Rhubarb’s the Word

It took weeks of absorbing recipe after recipe for rhurbarb-centric dishes and a near surfeit of oozy, jammy pink photos of the cooked stuff before I realized that there was probably something to this pieplant.  My first foray was Smitten Kitchen’s rhubarb snacking cake, a wonderful recipe that I bungled with an overzealous application of yogurt, thinking the batter was too thick (really it had been just thick enough). The end product was a bottom layer of gummy cake topped with an addictive swath of rhubarb and crumble. A swath that was easily salvageable with a spoon and consumed warm straight from the pan.

So for the next attempt, I kept it simple. Food in Jars provided the recipe this time around, and with a few minor alterations, we’ve got jewel-like vessels of tart and sweet rhubarb and strawberry jam with rosemary.  The rosemary is an inspired idea (not mine, all kudos goes to Food in Jars). It offsets the sweetness in a really nice way, and gives the jam a hard-to-pin-down depth.  For any fellow novice rhubarb cookers out there, please give it a try, and may your first try be this jam.  The prep is a breeze, it all goes into one pot, and your kitchen will smell like a wholesome candy store. Plus, you’ll get to say you just made homemade jam. Respect.

The jam is ethereal on goat’s milk yogurt (take a second to admire the dollop of bright pink on creamy white before you dive in), or not-too-sweet ice cream, or toast, or slathered on an elevated and very adult PB&J.

Rhubarb and Strawberry Jam with Rosemary
(Slightly altered from Food in Jars)

Approx. 4 cups chopped rhubarb (slice into 1/2 inch chunks, at an angle)
Approx. 2 cups sliced strawberries
2 cups sugar
2 large sprigs of rosemary
Juice and zest from 2 lemons

Combine rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a large enamel or stainless steel pot (rhubarb’s acidity can react with certain types of metal).  Stir so that the sugar coats everything evenly and let it sit for 30-45 minutes, until juices have started to pool. Place pot on medium-high heat, add the rosemary sprigs, and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb has broken down and separates easily when pressed with a spoon, about 10 minutes.  Raise the heat and boil for about two minutes while stirring, then remove from heat.

Add the lemon zest and stir to combine. Remove the rosemary fronds.

Once the jam is slightly cooled, pour into as many containers as needed and seal. Someday I’ll learn how to can, but for this small batch my intention is to eat and share what we can’t eat until the entirety is gone.  So I give it about a week in the fridge.

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Looking forward to a lunch dominated by honey-baked ham, even if that ham’s primary purpose is to serve as a vehicle for getting heaps of stoneground mustard into my belly (just like lobster:butter, artichoke:aioli, pancakes:syrup, the list goes on. Why wasn’t this on the PSATs?). Also I really need something to balance out the pounds of carrot cake already in there.  Because while it makes perfect sense to follow a recipe that leaves enough batter to fill an extra round cake pan for taste tests, that’s only if you aren’t the sole person testing, and only if you don’t rationalize that an extra slice with toasted coconut, and another with a dusting of finely chopped walnuts, will allow you to narrow down the topping options.

I followed this recipe first because everything the author posts induces stomach growls, and second because her last instruction for the frosting was “bump the speed up to medium-high and beat the crap out of it.”  Right on.

Happy Easter and Happy Passover, whichever the case may be.

Carrot Cake with Lemony Cream Cheese Frosting
Very slightly adapted  from “I Made That

Yield: 1 (8-inch) 3 layer cake or 1 rectangular cake pan plus one small circle pan for your multitude of taste tests.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
¾ teaspoons ground ginger
1 ½ cups sugar
¾ cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
4 large eggs
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
3 cups finely grated peeled carrots
1 cup walnuts, chopped
½ cup raisins 

Position racks in the top and bottom third of the oven, and preheat to 325 degrees. Lightly grease 3 (8-inch) round pans with butter (or 1 cake pan plus 1 8-inch round pan). Line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper. (I didn’t do this due to laziness, but was still able to turn out the cake without a problem).

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Whisk well to blend.

Beat the sugar, butter, oil until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well to incorporate after each addition. Add the applesauce, beating to mix. Add the flour mixture, and beat to incorporate, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula if needed. Add the carrots, pecans, and raisins and mix just until incorporated.

Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake until the cakes begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 35-45 minutes. Cool the cakes in their pans on a wire rack for 15-20 minutes; then turn them out onto the rack to cool completely.

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 lb cream cheese, room temperature
4 oz unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt (I used goat’s milk)
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt

Beat the butter and cream cheese on medium speed until smooth. Sift in the powdered sugar, and beat on low speed until incorporated. Add the sour cream or yogurt, vanilla, lemon juice and salt, and beat well to incorporate. The best part: “If the frosting is lumpy from the sugar, bump the speed up to medium-high and beat the crap out of it.”

