Recipe

Rhubarb Sodas and Rhubarb Juleps

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I got the inspiration for this from the blog Coconut & Lime.  There was a post with a recipe for a Rhubarb Soda which sounded so simple and so good.  It was one of those “How-can-this-fail?” kind of things.  Now most likely, I will be trying this later today.  #1 — it sounds delicioso.  #2 — there is fresh rhubarb in the house (hopefully there will be some leftover from a rhubarb upside-down cake which will also be happening later today).  Plus it’s a perfect accompaniment to a nice outdoor BBQ (after all, it is National BBQ Month).

But since we just had the Kentucky Derby. . . was it the Kentucky Derby?. . . it was the one with the hats and the Mint Juleps.  Anyhoo, I thought to myself, “Hey, what about a Rhubarb Julep?”  Now aside from the rhubarb part, my recipe strays from the traditional julep in that I add a splash of club soda to give the drink some fizz and to help balance it out.  Too often I’ve had mint juleps that have been either too sweet or too boozy (which is weird cuz I do drink bourbon straight).  The club soda helps round everything out without just watering the drink down.  So you really could think of this as a Rhubarb Soda with some bourbon in it.

So what can I tell you about rhubarb?  I actually don’t know a lot, but one website (The Rhubarb Compendium) has a whole gaggle of info.  Its roots can be traced back to ancient China with records dating back to almost 5000 years ago, give or take a couple of centuries.  It was used for its medicinal purposes, primarily as a, um, cleanser.  Today we pretty much consider it a pie plant.  But here is a nice way of using rhubarb without having to make a pie.

Here’s what you need for the soda:

  • 4 stalks rhubarb (chopped)
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 c. water
  • club soda
  • ice

1.  Combine rhubarb, sugar, and water into a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to low until the sugar dissolves.  Cook for about 10 minutes to reduce.  Run through a strainer, pressing the rhubarb through to get all the syrup.

2.  In a glass of ice, pour about 1 T. of the syrup (or however much you want).  Top off with club soda and stir.

Here’s what you need for the julep:

  • 1 part prepared rhubarb syrup
  • 2 parts bourbon
  • crushed ice
  • tonic water or club soda

Place ice in a glass.  Pour about 1 oz. of the syrup over the ice.  Add the bourbon.  Top off with tonic water and stir.

Blueberry Crumb Cake

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There’s nothing like a good crumb cake to make a brunch special.  Who doesn’t like crumb cake?  Apparently lots of folks.  It’s not that they don’t like crumb cake, it’s that they don’t really know what it is.  Turns out, crumb cake is a regional dish, particular to the East Coast / New England area.   Here’s a little blurb on it from The Food Maven.  It has roots in Northern and Central Europe, possibly Poland or Germany (it is a streusel topping, after all).  Plus when you think of a Dutch Apple Pie, you think about its streusel crumb topping.  The Dutch are from Northern Central Europe, right?

Getting back to the regional cuisine bit– remember your American history from high school?  The Germans and the Dutch had a lot of influence in the area (New Amsterdam was the name of New York before it became New York).  So when they came here, they brought their food traditions.  Although it’s weird that it remains a New England thing.  The Germans, Dutch, and Scandinavians did immigrate to other parts of the country, like the MidWest and Great Lakes region.  For example, there is a lot of Finnish culture in the upper peninsula of Michigan, which now makes me crave some Nisu (It’s a Finnish bread that’s flavored with cardamom and I was able to track some down on my last trip to Houghton-Hancock.  There’s also a great seafood restaurant up there, BTW.  Of course, I could just be a sucker for all-you-can-eat fish.).  But I digress…

I know right now you’re asking, “how is a crumb cake different from a coffee cake?”  Well, let me tell you.  It all has to deal with the amount of streusel on the top.  Coffee cakes might have just a little bit of the streusel.  But the topping could take up a majority of the cake in a crumb cake.  And the topping is the best part!  Well, the rest of the cake is tasty, too.

