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.


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.

Granny’s fudge

My great-grandmother (who we called Granny) made the best fudge. She used four ingredients — milk, butter, brown sugar and vanilla, all measured by eye. She cooked the first three on the stove until the mixture reached just the right consistency, then added the vanilla, removed the pot and stirred and stirred.
Stirring, she said, was the secret to really good fudge.
I don’t know that anyone in my family has successfully recreated her recipe, but I think this year I have come close.
When I found Marion’s Fudge recipe on Sue Riedl’s Cheese and Toast blog, I had a good feeling. It calls for cooking the caramel until the soft ball stage and then beating it with an electric mixer until it starts to crystallize.
The mixer, I thought, would have the same effect as Granny’s stirring.
What I licked from the beaters and bowl has that familiar taste and consistency. I’ve resisted (since Saturday!) cutting into the fudge because I want to have some to share with my family when they visit Dec. 27.
Sue’s recipe calls for Becel margarine and whipping cream. I used unsalted butter and light cream (18 per cent) because that’s what I had — and I’m a rebel like that.

The recipe comes close to replicating my great-grandmother's fudge.

Marion’s Fudge (my version)

250 mL (1 cup) packed brown sugar
250 mL (1cup) white sugar
90 mL (6 tbsp) unsalted butter
175 mL (3/4 cup) light cream (18 per cent)
5 mL (1 tsp) vanilla

Grease a 20-cm (8-inch) square dish and set aside.
Have a medium bowl ready with vanilla already added.
Into a medium, heavy bottom pot, add sugars, butter and cream.
Heat over high and stir to combine. Let boil until a candy thermometer (or digital thermometer) reads 240 F (soft ball stage). This will take about 10-12 minutes.
Pour mixture into medium bowl.  Using a hand mixer, mix on medium-high (careful not to splatter as this is extremely hot) for several minutes until splatter on bowl starts to crystallize and gets dense when you wipe it with a finger. It will be fudge-like.
Pour mixture into dish and allow to cool. Slice and share.

Home-ground garam masala

Making garam masala, a spice mix common in Indian cooking, is easy. Sourcing the ingredients, in particular the black cardamom, can be difficult. Check the ethnic section of your local grocery store and bulk store. If you happen to have one close, an Indian grocer is your best bet.

Ingredients for garam masala.

Garam masala
This recipe comes from ecurry. I recommend it. Use it in traditional Indian recipes or make up your own, as I did last week, adding it, along with some tumeric, grated ginger, garlic and yogurt to a quick saute of chicken, cauliflower, onion, carrot and red pepper.

125 mL (1/2 cup) whole coriander seeds
60 mL (1/4 cup) cumin seeds
30 mL (2 tbsp) small green cardamoms
6 to 8 black cardamoms
30 mL (2 tbsp) cloves
15 mL (1 tbsp) black peppercorns
cinnamon sticks measuring 20 cm (8 inches) total
3 bay leaves
3 dried red chiles
2 mL (1/2 tsp) ground nutmeg

Toast each spice separately in a dry pan, until just fragrant. They will burn easily. Allow to cool.
Grind spices in a spice grinder (I have a coffee grinder I use just for spices.)
Store in a tightly sealed container.

Home-ground garam masala.

Braised baby bok choy

Baby Shanghai bok.

Bok choy, along with a host of other Asian vegetables, is grown right down the road from me in the Holland Marsh. Regular boy choy has white stalks and dark ruffled leaves. Shanghai bok has light green stalks and smooth leaves. Depending on the weather, you can expect to find local bok choy in Ontario grocery stores through November.
This robust slightly bitter green is a natural in stirfries and Asian inspired soups.
But my favourite way to cook it is braising. Baby bok choy works best for this. Simply wash, cut in half lengthwise and cook in a flavourful liquid.
For a side dish, sauté some chopped onions in a blend of vegetable and sesame oil. Add some grated ginger, minced garlic and/or red pepper flakes, then a splash or two of soy sauce, fish sauce and rice wine vinegar. Add boy choy, sprinkle with black sesame seeds and cook in the liquid until leaves are slightly limp and stalks tender crisp.
I served this for dinner Saturday night along side a barbecued striploin roast that had been marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, orange zest, red pepper flakes and brown sugar.

Braised baby Shanghai bok.

