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How to deal with Rhubarb

how to prepare rhubarb


I love rhubarb.  I love it for it's old fashioned vibe.  I love it for it's color, striking tartness, and even for it's moderate shelf life.  I also love it for showing up so darn early in the spring and sticking around for several months.


And I too was at first intimidated by those long, irregular-shaped, tough magenta stalks at the market.  I actually overheard a conversation at our market up here recently, where a woman who had just bought a weekend house near the Delaware discovered she had huge decades-old rhubarb plants growing on her property.  However she didn't know when it was time to pick them.  Nor did the young woman working the farm stand, so I jumped in with what I knew.  She had been waiting for them to turn red, ripen, to pick.  I explained that some heirloom varieties, have very little red, and the stalks can range from thin to the thicker more uniform we're used to seeing in grocery stores.  I generally go by feel, but you can harvest stalks when between ten and fifteen inches long, avoiding letting them go too long and become tough, dry or woody.


Once you get your rhubarb back you your kitchen, from yard or market, they really are one of the most simple fruit to prepare.  Make sure all traces of the leaves are trimmed off, as they are not edible.  Rhubarb have a bad rap for being stringy, as in celery stringy, but as long as they are cut in small pieces before cooked, the strings will not be a nuisance.  For good measure, or habit, I tend to peel two or three strings off each stalk, from end to end, but not too much, as you are also peeling off any of the great magenta color.


Wash the stalks well and then cut into slices between an half inch and an inch thick.  You can then roast the pieces, throw them in to brighten up a rich stew, or as I do most often, simmer them down to a quick rhubarb puree or sauce.


Pack the rhubarb into a sauce pan or small pot that holds the pieces sort of snugly.  Add enough water to come up about 3/4 of the way up the sides of the slices, and simmer over a medium-low heat, until the rhubarb has broken down and is tender.  Add more water if the mixture seems to be getting to dry or risking burning at all.  When finished you can mash it up a little to have a sauce with more texture, or use a food processor, blender or immersion blender to give you smoother final product.


If you are looking to use the sauce as a topping by itself, add about a tablespoon of sugar per large stalk of rhubarb when simmering down, or another classic way to cut rhubarb's intense sourness is to add at least 1 part strawberries for every 3 parts rhubarb when starting the sauce.  Taste when finished and adjust sweetness if necessary.


Vanilla beans, ginger, orange, cinnamon, almost all berries and apples are all great additions as well.


Make a big batch.  Eat it warm or ice cold.  Spoon it over ice cream, blend it into cream cheese, swirl it in yogurt or oatmeal, drizzle it over a wedge of Stilton or duck or game meats, whisk it into your vinaigrette, blend it with ice for your margarita.  Really, what other fruit, the northeast no less, is quite so versatile?



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ctober
20
Leek Bacon and Gruyere Tart


This frenchy-french-french tart has the lusciousness of fall written all over it.  Spectacular for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner, it is also glorious with a crisp green salad.  And it freezes really well.  So with it almost taking as much work to make one as to make two, do just that and stock yourself with a fast food gift in your freezer for some bleak mid-winter eve.

This can of course be made vegetarian, and equally good, by omitting the bacon, and substituting two tablespoons of butter, for the bacon fat, for sauteing the leeks.



Leek Bacon and Gruyere Tart
by Catie Schwalb

makes one 9" tart.

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uly
22
Raspberry Clafouti


There are few things that could get me to turn on the oven in the middle of this oppressive heat wave.  However, much to the dismay of my panting dog, clafouti is one of them.

Unlike almost everyone else in the country right now, the red and golden raspberries in our garden are adoring the heat.  They have just started to really take off, offering up several pints a week.  (That is, those that aren't stolen when I'm not looking, right off the thorny branches, by aforementioned panting dog).

Clafouti ("klau-foo-tee") is a both rustic and elegant dessert, with a ridiculously fun to say name, that originated in the Limousin region in the southwest of France.  It was traditionally made with cherries, as they had an abundance they had to figure out what to do with each summer, poor things.  I learned of it from my well-loved, dog-eared copy of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and was in love from the start.  Further investigation revealed that when made with any other fruit other than the traditional cherries, it is actually not called Clafouti, but "Flaugnarde".  Are you kidding me?  I feel like those rogue Limousinians just came up with the most clumsy sounding word they could to shame the rest of the world into strict adherence to their recipe.  My fancy, summer, whatever-berry-filled french dessert will be called clafouti, so there.

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ay
06
Buttermilk Honey Wheat English Muffins
 



I don't know about you, but I am a tad worn out from all of the high-spirited holidays that have been crammed into the calendar as of late.  Earth Day, Easter, Passover, National Eggs Benedict Day (I wish I was kidding), Arbor Day, May Day, Cinco De Mayo, and even a wedding of the century thrown in there.  I'm feeling a little tapped out for brilliant ideas to mark this weekend's Mother's Day.

