Rhubarb Reborn – A Recipe of Sorts

 

IMG_2658.JPGRhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum)

Do you have a recipe or cooking technique that you discovered a long time ago and still use today? This is one of those for me: both a recipe and a technique that I haven’t seen improved upon since I discovered it way back in 1978.

Rhubarb is one of the first food plants to be harvested from gardens in these parts. It is not a true fruit but is prepared in kitchens as if it were. Rhubarb has been perfected as an ingredient in pies, cakes, crisps and cobblers (often in combination with strawberries) but the simplest preparation, commonly known as stewed rhubarb, has not traditionally been a very appetizing way to eat this fruit. It is often stringy and cooked into a sloppy mush that lacks the beauty and integrity of the real fruit with its firm red and green stalks.

Way back in June of 1978 from a publication at the time called Organic Farming and Gardening, I ran across this recipe called Rhubarb Reborn. (I wish I could give credit here to the person who contributed the article but I only have one very yellowed and food stained page.)  All I can say is that this recipe gave me a whole new rhubarb eating experience. Simple is often the best.  Trust me, this recipe will be in your repertoire for a long time.

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Rhubarb Reborn – The Recipe

To make Rhubarb Reborn you will need about a pound of rhubarb stalks, so think about 4 cups of diced fruit. The recipe is easily adaptable as you’ll see so use whatever you have on hand. Don’t peel any of the stalks as the beautiful red adds colour to the prepared fruit. All the stalks need to be split lengthwise, even the very small ones. The large ones can be split four or six times. Each split section should be about 1/2 an inch wide. (This seems to prevent any stringiness.) Stack a bundle of the split stalks and slice about 1/4 inch wide. Now you are ready to measure your diced fruit and add honey. The proportion of sweetener to diced fruit is a matter of taste. For a tart sauce, use 2/3 cup of honey to four cups of diced fruit. For a sweeter, richer sauce use 2/3 cup of honey to two cups of diced fruit. I find the more tart version plenty sweet enough for my taste. The prepared fruit needs to soak  for at least an hour so all the cut surfaces can soak in the honey – a couple of hours is even better or overnight is ideal. You’ll notice that the juices from all those cut surfaces combines with the honey.

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This part of the recipe is really important. Quickly bring the diced fruit to a simmer  and let it simmer for barely a minute.

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Remove it from the heat and put on a lid. The fruit continues to soften in the hot syrup. Don’t overcook it. Et Voilà, finished! If you wish you could add some cinnamon or ground ginger for a little extra flavouring, but I like mine just like this.

IMG_2670.JPG The colour of the prepared rhubarb mimics the climbing honeysuckle in this picture.

This preparation freezes really well and looks and tastes the same unthawed as when originally prepared. It is delicious alone but can be added to yogourt or granola for a seasonal breakfast or eaten with ice-cream for a sweeter dessert later in the day. Add a tablespoon or so of the sweetened sauce  to a glass of sparkling water for a refreshing summer drink on the patio.

 IMG_2666.JPGThe sauce gives the sparkling water a beautiful pink hue.

Rhubarb Reborn can also be made unsweetened and used in meat sauces or other dishes. For this preparation cut it the same way but instead of honey simmer it in a few tablespoons of orange juice.

Do you have a favourite way of preparing rhubarb? I would love to hear about it.

Oodles of Noodles – Zucchini That Is

I wrote a few blog posts back about my health plan for the spring which included checking out the diet called the Whole30. It is a thirty day eating plan that eliminates the common inflammatory causing foods: dairy, legumes, grains and sugar. The idea is that you slowly begin reintroducing these foods at the end of the month, monitoring your body’s reactions, if any.

One of the decisions I made early on was that if I was going to eliminate many of the foods that give variety to my diet, I had to find alternatives that add texture and flavour to my meals. My husband and I love to eat pasta. It is one of my quick, always delicious, meals and we eat it about once a week in the winter. Pasta is certainly out in this diet, but I thought of ways to continue having this texture in my foods. Spaghetti squash is an alternative, but I have never enjoyed this vegetable. I find it time consuming to prepare and the results never warranting the effort. That’s where my new spiralizer comes in. I got the idea from a friend visiting in the winter who mentioned they have been spiralizing their zucchini as a pasta alternative. I remember thinking at the time that zucchini was a pretty lame excuse for pasta, but desperate times call for desperate measures. A short three months after this conversation, I found myself buying a spiralizer.

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The spiralizer I bought is a very simple plastic machine with three different cutting blade attachments. The machine made very quick work of the zucchini and before long I had a mound of spaghetti-like strands ready for dinner.

One of my go to pasta recipes in the winter is a no fuss shrimp curry. I decided to make it with coconut milk this time and added onions, garlic, fennel, peppers, carrots, sweet potato and a jalapeño for heat. While the curry was simmering away, I gave the zucchini pasta a quick sauté in olive oil until  almost translucent. It went at the bottom of the bowl with the curry on top. Delicious.

IMG_2589Shrimp Curry with Zucchini Pasta

The zucchini experiment was so successful I decided to move on to carrots.

IMG_2570.JPGCarrot Salad with Curry Mayo, Raisins and Sliced Almonds

Disclosure: The carrots had been in winter storage way too long and were old and tough. Spiralizing them took some effort compared to the zucchini. I will definitely try carrots again but this time will use fresh.

I am quite excited now about the possibilities potatoes hold with this new machine. I’m thinking rösti potatoes, potato chips baked in the oven, and spiral crisps.

