Tag Archives: spring

Sweet enough.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

My Babci’s* rhubarb plants grew on the edge of her large garden, near the  maple tree, where we would sit and eat lunch at during the summer. My Mom’s plants sit on the back edge of my parents’s garden near the blueberry bushes. Each June the bright red stalks ripened about the same time we went strawberry picking.

Mom baked pies. My great aunt, Mary, made quick jam with rhubarb and strawberry jello. Babci gave us cups of sugar into which we’d dip the stalks and eat them raw.

Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Rhubarb is sharply bitter. Even with sugar it elicits a pucker. Cooked down into a thick, jammy chutney, I could still not imagine it without the balance of brown sugar.

But somehow, in this relish, it works. Balanced against ripe cherries, kept savory with shallot, bright with vinegar and warmed by cardamom it sits perfectly alongside rich meats – pork chops, grilled steaks and wild boar sausages*. You can use the food processor, but we hand chopped it. I like the texture and it keeps the flavors clearer. The extra few minutes in the kitchen provide extra time to chat, listen to music, or just enjoy the warm breeze coming in the window.

*Babci is Polish for grandmother. Wild Boar Sausages are available from Canales Quality Meats at Washington, DC’s Eastern Market.

Rhubarb Cherry Relish

Taste your cherries and your rhubarb. If the cherries don’t have much sugar or the rhubarb is particularly tart, you may need a pinch of sugar.

Makes 1 3/4 cups

Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped rhubarb
  • 1 cup pitted and roughly chopped cherries
  • 1/4 cup diced shallot
  • 2 tsp minced basil
  • 1.5 tsp White Balsamic or Ruby Red Grapefruit Vinegar*
  • Cardamom

*A bright, fresh treat from Sapore Oil and Vinegar.

Directions:

  • Mix together rhubarb, cherries and shallot in a food processor.
  • Pulse a few times to desired texture. I prefer mine about the size of a fine dice. Remove to a small mixing bowl.
  • OR – finely hand chop the rhubarb, cherries and shallot and mix together in a small bowl.
  • Mix in basil and Ruby Red Grapefruit Vinegar. Season to taste with a pinch each of cardamom and salt.
  • If you make this ahead of time, check seasoning right before serving. As juices develop you may find you want a pinch more of salt or cardamom or a little more fresh basil.
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Of record.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Five or six years ago, my parents’ newspaper changed, and not for the better. The wonderful, large pages got smaller, and the bylines all read AP. Now, the Associated Press is an important news source, and do a much better job at covering Washington politics and major events around the country then the small writing staff in Springfield, MA, but I miss garden writers gardening in the same weather and soil that I am and reporters intimately knowledgeable of local politics.

The local Gazette and Penny Saver, still employing staff to cover local politics, sports, business and schools, have become local publications of record. While DC’s local paper is a national paper of record, we are also blessed with smaller papers employing writers who are embedded in our city. They cover the issues that impact our neighborhoods and the people who make them special.

Last week, we had the opportunity to host a writer from DC’s Hill Rag at #testkitchen. She joined us as we refined a recipe I had presented at an American University health and wellness event the day before. Annette joined right in helping to taste recipes and suggest ingredients and, as always, many palates make a stronger dish. Look for Annette’s write up in the May issue of the Hill Rag. In the meantime, enjoy this salad, and many thanks to the students, faculty and staff at AU for tasting it last Wednesday afternoon.

Lemongrass Fennel Orange Salad

For dressing:

  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/3 cup Lemongrass or other light, sweet vinegar*
  • 1 tbs honey
  • 2/3 cup Avocado or other neutral flavored oil*

*This is another chance to shop online or in person at Sapore Oil and vinegar. A strong olive oil will overpower these ingredients, so use something neutral like avocado, grapeseed or vegetable oil. For a vinegar, use something light and sweet. Unseasoned rice wine vinegar is easily available. This is also a good opportunity to break out the gift bottle of Pear Chardonnay or other fruit-wine vinegar that’s aging in your pantry.

For salad:

  • 1 head fennel, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries or cranberries
  • 2 heads butter lettuce, gently chopped in pieces*
  • 1 orange, peeled and sectioned, sliced or chopped

*My big meathooks rough up easily bruised butter lettuce, so I chop mine gently.

Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Directions:

  • Make dressing. Whisk together shallot, vinegar and honey with a pinch each of salt and pepper.
  • Whisk in oil in a thin stream to form a creamy emulsion.
  • Toss together fennel, orange and cherries. Lightly dress with 1/4 cup dressing.
  • Lightly dress lettuce with 1/4 cup dressing.
  • Plate lettuce, topped with fennel mixture.

How this all began.

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I spent the spring of 1996 living at home with my parents. Those four months were the most influential out of the past 18 years I’ve spent cooking and entertaining.

I grew up cooking with Mom. Her meals were fresh, simple and healthy, and I cook many of those same dishes today. That spring, however, was different. I was 21, had just graduated from Colby College at the end of January, and was bored and lonely. A few months earlier I had gone to dinner at the home of some older friends, arriving early enough to enjoy a glass of wine with them in the kitchen. Leaving, I realized I had memorized the recipe for the pasta sauce they had served – rich, and trendy, with artichoke hearts, capers, portobello mushrooms and fresh basil. I went home and began cooking it for anyone who would eat it.

Now it’s March, I’m home, the spring season is beginning at my family’s garden center and I have Tuesday’s off. I think, “I’ll cook dinner  and give Mom and Dad a break.” Week one is the pasta sauce. Week two is tacos. By week three I’m sitting down at 10AM with a cup of coffee and a stack of cookbooks. I head out around 1PM with the shopping list for a 5-6 dish menu. I visit 3-4 grocers and farm stands, buying strange new ingredients. Back home I  cook through these overly ambitious menus, serving my exhausted parents around 9PM.

We would choose dishes depending on the menu, and gather flowers and greens from the yard to decorate the table. I discovered Billy Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra. I learned that wines had names and could be magically paired with food.

I’ve learned a lot since then. I still love (almost) every moment I spend in the kitchen. but that spring I jumped off the cliff, and I’ve never looked back.