A Culinary Adventure, From Gardens and Markets to Restaurants and Home Kitchens
Apr 17, 2012
09:59 AM
Local Flavor

Wonderful Weeds

Wonderful Weeds

The violet bar

Weeds are things that everyone needs (I think the Lorax might agree)--though that does depend on which plants you consider weeds. The dictionary defines a weed as “a plant that is not valued where it is growing,” which leads me to think about how a plant's value is determined.  In my garden, a plant's desirability is often based on whether it is beautiful or edible—or both! I am weeding out the garlic mustard and creeping Charlie, but the wild violets and dandelions will stay.

In our family, violets are not weeds, but “beautiful edibles.” I recently made the most of our early spring by decorating my son’s chocolate chip birthday cookie bars with the small white and purple flowers, just as my mother used do for my sister’s May birthday cake. The delicate petals add whimsical elegance; they make a colorful garnish for salads as well.

Our daughter, on the other hand, loves dandelions.  She calls them “sunflowers” which makes perfect sense, given the cluster of glowing gold flowers on each stem. She insists that we stop and pick a bouquet of dandelions for her classroom each morning. She’s not alone; many people enjoy dandelion teas and tinctures for their purported cleansing properties, or eat their bitter and very nutritive greens, and flower buds.

The violets on my son's birthday bars surprised and delighted his classmates, and sparked a lively conversation about edible flowers.  I clarified a number of times, “you can eat them, but you don't have to eat them.” Wild violets are in the family Violaceae, the same group as pansies, another common edible flower.  They have a very mild taste and texture, sometimes with a hint of sweet nectar. Whether you decide to eat “weeds” or not (please make sure they come from a chemical-free yard!), they add a wonderful touch of spring to your food.

Violet Birthday Bars

Blondie Bars (recipe below)

Frosting (recipe below)

Violets

Sprinkles

Blondie Bars (from King Arthur Flour)

2/3 cup (1 1/3 sticks, 5 1/4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
1 pound (2 cups, firmly packed) brown sugar, light or dark
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) vinegar, white or cider
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 3/4 cups (11 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour or King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour
1 3/4 cups (8 ounces) chocolate chunks or 2 cups (12 ounces) chocolate chips
2 cups (about 8 ounces) coarsely chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts, or almonds)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 10" x 15" jelly roll pan or 9" x 13" pan.

Combine the butter, sugars, salt, and vinegar, stirring to combine. If the mixture is super-hot from the melted butter, let it cool to lukewarm. Add the eggs, espresso powder, vanilla, and baking powder, beating well. Stir in the flour, mixing thoroughly, then the chocolate chunks and nuts.

Scoop the batter into the prepared pan, using your wet fingers to smooth the top. Bake the bars for 30 minutes (for the jelly roll pan), or about 38 minutes (for the 9" x 13" pan), until the top is golden and shiny, and the center is just barely baked through. Use the sharp tip of a knife to peek into the center; it should be very damp, but not unbaked. Yes, this puts a hole right in the center of the pan of bars; but you're going to cut them into squares anyway, and just assume the one with the hole will be yours—baker's privilege!

Remove the bars from the oven, and cool to lukewarm before cutting. A plastic knife will glide right through these sticky bars without tearing them. Serve with ice cream, if desired. To serve bars warm after they've cooled, reheat briefly in the microwave, or slip them into a toaster bag and pop into the toaster. Yield: 24 bars from the 9" x 13" pan, 35 bars from the 10" x 15" pan.

Best Chocolate Frosting Ever--adapted from America's Test Kitchen

enough for a two layer cake

20 TBS unsalted organic butter, softened, room temp.
1 cup confectioners sugar
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa - Valrhona preferred
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
8 oz. milk chocolate, melted and cooled to around 85 degrees. - important step, do not add the hot melted chocolate to your frosting, you will ruin it.

In a food processor with the blade attachment process the butter, sugar, cocoa until smooth. Add corn syrup and vanilla and process again. Scrape the sides as needed. Pulse until you have a smooth and creamy frosting. Use immediately for best results. Or pull out of the refrigerator about an hour before using it.

Photo by Otehlia Cassidy

About This Blog

Writing has always provided an anchor for my passions, which focus deeply on food, dance, environmental conservation and culture. I grew up “helping” my dad cultivate a prolific garden that produced too many radishes and watching my mom make almost all of our food from scratch, including horehound candy. Meanwhile I took my first African dance class in high school, which ignited my continuing quest to travel to West Africa, via Europe and South America, to study dance.

Through my travels, I learned that we are all connected by food, and our basic need to eat. Since moving to Madison in 1998 to pursue degrees in conservation biology and dance, I have developed an appreciation for the richness of our local food community, and a great desire to share it with others. What started as a personal food blog, A World of Flavors, has since grown into a business teaching cooking classes and leading local and international food tours.

I look forward to sharing culinary adventures with you through my Madison Magazine blog Local Flavor and monthly Dining In recipe column.

  – Otehlia Cassidy
Follow Otehlia on Twitter @madisoneats

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