Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Strawberries, Rhubarb and Cherries, Oh My!!

"Egads and little fishes!" as my mother was fond of saying. I can't believe that it's been over a month since my last post. (Were I Catholic, this would definitely seem confessional!).

Much has happened in the interim, both good and bad. I am not going to dwell on the bad stuff here -- the media have done an admirable job of covering -- although I encourage you to read/watch as many different sources as possible to get as balanced a view as possible. Remember, there are at least two sides to every story.

Instead, what I want to do here is focus on the good.

Like the emergence of Ontario strawberries. Granted, I am posting this over a month after the fact and we are now firmly entrenched in strawberry season here in Ontario, but no matter when, Ontario strawberries are something to celebrate!  Juicy and packed with flavour they far outshine their insipid imported counterparts!

As it was the long Canada Day weekend as well as a long Independence Day weekend (Friday, July 1 was Canada Day and Monday, July 4 was Independence Day), and the Toronto Pride Parade was on the Sunday, July 3, I decided to host a "Canada Pride" barbeque on Canada Day.

As word got out, the number of guests swelled, so I hastily made it into a potluck, which ended up working wonderfully. I asked my guests to bring either a salad or appetizers and I would take care of the main courses of cold poached salmon fillet, barbequed sausages and chicken wings/drumsticks as well as ice cream to accompany the Canada Day cake my friend Nancy offered to bring.

Since there would be a number of dairy-restricted guests, I thought that a couple of dairy-free ice "creams" would be in order. So, consulting my recipe stash and Mr. Google, I came up with Coconut Milk Strawberry Ice Cream.

Since this was my first time making a non-dairy ice cream, using unflavoured gelatin was new to me, but in hindsight it was essential for creating the right consistency in the ice cream base.

Soften the gelatin in a little water and in the meantime, blitz most of the strawberries (holding a few back for chopping into the ice cream) with the coconut milk and honey.

Pour the strawberry/coconut milk mixture into a large bowl and stir in the melted gelatin. Pop into the fridge and let it set up for several hours or overnight. There isn't enough gelatin to produce a firm jello-like set, but it should be thick and creamy, like a yogourt drink.

Meanwhile, chop the reserved strawberries into small pieces.

Prepare your ice cream maker. This is my Cuisinart. It's an awesome little workhorse that is used infrequently but is SO appreciated when needed for churning out all sorts of frozen goodies!

Following the manufacturer's directions, start the ice cream maker, then slowly pour the prepared base into the freezer bowl. Churn until frozen and creamy, about 20 minutes.

Add the reserved chopped strawberries and churn for another few minutes to thoroughly combine.

Pack into a freezer-friendly container and freeze until firm -- several hours or overnight.  Note:  since there is no butterfat in this ice cream, it does freeze VERY solidly.  You will definitely want to take it out of the freezer about 30-45 minutes before serving to improve scoopability. Also note, due to the lack of butterfat, it will not have the creamy scoop of a dairy ice cream, but will be more ice crystalline, more like a sorbet. Very tasty, regardless.

Another non-dairy ice "cream" I made for the barbeque was an Almond Milk Chocolate Ice "Cream", made similarly to the Coconut Strawberry Ice "Cream" above. Click on the links for recipes.

Over the long weekend, I made a trip to a nearby farmer's market and discovered both the early Ontario strawberries and the Ontario cherries were nearing their end, so I scooped up some of each. The farmer I bought the strawberries from told me that the ever-bearing strawberries would be coming into their prime in another week or so and that if I checked back then, I might be able to get a flat of strawberries at a decent price. I will definitely check that out!

Meanwhile, these strawberries I bought were earmarked for canning, some with rhubarb from my garden and some on their own in simple syrup for having over yogourt for breakfast some cold, dark, dreary February morning.

So, to prepare, I topped and hulled the strawberries, then divided them, approximately two-thirds to be canned on their own to one-third to be combined with my previously frozen rhubarb.  The above photos show the strawberry/rhubarb mixture macerating with about 2 cups of granulated sugar. I like to leave the fruit to macerate as long as possible (overnight is ideal!) so that the maximum amount of juice is extracted.

I've also split the rhubarb in half, so that one half is combined with the strawberries and half is on its own. Out of this exercise I will therefore get three different preserves: strawberries in simple syrup, stewed rhubarb and stewed rhubarb with strawberries!  All will be superlative over yogourt on a cold winter's morning.

The bounty:   2 1/2 pints strawberries & rhubarb
                       3 pints rhubarb
                       1 pint strawberries

As for the cherries, I was inspired by a need to clean out my freezer (last year's cherries from my backyard tree), the wonderful irresistible cherries from the farmer's market and Marisa's post last week for Sweet Cherry Barbeque Sauce. Oh yeah! Totally up my alley and I literally drooled at her suggestion of using said barbeque sauce as a braising base for chicken or pork. Hot patootie!

So, I was on this like glaze on doughnuts.

In the pot are 3 pounds of sweet cherries, a cup of apple cider vinegar and a cup of packed brown sugar. On the cutting board is everything else.

Since the recipe called for 3 pounds of cherries and I had 5 1/2 pounds, rather than scale up the recipe (which would have been okay since it's not jam or marmalade), I thought that since I hadn't tasted this before, I would make the recipe as described and can the excess cherries in simple syrup to have over yogourt for breakfast. The photo above shows the excess cherries beginning their maceration in a cup of white sugar.

The barbeque sauce (large pot in back) and the cherries in simple syrup (smaller pot in front).

The reward:  2 1/2 pints sweet cherry barbeque sauce
                     1 1/2 pints sweet cherries in simple syrup

Taste testing while I was making this indicates this one's a keeper!  It's a nice balance between fruity, sweet, savoury, spicy-hot and tart. I can't wait to try it in a slow-cooker braise!

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