Thursday, May 27, 2010

a perfect paring

I’ve been reminiscing about my childhood. Being raised by two loving Grandparents, I have many fond memories of them and that little pink house that Grandpa had built. It’s interesting that food, even in its simplest form can bring back former days or moments, sometimes good and bad. Lately for me it has been rhubarb and strawberries.

Growing up in Idaho I remember when the spring days would get longer and the temperatures would begin to climb; produce from the garden began to increase. The garden was my Grandfathers pride and joy and probably a place of solace as well. He would bring in armfuls of greens, still warm from the sun with the smell of fresh soil still hugging at the roots. But what really got me excited was when it was time to harvest the rhubarb. It was a very short period during the spring when our few plantings of rhubarb would be ruby red and ready for harvest and the strawberries were heavy, bright red and sweet. This was the time for strawberry and rhubarb pie. And boy, did my Grandma know how to make a pie.

Like most Grandmothers there wasn’t a recipe only intuition and her hands that new the task well. I loved to watch her. We didn’t talk much when she was baking, but she would hum and I would kneel on the kitchen stool sneaking a berry or taking a leftover stalk of rhubarb and dip it into the sugar bowl. Grandma would scoop her coffee cup into the flour tin then into the sugar, giving the mix a turn with her hands. Adding the shortening and butter, (at what ratio I will never know) she would use her fingers to blend the ingredients. Then came the iced water drip by drip until it was the consistency she needed. When it was time to roll the dough the decks would be cleared and a toss of flour went onto the board, then the rolling pin was produced to finish the job. It all seemed so easy, and I relished the entertainment. But probably even more I enjoyed the results. The tender, flaky crust that encased the sweet tart blend of freshly harvested rhubarb and strawberries is a combination that cannot be improved upon.

If the prospect of baking a pie sends you running in the other direction, but you still want to enjoy the perfect paring of rhubarb and strawberry, try this recipe. It is a delightfully simple crisp with a hazelnut oatmeal top that is sure to please. Serve the crisp warm in bowls with freshly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

I think even Grandma would have liked it.


Rhubarb & Strawberry Crisp
Serves 8

1 lb. rhubarb, sliced in 1 in. pieces
2 pints strawberries, hulled, sliced in half
Zest and juice from 3 blood oranges (or whatever oranges you have on hand)
¼ cup flour
¼ cup sugar
1 stick butter, chilled, cubed
¾ cup all purpose flour
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup oats
Pinch of salt
¼ cup toasted hazelnuts, skins removed, chopped coarsely

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease an 8 x 11 baking dish and set aside. In a bowl combine sliced rhubarb, strawberries, zest and juice from the oranges, flour and sugar. Toss gently to incorporate flour and sugar throughout. Pour into prepared baking dish.

For the topping I like to use a food processor, but a pastry cutter, fork or even your fingers work as well. Combine chilled, cubed butter, with the flour, sugar and salt, pulse a few times until butter is the size of small peas. Add oatmeal and pulse once or twice, just enough to get it mixed through, but not chopped too small. Crumble mixture over the top of the strawberry rhubarb mixture. Top with the roasted hazelnuts and bake for 45 minutes until the top is browned nicely and the mixture is bubbling through the cracks.

Serve warm with freshly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

as sweet as tupelo honey

The fame of Tupelo honey didn’t necessarily happen with Van Morrison’s hit song back in 1971, where the songwriter declares “she’s as sweet as tupelo honey, just like honey from the bee”. Tupelo honey is famed on its own merit.

Tupelo honey is a uniquely delicious, top quality honey and is valued for its inability to granulate. It is one of the most expensive because it is the most expensive to produce. The honey comes from the tupelo gum tree that grows in flooded forest areas in Florida, Louisiana and Georgia. Care must be taken by the beekeepers to clean the combs at the right time so that when the white tupelo gum tree blossoms, only honey from these blossoms is collected. White tupelo honey is a prized sweet delicious light amber honey with a greenish hue. The delightful taste of pure white tupelo honey can be savored on hot buttered toast or for something a little out of the ordinary, incorporate it into a warm crème anglaise that has been infused with dried lavender to make lavender and honey ice cream.

This is a creamy unexpected treat that couldn’t be simpler or more delicious.


