Green Salad with Spruce Tips – a Springtime Treat

Pick a handful of soft new spruce tips from your backyard tree to add a wonderfully interesting flavour to a spring salad – herby, resiny, and softly citrusy.

Spring green salad with fresh spruce tips

My yard has been sleeping. I’ve been waiting so patiently for the spruce trees to wake from their winter slumber and share some of their tasty, tender branch tips, but they’ve been reluctant to come out of hibernation.

Then this past weekend we drove through the Rocky Mountains to spend the weekend with mom in Prince George, British Columbia, and spruce tips were popping everywhere! The season is almost over, even in the colder, high altitude areas in the national parks. We stopped at Mt. Robson (highest peak in the Canadian Rockies) and the spruce tips were already feathery and fingerlength, though still tender enough to use – nature’s little spring offering of fresh citrusy herbal flavour with a pop of vitamin C.

While we were gone, the spruce trees in our yard finally yawned and stretched and decided to wake from their nap. We returned to find their branch ends are now bedecked with little brown nubbins and soft, apple green tips just waiting to be shared for flavouring all kinds of spring dishes.

Fresh Spruce Tips on the Tree A Harvest of Spruce Tips on the Cutting Board

If you’ve never cooked with spruce tips, I urge you to give it a try. You’ll be surprised at their flavour – piney with a strong shot of citrus. Consider them spring’s first herbal offering; a unique treat you can probably forage from your own yard (or filch from a neighbour’s :) ). I’ve been tossing a few chopped spruce tips into my spring salads for several years now, and we love them.

Chopped Spruce Tips for Salad

If you’re new to the flavour of spruce tips, start with a small amount first to see how you like them, then add more to taste next time. The resiny notes are quite an unusual (but interesting) flavour. Spruce tips can be tossed into any green salad. I’ve given a recipe to use merely as a guide and included a dressing that enhances the delicate citrus flavour of the spruce tips. Light, spring greens are a fitting foil for this unique delicacy.

Curly Leaf Lettuce for the Spruce Tip Salad Radishes for Green Salad with Spruce Tips

You can use spruce tips in all kinds of delectable ways, both savoury and sweet, like in these:

Buttery Sauteed Mushrooms with Spruce Tips and Chives

Spruce Tip Baked Rhubarb Compote over Silky Swedish Cream

Potatoes with Cream and Spruce Tips (Plus How to Make Spruce Tip Salt and Spruce Tip Vinegar)

Roasted Asparagus with Garlic and Spruce Tips

Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Spruce Tips and Orange Glaze

Spring Greens with Chopped Spruce Tips

Kitchen Frau Notes: If you collect your spruce tips from a location where they aren’t exposed to exhaust fumes from vehicles, you don’t even need to wash them, because they will be clean and protected inside their papery husks. Just check for bug bites, but those are rare. If the tips are older, or near a road, give them a quick rinse and shake them dry.

You can use the tips from any needled tree. Taste them first, as some are more ‘piney’ than others. You may need less of the stronger tasting ones.

Don’t worry about damaging the spruce trees – you are actually doing them a favour, and pruning them to grow even bushier by nipping off the tips. Try to spread your picking around different parts of the tree, rather than picking one area clean. Just don’t pick the tip off the leader at the very top of a young tree, as that could disturb its growth.

The spruce tips last for up to a week in the fridge if kept loosely covered.

I have tried adding spruce tips directly to the salad dressing, but they acidity seems to obliterate their flavour. I find them much more flavourful when added directly to the salad. I say that if you’re going to go to the trouble of picking and using spruce tips – you might as well taste them.

This salad can be prepared several hours to a day ahead. Prepare the salad ingredients and toss them in a salad bowl. Moisten a paper towel and lay it on top, then cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Prepare the dressing separately and keep refrigerated in a jar – toss with the salad greens just before serving.

Bowl of Spring Green Salad with Spruce Tips

Green Salad with Spruce Tips and a Light Citrus Vinaigrette

  • 1 head curly-leaved lettuce or butter lettuce
  • about 6 large radishes (120gms)
  • 2 stalks celery
  • a 5 – 6 inch (13-15cm) piece of cucumber
  • 2 green onions (scallions)
  • ¼ of a red pepper, thinly sliced (optional)
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons chopped spruce tips (start with 3 tablespoons if you’re not familiar with the flavour of spruce tips)

 

Citrus Vinaigrette

  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ cup (60ml) mild-flavoured oil (like grapeseed or avocado)
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper

Wash and dry the lettuce. I like to shake the water off the leaves, then wrap them in a clean tea towel and place them in a plastic bag in the fridge for several hours or overnight to crisp up and dry. Tear the lettuce into bite-sized pieces into a salad bowl.

