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Posts Tagged ‘rhubarb’

Gastronomically yours,

May 10th, 2014

In the Patch –Rhubarb Patch

My first encounter with fresh rhubarb was a frightening experience for me. I was about six years old and my aunt had baked a strawberry rhubarb pie. It was a slice of heaven, lightly heated with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The next day one of my older cousins pointed out the rhubarb plant to me in the garden and suggested that I try it fresh seeing as I had enjoyed the pie so much. I eagerly broke off a stalk and started munching away. I quickly fled to the safety of my aunt’s kitchen with tears in my eyes making gagging accusations that my cousin was trying to poison me. It took about ten years for me to get over that experience before I started to eat and cook rhubarb again.

Rhubarb starting to sprout

Rhubarb starting to sprout

There is often discussion surrounding rhubarb that the leaves contain poisonous compounds. The most dangerous substance found in the leaves is oxalic acid. The median lethal dose for pure oxalic acid is about one ounce for a 150 lb person. The oxalic acid content found in rhubarb leaves vary but it would require that same 150 lb person to consume around 12 pounds of the extremely sour leaves in one sitting to cause death.

Rhubarb is indigenous to the Gobi region of eastern Asia and it is believed that the Hun’s and Mongol’s brought the plant westward with them. Rhubarb has been used throughout history as a medicinal plant in traditional Chinese medicine for its strong laxative properties and for its astringent effect on the mucous membranes of the mouth and the nasal cavity.

The consumption of rhubarb as a food became commonplace when the price of sugar fell in the late 1700’s and became available to the common people of England. Rhubarb eventually found its way to North America in the early 1800’s.

Although we cook rhubarb like a fruit it is an herbaceous perennial that is classified as a vegetable. In Iran and Afghanistan it is commonly cooked with spinach in a preparation known as khorest which is similar to stew. Polish peoples boil rhubarb with potatoes and aromatics while Italians use rhubarb to make a mildly alcoholic beverage called rabarbaro touted as a health tonic.

I enjoy rhubarb in a number of ways and prefer to incorporate it with citrus fruits and ginger. Try this traditional British recipe for Rhubarb and Ginger Jam. I recommend serving it with fresh warm scones at breakfast or serve it at dinner paired with roasted pork loin.

 

Rhubarb and Ginger Jam

Ingredients:

Two lb rhubarb
Two lb sugar
two cups of water
Four oz crystallized (candied) Ginger

One oz fresh ginger root

Zest of one lemon
Juice of two fresh Lemons

One Jalapeno or Habanero pepper seeded and finely chopped- optional for those who like it hot!

Method: Wash and trim the rhubarb and cut it into one inch lengths. Squeeze the ginger in a garlic press to extract its juice and reserve. Chop the candied ginger into small pieces.
In a heavy bottomed saucepan combine the rhubarb, sugar, water, lemon zest and juice.
Over medium high heat bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Allow the mixture to boil for 15-20 minutes stirring occasionally.
Add the candied ginger and reduce heat to medium. Allow the mixture to simmer for a further 15-20 minutes. Skim the surface with a sieve to remove any bubbles and scum. Pour the jam into sterilized jars to be sealed and cooled.

 

The Ancient Greeks referred to rhubarb as “the vegetable of barbarians” and understandably so with its blood red, celery like stalks and its strong astringent flavour peppered with the toxic oxalic acid which can make you feel like your mouth has been pulled inside out when eaten raw.

The name rhubarb is Greek in origin and combined two words; rha and barbarum. Rha refers to the plant and to the Volga River where along its banks rhubarb has grown wild for centuries. It also symbolized the laxative effects of rhubarb and how it could medicinally be used to make your bowels evacuate themselves and flow like the Volga River.

too much rhubarb may have this laxative effect

too much rhubarb may have this laxative effect

Originally cultivated in China for its medicinal qualities; rhubarb became so valued that the Qing Dynasty on a number of occasions decreed that no tea or rhubarb was to be exported as foreign barbarians would surely die without these necessary staples.

It wasn’t until the 1700’s when sugar prices fell that we saw rhubarb being consumed as a food and cultivated in most people’s gardens. Since its arrival in North America rhubarb has found its home and is used in a variety of preparations that includes breads, cakes, pies, tarts and jams.

Whether you get your rhubarb from your back yard, a neighbor or the grocery store you need to know about the two basic types of rhubarb available and their differences. The traditional variety displays thick green stalks that possess a balanced mellow flavor while the modern hothouse variety has slender stalks with a deep red color which lends itself to striking presentation it is also far bitterer.

