Thursday, July 26, 2012

Joining the party

There comes a time when one must use the rhubarb in their freezer. This is a sad fact. You see,  I adore rhubarb. I adore rhubarb so much that when I gave my uncle a newly-devised Black Tea and Rhubarb Muffin to taste, he said, "again, with the rhubarb?" (By the by, those Black Tea and Rhubarb Muffins are one of the best things I have ever devised, ever. So buy them. They're good.) So maybe I am a bit obsessed. And maybe during rhubarb season I bought all the rhubarb I could find and told my friends that  should they see rhubarb they must immediately buy some for me  and then went about chopping and stocking my freezer full of rhubarb.Yeah, that happened. But here's the thing, my freezer is small. Very small. Like the size of a shoebox small. (Ok, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit. It's more like the size of the shoebox that your knee-high equestrian boots came in. But still, whenever someone suggests that make all the stocks and "just freeze them" I laugh and laugh. And then I cry.) And lo, mango season is upon us and there must be Mango Muffins (and this, please!) and soon that short, magical period of limes will be here too and my freezer simply will not hold all that bounty and the other various things it must hold. So, much as it pained me to part with a good bit of my precious rhubarb, (leaving, of course enough rhubarb for muffins) the time had come for Rhubarb Snacking Cake.

Snacking cakes seem to be the thing nowadays. Food 52 has a blueberry one, Not Derby Pie has a lovely looking peach one on her site, Sweet Amandine posted a luxurious whole wheat cinnamon one almost a year ago, and for my own forays into the snacking cake party, I went with Smitten Kitchen's rhubarb snacking cake. The thing that makes snacking cakes so alluring is that they are appropriate for almost any occasion. They're not too complex and they're not too sweet. You can have some for breakfast, or dessert or with your mid-afternoon cup of coffee. They are perfect for picnics and dinner parties alike. Personally, I brought the one I made to a picnic where it was greatly loved and well worth the sacrifice of my beloved rhubarb.

Rhubarb Snacking Cake
Adapted so very lightly from Smitten Kitchen

1 1/4 pound rhubarb, cut into 1/2 inch chunks (frozen is ok, also)
1 1/3 cup sugar, divided
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
2 eggs
1 1/3 cup flour
teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/3 cup sour cream, or yogurt

1 cup flour
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons of butter, melted

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Stir together the rhubarb, sugar and lemon juice.  (If you are using frozen rhubarb, you may want to cook it down a bit before mixing in the sugar and lemon juice so it doesn't soggify your cake) Set aside.

2. Beat the butter, the rest of the sugar and the lemon zest until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and ginger. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Mix until incorporated. Then add half of the sour cream/yogurt. Mix.   Add the second third of the flour mixture. Mix. Add the second half of the sour/cream yogurt. Mix. Finish off with the last third of the flour mixture.

3. Pour the batter into a greased, parchment papered 9x13 pan. Spread with a spatula. Pour the rhubarb mixture over the cake in one even layer.

4. To make the crumb stir together the flour, brown sugar, salt and cinnamon in a small bowl. Pour in the melted butter and stir until clumpy. Scatter over the cake.

5. Bake the cake for 50-60 minutes until  tester comes out dry (of batter, not rhubarb). Cool and then cut into squares and eat.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A good man

Back at the kitchen....Well actually, not back at the kitchen. I haven't worked a shift in the community kitchen for over two months. But I have been back. A few weeks ago, Chef Rami Suissa, who teaches at the Dan Gourmet culinary school, came to the kitchen to give a workshop as he sometimes does . I always enjoy Chef Suissa's workshops, not only because it is a chance for me to hang out with the lovely ladies I worked with, but also because it is a pleasure to learn from the Chef. Simply put, Chef Suissa is a good man. He drives 2 hours down from Haifa and then two hours back just to spend a chunk of time teaching us. He is always patient and always helpful and will explain anything from breaking down a chicken to pricing your food. I am always astounded at how invested he is in helping us succeed. He willing gives out his phone number and has no qualms about taking a call from a woman he has met only once and walking her through the process of making gyoza. (And  yes, he's married, jeez, Mom!*)
During the course of the workshop, Chef Suissa pretty much cooks a whole meal. His food is always good, but during this past workshop, one dish in particular stood out for me. The Chef took some fresh white fish fillets (he used Nile perch, I used tilapia), slathered it in a mixture of olive oil, garlic and smoked paprika. Then, before putting it in the oven, he gave it a quick sprinkle with some chopped rosemary and lemon zest. While it was baking, he made a quick sauce of tomatoes cooked down in olive oil and a bit red wine vinegar. When I tasted the fish, the first thing I thought was that I had no idea that smoked paprika and rosemary went so well together. It was flavor pairing I had never thought of before- and yet, now that I have experienced it seems so obvious. The fish was just sort of perfumed with a hint of pine, playing off the bolder smokiness of the paprika. Eating it, I could imagine that flavors like these would make a really nice paella. But back to the fish, it was good. It was really good. And it was a dish I could see making on a weeknight at home. So the next time the urge for fish for dinner hit me, I made it and I wasn't disappointed. It was still good. Now I just gotta work on that paella.

