Summer in America is very different to summer in Northern Ireland, where I now live. You have lovely spring days that lead gradually into ever-increasing warmer days that bloom into those hazy days of summer that are so blissful and relaxing. Here, we get a week or so in May, then a week or two in September of good weather, maybe a high of 23c/75f degrees. Then, our days are pelted with rain, chilly, blustery winds, and the occasional hail shower. Summers are not known for being a great sunny season, hence the abundance of pale skin here in Northern Ireland!
But not all of life is so sour. Or at least it is, but should be celebrated not mourned! The long stretches of sunlight in May caught in between the rain showers are the perfect growing conditions for rhubarb. These jewel-toned stalks bloom within these intense bouts of rain then sun… then more rain. Although you might be tempted to think that rhubarb is only good for stewing and tarts, I invite you to take a closer look at this jewel of the garden and get creative in incorporating it into your dinners, desserts, and snacks this summer! And whatever you do, don’t forget to invite someone round to share in this tantalising, sour fruit!
Rhubarb & Strawberry Curd
Curds are surprisingly easy to make, yet complex and decadent to eat. Enjoy this curd as the filling for a meringue pie or as a topping for Irish scones… Or straight from the jar for a cheeky tart snack!
- 6 ounces of strawberries
- 2 ½ cups juiced raw rhubarb
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- 3 egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons melted butter (not hot)
- Chop rhubarb into thumb-sized pieces and place into a blender. You will need enough juice to produce 2 ½ cups, which is roughly 6 large stalks. Blend the rhubarb for about one minute.
- Place a sieve over a glass bowl. Pour the juice and pulp from the blender into a sieve and press the pulp against the sieve until mostly dry. Discard the pulp.
- Ensure you have enough juice. If you’re just under measurement, add a drop of water to make up the rest.
- Blend the strawberries and sieve them as well.
- Combine the juices with the sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan, ensuring the cornstarch is incorporated fully.
- Whisking constantly, bring the mixture to the boil and then remove from heat. The mixture should be thickened and glossy.
- In a separate dish, beat the egg yolks. Slowly add a portion of the juice to the yolks, whisking the yolks constantly to prevent scrambling the eggs.
- Once the yolk mixture has been combined, slowly add the mixture into the saucepan, along with the warm melted butter. Return to medium heat and stir constantly until the curd has thickened considerably.
- Sieve the curd and refrigerate for a few hours until set. It will keep for about a week in an airtight container, refrigerated.
- I used my curd as a summery substitute for lemon curd in my meringue pie. The inspiration for this came from the house we just moved into! The house is a lovely cottage on the edge of town, with beautiful trees and plants, including a thriving patch of rhubarb. Andrena, my neighbour who owns the house, gave me the inspiration and history of this pie: Ruth lived in the house we moved into. She made a simple tart by slicing rhubarb into a pie shell and dropping strawberry flavoured gelatine in between the rhubarb. After baking, it was sweet, tart, and gooey! But she didn’t stop there. The real showstopper was a tower of sky-high meringue that floated like a sugary cloud atop the tart. It was Ruth’s father who built the house back in 1927. Ruth was a phenomenal baker, baking regularly until 2 years before she died at 97 years old! It was only fitting to allow her legacy to inspire this recipe.
We are now well into three years of our 10-year whole-living health and wellness plan. Part of this plan includes cutting out processed foods, eradicating synthetic chemicals and dangerous cleaning solutions from our home, making food from scratch, incorporating healthy routines in food & exercise, AND….. No. More. Sugar.
I had a great moment with my five year-old daughter a few days ago after explaining to her the dangers of bleached foods and of sugar, specifically, as diabetes runs strong in my family. She then, by her own volition, binned the caramel square and diluted orange juice drink someone had bought for her on an afternoon out together. I was so proud! My three year-old followed suit and then wallowed in self pity and grieved over the sweet treats in the bin. Hopefully it will be a step in the right direction for him someday. It’s tough to break away from those feel-good sweet treats, especially when you’re three, let alone 33!
Sugar is so deliciously addictive! In light of the new sugar tax on drinks, and especially because it’s Easter weekend, I thought I’d share my husband’s favourite recipe: Dark Chocolate Bark. Hopefully this recipe can curb your sugar cravings and put down that [insert brand name here]’s sugar-laden, preservative-filled egg!
Now, unless you are a master chocolatier and have molds etc. lying around to makes eggs, chicks, and bunnies, a small baking sheet will suffice. [Spoiler alert: It’s called Bark because I break it up once it’s set. That’s about as creative as I can get with this stuff.] On with the recipe!
You’ll need a few things before you start:
- A pot 1/3 filled of freshly boiled water & a glass bowl to sit snugly over the top of the pot [This is called a Bain Marie or a water bath.]
- A whisk
- A small baking tray. Mine is 8×10 inches.
- Room in your refrigerator to set your tray!
- 1 cup cacao butter
- 1 cup cocoa powder
- 1 cup coconut oil [Optional. I found this a superfluous ingredient to the outcome of the chocolate.]
- 1/8 to 1/4 cup honey
- Any dried fruit, nuts, or other toppings you like to dress the chocolate
- In the Bain Marie, melt the cacao butter, whisking occasionally until completely melted.
- This would be the time to add coconut oil, if you choose to use it. Melt into the cacao butter until incorporated and completely melted.
- Add in the cocoa powder and stir until smooth.
- Stir in the honey to taste. I prefer it sweeter, so I like 1/4 cup. My husband prefers the taste quite bitter and dark, so he only takes two tablespoons. Be careful not to add any more than 1/4 cup of honey – the consistency of the chocolate will change, making it harder to set.
- Pour the melted chocolate into a baking tray and decorate with dried fruits and nuts. We do everything from salted peanuts and raisins to pistachios, dried strawberries, figs, seeds, mixed nuts, and goji berries.
- Set the baking tray on an even surface in the refrigerator for approximately 30 minutes, or until set.
- Once hardened, use a butter knife to gently break the chocolate into shards. The chocolate will begin to melt if left out of the refrigerator for too long, so either eat it up quickly or put it back in the fridge!
You can choose to add flavours to the chocolate by adding a few drops of flavoured oils or the zest of an orange.
I’ve used a baster to divide the chocolate into a mini-muffin tin to make little chocolate buttons with fruit, nuts, and seeds. This is a bit more time consuming, but looks beautiful as a gift or for a party. Let the chocolate stand at room temperature for 3-4 minutes before popping out of the molds, bag them up, then store in the refrigerator until ready to eat. Similarly, you can dip fruits into the chocolate and set on baking paper in the fridge until set. The bitterness and smoothness of the chocolate contrasts the sweetness of the fruits perfectly!
Happy [healthy] Easter!