stems removed and lightly steamed.

While that’s happening, I fry one small diced onion in a little olive oil.  Once that’s starting to brown, add a generous handful of sliced mushrooms and 3 to 4 cloves of crushed garlic. Once that’s thoroughly cooked, set it aside.  For those who are not garlic/onion tolerant, feel free to substitute a powdered version.

Put the kale into a blender

Add 2 ripe avocados

Add the onion mix

Add 3 heaping teaspoons of nutritional yeast

2 teaspoons of mixed dried herbs or whatever fresh ones you have in the garden (suggest oregano, marjoram, basil, or thyme)

1 ½ to 2 cups of kefir (can substitute plain yogurt)

Juice of one lime

Salt to taste

 

Blend until it’s smooth and creamy with no traces of solid kale.

Serve generously over pasta. For a final touch, garnish your pasta dish with pine nuts or broiled, halved cherry tomatoes.

This will keep in the fridge for a few days. A wide-mouthed jar is perfect for this.

 


Coconut Squash Soup


June 7, 2021  •  No Comments

The tale of this coconut squash soup begins with a trip to the farmer’s market, where a New Zealand blue squash followed me home. The variety was new to me (and, apparently, to the cat) so I was curious to see what I could do with it. As it turns out, this variety cooks up nicely with a flavor between a butternut squash and a pumpkin.

Quarter the squash, scoop out the seeds (these can be saved and roasted later) and bake on a cookie sheet at 325F until fork tender. Peel off the skin and mash.  This should give you around 4 cups of cooked squash. If you have too much, it freezes well.

Fry until thoroughly cooked:

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 large diced onion

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger

Add:

1.5 tsp cumin

1.5 tsp coriander

1/2 tsp cardamom

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

Cook for two minutes and add:

Your squash

6 cups vegetarian broth (low salt is best–you can add salt if needed)

Optional: Fresh garden herbs, if available (I use chives, oregano, and thyme)

1 can (14-oz) of low-fat coconut milk

Simmer for about half an hour. At the very end, add the juice of 1 lime. Then puree thoroughly so there are no lumpy squash bits.

This coconut squash soup is a very attractive, colorful soup, and makes a great centerpiece of a light meal.

 


DIY Historical Cosmetics: Queen of Hungary’s Water


April 26, 2021  •  3 Comments

Jar of herbsQueen of Hungary’s Water aka Hungary Water has been one of my favourite scents for as long as I’ve been wearing perfume. It’s herbal rather than sweet, with a clean, bright finish. Though no two blends are exactly the same, lemon and rosemary are usually the dominant notes. As I was making this up, the scent of the herbs was almost dizzying. It’s like a herb garden in a jar.

Some sources claim Queen of Hungary’s Water is the first alcohol-based perfume, or at least the first European one, and dates from the beginning of the fourteenth century. It’s also used as a skin tonic, the herbal ingredients effective against acne and eczema, among other issues. In addition, it can be used to bathe the temples to cure a headache. It is for external use only. Do not drink it or take it as a tincture.

Ingredients are important

There are a lot of different recipes for Hungary Water, but be careful. Beware of recipes that use lemon verbena as a main ingredient as the essential oil of that plant has been linked to sun sensitivity, which can increase the likelihood of sunburn. Lemon balm does not have the same problem.

Try to get organic herbs and essential oils if you can. Good quality dried herbs will store in a cool, dry place until it’s time to make another batch.

Recipe:

Layer the herbs in a wide mouth jar. A mason jar is ideal (bigger is better – the herbs swell once the liquid goes in).

2 tablespoons of lemon balm

2 tablespoons of lavender

2 tablespoons of calendula

2 tablespoons of rose petals

2 tablespoons of chamomile

1.5 tablespoons of comfrey

1 tablespoon of sage

1 tablespoon of rosemary

1 tablespoon of peppermint

1 tablespoon of elderflowers

12 drops of helichrysum oil

Top with chopped lemon peel (1/3 of a lemon rind, pith removed)

Cover the herbs with apple cider vinegar, witch hazel, or vodka. Allow for a couple inches of liquid above the herbs. Store for several weeks, shaking a couple of times a day.three jars

As this is my first time making this, I’ve done one each using the vinegar, witch hazel, and vodka to see which turns out best. Please see this blog for the results.

