Posts Tagged ‘spring’

Strawberry and rhubarb are a classic combination—sweet and tart come together for a mouthful of deliciousness—yet it’s not often that they are both really in season at the same time. Granted, you can still get rhubarb for quite a while after it is first available, but for me it’s more associated with spring. Strawberries belong to summer.

This year the strawberries are early and the rhubarb still plentiful, so I’m compelled to combine the two. Here are two recipes: one savoury, one sweet.

Recipe: Rhubarb-Goat Cheese and Strawberry Bruschetta

Rhubarb-goat cheese strawberry bruschetta

These bruschetta have bright, fresh and balanced flavours with a combination of textures. Have plates and napkins on hand. Eating them can get a bit messy—there’s the risk of strawberry pieces falling off and the balsamic vinegar dripping!

Makes  10-12 pieces

1 baguette
2 cups rhubarb, chopped
1 ½ tbsp sugar
1-2 tbsp water
125 g fresh goat cheese
1 tsp peppercorns, freshly cracked
2 cups strawberries (small/medium strawberries are preferable)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
8 basil leaves, coarsely chopped (I have several varieties in my garden and used osmin purple and spicy globe. Both have an aromatic fruity flavour.)

Measure goat cheese, crumble it into a bowl and let it come to room temperature; this step will make it easier to mix in the rhubarb at a later step.

Cut 12 1 cm-thick slices of baguette. Place them on a baking tray and toast at 350°F until lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool.

Combine chopped rhubarb, sugar and water in a saucepan. Simmer 5-10 minutes until rhubarb breaks down. I wanted a relatively dry compote, so I started with 1 tbsp water (rhubarb will release water as it cooks), and added more when I noticed there was a risk of sticking/burning. Remove from heat and spread on a plate to speed up the cooling down process. The compote can be made in advance.

Stir the goat cheese until smooth. Once the rhubarb compote is cool, mix ½ cup into the goat cheese (you may have some compote left over) and season with the cracked peppercorns. The goat cheese mixture can be prepared in advance.

Shortly before serving, halve strawberries lengthwise, then slice. In a bowl, combine strawberries with balsamic vinegar and basil.

Just before serving, make the bruschetta by spreading some of the goat cheese mixture on the slices of toasted baguette. Top with the strawberry mixture. Serve immediately.

Recipe: Strawberry-Rhubarb Muffins

Strawberry-rhubarb muffins

YUM! Looking forward to lunches with strawberry-rhubarb muffins this week!

I made yummy rhubarb syrup yesterday, so I’m using the leftover rhubarb “mash” in these muffins. This mash is already sweetened, so I’m only adding ¼ cup sugar; adjust sugar according to your taste. To make rhubarb compote without making the syrup, place 2 cups chopped rhubarb, 2 tbsp sugar, 1 tbsp water in a saucepan and simmer until rhubarb breaks down. If making muffins with the compote, increase sugar in recipe to ½ cup.

1 egg
½ cup milk
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup rhubarb mash/compote
1 ½ cups quartered strawberries (preferably small ones, so the chunks don’t get too big and make the muffins soggy)

1 ½ cups flour (I use spelt flour)
½ cup rolled oats
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp cardamom
pinch salt

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line/grease 10-12 muffin cups.

Combine all wet ingredients, adding strawberries last. Combine flour, rolled oats, baking powder and salt. Pour wet ingredients into dry, and blend gently until flour mixture is just moistened.

Fill muffin cups. Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and tester comes out clean.


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Garlic scapes in the garden

Garlic scapes do loopty-loops in the garden.

Last fall, I planted some garlic for the first time. Now it’s 1-2 months to harvest and, until earlier this week, I had garlic scapes doing loopty-loops in my garden. The scape is the garlic bulbs stem which lengthens as the bulb matures.

The typical recommendation is to snap off the scape once it’s done 1-2 loops, so the plant’s energy goes into the bulb and makes it bigger. Some garlic gardeners also say that the bulbs will keep better if they’re left to mature without the scapes for the last 1-2 months. Others say, just leave them on. Left on, they would “flower” into bulbils which can be used to propagate garlic.

The scapes are edible though, so it was pretty clear to me that I was going to snap them off! How could I miss this culinary opportunity?!  I admit, I hadn’t tried garlic scapes until this week, wasn’t even familiar with them until a couple of years ago.

Garlic scapes

Garlic scapes, tender greens for dinner.

I snapped all but one scape, which will be an indicator—when the scape straightens out—for when to stop watering the garlic. To fully appreciate how scapes taste, I chopped them into inch-long pieces (discarding the “bulb”), sautéed them in some butter and seasoned with salt: tender greens with a mellow garlic flavour.

