Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce – Memories From Childhood On The Farm

Growing up on the farm, watching for the earliest signs of spring was fun.  Rhubarb is the first to emerge in the garden.  Planted near a stone wall, the warmth of the sun on stone creates a little greenhouse for greens to barely emerge above the partially frozen ground. We’d watch as the huge elephant ear leaves would unfurl and grow till the ruby red and green stalks were tall  enough. Mom would have me gather them and bring them to the kitchen; arms so filled I could barely see above them.  She would remind me,every time, that the leaves are poisonous.  So off the leaves went into the compost pile and Mom would cut the stalks up into inch long pieces and toss them into a pan with a little water and cook them down.  She’d add some sugar and we’d call that dessert – or breakfast- or have it for no good reason at all.  This was how we began spring.  It was wonderful.

We are planting more this year.  It comes in a box with a tangle of roots ready to plant in rich soil that has been amended with manure or a good fertilizer.  For earliest crops try planting it facing south against a stone or brick wall, or next to the sidewalk.

Rhubarb is an interesting vegetable that we treat like a fruit.  Diehards – that would be me – like rhubarb sauce alone, but most people prefer it cooked with fresh strawberries.  That combination, by the way, makes an amazing pie.

In England we saw billboards with huge photos and advertisements to “Eat Rhubarb”..don’t know why they were on billboards.  We don’t do that with tomatoes or strawberries, but we do with milk and beef or chicken.  It must be an important crop in England to invest money into billboards.  I like that about rhubarb.  It’s a billboard food we hardly consider here in the “New World”.

It’s pretty easy to make.  Use a saucepan that will hold all the cut up rhubarb, so I can’t tell you what size you need.  It cooks down quickly.

Rhubarb

Strawberries

Water

Sugar

I’ll try to break it down for you.

10 stalk rhubarb, leaves removed and thrown away, stalks cut into 1″ pieces

Strawberries, about a quart, green tops removed and sliced or chopped

Place strawberries and rhubarb in saucepan

Add about 1 cup of water.

Bring the temperature to about medium high heat and cook, stirring constantly until it begins to slowly soften and you’ll see that it isn’t taking up as much space in the pan.

Simmer till reduced and softened enough to add about 1 cup sugar

Cook over medium low heat for another 5 minutes until it is finished and all the fruit is soft. It will have a sort of rosy color, but I like to add a few drops of red food coloring, which isn’t at all necessary but makes a prettier presentation

Pretty!

Rhubarb is good for you. Adding sugar makes it a bit less than a health food, but hey!  Everything in moderation and, besides, rhubarb is one of the crops you can only obtain for a few weeks in spring.

Breakfast becomes extra special when Strawberry-Rhubarb Sauce is spooned over hot steel cut oatmeal with either cream or yogurt.

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Violet and Strawberry Spring Greens – A Seasonal Salad

The plan was to pick a hundred violets to make crystallized violets for the fun of it.  Okay, more than for the fun of it, but you’ll see what the real plan was  in another post.  Can’t wait!!

Jean, my beautiful mother, and her mother Eleanor were April babies and would celebrate annually by walking the farm fields and woods to pick violets and other wildflowers-bluets, snaps, forget-me-nots, and to see which birds had returned for the spring.  Mom and Grandma have long since passed but the violets appear on cue; every year I vow to take a walk with my sister to pick violets.   Busy schedules often keep us apart so I  walk, snap photos, send them to her and that’s how we get it done.  I remember as a little girl watching Mother and Grandma Eleanor take off through the fields and come back chattering with stories of returning birds they’d seen along the way.  Violets of white, yellow, pale blue and deep rich violet, and often a few other wildflowers were tucked into their pockets. Gleefully they’d commit it all to memory in a huge Audubon book Grandma kept in her library.  Their memoirs date back to the 1950’s with pressed flowers tucked into the pages and dates of sightings scribbled by descriptions of flowers and birds.  I am the keeper of that book.

