Frozen Rhubarb Fool

Rhubarb.  ROOOO-barb.  What a weird word.  It is, apparently, a vegetable.  The more you know.

My childhood equivalent of an ice cream treat was my mother’s tart yet sweet rhubarb fool.  You can even find this recipe in my mother’s cookbook.  We used to grow so much rhubarb in Nova Scotia that it was actually possible to hide among its leaves.  Needless to say, rhubarb in its many forms graced our table often. 

This easy dessert has only three ingredients: 1 cup whipping cream, 2 cups stewed and sweetened rhubarb (plop your raw, chopped rhubarb in a pot with some sugar and bring it to a boil.  Tada, you’re done), and a little bit of granulated sugar.

In a bowl, whip up your whipping cream until it’s as stiff as you can get it.

Try to avoid getting it all over yourself.  I always fail.

Anyway, you have your whipped cream.  Add a bit of sugar so it’s a little bit sweet.  If your stewed rhubarb isn’t that sweet, you might want to add more sugar to the cream.

Add the stewed rhubarb.

Fold it in so it’s all swirly with rhubarby goodness.

Spread evenly in a 9-inch pie pan and chuck it in the freezer.  Give it at least three hours to freeze all the way through.

Take it out of the freezer about 20 minutes before you want to serve it.

Cut it like a pie, garnish it with what you want, and serve it up.  Sweet and tart!

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Monolithic Date Squares

The Pie and I spent several long hot days in the kitchen, doing the prep-work for my brother’s wedding celebration.  One of the confections we produced were some rich, tall date squares.

Interesting fact for you: date squares are a Canadian invention.  I kid you not.  If you look up date squares in some of the older cookbooks you’ll find it under “matrimonial date squares”.  If anyone knows the reason for this, I’d love to hear it.

As a bit of a preparation for this, zest an orange.

While you’re at it get the juice from it as well.

And take 1/4 cup of hazelnuts and pulse them in a food processor until you have some lovely crumbs.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Now you start with the filling.

In a saucepan, stir together 2 cups water with 1 package (375g) pitted dates, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, and the juice from your orange, about 4 tablespoons.  Let that stand for about 30 minutes.

Afterwards, bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and boil gently, stirring often, until it’s thickened.  This will take about ten minutes.  And when it bubbles it will more resemble swamp goo than anything else.  Let it cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 cups rolled oats, 1 1/4 cups flour, and 1 cup packed brown sugar.

Cut in 1 cup cold cubed butter.  Keep going until the mixture is in coarse crumbs.

Press half (or slightly more than half) the oat mixture evenly into an 8-inch (2L) square pan lined with parchment paper.

Spread the mixture with your date goo.

Add the hazelnuts to your remaining oat mixture and toss well.

Pile the remaining mixture on top of the date goo and press it down lightly.

Bake for about 45 minutes, until golden brown on top, and let it cool before cutting into squares.

If you keep it covered it will last for weeks.  You can also freeze the squares before baking, wrapped in aluminum foil.

Made-Up Muffins

Yesterday I looked in my fridge and saw a little less than a cup of fruit sauce leftover from a waffle indulgence during Cait and iPM’s visit, a can of defrosted concentrated orange juice that I had never gotten around to making up, and about two cups of buttermilk, which was set to expire the following day.

Muffin time.

If I’ve learned anything from my baking idol Ovenhaven over at Epicurean Escapism, it’s that the key to baking a good muffin is not to overmix your ingredients.  This is why I now mix my muffins by hand, and not with a hand mixer or stand mixer.  From my own experience I’ve also learned that if you’re adding a lot of liquid, you need to compensate with extra dry ingredients.  So this particular recipe I had to do some thinking and some mental calculations first. 

The fruit sauce plus the concentrated orange juice came out to about two cups, so that meant I had to double the recipe.  In a weird way this meant that I came out with 36 regular sized muffins and another 12 mini-muffins.  So be it.

Anyway, here goes.

Preheat your oven to 350°F and grease your muffin tins or line them with paper cups.

In a large bowl, whisk together a little over 4 cups all-purpose flour, 2 tablespoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and a pinch each of cinnamon and nutmeg.  The baking powder will counterbalance some of the acidity in the buttermilk.

In a smaller bowl, mix together 1 cup melted butter, 1 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 4 eggs, 2 cups buttermilk, and your 2 cups juice mixture.

This one is weirdly bubbly and gross, but smelled good.

Pour your wet ingredients over your dry ingredients and mix just until the dry ingredients are all moistened.  Don’t fret if you see one or two tiny spots of unmixed flour.  Err on the side of mixing it too little.  Mixing it too much will result in flat, tough muffins.  

You can see here how the chemistry is already beginning and the mixture is getting all bubbly.

Spoon into your pans so the cups are about 2/3 full and bake, rotating once halfway through, for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the muffin comes out clean.

I couldn’t wait for it to cool before trying one.  Totally worth a burnt tongue.

Serve right away or seal tightly in plastic bags and freeze for later. 

Home-Made Chicken Noodle Soup

Every time we have whole roasted poultry in the house I make soup afterwards.  Soup is a great thing to have in your freezer for days when you’re feeling lazy, and making soup from leftover chicken or turkey ensures that you can get every scrap of meat from that bird.

I saved the carcass and the wings from the tarragon chicken we had the other night.  If you’re not prepared to make soup right away you can always wrap up the carcass and freeze it for a later date.  Just don’t forget about it, otherwise you’ll be pulling bird bones out of your freezer for months.

Anyway, take your carcass, including wing bones or leftover thighs or whatever, plus all your skin and whatever you used to season the bird (in this case I stuffed it with lemons) and chuck it in a large pot.  Add enough water to just cover the whole thing, and drop in a spoonful or so of powdered chicken stock.

Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let that sucker simmer for about an hour or so.

Remove from the heat and strain your broth.  I set a large colander inside a large bowl and pour the whole pot contents into that.

Then I can just lift the colander and all the broth drains out, leaving me with the bits still in the colander.

Return the broth to the pot and let the boiled carcass cool enough to handle.

Here’s where you get to play your favourite carrion bird, and you can go over that carcass and remove every last scrap of meat from every part of it. 

There’s always a lot more meat on the chicken’s back (which is usually the underside if you roast it breast-up) than you think, especially around the ribs.  Get all those little tidbits out and drop them into the broth. 

You can now discard your picked-over carcass, flabby skin, gristle, and whatever else was in the pot that isn’t meat.

Return the pot with the broth and chicken bits to the heat and bring to a boil.  At this point I like to add a bit of oregano.

Then you can pour in the noodle of your choice.  This time I used macaroni.

Boil for 10-15 minutes or until the pasta is cooked, then serve.  As I said, this stuff freezes well and it keeps in the fridge for about a week.

Peeling and Pureeing Kiwi

I bought a box of kiwis a while back.  With the stress of getting the second draft of my research proposal out and starting my new transcription project, I kind of forgot all about them and they got a little over-ripe.

Not to worry.  I decided to purée them and freeze the purée for later use.  Easy peasy.

Now we all know that Kiwi is one of those super-foods, loaded all sorts of good stuff, including more vitamin C than an orange.  They’re handy things to keep around.  What you may not know is that the kiwi originated from China in the 14th century, and only slowly made its way to New Zealand, where it was renamed from gooseberry to kiwi, after the fuzzy bird it so resembled.  What you may not also know is that there is something called the Arctic kiwi that comes out of Nova Scotia.  It’s kind of like a cross between a gooseberry and a kiwi, and it’s about the size of a grape.  It’s green and missing most of the fuzzy stuff, but tastes pretty much exactly like a sweet bite-sized kiwi.  I think they’re cool.  So does some one else.

This is an interesting fact for you: I am allergic to kiwi skin.  No joke.  If a little hair from that fuzzy stuff touches my tongue it swells up and it’s exceedingly painful.  I have to be very careful about how I prepare kiwi so that I can avoid that discomfort.

To make sure I get all the skin off at once, I first slice off the top and bottom of the fruit.  Then I take a teaspoon (a tablespoon if it’s a bigger kiwi) and insert it in between the skin and the fruit. I run the spoon all the way around to separate the skin from the fruit in one piece.

Then you can simply squeeze out the fruit and compost the peel.

I popped my little kiwis in my blender.

Look at them whir away.

Then I poured the pulp into some novelty ice cube trays for freezing.  I plan to add them to smoothies, drinks, and even soups later on.  When you pop them out they look super cool.  Hen told me this is how she makes baby food, as well.

Fun fact: you can use kiwi purée as an antioxidant exfoliator.  Simply rub a few tablespoons of purée onto clean skin.  Leave 7 to 10 minutes, then rinse and pat dry.  Blamo kablam: a kiwi facial.

Yes! We have no bananas Banana Bread

There are so, so very many bananas in my freezer.  I swear that the Pie doesn’t eat the fresh bananas simply so I will chuck them in the freezer in anticipation of me having a banana bread fest.  He loves banana bread.  More than he loves me. Honest.

This recipe comes from my magic book, though I think Kristopf actually gave it to me, ages ago.  Who knows where he got it from.  I was about ten or twelve at the time, which would put him at about fourteen or sixteen.  What teenage boy makes banana bread for fun?

Anyway.

Me being me, I of course have modified the original recipe, and I generally use more bananas than is really necessary.  It makes the finished loaf a little more crumbly but it ups the banana-y-ness to the max.  I also generally make these loaves in bulk, usually three at a time (I have three pans) but sometimes more, and then I wrap what we don’t eat tightly in plastic wrap and freeze it for another day.  Or give it to KK.  Or both.

I thawed the bananas in a bowl on my counter overnight and they were nice and blackened and soggy.  Today I made the recipe below, but I did it in triplicate.  If you make the single version that I’ve outlined below you should end up with two loaves.

The Pie, having nothing to keep him occupied, decided to help me today.  He has never made banana bread before.  He absolutely refused to touch the bananas in their black skins.  He promised me he would do all the raw chicken touching for the rest of our lives if I would do the banana stuff.  I’m okay with that.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

You’ll need 5 defrosted or very ripe bananas. Peel those gooshy suckers into a bowl.

