What do fathers like to do on Father’s Day? Go to the Atlanta Botanical Garden and eat bugs, weeds, and flowers of course! With the adventurous eating theme in the Edible Garden, there was only one person in Atlanta that we trusted to cook bizarre delicacies: Chef Ryan Cobb. Beginning a relationship with the Garden in 2007 as the bug chef during Big Bugs and Killer Plants, Ryan cooked mealworms, crickets, and scorpions in such a way that made people rush for a sample. Chef Ryan has been the Executive Chef at the Colonnade Restaurant for almost four years now. In addition to being in the AJC over a dozen times, he has appeared on 11Alive news, The Food Network, The Travel Channel, and PBS. We hope that Chef Ryan will soon demonstrate his fine dining background coupled with classical southern cuisine in the Outdoor Kitchen sans bugs. As today’s guest blogger, Chef Ryan comments on his Father’s Day experience and shares a few recipes.
This was my first visit to the Garden since Big Bugs and Killer Plants. Wow! What amazing changes at the Garden! First of all, I was to cook in the new Outdoor Kitchen in the Edible Garden. This kitchen is beautiful and well appointed. It had everything I needed to cook bugs, flowers, weeds, or a four course fine dining meal. In previous years, I had prepared food in the Children's Amphitheater. I was faced with the challenge of preparing food for large crowds on two portable electric burners! That would not be the case this time around!
Despite intense heat and humidity, there was a large crowd forming for the first show of the day. I chose to cook bugs for the first show and I whipped up three tasty dishes joined with a fact filled presentation on edible insects. Today I was preparing Crickets and Grits, Meal Worm Peanut Brittle, and Low Country BBQ'd Hissing Cockroaches. At the end of the show, I had convinced a large portion of the crowd to come up and try some bugs; I actually ended up running out of the cockroaches at the end of the day!
Low Country BBQ'd Hissing Cockroaches awaiting the grill
Shortly after the first show, I jumped into a kudzu and edible flowers presentation. Starting with kudzu, I challenged the crowd to "eat the vine that ate the South!!!” After a short description on kudzu, I prepared Stuffed Kudzu Leaves and Tempura Fried Kudzu Leaves. These two dishes were easy sells, and most of the crowd tasted one or both of them. Immediately, I switched gears and started an edible flower demonstration. The flowers at the show today consisted of: Orchids, Chrysanthemums, Snap Dragons, Marigolds, and Chamomile. With this medium, I prepared Caramelized Orchids, Orchid and Aspic Glazed Brie Cheese, Flower Petal Ice Cubes, and Flower Tea. Once again, there was little fear factor in eating flowers and the crowd ate them up!
Orchid and Aspic Glazed Brie Cheese
All in all, on a hot humid day, there were large crowds of people eagerly awaiting the opportunity to try new and different types of cuisine. I think everyone in attendance learned something too!!!
12 edible orchids
2 egg whites
1/4 cup superfine sugar
Carefully rinse and dry all of the flowers, set on a paper towel, and allow to dry. Separately, vigorously whisk egg whites together adding a touch of cool water if the egg whites need to be thinned to a brushable texture. Carefully brush egg white mixture onto all parts of the flower. Immediately dust, by hand, with the sugar. Place on a wire rack and allow to dry and harden at room temperature overnight. Enjoy as a colorful garnish!
Caramelized Orchids on far right
Clear Meal Worm Brittle
500 meal worms, dry roasted
8 cups sugar
1 cup water
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
2 oz. unsalted butter
Combine sugar, water, and cream of tartar in a heavy bottomed, non reactive saucepan. Over low heat, stir until all ingredients are incorporated and dissolved. Increase heat to medium high and bring to hard boil. Place a candy thermometer in mixture and cook until 320 F (light caramel stage). Remove from heat and quickly, with an oiled wooden spoon, incorporate the meal worms and butter. Carefully pour mixture onto a lightly oiled baking sheet and spread to 1/4 inch thick. Allow to cool completely then break into desired size pieces. Store in an airtight container in between wax or parchment paper.
I don't make a habit of picking flowers and eating them, so when it was suggested that I eat the petals of the Pinapple Guava flower I was pleasantly suprised. These fleshy, white petals are sweet, delicious, fruity, with a slight tang or bite. There's a row of Pinapple Guava plants along one side of the Edible Garden as well as a beautiful tree in another part of the Garden. When I was harvesting flowers for the cooking demonstration, I found someone else feasting on the edible flowers of this very tree. This critter couldn't get enough of them!
Frantically pick all of your Pineapple Guava flowers before the squirrels eat them. Now what? This was the challenge presented to Chef Christina Curry. Also abundant in the Garden are several types of mint. Christina came up with a delicious herbal iced tea.