Slice the radishes and celery very thinly and add them to the lettuce. Peel the cucumber if it is not a soft-skinned variety. Cut the piece of cucumber in half lengthwise, then slice crosswise into thin half-moons. Add them to the salad. Thinly slice the green onions and the pepper (if using) and add them to the salad.

Chop the spruce tips finely, and add them to the salad.

Stir together the dressing ingredients and toss the salad with the dressing just before serving.

Serves 5 to 6.

Guten Appetit!

If you like my recipes, follow me on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook. You’d make my day!

You might also like:

Our Family Favourite Apple Cider Vinaigrette

Macaroni Salad with Two Dressings

Basil Beet Salad

Broccoli Lentil Salad

Fun Picking Spruce Tips

Meredith and some friends had fun helping pick the spruce tips

Posted in Canadian Food Experience Project, Salads & Dressings | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Homemade Gluten Free Pancake Mix (Because Camping Season is Upon Us)

Camping season is here! Pack a bag of homemade gluten free pancake mix and you can quickly whip up a batch of fluffy pancakes, tender waffles, biscuits, or even a batch of moist, sweet muffins.

Homemade Gluten Free Pancake Mix also whips up into waffles, muffins, and biscuits

Certain foods always make me think of camping: canned spaghetti and meatballs, canned peas, and pancakes made from pancake mix, in a cast iron pan. Every spring mom would stock up the camper with its summer supply of special camping foods – items we were never allowed to eat at home and ingredients she never cooked with in her kitchen. These foods were chosen for their convenience and failsafe storage life, but in our young minds they rivaled the highest class meals our imaginations could conjure (never having eaten in ‘real’ restaurants). Beef stew in cans, those teeny little cocktail sausages in cans, bags of marshmallows, boxes of Ritz crackers, jars of orange Cheez Whiz, even bacon in cans. It was an extravaganza of exotic foods that seemed somehow magical in their oddness. Our regular fare of healthy, delicious home-cooked-everything paled in comparison to this wonderland of taste sensations that heralded the beginning of summer’s outdoor adventures in the wilderness.

Dad was an avid and intrepid fisherman, dragging his family off to camp in remote locations beside pristine lakes. We’d drive several hours, with us five girls lounging on the bed up in the camper overhang, faces pressed to the window (no seatbelts in sight) watching the road ahead. Then as soon as we got to whatever lake dad had chosen, he’d get the boat into the water and head off to fish. We girls had a blast, helping set up camp, running around waving sticks, and roasting wieners on the campfire. I always had a stack of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries packed along and would often sneak off to shady forest nooks to read for hours at a time, between turns on the boat with dad and games of hide and seek with my younger sisters. After we’d built up a healthy hunger, we’d get to eat those delicious camping meals, heated on the campstove or cooked over the fire. It was heaven.

I know that Mom’s memories of those camping trips were a whole different version altogether, not quite as rosy as ours. For her, camping just meant all the work of home but done in more cramped surroundings and with much less convenience, plus all the packing up and organizing for a family of seven. She dealt with feeding us all, doling out bedding, and bug spray and bandaids, breaking up squabbles, hauling water, chasing toddlers, tending the fire, and corralling us bigger kids to help with chores. Then when she got home, she had to unpack everything and catch up on all the yard, farm, and garden work she’d gotten behind on while gone. It was no picnic.

Homemade All-Purpose Gluten Free Pancake Mix - so handy to make up a batch of baking

Camping is easier nowadays, with all kinds of helpful conveniences and gadgety camping gear. But you still have to cook to some degree, so take along a bag of this handy gluten free pancake mix to make your outdoor life even easier.

If you were backpacking in the wilderness and didn’t want to haul along oil, eggs, and milk, this pancake mix will even work with just water, though the texture isn’t quite as luxurious or rich (but good to know, in case you were ever in dire straits.)

Or just keep a jar of pancake mix in the cupboard for making a quick batch of pancakes or waffles on those busy school morning, or fresh muffins for an after school snack, or biscuits to go along with that pot of soup. I’m sure you’ll be able to think up even more handy uses for it, once you start baking with it.

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Kitchen Frau Notes: I like to use quinoa flour in this pancake mix because of its healthy high protein content, however, if you’ve ever used quinoa flour before you’ll know it has a strong grassy flavour, which can even be somewhat bitter. Toasting the flour is the key to taming that bitterness and turning it into a nutty, complex flavour that blends well with the other flours. See instructions for toasting quinoa flour at the bottom of this post. I like to toast two 9×13″ pans at a time and have it on hand for all kinds of baking.

