Tuesday, May 29, 2012

strawberry rhubarb pie.

My brother Corey is a pie guy.  His dessert of choice always involves lots and lots of fruit encased in a flaky crust topped with a sweet crumble of brown sugar, nuts, and lots of cinnamon.  Corey’s birthday falls around the beginning of May and every year instead of requesting the requisite birthday cake, he asks for pie.

The beginning of May usually marks the arrival of rhubarb and the first signs of strawberries so it only seems fitting that his pie of choice is strawberry rhubarb.  Strawberry rhubarb pie is a beautiful thing.  It’s sweet with a touch of tartness, it tastes like spring and the arrival of all things new, and it’s a welcome departure from cake.  To make it birthday party festive we usually top it with a dollop of ice cream or homemade whipped cream, but I love it plain, the mix or crumble topping and fruit is more then enough for me (shocking, considering I usually fall in the category of more is always better).  It is the perfect ending to a casual meal eaten outdoors and the perfect way to say happy birthday (or happy Tuesday because really Tuesday could be celebrated a little more). 

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
Recipe from the best cook I know - Mommy!


In food processor, pulse 1 1/4 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 sugar. Add 1 stick of butter and pulse.  Add 3 Tablespoons ice water.  Refrigerate at least 1 hour.  Roll out, place in pie dish and brush with 1 white mixed with 1 teaspoon water.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  


3 cups Rhubarb stalks cut into 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch pieces.  
3 1/2 cups strawberries halved and/or quartered
Combine this with 1 1/4 cups sugar, rounded 1/4 cup tapioca (Shake the box!), 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon.  Let stand 15 min., stirring occasionally.  Pour ingredients into crust and top with 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 2 tablespoons butter in small pieces.  

Strussel Topping

1 cup flour
1/4 cup chopped walnuts (finely!)
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup melted butter
Mix ingredients to form crumbs and place on top of pie.  

Place pie on lowest level of oven and bake for about 30 min, drop the temperature to 350 and continue baking for another 20-25 min. until crust is brown and filling is bubbly.  (If pie appears to be getting too dark, cover loosely with foil).  

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

fresh green peas and sugar snap peas in sesame dressing.

Green is everywhere – not just in the world of clothing (neon green in particular is having a moment which makes me swoon) but all over.  The onslaught of warm weather has enticed me to migrate outside, and in the great outdoors, I’ve found myself surrounded by lush grass, big leafy trees, and a plethora of flowers.  The color has also carried over to the farmers market.  It seems that almost every time I visit something new shows up – the latest being the beautiful green sugar snap peas.

I was never particularly drawn to sugar snap peas before, but maybe it’s come with age or the desire to always try something new but I purchased a pound of them and figured I would come up with a way to enjoy them. Let’s just say I found this weeks favorite food.

I took a recipe from Bon Appétit and doctored it up a bit – adding in some Siracha (one of the most useful condiments!)  for heat, and some brown rice so it would feel a little more like a side dish.  The result felt healthy (especially needed when eating homemade pie for dessert) and it exuded the sweet and spicy flavors I love. The leftovers made for a lovely lunch at work the next day, which reminded me why I love the arrival of summer.

Fresh Green Peas and Sugar Snap Peas in Sesame Dressing
Adapted from Epicurious
Serves 4

1 cups fresh shelled peas (from 1 pound peas in pods)
12 ounces sugar snap peas, trimmed
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon oriental sesame oil
2 teaspoons Siracha (or more if you love spicy)
1 tablespoon (packed) golden brown sugar
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup cooked rice (brown, white, whatever you love). 

Cook shelled peas in large saucepan of boiling salted water until almost tender, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add sugar snap peas to same pan and continue boiling 30 seconds. Drain; rinse under cold water and drain again. Transfer to large bowl.

Whisk vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, salt, and pepper in small bowl to blend. (Peas and dressing can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Let stand separately at room temperature.) Pour dressing over peas and rice in large bowl; toss to coat. Season salad to taste with more salt and pepper, if desired. Serve at room temperature.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

strawberry jam and rhubarb jam.