And that’s a whole bunch of Cultural Nuggets for ya!  A couple of notes before you start:  this recipe has both baking soda and baking powder.  The baking soda is there to help neutralize the acid in the sour cream.  This recipe also uses blueberries, but you can use any kind of berry.  I’ve also see recipes for rhubarb crumb cakes and apple crumb cakes.  There’s also some that just use jam.  And now for the recipe.  It should make one 10-inch cake.  Here’s what you’ll need:

For the topping:

  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1/4 t. galangal (if you don’t have it available, just omit or use a little bit of nutmeg)
  • 1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 stick melted butter

Combine the dry ingredients together in a bowl.  Pour the melted butter over the top and mix with a spoon to form large crumbles.  Set aside.

For the cake:

  • 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 stick butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. honey
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 2/3 c. sour cream
  • 1 pt. fresh blueberries

1.  Preheat the oven to 350.   Spray the pan with cooking spray and line with a parchment round.  Set aside.  Sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.

2.  In the bowl of a mixer, cream together the butter, sugar, and honey.  Mix for about 5 minutes to make sure everything is well incorporated.  Add vanilla, lemon zest, and sour cream.  Stir to combine.

3.  On low speed, gradually add flour and mix until just combined.  Gently fold in the blueberries.  Spoon batter into the pan and level it off.  Evenly top with the streusel.

4.  Bake for 45 -60 minutes until center is done.  Let cool completely.

Raspberry Rhubarb Galette

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So here’s one recipe where you can use the Pate Brisee.  Now remember, that recipe makes enough for a double crust pie, so all you will need is half of that for this one.  Or, you could make two different Galettes cuz they won’t last long 🙂

A “galette” might sound super fancy, but it’s really not.  Essentially, it’s pie for people who really don’t want to be bothered with making a pie.  You don’t even need a pie pan!  Just put in a mound of filling in the center and just fold up the edges to make the sides.  Very rustic.

So, this particular recipe is for a sweet free-form tart, but there are also savory types.  I do have a recipe for a Mushroom Galette using different types of wild mushrooms, a nice stilton, leeks, caramelized onions, and some thyme.  I’ll post that at a later date.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1/2 Pate Brisee recipe
  • 1 pt. raspberries (I used 1/2 red and 1/2 golden)
  • 1 c. rhubarb, cut into about 1/2 in. pieces (about the size of the raspberries)
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 2 T. cornstarch
  • pinch of salt
  • egg wash (1 egg whisked with 2 T. milk or heavy cream)
  • sanding sugar

1.  Preheat oven to 375.  Place raspberries and rhubarb in a medium-sized bowl.  In a separate bowl, blend together the sugar, salt, and cornstarch.  Gently fold in the sugar mixture into the fruit.  Let stand for 15 – 20 minutes; if it sits too long, the rhubarb could get too mushy.

2.  Roll out the half of the Pate Brisee to about a 12-in round.  Pour the fruit into the center of the crust, leaving about 1 1/2 in border.  Gently fold up the sides to form pleats; you can pinch them to seal.  Brush the crust with the egg wash and dust with the sanding sugar.

3.  Bake for about 45 minutes, until the crust is golden.  Let cool slightly.  Slice and serve with maybe a slightly sweetened whipped cream with some lemon zest.  Vanilla ice cream is also a good accompaniment and maybe a sprig of mint.

Pate Brisee / Pie Crust

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I know I was planning on making some posts about mother’s day brunch ideas, but life happens.  So hopefully better late than never.  So this is a simple pate brisee recipe for both sweet and savory pies (I will be using this crust recipe for a Raspberry Rhubarb Tart that I will be making and posting later).  You can add maybe about 1 tablespoon of sugar to the dough for just a little added touch of sweetness if you are making a fruit tart or apple pie.  If you are making a more savory pie, just omit the sugar.