Today my daughter Elle and I picked the violets.  It’s a good year for them as tiny seas of blue line our fences and the edges of the woods.  This could become our annual walk? I would like that.

I suppose you could choose any salad dressing; because violets are so delicate and the scent so subtle too much spice will overwhelm them.  Try simply drizzling some high quality olive or walnut oil over the salad and a touch of cream of balsamic vinegar.  Cream of Balsamic is perfection  on strawberries, too.

Wild violets and their heart shaped leaves are edible and full of nutrients.  Do not eat violets that would possibly have pesticides or chemicals OR are planted where dogs might, you know might do something on them, you know… and also make sure you wash them well even if gathered from the field.

To make this salad you have to watch for the violets to be in bloom, in western Pennsylvania it’s typically around mid April.  Collect a dozen or more of the pretty blossoms and their heart shaped leaves, wash and dry them and keep them chilled so they don’t wilt.

To prepare:

Wild violets and leaves: a handful, washed and dried

Baby Spring Greens, washed and dried

Strawberries, fresh sliced

Cream of Balsamic Vinegar

Extra Virgin Olive Oil or walnut oil

*You may have noticed from the photo that  a little bit of fresh asparagus from the garden.

The Violet

BY JANE TAYLOR

Down in a green and shady bed,
   A modest violet grew,
Its stalk was bent, it hung its head,
   As if to hide from view.
And yet it was a lovely flower,
   Its colours bright and fair;
It might have graced a rosy bower,
   Instead of hiding there,
Yet there it was content to bloom,
   In modest tints arrayed;
And there diffused its sweet perfume,
   Within the silent shade.
Then let me to the valley go,
   This pretty flower to see;
That I may also learn to grow
   In sweet humility.

SAUSAGE AND POTATO STEW IN LEMON ROSEMARY BROTH

Another very simple delicious dish.

Spring nights are still quite cool here in the highlands.  While robust wintery meals have been vanquished from the table, there are often evenings that need the “chill” taken off.  This stew has a  summery touch of rosemary and lemon that makes it a perfect segway into the warmer seasons. Because it’s easy and such an interesting mix of flavors  it has become one of my “Go-To” meals.

All it needs is….notice  I say “needs” ….a beautiful yeasty crunchy baguette.    If I recall correctly the first go around making this dish was only because I had an excellent baguette on hand and needed something to dip it in.  This is goodness all by itself, naked, no bread will be missed.  C’est la vie!

We gobbled this down so fast I didn’t have a chance to photograph it in the bowls.

You need:

2 lbs. sweet or hot Italian sausages, cut up into halves or thirds.  I use both sweet and hot’

3 lbs of baby red potatoes.  Culinary license here – can use all purpose and cut them in big chunks

1 lb Escarole, Endive or both

2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tablespoon olive oil, extra virgin *always better for you

1 cup dry white wine

2 quarts chicken broth

1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary or 2 teaspoons dry

Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Method:

In a large dutch oven or soup pot, heat olive oil and drop cut up sausages in and cook over medium high heat, turning over from time to time until they are browned on the outside.  Add potatoes, rosemary, garlic and half of the lemon zest and toss to coat.  Cook these, stirring until the potatoes start to brown just a little bit

After this is browned reduce heat to medium and stir in the wine and cook until it is reduced to about half, stirring.  This will smell wonderful. A this point go ahead and add all of the chicken broth.  The goal is to have enough broth to cover the ingredients by at least an inch or two.  You can add more broth or water and chicken bouillon if you are concerned you won’t have enough liquid.  It’s not a soup, but it is going to need a spoon (or a baguette :)) when you serve it to get all the yummy broth.  In the meantime chop the endive and escarole, making sure they are properly rinsed and drained in a colander 

This is going to look like you have far more greens than you’ll ever be able to fit into the stew.  Don’t be alarmed.  Trust me, they will cook down so fast you’ll wonder if you added enough of them.

