Entertaining Rhubarb

For years we had a rhubarb plant tucked in an obscure corner of the back yard.  We gave it little thought other than to acknowledge its intended purpose. The rhubarb stood heel-to-heel with a huge holly bush, our sentries assigned to guard a tiny crawl space under the house.

No one ever fell into the well, thanks to the prickly holly and its partner the rhubarb, whose large wide leaves served as great visual cover. When winter arrived, the rhubarb would fade away and return the following spring to rise up and do its job all over again.

At one point early on, I got to wondering about the rhubarb long enough to learn that its leaves are poisonous due to high levels of oxalyic acid.  After that, I viewed it with caution and never entertained the idea of bringing it into the house. When rhubarb was listed on menus I would pass. I was not interested—besides, there were plenty of other good things to eat.

All of that changed recently when a friend dropped off a few stalks of rhubarb, proudly sharing the latest in spring offerings from his garden.  We got to talking about rhubarb in chutney, which he claimed delicious.

Chutney! The magic word.  Before I knew it, I was firing up my Instant Pot pressure cooker ready to see how fast I could whip up my own batch. These rhubarb stalks were small and tender, unike the big thick hummers that I recall. I could have used one of my many chutney recipes, but rhubarb’s sour bent makes it quirky.

I opted for a Bon Appetit recipe from April 1994 from Epicurious.  Still, I tweaked it, cut it in half (the reluctant one here), and added a Gala apple for a touch of natural sweetness to counteract the astringency of the rhubarb.

Thanks to my glorious pressure cooker, chutney which normally takes 40 minutes or longer to cook down was out of the pot and stored in its own container in under 30 minutes. As with other chutneys, an overnight rest will blend and further improve flavors.

This rose colored chutney is complex and nuanced—I am certainly a believer now, and I will return to the well! All channels are open for rhubarb.

 Rhubarb-Apple Chutney, 15-Minute Pressure Cooker

Inspired by a Bon Apétit recipe from 1994, via Epicurious.

Ingredients
1/3 cup white or brown sugar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peel and grate
2 teaspoons garlic, peel and mince
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
2 cups fresh rhubarb, about 1 pound in cut into small cubes
1 gala apple, peel, seed, chop into small cubes
1/2 cup red onion, small chop
2 tablespoons dried cranberries

Directions

  1. Heat the brown sugar, cider vinegar and flavorings through the dried red pepper flakes until the brown sugar has dissolved.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer.  Set pressure cooker for 5 minutes, allow the pressure to reduce naturally for about 5 minutes and use the quick release.
  3. It will be slightly separated. Mash or press with a spoon to break up chunks and forms a cohesive sauce.  Allow to cool and chill overnight if time allows.  Yield: about 2 cups.

Scones: fresh from the oven!

A beautiful scone beats a biscuit hands down—in my humble opinion. For most Southerners, those could very well be fighting word.  But, since this is my blog, I will continue.  Scones make a handy quick bread for breakfast, a special brunch, or an afternoon snack with tea.  These have real character. Their rough-hewn shape shouts, ‘Hearty country, made with love! Fresh from the oven!’

Blueberries are outstanding in these scones, but they also worthy of Oregon’s Marionberries or even pitted cherries.  In this batch I’ve substituted ¾-cup whole wheat flour for ¾-cup all-purpose flour, and for fruit, dried cranberries and apricots.  Dried fennel, other herbs and spices are obvious additions, whether in lieu of fruit or as a complement.

Scones are a snap to make with a food processor, but I have made them using 2 knives to cut the butter into the flour—much like making a pie dough.  Beyond that, it’s a simple matter of stirring the liquid into dry and forming the dough into two loaves, with the least amount of possible fuss.

The secret to light scones is minimal handling and a moderately hot oven for fast rising.  To do this, quickly form into two rounds and score the tops—instead of shaping individually.  Cool briefly before slicing into portions and enjoy hot with butter, jam, or straight up.  Store whole loaves lightly wrapped, reheat, and cut to order. For more ideas, check out the variations that follow.

Basic Scones

Ingredients
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. baking powder
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup chilled butter cut into small chunks, or shortening
2 large eggs, beaten with enough milk to equal 2/3 cup
Optional finishing for tops:  2-3 tbsp. milk, 2-3 tbsp. demerara or cinnamon-sugar

Directions

  1. Butter a baking sheet or line with silpat. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. In a mixing bowl sift the flour through salt.
  3. Using a food processor or 2 knives, cut the butter into flour mix until it becomes a grainy texture.
  4. Make a well in the center of the butter-flour and pour in the egg-milk liquid. Stir briefly to bring ingredients together and fold in fruit or other additions if using (details below).
  5. Turn out onto a floured surface and lightly knead if shaggy and form a round. Divide mound in half and pat into 2-6″ rounds, about 3/4″ thick. Mark the tops into 5-6 wedges with a sharp knife.
  6. Place on a greased sheet. Brush the tops evenly with milk and dust with sugar. Bake at 375° approximately 20 minutes, until golden brown.  Yield: 10-12 scones.

