Archives for posts with tag: desserts

I was excited to see rhubarb at the Berkeley Farmers’ market last Saturday — I think it is the first time I have seen it there. I had seen a delicious-looking recipe for a rhubarb-cherry crumble with fresh ginger on local kitchen, one of the blogs I always enjoy reading. Kaela preserves a wonderful variety of jams, pickles and marmalades. Here was a crisp that I could tackle easily with cherries in season.

I have had few encounters with rhubarb in my life. My mother never cooked it at home, although she ate it as a child in Illinois. Neither of us like cooked strawberries, preferring to eat them raw, so strawberry-rhubarb pie is not in our pie arsenal. I once ate some rhubarb pie at a doll class potluck — the baker thought its pink color was particularly appropriate for a group of women artists. While I didn’t have to choke it down, I didn’t jump for joy and ask for the recipe either.

Now, if rhubarb grew abundantly in our yard or if a neighbor left baskets of it on our porch I would figure out how to make it palatable or resort to ferreting out all of my rhubarb-loving acquaintances and foisting it on them. Riverdog Farm has not included it in a box in the last five years either. But a couple of years ago I had had my best encounter to date with rhubarb: Toni, who grows it in her Oakland yard, smothered it with brown sugar, dried fruit, nuts and sweet spices, popped it into the oven and roasted it. The result was brown and syrupy and sweet. But when I asked her for the recipe this year she could not remember ever making it that way, a brilliant improvised recipe lost to the world.

When I bought the rhubarb last week, I tasted it cautiously at the bus stop, breaking a small piece off the end of a raw stalk. How sour would it be? I am happy to report that it didn’t lock my jaw. The taste reminded me of chewing sour grass when I was a kid, faintly reminiscent of lemon and green plants. But rhubarb is one of those things like quince — most people do not eat it raw. Cooking transforms it, but tasting it raw does not help you plan how to cook it.

painting shows rhubarb in various preparations.

Rhubarb Experiments. 8″ x 8″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

This morning I turned to the guidelines of other cooks: what have they done with it? Well, they boil it with sugar, raw or white or brown. They stew it with prunes and apricots. They combine it with strawberries in pies and compotes and jam. Enterprising cooks use it in sauces for roast pork. I hunted through some cookbooks for awhile. Then I cut and measured my remaining rhubarb: I had three cups left.

Fine. Enough for three small experiments. Experiment #1, rhubarb roasted with vanilla bean and Creme de Cassis, suggested by The San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market Cookbook. Experiment #2, rhubarb cooked down to a syrup, a variation on Heidi Swanson’s Rhubarb and Rosewater Syrup recipe. Experiment #3, rhubarb cooked in a compote with dried fruit, adapted from the Eat Fresh, Stay Healthy cookbook, an offering from the used book sale at the Kensington Library.

Experiment #1, the roasted rhubarb, smelled wonderful, both before and after baking, from the perfume of the vanilla bean and the Creme de Cassis. This rhubarb, mostly pale green with red ends remained green after roasting. The syrup has a slight dark red tinge. I tasted the result cautiously, one piece on a small spoon. It is delicious. The white sugar, vanilla and black currant liquor have mellowed the rhubarb into something tasty: I could eat it straight from a bowl, topped with cream, milk, half and half or yogurt, or I could mix it into cereal.

Experiment #2, rhubarb syrup, essentially rhubarb simmered in a simple syrup to which I added a vanilla bean, tasted good, with just a hint of rhubarb flavor. I used 1 cup of rhubarb, 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of water and 1/2 of a vanilla bean. I let the rhubarb marinate in the sugar for a couple of hours before I added the water and brought it to a simmer. I strained the syrup from the cooked rhubarb. It came out blush pink. I tried an ounce of it in about four ounces of sparkling water with lime. I also tried an ounce of it in some cold tea. I’ll eat the leftover sweetened rhubarb puree with some light cream for dessert some night this week, or stir it into my morning cereal. It is too early in the day to put some of the syrup in a glass of sparkling wine, but I may get to that.

Experiment #3, the compote, may be the least successful. I simmered 3/4 cup dried prunes and 1/4 cup dried apricots in a cup of water with some nutmeg, fresh ginger and 1/3 cup of sugar before adding the rhubarb for five or six minutes. The problem with this is that the rhubarb has not absorbed the flavors before it begins to break down. But it may taste better tomorrow after sitting — compotes often do. I tasted it warm.

I brought the rhubarb-cherry crumble to a singing session on Friday. Some people liked it. I was disappointed. The color was lovely: the rhubarb and cherries melded into a deep red. The fruit proved to be too sweet for my tastes (I was afraid to scant the sugar due to my inexperience with rhubarb preparations) and there was an off-putting flavor, which I believe was the taste of the rhubarb. I made a crumb topping with butter, homemade granola (not very sweet), brown sugar and a few tablespoons of flaked coconut. I thought the topping was also too sweet and will go back to using plain rolled oats in crisp topping (Local Kitchen’s recipe calls for a gluten-free topping with  brown rice flour, oats, butter, and flax seed).