I’ve only placed about 1/4 of the chopped greens in the pot and it’s over flowing.  What you will do is gently push the greens under and into the broth and watch how fast they cook down.  It takes less than a minute, then you keep on adding it in until all the greens are cooking at a slow simmer for about 10-15 minutes.

Once the potatoes and greens are tender it’s ready to adjust seasonings, add the rest of the lemon zest and serve.  This is where you’ll add salt and pepper by tasting it to see if you need any.  Sausages and broth are somewhat salty.  Our son encouraged Kelly, our soon-to-be-daughter-in-law to take notes on this for the future

All done!

Note to self:  This dish can be over cooked to the point where the greens are mushy and so are the potatoes.  Don’t let that happen!

It’s so very very nice when a clean up committee (of one) comes along to finish the job!  Thanks Honey 🙂

You are THE BEST!!!

Sunday Morning Edition: Poached Egg on an English Muffin with Kale, Tomato, and Onion

Near my house is a coffee shop that serves great lattes and these wonderful breakfast sandwiches with poached eggs and sausage. From time to time, I enjoy treating myself to breakfast there. This morning, I decided to make my own version of their poached egg sandwich. I added kale, tomato and onion (left out the sausage) and it turned out just as – if not more – delicious than the restaurant version.

It is a beautiful 75 degree day here in Arlington, so I’ll make this brief so that I can return to frolicking outdoors! I’ve never poached an egg before, but luckily a friend’s blog has a great description of how to do it. Sure enough, my poached egg turned out perfectly. You can check out those instructions on Apron Strings to Diamond Rings.

Poached Egg English Muffin with Kale, Tomato, and Onion

1 English Muffin, toasted

1 medium egg

A handful of kale

2 slices of yellow onion

1 slice of tomato

A dash of cayenne pepper

Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Poach egg in a medium sauce pan for three minutes, or until the white is cooked and the yolk is still drippy.

Gently remove the egg from the sauce pan and place in a bowl. Set aside. In the meantime, saute yellow onion, tomato slice, and kale in olive oil until cooked.

Toast muffin and assemble the egg and vegetables. Sprinkle with cayenne pepper, salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese to taste. This is truly delicious. Try it!

Chicken Noodle Soup – Walt’s Simple Kindness

It my daughter’s fault I made this.  She gave me “that look” that even grown kids manage when they don’t feel well. You know the look; the one that totally melts your heart and you become energized with all sorts of thoughts of how to make them comfortable.  A mother’s a mother forever.

My Father-in-Law shared this recipe with me. He was a man of solid principle.  Every thing he did was thought out and had kindness and integrity at it’s root.  He loved the Lord, his wife, his family and all those who crossed his path …except politicians. Oh what the heck, had a politician crossed his path they would have gone away with a little more joy and peace in their soul and certainly not hungry!

Every once in awhile he would take over the kitchen.  He so mastered the art of baking cookies and making candy to bestow upon the  unsuspecting  that I did not remember he knew how to  cook anything else.  He made a mean pot of hot sausage smothered in sauce for tailgating so that everyone could encourage  the beloved Pittsburgh Steelers with more vigor and onion on the breath – and a mean pot of chicken soup.

“Dutch” is what he called my mother in law for no apparent reason.  He was Spike, she was Dutch and they had some serious love and contentment between them that made room for immense generosity towards others.

In order to make this a gluten free recipe I had to make a few changes.  Instead of canned broth I build a chicken stock from scratch.  Also, I like big pieces of carrot instead of chopping it like he did, so petite carrots left whole are in my recipe.  Of course the search for a gluten free noodle was a challenge, but when I came across some I just had to make this soup.

Here goes!!!