After you have selected your rhubarb you will need to rinse the stalks of any dirt and trim away the leaves as the leaves contain poisonous compounds. The most potent of which is oxalic acid. The median lethal dose for pure oxalic acid is about one ounce for a 150 lb. person. The oxalic acid content found in rhubarb leaves vary but it would require that same 150 lb. person to consume around 12 pounds of the awfully sour leaves in one sitting to cause death. Although tempting, do not peel the fibrous skin from the stalks as it holds most of the color and flavor.

If you do not plan on immediately using your rhubarb it can be stored safely for up to a week sealed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Alternately you may choose to freeze or can your rhubarb for longer storage. When rhubarb is cooked its juices will naturally thicken and the fibers will fray making it perfect to use for jams and chutneys.

The following recipe for rhubarb yogurt is delicious on its own but versatile as it can be served as a dessert topping, a salad dressing or frozen into an ice cream. Regardless I recommend getting your hands on some rhubarb and making some desserts this holiday weekend.

 

Rhubarb Yogurt

Ingredients:

2 cups stewed rhubarb

1/2 cup plain yogurt

3 tbsp. honey

2 tbsp. concentrated orange juice not diluted

Pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg

Method:

Using a food processor, puree all of the ingredients together. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

 

Gastronomically yours,

June 27th, 2013

Roasted Asparagus with Rhubarb Vinaigrette

 

Earlier this spring Nourishing Ontario prepared a report for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.  Their report emphasized the central role that farmers’ markets, co-ops, and other local food systems play on our economic and collective prosperity.

With a report like that how can you not want to get out and tour the best our area artisans and food producers have to offer? I find that getting out and touring all of the reawakened Farmers Markets throughout the region has me feel like I’m coming out of hibernation along with many other people who I haven’t seen since autumn.

As May comes to a close it is without a doubt that Asparagus and rhubarb are available in great abundance. Right now early harvested asparagus is at its peak of sweetness. Its sugar content can exceed that of maple sap which is approximately 4% sugar. Asparagus is best when prepared the day it was harvested as its sweetness quickly deteriorates after it is picked as the plant begins to consume itself to survive and it can readily use its own sugar.

Rhubarb on the other hand was known as the vegetable of barbarians by the Ancient Greeks and understandably so with its blood red, celery like stalks and its strong astringent flavour peppered with the toxic oxalic acid which can make you feel like your mouth has been pulled inside out when eaten raw.

The contrasting flavours of these two vegetable makes them a natural pair for the following recipe of roasted asparagus with rhubarb vinaigrette which can be served hot or cold and pairs well with barbecued beef or chicken.

 

 

 

Roasted Asparagus with Rhubarb Vinaigrette

 

Ingredients:

2 bunches fresh asparagus, about 2 pounds

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 green onion or garlic scape, minced

½ cup diced rhubarb

1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar

Brown sugar to taste

Salt and pepper

 

Method:

Heat half of the olive oil in a medium sized, stainless steel saucepan over medium heat. Add the green onion and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Gently stir in the rhubarb and cook it in the oil for an additional 2 minutes. Reduce the heat and cautiously stir in the vinegar as it may splatter a bit in the oil. Let the rhubarb mixture simmer until the rhubarb is begins to breakdown but does not become mushy this will take about 10 minutes.     Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-low heat and simmer until thick and syrupy, about 5 minutes. Adjust the sweetness of the rhubarb mixture as desired with brown sugar if needed. Reserve sauce.

 

Clean and trim the asparagus. Place the asparagus in a medium sized bowl and drizzle with the remaining half of the olive oil. Gently toss the asparagus to get it evenly coated with the oil. Sprinkle the asparagus with a generous pinch of salt and fresh cracked pepper and toss the asparagus a couple of more times. Transfer the oiled and seasoned asparagus to a parchment lined baking sheet, be sure not arrange the asparagus in a single layer.  Roast the asparagus in a preheated oven at 400f until they turn an intensely deep green colour, which will take about 10-15 minutes. Be sure to give the pan of asparagus a gentle shake every so often while they are cooking so that they do not become overcooked on one side. Once the asparagus reaches desired doneness, remove it from the oven. If serving this dish hot, plate the asparagus immediately, drizzle it with the rhubarb sauce and serve. If you choose to serve this chilled, allow the asparagus and rhubarb sauce to cool down. Plate and serve when desired.

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