Berry Variation
1 cup blueberries, raspberries, cranberries, etc. (fresh or frozen, defrosted)
2 tbsp. flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
Dust the berries with flour and cinnamon. Gently add to the flour-fat mixture after the egg-milk liquid.  Proceed as directed.

Dried Fruit Variation:   to dough add 1 cup dried fruit such as cranberries, apricots, dates, cherries, or any combination

Jammer Variation
Score each round into 6-8 wedges.  Dust thumb with flour and press down into middle of each section, making 1/2″-3/4″ wide hole. Fill each impression with favorite jam (about 1/4 cup total).   Brush with milk, sprinkle with sugar and bake.  Serve hot.

Forget Dinner

I should have known better. I did not expect much, and I was wrong. Maria Speck’s book Ancient Grains for Modern Meals has been a reliable resource in my kitchen for quite a while now, and it has rarely let me down.

It’s one of those recipes I have considered on several occasions but moved on, opting for something else. Perhaps it is because she offers it as primarily a breakfast dish—and it needs an overnight soak. Apparently, I have trouble thinking that far ahead.  Sad.

Maria calls it an Anise Oatmeal Puff.  That sounds interesting. But then she adds an egg, clearly something I’ve had difficulty imagining. Well, for anyone who is a rice pudding fan, take another look.  You receive all the instant gratification, plus it’s made more nutritious with oats.

Maria and her family must surely like it, because her recipe makes enough for 8 stand-alone servings.  This morning I decided to test her idea. I would resize the dry mix and forgo the prescribed overnight soak method.

It’s another microwave wonder:  true bliss in under 5 minutes. Tasty, filling, entertaining, and fast. In fact, I would even make this for dinner—or dessert—and forget dinner.

In all fairness to Maria, I offer her original recipe from sister book Simply Ancient Grains, because it is probably worth making in batches and investing in the overnight soak.  However, if you are like me, and in your first excursion would prefer to pass on the wait, those adjustments also follow.

Anise Oatmeal Puff

Inspiration from Simply Ancient Grains, Maria Speck
 
Ingredients
Dry Oatmeal Mix – 8 servings
2 cups old fashion rolled oats or rolled grains
2/3 cup golden raisins or dried cranberries
1 teaspoon crushed anise or fennel seeds
1-1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Oatmeal Puff – per serving
1//3 – 1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon maple, agave, or other syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
A few grapes or other fruit such as fresh pear or apple, dried cranberries, dates or prunes
Powdered or cinnamon sugar for dusting, optional

Directions
Prepare the dry oatmeal mix and combine well.  Store airtight.
Allow per serving:

  1. The night before: In microwave safe mug or bowl place 1/3 cup dry oat mix with milk, syrup and vanilla. Cover and chill.
  2. The next morning: In a small bowl beat the egg with a fork until well blended.  Stir it into the mug mixture to combine.  Stir in 3-4 grapes or other fruit.
  3. Place mug in microwave and cook on high 1 minute 20 seconds – it will rise possibly above the rim, but will not spill over. It is done when a skewer inserted comes out clean.  Cook 10 seconds and test.  Let set a few minutes to firm up.  Top with more grapes, dust with cinnamon and serve.

Individual Anise Oatmeal Puff recipe for 1, without overnight soak

  1. In an ovenproof mug combine:
    1/3 cup quick oats
    1 tablespoon dried fruit: cranberries etc.
    Pinch crumbled anise seeds
    Scant 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  2. Add to the oats and mix well:
    1/3 cup milk
    1 tablespoon agave, maple, or other syrup
    Dash almond or vanilla extract
  3. To expedite soaking, warm mixture in microwave for about 40 seconds, stirring every 20 seconds to absorb some of the liquid and expand the oats, but not thoroughly heat.
  4. Beat 1 egg and incorporate in the oat mixture.
  5. Microwave a total of 1 minute and 20 seconds. Half way, rotate the cup for even rising. It is done when a pick or narrow knife inserted in center comes out nearly clean. Let rest about 3 minutes to set up.
  6. Top with a few fresh berries. If desired, sprinkle with powdered or cinnamon sugar.

Mysteriously Marvelous Pear Italian Soda

About a month ago I wrote about the amazing pear butter that my slow cooker effortlessly pulled off while I wasn’t looking.

In the simmering process an incredible amount of liquid accumulated, which I ultimately elected to drain off rather than dilute the jam. The reserved syrup tasted so good I strained and decanted it, then set it aside to refocus on the hot pears. Armed with an immersion blender, a quick blast was all that was needed to render a silky-soft near creamy puree. But I still had no idea what I had. Did all the flavor escape into the syrup?

Once cool enough, I gave the pear butter a taste and was thrilled with the results! It needed absolutely nothing: the lemon, coriander, and cardamom all worked in perfect harmony with the pears. So thrilled was I with my good fortune, the jam became my go-to topping and the decanted syrup shifted further to the back of the fridge, pretty much forgotten until recently. That’s when I got a sudden hankering for an Italian soda.

Pear Italian Soda

Pear Italian Soda

The reclaimed pink-tinged pear syrup is a revelation. Its mysterious essence is not cloyingly sweet, it is exotic yet well-balanced with all the elegance of fresh pears. In a blind tasting I would put this syrup up against anything else on the market. Of course, I do wonder if I will ever be able to replicate it again!  But that’s another story.

Lacking this fabulous elixir, find the best pear syrup available and create your own divinely refreshing Pear Italian Soda.

Pear Italian Soda

Ingredients
cracked ice
3 – 4 tablespoons excellent pear syrup
1-2 dashes bitters
6 – 8 oz. sparkling or soda water
1 lemon slice
Directions

  1. Fill a tall glass with cracked ice.
  2. Pour in 3-4 tablespoons pear syrup, add a dash of bitters, a light squeeze of lemon, top off with sparkling or soda water to taste and stir.  Garnish with lemon slice.  Serves 1.

Ice Storm Baking

Here in Oregon’s central Willamette Valley, we are under winter storm conditions with yesterday’s 3-inch layer of snow. Today, early morning ice storm warnings advise all to stay off the roads due to dangerous conditions.

cranberry-orange-mini-coffeecakeHunkering down, my thoughts naturally drift to tinkering with food. I envision something easy and comforting—on the order of a warm, cheery Sunday morning coffeecake.

Of course, my recent fascination with the microwave was enough to inspire these personal portions of cranberry orange coffee cake. They were table ready within 15 minutes, including minimal cleanup.

Since everything cooks quickly in the microwave, it’s best to thoroughly pre-prep everything. I had fresh frozen cranberries handy in the freezer. To move things along I microwaved them with a dab citrusy orange marmalade until they began to pop, then set it aside to cool. Same with dry ingredients; a quick sift alleviates weird pockets of flavor.

Baking in the microwave is quite different from the traditional oven since powerful heat can create moisture accumulation. I abandoned the usual covering of food prior to cooking; it tends to adhere to the surface and make more of a mess. Also, to maintain an even rise, I turned the baking dishes every 30 seconds after the initial first minute.

indiv-cranberry-orange-coffeecakeIn total, these 3 lovelies took a little over 2 minutes total cooking time. Since the centers tend to cook first, the edges still appear undercooked, but that is fine. Carry over heat from the container plus the food’s internal heat will continue to cook after removal from the microwave.

Enjoy these warm in their baking containers.  For additional flourish, sprinkle with turbinado sugar prior to baking, or afterward cool slightly and dust tops with confectioner’s sugar or give a drizzle with xxx sugar thinned with liquid.

Cranberry Orange Mini Coffeecakes, Two Minute

Ingredients
1/3 cup fresh frozen cranberries
1 tablespoon marmalade
1/2 cup all purpose flour, or any flour combination (like 1/2 whole wheat)
2 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Dash salt
1 egg
2 tablespoon milk
Turbinado sugar, optional topping

Directions

  1. Spray 3 – 8 oz microwave safe baking dishes with non-stick spray, place on ovenproof dish.
  2. In small microwave safe container, heat cranberries and marmalade about 1 minute to soften and breakdown.  Set aside to cool.
  3. Sift dry ingredients into small mixing bowl and blend thoroughly.
  4. Separately, beat egg and milk to thoroughly combine.
  5. Combine the egg mixture with the dry ingredients and quickly swirl in the cranberry mixture.
  6. Divide batter evenly between three baking dishes, sprinkle lightly with turbinado sugar if desired.
  7. Bake on high for 1 minute.  Give each dish a slight turn and bake another 30 seconds and turn again.  Continue to bake and turn in 30 second increments for 2 minutes or more; edges will be moist, but continue to cook out of the oven.  Don’t overbake.  Yield: 3 servings.

Holiday Ready and Paleo Friendly

apricot-postApricot Almond Balls are a continuum of the previous post on holiday gifting in tandem with Raw Truffle Bites.

These raw sweets are made from dried apricots, almonds, dates, and hints of lemon and coriander. A quick roll in desiccated coconut dresses them up and makes them holiday ready in literally no time.  Use the best dried apricots you can find, the lemon zest really brings them to life and the almonds add the perfect counterpoint

Pretty Apricot Almond Balls aren’t just for holiday tables and gifting. The moist and satisfying bites are handy paleo friendly treats designed to take the edge off hunger or provide a quick pick-me-up when faced with a mid-day slump.  Stored air tight in the refrigerator they will last well beyond a week.

Apricot Almond Balls

Inspired by Apricot Energy Balls at paleogrubs.com.

Ingredients
1 cup almonds, chop
1 cup dried apricots, chop
7 Deglet Noor dates, pitted, light chop
1 ½ teaspoon lemon zest
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
3-4 tablespoons unsweetened desiccated coconut, for rolling (optional)

Instructions

  1. Place the almonds in a food processor and pulse until they are finely chopped.
  2. Add the apricot, dates, lemon zest, and coriander and pulse until a dough forms.
  3. Roll by rounded teaspoon of dough into small balls.
  4. Roll the balls lightly in coconut flakes.
  5. Store airtight in refrigerator for up to a week. Yield: about 30

Holiday Bon Bons and Changing Times

There was a time when shipping was a reasonable part of the Christmas gifting equation.  I would create schedules for preparing, baking, wrapping, and shipping elaborate holiday gift baskets for friends and family. Often there was a theme; once everything was smoked: from cheeses, to sausages, salsas, jerky, and nuts.

As shipping rates escalated, packages got smaller. Now, I’ve pretty much abandoned the whole shipping idea. Instead I turn to Amazon Prime and send something obscure and generic—no doubt these gifts are appreciated just as much as previous crumbled cookies or the occasional exploding jar.

truffle-postThis year I really wanted to share my latest discovery of high flavored sweet treats made with raw (paleo approved) all natural ingredients featuring dried fruits, nuts, flavorings, and no additional sugar.

Of the two I made, I can’t decide whether I like the chocolate or the apricot more, but it doesn’t matter because they complement each other beautifully. The Raw Truffle Bites have high quality unsweetened cocoa powder, pulverized roasted hazelnuts and Deglet Noor dates, and rolled in cocoa powder. They are a bit like an adult Nutella nugget.

Their companion Apricot Almond Balls, are made with dried apricots flavored with grated lemon zest, pulverized almonds plus a few dates for sweetness, and then rolled in desiccated coconut for contrast. Use the best dried apricots you can find, the lemon zest really brings them to life and the almonds are the perfect counterpoint. You’ll find more on the apricots in my next post coming up.

Much like fine bon bons, I reasoned less is more here and the smaller quantities would certainly suffice. Thus, I settled on US Postal Service small flat rate boxes which meant in round numbers, 8.5”x5.5”x1.5” box/postage at $7.00 each; about as reasonable as it gets.

Marginally reminiscent of a candy box, it also meant that the box would likely hold only one layer deep.  After the complicated packaging of previous baskets this would be pretty straightforward; I was more concerned with the strength of the box to do its job.

The raw balls came together in a hurry and in no time I was filling individual candy cups. Next I strategically packed them in colorful beribboned cellophane bags along with gift ingredient labels. The packages were then snuggly bound in bubble wrap and slipped into their waiting boxes—no rattling or shifting here. According to all accounts they arrived safely and fairly unscathed.

Raw Truffle Bites

Inspired by Raw Brownie Bites at paleogrubs.com

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups roasted hazelnuts (walnuts or pecans) light chop
pinch of salt
1 cup pitted Deglet Noor dates (or other excellent quality), chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Directions

  1. Add roasted hazelnuts and salt to food processor and process until nuts are finely ground.
  2. Add the dates, vanilla, and cocoa powder and process until mixture begins to come together. If necessary, add a couple drops of water at a time.
  3. Transfer the mixture into a bowl. Using a slightly rounded teaspoonful, roll with hands into small round balls and chill well. Roll in cocoa powder if desired. Yield: 17 – 20 truffles.

Note:  These are best eaten cold. Store in airtight container in refrigerator for about 1 week.