You need:

Chicken: one whole chicken, cut up

Water

Bouillon: 2 gluten free cubes (not required unless you want to eat this as soon as you make it)

Carrots: 1 lb petite carrots

Onion: 3 small onions, 2 of them chopped and one peeled and studded with

Whole Cloves: between 5 and 10 driven into the raw onion, like this

Celery:  1 whole bunch cleaned, brown tips removed and chopped

Noodles: gluten free. (I used Sam Mills Pasta d’oro Lasagne corte-like mini lasagna’s)  By the way, these are holding up beautifully in the soup instead of disintegrating like so many others

Salt, thyme, 1 bay leaf, several peppercorns

1 teaspoon sugar

1 Tablespoon butter

*for some reason no salt was needed.  I don’t know why except maybe the noodles had enough in them from the salted water they were cooked in.

Method:

In a large soup pot ( 7 quart cast iron dutch oven is perfect) melt the butter

Add the vegetables and herbs and peppercorns, cooking over medium high heat for a few minutes to brown  the vegetables a little bit

Place chicken pieces on top of sauteed vegetables

Cover with water, enough to nearly fill the pot

Bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer for half an hour.  At this point I like to taste the broth and enhance it with gluten free bouillon cubes and sugar if it’s needed

Continue to cook for another half an hour or until the chicken is cooked completely through and the vegetables are tender.  Then remove chicken and lower heat to very low and cook, allowing the flavors to blend more while chicken cools. In my family this is where my daughters get all squeemish about having to take the chicken off the bones.  But hey, that’s life!  Take the skin off the chicken, then remove the meat and put the meat back into the pot.  At this point you should also remove the whole onion that has the cloves in it.  Let that cool too and then, a trick someone taught me, squeeze all the juice out of the onion back into the soup and discard the remaining …onion and cloves..this add tons of flavor to the broth.

At this point you can place a pot of water, adding a Tablespoon of salt, over heat, bring to a boil and add noodles.  Cook until al dente (to the tooth), drain and add into the soup.

At this point I like to chill the soup overnight.  This does two things.  First, it allows the fats to come to the surface and is easier to skim off.  Second, oh my gosh how the flavors improve by giving it at least 8 hours!

Here you go!

Hot Fudge Sauce For Real Girls (and the men who love them)

My idea of perfection!

I don’t even know where to begin with this topic.  But okay, since we’re talking about chocolate – I have plenty to say. Let’s start with a confession:  I always choose vanilla ice cream over chocolate.  I asked for, and got, every piece of white chocolate the Easter Bunny brought my siblings and friends and in exchange gave them (hard  to fathom) all of my brown chocolate.  Then I learned white chocolate wasn’t real chocolate anyway.  Well okay then.  So now you know, and maybe you’ll not respect my title for this recipe because of that.  But this is  fact

.  When I finally grew up and got to choose my own chocolate I went with chocolate that contained 70%-80% chocolate, not some wishy washy sort of chocolate that was more like a cup of cocoa.

I just said that.

I don’t mean to offend any milk chocolate lovers but I am a “real deal” kind of girl.  Give me vanilla that’s rich and flecked with tiny bits of vanilla bean and exotic orchid perfume.  Give me chocolate; rich, dark and totally satisfying with elusive notes. Hope that gets you set for an amazing experience in chocolate decadence.  This is your last stop in the search for good chocolate sauce.

Heck, I’ll take a spoon to the refrigerator for this incredible stuff and feel no guilt-that’s right girls I said no guilt- if someone happens to catch me in the act – grab a spoon!  After all, I am a woman and if I don’t get my chocolate someone will pay!

How long do you think it took me to go from that….to this?

Gone In (less than) 60 Seconds!

This is a very simple and easy recipe that won’t fail you.  All you need is the best quality unsweetened Dutch Cocoa, butter, cream and brown and cane sugar.  There is a bonus.  It is less expensive and more delicious than what comes from the store shelf.