For a quick one-pot dish, braise chicken thighs and baby bok.
Start by browning skinless chicken thighs in oil in a deep, lidded pot. (I love my enamel-coated cast iron Dutch oven for recipes like this.)
Remove chicken and sauté chopped onions in a blend of vegetable oil and sesame oil. As above, add grated ginger, minced ginger, red pepper flakes, soy sauce, fish sauce and rice wine vinegar to suit your tastes. Then add a few cups of homemade chicken stock. Return chicken to pot, cover and simmer until nearly done, about 20 or 25 minutes.
If desired, add a slurry of a spoonful of cornstarch mixed with 60 to 80 mL (1/4 to 1/3 cup) of cold water. Simmer for a minute or two to thicken sauce.
Add halved baby bok choy, sprinkle with sesame seeds and cook until leaves are slightly limp and stalks tender crisp.
Serve over rice.

Post-Halloween pumpkins

Since we don’t see trick-or-treaters in our neighbourhood, I don’t decorate for Halloween. But I do like to acknowledge the season in some small way.
This year, I bought two pie pumpkins and nestled one beside each of the potted cedars that flanked our front door. An enormous deep red mum from my mother-in-law at the bottom of the stairs rounded out our minimalist fall display.
This morning, I made use of those pumpkins.

Pumpkin puree.

Pumpkin puree

Wash pumpkins and cut into manageable pieces. Scoop out seeds (reserve) and guck.
Place in a baking dish skin side up and add some water.
Bake in 400 Fahrenheit oven until very soft, about 40 minutes.
Puree in food processor until smooth.
Using a wire sieve, strain liquid, leaving thick puree.
Use in muffins, bread, pies or any other recipe calling for pumpkin puree or canned pumpkin.

Roasted pumpkin seeds.

Roasted pumpkin seeds
pumpkin seeds
sea salt

Wash and dry pumpkin seeds.
Spread on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt.
Bake in 400 Fahrenheit oven until brown and crisp, 10-15 minutes.

Soup 101: Vegetables and broth

Ingredients for vegetable soup.

Wade through the hundreds of soup recipes out there and you’ll discover most follow one of a few basic methods. Master these and you can switch up the ingredients based on what’s in season and in the cupboard to make a different soup every week of the year.
This method is a basic vegetables and broth. It’s quick-cook method, perfect for a weeknight meal. With a little practice, you can go from raw ingredients to finished soup in about 40 minutes.
Start with what the French and classically trained chefs call mirepoix or a mixture of diced carrots, celery and onions. Amounts will depend on how big of a pot of soup you’re making. But use at least one large carrot, two stalks of celery and one large yellow onion. (Don’t forget to save the scraps for stock.)
Heat a little vegetable or olive oil in your soup pot, add the mirepoix and some salt and pepper and sauté until the vegetables start to soften. For variation, add some diced red or green pepper or some minced garlic or ginger after a few minutes. Or, for a different look, julienne the vegetables or cut into large chunks.
Next, add the liquid. This can be chicken, beef or vegetable stock or water. For additional flavour, add a splash or two of wine and/or a can of tomatoes.
Then, experiment with combinations of additional ingredients. Boost the vegetable content with some sliced zucchini, mushrooms or chopped greens, such as Swiss chard, boy choy, kale or spinach.
For protein, add cooked legumes, such as black, kidney or cannellini beans or chickpeas, cubed leftover cooked chicken or beef, sliced smoked sausage (debreziner and chorizo are two favourites) or raw shrimp or other seafood. Add bulk with uncooked pasta (noodles, orzo, tortellini), potatoes or cooked rice.
Round out the flavour with fresh herbs, including parsley, thyme, basil, marjoram or summer savoury, a splash or two of cider or wine vinegar, soy sauce or lemon juice.
Simmer until everything is cooked/heated to your liking.

Asian inspired vegetable and prime rib soup.

The top photograph shows the ingredients for a recent vegetable soup. It started with a sauté of diced carrots, onions, celery and red peppers. I added chicken stock and chopped tomatoes (fresh, then frozen Romas), as well as fresh thyme, Swiss chard and canned black beans.
The Asian-inspired soup featured julienned carrots and celery, grated garlic and ginger, red pepper flakes, beef and vegetable stock, mushrooms and Swiss chard (we had a bumper crop this year), smoky barbecued beef and soy sauce.