I based this recipe on several existing sources both in books and online, including this one, this one, and this one. I’ll adjust the ingredients as time goes on until I create my own preferred combination. For now, I’m sharing my experiment with you!

Post Script

Please note:

Yes, I am a writer of vampiric fiction, but before you get excited, dear reader, the Hungarian noble in question is not Elizabeth Bathory of “bathing in the blood of virgins” fame, nor does this post describe a bracing post-blood tonic or solution for that awful bathtub ring. I suggest a foaming cleanser with plenty of bleach for that.

 

 

 

 

 


Victorian Funeral Biscuits – the Recipe


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Wooden spoonFuneral biscuits played a part the Victorian tradition of death and mourning. I cover their history in my previous post on the topic, and now we come to the recipe.

Sadly, it’s hard to know exactly what the biscuits tasted like. Even if they were available in a museum somewhere, I’m not like the Eating History guys and willing to nosh on decades-old treats. To make things more difficult, I could not find funeral biscuits in a cookbook I trusted. One recipe included modern ingredients and others were vague to the point of uselessness. So, I set out to invent something from those items that appeared in the majority of texts.

Consistent ingredients were flour, sugar, and caraway seed. I tested various combinations of other things, including icing sugar, milk, and cornstarch. Results varied from interesting charcoal to hard as a brick. When I did finally achieve a good result, I understood why rationing during wartime finally finished off the production of these biscuits–they’re no good without lashings of butter.funeral biscuits

Victorian Funeral Biscuits

Preheat oven to 350 F

Cream:  1.5 cups of sugar with 1 cup of soft butter

Add:  1 tsp vanilla and  2 extra-large beaten eggs (or 3 smaller ones). Mix until smooth

Sift: 2.5 cups of flour, 2 tsp of cardamon, and 1/2 tsp salt. Add to wet ingredients a bit at a time along with a tablespoon of whole caraway seeds (some recipes recommend toasting these before adding them to the dough).

Mix until all wet ingredients are absorbed. The dough will be slightly sticky. If you wish to use a cookie stamp, chill for a few hours before going further. Otherwise, make a small ball and press with a fork to form the cookie. Keep rinsing the fork in cold water to keep it from sticking in the dough.

Bake on a greased cookie sheet for 12 minutes or until the bottom just begins to turn brown. (Do not overbake!) Cool slightly before moving to a wire rack. The result should be a crisp, slightly caramelized bottom with a softer top.

baking ingredientsAs noted above, this recipe is only an estimation of what the original Victorian funeral biscuits might have been like. The quality of ingredients today is very different, as those of us who experienced “Buttergate” can attest. However, I think this is a reasonable approximation of the buttery, slightly spicy biscuit that’s perfect with tea after a brisk seaside stroll.


Gluten-Free Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies


February 5, 2021  •  2 Comments

Not all gluten-free products belong on a diet plan. Some recipes are shamelessly loaded with sugar and butter, like this one. Needless to say, it’s so yummy even the most ardent junk food addict will enjoy it.

Gluten-Free Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies

Preheat oven to 350F

Cream: cookies

3/4 cup of sugar (try ½ cup brown to ¼ white)

2/3 cup soft butter

I used a food processor with a mixer blade for this—thoroughly creaming the butter makes a better cookie.

Mix in:

½ tablespoon vanilla

2 eggs

½ tsp salt

½ tsp baking soda

3 cups of almond flour

1 cup milk chocolate chips

Spoon onto greased cookie sheets. These cookies spread quite a bit, so make them small and give them lots of room. In my oven, 12 minutes was the perfect time to get a golden-brown cookie with a crispy outside and soft inside. When the cookie sheet comes out of the oven, allow it to cool slightly before transferring the cookies to a cooling rack.


Savory Cheese Shortbread


January 24, 2021  •  6 Comments

While tea is essential in all months, winter highlights its restorative properties. And with tea comes biscuits—spirits and stomachs need a boost in the twilight hours of the afternoon.

This is a savory shortbread recipe that’s been in my family for at least three generations–I don’t know its origins, but it was a frequent flyer at my grandmother’s table. It typically appeared at Christmas, but it’s good all year around. I made it recently and was reminded why I liked it so much—it pairs well with a strong English Breakfast style tea without being lost or overwhelming the flavor of the tea. In other words, this shortbread has personality.

A note on the cheese:  MacLaren’s Imperial Sharp Cheddar is an iconic Canadian grocery item. In fact, there is an early version of the container in the Canadian Museum of History. For substitutions, keep in mind that it’s very sharp and stiffer than a true cream-cheese style product. The internet recommends Black Creek Sharp Cheddar Cold Pack Cheese as an alternative, but I’ve never tried it myself. If you do, please let me know how it turns out.

Ingredients:

  • ½ pound McLaren’s Imperial Cheese
  • ½ pound butter
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar

Mix ingredients either by hand or in a food processor and knead slightly until it can be formed into a roll and sliced.  Make a ball from each slice and press with a fork.  Bake on ungreased cookie sheets at 250 F for an hour (or until the bottom browns a bit). Cool on a rack before storing in a tin.


The Best Cheese Scones Ever


June 21, 2020  •  No Comments

Cheese SconesFor those days when life requires comfort food, I give you this recipe for the best cheese scones ever. It’s light and tasty and goes with soup, salad, or a ploughman’s lunch.

Heat oven to 425 F and grease a baking tray or two (I usually double the batch).

Sift:

. 2 cups flour

. 1 tsp baking powder

. 1 tsp cream of tartar

. 1/2 tsp sea salt

. 1 tsp dried chervil (oregano would probably work, too)

Work in so it’s not clumpy:

. 1/3 cup minced parsley

. 1/3 cup minced fresh dill

Cut in 1/4 cup of soft butter until it’s like fine breadcrumbs. Then add:

. 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Make a well in the center and pour in:

. 1/2 cup to 2/3 cup heavy cream.

Start with a half cup of liquid and mix with a wooden spoon until all the dry ingredients are absorbed. Add more liquid if it seems too dry.  Turn onto a floured board and knead just enough to make the dough elastic. Pat into a round about an inch thick and cut into rounds with a cookie cutter until all the dough is used up. If you prefer, rolling the dough into snakes will make pretty good bread sticks for dipping into hummus or tzatziki.

Brush the tops of the scones with a little milk, then bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the tops are golden.  Cool on a wire rack.

Don’t be shy about doubling or tripling the recipe – these are perfect for taking to the office, making care packages for friends, or freezing in smaller amounts. They can also be split and toasted in a toaster oven. I like them with avocado and sliced tomato with a pinch of carrot and beet sauerkraut. In another mood, they’re great with a tart currant jelly.


Holiday Indulgence


December 30, 2019  •  No Comments

Holidays are all about indulgence, and much of that involves food. In the spirit of pre-New Year’s resolution abandon, here is a recipe for Eggnog Ice Cream.

Cold, light and creamy, this is ideal after a rich meal. I use a fancy ice cream maker I got with Airmile points (Ariete Espressione Gran Gelato), but I think any churn-type maker would do the trick. This recipe makes a generous batch, so depending on your equipment it might require splitting into two churning sessions. I set the machine for about 40 minutes.

 

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of eggnog
  • 2 cups of heavy cream
  • 1 10-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tsp of vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp of nutmeg

I don’t put rum in this because that acts like an antifreeze, which cancels the whole frozen dessert factor.

All you need to do is mix thoroughly (no cooking) and pour into the churn until it’s about two-thirds full. Leaving room allows for a fluffier result. Once the ice cream is done (I look for a solid but not frozen-to-a-brick consistency) transfer to a container and put it in the freezer.  Pro-tip:  if you’re aiming for a dainty presentation, try using a very small scoop to dish it out. I actually use a melon baller so I can arrange it just so.