Author Archives: Her

#EatWhatYouGrow: Rhubarb

I have been thrilled about this particular spring, with its chilly mornings and the need for jackets all the way til the first of June. The bleeding hearts, forsythia, hosta, hydrangea, ivy, and rhubarb in my garden have been busting out new leaves and vines and blossoms (where appropriate) everywhere. But with a few truly scorching days wilting my new bean shoots and the potted tomato plants on the deck this last week, it’s obvious that rhubarb season is drawing rapidly to a close. In the space between a few rain drops, I harvested the last of my stalks yesterday afternoon; the woodchuck who lives in a den burrowed into the stone cliff behind our house can have the little nubbins that are left.

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6 tender stalks of rhubarb, the last of our harvest for 2017

But what to do with them? We’ve already made:

  • Rhubarb Compote (with a few extra bits of fruit he likes thrown into the pot for other flavors), spooned over his birthday breakfast waffles;
  • Rhubarb Scones, with every imaginable spread, several weekends in a row;
  • Rhubarb Snacking Cake, because I trust every recipe Deb Perlman has written, especially those she describes as easy;
  • Rhubarb Honey Sorbet, specially made for some loved ones diet-managing their diabetes;
  • Chocolate Chip Rhubarb Banana Bread, because (1) those bananas were going to turn into bread on their own if we didn’t use them, and (2) he ridiculously maintains that banana bread should always have chocolate chips in it.
  • Strawberry Rhubarb Jam, described earlier this week.

All chopped, the yield was only about a cup of minced pieces, which I knew would cook down to just about nothing.

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A *very* scant cup of chopped rhubarb.

All of the recipes that looked interesting to me require more than that, so I had to get creative. Verdict: another Smitten Kitchen gem, Rhubarb Varied Fruits Cream Cheese Hand Pies.

He made the pie crust. (I have zero knack for it, even though this particular recipe is foolproof.) I made the cream cheese filling. I made the rhubarb filling. And when I had more than twice as much cream cheese filling as rhubarb, I made another filling from blueberries and apricot. And after several hours in the fridge, and over several more hours of do-a-little-work-then-chill-everything-back-down…

The rhubarb filling was just enough to fill 6 little pies, and they looked pretty sweet both before and after baking. (That pastry recipe really is amazing.)

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And the blueberry version became another story. Realizing how much blueberry-apricot filling and cream cheese filling I was going to have left over, I opted for something different. I rolled out the remaining pie crust for an attempt at my first ever tart with something like a pastry cream filling. I used a small, deep Corningware casserole dish rather than a shallow tart pan, layered the cheese and then the berries into the pastry, and attempted a “rustic fold over edge” that collapsed in on itself in the oven. It’s far from the prettiest thing I’ve ever made, and he cut into it for our dessert last night before I could take a picture, but oh my word was it tasty.

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Dessert: a rustic” blueberry-apricot-cream cheese tart

So, rhubarb season is over. Not only did we not waste a single stalk of what we grew, every bite was delicious. This is year three of growing things-humans-can-eat in our little garden, year one of using up every bit of any one ingredient, and year one of loving everything we cooked with it. That’s a very particular kind of success.

 

The Veg Box Chronicles, Week 2

There was more kohlrabi this week.

I probably don’t despise this poor, water-chestnut-type tuber thing as much as I think I do, but I have been filled with commuter rage all week and whatever patience I once held to, tenuously, has long since been squeezed to nothingness in my clenched fists.

I chucked the kohlrabi into the compost bin, hard enough to knock it over.

And of course, the kitten went to town in her new playground of coffee grounds, broken eggshells, and disgusting vegetables that look like toy cat balls with legs.

Neither of those things happened, but imagining them made me laugh, so that’s something. And this week’s CSA share was something else:

  • 1 bok choi
  • 1 celtuce
  • 4 small cucumbers
  • 1 handful of garlic scapes
  • 1 bunch of kale
  • 1 bunch of white radishes
  • 4 small zucchini
  • and, ugh, 2 kohlrabi

Tuesday night, he made a veggie-licious dinner. He grated all four of the zucchini into long, wide noodles, along with a pair of carrots from the crisper drawer, and tossed them with a spicy-sweet peanut sauce and white sesame seeds, then arranged them on a plate with a little quick-pickled cucumber along the side. For the protein, he laid a gorgeous piece of salmon on top, and topped it with another of the spring onions from last week’s share, which he split lengthwise; both were basted with Hoisin sauce.

