Rhubarb-raspberry stew with dumplings.

I have a lot of opinions lately, though Nick is quick to point out that they are not opinions as much as they are hormonal outbursts. I have evaluated the pros and cons of keeping him and at this point it seems like his potential future usefulness trumps his “helpful” suggestions so for now, he lives.

Though many of my opinions have been unsavoury and not appropriate to share under “if you don’t have anything nice to say” guidelines, at least one has been food-related and that opinion has been that rhubarb is fantastic and it ought to be mixed with vanilla bean at my earliest opportunity.

Today, just such an opportunity presented itself.

What follows is a recipe for rhubarb stew with dumplings; I used the last of my frozen raspberries to stretch the rhubarb (I thought I had more than I did), and it turned out to be the correct move. I’ve suggested one half cup of honey because I like my rhubarb tart, but taste as you go; you might like yours sweeter.

It’s not a beautiful dish – it’s the kind of thing you might serve after a weeknight family dinner, or for breakfast when you have more time in the morning. But it’s tasty. Dumplings are always tasty.

Rhubarb-raspberry stew with dumplings

(Serves four to six.)

Fruit:

  • 1 1/2 lbs. rhubarb
  • 1 lb. frozen raspberries
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 vanilla bean, scraped
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

Dumplings:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted

In a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat, combine rhubarb, raspberries, honey, vanilla bean seeds, and salt. Allow raspberries to melt, then bump heat up a notch or two and bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring frequently for about ten minutes. Rhubarb should soften and begin to break down. Return heat to medium.

Meanwhile, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Stir to combine. Add milk and butter to form a soft dough.

Drop spoonfuls of dough into the hot fruit mixture; you should end up with about eight dumplings. Place a lid firmly over the pot, and cook for 15 minutes.

Serve hot, with ice cream.

Rich, hearty meat sauce.

With the exception of a four-hour period last Friday during which I managed to score an excruciating, now-peeling sunburn from sitting on a patio during lunch, this part of the world has been slow to summer. Which is just as well, because I’ve recovered most of my appetite, and after Paris the taste I’m looking for is unctuous. Unctuous like long-roasted meat, and like the sauce around it, so rich with that slowly melted fat that coats your mouth and the inside of your belly, leaving you full and sleepy.

I went with Grace (and Claude, but that is a story for another time) to a restaurant in Paris called Bistroy Les Papilles where we were brought just such a dish. Three steaks of pork belly were served in a tomato sauce filled with navy beans, thyme, and fresh spring vegetables; the pork had been cooking long enough that most of the fat found itself in the sauce, so that the meal was deceptively rich. I succeeded in eating only a small plateful, though it was a satisfying plateful.

It’s not really possible during the week to cook a slab of pork belly until it melts down into and plumps several pounds of white beans, not when one has to go to a place of business and complete tasks each day – I do have a slow-cooker but it’s the kind that sets things on fire. It is possible to mimic that unctuousness on a weeknight at home; the secret is to use good-quality meat, a combination of pork fat and olive oil, and a cheaterly handful of minced mushrooms. Top with cheese.

This sauce is easy, but it’s not slimming. The point is comfort (as my point so often is), and this is one of those dishes you could serve to company some rainy night, even on the weekend. It’s layered, and tastes as though it cooked for much longer than it did. The cinnamon adds balance to the meatiness, so if you are unsure about it, just add a little bit and see what you think.

Meat sauce for pasta

(Serves eight.)

  • 6 strips bacon, chopped
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup celery, finely chopped
  • 1 cup carrots, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 lbs. good quality ground meat (I like a combination of beef and venison or pork, but you could use just beef if that’s what you have)
  • 1/2 lb. mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

Brown bacon in a large pot over medium-high heat. Remove from pot to a plate lined with paper towel using a slotted spoon.

Add olive oil, followed by the onion, celery, and carrots. If the veggies are cooking too quickly, reduce heat to medium, and cook until soft and lightly golden, about ten minutes. Remove from pot to a plate using a slotted spoon. If you reduce the heat, put it back before the meat goes in.

Add meat, mushrooms, and garlic, breaking the meat up with a wooden spoon as it cooks. When meat has browned, add back vegetables and deglaze the pan with the wine. Add crushed tomatoes, oregano, pepper, basil, and cinnamon, and then beef stock. Stir to combine, and then taste. Depending on your bacon and stock, you may or may not need to add salt. Let simmer over medium-low heat for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Before serving, add parsley. Serve over pasta with additional parsley for garnish, and a sprinkling of cheese.

For us, this is enough for dinner and leftovers, and for a bit to put in the freezer for dinner another night. It is better the next day. And if you live nearby, you will need it tomorrow because it will still be raining. If you are a cat, the birds will tease you relentlessly as they hide in the branches of the tree just outside your window. Right now we all need our share of meat sauce.

Oh! Pretty!

It’s a very good day when I arrive home to find elegant gift bags stuffed with individually wrapped homemade baked goods.

I suppose that’s stating the obvious. But it’s true, because a gift of baked goods is a gift just for me, because Nick can’t sneak bites when I’m not looking or, as I’ve convinced him to believe, he will lapse into a diabetic coma and die before ever finishing his video game or seeing the Canucks win the Stanley Cup. Marriage has given me a chance to really shine.

The cookies are from my friend Amber (pictured in this post here), who lives in Victoria which is inconvenient as she is all kinds of fun (especially as a shopping buddy) and a highly skilled baker – I would like to see her more. Someone needs to give her a donation to start up a bakery, as you can clearly see (preferably a tall, olive-skinned benefactor with his own plane and a villa in Provence). She has endless patience and apparently a fabulous collection of cookie cutters. And she has excellent timing, as I have been wanting homemade cookies but not wanting to make them myself. When I bit into these I discovered that they’re better than I can make anyway.

Thanks, Amber! The lobster is my favourite, but I am going to eat him last.

Paneer with greens and chickpeas.

If you’ve recently returned home from Paris to find your diabetic husband has eaten nothing but brisket sandwiches from the BBQ place down the street since you’ve been gone, your home full of needy pets and their molted winter fur, and your own digestive system in distress, you’ll relate to this sudden need for the nourishing simplicity of stewed greens. While they simmer, you can toss out all those little containers he left behind that contain just a strand or two of coleslaw and maybe run a vacuum over the floors or the cat. If your jaw is still sore from all that ravenous mastication of so much perfect French meat, this dish will ease your suffering – you don’t have to chew too hard.

Also it includes cheese. Which, if you are harbouring some variety of Space Dinosaur, means that you are addressing all of your needs in one dish and will not have to run out to the market later in the evening for a hunk of medium orange cheddar and some saltines to quell any mad cravings you might be experiencing. In your absence, he ate all the cheese.

Sometimes there’s a lot going on, you know?

Anyway.

This dish is an adaptation of Palak Paneer, one of my favourite things in the whole world which requires only the effort of finding paneer, which in Vancouver is no effort at all, or of making it. The recipe is loosely based on one I’ve made a few times from India Cookbook by Pushpesh Pant, which is a resource that I insist you get if you like to make Indian food – it’s worth it’s (dense) weight and (slightly pricey) price, even if all you do is read it and look at the gorgeous photos. The dish is generally made with spinach, but I like to throw it together with whatever’s on hand; a mix of greens is lovely and also very healthy.

Paneer with greens and chickpeas

(Serves four to six.)

  • 2 lbs. greens, such as chard, spinach, kale, or collards
  • 2 tbsp. mustard oil (or olive oil)
  • 1 tsp. fenugreek seeds
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes, including juice
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 14 oz. can chickpeas
  • 1 lb. paneer, cubed
  • 1/2 cup chopped cashews, toasted

There are two ways you can start the greens, and I like both ways. You can either blanch them in boiling salted water and then purée them in a blender or food processor, or you can put them dry into the blender or food processor. If you use the blanching method, you will end up with creamy greens; if you go dry, the final product will have a bit more texture. Both ways are good, so I’ll leave that part up to you. Process greens and then set aside.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, sauté fenugreek seeds for about 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic, ginger, jalapeño peppers, cumin, salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper, and cook for two minutes, stirring frequently.

Add greens and diced tomatoes, and reduce heat to medium. Let simmer for ten minutes, adding water as needed (if you processed your greens without blanching, you may need somewhere around a cup of water) to soften the greens. Add cilantro.Taste, adjusting seasonings as required.

Add chickpeas, paneer, and cashews, cook until paneer is warmed through, about two more minutes. Serve over rice with a dollop of plain yogurt.

And stay tuned – more on Paris later! Get super excited for strawberry season.

Mexican minestrone.

If there seem to be a lot of soup recipes on this site, it’s because we seem to have more bouts than we ought to of not taking good care of ourselves. Nick’s belly aches and his glucose levels are all over the place and I am eating grapes and Cheerios as if either is sufficient nourishment all on its own. So we have soup to feel good when we have been bad, and generally, it works.

Of course, as I write this I am snarfing down a bowl of bunny-shaped pasta and cheese that came from a box and that is organic, and I believe I am meant to pretend that it being organic somehow makes it less bad for me than conventional boxed macaroni and cheese. I don’t call this eating because I am ingesting it in a manner that more closely resembles inhalation.

There is shame in this, and I am grateful that few can see me. I am tucked into a corner of the couch while I write, ignoring the incessant groaning and play-by-play analysis of the hockey game by a team of grown-up boys in my living room as they in turn ignore me. If this game is anything like the last one, it will last four hours and emotionally devastate them. But I digress, as that is not important, at least to me. What matters here is that yesterday I had a nourishing bowl of soup, and it contained vegetables and I was better for it. I hope the effects are lasting.

The soup is something like minestrone, or maybe pozole, and it tastes sort of like salsa and Mexico. It’s best if you chop all your veggies to about the same size. It’s an easy vegan recipe, though I’ve made it with chicken and chicken stock and it was not harmed by the addition of meat. It is very hearty. Serve with avocado or a dollop of sour cream.

Mexican minestrone

(Serves four to six.)

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 cup diced carrot
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1 cup diced sweet potato
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, minced
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp. chipotle powder
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 5.5 oz. can tomato paste
  • 1 28 oz. can hominy, rinsed
  • 1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes, including juice
  • 1 14 oz. can black beans, rinsed
  • 1 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 1 lime, zest and juice
  • Salt to taste
  • Cilantro

In a large pot over medium-high heat, sweat onion, carrot, celery, sweet potato, and garlic until the colours have brightened, two to three minutes. Add jalapeño, cumin, chipotle powder, oregano, and pepper, and stir to coat.

Add vegetable stock and tomato paste, and bring to a gentle boil; reduce heat to medium. Simmer for ten to fifteen minutes, until sweet potatoes have softened.

Add hominy, diced tomatoes, black beans, and red bell pepper. Stir in lime zest and juice, and then taste. Adjust seasonings and add salt as needed. At the last moment, stir in a handful or two of cilantro; chop additional cilantro for serving.

And, because it makes me so happy, here’s my favourite photo of the week.