Vanilla Rhubarb with Blood Orange – an end of season treat

vanilla rhubarb and blood orangeThis is hardly a recipe. When you have something as preciously short-seasoned as blood oranges they demand respect. Respect to me is letting them glow, sharply-sweet, either on their own or atop something as simple as this roasted vanilla rhubarb. Or on my matcha yogurt breakfast bowlContinue reading

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Cake: Friend or Foe? Rhubarb and Cardamom Friendship Cake

I think I might have crossed some kind of invisible line with you last time. As always when I post a recipe there is the slightly anxious wait until the first ‘like’ button is pushed, or the first comment is made. Once that happens I tend to switch off the computer and get on with cooking dinner, or herding hens away from tender edibles, or both simultaneously. Which is hilarious, I tell you.

This time, with the mackerel and rhubarb recipe, my wait was longer, and indeed sweatier (that was ‘sweater’, but I just discovered a dropped ‘i’). As I chopped veg, Maccabees blasting through the speakers, I found myself sidling over to the lonely computer, looking for the little plus sign on the dashboard that lets me know someone has at least read the title and thought, ‘Hmm, that’s alright, I’ll click the like button. Put her out of her misery.’ I don’t know how long I waited, but I think we were actually eating dinner before one of you kind souls triggered the all-important plus sign. Thank you. You saved a grown woman from getting another frown line.

So enough with the weird stuff for right now. Let us have cake. Still with rhubarb – because it’s seasonal and scrummy – but with sugar, cardamom, flour and all those other nice things. And it will make your house smell amazing. Unlike mackerel. Continue reading

Crispy Sichuan Pepper Mackerel with Rhubarb and Star Anise Sauce

I think today is the last of our summer days for a wee while. Unlike in many other countries, where seasons are either clearly defined, or a climate firmly established, Britain seems subject to the vagaries of a temperate maritime climate. I know by very definition ‘temperate’ should exclude ‘vagary,’ but with the Arctic systems looming large and frigid to our north, and an ill-mannered jet stream popping up and down like an attention-seeking toddler, we just don’t stand a chance at settled weather.

So, for the past week and a bit we here on this tiny weather-whipped island have been going at the barbecuing and skin-frying like there’s no tomorrow. Not for us the gradual tan or the weekend grill-out – oh no. The smells of lotion and charred meat have been wafting our way, every day, since the mercury nudged above 20C a week ago. And now it’s due to drift away and be replaced by a more skin-friendly 15C. I for one am a little bit, whispering this, grateful. It is heck of a difficult to be self-employed (-ish) when the usual, work-friendly Zeus-like clouds and wind are replaced by warm zephyrs and sunrise-to-sunset sunshine. It is frankly too much to bear. But bear it we must for another day or two. Once we are back on track with the scudding clouds and jolly hailstones I promise to break out the salad recipes. In the meantime, a seasonal, lightly cooked recipe: interim fare for interim times.  Continue reading

Brown Butter Cottage Cheese Pancakes with Roasted Rhubarb

Hope you don’t mind, but I want to throw another breakfast recipe your way. Don’t worry, I’m not sneaking in kale or tofu this time, just a scoop of cottage cheese. Which isn’t too odd if you think about it. Many of you will have had, or heard of, ricotta pancakes. This is just a kind of “poor man’s” version.

And none the worse for the lowering of circumstance. Both the pancakes and the rhubarb are a bit sweet, but not overly so. And the pancakes are quite substantial because of the protein content of the cottage cheese: I wasn’t hungry for ages after having some for breakfast. And no, I didn’t eat the whole batch. Just three modest cakes and a large spoon of juicy pink rhubarb.

Actually, when I was working on this recipe I was thinking of this combo as more of a dessert, but I figure most folk would see this as firmly in breakfast territory. Perhaps I should have waited awhile with this, but as the rhubarb season is so short for many of you – and the roasted rhubarb goes so well with these little brown-butter cottage cheese pancakes –  I thought you wouldn’t mind. I know you are kind that way. Very indulgent of me.  Continue reading

Cardamom-scented Rhubarb and Apple Crumble

For years I have had a not-so-secret crush on cardamom.  Although I enjoy savouring the superlative pearl sugar-topped cardamom buns served at Edinburgh’s Peter’s Yard coffee house, I usually settle for a low-effort swirl of ground cardamom in my morning porridge. It’s not only me who rates this underused (at least in the UK and US) flavouring. In countries as polar opposite as Sweden and India, cardamom is a favoured spice. For those of you who haven’t tasted or smelled cardamom it can best be described as having a distinct sweet, perfumed fragrance that once sniffed is never forgotten. If you’ve ever visited markets in southern India or the Middle East you will no doubt have seen baskets of both the black and green pods nestled among bowls of cumin seeds, turmeric root and myriad forms of ginger. Its uses are surprisingly varied:  flavouring Arabic style coffee (pop a whole pod into coffee grounds before brewing), in Scandinavian breads and cakes and as a staple ingredient in traditional curries. I am so taken with this wrinkly pod that I feature it as the star of a pepper blend: 4 tbsp black peppercorns, 1 tbsp coriander seeds and the seeds from 10 green cardamom pods – and store it in a refillable pepper grinder. I have perhaps taken my cardamom obsession a bit far: for my birthday I received a bottle of Voyages d’Hermes which, when it’s been on the skin awhile, takes on cardamom and green tea notes. Delish!

cardamom pods in bowl

green cardamom pods

The Science Bit: Medicinally, practitioners of Chinese medicine prescribe cardamom for a plethora of digestive complaints, some of which are common while on chemotherapy – constipation, flatulence, gas and general stomach cramping. In Ayurvedic medicine it is seen as an important spice for balancing the three doshas (especially kapha), as well as being a warming digestive and lung stimulant. Reading in “The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen” by Rebecca Katz and Mat Edelson, I found out that Indian animal studies have demonstrated cardamom’s capacity to reduce inflammation, as well as protect against the growth of colon cancer cells.

rhubarb and apple with peel in background

Rhubarb, oats and apples are of course no slouches when it comes to health-giving assets. Anti-bacterial rhubarb is used in Chinese medicine for a variety of ailments, many to do with detoxification and ‘draining heat from the body’. In Western medicine it is perhaps best known for its high concentration of infection-fighting Vitamin C, for its capacity to reduce cholesterol and its action as a natural laxative. Those with gout or rheumatoid arthritis should perhaps not indulge in rhubarb as unfortunately it can aggravate these conditions. The health profile of oats is perhaps even higher as it is literally crammed with disease-checking nutrients, including avenanthramides (breaks down cholesterol and may help prevent colon cancer), blood sugar- and cholesterol-lowering beta glucan, many stress-busting B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, magnesium, selenium, zinc and filling fibre. All that and it makes a great breakfast.

Apples too are very cleansing; their pectin binds with cholesterol, toxins and heavy metals, escorting them out of the body. In the lab, apples inhibit cancer cell proliferation, decrease lipid oxidation, and lower cholesterol. They also contain a variety of phytochemicals, including quercetin, catechin, phloridzin and chlorogenic acid, all of which are strong antioxidants. Studies have shown that apples protect and optimise lung function. While storage doesn’t affect their anti-oxidant capacity it is thought that heat may diminish it. As apples are so commonly eaten they are potentially very beneficial to us. To find out more, click here. So, although this crumble is hopefully scrummy, eat raw apples to get the most from them. That said, all-important fibre remains helpfully intact.

crumble in bowl; fruit in dish

Enough science, let’s get on with the (healthy) stodge!

Cardamom-scented Rhubarb and Apple Crumble

We are smack in the middle of forced rhubarb season just now so I’ve been transforming the pink leggy beauties into crumble, chutney and jam. The crumble disappears in a trice but chutney and jam can of course be enjoyed for months to come. I’ll give an easy rhubarb and date chutney recipe later.

1 Bramley or similar cooking apple, peeled, cored and large diced/thick slice

2 dessert apples, peeled, cored and large diced/thick slice

900g/2 lb fresh rhubarb, washed and sliced into 4cm/1.5 in pieces

4 tbsp agave nectar OR 50g muscovado/dark brown sugar

1/2 tsp ground cardamom, divided (from approximately 10 whole green pods*)

Crumble ingredients

75g/2.6oz skin-on almonds

75g/2.6oz walnuts

75g/3oz chilled butter, cut into small pieces

100g/3.6oz wholemeal self-raising flour

75g/2.6oz rolled oats or flaked barley, two tablespoons held aside

50g/1.75oz muscovado or dark brown sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

Equipment You Will Need: cutting board; sharp knife; food processor; large mixing bowl; deep-ish rectangular or oval baking dish

What To Do: Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. In the large bowl toss together the fruit, sugar or agave nectar and half of the cardamom. Pour the fruit into the baking dish and set aside.

Next, start the crumble topping by putting the butter, flour, all but 2 tbsp oats, sugar, cinnamon and remaining cardamom in the food processor; pulse until you get what looks like coarse breadcrumbs. Add in the nuts and pulse until you get a mixture of chunky and fine bits of nut. Add the remaining oats and pulse twice for two seconds to just mix in the oats.rhubarb crumble ready to bake

Evenly sprinkle the crumble mixture over the fruit and press firmly down. You may be tempted to leave it all bumpy and rustic but it’s crisper if you take a firm hand to the crumble. Some of the nuts will stick up a bit anyway. Put the dish in the hot oven for about 40 minutes, or until the sticky pink rhubarb bubbles out from the sides. Leave it to cool for 15 minutes or so before serving up with vanilla-flecked custard or ice cream.

* Cardamom powder: Ground cardamom is quite expensive and hard to find in the UK. Make your own powder by purchasing a bottle or bag of green cardamom pods from your supermarket or specialty shop (those stocking Indian and Pakistani goods will be cheapest). Crack open the tough shells in a pestle and mortar or the end of a rolling pin, pick out the fragrant slightly sticky seeds and bash them fiercely in a pestle and mortar or in a clean coffee grinder. Use whole pods in Indian cooking (including spiced rice), removing them before serving.

Gluten-free note: You can easily make this gluten-free by either using gluten-free flour and gluten-free oats, or using barley flakes and blitzing to make flour and keeping the rest whole.


My friend Niki at unifiedspace is a fantastic amateur photographer and this is her photograph. Thanks Niki.