Thursday, May 14th, 2015
For me, the true harbinger of spring is not the appearance of daffodils or the sound of sneezing from allergy-sufferers (sorry if you’re one of those people afflicted by the dreaded tree pollen, it seems really awful this year); it’s when my neighbor Rita tells me her rhubarb is in. Rita is my plucky active-senior neighbor who has a phenomenal green thumb. Not only has she lived in the same house where she was born over 80 years ago, but she’s a master-sewer and quilter and grow things like she breathes. For someone like myself, who has absolutely no instinct for keeping things alive that are put in the ground, having Rita next door is a Godsend.
In exchange for my weekly supply of stalks—which grows lushly in several thickets in her backyard—I supply Rita with a portion of whatever dish I’ve made with the rhubarb, which is normally a strawberry-rhubarb crisp. For the rhubarb skeptics—and apparently there are several of you out there—I highly recommend you start with a crisp, which my family eats for breakfast, dessert, and after-school snack (Belle has also been known to eat crisp for dinner). The recipe (see the bottom of this post) is flexible and fun to make because it allows you to be a bit creative. It’s also a good one to do with kids because you don’t have to be a control-freak about measurements. Another recommendation for a crowd-pleasing rhubarb recipe is this Strawberry-Rhubarb Coffee Cake (rhubarb and coffee cake combined, how can it not be next-level good?) shared by my friend Jessica from an old issue of Martha Stewart Living. HERE’S a link.
Then there’s this rhubarb ice cream I had the other day at my favorite ice cream place, The Bent Spoon in Princeton, that was so pretty and flavorful that I want to try and make it at home. I’m going to try this Nigella Lawson recipe to start because it seems simple and purely rhubarb. HERE’S a link.
I feel like the Brits have a better touch with rhubarb than we Yankees do—perhaps because of their affinity for gardening and fruit desserts like fools and jams—so my other go-to guide for using rhubarb is the wonderful English food writer Nigel Slater and his cookbook Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard. Not only does he provide a slew of rhubarb recipes, but he goes in-depth about varieties (apparently there are over 1oo), as well as the history (it’s also known as “the pie plant”), and what ingredients it pairs well with, including: honey, vanilla, ginger, yogurt, almonds, pork roasts and the less obvious ones like mackerel and salmon.
Lately, I’ve been tempted to make more savory and cocktail rhubarb dishes, which I’ve been seeing with more frequency in new cookbooks and magazines, including:
-Rhubarb Rose Gimlet in the new cookbook Seven Spoons by Tara O’Brady that includes a rhubarb simple syrup.
-Roast Chicken with Rhubarb Butter and Asparagus in the May issue of Bon Appetit.
-Rhubarb Compote in the new cookbook A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones
But at the end of the day, I’m pretty tied to my crisp recipe (I make at least one crisp a week when it’s in season). The crunchy oat-nut-cinnamon crumble topping, the warm mingling of sweet strawberries and tart rhubarb underneath, just cannot be beat.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and butter a baking dish (I use an oval ceramic gratin dish, a Pyrex dish should work as well, I prefer not to make this in a metal dish).
In a bowl combine: 1 cup thick-cut rolled oats, 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup alternative flour (I have used graham flour [my new favorite, Bob's Red Mill makes a version], rye, almond, and whole wheat…all work well), 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, cinnamon (to taste, I like to add a lot) a little salt, and 1/4 cup of chopped nuts of your choice (I’ve used pecans, walnuts, almonds, and cashews). To the oat-flour mixture add 1/2 cup melted butter and then use your hands to make clumps. Place in the freezer while you prepare the fruit. In a large bowl I combine several sliced rhubarb stalks and 2 pints of quartered strawberries (about 3 pounds total) with 2 tbs of corn starch, a 1/2 cup sugar, some vanilla, and a little salt. Pour the fruit mixture into a buttered baking dish, top evenly with the crumble mix, then bake at 375 for 45 min (you might want to place a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil on the rack beneath the rack the crisp is on to catch any bubbling over). Let crisp cool for about 10 minutes before eating (it’s terrific warm but also at room temperature). ENJOY!
Tuesday, May 5th, 2015
My KEEPERS co-author and I are thrilled to be included in the June/July issue of Fine Cooking magazine! We contributed 10 recipes for using spring peas, all simple and fast enough for preparing on a weeknight, and none use more than 10 ingredients each. It was a fun challenge, but if there’s a vegetable more versatile than a pea (fantastic fresh but also wonderful frozen), then I don’t know what it is. Dishes include: creamy linguine with peas, ham, and sage; a baked pea and artichoke dip, pea and ricotta toast, pea-mint-sunflower seed pesto, and a spicy lemongrass pea side dish (I also love that FC gives you a wine-pairing for every dish).
It’s also just a gorgeous magazine, have you read it? If not, then really highly recommend you grab a copy (and not just because I’m in it). The design is clean and engaging, the photos gorgeous, and the recipes are doable but still clever. There’s a pastrami-kimchi reuben that needs to be in my regular rotation immediately, plus I love the spread “Anatomy of a Lettuce Wrap”, a profile of chef April Bloomfield’s favorite food-stops in NYC, and a feature on one family’s BBQ Cuban-Style. All so good.
Run and get your copy now!
Wednesday, April 29th, 2015
So I’m going to admit something here, and it’s not like it’s any kind of big deal, but it might come as a surprise to those of you who assume food writers make positively everything from scratch…My family has acquired an addiction to frozen pizza, and we are not ashamed.
It started when I brought home a box of Amy’s organic frozen margherita pizza (and I want to emphasize here that this is NOT a product placement, I have never met Amy, nor has she ever sent me free pizza…at least not yet). I picked it up at the supermarket because I think I was going to be out of the house for a few nights and I thought it would be good to have something healthful and easy in the freezer that Tim (who, I may have mentioned before, does not boil water) could make for him and the kids. Normally they could just pick up a pie from our neighborhood place, but truth be told, our local pizza is no great shakes, and I was intrigued by the organic-healthfulness of the Amy’s pizza. I think my internal dialogue went something like this:
“This pizza doesn’t look half bad.”
“It’s kind of pricey for such a small pizza, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, but the ingredients are all recognizable and pronouncable!”
“But I could just go home, make some dough, defrost that sauce I made that’s in the freezer, get the good mozzarella…”
“Stop being such a snob! Not everything has to be D.I.Y. Can’t you try and embrace the frozen food aisle for once? You can always go back to making your own dough when you have the time.”
So I bought the pizza, brought it home, and our household has not been the same since. Tim and the kids flipped for the thing. Delightful! So tasty! Best ever! They asked if I could stock the freezer with more, MORE!
I have to admit, on our “crazy” night—which is the night where play rehearsal-lacrosse practice-swim clinic-ballet-visit to the orthodontist—all seem to collide, this pizza has become a savior. There’s just something kind of delightful about these little frozen pizzas, they really do taste good. Plus, I have taken to doctoring them so that they feel even more like a meal. Typically I will top one of the pizzas with any and all of the following:
Fresh goat cheese
Slices of prosciutto.
A handful of arugula tossed in vinaigrette.
Dollops of pesto.
Steamed broccoli rabe.
A drizzle of good balsamic vinegar.
Perhaps it’s the additional ingredients, that personal touch, which allows me to finally embrace the frozen pizza as a worthy weeknight meal-from scratch alternative. Also, there’s the ease: They’re cooked in like 10 minutes (not including pre-heating the oven), and are a nice vehicle for finishing off whatever leftovers or odds-and-ends are in the fridge. It even allows us extra time to bond and relax with one another because I’m not racing home to start a meal or cooking when I could be helping with homework or the million other things that need to be done. We’ve also added one other formally-a-no-no-perk: The kids set the table in front of the tv so we can eat our pizza in front of Dancing With the Stars (yes, another one of my family’s guilty pleasures). This new routine has become something we all look forward to, and I may argue, has become as much of a quality bonding activity as assembling around the dinner table to eat chicken and dissect our day. Don’t get me wrong. Eating a homemade meal is also something we do on most weeknights and it’s very worthwhile. But if it wasn’t for frozen pizza and DWTS, we wouldn’t have known that Conor can do a truly hilarious imitation of Patti Labelle dancing the cha-cha.
So here’s to you, frozen pizza, and you, Amy, whoever you are…you’ve reminded me that a quality shared meal can come in many forms, and that it’s OK to shake-off the pressure that I (and I think many) parents feel to make each and every single meal totally from scratch. I love that labor of love, I really do, but I also love watching C-list celebrities dressed in sequins attempt the fox trot. I really do.
Thursday, April 16th, 2015
You know it’s spring when asparagus shows up at your supermarket. It’s always a happy surprise, “oh, that’s right, you again!”, one that makes me feel like we’ve finally rounded the corner into a new and hopeful season. As soon as I spied the spears in the produce aisle I decided to go all in and put several bunches in the cart, which meant I had to do something with all of that asparagus when I got home. I used the first bunch in a lemony risotto—one of my all-time favorite dishes—with lemon zest, lots of grated pecorino and freshly ground pepper. Perfect. The next couple of bunches got the KEEPERS technique of pan-roasting at high heat in a slick of oil until they breakdown and get ever so slightly charred (it sounds scary but it produces the most delicious asparagus). And for the last bunch I decided to keep it very simple…
I steamed the spears in a large skillet (adding enough water to go barely half way up the spears if they’re lying on their sides) until bright green and just soft enough to pierce with a steak knife but not too soft. I then cut the cooked spears into bite-size pieces and tossed with lemon juice, good olive oil, pepper, and flaky salt (at this point you can put the asparagus in the fridge and chill to eat as a cold salad whenever you’re ready, or you can toss it with some warm pasta). Then I cooked a 7-minute egg (boiled until the yolks are just set, a bit runny in the middle) to put on top of my asparagus salad. I also could have added a nice slice of prosciutto, a drizzle of good balsamic vinegar, a flurry of chopped herbs, some stale bread cubed then toasted in a skillet with olive oil and garlic…but for once, I laid off the extraneous toppings and ate the salad as simple as possible. Happy Spring!!