Pineapple Guava Mint Iced Tea
8 cups water
2 cup Pineapple guava flowers
2 cups mint leaves
1/2 cup agave nectar
1. In a medium pot bring water to a boil
2. Add the pineapple guava flowers and mint, turn the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes
3. Turn off the heat and allow to steep an additional 5 minutes
4. Strain tea through a very fine strainer
5. Chill the tea for two hours before serving
6. Sweeten with agave nectar
6. Garnish with pineapple guava flowers and fresh mint
Find printable versions of the Garden Chef recipes here.
It’s my pleasure to introduce Plant to Plate's first guest blogger Colleen Dudley, someone who knows the Edible Garden from root to tip. Colleen is the Atlanta Botanical Garden Senior Horticulturist in charge of the Edible Garden. After graduating from the University of Georgia with a degree in horticulture, she started at the Atlanta Botanical Garden taking care of the Children’s Garden. In addition, for the past five years she has helped in the Garden’s annual display design and coordination and just recently has started to use those skills in the new Edible Garden. She spends her days starting seeds, planting, harvesting, watering, weeding, and planning for future edibles. I enjoy meeting with her each week as she gives me the scoop on what’s ready to be eaten, how to harvest without compromising aesthetics, and sometimes she slips me an edible flower or points out something I'd completely missed. I asked Colleen to write about a common curiosity of visitors: the cardoon.
In the Edible Garden this spring, the plant I have gotten the most questions about is the cardoon or Cynara cardunculus. This plant is a member of the aster family and closely related to a familiar vegetable, the artichoke. Cardoons get pretty large as far as vegetables go, 3-4’ wide and just as tall when they bloom. In many perennial borders we have used cardoon in the past, not because it is edible, but because it is a beautiful accent plant. It has bold gray-blue leaves that other colorful plants can play off of and bright violet-blue thistle looking flowers that really stand out amongst the plentiful yellow, orange and red flowers that comprise most borders.
But enough about its good looks; the reason it’s included in the vegetable garden is because it is actually edible. The center rib of each leaf can be cooked a variety of ways and has a delicious flavor reminiscent of an artichoke. When the leaves are young, harvest stalks whose midribs are no wider than ¾”, anything larger than that will be too tough and bitter to eat. Remove all of the leaf part from the midrib and wash the rib well. Cut the rib into 1-2” pieces and soak it in a salt water solution for an hour. This step helps to remove some of the bitter flavor that cardoons can sometimes possess. Then you’re ready to cook with it. I’ve seen many recipes that fry it or cover it in cheese and while I’m sure those are delicious; I chose to follow a healthier recipe where the cardoons are boiled in water then sautéed with onion, pine nuts, thyme and honey. You can check the recipe out here.
To grow cardoons in your yard, you just need full sun and well drained soil amended with some organic matter. Water and fertilize regularly. In the spring, keep an eye out for aphids. They love to hang out on the undersides of cardoon leaves. You can keep these guys under control through early detection and a few applications of an insecticidal soap. If you don’t have a vegetable garden to grow you cardoon in, why not add them to a perennial border where they will provide a beautiful accent and tender tasty ribs that you can harvest at will.
As you take a stroll through the Edible Garden you may notice the beautiful design, recognize a plant that you had in your garden as a child, take a minute to smell the many herbs, or wonder about a plant that doesn't look like something you've ever seen in a grocery store. Allow me to introduce Veronica Cauliflower.
The color is greener than cauliflower and yellower than broccoli. Its florets form small peaks reminicent of spiraling seashells or alien spacecrafts. Do not be intimidated! Use it as you would cauliflower and enjoy it raw or cooked. Chef Christina Curry accepted this new veggie and created a lovely side dish. Learn more about Chef Christina here.
Veronica Cauliflower & Kale with Orzo
2 cups Veronica Cauliflower florets
3 cups julienne kale
2 cups cooked orzo
3 T olive oil
1/4 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 T chopped Flat leaf parsley
1/4 cup lemon juice
Kosher salt & cracked black pepper, to season
Lemon Zest, to garnish
Shaved Parmesan, to garnish
1. Heat 3 T of olive oil over medium high heat
2. Add garlic and onions, cook for 1 minute
3. Next, add cauliflower and kale and allow to cook until both are tender
4. Add the orzo pasta
5. Add 1/4 cup of lemon juice and parsley
6. Season with Salt and Pepper
7. Garnish with Shaved Parmesan and Lemon Zest
Find printable versions of the Garden Chef recipes here.
From botton to top: Veronica Cauliflower, Cardoon, and the Outdoor Kitchen
Showcasing the farm-to-table concept of cultivating and consuming fresh, local and sustainably-grown food, the Edible Garden project not only returns the 1-acre asphalt parking lot to green space but also demonstrates that fruits and vegetables make beautiful landscape plants.
The garden includes an Outdoor Kitchen where Atlanta's top chefs will present cooking demonstrations using garden ingredients. On weekends, the Garden Chef demonstrates seasonal recipes using ingredients harvested straight from the Edible Garden. And, as for those leftovers go, any food not used in educational programs will be donated to local charities.