LAKE CITY – Moving back to a small town can be an adventure filled with new friends, stronger connections to the community and local “celebrity status” if the newcomer has a unique skill.
For Virginia (Anderson) Sheffield, a willingness to contribute to the Lake City Library Foundation’s fundraiser last spring generated a flurry of requests for her vibrant floral arrangements made from vegetables.
“I made some garnishes for the food served at the library event, which led to an invitation to speak at a Stewart Memorial Community Hospital Auxiliary meeting, followed by a request to create several arrangements for the Auxiliary’s fundraiser in September,” said Sheffield, a business consultant who recently moved back to Iowa from Virginia with her husband. “I always tell people that these arrangements and garnishes look much fancier and complicated than they really are.”
An episode of “Yan Can Cook” where Chef Martin Yan made a tomato rose sparked Sheffield’s interest in vegetable garnishes. She then started searching the Internet for more ideas. The beauty of vegetable garnishes is that they don’t require exotic ingredients, fancy kitchen gadgets or exceptional skill. Sheffield relies on a paring knife, a mini chef’s knife, a cutting board, and bamboo meat skewers that can be cut to size with poultry shears or heavy-duty snippers from her husband’s toolbox.
“You’ll find that you ruin very few vegetables when you make garnishes and floral arrangements,” said Sheffield, who added that these items can be fun to make with children who are old enough to help in the kitchen. “Don’t worry about perfection. Be creative, and if something looks really bad, just chop up the vegetables and put them in your soup.”
Virginia Sheffield recommends using round, store-bought tomatoes to make rosettes, because they are sturdier. Avoid over-ripe tomatoes, said Sheffield, who added that smaller tomatoes are easier to peel in one long piece. These garnishes add visual appeal to vegetable platters and more.
Cut a base on the tomato by making the first cut where the tomato is connected to the vine. Start peeling the tomato with a sharp paring knife. Slice the skin of the tomato in a spiral, trying to remove the entire peel in one cut.
Don’t cut the peel too thin, and don’t worry about cutting the edges too even. The peel should come off in a strip that is half an inch to 1-inch wide. Lay out the peel. Working from the blossom end, start rolling up the peel.
Arrange the peel on the plate so it looks like a rose. If the peel did not come off in one piece, roll and adjust the various pieces of peel, as needed, to create a rose.
Radish roses and radish pom-poms
These garnishes are simple to make, Sheffield said, and can be added to vegetable floral arrangements or used to accent a bowl of creamed peas, beans or asparagus. Unusally shaped radishes make the best roses and pom poms. In addition, they will open up best if they are soaked in a bowl of ice water about 24 hours after they are cut, Sheffield said.
To make radish roses, select egg-shaped radishes, if possible. Cut off the root end and top tip of the radish with paring knife. Set radish upright on cutting board. Cut a thin, vertical slice down one side of the radish, cutting about two-thirds of the way into radish. Turn the radish 180 degrees and make the second cut, making sure it’s even with the first. Make an additional slice down each of the two remaining sides of the radish. All four slices should be spaced evenly around the radish.
To make radish pom poms, select round radishes, if possible. Cut a grid across the radish by making a series of small, even slices about one-eighth to one-fourth of an inch thick. Turn the radish 90 degrees, and then once again cut small, even slices about one-eighth to one-fourth of an inch thick. The process is like dicing an onion, Sheffield said. For a pink radish pom pom, pluck off the root. For a white radish pom pom, cut off a slice on the root end to expose the white interior of the radish.
Odd-shaped red, orange and yellow peppers can make the prettiest flowers. Each pepper will make two flowers, and each lobe of each pepper will become a “petal.”
Cut the stem off each pepper. Hold the pepper in your hand, placing your thumb on the bottom of the pepper. Make an initial cut at the top center of a lobe, at least one-fourth of an inch from the top of the pepper. Cut downward at an angle from the center of the lobe down to the crease. Make a zigzag cutting pattern around the pepper, slicing into each lobe until the top of the pepper is separated from the bottom. When all the cuts are complete, remove the seeds and ribs, as desired. They can also be left in, if they offer visual appeal.
This process will make a three-petal flower, Sheffied noted. To make a six-petal flower, make two cuts per lobe.
Arranging vegetable flowers
Use bamboo meat skewers to create floral arrangements from the radish roses, radish pom poms and pepper flowers. To secure a pepper flower to a skewer and prevent the pepper from sliding down, slice a fat, one-quarter inch carrot “coin.” Screw the carrot onto the skewer so the carrot doesn’t crack apart. Then slide the pepper onto the skewer until it rests on top of the carrot coin. To add a center inside the pepper flower, slide a radish rose, radish pom pom, black or green olive, hot pepper, cauliflower or cherry tomato down onto the skewer. Radish roses and radish pom poms can also be placed on individual bamboo skewers and used as fillers in the arrangement.
Skewers can be covered with green floral tape or placed into the “tube” of green onions to hide the wood. Arrange the vegetable skewers in a vase. Iris and daylily foliage cut to different lengths can be inserted into the vase to finish the arrangement.
If arrangement is made a few days ahead of when it will be displayed, mist the vegetables with water, cover the arrangement with plastic and store it in the refrigerator.
Contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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