From Zero to En Papillote – Flounder, King Oyster Mushrooms, and Bok Choy Packet

Cooking motivation has been at an all time low for the past three weeks, with the exception of homemade chocolate chip cookies. Somehow they always seem to escape the culinary doldrums, probably because in our apartment (and this is scientifically proven) dessert is a nutritional need rather than a measly want.

All this means that the most recent dinner menus I’ve half-heartedly assembled have consisted of spaghetti and meatballs (a relatively recent Ikea trip resulted in a toddler-sized bag of ’em so we’ll be subsisting off those for about 7 months), Thai takeout, lots of frozen broccoli, frozen matzoh ball soup, half a leftover sandwich that barely survived a roadtrip in my bag from New Haven to Boston, and the lonely egg here and there. And ice cream, obviously.

But last night I shot through the rut, skyrocketing so far away from it that I actually made up a dish without heavily consulting internet, cookbook, or mother, while trying a new-to-me method of cooking and type of fish.  I call it “From Zero to En Papillote” and it was pre-tty yummy. The shallot, butter, fresh thyme, and splash of beef (beef and fish?!, I know, but somehow it worked) broth worked some magic on the flounder, mushrooms, and bok choy. If you’re interested, I’m sure a glug or two of white wine wouldn’t hurt.  Savory and filling but not overly heavy – this is a good dish for those of us that are trying to stick to New Years Resolutions. Which doesn’t include me but I’ve got to make the occasional last-gasp attempt.

From Zero to En Papillote – Flounder with King Oyster Mushrooms and Bok Choy in Parchment
Serves 2

2-3 flounder fillets (eyeball them at the fish counter, you may want more if they are teeny)
1 tablespoon of butter, cut into little chunks
1 shallot, cut into slivers
6 thin slices of lemon, plus a little extra lemon juice
3 sprigs of thyme
2 baby bok choy, roughly chopped
1-2 bunches of king oyster or other wild mushrooms, roughly chopped
2-3 tablespoons beef broth (I had an open carton so this is what I used, but if it makes you nervous to mix beef and fish, chicken or vegetable broth is a good substitute)
Salt and pepper
Parchment paper (a generous piece – enough left over on the sides after the food is sitting on it that you can fold and wrap the ends, creating a pouch)**

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Pat the filets dry, dust with salt and pepper on both sides, then place them in the center of the parchment paper, which should be atop a rimmed baking sheet. Lay the thyme sprigs, butter, and lemon slices across the filets. Add the chopped mushrooms and bok choy on top, then sprinkle on the beef broth and extra lemon juice, to taste.

Gather the longer edges of the parchment paper and fold the edges together, rolling once or twice so that it is sealed but not too tight around the food inside. Do the same with the shorter edges. (Some en papillote recipes say you can staple the edges of the paper together – I would have tried this if I had a home stapler. I covet staplers. My work stapler has a label with my name on it so people can’t steal it).

Bake at 400 degrees for 12-14 minutes – mine was finished at 12 but if your filets are on the thicker side they may need a bit longer. Use caution when opening the pouch because you’ll be releasing a bit of steam.

**Another option would be to make two individual packets, but I went with one bigger packet to hold everything and it worked well.

A Pancake Alternative: The Dutch Baby

On a lazy weekend morning, there’s nothing like diving into a warm skillet of pancake alternative. This past Sunday it was a big Dutch Baby, puffed and crisped to perfection, with plenty of nooks for the butter and lemon juice and powdered sugar to settle.  It would have been fantastic with a topping of a few diced apples, cooked until semi-firm with some brown sugar, lemon juice, raisins, and cinnamon.

Next weekend we’ll start the Kaiserschmarrn Project (get excited!!!), which was unofficially initiated by a kind German man named Herbie who befriended my mother on a recent international flight.

Dutch Baby
(Recipe from Alton Brown, with some tweaks) 

3 tablespoons butter, melted
2 ounces all purpose flour & 5/8 ounces whole wheat flour (equals about 1/2 cup flour total)
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup whole milk, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
Lemon wedges
Powdered or granular sugar, for serving 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place 2 tablespoons of the melted butter into a 10-inch cast iron skillet and place in the oven. Set the remaining tablespoon of melted butter aside to cool slightly. Wait 10 minutes before assembling the other ingredients.

Pour the flours, vanilla sugar, salt, milk, eggs and remaining tablespoon of melted butter into a blender and blend for 30 seconds. Carefully pour the batter into the preheated skillet. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until the edges are puffed and brown. Sprinkle with additional sugar and serve with lemon wedges, which should be squeezed on top.