White Fish in the Balkan Style
Adapted from Chef Rami Suissa

Notes: Chef Suissa's recipe serves 10, so scale down (unless, of course, you are serving 10, in which case carry on).

For the fish:
14 fillets of firm, mild white fish (Nile perch, or tilapia will work nicely)
10 cloves of garlic, sliced
3 sprigs of rosemary, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
salt and pepper
zest of a lemon

For the sauce:
5 tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil

1. If you have time, marinate the fish in a mixture of water and lemon (or vinegar) for 15 minutes. Rinse and pat dry. If you don't have time, skip this step.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 f. Lay the fish in one layer on a baking sheet or pan.  In a small bowl mix together the garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and paprika. Spread over the fish.  Sprinkle with the rosemary and lemon zest.

3. Bake for 15-25 minutes depending on the thickness of the fillets.

4. While the fish is baking, warm the tomatoes and vinegar in the olive oil, moving them around a bit until they tomatoes get all fall-aparty.

5. Serve with the sauce on top or on the side.

*My mom is actually very good about not bugging me re: my current single status. For this I am grateful. Thanks, Mom!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

My Summer of Tarragon

Despite the fact that I am currently under-employed, this summer has been a busy one. In the past few weeks I have joined friends in celebrating: 3 weddings, a birthday, an engagement, a graduation and the 4th of July. It's been nice, celebrating all these life-events with people I love, especially when my own life seems in flux in so many ways. There is something so grounding about all this happiness. In many ways, I could have been swept away this summer by upheavals in my personal and professional life as well as grief. But I have found that the ability to share in other people's joy has opened me up to the very real experience being joyful. Which is not to say that I am not sad, or anxious, or just plain tired sometimes. I am all those things. But sometimes I am also very happy.
This has also been the summer I have learned to love tarragon. Tarragon, much like it's other anise flavored friend, fennel, was never a favorite of mine. And yet, this summer I seem to be putting it in everything. I've been putting it in chicken salad, in green bean salad and now, in these delightfully summery plum-tarragon popsicles. Tarragon, like happiness and fennel, has crept up on me. Or maybe tarragon is happiness. Who knows? (I still stand firm, though, in my extreme hatred of black licorice and Araq and nothing's going to change that, gosh darn it!)
These popsicles, in any case, are what purple tastes like. They are absolutely regal, but also just a little bit mysterious and adult. Plums are roasted until they collapse upon themselves while tarragon is seeped in simple syrup. Then, after a quick blend, the whole concoction is swirled with yogurt, which gives it a creamy roundness and tang. Once frozen, these guys are near popsicle perfection.They are deep and tart and sweetly intense, with the underlying mellowness of tarragon playing like a bass line under a melody. So eat them slowly. Savor them. The days are long. There's time.

Plum, Yogurt and Tarragon Popsicles
Adapted from The Washington Post who adapted it from "Peoples Pops" by Nathalie Jordi, David Carrell and Joel Horowitz

First, a few notes: 1) The WashPo recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of lemon juice to be added to the plum puree before it is frozen. I found that my plums were tart enough as they were, and didn't need the lemon juice. If your plums tend toward the sweet side add in some of that lemon juice. 2) The recipe called for vanilla yogurt. I used plain and liked it that way. 3)The recipe makes enough plum-goodness for about 8 popsicles. I only have 3, so I froze the rest of it in a tupperware and ate it as frozen yogurt. So if you don't own popsicle molds (and really, you should own popsicle molds) or if you're just plain lazy, that works too.

1.5 lbs plums (about 6-8 large, 10-15 small) halved, but not pitted
14 tablespoons (3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons) simple syrup
2-3 sprigs of tarragon
2 tablespoons lemon juice (optional)
1/2 cup yogurt (plain or vanilla)

1)Preheat the oven to 350 f.

2)  Make the syrup. Place a cup of sugar and a cup of water into a saucepan. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat and simmer about 5-6 minutes until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is slightly syrupy.

3) Arrange the plums, cut side down, on a baking sheet. Leave the pits in. Roast 20-40 minutes until they have softened and kind of collapsed.

4) While the plums are roasting, add the tarragon to the saucepan of simple syrup. Cover and bring to a lazy simmer. Cook for 5-6 minutes and then turn off the flame. Let the tarragon seep while the plums are roasting.

5) Once the plums have cooled off enough to handle, remove the pits and transfer them to a food processor and give em a whirl (alternatively, you can do as I did, and transfer them to a 2 cup measuring cup and use a hand blender). You don't need to get the puree perfectly smooth. A few chucks won't hurt anything. You'll need about 1 2/3 cup puree. If you have more than that save the extra for another use (like your morning yogurt).

6) Remove the tarragon from the syrup and discard. Measure out 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons of syrup. Add the syrup and the lemon juice (if using) to the plum puree.

7) Pour the mixture into popsicle molds. Freeze 4-5 hours or until set. Unmold. Eat.

And now, some practical matters. I am now on Twitter, where I can be found @rogueskitchen. So, feel free to follow me and say hi. I tweet about all sorts of things, not only food. Also, I will soon start blogging for the Times of Israel, I'll mostly be writing about food and other sundry things. So you can come visit me there, if you'd like, and say hi again.