Citric acid is the kind of acid found in citrus fruits. You may not have it in your cupboard, but it is worth searching out – in health food stores or drugstores – to have on hand for making this pancake mix. It takes the place of the acid that would be in buttermilk if you used it in these pancakes, and makes for a more tender dough. It reacts with the baking soda once liquid is added, to give the pancakes and baked goods some extra lift. (Remember those school projects mixing baking soda and vinegar to make a foaming volcano?)

I have tried the pancake mix without the psyllium husks and it does turn out well if you’re just making pancakes (though adding it in makes them a bit more springy), but if you want to use the mix for making any of the other variations, the psyllium husk powder or whole husks helps to give a better, cohesive structure to the baked goods.

Homemade Gluten Free Pancake Mix

Homemade Gluten Free Pancake Mix

  • 1½ cups (225gms) brown rice flour
  • 1 cup oat (100gms) oat flour
  • 1 cup (120gms) sorghum flour
  • 1 cup (120gms) toasted quinoa flour* (see how to toast it below) or millet flour or 1 additional cup sorghum flour
  • 1 cup (150gms) sweet rice flour
  • 1 cup (120gms) tapioca starch or arrowroot starch
  • ¼ cup (50gms) sugar
  • 5 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1½ teaspoons citric acid crystals
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon psyllium husk powder or 2½ tablespoons whole psyllium husks (optional)

Whisk all ingredients together well in a large bowl or shake together well in a large container with a lid. Store the gluten free pancake mix in an airtight container for 3 to 4 months at room temperature (if you started with fresh flours) or keep in the freezer for longer storage.

Makes 7 cups pancake mix.

*Gluten Free Buckwheat Pancake Mix: Replace the sorghum flour and the quinoa or millet flour with 2 cups of buckwheat flour.

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Homemade gluten free pancake mix makes light fluffy pancakes

Label the pancake mix container with mixing instructions as follows.

To prepare PANCAKES:

For each 1 cup (14ogms) pancake mix, add:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • ½ to ¾ cup (120-180ml) milk, non-dairy milk, or water

(Can be made with ¼ cup applesauce to replace egg, or can even be made without the egg.)

Whisk together, starting with the lesser amount of liquid to make a smooth, slightly thick pancake batter. Add more liquid if needed, or add an extra spoonful of mix if it’s too runny. Drop large spoonfuls onto a lightly oiled griddle or skillet over medium heat. Cook, flipping halfway through, until browned on both sides.

Each 1 cup pancake mix stirred up with egg, oil, and milk, makes six 4-inch pancakes.

 Optional add-ins to your pancake batter. When preparing your pancakes:

  1. Add ½ teaspoon cinnamon or vanilla per cup of pancake mix
  2. Add a handful of chocolate chips, raisins, or other chopped dried fruit
  3. Add a handful of grated or chopped fresh apple
  4. Add a handful of fresh or frozen berries, or chopped fresh strawberries
  5. Add a handful of chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts are good)
  6. Add sliced bananas to the top side of the uncooked pancake, then flip and cook
  7. Sprinkle the top side of the uncooked pancake with chia seeds, then flip and cook

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Waffles made from homemade gluten free pancake mix

To make WAFFLES from the pancake mix:

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 cup (240ml) milk (or non-dairy milk)
  • 1½ cups (210gms) pancake mix

Whisk together the eggs, oil, and milk. Whisk in the pancake mix until no lumps remain. Pour large spoonfuls onto a lightly greased, preheated waffle maker and bake until golden brown, according to waffle maker instructions.

Makes six 6-inch waffles.

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Muffins made from homemade gluten free pancake mix

To make MUFFINS from the pancake mix:

  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup (120ml) oil
  • ½ cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, coconut sugar or ¼ cup (60ml) honey
  • 1 cup (240ml) mashed banana, applesauce, or yogurt
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon or 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1½ cups (210gms) gluten free pancake mix
  • optional add-ins: ½ cup of either chopped nuts, chocolate chips, raisins, shredded apple or carrot

Whisk together first five ingredients. Stir in pancake mix, just until most lumps are gone. Stir in any add-in (or combination thereof) you wish to add.

Line a muffin tin with paper muffin liners. Divide the batter among them.

Bake 375°F for 18 to 20 minutes, until the top of a muffin springs back when lightly pressed. Let the muffins cool 5 minutes in the pan before removing to a rack to finish cooling.

Makes 12 muffins.

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Biscuits made from homemade gluten free pancake mix

To make BISCUITS from the pancake mix:

  • 2 cups (280gms) pancake mix
  • ½ cup (113gms) cold butter (preferably salted)
  • ½ cup (120ml) milk (or non-dairy milk)

Preheat the oven to 425°.