In conclusion, I think this is a kitchen tool that I will use even after I finish my month on this eating plan. It has very simple parts and is easy to clean. We’ll see.

In Search of the Wild Garlic

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Here we go into the woods in search of the wild garlic (Allium tricoccum). It is mid May and the leaves are just starting to make an appearance on the woodland trees. The forest floor hasn’t bloomed with growth yet which makes finding the wild garlic much easier.

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We have two major patches of wild garlic on our land and this is the much smaller of the two located on the flood plain of the brook. I have come here today because it is closer to the house and I’ll just harvest a few. Here in Quebec the wild garlic is a protected species because of over harvesting. By law,  a person is not allowed to pick more than 50 bulbs for personal consumption.

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I have brought along a harvest basket, some gardening gloves, and my trusty trowel.

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The garlic bulbs are plump. It is the perfect time to be harvesting.

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Now it is time for a little wash in the brook before bringing them back to house for a final wash and clean.

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All ready to be eaten. How perfect is this! They  are delicious raw in salads, sautéed, grilled or added to risottos. Last year I made a wild garlic pesto that lasted us throughout the winter.

Fiddleheads….a delicacy or just bland?

Foraging

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When I hear the word forage it conjures up images of Euell Gibbons of Stalking the Wild Asparagus fame walking for miles in wilderness areas in search of the elusive plant he is intent on finding. Which is why when I use the word foraging and fiddleheads in the same breath it feels a little bit laughable. You see, if I wanted to, I could go and pick fiddleheads at this moment in my pyjamas. They grow that close to the house – a meander down the walkway, a sharp right towards the brook, a short downhill slope and voilà!

My second confession about foraging for fiddleheads is that I am really not a big fan of this first edible wild plant to sprout. I find it bland. It tastes herbaceous, a bit like I imagine grass would taste if steamed. So this year I have set myself the mission of seeing once again if I can find anything about it that warrants the picking and cleaning and cooking.

Fiddleheads (Ostrich Ferns) before they unfurl are encased in a brown paper-like leaf that needs to be removed. I have found the best way to do this is to bounce them up and down in a basket and let the wind carry them away. They are then ready to be rinsed and this usually takes a least two rinsings. After they have been cleaned they are ready to be

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boiled or steamed. They must be well cooked to remove the tannins and any microbes present. I was taught to cook them in two changes of water and you will quickly see why. The cooking water turns quite black. Health Canada advises boiling them for 15 minutes or steaming them for 10 to 12 minutes.

I used to just boil the fiddleheads and then add salt and pepper and a little lemon, but I am thinking that the extra step of sautéing might be what takes these wild edibles from bland to enjoyable for me.

My first test with sautéing them after cooking involved adding some ginger and wild garlic leaves. I threw in a little Hoisin sauce for good measure. 

The Verdict: The ginger, garlic and Hoisin were delicious but tasted oddly weird on the just picked fronds.

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On to taste test two. This time I have decided to steam the fronds. Health Canada advises to steam for 10 to 12 minutes. I decided on the longer cooking time although I think 10 minutes would have been fine. The final sautéing step involved placing them in a frying pan with about a tablespoon of melted butter.

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A quick sauté, some added salt and pepper, a squeeze of lemon and I called them done.

The Verdict: These were the best fiddleheads I have had to date. The butter added a little extra flavour and the fronds had a fresh green taste. I have to say the appeal for me is that these are the first edible green plants to make an appearance and I feel so ready to begin eating fresh and local again. 

Whether delicious or bland is your verdict no one can dispute that they contain omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and are a source of antioxidants and dietary fiber. Enjoy!

 

Soup’s On!

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Split pea soup made with the leftover ham bone from Easter dinner.

I make soups. I think it started when we used to have a wood stove in the kitchen and putting a pot on it to simmer throughout the day seemed like such a good thing to do. We no longer have a wood stove in the kitchen but the soup making tradition has never left and it would be a rare week when there is not a homemade soup for lunch.

When I began I used to follow recipes and can still remember one of the first soups I made and loved called Lentils Monastery Style from the iconic cookbook “Diet For a Small Planet.” It was thick with carrots and lentils and was the perfect meal on a cold winter day. I sometimes still use recipes and never regret it when I do. There is something to be said for cooks who take the time to make sure the ingredients are in the right proportions and seasoned perfectly. But these days, I am more than likely to make a soup from whatever is in the fridge.

My soups usually begin with a mirepoix: a mixture of diced carrot, onion and celery sautéed gently before adding stock and whatever other ingredients I feel like adding that day. I make my own stock if I have a chicken carcass or ham bone but most often I use a prepared  organic stock. I am not a fan of dehydrated stocks in the traditional cubes. I find that they have usually been seasoned and I can always taste these seasoning in my soup. I prefer to be in charge of the seasoning.

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If a vegetable soup is in the works I will often take the time to roast the vegetables in the oven before adding them to the soup pot. They develop so much flavour when cooked this way.  Your  soup will thank you for taking  this extra step. I often end up pureeing my soups at the end or  pureeing only part of it and leaving in some recognizable vegetable pieces. But this step depends on the type of soup I am making.

Seasoning the soup is done throughout but never skip the step of  tasting the soup at the end and making final adjustments. It will often need more salt or pepper and sometimes some lemon to brighten the flavour. It can sometimes also need more of the original seasonings. It’s all a matter of taste and you will know when you have it right.

Developing a soup making habit was one of the best things I have ever done. It makes lunchtimes so easy: a pot of soup goes a long way.  I don’t think there is much that is appreciated more by those we feed than a good bowl of soup. Yum…