Now that I’ve had them, it’s reason to grow even more garlic next year.

More garlic scape info and ideas:

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Every Sunday, I make muffins in preparation for a week of office lunches. The muffin is our “sweet treat.” I figure it’s better to have a tasty, healthy, homemade muffin than to buy an overly sweet and really-not-so-good cookie or muffin at an anonymous café.

I’ve been playing around with muffin recipes, trying to see by how much I can reduce the fat and sugar while still producing a good muffin. I think I finally got the right formula!

This recipe uses the standard technique of mixing wet ingredients into the dry, and results in a relatively light, moist muffin that freezes well. It can be adapted with any variety of flavours. Grated apples provide moisture and are easily combined with other fruit or berries, but can be replaced with grated carrots, zucchini … I haven’t tried banana with this recipe, but I imagine it would work too (maybe in a different proportion). As with anything in the kitchen, the possibilities are endless!

Rhubarb’s in season, so this week’s muffin brings together tart rhubarb and sweet apple in fresh harmony.

Recipe: Apple-Rhubarb Muffins

Apple-rhubarb muffins

I tried a cream cheese-type filling for this batch, but wasn't satisfied – needs some tweaking before sharing. The rhubarb chunks in these muffins are a bit too big too. Tasty muffins nonetheless!

1 egg
½ cup milk
¼ cup vegetable oil
½ cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 ½ cups apples, coarsely grated (2-3 apples)

2 cups flour (I use a combination of 1 ½ cups spelt and ½ cup unbleached white.)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch salt
1 ½ cups rhubarb, diced (I recommend a fine dice, approx. 1 cm. Rhubarb has a lot of water, so large pieces can create “soggy” pockets in the muffins.)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line/grease 10-12 muffin cups.

Combine all wet ingredients. Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in rhubarb. Pour wet ingredients into dry, and blend until flour mixture is just moistened.

Fill muffin cups. Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and tester comes out clean.

Recipe Variation: Carrot-Pineapple Muffins

Carrot-pineapple muffins

Sweet combination, but not overly sweet muffins! These could be enhanced by adding chopped walnuts or raisins.

Replace grated apple with 1 cup grated carrot and ½ cup chopped pineapple (crushed works too, but chopped pineapple gives visible chunks and more texture). Leave out the rhubarb.

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At the market last week I noticed that wild leek had given way to wild garlic. Is wild garlic (sold without the green leaves) the same as wild leek? After some searching and comparing of sources, I do believe it is. The Latin name is Allium tricoccum.

During my research, I found some interesting history and fun facts about wild leek/garlic, including the debate about whether “chicagoua,” an aboriginal name for wild leek, gave Chicago its name. Some say yes, others no.

I also discovered that it is endangered and protected in Quebec, but not in Ontario. An article in last spring’s Globe and Mail on locavore.ca provides some surprising insights into foraged foods. The local blog GuideGatineau.ca highlights the dangers of over-harvesting, which can lead to an arrest in Quebec.

A couple of weeks ago at the Ottawa Farmers Market, Jedediah Loeks of The Rainbow Heritage Garden explained how he respectfully harvests the wild leek on his property. He looks for large patches of wild leek and picks from the middle. The plants will fill in the void to complete the patch. He also transplants some wild leek to similar habitats to ensure its survival and propagation.

Good reminders to eat food with respect and be grateful for these foraged treasures.

Recipe: Wild Leek Pesto

Wild leek pesto

Wild leek pesto is super easy to make, showcases the flavour of wild leek beautifully, and keeps its great bright green colour.

Making pesto with wild leek is one of the simplest preparations, and lets all the flavour come through.  Remove greens from the wild leek and chop roughly. Use several bulbs for the pesto; save the others for another dish. Place chopped leaves and bulbs in a food processor (I have a small one, which worked well for the small quantity I was working with). Add approx. 2 tbsp of olive oil. Process, occasionally scraping down the sides to ensure a consistent texture, until smooth. Add more olive oil as necessary. Season with pepper and salt. I kept my wild leek pesto in a jar in the fridge for over a week and the colour stayed bright green until we finished it!

Wild leek pesto on pasta

Fresh homemade pasta tossed with wild leek pesto, toasted pine nuts and freshly grated parmesan.

We decided a simple preparation would best showcase the wild leek pesto. David made some

homemade pasta—a thirty-minute affair—which we tossed with the pesto, a sprinkle of fresh parmesan, and some pine nuts. Simply delicious!

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Proud Green Thumb

Baby rainbow chard

Swiss chard was last year's star. Already looking good this year.