So when in doubt, I go homemade.  English Muffins, that is.

I did some tinkering with the dough, including a few highly hockey puckable versions, and came up with one that has a full flavor and tender texture.  The addition of buttermilk (ah-hem, something to do with all that you have leftover from making your own butter) gives these a wonderful sour flavor, not unlike (a shortcut) sourdough.  The sourness, the sweet honey and the nutty wheat make these perfect for a slathering of oozy stinky cheese and a drizzle of honey or fig preserve, or use the bounty of the spring and smear on some strawberry rhubarb jam.  English muffins have long been my favorite hamburger buns, and don't for get our national treasure (see above) Eggs Benedict.

As with store bought english muffins, these are fine with a little butter right out of the oven, but really show their stripes when "fork split" (poke all around the side with the tines of a fork, to divide the top and bottom, and gently pull the top and bottom apart to reveal the nooks and crannies), and then lightly toasted to crunch up the hole-y texture.

Make them a day or two before, toast them up, and bring them on a tray to the bedside of your favorite mom.  Instruct her devour them with her pinky up, channeling the Duchess of Cambridge.  English indeed.

BUTTERMILK HONEY WHEAT ENGLISH MUFFINS

Makes 18 three inch muffins or one dozen four inch muffins.

2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup honey
cornmeal, for dusting

Place the warm water in a small bowl and sprinkle yeast over the surface.  Allow to sit for 5 minutes.  Yeast will turn the water cloudy and the surface will froth some.

In a large bowl, or bowl of a stand mixer, comine bread flour, wheat flour and salt.  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in yeast mixture, buttermilk, and honey.  Either using your hands or the paddle of a stand mixture, combine the ingredients throughly, until you have a shaggy dough.  Change to a stand mixer dough hook, or pour the dough onto a well-floured surface, and knead for 8-10 minutes.  Form dough into a large ball.

Lightly oil the inside of a large bowl.  Place the dough in the bowl, turning gently to coat with oil.  Cover lightly with a towel or plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place for sixty to ninety minutes.

Gently stretch the dough into a "pancake" that is about a half inch thick, on a floured surface.  Using a round biscuit cutter (you could also use a knife and just make square muffins), cut out muffin shapes and transfer to a piece of parchment dusted liberally with cornmeal.  You can gently combine the "scraps" back together to cut out additional muffins.  Just be careful not to squeeze out all of the air in the dough.

Sprinkle tops of muffins with cornmeal, and cover loosely with plastic wrap.  Allow to rise in a warm place for sixty to ninety minutes.  Preheat oven to 350 F.

Place a large, lightly oiled skillet, on medium to medium-high heat.  Carefully transfer the muffins, so not to deflate the nooks and crannies, to the skillet and gently pan-fry until the bottom is golden brown, about 2 minutes.  Carefully flip over to brown the top.  As soon as each muffin is ready, transfer to a baking sheet in the oven, and finish baking.  Transfer the muffins to the oven as they are ready, not waiting for the others to finish browning in the pan.  Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the muffin sounds hollow when thumped with a finger on the bottom.

Cool finished muffins on a baking rack.  The english muffins will keep for about 4 days in an airtight container.  To serve, fork-split, and toast.



 

 


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ebruary
11
Breakfast for your Valentine


I remember the first year freshdirect.com was operating they offered a somewhat genius valentine's day package.  It was something along the lines of ready-to-cook surf and turf, fixings for chocolate fondue, a bottle of bubbly, and then parbaked croissants and orange juice for breakfast the next morning.  One click, and you look like an exceedingly prepared and thoughtful superstar of a valentine.  Whether you are cooking breakfast for your valentine on February 14th, or February 15th, or indulging in a weekly leisurely sunday brunch with the New York Times spread out around you, this recipe is perfect.

I had many, many sleepovers at my grandparents' house when I was a child.  Most mornings Nana (an amazing and adventurous cook, who ended up being my Maid of Honor) would make one of these magical puffy, eggy, warm breakfast crepes just for me.  I felt so very special.  I've seen them called dutch babies, German pancakes, and Bismarks, but on Nana's recipe card it says Breakfast Crepes, and so Breakfast Crepes it shall remain.

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{ welcome! }
Catie Baumer Schwalb is a chef, food writer and photographer, who splits her life between the city and the country. Not too long ago Catie was a New York City based actress and playwright for more than a decade. She has her Master of Fine Arts from the National Theater Conservatory, and her Grand Diplôme in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. ... Read More

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