In my opinion, summer arrived this past weekend.  I realize it is not yet Memorial Day but that has not deterred me from wearing neon shorts and metallic boat shoes, eating alfresco, and making the switch to ice coffee.  Summer makes me happy, I spend my days outside catching up on books in the park, taking walks to new destinations, and eating foods purchased from the farmers market. 

Last week marked the arrival of strawberries and rhubarb at the farmers market – to say I was excited to see them would be a bit of an understatement (I may have let out a squeal when I saw them).  I bought as many containers and stalks as I could carry on the subway and set about using them in as many dishes as possible.  As I traveled home, I kept thinking only one thought; Jam.

Once home, I allowed that idea to come to fruition.  I thought of making strawberry rhubarb jam, but instead I decided to make one rhubarb jam and one strawberry jam (more dishes for Tyler is so much fun!).  The strawberry jam turned out impossibly rich and utterly sweet – it tastes like the essence of strawberries.  I slathered it on fresh bread with butter and sea salt as a side to scrambled eggs – perfection.  The rhubarb jam I am envisioning in savory applications; as a condiment for pork (as suggested by Leite’s Culinaria) or on a fancy grilled cheese made with sharp cheddar.  I have a whole summer to think of possibilities.

I usually make small amounts of jam at a time and store it in the fridge – it will last a couple of weeks and it doesn’t involve canning – later this summer I may tackle the canning process..

Homemade Strawberry Jam
Recipe from Leite’s Culinaria

3 ½ cups strawberries (seek out farmers market strawberries, they are far superior to what you get in the supermarket)
1 cup superfine sugar
Juice of 1 lemon

Quarter the strawberries or, if they are large, cut them up into smaller chunks. Place them in a non-aluminum bowl, add the sugar and lemon juice, and toss them around to distribute everything evenly. Cover and let them rest overnight in the fridge to draw out the berries’ juices.

The next day, drain off all the liquid from the strawberries into a large heavy-bottomed jam pan or wide saucepan. Add half of the strawberries and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer gently until the juices are thickened somewhat, about 15 minutes. Let rest for at least 10 minutes.

Transfer the strawberry mixture in the pan to the blender and purée until smooth or pulse if you prefer your jam quite chunky. Return the mixture to the pan, add the rest of the strawberries, and return to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for 10 to 15 minutes more. To test if the jam is ready, drop a heaping teaspoonful onto a plate and slightly tilt the plate. The jam should not run off, but cling and slowly glide down. If the jam isn’t ready, put it back on the heat for a while. It should be a lovely red hue and look quite sticky.

Spoon the jam into small jars and refrigerate or spoon into resealable plastic containers and freeze. You need to keep it in the fridge and use it up fairly quickly.

Easy Rhubarb Jam
Recipe from Leite’s Culinaria

1 pound of rhubarb, trimmed, rinsed, and cut into small chunks
1 cup less 2 tablespoons sugar (the original recipe suggested 1 cup, I thought this to be 2 much and took out 2 tablespoons, I think I can dial it down more but haven’t tried yet, will report back!).
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons water
½ a lemon juiced

Place the fruit, sugar, water, and lemon juice in a large bowl and set aside at room temperature for 1 hour.

Pour the contents of the bowl into a large pit and bring to a bowl over medium-high heat.  Continue to cook, stirring the jam constantly for about 15 min.  Skim the foam from the surface as the jam cooks. 

Drop the heat to medium.  Hold the jam at a constant simmer, checking frequently to make sure the jam isn’t scorched.  After 15 minutes, check to see if your jam has set by placing a small spoonful of jam on a plate from the freezer.  The  jam is set when it holds its shape on the cool plate.  If loose, continue cooking over medium-low heat. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

sunday night cake

There is something about cake.  It’s one of those foods that makes everyone happy – you feel like an indulgent little kid when you eat a slice.  However, the problem with cake is that when you want a slice you have to make an entire cake.  While the idea of eating cake (for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!) seems like a great idea, it ends up being a little overly indulgent (I know that’s a shocking statement coming from me).    

For those times when you want cake, but not a triple layer, fruit and chocolate filled and  buttercream frosted one -  it’s a good idea to try the Sunday Cake from Baked Explorations.    This cake is the perfect dessert to follow a lazy Sunday evening dinner of roast chicken and vegetables.  The chocolate frosting is both fudgy and pudding like and the base is rich and just a little tart from the sour cream.  It’s pretty quick and easy and if there are just two of you the cake should take you through the middle of the week if you can refrain from eating it breakfast, lunch, and dinner…no shame if you can’t. 

Sunday Night Cake
Recipe from Baked Explorations

For the cake

1 3/4 cups cake flour (I used 7 1/2 ounces cake flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (I used 3/4 teaspoon)
1 1/4 stick or 10 tablespoons or 5 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup sour cream

For the frosting

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped (I only had 1 1/2 oz unsweetened chocolate in the house so I used that and 1 1/2 oz dark chocolate 72%. I reduced the sugar to 140 grams)
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350°F. Prep a 9" square baking pan. I line mine with parchment paper and spray it with Pam Flour.  Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a stand mixer, beat butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl. Add eggs one at a time and mix until blended. Scrape down the bowl again.

Add the flour in three batches, alternating with scoops of the sour cream. The last addition should be flour. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl and mix a few more times to incorporate but don't overmix.

Pour batter into pan and bake 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow cake to cool at least 20 minutes on a wire rack. Invert and let cool completely before frosting.

For the Frosting:

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch and cocoa powder. Add the chopped chocolate. Pour 1 cup boiling water into the pan, wait 30 seconds, then whisk until mixture is combined and the chocolate is melted.

Turn the heat to medium-high and whisk continuously for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture begins to thicken. (Once pudding begins to thicken, it will come together very quickly.)

Remove the pan from the heat and pour the mixture into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high until the steam escapes and the mixture is room temperature. Add the butter and mix for an additional 2-3 minutes, until the frosting is light and pudding like. If you prefer a fluffier, more spreadable frosting, continue to mix for a few minutes longer.

Frost the top of the cake, allowing a little of the frosting to drip down the edges. (I frosted the edges too). Chill for 5 minutes to set the frosting. Serve immediately.

The cake can be stored, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Bring it back to room temperature before serving.

Monday, May 14, 2012

houston style green salsa.

There are certain dishes that scream warm weather to me – any meat on the BBQ, potato salad, ice cream sandwiches, lobster rolls, tomato and mozzarella on fresh foccacia, and BLT’s!  There are plenty of other dishes, but those dishes can carry me through the dog days of August when cooking shouldn’t be much work.  I don’t like working when it’s hot, I can’t imagine why anyone would.  It is far more fun to sit outside, drink beers, and eat your farmer’s market bounty.

Recently I discovered a love for all things Tex-Mex.  The love affair began when I purchased the Homesick Texan cookbook.  It’s filled with the stick to your ribs food you desire in the wintertime but it is also filled with the refreshing food you crave during the summer.  I have practically every page of the book marked with sticky notes.  Reading all of these recipes has made me dream about Tex-Mex food, in particular tacos.  My taco thoughts have become so overwhelming that I have regaled them as my new favorite warm weather dish. 

Actually, it’s not tacos that are my new favorite dish but rather the Green Salsa that I have been slathering on all tacos that is my new favorite dish.  Its bright and spicy and it goes with just about everything.  I’ve made chicken tacos and steak tacos and I imagine it would amazing with roasted vegetables as well.  It’s going to be a long summer of hand held dinners which sounds about perfect to me. 

Houston Style Green Salsa

3/4 pound small tomatillos, husks removed or one 11 oz. can of whole tomatillos, drained
1 avocado peeled and pitted
1 or 2 serrano chiles, stems and seeds removed, roughly chopped 
4 cloves garlic chopped
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 cup cilantro
salt, to taste

If using fresh tomatillos, on high heat, bring a pot of water to boiling and cook tomatillos until soft, about 5 minutes.  

Add the tomatillos to blender along with the avocado, serrano chiles, garlic, lime juice, and cilantro.  Blend until smooth and then add salt to taste.  

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

white chocolate and macadamia cookies.

I don’t like white chocolate.  I find it to be cloyingly sweet and lacking the dimension and versatility that dark chocolate has.  Maybe it’s because my first memories of white chocolate are those Easter bunnies with crunchy oreo pieces that never tasted like much beyond sugar – but I’ve never developed a love for it.  I always imagined that as I got older my opinions would change, that I would develop a love for it in certain applications, but alas that has yet to happen. 

But recently I came across a recipe for white chocolate macadamia cookies.   The pictures of the cookies were beautiful, golden brown with a crisp exterior and a soft interior – they looked like the kind of cookie I would want to eat three or more of in one sitting.  I decided to challenge my taste buds by making them and I have to admit they were really, really good.  The perfect sweet chewy cookie and a wonderful alternative to chocolate chip cookies – a cookie I could learn to love.  

White Chocolate and Macadamia Cookies
Recipe From Big Girls Small Kitchens

Makes 3-4 dozen

1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar (you can substitute dark, but then use a little less brown sugar and slightly more white)
1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
1 egg
2 cups plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup good-quality white chocolate chips
1 cup macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Mix sugars and butter in a large bowl. With a mixer, hand-held beater, or very strong arm, beat until creamy, about 5 minutes. Then beat in the egg until the batter is fluffy and light.

In a small bowl, stir together the flour, oatmeal, baking soda, and salt. Add it to the butter mixture and beat just until blended. Stir in the white chocolate chips and the macadamia nuts.

Drop the dough by rounded tablespoonfuls (or bigger if that’s your style) about 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 6-8 minutes or until just barely set and slightly golden around the edges. Cool for 5-10 minutes on the cookie sheet, then carefully remove to a rack or a plate to finish cooling.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

corn, leek, and spinach quesadillas

I am having a love affair with leeks.  I never thought much of them before, but in a farmers market buying frenzy a few weeks back I bought some and since then they have become a weekly staple.  Add in to a frittata with asparagus? Try Leeks!  Looking for a quick soup?  Try Leek and Potato! Making a pasta dish with spinach and goat cheese?  Why not add Leeks to the dish!  I have found myself adding leeks to pretty much everything – I love the sweet taste they get when sautéed in a bit of butter and olive oil – and using that technique I’ve created a foundation for a lot of different dishes.  The latest being spinach, leek, and corn quesadillas.

The corn came from our freezer stash (last summer Tyler and I had the genius idea of buying corn, cutting it off the cob and freezing it – some how we ended up with 3 dozen ears of frozen corn..I still don’t know how that happened or how it all fit), the spinach and leeks came from the farmers market, and the tortillas were leftover’s from a Mexican fiesta night.  The meal came together quickly and the beauty of it was that it was vegetarian and filling; creamy and yummy.  The kind of perfect meal for a rainy spring evening.

Corn, Leek, and Spinach Quesadillas
Serves 2 (and by 2 I mean this will make 3 quesadillas and if your boyfriend is like mine he will eat 2 and you will eat 1!).

1 Leek (white and light green parts only), cleaned and diced.
4 cups spinach, cleaned and chopped
¾ cup frozen corn
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon heavy cream
Cheese of your choice (I love goat cheese and Monterey Jack but really anything works!)
6 tortillas
Salt and Pepper to Taste

In a large sauté pan heat the butter and oil on medium heat.  Add the leeks, stirring to combine with the butter and oil. Turn the heat down to low and let the leeks cook until softened, about 10 minutes. 

Add the spinach to the sauté pan, and stir to combine with the leeks, add the corn in as well, cooking the mixture for another 2 min until the spinach has wilted and the corn is heated through.  Add in the tablespoon of cream and stir to combine the mixture.  Salt and pepper to taste. 
Heat a second pan up with a bit of olive oil – while that is heating, assemble your quesadillas with your cheese of choice, the leek, corn, and spinach mixture, and more cheese.  Cook until golden brown on each side and melted through.