May 30, 2012

Sweet Tart

Sweet Tart!
Good Times in a Crust

When the rhubarb came up in my grandmother's garden, Maplewood, New Jersey, she'd always call me first. It didn't matter if I was home, one town over, or in college in upstate New York, or at my first job in Durham, New Hampshire. She'd ask when I could come over and help her make pie. In my younger years, my mom would drop me off so I could help chop the rhubarb, measure the flour and roll the dough. We'd make fairy cookies of the dough scraps, cutting them with a sewing thimble, sprinkle them with sugar to bake up into golden orbs. And, we'd finish at least two bubbling pies, one to "test" and another to serve.  When moved out of town, she'd call and we'd bake the pies together, in our separate kitchens, heads cocked to cradle the receiver, as we measured, stirred and rolled. To this day I can hear her voice, "before you start, for pity sake, wash those hands."

This month, four high school girls are "interning" in my kitchen, helping me test recipes. They wanted to learn to cook and bake. Energetic and shy, they come each morning with questions, gossip and laughter, and the kind of hungers only adolescents know. We've been finalizing recipes for a forthcoming book, mornings immersed in puffs of flour, the yeasty thump whack of focaccia dough, whiffs of cinnamon and vanilla. In memory's kitchen, I return to my grandmother's recipe. We just finished two rhubarb pies. Maybe some day, when they are my age and I am long gone, one of them will pick up the phone and say, "When can you come over, I need you to help me make rhubarb pie. One to 'test' and one to share."

Rhubarb Pandowdy
Makes one pie

This is one of my grandmother's favorites because it doesn't require a bottom crust. It's as easy as, well, pie to put together. The fruit bubbles up through the top lacquering the golden layer with pretty, flavorful juices.

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter, cut into bits
2 to 3 tablespoons icy cold water
2 pounds rhubarb, diced into ½ -inch pieces
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch salt
½ cup maple syrup

To make the crust: mix the flour and salt in a medium bowl. Cut in the butter using a pastry cutter or your fingers until the particles are the size of small peas. Sprinkle in the cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with a fork until al the flour is moistened and the pastry leaves the sides of the bowl. (You may need to add a little more.)

Gather the pastry into a ball. Shape into flattened found, then wrap in plastic and refrigerate for about 30 to 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss together the rhubarb, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and syrup in the pie dish.  On a lightly floured board with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough out so that it covers the pie pan or baking dish. Lay the dough over the top of the rhubarb tucking into the sides of the pan to make a secure crust. Bake until the crust is light brown, about 30 minutes. Lower the heat to 350 degrees F.
            Remove the pan from the oven and slice the crust in criss-crosses over the top. Return the pan to the oven and continue to bake, another five minutes so that the juices bubble up to glaze the top, as it becomes golden. Serve this warm.

May 23, 2012

Let them eat cake!

Rhubarb Snack Cake

Your assignment is dessert for the team pot luck, the graduation party, the faculty appreciate lunch. Sure you could just swing by the bakery, you've got every excuse, there's a lot going on. Still ... still..does't a cinnamon scented offering, tart with the rhubarb you just picked up at the farmers market or plucked from your yard, sound like just the thing. Go on. Bake a cake.

A simple "snack" cake. One bowl, one pan, a dusting of powdered sugar. It's great warm from the oven. Leftovers (if there are any) can be toasted for morning coffee. 

Rhubarb Snack Cake
Makes 1 9-inch cake

2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1-1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 cup plain Greek style yogurt
1 cup chopped rhubarb
Confectioners sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan. In a medium bowl, hisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt until blended. In a separate bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until knight and fluffy then beat in the vanilla. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Fold the flour alternately with the yogurt into the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Fold in the cranberries. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly then tap the pan to release the air bubbles. Bake until a toothpick inserted inthe center comes up clean, about 50 to 55 minutes. Remove and cool. Dust with confectioners sugar.

May 21, 2012


Sunny Bread
Quick & Savory

As I write this, five high school seniors on "May Term" are interning with me, helping run the final 
tests on recipes for my next cookbook, Minnesota's Bounty.  Energetic and curious, they're willing to tweak a flourless hazelnut torte until we get the proportions just right. (The first time, though the flavors were nutty, hazelnut rich, it was gooey and impossible to get off the pan. So, we are starting again.) We (literally) eat our mistakes.