Food notes: If you are a confirmed rhubarb lover and have no fear of canning, you might want to try Local Kitchen’s rhubarb prosecco jelly. It’s the sort of thing I would love to have a taste of, but would not want to commit to making it unless I had tasted it first. Disclaimer: I have been exercising a lot lately, which might be why the sweet rhubarb syrup, roasted rhubarb and puree suddenly tasted great…

P.S. I mixed rhubarb compote into my blue corn cereal this morning and it was just fine: with the heat of the cereal, the cooked rhubarb melts into the compote and what you get is a spicy syrup. And rhubarb syrup in water is nice on a hot day.

Advertisements
Painting of a Pink Poached Pear

Dream Pears 7″ x 7″ Acrylic on Fabriano  Paper by Suzanne Edminster

Dear Readers and Cooks,

I am pleased to introduce my first guest post on “The Kale Chronicles.” My real-life best friend Suzanne Edminster is a painter who lives in Santa Rosa who teaches popular classes in acrylic painting techniques which you can find on her website, SaltworkStudio. What not everybody knows about Suzanne is that she is a talented hostess who can pull together delicious meals with skill and grace. Just for you, she painted the painting and wrote out the recipe. Enjoy.

Sonoma Pears Poached in White Wine and Blueberries

On an autumn night in Santa Rosa I was contemplating a bag of small Bartlett pears that had been carried too long in the car and were starting to bruise. I was longing for a sweet, elegant way to cook pears without messing with pie crust, cobbler or crumble. I developed this recipe as one that could, in the best of all possible worlds, be cooked with fruit from our garden, though I draw the line at keeping goats for cheese– four chickens are demanding enough.

We have two young pear trees in our urban backyard orchard, both Red D’Anjou. This was a mistake; we were given one of the two trees and was assured it was a Bartlett. Neither is bearing yet, as we’ve had to take young fruit off too-young branches to avoid breakage. Scott, my husband, planted 9 kinds of blueberry bushes in a raised bed, but between chickens, squirrels, raccoons and other poachers, we got a total of about five blueberries from the plants this year, although they are bearing well. Next year, bird netting goes over all and the humans of the house can eat the harvest. Eventually I’ll try this recipe with our own blueberries (self-frozen if need be) and our own pears.

At the end of the summer we had overbought on white wine and had not yet laid in the stock of red. My mother used to serve red warm cinnamon pears—yes, I think she used cinnamon drop candy on them and to make the sauce!– and I really wanted the pears to turn that glorious holiday crimson. What could I do to give the wine a color? We had small frozen organic blueberries that we keep on hand for cereal. I adapted Stacy Slinkard’s recipe for Red Wine Poached Pears that I found in About.com at http://wine.about.com/od/howwineismade/r/poachedpears.htm. The result was delicious, and the color of both sauce and pears, a deep red-purple, divine. Surprisingly, the blueberries held their shape through the longish poaching time. I used fresh lime juice from our lime trees rather than lemon, and I chose soft new Sonoma goat cheese to offset the brilliant sweetness of the pears in the sauce. Scott and I agreed that the white, tangy bite of goat cheese was perfection on the warm red pears. A bonus of this recipe is that the whole house smelled of pear-pourri!


Sonoma Pears Poached in White Wine and Blueberries

Ingredients:

4-6 halved, cored pears (peeling is optional and top stems can be left on)

1½ cups of white wine (your choice)

½ cup of granulated sugar

2 tablespoons of fresh lemon or lime juice, with optional zest

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ to 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Soft plain or new goat cheese

Combine all the ingredients, except pears and goat cheese, and bring to a boil. Let the sugar and wine combine, then add the pears face-down and simmer for about 15-20 minutes, turning once after about 10 minutes. Pears should be tender and easily poked through with a fork, but don’t overcook them. Remove pears and boil the wine/pear sauce until reduced by half. Serve pears warm in bowls with a small dollop of soft goat cheese in the middle of each half. Pour warm sauce over all. It’s excellent cold as well.

Painting Note: This slightly cosmic pear painting shows both the pinkish red of the sauce and the purple of the blueberries. It’s 7” x 7”, acrylic on paper. The pink-purple ranges from Alizarin Crimson to Fluorescent Magenta. You can see more of my paintings at www.saltworkstudio.net . Or visit my blog at http://saltworkstudio.wordpress.com/

Painting depicts apple pie ingredients: flour, butter, apples, cinnamon, nutmeg.

Gravenstein Apple Pie 8″x8″ gouache and watercolor pencil Sharyn Dimmick

Sometime in August Gravenstein apples come to the Berkeley Farmers’ Market. By early September they are gone. As soon as I see them I start buying them, buying no fewer than ten pounds at a time and stashing them at the back of our very cold refrigerator to make Gravenstein apple pie.

Gravensteins are an early apple here. They come in before Pippins, before Pink Ladies. They are perfect pie apples, tart and crisp with an intensely apple flavor. I grew up eating green Gravensteins from my grandmother’s tree in El Cerrito, climbing into the crotch to pick them, picking up windfalls to trim for pies and apple sauce. When the crop was bountiful, Mom would peel and quarter apples and save them in the freezer for later in the year.

