The Main Menu: Rosy red and brown delicious

As I gaze out my windows to the garden, I can just see the distinctive spike of green leaf followed by the rosy pink stem of rhubarb, a true harbinger of spring. There is only one other taste unique to the season and you can feel it with the first warm sunny days after cool nights, the trickle of tree sap from the maple tree to be reduced to the sweet, smokiness of  maple syrup that distinctive flavour of Canada. Yum! The pairings of these two tastes, tangy, sour to get the senses flowing, followed by the unique richness of tree syrup and you have a blast of taste to excite the palate. Spring in a mouthful. Each recipe here is designed to celebrate these spring crops.

Rhubarb Bread Pudding
From Foodland Ontario comes this yummy dish suitable for breakfast, brunch or dessert. Make the egg-bread mixture the night before. In the morning while the oven is preheating, add the fruit. (This is also delicious with blueberries when they come into season.) Serve the pudding with maple syrup or a dollop of vanilla yogurt. If you prefer, other types of bread can be used in place of croissants.

4 stale or day-old croissants about 8 oz/ 250 g (8 cups)
4 eggs
2 tbsp (25 mL) granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) milk
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
2 cups (500 mL) sliced rhubarb, fresh or frozen
1 tsp ( 5 mL) fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup (50 mL) brown sugar
maple syrup

Preheat oven to 375˚F (190˚C). Spray 8 cup (2 L) baking dish with baking spray. Cut croissants into 1 1/2 inch (4 cm) pieces. In large bowl, whisk eggs with sugar, milk and vanilla. Add croissant pieces, mix gently and press under milk mixture. Cover and refrigerate two hours or overnight. Toss rhubarb with lemon juice and brown sugar and gently stir into bread mixture. Spoon into baking dish. Bake until puffed and bubbly, 30 to 35 minutes. Let stand about 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm.

Toasted Maple Walnuts
These are irresistible served with a glass of wine, sprinkled in a salad or used as part of the topping in rhubarb crumble pie. I am sure you can come up with other uses for this crunchy treat.

1 cup (250 mL) fresh walnut halves
1 1/2 tbsp (7 mL) maple syrup
Pinch salt and fresh black pepper

Preheat oven to 350˚F (180˚C). Line baking sheet with parchment paper. In mixing bowl, stir together walnuts, maple syrup, salt and pepper. Spread nuts onto prepared baking sheet; bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool and store in airtight container for two weeks or freeze for longer storage.

Rhubarb Crumble Pie
For best results, bake and serve this pie the same day. Serve with whipped cream sweetened with a tablespoon or so of maple syrup or for a lower fat alternative, stir 2 tbsp (25 mL) maple syrup into 1 cup (250 mL) plain yogurt.

1 9 inch (23 cm) pie shell
5 cups (2.25 mL) rhubarb cut into 1 inch (2.5 cm) pieces
2 tsp (10 mL) grated orange peel
1 cup (250 mL)    granulated sugar
1/3 cup (75 mL) all purpose flour
Crumble topping:
2/3 cup (150 mL) packed brown sugar
2/3 cup (150 mL) quick oats
2/3 cup (150 mL) all purpose flour
1/3 cup (75 mL) maple coated walnuts (previous recipe)
1 tsp (5 mL) ground cinnamon
1/3 cup (75 mL) melted butter

Preheat oven to 450˚F (230˚C). In mixing bowl stir together rhubarb, orange peel, flour and sugar. Spoon mixture into prepared pie shell. In mixing bowl, stir together brown sugar, oats, all purpose flour, walnuts, cinnamon and butter. Sprinkle mixture evenly over top of pie. Place pie on baking sheet and bake 15 minutes at 450˚F (230˚C). Reduce heat to 375˚F (190˚C); bake 35 to 40 minutes longer or until topping is golden, filling is bubbly and rhubarb is tender. Let stand at least 15 minutes before slicing; pie may be served hot or warm with maple syrup flavoured cream. Serves 6 to 8.

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