Friday, June 2, 2023



                                                Taming Rhubarb

 Rhubarb is one of those early spring miracles in Maine that still has a bad reputation in some circles. Even those of us who happily munched on a plain rhubarb stalk fresh from the garden as children and never minded its very sour taste, seem to have developed adult palates requiring some taming of this aggressive taste.

Although rhubarb is used as a fruit in a variety of deserts, it is actually a perennial vegetable. The leaves are poisonous with high levels of oxalic acid, but the stems are edible and used in compotes, crumbles, sauces, cakes and pies. It is welcomed in spring when fresh produce is scarce from the garden and many recipes pair it with strawberries for both color and taste. Rhubarb is low in calories but requires quite a bit of brown or white sugar to tame its excess tart flavor.

          The quickest rhubarb desert is a cooked fruit compote thickened with cornstarch, chilled and served with whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream.

          Scandinavian rhubarb compote

Trim, wash 1 lb. rhubarb and cut the stalks in ½ inch pieces. Combine with 1 cup water and ¾ cups sugar in a medium, bring to boil and simmer about 10 minutes until soft. Combine 2 ½ tblsp. cornstarch with water to make a paste and stir into the rhubarb. Continue to cook with constant stirring until thickened and clear. Chill, serve in glass dishes with sweetened whipped cream.

Rhubarb pairs well with sour cream or even yoghurt in delicious coffee cakes, whether you layer rhubarb on top, or mix the chopped pieces with the batter.

                   Rhubarb rum-custard cake

Pink colored rhubarb stalks are best for the appearance of this cake, which is baked in a spring form pan.

Trim, wash ¾ lb. rhubarb and cut the stalks in 2-inch pieces. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together 1 cup all-purpose flour, ¾ tsp. baking powder and ½ tsp. salt. In a medium-large bowl beat 2 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk and 1 ½ cups sugar until pale and thick. Beat in 4 tblsp. melted unsalted butter, ¼ cup sour cream, finely grated zest from 1 lemon and 2 tblsp. dark rum (optional). Fold in the flour mixture thoroughly and turn into the prepared pan. Smooth the surface of the cake and gently distribute the rhubarb to cover the surface. Sprinkle with sugar and bake at 350 degrees for 45-55 minutes until the cake tests done by inserted toothpick. Cool for 10 minutes, rim the sides with a thin knife and remove the sides from the springform pan.

Rhubarb-dried cherry pie is a perennial favorite at our house this time of the year, but last week made me admit that clichés such as “necessity is the mother of invention” are a cook’s best friend.  There were only two cups of cut up rhubarb left, I was out of dried cherries and ready to make a pie. The result was a rhubarb-mixed fruit cream pie, based on an old original recipe of “Rhubarb cream pie” from my friend Elizabeth Lenz.  The results were incredibly tasty, and the combination of ingredients is bound to become a new favorite.

                                           Rhubarb cream pie with mixed fruit

Have ready pastry for a 2 crust 9-inch pie. Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees. In a small bowl mix 1 ¼ cups sugar, 3 tblsp. flour and ½ tsp. nutmeg. In a large bowl toss together, 2 cups rhubarb stalks sliced in ½ inch pieces, ¾ cup diced dried apricots, ¼ cup diced candied ginger, 1 peeled, cored diced medium apple and 1 tsp. grated lemon zest.

Roll out pastry dough and fit it in the bottom of the pie plate. Sprinkle ¼ of the sugar-flour mix over the pastry dough and spread the mixed fruit on top.  Beat 2 large eggs in a bowl with the remaining sugar-flour mix and spread all on top of the fruit. Dot with 1 tblsp. butter. Roll out the remaining pastry, cut in strips and make a lattice top for the pie, crimping edges to seal.

Brush the top of the pie with cream and bake for 10 minutes at 450 degrees. Turn down the oven to 350 degrees and continue to bake for an additional 30-35 minutes until the top is lightly browned. Cool and enjoy a rhubarb pie, tamed to interesting new delicious blend of flavors.