Dissolve 1 tablespoon baking soda in 3 tablespoons hot water.  Of course, it doesn’t really dissolve, but if you keep stirring it you can get a temporary suspension.

Pour this into the banana mixture and mush it in with a fork until the bananas are all separated into small pieces.  The Pie helped me with this part, but under duress.  Set them aside for the nonce.

In a large bowl, beat together 2 eggs, 1 cup room temperature butter (that’s half of one of those 1-pound blocks), and 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar until fluffy.

In yet another bowl or measuring cup, whisk together 3 cups all-purpose flour and 2 teaspoons baking powder.  Set that aside, too.

Pour your banana mixture into your egg mixture and stir that up as well. 

The mixture should look slightly curdled at this point, and weird tendrils of banana fibre will stick to your mixing utensil and may gross you out.  The Pie said, at this point, “This – making banana bread for the first time – is kind of like seeing a woman give birth.  It’s something that you can’t un-see, and it will always affect how you see it in the future.”

Fold in your flour mixture, a little at a time.  If you want to put in chocolate chips or walnuts or whatever, now is the time to do so.  The Pie is a purist, however, so we have ours plain.

If you are following my lead and doing more than two loaves, do all your batches separately (in case of measuring mistakes) and don’t mix your wet and dry ingredients together in the other batches until you are ready to bake them.  Don’t want no chemical reactions to start too early.

Divide your batter between two greased loaf pans and smooth the tops.  I’ve been having trouble getting my extra-crumbly loaf out of the pan in one piece, so this time I decided to line them with parchment paper to ease the passage.  It was an experiment that worked out really well because it was a snap to use the edges of the paper to lift out the cooked loaves.  Then I just peeled off the paper and left the loaf on the rack to cool.

Bake for 60 minutes until dark brown and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Turn out and let cool on a wire rack.

This stuff is good hot, it’s good cold, and as I said above, it freezes really well.

Basic Burgers

Today is the first day after the Pie and I finished our month-long vegetarian experiment.  Accordingly, we’re going to MEAT IT UP and have ourselves some burgers tonight.  So much for easing back into omnivorism.

There are two very important things to remember when making burgers by hand.  The first is to buy no leaner than a medium ground chuck.  You may think you’ve made a healthy choice with a leaner ground but your burger will not stick together and will crumble as it cooks.  The second is to touch the meat as little as possible, which is quite a feat considering you need to hand-form the patties.  But it is doable, and making your own burgers really isn’t that hard.

There is a third thing you should know about burgers: KEEP IT SIMPLE.  Remember that you are frying or grilling up some ground meat, which, as it cooks, will secrete slippery oil and will shrink into individual particles.  This means that cohesiveness is an issue when making burgers, which is why you don’t touch them too much or get too rough with them.  The more stuff you add to the chuck before forming it into the patty, the more you risk a crumbling burger.  If you’re going to add things to the meat, make sure they’re small things so they don’t mess with the burger’s internal structure.

Gonna get gooey.

So you take your meat.  We made some of these patties out of medium ground beef and others from ground chicken.  I like to leave it out of the fridge for a while because you are going to be working it in your hands and manipulating cold ground meat feels like sticking your hands in the northern Pacific in the winter (which I have done and don’t recommend).  The amount of meat you use depends on the number of burgers you want, obviously.  We find a kilo of ground makes about 9 3-inch patties.

Put your meat in a large bowl that you can easily get your hands into.  Remove your rings and roll up your sleeves.  This is going to get gooey.

Finely (and I’m talking FINE) dice a medium onion and chuck that in with the meat.  Add a few teaspoons of minced garlic from a jar, and a few sprinkles of dried oregano and basil (or any herb of your choice) and a pinch or two of sea salt and ground pepper.  If you’re feeling adventurous you can add a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce and/or Tabasco sauce.  Don’t go too crazy with your ingredients, because you need the meat to be able to stick to itself as it cooks.

If you have no confidence in your patty cohesiveness, or if you have ignored me and purchased lean ground beef, you can add an egg or two, but I think that’s cheating.  Eggs are useful in meatloaf, but they don’t really belong in burgers.  ON burgers, but not IN burgers.

Working quickly, mix the meat with your hands until all your ingredients are just combined.

Grab a handful of the mixture and pat it gently into a patty about the size of your palm.  Make a thumbprint indentation in the centre of the patty and set it aside.  The indentation will keep the patty from contracting too much as it cooks.  Repeat until all the meat is gone.

You can freeze your patties for use at a later date.  Simply separate the patties with wax paper and place them in a freezer bag, tightly sealed, with the air removed.

Heat a large skillet with a bit of olive oil (or a grill, or even a broiler) and get those patties on there.  Once the patties are on the hot surface, you leave them the hell alone.  You may flip the burgers, but you can only do it ONCE, usually about five to ten minutes into the cooking, depending on how well done you like your meat.  Safety-wise, your burger should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F.

If you like cheese on your burger, put a few slices on after you have flipped the patty and they will melt into the meat.

Serve on a bun of your choice with the toppings you like.  Very much a crowd-pleaser, and it covers four food groups.