Thursday, September 22, 2011

Chocolate-Covered Weekend Wrap-Up

Chocolate comes from the fruit (or pod) of the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao. You can see cacao trees growing in the Fuqua Conservatory at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. On September 10-11, 2011 the Garden celebrated the cacao tree with cooking demos, tasting tables, games and crafts during Chocolate-Covered Weekend. Here are a few highlights and recipes.

These are cacao (or cocoa) beans. You probably don’t see these very often because they don’t taste good and it takes a lot of time and equipment to turn them into tasty chocolate.
Many fascinated visitors discovered the process of bean to bar in the Edible Garden Outdoor Kitchen thanks to Chef Robert Gerstenecker from Park 75 at The Four Seasons Hotel. The restaurant makes their own chocolate from raw cacao beans!
Park 75’s three back to back demos on Sunday ended in a sweet treat featuring the “homemade” chocolate.
Sugar-Coated Radical explored Savory with Chocolate.
These Atlanta Cupcake Factory delights might look too cute to eat but that didn’t slow down the visitors.
Cynthia Wong, Pastry Chet at Empire State South encouraged the crowd not to be afraid of ganache. Her recipe is below if you’d like to confront your fear of ganache at home.

Halloween Spice Candy Bars
by Cynthia Wong of Empire State South

Line an 8”x 8” square pan with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl over simmering water, gently melt:
8 oz milk chocolate

Fold in:
1/2 c crushed cornflakes or puffed rice cereal

Spread in the paper-lined pan and refrigerate until set.

Once the base layer is set, make the ganache topping, as follows:
In a small saucepan, bring to a boil:
1/2 c heavy cream
1 T butter
3 T maple syrup
1/8 tsp each: ground cinnamon, ginger, allspice

Pour the boiling cream mixture over:
8 ounces dark chocolate in a medium bowl

Put the chocolate and cream mixture back over a pot of gently simmering water. Let melt and stir to combine. Spread evenly over the crispy base. Chill until firm. Cut into small pieces and enjoy!

Garden Chef Megan McCarthy kept her chocolate recipe light and fresh!

Fresh Berries with Chocolate Sauce and Mint

½ cup water
¼ cup evaporated cane sugar
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ cup agave nectar
1 oz bittersweet or unsweetened baking chocolate, chopped
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
fresh mint, chopped
1 cup each, fresh blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, combined

Combine water and cane sugar in saucepan and heat on medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Whisk in cocoa powder and agave nectar and bring up to a boil and remove from heat. Add chopped chocolate and stir until melted and texture is smooth. Add in vanilla and stir. Let cool. Drizzle chocolate sauce over fresh berries and garnish with fresh chopped mint.

Keep an eye out for Chocolate-Covered Weekend in 2012. It’s the most indulgent time to visit the Atlanta Botanical Garden!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Absinthe and Science Cafe

Plant to Plate’s guest blogger and Atlanta Botanical Garden Conservation Intern, Taylor Arnold, is back with a preview of this Thursday's Science Cafe

Absinthe: The most misunderstood drink in history
September 15 is the fifth of six presentations in the 2011 Science Cafe series, and we are thrilled to have Dr. Eric Gaucher lead a discussion called “Resurrecting Ancient Life.” Dr. Gaucher is a professor of biology at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and his research areas include molecular biology, comparative genomics, biomedicine, molecular evolution, and origins of life.

Because this presentation will explore ancient life, we thought an ancient drink would be the best evolutionary cocktail for the evening. We invite you to sample our absinthe cocktail and learn about one of the most misunderstood drinks in history.

While most of us have heard of absinthe, it goes by quite a few other names including “the green fairy,” “the green devil,” and “the green muse” due to its natural green color. Absinthe is derived from the leaves of the herb Artemisia absinthium (commonly referred to as “grande wormwood,”), green anise, and sweet fennel. Absinthe is often called a liqueur, but because it is not bottled with added sugar, it is classified as a spirit. It has a very high level of alcohol by volume, but we typically dilute it with water before consuming it.

So where did absinthe get its reputation for enhancing creativity and alertness? Many researchers credit the wormwood plant as the key ingredient to this famed green drink. Its leaves and flowers are naturally rich in the terpene thujone, an aromatic, bitter substance believed to induce the ability to "see beyond." This was discovered by many famous nineteenth century artists and writers, and as a result, absinthe was thought to be a dangerous psychoactive drug. By 1915, it was banned in most European countries as well as the United States. It wasn’t until 1990 that absinthe made a resurgence.

