Pork and beans

David works an afternoon shift half the time, which means I’m alone to make and eat dinner (and leave his in the fridge to be reheated, if necessary, or just eaten as is at about midnight). These meals are often vegetarian (or minimal meat) versions of the following: big salad, grain salad, grains and veggies, soup and pork and beans. Well, actually, pork and legumes … and turkey and legumes.

Chickpea stew.

Chickpea stew (pork and legumes)
This recipe stems from my love of chickpeas. Olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and cumin seemed obvious, as I always add them to my hummus. Onions or shallots, peppers (and sometimes chopped celery) and tomatoes add flavour, nutrients and body. And bacon keeps David (who is not quite as enthusiastic about chickpeas) happy.
The first time I made it, he told me the next day, “It looked like I wouldn’t like it, but I did.” High compliments indeed.

4 slices of bacon, chopped
1 medium onion or 2 large shallots, finely chopped
1 large red pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 28-oz can tomatoes, chopped (or the equivalent of garden fresh or frozen Romas)
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
10 mL (2 tsp) cumin
15 mL (1 tbsp) lemon juice (or more to taste)
250 mL (1 cup) whole-wheat couscous
olive oil
salt and pepper

Boil 500 mL (2 cups) water in medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add a splash of olive oil, then couscous. Cover and let sit until couscous has absorbed water. Fluff with a fork before serving.
In a large pan over medium heat, fry bacon until cooked. (We like it slightly pliable, but if you like it crispy, go for it.) Drain bacon grease.
Put a little olive oil in the pan. Add onions/shallots and peppers, season with salt and pepper and sauté for 5 minutes. Add cumin and garlic, cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Add chickpeas and tomatoes and simmer until thickened, 10 to 15 minutes.
Add lemon juice. Stir. Taste and adjust seasoning by adding more salt, pepper and/or lemon juice.
Ladle stew over couscous and serve.

Lentils and kielbasa.

Lentils and kielbasa (turkey and legumes)
This recipe is adapted from CookThink.com
I’ve upped the vegetables and Dijon and cut back on the kielbasa.
I find frying turkey kielbasa until browned dries it out, so I recommend a light sauté for a little colour and flavour.
Sometimes I add chopped fresh tomatoes to this dish before serving.

375 mL (1-1/2 cup) green lentils, picked through and rinsed
250 g turkey kielbasa, cut in half length-wise and thinly sliced
3 medium carrots, sliced
2 small onions, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
45 mL (3 tbsp) olive oil
15 mL (1 tbsp) red wine vinegar
15 mL (1 tbsp) Dijon mustard
10 mL (2 tsp) chopped fresh marjoram or 2 mL (1/2 tsp) dried or ground

Combine lentils and 1 L (4 cups) of water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. When water boils, reduce heat to low, cover and cook until lentils are tender, 15-20 minutes. Drain.
In a large pan, heat 15 mL (1 tbsp) of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add kielbasa and sauté for a few minutes until warmed through and slightly brown. Remove.
In the same pan, heat 15 mL (1 tbsp) olive oil over medium heat. Add carrots, season with salt and pepper; cook 5-6 minutes, stirring often. Add onions, garlic and marjoram; cook until vegetables are tender, stirring often.
Add lentils to pan with vegetables. Stir in kielbasa, vinegar, remaining olive oil and mustard.


First rhubarb harvest

Canada red rhubarb, planted last year, photograph taken early spring.

With David’s parents visiting last weekend, I decided to harvest the first of the Canada red rhubarb I planted last spring – and make stewed rhubarb Eton mess for dessert.
I cut several stalks – although later learned you can remove them with a strong tug as well.
The stewed rhubarb I ate as a kid contained, I am positive, only two ingredients: rhubarb and white sugar.
Since whipped cream and meringue (the other two ingredients in Eton mess) are quite neutral, I decided to use the rhubarb as a vehicle for more flavour.
We had a busy day planned for Saturday (including stops at the St. Lawrence Market for fish and Mountain Equipment Co-op for our upcoming trip to Colorado), so I stewed the rhubarb and made the meringue Friday night.
The beauty of Eton mess is the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s also quite pretty layered in a glass – too bad I forgot to take a photograph.

Stewed rhubarb Eton mess

stewed rhubarb
whipped cream

Layer stewed rhubarb, meringue pieces and whipped cream in a glass.

Stewed rhubarb
Use more or less orange rind and/or ginger depending on your taste preference.
Adapted from this recipe.

rhubarb, chopped into 2-cm (1-inch) pieces
80 mL (1/3 cup) brown sugar per 250 mL (1 cup) rhubarb
5 mL (1 tsp) grated orange rind per 250 mL (1 cup) rhubarb
5 mL (1 tsp) grated ginger per 250 mL (1 cup) rhubarb
15 mL (1 tbsp) water

In a covered saucepan on high heat, bring ingredients to a boil.
Remove lid, reduce heat and simmer until rhubarb is soft and desired consistency is reached, about 10 minutes.
Stewed rhubarb will keep in the fridge for at least a week. You could also freeze it.

A meringue with two egg whites will make Eton mess to serve four.

egg whites
60 mL (1/4 cup) granulated sugar per egg white

Preheat oven to 250 F.
Using stand mixer, whip egg whites on high until frothy. Slowly add sugar, continuing to whip, until mixture is glossy and stiff peaks form.
Spread on parchment lined baking sheet. Bake 1 hour. Allow to cool. Break into pieces. Store in an airtight container.

Whipped cream

heavy (35 per cent) cream
granulated sugar

Using stand mixer, whip cream (I used less than 250 mL for four servings) until soft peaks start to form. Add sugar, continuing to whip, to taste.

Just add chives

If there has ever been a vegetable or herb garden on the property where you live, chances are you have chives, popping up faithfully every spring in clumps of hollow grass-like shoots followed by purple buds and eventually fuzzy blooms.

One of several clumps of chives growing in my herb garden.

Don’t overlook these ubiquitous perennial herbs as a way to add some fresh onion-garlic flavour to just about any dish.
Need an example? Here’s three ways I used chives just last weekend.

Sauté mushroom in a little butter in a non-stick pan. Beat eggs with sour cream, 5 mL (1 tsp) or so per egg, salt, pepper and lots of chopped chives. Add egg mixture to pan. Cook over medium-low heat until eggs are nearly set, stirring gently at the beginning to speed things up. Add shredded havarti. When cheese is melted and eggs are set, flip one half of omelette over the other and serve.

Barbecue baked potatoes
Poke baking potato several times with a knife. Microwave on high for about 8 minutes, until soft, flipping once. Wrap in foil. Toss in the coals while you’re grilling your meat. Serve with sour cream and chopped chives.

Asian-style chicken thighs
To your favourite barbecue sauce (store-bought or homemade), add fish sauce, sriracha (rooster) hot sauce and a little sesame oil. Taste for heat and seasonings and adjust as necessary. Marinate bone-in skinless chicken thighs in sauce at least four hours. Grill or bake. Serve sprinkled with chopped chives.

When you trim chives, they will produce a second growth (and maybe even a third depending on the weather and your consumption) during the same season. Which means you can be picking and eating them in May (in an asparagus tart – recipe to come), August (along with lots of fresh dill for a new potato salad) and October (as a garnish for your roasted squash soup).

Asparagus, Take 1

I had the best intentions of writing a series of posts on asparagus this spring — well in time to make the most of the season. But here we are several weeks (and many meals) into the local season without a mention of this favourite green vegetable.
Time to rectify that.

I planted my 19 (I ordered 18, but received one extra) crowns in deep trenches on April 25. I feared for a couple that I found overturned, roots exposed, by some sort of animal (neighbour’s dog, perhaps?) a few days later. But I tucked them back into the soil and today, they are all sporting one or two leggy spears. To encourage robust plants, asparagus should not be harvested the first year it is planted (and only sparingly the second year), so I cannot yet report on the taste. But I was thrilled to see the purple-green shoots poking through the soil at the east end of the garden.

Roasted asparagus.

Roasted Asparagus
Our favourite, simple yet delicious, way to eat fresh asparagus. This feeds two at our house — but it entirely depends on what else you are serving and how much you like asparagus.

1 bunch of asparagus
15 mL (1 tbsp) olive oil
sea salt
fresh ground pepper
juice of half a lemon
zest of half a lemon (optional)

Preheat oven – 350 to 400 F works. (I adjust depending on what else I may have in the oven for dinner.)
Wash and trim asparagus. Snap off the woody ends and save for soup. (Recipe to come.)
Toss with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and lemon zest if using.
Place in single layer on baking sheet.
Roast for 8 to 10 minutes until spears are bright green and still slightly firm.
Spritz with lemon juice. Serve.