Whew! Gardening is hard work. After spending several weekends in the garden weeding, sowing, planting with David’s help, and getting advice from the experienced gardeners in my life (dad and mother-in-law), I can finally admire our work: foot-tall peas and snow peas, strong Swiss chard, tomato, tomatillo and kohlrabi seedlings, sprouting beans and beets, ready-to-pick mesclun and radishes.

I admit, I’m proud of what we’ve achieved. In the 2 years since we bought the house, we haven’t done much inside—painted one wall, that’s all—but we’ve “renovated” our entire garden. Maybe digging in the dirt is more intuitive (and easy, save the sweat) than redesigning a room. Maybe the cost of a “mistake” is lower outside than inside. Or maybe it’s the promise of a home-grown harvest. In any case, we seem to have the garden our priority and worked together to make it happen. Now we can watch our sprouts and seedlings grow, and start enjoying the veggies of our labour.

Tomato seedlings

Painted toenails among the tomato and tomatillo seedlings.

Fingers crossed that my green thumbs hold out for the entire growing season. In the meantime, I’ve treated my toes to a pedicure!

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Sprouts at 1 month

They're growing strong! My sprouts have become baby plants.

My sprouts are one month (+ 4 days) old! Actually, they’re no longer sprouts—they’re baby plants. Until this week though, I wasn’t convinced that this first experience of growing plants from seed would be a success.

Some seeds took a very long time to sprout. After two weeks, their growth seemed to stagnate. I transplanted them from the growing medium to nourishing soil. They seemed to stand a little taller. Last week I put them outside, and the favourable weather is encouraging them to grow taller, stronger and leafier every day. I admit that we’ve supplemented our baby plants with small ones from a nursery. But I’m also confident we’re on the path to a harvest with our vegetables grown from seeds.

I’ve taken notes on what I’ll do differently next year.

Lessons Learned Growing Vegetables from Seed

  • Start earlier (mid-March). This Ottawa planting calendar should help me out.
  • Forget the growing medium. Plant directly into small pots filled with garden soil.
  • Find a better window spot (or use a lamp?); the seedlings were always leaning toward the light.
  • Be patient. Different plants have different germination times.
  • If it doesn’t work the first time, try again. There are several variables that influence germination. It’s hard to control them all with an amateur set-up.

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David (Mr. GrowChew) says he’s eaten enough asparagus for a while.  I don’t agree, even though we’ve had green spears almost every day for the last week.

Since I like to understand what I’m eating, I look up asparagus in my Whole Foods Encyclopedia, where I learn that asparagus has “good amounts of vitamins A, B complex, C and E, as well as potassium and zinc.” I like the additional comment in brackets, which reads “Given its shape, it is inevitable that asparagus has been considered an aphrodisiac.” Maybe David will reconsider.

The Visual Food Encyclopedia adds folic acid, copper, iron and phosphorus to the asparagus’s nutrients, and only 24 calories per 100g! I also discover that there is a category of purple asparagus, that is harvested when 2-3” high and has a fruity flavor. Is this white asparagus, which has been exposed to light (often the tips of white asparagus are tinged with purple), or truly a different variety?

Not surprisingly, a quick web search answers my question: it is its own variety developed in Italy. Purple asparagus gets its colour from anthocyanins, which are responsible for the red-purple-blue tints of many fruits, vegetables and berries.

But back to the food… In the last week, we’ve had halibut with sautéed asparagus, char grilled asparagus with poached eggs and prosciutto for Mother’s day brunch—yes, David fired up the grill on Sunday morning!—and asparagus risotto. My favourite though was tom khaa kai (chicken, coconut and galangal soup) with asparagus adapted from a recipe in The Food of Thailand.

Recipe: Tom khaa kai with asparagus

Tom khaa kai with asparagus

Chicken, coconut and galangal soup with asparagus is the perfect sweet, salty, sour, and spicy spring.

The base of my version of this soup is an aromatic chicken broth flavoured with lemongrass, lime leaves, galangal, ginger, coriander, onion, garlic and green chili peppers. I put the aromatics into a pot with a chicken leg, fill the pot with cold water, and let it simmer for 2 hours. Then I strain the liquid through a sieve with a tea towel folded in half, which even captures most of the fat.  I freeze extra broth.

To make the soup, I sauté (without browning) 2 sliced chicken breasts and 15 spears of asparagus cut into 1” pieces. As the chicken cooks, I throw in a couple of lime leaves, a red chili, and pieces of lemongrass, ginger and galangal. When the chicken is just cooked, I add a large can of coconut milk and 3-4 cups of the broth. I let the soup simmer until the asparagus is tender. To finish, I remove the aromatics (lemongrass, etc.) and season with 2 tbsp fish sauce, 1 tsp of sugar, and some lime juice (adjust to your taste). To serve, garnish with fresh coriander leaves.

More asparagus info and ideas:

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