Today we know that absinthe isn’t any more dangerous than other spirits on the market, yet it continues to fascinate scientists with its unique properties. Below are just a few facts we uncovered about this very versatile plant:
  • In the Middle Ages, the plant was used to exterminate tapeworm infestations while leaving the human host uninjured, even rejuvenated, by the experience.
  • Absinthe was originally marketed as a cure for several digestive diseases in the late 18th century and early 19th century, and then later sold to the French army as a way to ward off dysentery, tropical fever, and fatigue.
  • Inexpensive brands would use all type of solvents, copper and dyes to achieve the trademark green color. Those chemicals and toxins often were addressed as the cause for the murder and madness attributed to absinthe drinking.
  • The most famous of all absinthe drinkers of the Belle Époque was Vincent van Gogh, who painted many of his works in ochre's and pale greens, the colors of absinthe.
  • Absinthe was the favorite drink among struggling artists and courtesans in the Moulin Rouge and the cafes of Paris.
  • Absinthe was finally prohibited in 1915 and banned for almost a century until its recent revival.
  • In 1990, it was claimed that the scientific community finally recognized that wormwood extract is as good as chloroqine for the treatment of malaria.

Be sure to join our own Colleen Dudley for a pre-Café discussion of this fascinating beverage and discover even more facts about the wormwood plant. Stay for Dr. Gaucher’s discussion, and learn about what he calls “moving beyond the limitations of current therapeutics.”

With the support of the Atlanta Science Tavern, the Science Cafe series is sponsored by the Center for Chemical Evolution. Science Cafe is held every third Thursday from May to October. Admission to the Garden is free for members and $18.95 for non-members and includes access to Cocktails in the Garden. Evolutionary cocktails are $7, wine is $6, and beer is $5. For more information, visit

Georgia Summer Ratatouille

On a Saturday in July, we were honored to have Chef John Wolf from the Terrace on Peachtree at the Ellis Hotel giving the Edible Garden Outdoor Kitchen cooking demonstrations.

John worked a record number of vegetables and greens from the Edible Garden into a single dish: bell peppers, Malabar spinach, sorrel, eggplant, yellow squash, zucchini, okra and tomatoes!

In this recipe, Chef John used sorrel, an herb he described as “lemony basil,” “very French” and “old school.” It’s conveniently growing in a planter in the Outdoor Kitchen. If you prefer a thicker green, you might try Malabar spinach.

‘Rosita’ Eggplant, Solanum melongena var. esculentum
Ratatouille is a name for any dish that brings together a wide variety of produce. It does not have to contain a starch; though in this recipe, Israeli (or pearled) couscous is included. For those of you who love eggplant, but find it hard to cook, Chef John recommended using smaller sized eggplant or the thin, Asian variety. There are no seeds, and you can cook them just like you would zucchini.

A youngster checks out an eggplant growing in the Edible Garden.
Georgia Summer Ratatouille

2 tomatoes, small dice
2 bell peppers, small dice
2 small eggplants (preferably Asian or Rosita variety), small dice
2 zucchini or yellow squash, small dice
6 okra, sliced into rounds
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch of fresh herbs such as basil, oregano, mint, thyme, or tarragon (or a mix), roughly chopped
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat a small amount of oil in sauté pan until smoking, add okra first and quickly sauté until caramelized.
2. Add tomatoes, peppers, and garlic, cook for two minutes to allow peppers to soften and tomatoes to release their liquid. Do not allow garlic to burn.
3. Add in eggplant and squash, allow to cook for one minute then take off of heat and allow the dish to finish in the residual heat so the squash and eggplant are not overcooked and retain their texture.
4. Season the dish to your liking and add in the fresh herbs. Toss and serve over a salad or a starch such as rice or couscous.

Recipe by Chef Jon Wolf, Terrace on Peachtree

Friday, September 9, 2011

Chocolate-Covered Weekend!

Indulge in a weekend of cooking demonstrations, chocolate bites, and more this Saturday & Sunday, September 10 - 11 from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.!

Stop by the Edible Garden Outdoor Kitchen where Atlanta chocolatiers and pastry chefs whip up decadent treats or enjoy chocolate games and crafts with the family. Visit the cacao tree where it all begins and discover more about the chocolate making process.

Garden Chef Megan McCarthy likes to keep it healthy and fresh so she’ll be preparing Fresh Berries with Chocolate Sauce and Mint. Catch one of her cooking demos at 10 a.m. on Saturday and 10 & 11 a.m. on Sunday.

Taria Camerino from Sugar-Coated Radical returns to the Outdoor Kitchen with a savory and chocolate combo on Saturday at 11 a.m.

We’re excited to have The Atlanta Cupcake Factory back at the Garden. If you haven’t tried one of their delectable creations, you don’t want to miss this!

Cynthia Wong, pastry chef at Empire State South is sure to make you drool on Saturday at 2 p.m. with her Don’t be Afraid of Ganache! demo.

If you want to know more about how cocao beans become chocolate, be in the Outdoor Kitchen on Sunday at noon, 1 or 2 p.m. when Chef Robert Gerstenecker, Park 75 at the Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta, demos From Bean to Bar.

We love Lisa Smith, pastry chef at Bluepointe, and you will too. Stop by her tasting tent on the Great Lawn between 12:30 and 3 p.m. (or while supplies last) to sample Vahlrona chocolate Cremeux filled with Peanut Butter Pastry Crème, topped with Salted Caramel!

Also on the Great Lawn you can sample a lighter offering – chocolate tea by Just Add Honey.

In the Visitor Center you’ll be greeted or bid farewell with a fudge sample from Sweet Surrender Fudge.

Bring the whole family to Chocolate-Covered Weekend! If you have a future pastry chef at home, make sure you plan on joining the Chocolate Lollipops Drop-In Family Class from 1 – 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Nominal fee payable at the door, no registration necessary.

We’ll see you there!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Molecular Mixology

Plant to Plate’s guest blogger and Atlanta Botanical Garden Conservation Intern, Taylor Arnold, is back with interesting connections between science and cocktails: 

Molecular Mixology: Science Never Tasted So Good 

Our latest installment of the Science Cafe series included a presentation by Dr. Greg Springsteen, professor of chemistry at Furman University. The event took place on Thursday, August 18 at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Dr. Springsteen's research covered prebiotic chemistry, and his discussion explored the unique compounds and molecular structure of living systems.

Since the theme of the evening was "Chemically Defining Life," we thought a gin fizz would be the perfect evolutionary cocktail. Naturally this got us thinking about molecular mixology, since most of our favorite adult beverages contain thousands of unique compounds. In other words, we're exploring the science of deliciousness.

So what exactly is molecular mixology? In short, it is a way of creating new drinks by manipulating their ingredients on the molecular level. This process is about changing the texture, viscosity, density, and molecular structure of a liquid. For example, mixing alcohol with liquid nitrogen, alginates, and chlorides can result in specialty drinks like whiskey marshmallows and carbonated mojito spheres.

To help demonstrate molecular mixology to guests at our most recent Science Cafe, our own Paul Blackmore gave a pre-Cafe discussion on the gin fizz.

The gin fizz, we learned, was taking on new forms long before we called it “molecular.” The Ramos Gin Fizz, for example, changes the texture and shape of the liquid into foam. Other cocktails that were (perhaps) ahead of their time include these old favorites:
  • The Old Fashioned - A seasoned bartender will take several minutes to slowly add the sugar and bitters, then repeated rounds of bourbon and ice with a slow stir. To find out why the drink tastes better than using the same ingredients splashed in the glass with a fast stir, they used an electric stirrer and measured the temperature and dilution of the drink. It turns out this doesn’t change anything about the temperature of the drink, but they theorize what is different between the two is that the gentler, slower method releases the volatile flavors from the alcohol, but they land in the liquid of the drink instead of in the air.
  • The Bloody Mary - This drink has all the different taste sensations: sweet (tomato), salt (salt), sour (citrus), bitter (olive brine), umami (tomato, Worcestershire), and the possibly newly-identified taste category of smoke.
  • The Clover Club - The egg whites make a nice foamy texture on the drink, and the air bubbles that foam on the surface trap air and aromas so we can experience them more intently when we sip from the glass.

Some foodies and bartenders still argue that "molecular" is just a way of thinking about drinks, but if you attended our latest Science Cafe, you get to be the judge. 
With the support of the Atlanta Science Tavern, the Science Cafe series is sponsored by the Center for Chemical Evolution. Science Cafe is held every third Thursday from May to October. Admission to the Garden is free for members and $18.95 for non-members and includes access to Cocktails in the Garden. Evolutionary cocktails are $7, wine is $6, and beer is $5. For more information, visit

Tomato & Quinoa Relish

The Edible Garden radiated tomatoes this summer! We have green tomatoes…
Tomato 'Basrawya'

…red tomatoes…

Tomato 'Basrawya'
…big tomatoes and small tomatoes.  We even have tomatoes growing over our heads!

Tomatoes ‘Violet Jasper’ and ‘Sungold’ growing in large planters that hang from the roof of the Outdoor Kitchen. How convenient!

Garden Chef Christina Curry put the ample tomatoes to good use in her recipe for the weekend demonstrations.

Tomato & Quinoa Relish

1 lb tomatoes, diced
2 cups cooked quinoa*
1/4 cup green onion, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
3 T olive oil
lime juice, to taste
lemon juice, to taste
salt & cracked black pepper, to taste

In a bowl, combine the tomatoes, quinoa, green onion and cilantro and gently toss. Add the olive oil, lime juice and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Serve with your favorite vegetables, meats, or on top of a salad.

*To prepare: Wash 1 cup of quinoa in a bowl of cold water, drain the water, repeat twice. Place the quinoa in a pot, add 2 cups of water, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until the quinoa is fluffy.

Don’t like cilantro? Chef Christina recommends tarragon and orange juice instead.

The finished dish with a very, very delicious 'Cour di Bue' tomato.

More Garden Chef recipes here.

Agave and the Science Cafe

I’m happy to introduce Plant to Plate’s guest blogger, Taylor Arnold, Conservation Intern at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Taylor is a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design with a B.A. in Illustration and an M.F.A. in Professional Writing. Since 2006 she has been a Contributing Writer for The Piedmont Review where she writes a variety of articles on local art galleries, restaurants, boutiques and nightspots. Her work has also appeared in Catalyst Magazine, as well as Points North, Jezebel, Atlanta INtown, Skirt! and Atlanta Woman.

Just a few steps from the Edible Garden, through the Fuqua Orchid Center and into the Hardy Succulent Garden, you’ll find an edible plant with an interesting story – the agave. Taylor recounts a Science Cafe presentation where the plant took center stage and attendees sipped on frozen margaritas - thanks to the agave.

Science Café Welcomes Dr. Kathy Parker to the Atlanta Botanical Garden

Thursday, July 21 was the third of six presentations in the 2011 series of Science Cafes at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, and we were delighted to have Dr. Kathy Parker as our featured speaker. Dr. Parker recently retired from the University of Georgia after 31 years in the Department of Geography. Her research covers plant population dynamics and genetics in the southwestern deserts, and she is particularly knowledgeable on the Arizona agave. Her discussion at the Garden covered the ancient domestication of agave in the pre-Columbian Southwest.

In keeping with the theme of the evening, the evolutionary cocktail of the month was a frozen margarita. Guests who arrived early were invited to partake in a pre-Café discussion of the evolution of the margarita and learn about the botany, geography, and chemistry of its ingredients.

While most of us know that the agave plant is used to make tequila, it may come as a surprise that agave has many other purposes. So in conjunction with Dr. Parker’s discussion, we dug up a few more fun facts about agave:

• There are about 250 different species of agave in North and South America.
• Four major parts of the agave are edible: the flowers, leaves, stalks, and the sap.
• Agave azul, or blue agave, is used for the production of tequila.
• The agave Americana is called the “century plant” because it was thought to flower once in 100 years, but it actually flowers every 20 to 30 years.
• Agave syrup (also called agave nectar) is used as an alternative to sugar in cooking.
• The juice from the leaves of the flowering stem will lather in water like soap.
• Natives of Mexico used the agave to make pens, nails, and string.
• Indians used agave leaves to treat itches, sores, and bruises.
• The juice from many species of agave can cause reddening and blistering of the skin.
• Agave nectar has the same number of calories as sugar, four calories per gram. That works out to 16 calories per teaspoon.
• Many vegans prefer to use agave nectar in recipes calling for honey as no animals are involved in its processing.
• In 2001, the Mexican Government and European Union agreed upon the classification of tequila and its categories. All blue agave tequila must be made from the Weber blue agave plant, to rigorous specifications and only in certain Mexican states.

In addition to these stats, Dr. Parker explored the influences that native people had on the landscape of the Southwest. And she certainly knows what she’s talking about. For the last 35 years, Dr. Parker has spent time in Arizona and New Mexico researching the evolution of the agave plant. In 2002 she contributed to a book called Western Wilderness: Fire, Native Peoples, and the Natural Landscape where she explored fire in the pre-European lowlands of the American southwest. “I’m fascinated by the adaptation of plants and animals to such a tough environment,” she said. “This is a great opportunity to share the story of the landscape and emphasizing the importance of maintaining biodiversity.”

As for her presentation at the Garden, Dr. Parker certainly appealed to a broad audience of science enthusiasts. “I hope to stimulate interest in the ways people have used native plant species in traditional agricultural systems,” she said. “Agave serves as a great example for several reasons. It is a plant that most people are familiar with. It played a crucial role for many different cultures in Mesoamerica and farther north both prehistorically and more recently. Agave cultivation also nicely illustrates both the importance of maintaining biodiversity and the role humans have played in shaping seemingly wild landscapes we see today.”

Dr. Parker gave her presentation in the Fuqua Orchid Center, and following her discussion, we encouraged guests to stay for a guided tour of the conservatory with Paul Blackmore, manager of the Garden’s Fuqua Conservatory.

Admission to the Garden is always free for members and $18.95 to non-members, and includes access to Cocktails in the Garden. Science Café is held every third Thursday from May to October.
For more information, visit