1. Skip the lemon and salt. Add soy sauce to taste with the olive oil.
2. Skip the lemon and salt. Substitute melted butter for olive oil. Add soy sauce.
3. Add a couple cloves of finely minced garlic to the olive oil.
4. A couple minutes before the asparagus is done, sprinkle with finely grated Parmesan cheese. Return to oven for two minutes.

Homemade ricotta

Ricotta draining.

File this under: It’s so easy why didn’t I do it sooner?
Ricotta requires two ingredients: milk and some sort of acid to curdle it. In the past couple months, I’ve tried two methods for making my own. The first combined three per cent milk and buttermilk; the second three per cent milk, white wine vinegar and two per cent yogurt with live bacteria.
The final result in both cases was excellent. I used batch one in chicken cannelloni and batch two mixed with spinach and an egg for a layer in a roasted vegetable lasagna.
I think the curds formed quicker with the yogurt.
Here’s the basic technique.

Homemade ricotta mixed with spinach for lasagna.

Homemade ricotta
Ingredients 1
4 L (8 cups) milk
500 mL (2 cups) buttermilk

Ingredients 2
4 L (8 cups) milk
125 mL (1/2 cup) plain yogurt
5 ml (1 tsp) white wine vinegar

Line colander with two layers of cheesecloth, leaving enough to gather.
Combine ingredients in a large pot. Heat over medium-high stirring constantly until curds start to separate from whey (175 to 180 Fahrenheit). Turn off heat and let sit for a few minutes, allowing more curds to form. Pour through colander. Let rest 15 to 20 minutes. If necessary, gather cheesecloth around ricotta to press out additional liquid.
Transfer to bowl, cover and refrigerate.

Can I call this a salad?

Spinach with pancetta, mushroom and egg ingredients.

While a green salad is on the menu almost every day of the week spring and summer, eating with the seasons makes it a rarity during the winter.
Sometimes, though, I just give in to the craving for fresh and green. Combine it with a few more robust ingredients and you’ve got a hearty main course that could really go by a name other than salad.

Spinach with pancetta, mushroom and egg
Original recipe. Serves 2.

6-8 handfuls of baby spinach
75 g (2-1/2 oz) pancetta, diced
10-12 crimini mushrooms, sliced
2 shallots, halved and thinly sliced
2 eggs
olive oil
15 mL (1 tbsp) white wine vinegar
5 mL (1 tsp) Dijon mustard
salt and pepper

Heat 5 mL (1tbsp) of olive oil in non-stick pan at medium-high heat. Add pancetta. Sauté until crisp. Remove. Add mushrooms to pan. Cook until golden. Remove. Add shallots to pan. Cook until soft.
Add 37 mL (2-1/2 tbsp) olive oil to pan. Stir in white wine vinegar, Dijon, lots of pepper and salt to taste. Return pancetta and mushrooms to pan and heat through.
In large bowl, toss spinach with pancetta and mushroom mixture.
Meanwhile, in the same pan, covered, fry eggs until whites are set and yolks are runny.
To serve, divide spinach mixture between two plates. Top each with an egg.

Spinach with pancetta, mushroom and egg.

The best guacamole

The best guacamole.

A bold statement, I know, but after years of experimentation, I have landed upon the perfect combination of buttery avocado, pungent garlic, tangy lime juice, sea salt, dried chipotle powder (available at the Bulk Barn) and mayonnaise to top my chicken fajitas, fish tacos and even carrot sticks and cherry tomatoes.
Some will decry the absence of cilantro or fresh peppers, others the addition of mayonnaise (for a creamier texture) or chipotle (for a smoky heat), but it truly is the best I’ve had.

Original recipe.

2 ripe avocadoes
7 mL (1-1/2 tsp) or so mayonnaise
juice of 1 lime (use a reamer and don’t be afraid to get a little rough)
2 garlic cloves, finely minced (a micro-plane works well)
sea salt to taste
dried chipotle powder to taste (start with 2 mL or 1/2 tsp)

Mash the avocado with a fork. Stir in remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve immediately.
Note: Avocado will start to brown quickly. If you are making this ahead, add the lime juice last and don’t stir in, cover and refrigerate. Before serving, stir, taste and adjust seasoning.