Sunday, May 17, 2009

Stewed Rhubarb

Rhubarb runs a close race with garlic for being the first thing up in my garden. It is a perennial related to, of all things, buckwheat. But not so close as to resemble buckwheat in any way, although stewed rhubarb on buckwheat pancakes might be interesting to try. It pokes its nose up in early spring from a rather large root, also often referred to as a tuber, sending up a large number of usually red stems that sport large heart-shaped leaves. It's the stems that provide the entertainment here. Rhubarb can be harvested once the plant has plenty of stems that have grown to full length, usually a foot or up to 2 feet of red, green or combo colored stem with a big leaf at the end. In my area this usually means mid May. I harvest about half the stems, taking the largest ones, up to an inch in diameter, by grabbing them near their base and twisting them free. Trim off the leaf and you are left with a pretty straight, at least partially red stem.

Rhubarb is very tart and only the most determined soul could eat it unsweetened. Take a bite of the raw stalk to see what I mean. However, combined with oats, butter and brown sugar in a rhubarb crisp or when stewed and sweetened and then served on yogurt for breakfast or for desert it is really tasty and fun to eat. My recipe for stewed rhubarb makes a pretty tart product, so plan to adjust per your tastes. The recipe is simplicity. Combine 5 qts chopped rhubarb (1/2 - 1 inch pieces) with one cup honey in an 8 quart stock pot. Cover and heat until simmering, with frequent stirring. Once the rhubarb is softened, sample to be sure sweetening is correct for your tastes and correct if necessary. That's it. Be sure to try some hot stewed rhubarb on vanilla ice cream. Good stuff, Maynard. For some variations, try adding strawberries or blueberries to the mix.

Stewed rhubarb can be easily canned and is a great treat in mid winter, a taste of springtime while there is snow on the ground. To can stewed rhubarb, ladle it into clean pint jars, put on the lids and rings and process for 15 min in a boiling water bath. This recipe makes 6 pints plus one half pint, with maybe a little left over to sample.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Beer Can Chicken

Here's a very surprising and effective way to prepare a succulent and moist bird. It is basically a roasted chicken prepared in a way that assures a degree of near perfection in flavor and texture. The basic version of this recipe requires a roasting hen and a can of beer. However to add extra flavor, also use a good herbal or spice rub. Salt and pepper or mix up something fancy. The selection of beer is not crucial, but as with wine, never cook with one you wouldn’t consume. In fact white wine is an effective and delicious substitute for the beer. Folks who prefer to avoid alcohol may choose to use non-alcoholic beer or seasoned canned chicken or vegetable broth. Pretty much anything you want can end up moistening your chicken. What's important is that there is a good source of liquid as the chicken cooks. In fact, you don't even need to use a can. One-pint mason jars work quite well.


    1 whole 5 to 6 pound roasting hen
    1 can of beer
    1 cup spice or herb rub, either should contain plenty of garlic

Important Tips: Before starting, make sure the can of beer fits inside the chicken. Also, make sure that the place you are going to cook this bird is tall enough for a chicken to sit up in. You don't want to move the bird to the roaster only to find that the chicken doesn't fit.

To maximize the flow of moisture from the can to the bird, start by cutting the top off the can with a can opener. Next get rid of half the beer from the can somehow. Be creative in deciding how to do this. Then add 1/2 of your spice or herb rub to the can and give it a quick stir. The can is now ready. 

Apply about half of the remainder of the spice or herb rub to the inside of the 
chicken. Put a little olive oil or chicken fat on the otside of the beer can, then place the beer can on the grill right where you want the bird to be. Or, if you will be cooking in an oven, place the can in a small baking pan. Place the chicken up on a platter or cutting board and then lift it from the bottom with the legs towards you. Slowly and gently sit the chicken over the can. Try not to force it or put too much pressure on the bird to get into position. You might need to press it down a little, but you shouldn't have to force it.

Work the remainder of the rub in, under the skin as much as possible. Just because you put rub in the beer doesn't mean that it will season the inside too much. The spice in the can adds flavor but not like direct contact. Beer can chicken can be cooked in an oven or indirectly over charcoal. On the grill, this means that the fire will be to the side or around the chicken. If you have the ability to put the fire on a grill (either gas or charcoal) on two sides then you won't have to worry about turning the bird. If you are going to have the fire on one side you will need to rotate the chicken 180 degrees every 30 minutes while it cooks.

Transfer the bird to a 350 F oven or close the lid on your grill. Maintain a temperature in your grill or oven at 300 - 325 F.  Depending on how even your heat is you shouldn't have much to do now but wait for your chicken to cook. Time isn't important to chicken, temperature is. When this bird reaches an internal temperature of 175 degrees F your bird is ready. Measure the temperature in the thickest part of the thigh, being careful not to touch the bone with your thermometer. Remove from the oven or grill and let it rest for about ten minutes before you begin carving.  A 5 to 6 pound bird should take about two to three hours to cook. Once the chicken has rested at least 10 minutes it is ready to carve. Typically there isn't much (if any) liquid left inside the can. Lay the bird down and remove the can, gripping it with a pair of tongs. Once the can is removed, it is just like carving any other chicken.

C0mments:  This may be one of the most delicious and moist chicken preparations I have ever tasted.  Of course, I also frequently enjoy a product of the brewer's arts, so perhaps I am a little accepting of beer. The chicken has  an excellent flavor and actually does not taste of beer, more of the herbs and garlic in the rub.  It plates well with roasted root vegetables and kale slaw, accompanied by a good IPA or porter.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Roasted Garlic

I grow a lot of garlic and enjoy using it in a variety of ways.  This is one of my favorites.  My wife and I first came across roasted garlic as an appetizer during a roof-top dinner at a local restaurant a few years ago and knew right away that this was something we would enjoy forever.  Roasting both softens the cloves and mellows the flavor of the garlic.  It comes out a little darker than raw garlic but melt in your mouth delicious.  It is so easy to prepare and always a hit when we make it for ourselves, our family, or our friends.  All it takes is a nice head of garlic, a dab of olive oil and a covered dish in which to cook it in your oven.  One head of roasted garlic serves 2-4 people.  Here's how I make it:
  • Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • Peel the outer layers of paper off the garlic bulb, leaving the skins of the individual cloves and one or two layers of paper intact.  Wash the bulb with fresh water (the dampness will help in cooking the garlic). Using a knife, cut off 1/4 to a 1/2 inch of the top of cloves, exposing the individual garlic cloves. The bits of garlic in the tops can be minced and placed in olive oil for later use, added to a recipe, or roasted with the base.
  • Place the garlic heads in a covered baking dish; a terra cotta covered dish is absolutely authentic but corning ware works OK, too.  Drizzle a little olive oil over each head.  Cover and bake at 350°F for 40-45 minutes, or until the cloves are soft when pressed.
  • Allow the garlic to cool enough so you can touch it without burning yourself. Use a cocktail fork, small knife or even your fingers to pull or squeeze the roasted garlic cloves out of their skins.
  • Eat the roasted garlic as is (straight roasted garlic is fantastic), as a spread on bread or crackers.  At a party, leave the roasted heads on plates and let guests scoop out what they want.  Better make extra when you do this, because it will go fast.  Alternatively, mash the roasted garlic up with a fork and use it for cooking.  It can be frozen for later use.  Roasted garlic can also be used for a topping for baked potatoes, mixed in with pasta dishes, or added to soups.

This recipe is based on one found at

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Shepherd's Pie

This is a dish my family would occasionally have when I was growing up. Basically, we would make it on the rare occasion of having some leftover roast meat of some type. I particularly like it with lamb, as I have described it here, and that is the traditional meat to use, but any roasted meat will do. I have recently learned that in England and Australia the dish is frequently called cottage pie, but in the US it’s shepherd’s pie. Not sure about other empire-derived countries. Basically, it is a meat and root-vegetable casserole topped with mashed potatoes and subsequently roasted. In my book, the trick is in the seasoning, especially properly seasoning the mashed potatoes, which I achieve by adding garlic-scape pesto to the mash. "What's garlic scape pesto?" you may ask. That'll be the topic of another post to the blog.

Ingredients (makes about 10 servings):

   3½ pounds organic yellow potatoes
   ¼ pound butter
   3 Tbs garlic pesto

   2 Tbs olive oil
   3 cups leftover roast free-range lamb, cubed to ¾ inch
   1½ lbs organic carrots, diced
   1½ lbs organic parsnips, diced
   1 cup vegetable stock
   1 medium organic onion, diced
   1 small head organic garlic, cloves peeled and minced
   salt and pepper to taste

Cut the potatoes to approximate 1-inch cubes. Place the potatoes in an 8-quart pot and rinse twice with fresh water, then cover with fresh water and bring to a boil on a hot burner. Cover, reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes.

While the potatoes cook, sauté the meat in the olive
oil, then remove to a holding dish. Place the diced carrots and parsnips and the minced garlic in the same pan, season with salt and pepper, add ½ cup water, cover and cook for about 15 minutes. Adjust seasoning to taste, then transfer the steamed vegetables to large oiled baking dishes. Top with the raw onions and then the meat.

By now the potatoes are done, so drain them through a colander, then return them to the pot, add the butter and pesto. Cover for a few minutes to let the butter melt, then mash with a potato masher until well mixed. Spoon and spread potatoes to almost completely cover the vegetables, leaving peaks and spikes that will eventually brown in the oven. Distribute the vegetable stock evenly among the dishes by pouring into the uncovered portion of the vegetables, then seal the cap with the final spoonful of potatoes.

Place the casserole in a 350 F oven for 30-45 minutes. Remove and serve individual portions in bowls to prevent sauce from traveling around the plate.

It is hard to not go back for seconds with this dish. But if you have made a large enough batch, you will have leftovers that store well in the fridge or can be frozen in serving-sized portions to reheat at a later date. Good stuff, Maynard.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Carrot Wasabi?!

Technically, carrot wasabi can't exist. That's so because wasabi is a special variety of horseradish that only grows by some mountain streams in Japan. On the other hand, if you know wasabi as the blazing spicy green horseradish side dressing that you get at your favorite Japanese sushi place, then it's only a small stretch of the culinary imagination to envision a carrot-horseradish preparation that will do nicely as a wasabi stand-in, albeit orange. This recipe is very simply made and will clear your sinuses as you make it, if your horseradish is adequately potent. The recipe is simplicity itself, one I came up with to enhance the originality of my dishes in the Iron Chef Oakton: Battle Carrot competition and I think it was a success.  Since the horseradish, garlic and mustard "bring the punch to the party", there is no reason a similar dish couldn't be prepared using winter squash, beets or any other pulpy vegetable instead of carrots. Let me know how you like it!


  2 Large steamed carrots
  3 Tbs dry mustard
  2 cloves garlic, minced
  2 Tbs prepared white horseradish, drained
  2 teaspoons salt                                                                   

Combine all ingredients in food processor or with a stick blender. Process mixture until smooth, about 2 minutes. For a superior presentation, put a heaping spoonful on a thick carrot round that has part of the heart removed, then place one on the side of each dinner plate. Goes particularly well with stir-fry, savory pastries, and spring rolls and provides a serious sinus tingle with any dish. A little dab'll do ya.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tasty and versatile chimichurri

Basic Chimichurri 

Chimichurri is a South American traditional marinade and/or dipping sauce typically used to baste grilled meats but fantastic as well when used as a baste for roasted vegetables or a dip for tortilla chips. The name appears to be an indiginent's mispronunciation of a British person's name, possibly Jimmy McCurry, Jimmy Curry, or James C. Hurray, or of an English speaker in Patagonia overheard to say "give me the curry". I like the Jimmy McCurry version; he was a cook marching in one of the many armies involved with establishing Argentinian Independence.  He made a sauce like this for all grilled meats he prepared. It now turns up everywhere, from roadside barbecue stalls to pricey steak palaces, as far north as Nicaragua, as far south as Chile, and in just about every Spanish-speaking country in between. No two chimichurri recipes are exactly alike, although a basic recipe contains just four ingredients: parsley, garlic, olive oil, and salt. You may find a similar preparation containing cilantro mistakenly labeled chimichurri, but that is actually a similar sauce from Chile called pebre.   This recipe is modified from one from Marono Fraga, owner of the Estancia del Puerto in Montevideo’s colorful Mercado del Puerto (Port Market).  I used it to coat our Easter 2008 boneless leg of lamb and it came out fantastic!

Ingredients (Makes about 2 cups)

   1 bunch fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, stemmed
   Peeled cloves from 1 head garlic or more (8 to 10 cloves in all)
   1 medium carrot, peeled and coarsely grated
   1 small onion, minced
   1 cup extra virgin olive oil
   1/3 cup vinegar (wine, distilled or balsamic) or more to taste
   1/4 cup water
   1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
   1 teaspoon oregano, dried
   1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, hot, or more to taste
   1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground

1. Combine the parsley and garlic in a food processor and pulse to chop as fine as possible.

2. Add the carrot, onion, oil, vinegar, water,  salt, oregano, hot pepper flakes, and  black pepper. Process to mix. Taste for seasoning, adding vinegar, salt, or pepper flakes as necessary; the sauce should be highly seasoned.

This chimichurri will keep for several days in the refrigerator (you may need to re-season it just before serving), but it tastes best served within a few hours of preparation.  For longer storage, freeze it in an ice-cube tray but be prepared to blend it again after is thaws out.

Chimichurri Variations: Some cooks leave onion out of their chimichurris, while others add 1/4 cup diced red bell pepper or fresh hot chilies. I have no aversion to including all three!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Glazed Rutabagas: Why Look Any Further?

If you are not sure what rutabagas are, think very large, yellow turnips. Rutabagas are actually not turnips but they are from the same plant family and in other cultures people call a rutabaga a yellow turnip, so I try to avoid discussions about their differences and similarities.  When I say very large, think slow-pitch softball coated with wax, which is how they are shipped by the big growers to keep them from wilting. In Michigan, where I live, these big-boys are shipped in from Canada and that's also what I grew up with in Tennessee. More recently I have found locally grown organic rutabagas, either my own home grown or from a local farmer, to be more appealing.  

Rutabagas and I have had a long relationship. As a child my family always had mashed rutabagas as one of our traditional Thanksgiving dishes, perhaps stemming from the Canadian roots of my grandparents on my father's side.  I continued this tradition with my own children and even now, with my oldest in his 32nd year, we continue enjoy them with our annual feast. In the spirit of full disclosure, I think it only fair to mention that rutabagas after World War I have been grown in large part as winter feed for cattle because many europeans had nothing to eat but rutabaga during part of the war and they became thought of as famine food.  However, they are eaten by many cultures, especially those with Scandinavian historical ties. Rutabaga as common food seems to have escaped the standard American cuisine, even though they are a great food and good alternative to those little white turnips. They store well, are tasty and are packed with vitamins. It is evident to me that most people in the US don't have a clue how to prepare a rutabaga. Years ago we sent one with my older son to his daycare when everyone was supposed to bring an ingredient to include in a Thanksgiving stew; you guessed it, I got a call at work about half an hour after dropping Eric off with the question "What is this and what do I do with it?"

Cooking rutabagas is easy. They are typically peeled (to get rid of that wax and/or little hairy roots and adherent soil) then cut up and cooked. To make mashed, cube to about an inch, simmer until tender (about 15 or 20 minutes), then mash with added pepper and butter and a spoonful of mashed potatoes, if you have some at hand, to help keep the juices from separating from the pulp. You can find a lot of variations on this on the web that include carrots, parsnips, onions, etc., and some of these appear to be a traditional dish of one North Atlantic region or another. A smaller dice is used in preparing pasty filling (more on that to come in another posting). However, the ultimate rutabaga recipe, imho, is glazed rutabagas, which I have just come across this year. As a point of fact, what caught my attention was glazed turnips, which we tried at Thanksgiving. That was too much pealing for too little product. I modified the recipe to accommodate rutabagas and think the outcome is far superior. Both my wife, Diana, and I think these make a fantastic side dish and I encourage you to give them a try.

Glazed Rutabagas
This recipe is modified from one for glazed turnips that can be found at:

  1 large or a few smaller rutabagas (1.5 – 2 lbs)
  About 1 1/2 cups plus 3 tablespoons water
  2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
  1 tablespoon honey, brown sugar, or sugar
  1/2 teaspoon salt (if desired)

  Optional Garnish: chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Halve the rutabaga(s) then slice into ½ inch sections. Peel each slice, then cut into approximately 1-inch squares. Arrange rutabaga in 1 layer in a heavy skillet and add enough water (about 1 1/2 cups) to reach halfway up slices. Bring to a boil over moderately high heat and cook for about 15 min. Add olive oil, honey, and salt and continue boiling uncovered, stirring occasionally until tender and water has evaporated, about 8 minutes.
Continue to sauté over moderately high heat, stirring, until sugar starts to caramelize and rutabagas show golden brown on their downside and edges, about 5 minutes more. Add 3 tablespoons water and stir to coat rutabaga with glaze. Transfer to a covered baking dish. Add 1/2 cup water to the pan, bring to a boil and transfer liquid to covered dish to recover maximum glazing. Hold in a warm oven until ready to serve.  This is good eatin'.