After the dishes were washed, dried, and put away, we finished the last steps of a batch of particularly awesome Strawberry Rhubarb Jam. It’s a remarkably easy recipe for people who can stick to a schedule, which we can do very occasionally:

  1. Quarter 4 cups of strawberries. In a large glass or ceramic mixing bowl, combine them with 1 cup of finely chopped rhubarb and 2 cups of sugar, stirring well to distribute the sugar evenly. Cover the bowl and let sit, stirring occasionally.
  2. 8 hours later…
    Pour the mixed fruit into a pot and place it over medium-high heat until the liquid released by the fruit begins to boil. Stir in 1/4 cup of lemon juice and let the mixture return to a boil. At that point, set a timer for 5 minutes and stir continuously, adjusting the heat to keep the temperature high without allowing it to boil over. When the timer beeps, cover the pot, remove it from the heat, and let it sit.
  3. 24 hours later…
    Set the pot back on the stove over medium-high heat and bring it to a rolling boil. Set a timer for five minutes and stir continuously. When the timer beeps, ladle the jam into sterilized jars and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

    Yield: 5 scant half-pint jars, if your husband sneaks some of the fruit out of the pot between boils, to make a dessert sauce.

Tonight’s dinner will be burritos (scratch that: burrito bowls, since the tortillas are past edible), made with last week’s lettuce; pulled-chicken and -pork leftovers from last night’s BBQ dinner out, combined with a few bites of skirt steak from earlier in the week; fresh avocado; and a salsa that’s about to be put together from two ears of roasted corn (nearly forgotten in the crisper), a roasted bell pepper, a roasted jalapeno pepper, the last spring onion, a small handful of chopped cherry tomatoes, and a small lime.

We haven’t figured out what to do with the rest of our haul yet, but I’ll share it when we do. In the meantime, our cost breakdown:

  • Amortized weekly cost of CSA = $53
  • Additional produce purchased = $7.14
    • Avocado (1, $1.49)
    • Green Bell Pepper (0.58 lbs, $1.15)
    • Jalapeno (0.10 lbs, $0.35)
    • Lime (1, $0.15)
    • Strawberries (2 pounds, $4.00)

By the way, it turns out he likes the bok choi after all–at least when it’s been sauteed with a little olive oil and a bit more of the Hoisin sauce, and tossed with a little leftover rice, and maybe a little leftover turkey. We still haven’t figured out what to do with kohlrabi, but bok choi definitely gets a star at lunchtime.

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The Veg Box Chronicles, Week 1

In September 2014, two months after I first moved from the City House to the Country House, we passed our pick-up-in-Manhattan-every-Thursday CSA share to friends who lived uptown, rather than cope with the steeplechase of office-in-midtown to pick-up-spot-on-the-UWS to train-station-in-East-Harlem to Country-House-in-Connecticut. I’ve been looking for a replacement ever since, but suburban CT assumes that tasks like Farmer’s Market shopping and CSA collection happen Monday through Friday during the workday. Not so much for us commuter-types, alas.

Luckily for us, an enterprising little business realized that the gap was an opportunity, and we discovered a CSA program with a weekly home delivery of fruits and vegetables, with a significant advantage over the other: no obligation to volunteer at the pick-up point. (I like community, and I like volunteering, but I prefer to be able to control the scheduling of mandatory hours.)

Anyway, back to our CSA. This past Tuesday was our first delivery day, and wow, am I loving having such a fabulous early haul to celebrate. In the first box, we received:

  • A bunch of spring onions
  • A bunch of green garlic (with scapes!)
  • A bunch of French radishes
  • A bunch of kale
  • An enormous pile of greens that he thought were maple leaves; they are, it turns out, a variety of spinach
  • Two gorgeous heads of green leaf lettuce
  • Two small bok choi
  • A big fistful of chives
  • Two small kohlrabi

That’s a lot of green for two non-vegetarian people to eat in a week, but we’re making the best of every delicious bite.

The chives were finely chopped into a rich creamy bowl of butter, which was whipped until all of the herb was incorporated, then wrapped in cling film and rolled into a tight cylinder, and chilled through in the fridge. Amazing on fresh bread, but even better when used to butter-baste a steak.

Garlic scapes and spinach were combined with Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and herb- infused olive oil to make a smooth, fragrant, and super fresh-tasting pesto. It will keep for a couple weeks in the fridge, and we’ll use it as a thickener and flavor agent in sauces and dressings, as well as a sandwich spread.

The green garlic and kale went into pasta dishes – separately.

