Nature’s Nibbles

Nothing like a little pressure to light a fire under one’s creativity. What prompted this culinary brainstorm was the end of my Master Gardner class where each student had to give a 5-minute presentation on a subject matter of their choice. I decided to talk about how gardening influences my creative pursuits and how that ties in with my social media venues (including this food blog).

IMG_8912At this point in the presentation I am describing the creation of concrete cast elephant ear bird baths. A step-by-step tutorial, is available on my blog.

IMG_3272For a little “bling” I dusted some of the cookies with colorful sparkly powders.

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What does that have to do with food you ask? Well, I do consider cooking and baking an art form. So my final slide in the presentation hinted at the edible snacks I provided the class later that evening. You know I design decorated sugar cookies for all sorts of occasions, so I thought flowers and butterflies would be an appropriate choice for Master Gardners.

Plus, based on some Internet investigation, I concocted a new Sunflower Truffle candy (recipe below) for those who need their chocolate fix—and for a bit of whimsy on the table. The flowers harden up quite well, but if any of the petals break off, just place the bottom end in some real hot water for a few seconds and “glue” them back to the base.

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Now that took care of the sweet component, but I also wanted to provide a savory nibble or two. So after a little research on Pinterest, I found these wrapped cheese lilies and stuffed grape tomato bites that are just adorable. For stuffing purposes, you can basically use anything you want to. I filled the “tulips” with a roasted garlic and herb cheese spread, and the “calla lilies” with tuna salad and a carrot stick. Both were enhanced with some greens like scallions, parsley and dill.

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My final contribution was the cheese and cracker platter. I ordered extra thick cheddar and French gruyere cheese slices from the deli and cut out shapes using mini cookie cutter flower shapes. They were then topped with a hot cherry pepper circle and placed on Roasted Red Pepper Triscuits.

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Since it’s Springtime, these would be a great addition for any gathering you have coming up. Hint, hint…

Sunflower Truffle Candies

  • Servings: 20-24
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Ingredients

Ganache

  • 8 oz. dark chocolate (70-72% cocoa)
  • 4 oz. heavy cream

Sunflower Base

  • yellow chocolate melts (green melts optional for leaves)
  • mini cupcake liners
  • 2 piping bags
  • mini cookie scoop or fruit baller
  • chocolate jimmie sprinkles

Petal Directions

  1. Make a batch of ganache (recipe below) and set it in the fridge to firm up.
  2. Separate and slightly flatten the mini cupcake liners.
  3. Melt the yellow and green (if using) chocolates separately, and fill piping bags.
  4. Thinly pipe the bottom of the liners with yellow, filling in any gaps, then, while turning, pipe up the sides to create petals.
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  5. Cool completely until set and peel off the liners.
  6. Scoop out the truffles with the mini scoop and roll them in the sprinkles. You may have to roll the ganache balls in your hands a bit to warm them up and soften the outside slightly.
  7. Place the truffles into the chocolate flower cups.
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Truffle Directions

  1. Heat the cream: Pour the cream into a small saucepan and place it over medium-low heat for a few minutes. Keep an eye on the cream — it’s not necessary to boil or simmer it. It just needs to get hot. The cream is ready when you can place a finger in the cream and keep it there for 3 to 4 seconds. Turn off the flame and remove the cream from the stove.
  2. Chop the chocolate: While the cream is heating, chop the chocolate into fine pieces.
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  3. Add the chocolate: Scoop the chocolate into the cream. Stir gently to distribute the chocolate through the cream and then let it sit for a few minutes to give the chocolate time to soften and melt.
  4. Stir the mixture: With a spatula or wooden spoon, stir the ganache. At first it might look spotty and broken but keep stirring until it comes together in a creamy mass.
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  5. Cool the ganache: Set the pan in the refrigerator so the ganache cools. Remove the pan every 5 minutes or so and stir so that the ganache cools evenly. As the chocolate begins to stiffen, stir it more frequently — it will go from soft to very hard quite suddenly. (If this happens, soften the ganache over gently simmering water, stirring until you’ve reached the right consistency again.)

http://www.lynnandruss.com

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Optional:
Using a leaf tip, pipe green leaves. Then “glue” the hardened leaves to the petals with some of the melted green.

A chocolate with a higher cocoa percentage such as 70% will make a rich, not-too-sweet ganache. The chocolate jimmies will add some more sweetness.

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Don’t stop with creating yellow sunflowers only. Think “inside the flower bed” and make Purple Coneflowers, White Daisies, or colorful Osteospermums by swapping out the hue of the chocolate melts. The possibilities are endless, and you don’t even need a green thumb…

I have to give a shout out to fellow soon-to-be-Master Gardner Cindy for her beautiful biscotti basket!

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Some of the class sample the snacks during break time:

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