My recipe uses both butter and shortening to get that combination of flakiness and tenderness.  You can keep this in the refrigerator for a couple of days, or in the freezer for a month or two.  Since you can freeze it, you might as well make a couple of batches so you can whip up pies and tarts with no problem.  If you do freeze it, thaw it out in the refrigerator overnight to use the next day.  It’s important that all the ingredients are cold; you could even put the mixing bowl and processor blade in the freezer to chill them.  This should be enough for one 9-in double crust pie.  Here’s what you need:

  • 2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 T. granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 sticks cold butter, cubed
  • 4 T. shortening
  • 1/3 c. ice water, give or take a couple of tablespoons

1.  Place the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor (you can do this by hand if you wish).  Pulse for a couple of seconds to combine the dry ingredients.  Add the butter and shortening and pulse until mixture forms a course meal.

2.  While pulsing, drizzle water over the dough until it just comes together.  The dough must not be wet or sticky.  Press the dough out into a disk and wrap it in some plastic wrap or wax paper.  Let rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour so the dough can relax.

Cinco de Mayo Menu — Guacamole, Ceviche, and Margaritas

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Happy Cinco de Mayo!  You know what that means — time to get your drink on!  But what it really commemorates is the Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862 (the Mexican Day of Independence is September 16, 1810).  Napoleon was looking to get some money back that Mexico owed France and this invasion was a way of doing that.  But things on this day didn’t turn out the way he had planned and Mexico defeated the superior (yet uncoordinated) French force.  It’s like the Alamo. . . if Texas had won.

So this isn’t really a menu per se.  More of a collection of recipes that are easy to make and that you can have for your holiday celebration.  So let’s start off with the Guacamole.  It’s simple and easy to make.  Plus it’s easy for you to put your simple twist on it.  Por exemplo, you could keep everything in a rough dice and make an avocado salad, or add some jalapeno or serrano chiles, or add cilantro (yuk — I am one of those folks who cannot stand cilantro).  Here’s what you need:

  • 3 or 4 Hass avocados, about 1 1/2 lbs.
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or chopped
  • 1/2 of a small white onion, diced
  • 1 tomato chopped
  • juice of 1 lime
  • salt and pepper to taste

1.  Prepare the avocados by cutting them in half lengthwise and twisting them to open up the halves.  Remove the seed.  Scoop out the flesh and place in a bowl.  Now mash it with a fork (depending on how chunky you want it).

2.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir.  Serve with some tortilla chips or use as a topping for tacos, burritos, eggs. . .  anything really. . . except like blueberry pie and the ilk.  Press down a cover a plastic wrap onto the surface of the guacamole if you’re not using it immediately.  I have heard that in order to keep this from turning brown, you can place the avocado pit on top of the mixture.  Not sure how or even if this works.  But if it does, in theory, you won’t need to cover this dish and can even cut back on the lime.

Ceviche.  There are all different kinds of ceviche, but they all involve “cooking” or marinating fresh seafood in some citrus juice, usually lime.  “Cooking” doesn’t necessarily happen in this dish, but the citrus does denature the proteins in the seafood, which is what the heat from cooking does.  It probably originated in Peru and made its way up the coastline to Mexico, although some place origins of the dish closer to Central America.  There are some cultures in Asia who may also have a claim on “inventing” the dish (I luv Hawaiian Poke).  Again, a variety of seafoods are used — different fishes, scallops, squid, octopus, crab, I even saw one with smoked fish for those who have concerns about eating raw fish.  Since this is Cinco de Mayo, I will “de-Asian” my recipe to put it closer to the Mexican version (I like to put a little ginger, green onion, and soy sauce in mine).  I will be making some later today.  Here’s what you need:

  • 1 lb. ocean fish like halibut, mackerel, or snapper (go to your fish monger and see what’s fresh and use that.  you could also tell them that you’re planning on making ceviche and ask them for suggestions.  any good fish monger should be able to help you out.  if they can’t offer any good advice buy your fish somewhere else!).
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or chopped
  • 1 c. fresh lime juice
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1/4 c. chopped cilantro or flat leaf parsley
  • hot chiles, to taste
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • sugar

1.  Cut the fish into about 1/2 in. cubes.  Place in a non-reactive bowl (like glass or stainless) with the onion, garlic, and lime juice.  The fish should be covered with the lime juice, if not just add some more, or top it off with some water.  Let marinate in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours, to get the fish well done.  If you want it more raw, just marinate it for about an hour or two.

2.  Strain out the lime juice and discard it.  Add your tomatoes, chile, cilantro (or parsley), and olive oil.  Stir to combine.  Season with the salt and pepper.   Balance out the flavors with just a scant amount of sugar, maybe 1/2 teaspoon.

Margaritas.  What would today be without a good margarita?  Origins of this drink are highly debatable, with several stories about where and why this drink was created.  But it is definitely Mexican in origin and can be made in lots of variations, which I’m sure y’all know.  Just go to a local restaurant and see what different kinds they have.  This recipe is simple, requires only three ingredients (not including ice and salt or sugar on the rim of the glass) — Silver Tequila, lime juice, and Cointreau.

1.  Prep the glass by running a lime around the rim and dipping it into a shallow plate of salt or sugar, depending on your taste.

2.  Pour your tequila, lime juice, and Cointreau into a pitcher.  If you use a cup of each, you’d probably get 5 margaritas, depending on how much of a booze hound you are.  Fill a cocktail shaker about half full of ice.  Add enough of your Margarita mixture for a couple of drinks and shake vigorously for about 15-30 seconds to chill and dilute it.  Strain into the prepared glass.

Now these are just a couple of things that you can make today to help celebrate the holiday.  We typically think of this day as an excuse to drink, but take some time to celebrate Mexican culture and heritage.  One e-magazine that can offer some information on a wide variety of topics ranging from culture to cuisine to travel is MexConnect.  On the Culinary side of things, one great resource is Chef Rick Bayless.  He has a series on PBS called Mexico – One Plate at a Time where he explores the culture and food traditions  of Mexico, as well as the variations across the different regions of the country.  He has won various awards including a couple of James Beards.  You can learn about his books, restaurants, products, and his bio at the hyperlink above (I did not know that he did some doctoral work in Anthropological Linguistics at the University of Michigan).

Sorry for the long post, but hope it was helpful.  I’ll try to post some other things throughout the day that are Mexican themed.  Depends on how many margaritas I have 🙂

Fiddleheads

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It’s spring and I again have an unbelievable craving for fiddleheads.  I haven’t had any since I lived in Maine which was several years ago.  There they weren’t as “odd” an ingredient cuz I could just drive up to the Hannaford up the road and get them.  It might be a cultural phenomenon, which I think is due to the large French influence in the area (Quebec is just north of Maine), and I have found several rustic French recipes that use them, usually from Northern France.  That region is a lot more similar in climate to Maine and Quebec so that could explain the regional popularity of them; similar climate, similar flora.  It’s that whole work-with-what-the-land-gives-you kind of thing.  I am not a horticultural anthropologist, so who knows if it’s true, but it makes sense to me.

Apparently these all come from the ostrich fern.  For those who don’t know, fiddleheads are the immature shoot from the fern.  Now do not go and just start harvesting some ferns from your backyard.  Some ferns are toxic to eat at any developmental stage and if you don’t know what you are doing you could be making a big mistake.  Which is why I just try to scour the markets for them.  I did find them once at a market in downtown Ann Arbor, but they were not in good condition.  The season for them is very very short keep an eye out for them.  That’s probably why there are a lot of pickling recipes out there.  The University of Maine does have a page of info that you should check out.

It’s hard to describe the taste.  I’d say it’s a cross between asparagus and mushroom.  Not like a button mushroom, but more earthy from like a woodland mushroom or morel.  It’s a very delicate flavor, which could be easily overpowered.  So recipes tend to be fairly simple with few ingredients.

Now to prep them, you have to thoroughly clean them.  Since these are hand harvested, I imagine that there isn’t some gigantic mechanical produce cleaning machine to process them.  You’ll have to bear with me (or is it “bare”?) because it has been some time since I’ve made this.  Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 lb. fiddleheads
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 2 T. butter
  • 2 T. grapeseed oil (or some other neutral tasting oil)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • fresh dill, to taste

1.  Melt the butter in a saute pan with the oil over medium heat.

2.  Add the shallot and cook until tender and opaque, about 2 minutes.  Throw in the garlic and saute until the garlic perfumes the dish, maybe 1 minute.

3.  Add the fiddleheads and cook for about 3-5 minutes.  Add the salt and pepper and toss.  Cook for another 3-5 minutes until tender.

4.  Sprinkle on your fresh dill and serve.

Again, it has been a long time since I made this so the timing might be a little off.  I still am having some difficulty finding some fiddleheads here.  But I am trying to encourage folks to try something that they might not consider.  Expanding your horizons can be delicious!

Citrus Shortbread

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Now I this idea to make this because I had so much of that Orange Cream Frosting from the Easter Carrot Cake that I had posted earlier.  Probably not my best idea I’ve ever had putting those two together.  Not because it tasted horrible, but because trying to put some frosting on a delicate shortbread cookie just did not work out for me.  I should have just stuck with my original idea of making some vanilla sugar cookies.  But shortbread cookies are just so easy to make and they require so few ingredients.

So why is it called shortbread?  From what I can find, it has to do with the “shortness” or crumbly-ness (probably not a real word) of the dough.  Since this cookie has such a high fat content, the gluten in the flour can’t be developed like it is in a chewy loaf of bread or even a regular chocolate chip cookie.  Again, historically this is a special occasion dessert due to the cost and availability of ingredients back in the day.  Typically this was served on Christmas day and / or New Year’s.

The basic recipe can be adjusted in a variety of different ways:  you can mix in some chocolate chips; you can make a more savory one with rosemary and lavendar in it which seems very Provencal; you can add spices or maybe some crystallized ginger.  Just be sure not to add too much since the cookie might not be able to hold together.  I added some lemon and lime zest to this recipe.  The recipe itself is three basic ingredients — sugar, flour, and butter (and just a little touch of salt).  They follow a simple ratio of one part sugar, two parts butter, and four parts flour.  Sometimes there is the addition of some other kind of starch which can change the texture.  For example, rice flour can add extra crunch and crispiness while cornstarch makes things softer and “shorter”.  So here’s what you need:

  • a 9×9 baking dish (if you don’t have one, just use what you have.  the important thing is that the dough should be about 1/2 in deep)
  • 2 sticks very room temperature butter
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/2 c. granulated sugar
  • 1 2/3 c. flour, sifted
  • 1/3 c. cornstarch, sifted
  • zest of 1 lime
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • superfine sugar for dusting

1.  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Butter your pan or spray with cooking spray.

2.  Place butter in your mixing bowl.  Mix until very creamy and soft.  Add the salt and mix.  Now add the sugar and zests and mix together until just combined.

3.  Sift together the flour and cornstarch (either into another bowl or a large sheet of parchment).  Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix until a nice smooth dough forms.

4.  Press the dough evenly into the prepared pan.  Bake for about 30 minutes, until the top is lightly golden.  Cool on a wire rack until warm.

5.  Sprinkle the still warm shortbread with the superfine sugar.  Cut the cookies into 1/2″ x 2″ strips (or whatever shape you want.  I cut them into cubes cuz they kinda look like sugar cubes.  again, probably not my best idea).  You should use a thin knife when cutting — I have a small filet knife that I use for tasks like this.  You could even try rolling out the dough and using cookie cutters.  Traditional shapes for shortbread cookies are either those strips or fingers, individual formed rounds, or petticoat tails (larger rounds that have been cut into wedges).