Gravenstein apple pie initiates apple pie season at our house. The season will finish when we pick the last apples from the dwarf tree in our backyard, when the market moves to winter citrus, when I can no longer scavenge fallen apples in the streets of Berkeley (It’s amazing to me how many people have apple trees and let the fruit fall where it is smushed under the wheels of cars — we seem to have forgotten what food is and where we can get it as well as how to cook).

To make apple pie you need two things: good cooking apples and flaky, tender pie crust. If you do not live where Gravensteins grow, consult farmers at your local farmers’ market for recommendations for local apples. Let them know you will be making pies with them. Pippins also make fine apple pies.

To make pie crust, follow my mother’s recipe, given below. Do not deviate from it if you want good results. It may look a little different than other recipes you have seen or tried: for one thing, it does not start with two sticks of butter and does not include ice water. It is a Swedish pie crust and includes an egg and vinegar — don’t ask me why, just trust me on this one.

What does it use instead of butter? Vegetable shortening — you know that stuff that comes in a can. You are worried about transfats. I know. You have never had Crisco in your house. Well, you need it to make Madge’s pie crust. The only acceptable substitute is lard: if you use butter instead you will get a heavy, greasy pie crust, so don’t do it — just follow the recipe. You don’t eat pie everyday and a little vegetable shortening isn’t going to kill you, so use Crisco or use lard and get on with it.

Measure into a large mixing bowl:

3 cups unbleached flour
1 tsp salt

Cut in :

1 cup vegetable shortening, plus a little butter for flavor, maybe 2 Tbsp or 3 — no more.

Stop when the shortening is in pieces the size of small peas.

Into a one-cup measuring cup, break

1  large egg

Whisk it with a fork until blended. Then add:

1 Tbsp cider vinegar and
Water until mixture measures a little more than 1/2 cup.

Whisk liquids to blend. Add to flour-shortening mixture. Stir just until blended, then work with your hands to shape crust into a large patty. Wrap the patty in waxed paper and refrigerate it while you make the filling. Do not wash the mixing bowl yet — you are not done with it.

For a standard two-crust apple pie, peel and core 4-5 large apples, cutting them into quarters and slicing them crosswise. If you want your apples to stay white, keep a cut lemon handy and squeeze it periodically onto your sliced apples. Taste your apples though — if they are quite tart you may not want to add lemon: just let them darken.

Put the sliced apples in your mixing bowl (the one that you didn’t wash). Toss them with:

1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar, depending on sweetness of apples.
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg.

Preheat your oven to 375 ( 350 if using Pyrex).

Now roll out your crusts. Remove pie dough from the refrigerator and cut it into quarters. Wrap two quarters back up and store them in the refrigerator for another pie (They’ll keep more than a week if wrapped well).

Flour a bread board, table, or other work surface, or place a thin linen or cotton kitchen towel on a surface and flour that. Flour a rolling pin.

Take your first quarter of dough and round it into a circle with your hands, smashing it slightly. Now pick it up and turn it over. Take the rolling pin to it, rolling in all directions, trying to keep it circular and making sure to roll out any thick edges. Do not be afraid — use a firm, light hand. Roll it thin. When you think it is large enough, take out your pie tin and set it on top of the dough: the bottom crust has to be larger than the pie plate because it has to cover the sides and make the edge crust. When you are satisfied, fold the crust in half and again into quarters. Pick it up, plunk it in the pie tin and unfold it again. If it tears, don’t worry you can patch it with more crust glued in place with a little water. If you guessed wrong, you can patch in crust above where yours ends and roll out a rim crust with your fingers by rolling scraps into a rope.

Now add the apple mixture to your bottom crust. Dot apples with a little butter. Roll out the top crust and place on top of the apples. Make sure to attach the top crust at the edge of the pan. Slash the top several times with a knife, prick holes with a fork or channel Martha Stewart and make cut-outs (Guess which of these things I don’t do?).

Bake pie for 45  minutes. Serve warm. Top with ice cream if desired.

Food notes: this recipe makes a tart pie. We like them that way: the taste of the fruit comes through. We scant the sugar in every pie we make and we always taste the fruit as a guide to how much sugar to add. Our pies do not have the gluey sweetness and texture of commercial pies you may have eaten.

Madge’s recipe makes four crusts: we have never cut it down. We either make two pies at once, or save the crust for another day and another pie — lemon? Quiche? Chicken pot pie? Tomato tart!

While you are enjoying your apple pie I will be traveling to New Mexico on September 4 for a writing retreat with Natalie Goldberg. I will be in silence for five days, unable to check my email or read and respond to your comments. I will attempt setting my blog robot to send you a recipe while I am gone and I will respond to all questions and comments upon my return on September 12. I’ll miss you, believe it or not. I leave you with an unfair question for pie fans: What is your favorite pie?

— Sharyn

Painting Note: For information on “Gravenstein Apple Pie” or any other original painting, please contact me here.