Cut the butter into the pancake mix with two knives or a pastry blender, until the butter chunks are approximately pea-sized. Stir in the milk, mix with a fork until moistened, then mix quickly and lightly with your hands until most of the mixture comes together into a ball. Try not to break up all the butter pieces – you should still be able to see some chunks. The dough will be quite stiff, but don’t be tempted to add more milk because if it is too moist, the biscuits won’t hold together.

Pat the dough into a ¾ inch (2cm) thick circle. Cut out biscuits with a 2-2¼ inch (5-6cm) biscuit cutter or drinking glass. Reroll the scraps to make the final biscuits. Place the biscuits onto a greased baking pan.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden at the edges. Let cool in the pan 5 minutes before removing.

Makes 9 biscuits.

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*How to toast quinoa flour: Spread quinoa flour into a ¼ to ½ inch (1cm) thick layer in a rimmed baking sheet (use whatever size baking sheet you need for the amount of flour you’re toasting). Toast in a 225°F oven for about 2½ hours, stirring several times during baking, until the flour is golden in colour and smells toasty. Let cool in pan, then store in airtight container.

Guten Appetit!

If you like my recipes, follow me on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook. You’d make my day!

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Fluffy Pancakes – a Canadian Food

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Posted in Breads, Biscuits & Other Baking, Breakfast & Brunch, Muffins, Pancakes, Crepes & Fritters | 8 Comments

Cooking with Kids | Simple Marinara Sauce with Spaghetti Spiders

Everyone needs a recipe for a simple, flavourful marinara sauce in their repertoire. Serve it with these fun spaghetti spiders and kids will love to help cook it and eat it!

Cooking with Kids: Simple Marinara Sauce with Spaghetti Spiders

Cooking with Meredith

Meredith’s nickname for the two of us when we cook together is ‘Margherita and Marinara’ (similar to our names, me being the margherita and she being the marinara), so I thought it was time we made a batch of her namesake sauce.

Cooking with Kids: Meredith with a bowl of Simple Marinara Sauce and Spaghetti Spiders

It’s usually just called ‘tomato sauce’ but if you want to be Italian about it, then this classic sauce needs to be called Marinara Sauce. It’s a quick and delicious meal when served over pasta, but is also used as the base for many other dishes. Once you taste how flavourful homemade marinara sauce is and see how easy it is to make, you’ll never want to buy the canned stuff again. Every cook needs to know how to make it.

Marinara sauce is believed to get its name from the ‘mariners’ or sea-going folk of southern Italy around Naples. Classic marinara sauce is made with canned tomatoes, olive oil, onions, garlic, and herbs. Some purists say it shouldn’t even have onions in it, but I like the sweetness the onions add (and I like the richness a bit of butter adds, too).

Classic Marinara Sauce, chunky style

you can leave the sauce chunky . . .

Simple and classic Marinara Sauce

. . . or puree it a little bit

And then to have a little fun with our spaghetti, Miss Marinara and I turned the noodles into ‘spaghetti spiders’, or spaghetti ‘whiskers’, if you want to be artistically correct.

Meredith with spaghetti whiskers for Marinara Sauce

Miss Marinara Whiskers

We pushed uncooked spaghetti strands through wiener pieces before cooking and voilà . . . spaghetti spiders!

IMG_6064b

Spaghetti Spiders ready for the Marinara Sauce

rice noodles are whiter than wheat spaghetti

Instead of meatballs in your marinara sauce, try wieners in your spaghetti! It’s a quick way to fancy up your noodles and make mealtime a bit on the wild side!

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Kitchen Frau Notes: The brand of tomatoes you use for the marinara sauce can make a world of difference. Make sure to use a good quality whole canned plum tomato. If you can get San Marzano tomatoes, those are the best and will make a rich, red, fresh tasting sauce. More watery brands may have to be cooked a little longer to get the sauce thick enough.

You can leave the marinara sauce chunky, or puree it a bit with an immersion blender, or even puree it until it is completely smooth, whatever your preference.

Whole tomatoes need to be squished with your hands (fun for kids, but be aware of squirting juice) into a bowl, or one by one as you add them to the pot. They can also be squished with a wooden spoon against the sides of the pan.

Squishing tomatoes for simple Marinara Sauce

Wieners are a rare addition to the menu in our house – mostly just for roasting over a campfire, but when I do buy them, I make sure to get the ‘naturals’ brands that are made without any added nitrates, and are gluten free.

Cooking the spaghetti spiders to serve with the marinara sauce.

If using gluten free spaghetti to make the spaghetti spiders, make sure to use a brand that has noodles which are as thick as regular spaghetti. Some gluten free brands have thinner noodles (more like spaghettini) which tend to break off during cooking. I found the Tinkyada rice spaghetti works well here.