Much of the garlic’s stem was too woody to be used, but we sliced the bulb very finely, and sauteed it with some tiny, tender asparagus tips in olive oil, salt, and fresh pepper. The mess was then covered in petite-diced tomato and a fistful of fresh oregano cut from the garden, and the flavors melded over low heat while the pasta cooked. We tossed the sauce with fettuccine and parmesan, and ate it by the forkful (on Thursday) while watching an episode of Guy’s Grocery Games on Hulu.

On Saturday, we cooked the remainder of that fettuccine, and served it with the Kale, which was tossed with a chicken breast that had been marinated in Italian dressing before a quick stir-fry, and halved cherry tomatoes, then stirred into the pasta with Ciliegine mozzarella and a heaping spoonful of our freshly-made Pesto. Our bowls were empty before the Signature Bake of Cake Week had been judged on S4E1 of The Great British Baking Show.

We passed both kohlrabi to our neighbor, since she expressed interest in a vegetable I can’t stand, and it’s likely that the bok choi will be composted since neither of us enjoy eating it. But the rest of our take is currently spread across the kitchen counters as he works on dinner: a Frittata with onion, asparagus, tomato, mushroom, and Wisconsin cheddar, served with  Hasselback potatoes, a green salad made of some of the lettuces, and pan roasted radishes (olive oil, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce).

The lettuce that remains will be tossed into a salad (tomato, cucumber, olives, and crumbled cheese left over from a party platter we made last weekend, dressed with some balsamic vinegar and a hint of the pesto). I have no idea what we’re doing with the rest of the onions, but they’ll have to be the star of Monday’s supper.

And since I’m a data nerd, I’m tracking what we spend on produce during CSA season, to be sure that we’re being careful stewards of our bounty. This week’s costs are:

  • Amortized weekly cost of CSA = $53
  • Additional produce purchased = $12.60
    • Red Seedless Grapes (2.74 pounds, $2.66)
    • Asparagus (0.77 lbs, $3.07)
    • Cherry Tomato (1 pint, $3.29)
    • Cucumber (1, $0.59)
    • Blueberries (1 pint, $2.99)

In Transit

The first commuting days of the new year were long and frigid. Catching up on projects after a two week vacation translates to 10 or 12 hour days more often than not. Leaving and returning in the dark coupled with the “arctic air” temperatures in the single digits – plus whatever windchill factor is in effect on a given day – means that I spent the evenings of my first week back at work crawling out of the car and crawling straight into bed at night.

Trying to avoid a repeat of that during week two, we opted to have dinner in the city on Monday and Wednesday — the days when we are both on the evening train home from NYC. But being more interested in good food enjoyed at our leisure than in being served restaurant dinners, we’ve packed picnics rather than made reservations.

On Monday, two covered dishes of scalloped potatoes and spiral ham were packed into the bottom of my work bag, along with a ziplock of washed and trimmed green beans. He brought extra cutlery and a beverage later in the day, and took a subway to my office after class.

At home, the ham and potatoes might have been rough-chopped, tossed in a skillet to warm and crisp, then topped with some panko bread crumbs and served alongside the steamed beans. In the office, with only a microwave to work with, the items were mixed into servings, covered with damp towels, and steam heated to comfortable eating temperatures. We ate heartily while sharing details of our days, enjoyed a leisurely walk to the 8:03 train (with a pause to admire the Christmas tree still lit in Bryant Park), and arrived home free of the hangry-grumps with enough energy to make dessert sundaes from chocolate cake and raspberry sorbet.

Our Wednesday route is a little less neat. Grand Central makes a triangle with my office and his school, and he has the long side; if I secure seats for us both and he runs on a diagonal through Central Park, we can just make the 6:53 before the “All aboard” call. We did just that last night, slipping comfortably into our seats as the train made its way north, and he dropped our dinner bag into my lap.

Leftover pot roast had been chopped and mixed with a smoky-sweet barbecue sauce, than placed between slices of his homemade bread, slathered with a mayo-mustard concoction to keep the moisture inside each sandwich, then tightly wrapped to create a press. Small containers of cherry tomatoes, garlic cornichons, and corn chips were packed as accompaniments, and we fell to our aboard-train repast with enthusiasm.

Neither meal was gourmet, neither was served on either cheerful fiestaware or good china, and neither was actually eaten in the country house. But our life together is better for both.

When Delays, Doubles, and Failed Plans are Just Right

Things don’t always go as planned.

Boxes are unpacked right away, but then piles of indecision clutter the surfaces. Items are carefully re-boxed and placed for the local thrift store to collect, but then they don’t want your extra sofa after all. Contract painters show up four days early and do a lovely job, creating an unexpected construction zone for weekend entertaining.