Meanwhile, this pretty loaf of quick bread topped with crunchy sunnies makes a nice match to fresh garden salad (which we just shared that for lunch). It's also nice with a smear of sweet butter or a wedge of cheese. Serve it for brunch with quiche and a pot of orange marmalade. It's best right out of the oven; next day, toast slices and crown with almond butter. The loaf doesn't last too long.

Sunny Bread
Makes One Loaf

1-1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain yogurt
1 large egg
¼ cup sunflower oil
¼ cup mild honey
¾ cup milk
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
¼ cup flax seeds
¼ cup sunflower seeds

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with a little oil and sprinkle with a little of the flour to coat the pan.
            In a large bowl, stir together the whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
            In a medium bowl, beat together the yogurt, egg, oil, honey and milk, then stir in the oats and flax seeds. Stir the wet mixture into the flour mixture just until blended but not over mixed. Turn the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle with the sunflower seeds.
            Bake the loaf until well browned on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. Let stand in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the loaf to loosen it then turn out onto a rack.

In a Pickle

not perfect

I confess that the very idea of pickling puts me in a panic. The time, the fuss.  But given this year's abundant asparagus crop, I've run out of ways to eat up spring. Here then is a fool-proof recipe for pickled asparagus that tastes just fine the day it's made and even better several days, weeks, months hence. Put these up in small batches and store them in the fridge, eliminating the need for "canning"-- no boiling pots and uncertain sealed lids. These are great on a cheese platter, alongside grilled brats, or sliced and tossed into an egg or tuna salad. 

You'll notice the brine doesn't cover them completely, which is fine. Just turn the jars every so often. They won't last long, anyway.

Asparagus Pickles
Makes 3 pints

5 pounds asparagus
2-1/4 cups white wine vinegar
2-1/4 cups water
1/4 cup pickling salt*
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon allspice berries
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds

Trim the asparagus so that they will fit into pint sized jars (or 1 to 2 quart sized jars). To make them fit into the pint sized jars, you'll be cutting about 3 inches from the bottom. (Save those to steam for a salad or use in soup.) 

Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil and blanch the asparagus for 30 seconds then drain in a colander and run under cold water.

In a large saucepan mix together the vinegar, water, salt, garlic pepper flakes, allspice, and coriander. Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the salt and remove from the heat.

Pack the asparagus standing upright into clean jars. Fill the jars with the vinegar solution. Cover immediately then allow to cool to room temperature and store in the refrigerator. Let them sit a day before eating. They'll taste sharp for the first few days and mellow over time.

May 7, 2012

Asparagus Fiddles Around

Asparagus and Fiddleheads
Elegant Finger Foods are In

Asparagus are the most elegant finger food, best plucked off a linen napkin and dipped in a side of homemade mayonnaise. My grandmother served them this way (and Emily Post approved). A staunch East Coast W.A.S.P., she had a silver utensil for every dining occasion (from pickle fork to iced tea spoon) but she insisted the proper way to eat asparagus was one by one, bite by bite, beginning at the tip and working through the stalk. She might have done the same with fiddleheads had she known of them. Like morels, they're a Midwestern thing.

I inherited the sterling pickle forks and iced tea spoons, along with strict opinions about how to cook and serve asparagus.  The first being, to OVERCOOK, yes, overcook, not so they're mushy, but beyond tender crisp. When they're left in the pot a little longer so that their colors fade from emerald to slightly dusty green, their flavors open up and they taste less grassy, slightly floral, more of themselves. They are perfect for dunking in golden mayonnaise.

Fiddleheads need just to be slightly trimmed of the dark brown stem, then cooked along with the asparagus. Their flavors are akin, though more nutty with a bitter edge. Cook and serve them together, on white napkin, and forget the fork.

To properly cook asparagus and fiddleheads, bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus and fiddleheads and cook until their colors turn from bright green to muted, about 5 minutes. Drain and serve on a white napkin (linen, of course).

Homemade Mayonnaise
Makes 1 cup

This is ridiculously simple and pure and nearly as easy as opening a jar. It will keep up to two days in the refrigerator so make only as much as you need for a short time.

Yolk of 1 large egg
1 teaspoon Dijon or coarse mustard
1 cup of extra virgin olive oil or sunflower oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice, or more to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Drop or two of Tabasco to taste

Put the yolk in to a medium bowl and whisk in the mustard. Whisk in 1 drop of oil, then begin whisking in the remaining oil in a very slow steady stream. After you've added about 1/4 cup of oil, the mixture will thicken. Continue whisking until the mayonnaise comes together then season with the lemon juice, salt and pepper and a drop or two of Tabasco.