Lavender and Honey Ice Cream
makes 3 cups

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthways
½ cup tupelo honey
¼ cup dried lavender
6 egg yolks

Pour the cream and milk into a heavy bottomed pan and place over low heat. Scrape the vanilla seeds from the pod and add them to the creamy milk with the empty pod, along with the honey. Slowly, stirring to incorporate the honey, bring the mixture just below the boil. Remove from heat and stir in the dried lavender. Set aside to infuse for about 15 minutes.

In the meantime, beat the egg yolks with a whisk until the mixture becomes thick and pale yellow. Gently reheat the creamy milk mixture and pour on to the egg yolks, stirring with a whisk as you do so.

Strain through a fine mesh sieve back into the saucepan, removing the lavender. Place over the lowest possible heat. Stir gently and patiently until the custard thickens-this may take 10-15 minutes (don’t be tempted to increase the heat, or you’ll end up with scrambled eggs). It should be thick enough to lightly coat the back of a wooden spoon. Draw a finger along the back of the spoon-it should leave a clear trace.

Pour custard into a covered container and let chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour or overnight.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

conquering fear with dessert

The culinary blowtorch that I’ve had in my possession for quite a while now has, I must admit been somewhat of a frightening prospect. The thought of using it has seemed like a high risk adventure and yes, dangerous in the hands of a novice (which I am). But recently I stumbled upon a recipe for Caramelized Bananas in Puff Pastry and thought that this was going to be the dessert recipe that would help me conquer the fear of the blowtorch!

I’ve changed up the recipe a bit from the original, actually tossing the bananas in a mixture of butter, brown sugar and rum, making it a little bit more like Bananas Foster. The original recipe has the bananas which are tossed in sugar, then caramelized with the blowtorch. Either way you choose to go with the bananas, if you add some salted caramel and a scoop of vanilla ice cream to top it off you can’t go wrong.

I am happy to report that I successfully made the dessert (wolfed it down, for lunch actually) and didn’t burn the house down or singe my eyebrows. The only ones that received the torch were the butter and rum flavored bananas, and they seemed to love it!


Caramelized Bananas Drizzled Salted Caramel in Puff Pastry
inspired by Gourmet Traveller, Austrailian publication

Puff pastry, 1 sheet
1 egg yolk, for brushing

Caramelized bananas
3 bananas, chopped
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1/4 cup dark rum
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Salted Caramel
Vanilla Ice Cream

Preheat oven to 400 cut four 4 inch rounds from pastry and place on a baking tray lined with parchment. Score part-way through pastry to form a 1 inch border, prick the center of the circle with a fork and brush all over with egg yolk. Freeze until firm (5 minutes) then bake until puffed and light golden (6-8 minutes). Remove from oven, detach the center top layers of puff pastry and discard. Return puff pastry to oven and bake until dark golden (6-8 minutes). Set aside.
Meanwhile, prepare caramelized bananas. Melt butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add brown sugar and stir until sugar begins to melt, bubble, and form thick mass, about 4 minutes. Add rum and lemon juice; simmer until mixture thickens slightly, about 3 minutes. Add bananas and cook until glazed with caramel, about 1 minute. Divide the bananas among the puff pastry circles and hit them with a blowtorch until bubbly and the coating hardens, forming a candied coating (if desired). Drizzle with salted caramel and top with vanilla ice cream. Serve hot with extra salted caramel.

serves 4

Sunday, May 9, 2010

a thoughtful take on a simple pleasure

I am so inspired by the literary prose of M.F.K. Fisher the legendary food writer of such books as Consider the Oyster, How to Cook a Wolf,  and The Gastronomical Me. Fishers’ work is masterful; every word seems perfectly placed, like the musical notes in a score. Her muse is food and the enjoyment that surrounds it, and the way in which she shares those pleasures is a melody that seems to transport you to a happier time and place.

It makes me wonder, that in a time that is so busy, where pleasure seems complicated that we can, or are willing to slow down enough to enjoy the simple beauty to be found in life.

With all of the rambling I do in this blog for almost a year now, I’m not sure who even reads these words of mine, if anyone.  I’m curious...dear reader are you a cook, a gourmand, or just a curious passerby? Are you inspired in the kitchen? Or do you simply need inspiration?

When someone finds out I enjoy cooking and even finds out I actually blog about it (which is sometimes a little embarrassing) I more times than not hear “Oh, I don’t cook.” After I hear this I always think, (but of course never say) “Do you eat?”

Or maybe I should ask “Do you eat well?”