He was a saint on Friday night, when the long hours, longer commutes, and lack of order finally took their toll on my good humour. The unplanned meltdown was ugly. The picking up and going on was beautiful – suffice it to say that the bedroom, guest room, and living room are all finally pleasant spaces to relax in.

On Saturday afternoon, we put together a stew for our guests – friends stopping over with us on the sad occasion of traveling to a funeral. Comfort food seemed called for.

A three-pound rump roast was cubed, dredged in flour, and seared. A trio of red onions were diced and cooked in the half-drained drippings, collecting the flavorful leavings and warming their bite. A few ribs of celery, a handful of carrots, and a minced bell pepper were added then the beef was tossed on top.  Seasoned liberally with oregano and bay leaf, with two dozen whole peppercorns thrown in for good measure. A palmful of kosher salt. Half a bottle of dry red wine.

(He drank a glass, proclaiming it “good” and “very dry”. I can’t stand the stuff; I take my grapes in a sugary cocktail, thanks.) Four cups of well seasoned mushroom stock were poured over all, then the lid went on and the Dutch oven went into the actual oven while we got back to work.

Six hours later, the beef was tasty but the broth was inconsistent in appearance and flavor. We set the oven to “warm” and left the pot alone overnight.

By Sunday morning, the meat and vegetables were fabulous, but the broth was still a mess – so I set out to repair it.

Solids were scooped from the first Dutch oven, drained, and placed into a second one. The liquid was painstakingly ladled into his grandmother’s gravy strainer, one cup at a time, and left to rest for twelve minutes.

When the oily bits had risen to the surface, every speck of fat was discarded and the good stuff was saved into a saucepan. Two hours later, with “the good stuff” fully assembled, the now fat-free broth was brought to a low simmer and thickened with corn starch – then poured over the meat and vegetable bits. The whole lot was brought back to temperature, covered, then placed back in the 200 degree oven to stay happy until our (delayed) guests arrived.

When they did, baked red potatoes were roughly chopped and placed into shallow bowls. Stew was ladled over top. Seconds were served, along with still and sparkling wines, ginger ales, and plenty of ice cream at dessert.

It couldn’t have been better if it had gone according to plan; there aren’t any leftovers to photograph.

Sometimes doubles aren't awful.

I’m glad to have kept both Dutch Ovens – one enameled, one not.

Monkeying Around

On Sunday night, we completed the process of unpacking, sorting, and deciding which kitchen possessions to keep. Many hours after the work began, he held the last item in his hands, trying to decide which of two piles to place it in — those that definitely needed a home within the kitchen, and those that would be placed in a storage bin in the garage.

“How often do you actually use a Bundt pan?”

“Not all that often. I only know one recipe that requires it.”

“When’s the last time you made it?”

“Before I started dating the one who was allergic to butter, cream, and milk chocolate.”

He tossed the avocado-green aluminum pan onto the pile intended for storage and started rearranging mixing bowls, muffin tins, cooling racks, measuring cups, and saucepans, while I described this very simple, barely-home-made dessert. Before I was half-through, he had effortlessly convinced me to bake it for him this week, while vacation left plenty of time for peeling 48 pieces of individually wrapped candies.

He’ll be home from work shortly, and will find this cooling on the stove:

Pull Apart Monkey Bread

Pull-Apart Monkey Bread — a little drier than usual, since I skimped on the butter.

My Sister’s Pull-Apart Monkey Bread

  • 2 canisters of crescent roll dough
  • 48 pieces of chocolate candy (she insists on Hershey’s Kisses, I pick through whatever happens to be in the candy dish)
  • 1/2 cup of cinnamon sugar
  • 1/2 stick of butter, melted
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Grease a Bundt pan and set it aside.
  3. Open each can of dough and roll out the pieces. Seal the perforations by dampening your fingers and pressing them together. With a pizza cutter or other sharp, smooth blade, slice each can’s worth of dough into 24 square-ish pieces (3 slices lengthwise and 5 slices widthwise).
  4. Place a piece of candy in the middle of each square of dough, and wrap the dough to surround the candy. Toss each piece in the cinnamon sugar to coat it, then place it in the Bundt pan*. Repeat until all of the candy has been wrapped in dough.
  5. Pour the melted butter over the amassed dough balls, then bake in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until crispy and cooked through.
  6. Place a heat-safe plate over the top of the Bundt pan and invert the pan so that the collected nuggets of doughy goodness drop onto the plate; scrape any loose buttery-cinnamon-sugar sauce over the top. Serve warm.

* I like to place the cinnamon-sugar in a coffee mug; tossing a dough ball into the cup, covering the top with my palm, and swirling it on the counter effectively coats the dough while minimizing mess.