Cream:  1/2 Cup

Butter: 3 Tablespoons unsalted

Dutch process unsweetened cocoa powder: 1/2 Cup

Sugar: 1/3 Cup

Brown Sugar: 1/3 Cup

Salt: pinch

Heat the cream and butter to boiling is a medium sized saucepan.

Lower heat to medium and stir in both white and brown sugars, stirring to dissolve.  Lower heat again to low and whisk in cocoa and salt.  Slowly whisk until all the cocoa is incorporated into the hot cream

Continue to slowly stir until there are no more lumps and the sauce is smooth and creamy

Pack it up into a big mason jar and keep it in the refrigerator.  I’ve found it can keep several months, but it won’t last that long!

Remember, the reason I posted this is so that you can drizzle this over the Benz L’orange.  Dark chocolate and orange are a match made in heaven.  

Orange Cream in Orange Cups with The Best Homemade Hot Fudge Sauce

It wasn’t what I had planned for Easter dessert!  Just want you to know that.  My intended dessert started out with the oranges but totally flopped.  These beautiful oranges had been sitting on the table, waiting for this awesome recipe I was so excited to make for Easter, but we have gone with plan B.  Not too pitiful now, is it?  It is true that sometimes when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  In this case life gave me oranges, and this is what followed:

Okay, so I was torn between making Benz L’Orange with Hot Fudge Sauce and this other delightful and oh so Easter-y dessert called Orange Cream in Orange Cups.  I made it once before and it was easy and refreshing and light.  Perfect for Easter.  Except that it failed.  Don’t know about you but when I mess up a recipe and it’s unusable I get sort of itchy all over and particularly irritated that I wasted time and, maybe this bothers me even more, valuable ingredients.  Grrrr!!!  So all day long I was trying to figure out how to salvage the mess I’d made and get a pretty dessert for Easter.  I’d like to mention that I did have Benz L’Orange in the back of my mind, except that it is a dessert I like to keep on hand around Christmas, and this was Easter, and I was having a difficult time envisioning it as an Easter menu option.  This is so good I’m glad it ended up on the dessert table.

You need this.  12 ounces frozen orange juice, a gallon of the best quality vanilla ice cream you can find and then you’ll need 1/2 cup of this:

Cointreau is a more expensive orange scented liquor used to make the best Margarita’s.  It’s nice to have on hand for the Margarita’s, but it’s also great in this recipe and it makes a wonderful flavor addition to Chocolate Truffles, and a nice end to a really difficult day….the uses are endless it would seem. 🙂

Mix the partially softened ice cream and orange juice together

Add in the 1/2 cup Cointreau and then mix them all together until smooth, like this:

When it’s all blended refreeze it again.  I usually pack it back into the same container the ice cream came in.  It will keep for a couple of months like this in the deep freezer.

And then, if you desire to present it in the orange cups, here’s how to do it.  Keep in mind I’d had a …sniff sniff…failed dessert planned that used all the orange juice I’d squeezed from the oranges (to the tune of nearly 3 cups).  So just enjoy drinking the freshly squeezed orange juice or I suppose you could use it instead of the frozen juice but it wouldn’t be as intensely flavored.  So here’s how to prep the oranges:

Once sliced in half I like to loosen the oranges around the edges to make a cleaner finish

Next, remove the pulp.  This cheap handy dandy juicer does the trick!

Voila!  Perfectly pretty empty orange shells.  Of course now that you know how to do this there can be other uses for them too.  Pretty, individual fruit compote holders, pudding, yogurt, chocolate ice cream.  You get the idea.

Now all you have to do is place a nice rounded scoop of frozen ice cream in each cup and drizzle it with your favorite chocolate sauce.  I’ll be sharing a recipe for a home made Hot Fudge Sauce that is, if I do say so, ten times better than the best your money can buy.  And it is definitely more economical – later this week since I want to share this now. Happy Easter!

Here’s a little look ahead to the Hot Fudge Sauce.  Ohhhh, so yummyt!!!