   (I. Winicov Harrington lives in coastal Maine and is the author of “How to Eat Healthy and Well for Less than $5.00 a Day: the Smart-Frugal Food Plan”; website:





Wednesday, May 17, 2023



                    Pasta Primavera and chicken Paillard

           Primavera in Italian means springtime and as designation for a recipe, means more colorful springtime fare for the table. The crabapple outside our kitchen window has burst into a pink cloud of blossoms, affirming that it is time to look for recipes that embody a seasonal change in the menu.

          Pasta Primavera’s Italian origins call for pasta made in a cream sauce with parmesan cheese and herbs. It came to fame in America in the 1970’s, when the fashionable French restaurant Le Cirque, introduced it on its menu in New York. In its American debut the dish acquired a more colorful appearance with green vegetables and a sprinkling of pine nuts and rapidly gained popularity with many chefs. I remember being introduced to it in the late 70’s by Chef Tell, who at that time presided over the Chestnut Hill hotel in Philadelphia. The following recipe for 4 has evolved from that time and can vary depending on the vegetables on hand.

                                                   Pasta Primavera

          Toast 2 tblsp. raw pine nuts for 2 minutes in an ungreased pan until light brown spots appear. Set aside.

          Cook 8-10 oz fettucine in a large pot of water with 1 tsp. salt to al dente as indicated on the package. Before draining reserve a cup of the cooking water, drain and set aside.

          While the pasta is cooking, heat 1 tblsp. grapeseed oil in a large skillet over high heat and cook 10 sliced mushrooms for 4 minutes and set aside.

          In the same skillet heat another tblsp. grapeseed oil and sauté 2 chopped garlic cloves, ½ carrot cut in slivers with a vegetable peeler, 20 snow peas with the tough string removed from the side and sliced in diagonal in 3 pieces, 1 cup defrosted green peas, 1 cup tender asparagus spears, cut in 1-inch pieces (optional), ½ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. pepper for 4 minutes. Add the cooked mushrooms and 10 halved cherry tomatoes and cook for an additional minute.

          Prepare the cream sauce by melting 2 tblsp. butter in a small pan, add ¾ cup thick cream and ½ cup grated fresh Parmigiano Reggiano. Heat while stirring until the cheese is melted.

          Set the pasta cooking pot back on medium heat. Return the pasta, vegetables and cream sauce to the pot, toss to heat and stir in 1/3 cup pasta water. Toss while heating for 1-2 minutes until sauce is thick and coats the pasta.  Finally toss with ½ cup herbs: mixture of chives, Italian parsley and dill or fresh basil. Serve hot with a green salad.

          Everyone loves chicken cutlets Parmigiana. For lighter spring fare Chicken Paillard is a welcome alternative and has the added virtue of being gluten free. Paillard is the French way of describing boneless butterflied or thinly pounded slices of meat, that are quickly fried with a flavorful sauce. This recipe also has evolved over time in my kitchen.

                                                  Chicken Paillard

          Slice skinless boneless chicken breast in less than ½ inch slices and pound thin between sheets of plastic wrap. Lightly salt and pepper each piece of meat.

          Start oven and set to 150 degrees and have ready a pan lined with parchment. Fry chicken in batches. In a large skillet heat 2 tblsp. grapeseed oil just before smoking and quickly fry the chicken slices for 2-3 minutes on each side to lightly brown. Set done pieces on parchment lined pan to keep warmin the oven, while you finish the rest.

          In a small bowl mix: 1 tbslp. grainy Dijon mustard, 2 tsp. small capers, 2 Tblsp. fresh lemon juice, 1 tblsp. red wine vinegar and 6 quartered large green olives. Heat 1 tblsp. grapeseed oil in the pan used to fry chicken and sauté 2 chopped cloves of garlic for 1 minute, stir in the mustard sauce and cook for another minute.

          Remove chicken to a large, rimmed plate, spoon the hot sauce over it and sprinkle with chopped Italian parsley. Serve hot with buttered noodles and vegetables.

          To quote Lilly Pulitzer: “Despite the forecast, live like it’s spring!”

