Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ode to Rhubarb – It’s a Vegetable

One of the first signs of spring in the Midwest is rhubarb popping through the ground. You see, the reason I like rhubarb is because botanically it is a vegetable. But if you are going to eat rhubarb, you gotta cover it with sugar and a healthy dose of butter doesn’t hurt either. It’s vegetable that you get to eat for dessert. Vegetable for dessert – life is good.

It wasn’t until I moved to the Midwest that I became acquainted with rhubarb. It didn’t grow in the South, but hey we got watermelon (but that’s another blog).

There are two basic types of rhubarb, green and red. Personally, I prefer the red. If your neighbor is giving you green rhubarb, take it. Rhubarb has a very sour taste and astringent flavor. Therefore the need for sugar or some other fruit, like strawberries.

Midwesterners say strawberries are a perfect complement to rhubarb. I don’t know if that is because they both show up in the spring or because you have got to put something with rhubarb. There is strawberry-rhubarb jam – a classic that always makes an appearance at the county fair. According to folklore, rhubarb was added to stretch the strawberries.

There appears to be an endless supply of rhubarb recipes –

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie -

I understand from my Midwestern friends that this recipe is a new thing. That is, not something they ate as children. It’s a good pie, so I say, “that’s too bad”.

Rhubarb Custard Pie - My friend makes this pie and it’s good!

Apple Rhubarb Chutney

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups rhubarb, diced
½ cup water
¾ cup sugar
½ cup apple cider vinegar
1 tart apple, such as Granny Smith, diced
1 – 1 inch piece of a cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
½ cup raisins
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon white pepper

1. Heat oil and sauté onions, garlic and ginger until transparent. Add everything else and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Mixture should be thick not soupy.

2. Mixture can be stored in the refrigerator for several months. I can’t say that I have tried this one, but my friend says it’s great with pork or chicken. For those of you who prefer something a little more savory or with fewer calories, give this one a try.

Donna Handley’s Rhubarb Cake

1 box (18.25 ounces) yellow or white cake mix
4 cups sliced rhubarb
1 cups sugar
2 cups whipping cream

1. Mix rhubarb and sugar. Set aside.

2. Prepare cake according to package directions. Pour into a greased 9 X 13-inch. Sprinkle rhubarb over top of cake batter.

3. Pour whipping cream over top. Bake at 350°F for 1 hour.

This time of year rhubarb is quiet easy to find in the Midwest. Check your neighbor’s backyard, you may find a steady supply (aka, free). If you are unable to find rhubarb in the neighborhood, head out to your local farmers market.

Thanks for reading about rhubarb. Take a stroll through your neighbor’s garden or the local farmers market and pick up a bunch. I gotta go and get another piece of rhubarb cake. If I eat enough, I can get full serving of vegetables.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Ricotta Gnocchi – Another Italian Dumpling

It’s usually safe to say that most people think everything is better with a little cheese. Cheese dip, cheese sauce, shredded cheese, cheese on top, cheese in the middle. Gnocchi made with cheese is no exception. I have a great recipe for ricotta cheese gnocchi.

Ricotta is a fresh cheese, meaning it has not been aged. Other kinds like Cheddar, Parmesan, and Swiss, are aged or ripened. Ricotta is a type of Italian cheese made from whey (whey is the liquid remaining after making cheese). It literally means “recooked”.

Try them with your favorite sauce (even a cheese sauce!) to see for yourself just how the ricotta makes these little pillows melt in your mouth. Get ready for seconds.

Ricotta Gnocchi
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 egg yolk
¼ to ½ teaspoon salt
½ cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
6 to 9 Tablespoons all-purpose flour, extra for dusting the dough/board

In a large bowl, combine ricotta cheese, egg yolk, salt and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Mix well. Add enough flour to make a soft dough. Stir until combined – the dough will still be quite sticky.

Generously flour a board or countertop. Divide dough into fourths. Working with ¼ of dough at a time, scoop it onto the board. Dust it with flour (dust your hands too) before rolling it into a finger-thick roll. Cut dough into little pillows. Try sticking the knife’s blade into the flour to keep it from sticking. Place each gnocchi on a floured board or parchment paper lined baking tray.

Meanwhile bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a generous pinch of salt and reduce heat until the water bubbles lightly. Add the gnocchi and stir once, so they don’t stick to the bottom – then let cook until they start floating to the top. Depending on their size this may take 2 to 4 minutes. Take out with a slotted spoon and serve immediately.

