Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Rhubarb Fool

One of the simplest ways to serve any fruit puree is to fold whipped cream into it which has to be the least foolhardy thing one could do. So why is this delicious dessert called a fool? Blame the French word, fouler, which means to mash though this recipe needs no mashing as a brief simmering gets the fruit into a similar state.

The rosebuds are the first for the season!

makes about 1 quart/liter of rhubarb puree
  • Rhubarb, cut into chunks, 6 cups (48 fluid oz)/1420 ml (1.4 L), about 12 stalks
  • Sugar, white, 4 fluid oz/120 ml
  • Water, 4 fluid oz/120 ml
  • Whipped cream, 5-6 heaping T for each serving
  • Cinnamon, ground, for garnishing
  • Optional: a dash of raspberry or grenadine syrup to add some colour, about 1 fluid oz/30 ml
Put the rhubarb, sugar, water and if using, raspberry/grenadine syrup into a saucepan. Simmer while covered for five minutes. Stir a few times. Then uncover and cook, while stirring here and there, for another five minutes. Let cool and store in the fridge or freeze.

From our potager!

For each serving, I used equal amounts of puree and cream. You may want a different proportion of sweet to tart. Spoon the rhubarb first into the dish, then plop the whipped cream on top. Gently fold-in by slipping a spoon under an edge and upturning the rhubarb onto the cream. Turn the bowl as you lightly blend.

Though I am a diehard fan of rhubarb's flavour, I find its tendency to become olive-green once cooked a bit off-putting. A splash of raspberry syrup changed that rather drab colour to one closer to sparkling champagne.

When most of the rhubarb is thinned out into ribbons, dust on the cinnamon.

The Calm One was gallant enough to hoist his serving so I could photograph its marbled effect.

A clear, stemmed glass really shows off this dessert

Outside, the garden has the blues. Bluebells that is...

and irises...

not to mention lilacs! Setting a vase full of water underneath the lilac bushes in the early morning is one of my great garden joys. I get to take my time as I choose blooms as each will immediately go into the vase. To assist the lilacs to last for several days, use a mallet to smash several inches at the bottom of their stems.

Violet cotton candy!

The second mowing of the season has been done but that doesn't keep the English daisies away for long which is fine by me as they are so dainty and pretty.

All those white dots are daisies!

When selecting irises to cut, choose the ones with many buds.

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Norwegian Rhubarb Cake

Rhubarb juice soaks this cake so thoroughly that I was tempted to use a straw! Its attractively sodden state is similar to that of baba au rhum. Rhum is fine, but so is rhubarb with its fresh and vibrant flavour.

Rainbow colours! The flowers are lilacs and cranesbills from our garden

A baking pan is lined first with rhubarb that has been lightly braised in syrup and then the batter is added. In the oven, the juices bubble up the cake. Out of the oven, it is then flipped over and as it stands, gravity does the rest, fully saturating the cake. It boasts of a lovely texture and taste as the crème fraîche smooths out the tartness while the crust becomes superbly caramelised. Though it can be kept in the fridge for a few days, take it out an hour or so before serving because it is best at room temperature.

makes a 26 cm/10 inch long, 10 cm/4 inch wide, 5 cm/2 inch deep loaf and a smaller 15 cm/6 inch long, 9 cm/3.5 inch wide, 4 cm/1.5 inch deep loaf
adapted from The Missing Flavor
  • Rhubarb stalks, about 4 stalks
  • Sugar, white, 8 fluid oz/237 ml for the batter plus 5 T for simmering/macerating the rhubarb
  • Flour, all purpose, white, 8 fluid oz/237 ml
  • Butter, sweet, 200 gms/7 dry oz, extra for greasing the pans
  • Eggs, 3
  • Crème fraîche, 6 fluid oz/180 ml
  • Pure vanilla extract, 1 tsp
  • Baking powder, 1 tsp
  • Baking soda, 1/4 tsp
  • Salt, 1/4 tsp
  • Optional: Raspberry syrup, 1 tsp, for a boost in colour

Bring eggs, crème fraîche, and butter to room temperature. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees F. Before simmering the rhubarb, I cut them to fit snugly in the two pans. Remove the rhubarb and butter inside bottom of pans. Put pans over parchment paper and make tracings with a knife, then cut out. Line the pans and butter again, this time, include all the sides and corners. Reserve.

Rhubarb from our potager

If you prefer a fluffier cake, then macerate the raw rhubarb in the sugar for at least a few hours or overnight. If not, pour one oz/30 ml to two fluid oz/60 ml of water into a skillet and add five tablespoons of sugar. Over low heat stir until dissolved. Place the rhubarb in the pan and gently cook for several minutes. If using raspberry syrup, add now. The rhubarb need to be mostly firm so be careful as not to overcook. Arrange either the braised or macerated rhubarb in the lined pans and pour syrup/juices over them. Set aside.

Sift the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda into a medium-sized bowl. In a large bowl, mash the butter with a fork. Gradually add the sugar in batches, mashing well after each addition. Then beat with a wooden spoon for several minutes. Crack eggs one by one, beating well after each one is added. The batter will look a bit curdled which is OK. Beat in one half of the flour and the crème fraîche. Repeat with the rest, adding the vanilla.

Fill up pan(s) no more than three-quarters way up and smooth/flatten out with the back of a wet metal spoon. Bake around forty minutes or until a wooden skewer comes out clean. Center should also spring back slightly and the edges will have slightly pulled back.

Let cool till it is no longer hot. It may deflate a bit as the juices settle down which is fine. Going around the edges first with a thin, straight spatula will ease the easing-out of the cake. Then turn the pan upside down over a serving plate. The parchment may adhere itself onto the cake. In that case, gently peel it off. A recalcitrant rhubarb strip may need to be coaxed to join the rest.

By the time The Calm One sauntered into the kitchen, the cake had become one with the rhubarb, and so heavy with juice that it was challenging to lift a slice onto his plate. But somehow he managed. Crème Chantilly was whipped and sliced strawberries were sugared. Voilà!

The asparagus picking is finished chez nous. The remaining spears now look like this!

Soon fern-like foliage will appear

Gardening activity continues at a nice clip. Onions, garlic, and peas are now in the ground. Early-season potatoes to follow. Then carrots and beets...

Two of our twelve 4' by 12' veggie beds

À la prochaine!


Wikipedia article on edible flowers

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Baked Parmesan Asparagus Polenta Sausage Frittata

The best situation for me during frantic springtime is if I could have both a cook and gardener. Since that appealing pair is not to be seen anywhere chez nous, what's the next best thing? A frittata brimming with asparagus fresh from our potager, that's what. Though it needs attention for about twenty minutes during batter preparation, once in the oven, it thrives for a half hour on its own, browning and puffing up itself with such prettiness that after I return from topping up the birdbaths and bringing in the tomato seedlings for the night, I hesitate before eating...for about one second.

Though some regard a frittata as a quiche sans crust, my take is that it more like scrambled eggs without the scrambling. Since a top tip for making truly fantastic scrambled eggs is not to add milk or water, I applied that wisdom to this unscrambled version. The polenta cheerfully amplifies the sunny yellow of the eggs, but more importantly it imparts the most delectable creaminess. What we have here are eggs with a built-in porridge perfumed with asparagus, permeated with succulent sausage, and embellished with Parmesan.

makes 4 ample servings
  • Asparagus, blanched, sliced in 2 inch/5 cm pieces, four fluid oz/120 ml (about 4-5 spears)
  • Sausage, Toulouse or Italian sweet, cooked, blotted, crumbled, 10 fluid oz/300 ml (two 6 inch/15 cm long sausages, any extra can be frozen for the next time!)
  • Polenta, fine, quick-cooking, 2 fluid oz/60 ml
  • Eggs, 6
  • Parmesan, freshly grated, 4 fluid oz/120 ml
  • Salt to taste (I used about 1/2 tsp)
  • Olive oil, 1/2 to 1 tsp, for oiling the baking dish

To keep asparagus fresh for about four days in the fridge, wrap the ends with wet paper toweling and put in a sealed plastic bag.

The last of our oh-so-tasty harvest!

Preheat to 350 degrees F/180 degrees C. Whisk eggs and polenta together for several minutes to get a thick batter.

Add sausage, asparagus, salt, and Parmesan. Stir well.

Pour into a well-oiled baking pan. If desired, some of the asparagus can be re-arranged into a pleasing pattern.

Bake for around twenty-five to thirty minutes until it's nicely browned. Test by pressing the center which should be firm. Slice into portions.

Its fragrant, creamy glory is best when served hot from the oven. When cold, the flavour does stand up, but the texture is heavier. When reheated by steaming, it gets a more bread pudding feel. Additionally, it freezes fairly well.

Porridge for adults!

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Do No Harm, Make Parm Broth!

Parmesan's longevity and versatile deliciousness makes it a classic worth having around. Chez nous, it adorns pizzas, blends into Béchamel sauce as a topping for lasagne, rounds out calzone filling, and parts a perfect richness to roasted broccoli soup. Hence there is a rind bounty. Though some are tossed into minestrone and tomato sauce to augment their robust taste, the rest become covered with fuzzy blue mold necessitating a wasteful visit to the bin. Now I pop each one into a ziploc bag in the freezer till there is enough to make a fabulous broth replete with silky body and fantastic flavour!

Olive oil rising to the top forms a delicious, lacy cloud with the aromatic broth

As there were leftovers from simmered chickens, linguine and capers in the larder, and last but not least, some asparagus fresh from our potager, they all got piled into a bowl of steaming broth.

However, there are various ways for serving this lusty fusion of Parmesan, white wine/sherry vinegar, olive oil, and a bouquet garni. It can form a base for soups, casseroles, and sauces. Different combinations of garnishes include other pasta shapes, roasted veggies like broccoli, white beans, poached egg, seared shrimp, crumbled cooked sausage/ham/bacon, and bread crumbs. The broth itself keeps for several days in the fridge. Though I did not test freezing, I suspect it could be reduced and frozen in ice-cube trays which makes plopping them into soups and sauces a breeze.

It's appropriate to leave a little cheese on the rinds!

If your household doesn't generate heaps of rinds, it may be possible to buy an inexpensive bag of them from a cheesemonger.

makes 2 ample servings, adapted from here. If substituting fresh herbs for the dried, use a bit more. Recipe can be doubled but the cooking time most likely will be longer.
  • Olive oil, 2 T
  • Onion, 1, peeled and quartered
  • Garlic, whole head, unpeeled, halved
  • Thyme, dried, 1 tsp
  • Bay leaf, one large
  • Parsley, dried, 1/4 tsp
  • Peppercorns, black, 1/2 tsp
  • White wine OR 1/2 tsp of sherry vinegar diluted in water, 8 fluid oz/237 ml
  • Water, 34 fluid oz/1 liter
  • Parmesan rinds, 10 dry oz/284 gms
  • Linguine, a bundle about an inch/2.5 cm in diameter
  • Garnish: cooked chicken chunks, asparagus tips, capers
Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pot, like a dutch oven, over moderately high heat for about a minute, then add the next six ingredients and while stirring, saute until browned, about five minutes.

Carefully pour in the wine or diluted vinegar and simmer for about five minutes or until reduced in half.

This concentrating intensifies the flavour

Toss in the rinds and pour in the water. Stir well and cover with the lid a bit ajar to encourage broth reduction. Simmer for about thirty minutes or until the flavour develops to the point of knocking your socks off. Stir a few times as the rinds tend to stick to the bottom*.

Strain and salt to taste. Cook linguine in the broth then divide evenly in bowls. Using a fork, you can twist the pasta into nests if that is your preference. Garnish with chicken, asparagus tips, and capers. Luscious, I say!

À la prochaine!

*Cleaning tip: that mass of molten rinds will leave strainer and pot somewhat challenging to clean. While the pasta is simmering in the strained broth, I fill up the empty pot/strainer with warm soapy water. I eat. Then I scrape the pot's bottom with a wooden spoon, finish the cleaning with an abrasive sponge and using a veggie brush/toothbrush, clean the strainer. This stuff is so good, it's worth this bother!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Asparagus & Bresse Bleu Grilled Sourdough Rye Sandwich

Since asparagus season started, I been known to create a recipe just before falling asleep in case the next day gives us some spears from our patch. Basic grilled cheese is a staple chez nous so before entering dreamland one night, I conjured up an image of tender asparagus and creamy Bresse Bleu encased in buttery, grilled sourdough rye. Served piping hot from the skillet, it is a vrai régal for when I sit down to lunch after a morning potager session.

Bresse Bleu was created in the 1950s as a competitive response to Gorgonzola because that venerable Italian cheese which has been made since the 11th century was becoming popular in France.  Though similar to Brie, not only does Bresse Bleu have delectable blue veins but contains less fat because it is made from skim milk.

This gorgeous, creamy mound contains 15% fat versus 22% of regular Brie

In general follow instructions for my basic grilled cheese which are here. Instead of using grated cheese, place slivers of Bresse Bleu on a slice of bread then top with spears. For thick asparagus, halve them vertically. Cook the spears first by covering them with a small amount of water in a skillet.


There are about two more weeks left for harvesting as our young bed needs limited picking so it can sustain a full harvest next season which will be eight weeks.

Brave, emerging spears

By then there will be rhubarb to harvest!

The double daffodils have taken over from the earlier blooming trumpets.

Species tulips are just beginning to flower.

Since Dirac the kitten loves to hoover our not-always-pristine kitchen floor for scraps, he often licks his nose to extend his culinary pleasure.

À la prochaine!


Bresse Bleu is one of the many cheeses mentioned in Monty Python's famous cheese shop sketch
Best way to store asparagus

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Asparagus Harvest Begins!

Since I am spending as much time as possible in the garden, our well stocked freezer continues to nourish us. Today its offering is borscht with beef and onion dumplings.

The Polish version of borscht consists of a clear, ruby broth

This outstanding recipe was given to me by The Calm One's mother and can be found hereOur family tradition calls for making large, and I do mean large, dumplings!

That's a sliver of porcini mushroom on the lower left

Harvesting the asparagus was dutifully delayed for the last two seasons, because that time was needed to strengthen the plants which will allow abundant production for up to twenty years. However, the present picking will be limited to four weeks. Next spring it will go on for the full eight. Once simmered tender in a small amount of water in a skillet, the spears are sliced into pieces and added to scrambled eggs and pasta or just eaten by themselves with some help from butter and lemon juice. Their fresh taste is incomparable.

The emergence of the first seedlings is a major, smile-producing event for me. The tomato seeds sowed indoors about a week ago are now on that vigourous path that annual veggies embrace, going from a tiny seed to a plant producing its own seeds for the next generation.

Don't tell the chitted, early-season seed potatoes that their garden bed is not yet prepared!

Coloured sprouts occur in sunlight and are the ones required for producing more potatoes

Dirac the Kitten is eschewing, and therefore also not chewing, his favourite grey fleece blanket in lieu of one more attuned, colour-wise, to spring. 

He looks smashing next to pink and violet!

À la prochaine!


How to plant asparagus


Five ways to cook Asparagus
Wikipedia: It is believed most people produce the odorous compounds after eating asparagus, but only about 22% of the population have the autosomal genes required to smell them.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Springing Into Action...

Gorgeous Gaia! I got a load of gardening to do within a relatively small window of opportunity. As I can not be in the garden and the kitchen simultaneously, our pal, the freezer, offered up homemade chicken pot pie which we gladly devoured. My recipe is here.

The first batch of sowing is now in the incubator: four varieties of tomatoes and two of peppers.

Recycled food trays and containers!

Pruning continues at a brisk pace.

The Calm One did some major Box Elder pruning

After pruning the plum and peach tree, both of which I keep to a manageable height of about seven feet, I sprayed a diluted, super-fine horticultural oil to combat the mites that love both trees. A repeat treatment will most likely be needed once the young leaves appear. Windless days are best for such treatment or else you will receive an unwanted facial. Ivy also appreciates a thorough clipping back.

If I can, I leave some berries like those on the lower left for the birds

While trimming the robust aucuba hedge, I found some large, cherry-like berries. Since this species is dioecious, that is, there are separate male and female plants, it's official that both sexes are present in our garden. I had given up hope because there has been no fruiting since our arrival here five years ago.

There are a few bearded irises here and there, a harbinger of the profusion of blue and purple blooms expected at the end of April which is around when Dirac the kitten will be allowed into the garden.

Dirac the kitten to The Calm One:  I did not know we have a gardener!

Dirac: Oh, it is just my other mother, the large, glabrous one, dashing about and wielding her secateurs all over the place. 

À la prochaine!


Indoors sowing using heat
Basics of pruning, especially the importance of apical dominance