My hope is that we will see our need for appreciation of the beauty, especially the simple beauty, to be found in life, amidst the confusion and turmoil that surrounds most of our lives. One simple way to achieve this, in my humble opinion is to carve out time each day to plan and create a meal for your family or just for yourself. Then take pause and a prayer if you will and give thanks.

Below is a recipe for Salted Dark Caramel Sauce, it is a quick delicious pleasure that can be a lovely flavoring for your favorite coffee drink, or simply drizzled over ice cream. I like to take the caramel to the brink of burning, until it is the color of an old penny. I love the deep intense flavor of a well colored caramel.


Salted Dark Caramel

1 cup heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean, split in 1/2 lengthwise and seeds scraped
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. sea salt

Place the heavy cream and vanilla bean and seeds in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove the cream from the heat and let sit while making the caramel.

Whisk together the sugar and water in a medium non-reactive saucepan over high heat. Cook until dark golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the caramel from the heat and immediately add the cream slowly, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Return to the heat and cook until the mixture becomes smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and salt. Transfer to a bowl and serve immediately.

makes almost 2 cups

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

a little inspiration and some soup

Garlic may be available year-round, but the season for young garlic is terribly short, only a few weeks in spring and early summer. At a recent jaunt to the farmers’ market I stumbled across a crate of these naked-looking new bulbs, soil still clinging to their roots and stalks. Their nearly skinless, barely formed cloves have a crunch similar to Granny Smith apples. These immature heads when harvested early are filled with a milky juice that is both pungent and sugary.

For the time-pressed cook, young garlic has a practical payoff: there is no need to remove the annoying raspy skins, as with mature garlic. You can slice and sauté an entire head like an onion, and the green parts of the young garlic are also edible.  Young garlic is an excellent candidate for soups, roasting alongside meats and puréeing for mashed potatoes, aioli and the like.

Coming away from the market with new found inspiration as well as a bunch of beautiful young garlic, some spinach and a couple of potatoes, I rushed home and got cooking.


Young Garlic & Spinach Soup
Inspired by Heidi Swanson
serves 4-6

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
3 young garlic bulbs with green stalks, bulbs cut into small dice, and green stalks sliced into 1 inch lengths*
2 russet potatoes, unpeeled, ½ inch dice
1 bunch spinach
1 quart chicken stock
¼ cup crème fraîche
½ tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Start by washing the spinach really well in several changes of water. Spinach tends to hold dirt on the leaves and stems. Rinse until the water runs clear. Set aside.

In a good sized soup pot melt the butter over low heat until it is softly foaming. Add the young garlic, stems and all and cook until softened and translucent, 5-8 minutes. Add potatoes to the garlic along with the stock and simmer, covered for 20 minutes until potatoes are tender. Take off the stove and add the spinach, stir in until wilted. Purée in small batches using a conventional blender (or you can use an immersion blender if you have one). If using a conventional blender use caution. The hot liquid can create pressure and burst out of the top. To insure against this, use a kitchen towel over the lid holding down firmly. Once puréed add back to the pot and heat gently. Whisk in crème fraîche, add freshly grated nutmeg and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve, garnished with chive blossoms if desired.

*If you have trouble finding the young garlic, a substitute of 1 bunch green onions and 3 cloves of garlic would be fine.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

a bit peckish and a vacancy

There are some days when I just don’t feel like cooking. I would rather be lollygagging around in the garden keeping up on what is blooming or in need of a little pruning. On one of those days I stumbled upon a hummingbird nest that had been vacated, and now the branch that supports that little work of love is proudly displayed in a glass of water by my kitchen window.

I was getting hungry after my foray in the garden and just not in a mood to make some big production in the kitchen.

While rummaging around in the pantry looking for something to satisfy I came upon some Carr’s wheat crackers. I also had a few dates hiding behind the pickle jar in the fridge and just enough French Brie in the cheese drawer to justifiably smear on a handful of the crackers.

It may sound like a quirky combination, but rest assured it was delicious. Brie when properly ripened and brought to room temperature is soft and creamy. The flavor is rich, and savory with a slightly salty note. Dates, with their extraordinary sweetness and chewy texture, when paired with the Brie make for a toothsome snack.

So even though the little nest I stumbled upon in my garden had been empty and deserted, my hunger is now satisfied by that tasty tidbit.

Now…what to make for dinner.