    (I. Winicov Harrington lives in coastal Maine and is the author of “How to Eat Healthy and Well for Less than $5.00 a Day: the Smart-Frugal Food Plan”; website:





Wednesday, May 3, 2023



                    Celebrate with breakfast tacos and tamale pie!

           May seems a gentle month, yet full of promise of the dramatic unfolding of nature in summer. It is also full of celebrations: envision the pastel colors wrapped around the maypole on the 1st of May; quickly followed by Cinco de Mayo (May 5th), a holiday boldly celebrating Mexican American culture; to be followed; in turn by Mother’s Day and Memorial Day.

          Cinco de Mayo is often mistaken for Mexican Independence Day, which is celebrated in September and commemorates the initial fight for independence from Spain in 1810. In contrast, Cinco de Mayo celebrates a military victory in 1862 over the second French invasion, that led to eventual settlement of the southern borders of USA. Thus, the first American celebrations of Cinco de Mayo date back to late 19th century, originating in California and Texas.

          For Cinco de Mayo celebrations, the colors of red-green-yellow are bold, the music has a Mexican beat and the food ranges from true Mexican dishes with Mole poblano and enchiladas to more Americanized versions including tacos and tamales. The recipes in this column are chosen from the latter category, in view of more easily available ingredients. 

                                                      Breakfast tacos

          These are made with either small 6-inch corn or flour tortillas, 2-3 per person. If using soft corn tortillas, lightly fry them in a hot skillet on both sides to make them sufficiently firm to hold the filling. Heat flour tortillas (wrapped in a dish towel) briefly in microwave.

          To prepare fresh salsa chop: ½ seeded and deribbed green pepper and 1 Roma tomato. Toss with 4 thinly sliced scallions, both green and white parts and 1 tsp. white wine vinegar.

          Scramble 4 eggs (1 egg per person), seasoned with salt and pepper, with a bit of milk in 1 tblsp. olive oil. For spicier eggs stir in 1 tsp. finely chopped pickled Habanero pepper.

          Assemble tacos 2-3 per plate: a layer Cheddar or Mexican cheese mixture, a layer of scrambled eggs, layer of fresh salsa and dab with medium or hot prepared salsa. Serve with melon on the side.

          Tamales are a universally loved flavorful Mexican dish consisting of meat, corn, cheese, spices and Masa, a cooked maize dough, wrapped and steamed in softened corn husks. For anyone with difficulties finding clean and ready to use corn husks and not prepared Masa flour, here is a recipe that gathers the same ingredients in a tasty baked casserole.

                                                      Tamale pie

          Brown 1 lb. lean ground beef in a large pan. Remove meat and set aside and pour off most of the fat. In the same pan sauté for 5 minutes: 1 chopped onion, 1 seeded and deribbed green pepper diced, or ½ each green and red peppers, and 2 chopped cloves of garlic.

          Return meat to the pan. Stir in 1 can 15.5 oz. chopped tomatoes, 1 tblsp. Worcestershire sauce, 3 tblsp. double strength tomato paste, 1 tsp. salt, ¼ tsp. pepper, 3 tsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. sugar, ½ cup cut up black olives (optional), 1 can (12 oz.) drained corn kernels and cook to heat and blend. Remove from heat and stir in 1 and ¼ cups Mexican blend cheese.

          Spray an 8x8x2 inch baking dish or a deep-dish pie plate with cooking spray. Transfer the meat mixture to the pan and smooth the top.

          Make the topping in a small pot. Stir ¼ cup cornmeal in 2 cups COLD water with ½ tsp. salt. Use cold water to avoid lumps. Bring mixture to boil while stirring and cook until the mixture becomes quite thick, 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 1/3 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese. Make cris-crossing strips of cornmeal-cheese blend on top of the casserole. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 375 degrees for 40 minutes, until topping is slightly browned. Serve hot with a sliced cucumber salad on the side.

          For anyone wishing to include a Margarita in their celebrations, be aware that frozen Margaritas are strictly an American invention.

    (I. Winicov Harrington lives in coastal Maine and is the author of “How to Eat Healthy and Well for Less than $5.00 a Day: the Smart-Frugal Food Plan”; website: