Friday, June 24, 2011

Rhubarbarella

I’ve always been a fan of raw rhubarb. It probably has something to do with the fact that my mom would give us rhubarb stalks and one of our play teacups filled with white sugar and we could dip with wild abandon. We also had rhubarb sauce made with the rhubarb from my nanny’s (mom’s mom) side garden when I was a young lass. That would usually end up on store-bought ice cream for dessert. But the classic combo of strawberry and rhubarb in a pie does nothing for me and I usually am enthusiastic about classic culinary combos. Port and Stilton - now that I can get behind, but cooked mushy strawberries and rhubarb? Forget it. Generally, I find cooked strawberries to be a waste of good berries, with the sole exception of homemade strawberry jam.

And now back to rhubarb. I was thinking recently of ways it could be used in savoury culinary applications. I tried roasting some to see if it would hold it’s shape better and could be used in salad or something. That test didn’t pan out because I had what is best described as deflated rhubarb sticks and caramelized ooze stuck to the pan. The areas on my baking sheet were exceptionally bright when I finally was able to remove the residual rhubarb. Rhubarb is famous for it’s tartness and perhaps it could be used with fish in place of lemon (I think I read that somewhere), but I have yet to try it. So luckily when I was on my way to Fiesta Farms and trying to think of non-nightshade veggies to use in an eggless tart with cashew cheese (à la chocolate and zucchini) that needed to be consumed I thought of giving rhubarb a go.

Let me take a moment to tell you about the tart shell. I was testing a blend of gluten free flours based on the formula that I came across on gluten free girl's blog. My particular blend included brown rice flour, sorghum, buckwheat, teff, almond, white rice, tapioca and arrowroot. I was also testing organic vegetable shortening. Then I took those ingredients and applied the 3-2-1 pie dough ratio since I currently am acquainting myself with Michael Ruhlman’s book. The crust was satisfactory, though a bit delicate due to crumbliness and had a tendency to fall apart. Typical of my process, I thought “I should blind bake this” after I slapped on a couple of spoonfuls of the cashew cheese, which probably added too much moisture to the uncooked dough. So I baked the tart shell with cashew paste for twenty minutes before putting the main topping on.

The first thing I did when I got home from the store was to slice up one red onion and get that in the cast iron pan to slowly cook and begin to caramelize. Well, prepping the onions was almost the first thing I did when I got home; the first thing I did was put the shortening in the freezer since it had warmed up on my walk back home. My thought was, if you add sweet strawberries to balance the tartness of the rhubarb, why not sweet onions? Anyway, a few minutes before I was ready to put them in the tart I added my diced rhubarb (okay, okay I didn’t dice, but I did split the stalks lengthwise and then slice and the pieces were sort of dice-like) and turned off the fire. To this mixture I added, oh I don’t know, it must have been about at least teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme, which was key to taking this to the savoury side of things. I also had soaked 1 tablespoon of ground chia seed in 3 tablespoons of water and added this. I thought it would act a bit like a binding agent and add a dose of fibre to boot. Oh, and of course I used a healthy pinch or two of salt along with its friend pepper.

All told, I think the tart was in the oven for about 50 minutes (I think – might have been more). I was looking for browning on the edge of the crust, but I realize that it probably wouldn’t happen to the same extent as if I had used butter and all-purpose flour. So when I saw some browning, and was overtaken by hunger, I took the tart out of the oven. Sprinkled a few leaves of chopped mint on top - from a height (I hear Jamie Oliver in my head whenever I say “from a height”), which did nothing flavour-wise but was nice visually. I served the whole thing with a simple green salad and that was dinner.

I took no photos. But let me share with you some links:

Friday, June 3, 2011

Off-Label Use

In this post I will not be encouraging you to take prescription drugs for uses that have not been clinically tested. I am, however, going to propose an alternate use for a kitchen tool duo.

If you are like me and have a basic refrigerator without any bells and whistles, like crushed ice, but still would like on occasion to enjoy a drink poured over a tall glass filled with the stuff, then I have a solution for you.

Yes, yes, I know that you can put ice in a bag and wrap in a towel and go at it with a mallet, but I have a simple solution for you in the cases where you don’t want to go to all that hassle for one or two drinks (or ruin your last zip lock bag which you re-use and are mystified as to where they go). Take your mortar and pestle and pound a couple of ice cubes at a time while you slightly cover the top of the mortar with your other hand so that errant ice chips don’t fly at you. Crushed ice for non-alcoholic mint lemonade. Done.

I can’t believe I never thought of using my mortar and pestle for this before, but it works like a charm. If you do not have a mortar and pestle then you really should consider taking remedial action, even if for all the other normal uses like grinding spices and making spice pastes. Don’t bother, as I did for several years, with those dinky little ceramic versions where you are afraid to put any elbow grease lest you crack the mortar. You know, the kind that looks like it belonged to a druggist, circa 1903. Rather, get a hefty, somewhat deep, granite or marble one. You absolutely would be doing yourself a favour for the mere fact that a basil pesto lovingly made by hand in a mortar is so much more charming and delicious than something whirled in a food processor.

I finally got the upgrade to my stone mortar and pestle when it was given to me by my dear husband for my last birthday. It works so much better – exponentially so – than the little ceramic one. I do, however, keep the ceramic set around because it makes short work of crushing one or two cloves of garlic when used in combination with the granite pestle. That, and I like things that look like they belong in an apothecary.

Sparkling mint lemonade, non-alcoholic

  • Juice of two smallish lemons
  • A healthy sized sprig of mint
  • 2-3 drops of liquid stevia extract (or a spoonful of sugar if you don’t have to avoid it)
  • Crushed ice – see above
  • Sparkling water

  1. In a tall glass (collins glass) muddle the lemon juice, mint and stevia. (If you don't have a muddler you can improvise with the handle end of a wooden spoon or other similar kitchen object...like a pestle)
  2. Fill the glass with the crushed ice leaving a bit of space at the top.
  3. Top it off with sparkling water and gently stir
  4. Enjoy the feeling of being revived!

Note: If you must, you could add some white rum or gin, but this really is a delightful drink on it’s own.