Tomato-Cream Sauce

1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 can (14.5 ounce) diced tomatoes, pureed in food processor until smooth
Pinch of salt and sugar
2 Tablespoons basil leaves, minced
2 Tablespoons heavy cream (I used half-and-half. Good, but cream would've been better.)

Heat oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Stir in tomatoes, salt, and sugar. Simmer until thickened slightly, about 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in basil and cream. Cover to keep warm.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Asparagus is one of the first signs of the arrival of spring. The name asparagus comes from the Greek language meaning “sprout” or “shoot” and is a member of the lily family. It is a perennial garden vegetable, native to the East Mediterranean area, cultivated from antiquity and now grown in much of the world. The stems function as a leaves and the leaves are reduced to scales. Asparagus is harvested when the spears are about nine inches long with compact, tight heads.

Asparagus is offered in the traditional green color as well as the purple and white spears. There are thick and thin spear varieties. All provide health benefits. Asparagus is high in folic acid and an excellent source of fiber. It also provides vitamins B6, A and C as well as thiamin.

When grown without exposure to light, asparagus lacks the pigment chlorophyll. Purple asparagus contains anthocyanins, a group of phytochemicals that supply plants with a blue-purple color. Some scientific studies show that anthocyanins act as antioxidants and may provide cancer-protective benefits. Anthocyanins are somewhat heat sensitive; therefore, the color will fade when cooked.

Asparagus has been prized by foodies since ancient Rome. Ancient Romans considered asparagus to be a delicacy and valued it for its ease of preparation. The story goes that when Romans used the phrase “as quick as cooking asparagus”, they wanted something done speedily. That same thought still goes for preparing asparagus. It is important not to overcook asparagus. The thickness of the spear determines the cooking time. Cook asparagus until a knife can just be inserted into the thickest part of the spear.

When choosing asparagus, choose purple-green and tightly closed spears. If you must store asparagus, treat it as you would treat a cut flower. Trim the stems and stand them in a glass with one to two inches of water. Cover with a plastic bag and refrigerate for 2 to 3 days or until ready to use.

There are endless possibilities for preparing asparagus. I prefer to keep mine simple. Now my favorite is roasted asparagus with balsamic browned butter sauce. It appeared several years ago in Cooking Light magazine. Some of their readers rate it as the best asparagus recipe ever. Now how is that for an endorsement? And, everyone I give this recipe to loves it. Check it out at

Also try this recipe for asparagus with lemon butter.

Asparagus with Lemon Butter

Serves 4 to 6.

1 pound fresh asparagus
2 Tablespoons butter
1 to 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice, depending on your taste
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Peel or break off the tough lower ends of stems. Cook asparagus in a wide 6 to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water, uncovered, until just tender, 5 to 7 minutes.

2. Drain well in a colander, return to pot and toss with butter, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Note: I usually cook asparagus in a large skillet. I find that with a skillet it is easier to get all the asparagus submerged.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Hold the Presses!

Paninis have become popular over the last few years. A panini is essentially a type of Italian sandwich that is usually heated between a press. The press makes very cute grill marks. Paninis have a crunchy crust and a nice warm melting inside. They are to put it mildly, delicious and expensive. Therefore being the cheapskate that I am, I have been on a mission to make my own paninis.

Since I am cheap, I also don’t want to spend over one hundred bucks on a press. Not just to make a sandwich. I have a rule, before I purchase something for the kitchen, it must perform at least two functions. If it doesn’t, it won’t make it into the house. Therefore, I have a Panini press free house. But I want a Panini, so I “invented” my own press. To make my press, get two heavy duty skillets and a large can of something, like tomatoes.

When I make a Panini, I get to become as creative as I possibly can. I “build” a Panini the same way that I build a salad. Start with good bread. You can add mustard or mayonnaise, but this is a Panini, so let’s think out of the box. I like something salty like an olive salad, cheese, such as Harvarti, smoked cheddar, gouda. I normally add meat to mine, but it is not a necessity. I also like seasonal fruit like apple in the fall, peaches and nectarines in the summer. Panini just sounds fancy, it is nothing more than a grilled cheese sandwich. However, it is necessary to butter the bread to get a crispy brown crust. Now mind you, my paninis don't have those fancy grill marks, but I didn't spend a hundred bucks either.