 

Marinara Sauce

Marinara Sauce

  • ¼ cup (60mo) olive oil (or 2 tablespoons butter + 2 tablespoons olive oil)
  • 1 cup finely diced onion (1 small onion or ½ of a large one)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano or basil
  • 1 large can (28 oz/396ml) good quality peeled whole plum tomatoes with their juice*
  • 1 cup water

In a wide deep skillet (a wide pot is best so the sauce evaporates more quickly while cooking), heat the olive oil and butter (if using) over medium heat. Chop the onion finely and mince the garlic or put it through a garlic press. Add the onions to the oil and cook for two minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic, salt, pepper, and herbs, and cook for two more minutes.

Squish the tomatoes with your hands into a bowl, being careful so the juices don’t squirt. Add the tomatoes to the skillet. Pour 1 cup of water into the tomato can and swish it around to get all the juices. Pour the water into the skillet. Once the tomatoes come to a boil, turn the heat down a bit so the sauce is steadily bubbling. Cook and stir for about 20 minutes, or until the sauce is as thick as you like it. If you slide a wooden spoon through it, you should be able to see the bottom of the pan for a few seconds before the sauce runs back.

Use the sauce chunky, or use an immersion blender to puree it a bit or a lot to make it smoother.

*You can use diced or pureed canned tomatoes instead of whole tomatoes. The diced tomatoes won’t break down as much as the whole tomatoes (making a chunkier sauce) and the pureed tomatoes will make a smoother sauce.

Serves 4.

 

Spaghetti Spiders

  • 8 nitrate-free wieners
  • about 2 oz (60gm) spaghetti (gluten free or regular)

While the marinara sauce is cooking, put a large pot of water on to boil.

Cut about ¼-inch (.5cm) off the end of each wiener. Cut each wiener into five 1-inch pieces. Carefully poke 6 or 7 strands of uncooked spaghetti through the cut ends of each wiener piece, pushing them through so an equal amount of noodle sticks out on each side.

When the water boils, place the spaghetti ‘spiders’ into the water, leaning them upright against the side of the pot until the bottom half of the spaghetti strands softens enough (about 1 minute) and you can push the ‘spiders’ gently down into the water, with a wooden spoon, so they are completely underwater.

Serves 4.

Guten Appetit!

If you like my recipes, follow me on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook. You’d make my day!

For more fun kitchen projects to make with kids, see the ‘Cooking With Kids’ series.

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Simple Marinara Sauce with Spaghetti Spiders

Posted in Condiments & Sauces, Cooking with Kids, Dairy-free, Pasta | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Strawberry Rhubarb Pavlova Cake and It’s Been Five Years (Five Years!)

Time to celebrate with a luscious Strawberry Rhubarb Pavlova Layer Cake, whether it’s a birthday, anniversary, or Mother’s Day. This stunning dessert layers sweet meringue with tart rhubarb curd, strawberries, and cream.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pavlova Layer Cake

My little blog is five years old today! I can’t believe I’ve been blogging that long!

Five years ago on May 6, I set up a blog (with the help of my much more tech-savvy friend), then opened up the dashboard and started typing. I didn’t know where I was heading with it, and had no long term goal. I just wanted to write down some of my recipes. That first post is pretty bad and I cringe when I look at the photos – though that recipe for Irish Cheese Toasties is still a quick and easy favourite around here.

I have sure learned a lot about blogging since that first sketchy post, and yet I feel like I’m just comfortably starting on the path, near the base of the mountain, and when I shield my eyes and look way up at the pinnacle, I still have sooo far to go and SO MUCH MORE to learn . . . about blogging, photography, social media, and all that techie stuff that is way beyond my ken.

So, I need to tell myself to just keep looking a little way ahead and take one tiny step at a time, and instead concentrate on the richness that my blog has brought into my life. It’s given me a creative outlet, something I look forward to doing. It’s channeled my energies. All those thoughts I have buzzing around in my head about food, and recipes, and flavour combinations now have a place to go.

Plus, I have a legitimate excuse for avoiding housework (legitimate to me, anyway)!

5 Candles on a Strawberry Rhubarb Pavlova Cake

 

Most importantly, I wouldn’t have this place to hang out and this feeling of connection to you readers if I hadn’t started to type those first words and put myself out there. It’s knowing that there are people listening that makes me want to try harder, tweak those words a little more, and double, triple, quadruple check recipes to make sure they turn out consistently. I’m finding I LOVE the recipe development part of blogging, and I love the writing . . . and I’m learning the photography. Getting better at all of it has become my passion.

Blowing out the candles on the Strawberry Rhubarb Pavlova Cake

 

The last five years would have gone by anyway, so I’m so thrilled I have this blog as a kind of record of my days – mostly my cooking days, but life gets all twined up with the cooking, and for me, one is tethered to the other (not just for the obvious reason of needing nourishment to live). You know how smells or snippets of music can instantly transport you back to certain times or places in your past? Food does that for me, too.

In the past five years, I’ve:

Lost my father, just weeks after I started blogging. My heart still aches. Gone on a trip to San Franciscotwo trips to Europe and two trips to Mexico, lost one of my best friends to cancer, survived three children in university at the same time, seen my baby finish high school and head off an a German exchange, had our fourth German exchange student live with us for three months, had a daughter get married and sadly seen that marriage end almost before it started, won some cooking contests (first place with my Coco-Lassies bars and second place with my Pizza-ghetti Pie, had my husband diagnosed with Lyme Disease, it’s an ongoing battle (will post about that some time), been flown to Vancouver to audition for Recipe to Riches and got chosen as a finalist, made it to the auditions for Master Chef Canada (but didn’t get chosen to compete for either of those shows – loved the experience anyway), started writing a food column for our local paper, had to totally reinvent the way I cook due to husband and kids’ numerous food allergies, continued to work part time as a German Kindergarten teacher and substitute teacher, and attempted some semblance of keeping up my house and garden (that one’s a losing battle).

And through it all, my blog has kept me sane and grounded. I can’t believe I’ve stuck with it and that I have no desire to stop any time soon. (If the Mess Monster in my basement threatens to infiltrate into the main floor, I may have to take a short leave to have it out with him, but as for now I’m able to keep him cowering down there).

A stunning Strawberry Rhubarb Pavlova Layer Cake

So it is time to celebrate!

Pavlova is a special dessert, said to originate in New Zealand and Australia and named in honour of the famous Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova. Like a ballerina, a pavlova is beautiful, and ethereal, and sweetly, divinely, delicious. The fact that it should be served within a short time after assembling makes it all the more special – delicate and fleeting, like spring. This is a dessert to remember.

I’ve made this light and lovely Strawberry Rhubarb Pavlova Layer Cake to share with you. Too bad I can’t pass you a piece – it is delicious. And it is a stunning cake to celebrate spring. Or a birthday. Or an anniversary. Or Mother’s Day.

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Kitchen Frau Notes: And here I go, after saying I make sure to retest recipes before posting, this is the first time I’ve made this cake. I adapted the recipe from a lemon pavlova (which I’ve made often, so I know it works) and baked the meringue as separate thin layers instead of one thick one. I changed the lemon curd to rhubarb, since I was itching to eat some, and ours in the garden isn’t quite big enough yet (had to dig out my freezer stash).

Assembling the Strawberry Rhubarb Pavlova Layer Cake

You can make the meringues and the rhubarb curd several days ahead, then whip the cream and assemble the cake about an hour before serving time. Like a regular pavlovla, this cake is best eaten shortly after it’s been assembled, but after it’s had a short time to mellow. Less than an hour and the meringue layers haven’t softened enough to cut easily, and more than about two hours and the cake starts getting quite soft (though still delicious), so you have a window of time where the cake is at its divine best.

Grating the beet to colour the Strawberry Rhubarb Pavlova Cake

grating the raw beet to tint the rhubarb curd pink

If your rhubarb isn’t naturally pink, you can tint the curd with a bit of beet juice, like I did. I also increased the recipe slightly to make enough for five layers (for the 5 year celebration, of course), but four layers, as in the recipe below, would be just right – just as pretty, and easier to manage.

To make the cake dairy free, replace the whipped cream with your favourite non-dairy whipped topping (or a lesser amount of whipped coconut cream).

A piece of Strawberry Rhubarb Pavlova Cake

Strawberry Rhubarb Pavlova Cake

For the meringue layers:

  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 cup (200gms) sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch or tapioca starch
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla

For the Rhubarb Curd:

  • about 2 cups (250gms) fresh or frozen rhubarb
  • grated zest of one lemon
  • juice of l lemon (about 2½ tablespoons)
  • 1/3 cup (75gms) butter
  • 1/3 cup (75gms) sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • a piece if raw beet for pink colour, or pink food colouring (optional)

To assemble the cake:

  • 1¼ lbs (550 gms) of strawberries (about 4 cups sliced, plus a few extras for garnish)
  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • edible flowers or mint leaves for garnish (optional)

Make the meringue layers. They can be made up to a few days ahead and stored in a large airtight container, still stuck to their parchment paper liners as protection between the layers. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Draw four 8-inch (20cm) circles onto parchment paper. Use a plate, bowl, or lid that is 8 inches in diameter. Trim the paper so it can fit into cookie sheets and invert it onto the sheets so the drawn circles are underneath, but you can still see them through the paper. Make sure to prepare the cookie sheets before you do the meringue.

Whip the egg whites and salt to soft peaks. Gradually add in the sugar, one tablespoon at time. Beat until very stiff and shiny. This will take at least 10 to 12 minutes. Beat in the cornstarch, lemon juice and salt.

Divide the meringue between the four circles. Use a spatula to spread it evenly to the circle outlines, and smooth out the tops to make four large disks.

Put in the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 275°F. Bake 1 hour. Turn off oven and don’t open the door. Leave the meringues in the oven until it is cold, or overnight. You can also store the meringues, still attached to the paper – carefully trim the paper closer to the meringues for ease of storing – in a large airtight container for several days.

Make the Rhubarb Curd. Slice the rhubarb into ½ inch (1cm) pieces. Cook it until it is soft and totally broken apart. If using fresh rhubarb, add a tablespoon of water to start, if using frozen, no need for water. Keep cooking it until enough liquid evaporates that it is like a thick pudding. Measure out ¾ cup (180ml) of cooked rhubarb puree – use any leftover puree for another use (stir into yogurt, top ice cream). Let cool to lukewarm.

In a small saucepan, combine the ¾ cup cooked rhubarb puree with the lemon zest, lemon juice, butter, and sugar. Whisk in the eggs and egg yolk.

Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thickened to a custard. Let cool.

If desired, you can tint the curd with a little bit of beet juice – about ½ teaspoon. Grate raw beet on the finest holes of a box grater until you have about a tablespoon of pulp. Press the pulp through a fine-meshed sieve, catching the juice in a cup. Use a small amount of this juice to stir into the rhubarb curd until it is the desired shade of pink. Or use food colouring to tint the curd.

Chill the curd until cold, several hours or overnight.

Assemble the cake: Whip the cream softly with the 2 teaspoons of sugar. Slice the strawberries.

Carefully peel the parchment paper off a meringue disk, and lay it onto a cake plate. Plop about ½ cup of the rhubarb curd onto this base and spread it carefully almost to the edges. Arrange a single layer of sliced strawberries on top of the curd, placing a ring of strawberry slices with their tips facing outward around the outside edge and filling in the middle with the smaller, irregular slices. Spread with about one quarter of the whipped cream.

Place another meringue disk on top, and repeat the layers, to have three layers of filling. Top the last meringue disk with the last quarter of whipped cream and decorate with strawberries, either halved or whole, and edible flowers if desired. You may not use all of the rhubarb curd. Use any leftover curd to stir into yogurt, top pancakes or ice cream with it.

Let the cake sit about an hour to slightly soften the meringue layers enough to easily cut through them, then serve. Don’t let it sit longer than about 2 hours, or it will get too soft and drippy.

Note: To make a regular Strawberry Rhubarb Pavlova: Spread the meringue thickly onto one 8 inch (20cm) circle of parchment paper, it will be several inches high – form it with a spatula to have straight sides and a slight indentation in the top to hold the filling. Bake it for the same amount of time (the inside will be soft, moist, and marshmallowy) and at the same temperature as above. When cool, top the pavlova with all the rhubarb curd and then spread all the whip cream on top. Decorate with fruit, edible flowers, or just leave plain.

Serves 8.

Guten Appetit!

If you like my recipes, follow me on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook. You’d make my day!

You might also like:

Strawberry Meringue Pie

Mini Lemon Coconut Pavlovas

Rhubarb Compote over Swedish Cream

Prairie Mess (Eton Mess with Saskatoons and Rhubarb)

Strawberry Rhubarb Pavlova Layer Cake

Posted in Cakes, Fruit, Rhubarb | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Hummingbird Muffins (and I’m not as Old as I Look)

Hummingbird Muffins are a riff on that rich delicious cake made famous in the south. This lighter rendition is stuffed with banana, pecans, and apple. You’ll be humming with delight when you take a bite!

Delicious Banana Pecan Hummingbird Muffins I love it when I can cook for more than just the two of us again. Our baby (and I use that term very loosely – at 6 feet tall he’s a pretty gangly kind of baby) is back home for the summer, along with his unquenchable appetite, crazy humour, and smelly socks. His enthusiastic inhalation of any food left on the counter or in the fridge is an awe-inspiring sight. I’ve made my Hummingbird Muffins twice in the last five days and each time the batch was gone within the same day. He survived his first year of university, and is now working up an appetite painting homes for the summer. My chief taste tester is back.

But it makes me wonder where this year went, and all the last years, for that matter.

This afternoon I went to my niece’s baby shower, and seeing her and her young friends, some pregnant, most with young children, gave me a twinge at how fast time goes. I remember when this lovely niece was a downy-headed little newborn. I believe it must have been just yesterday? Sitting around, eating cupcakes and listening to all the talk of labour, delivery, and sleepless nights, I felt like I could chime right in, felt like I was still a young mom sitting around talking with her friends.

But then I remembered – I’m a ‘mature’ mom, my kids are already out of school, they’re in their late teens and twenties, young adults off on their own. I’m not a member of that young moms club anymore. No matter how much I feel inside my heart that I’m still one of them  . . .  that I can still remember every moment of each preganancy, labour and delivery, that I can complain about the sleepless nights and the toddler temper tantrums, the picky eaters, the birthday parties and the diaper changes  . . .  on the outside and to the rest of the world, I’m way too old for all that. It’s okay. When I was in my twenties I thought the same thing – those middle-aged women were nice, but they were old. They were another generation.

Well, now I’m that generation, and I don’t feel old at all. Because wasn’t it just yesterday that I was there, too? I just blinked a bit, and now I’m here.

With my hulking teenager and adult children. A whole different set of things to complain about and also a whole lot to be proud of. A whole different set of worries and triumphs. Those of us that are parents, we’re all walking the same line. We’re just at different points in the continuum. Those young moms are just a few steps behind, and tomorrow they’ll be walking where I step today.

I remember a conversation I had with my parents’ 72 year old neighbour lady when they lived on Vancouver Island. This spunky old lady had just had her birthday, and my mom and I stopped in to say hello. I had my firstborn son on my hip, just a baby. I asked a few questions about her life and commented on how active she was (huge garden, and involved in lots of activities), and Mrs. Allbright told me how even though she’d just turned 72, she still felt like she was 21 inside. I nodded and said that was cool, but with the arrogance of my twenties, I didn’t really believe her. I mean, she was a sweet little grandma – she looked old. Now that I’m a few decades older myself, I suddenly get it. I, too, still feel like I’m twenty-something inside. And I totally believe myself – until I look in the mirror, that is. Or until I look at my children. Then reality hits.

So I have a glass of wine.

And go bake some muffins.

A pan of Hummingbird Muffins

* * * * *

Kitchen Frau Notes: I have a recipe for a delicious Hummingbird cake in an old cookbook. It contains mashed banana, crushed pineapple, pecans and spices. It is apparently a classic cake made famous in the southern United Sates. It’s often served with cream cheese icing. It’s said the name is because you hum with delight when you eat this delectable cake.

Well, I’ve used that cake as inspiration for these muffins, substituting the pineapple with shredded apple, and lightening it up considerably. They are nutty and slightly sweet, just right for breakfast or snacks. There definitely is some humming going on when we devour these muffins.

Feel free to use walnuts if you can’t get a hold of pecans – just make sure they are fresh because walnuts can go rancid quickly, and then they taste bitter and strong. I keep my walnuts in the freezer.

If you’re baking for an egg allergy, they turn out very well using a chia egg instead of a regular egg.

Hummingbird Muffins will have you humming with delight. Nutty, fruity, slightly sweet and spicy. Carrot cake's country cousin.

Hummingbird Muffins

(gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free option)

  • 1½ cups (210gms) gluten free flour (my favourite one here) or regular flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup (240ml) mashed overripe banana
  • 1 large egg (or 1 chia egg* see below)
  • ½ cup (120ml) oil (I like grapeseed or avocado oil)
  • ¼ cup (60ml) honey
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup pecans (or walnuts)
  • 1 medium apple, shredded with peel (about ¾ cup/180ml)

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a muffin tin with paper muffin liners (12).

*If using a chia egg instead of a regular egg, stir together 1 tablespoon ground chia seeds with 3 tablespoons water. Let gel for 5 minutes.

In one bowl mix flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon.

In another bowl, mash the banana. Add the egg (or chia gel), oil, honey, and vanilla. Whisk together well.

Reserve 12 whole pecan halves to garnish the muffins. Coarsely chop the rest. Shred the apple, with the peel, on the large holes of a box grater (the same size used for shredding cheese).

Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients. Stir just until combined. Stir in the chopped nuts and shredded apple.

Divide the batter between the 12 muffin cup liners. Press one of the reserved pecan halves lightly into the center of each muffin.

Bake for 20 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes in the pan, then remove to a wire rack to continue cooling.

Makes 12 muffins.

Guten Appetit!

If you like my recipes, follow me on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook. You’d make my day!

You might also like:

Strawberry, Almond Flour & White Chocolate Muffins

Candy Bar Muffins

Chocolate Banana Loaf

Banana Oat Breakfast Balls

Posted in Muffins | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments