Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

My latest food obsession is rhubarb. I’ve been buying it every Saturday at the local green market since early May. But I’ve only made one thing with it: compote—which is fantastic and delicious on top of damn near anything—but after awhile I needed a break.

Then last weekend, on a day trip to Martha’s Vineyard with my boyfriend and his family, I had a slice of strawberry rhubarb pie from Morning Glory Farm (a place that I’ve heard makes the best pies on the island). And all throughout the following week, I had pie on the brain. I explored the interwebs looking for recipes, and by Friday decided that perhaps pie was too ambitious a project for my Saturday. There just wouldn’t be time.

But I went to the green market yesterday—as some of you may have seen from my previous entry—I found some beautiful rhubarb, and [finally!] some reasonably-priced locally grown strawberries. I went for them, and then popped into Key Food to buy refrigerated pie dough.

Not to sound like Anne Burrell, but look at these cuties!

(Side note: Unless you’re entering a pie contest and trying to prove you’re the best pie-maker at your job/in the county/the state fair, there is absolutely no shame in buying pie dough from the store. It’s a time-saving short cut, and if what you’re buying has a very short ingredients list that includes butter, you’re set.)

I went home and put together a recipe that incorporated elements from recipes I had read online over the week (thank you, Saveur and Martha Stewart). The resulting pie, while not perfect, was indeed beautiful—a golden brown and buttery shell, smattered with siren-red stains of juice, containing a soft, garnet fruit—tender to the bite and exuding the sweet-tart nectar of early summer.

Ta-daa.

 RECIPE:

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie I

Ingredients:

Shell:

  • 2 refrigerated pie crusts (I went with Pillsbury)

OR

  • Enough pie dough for two 9” pie crusts (top and bottom)

Filling:

  • 1 pound rhubarb
  • 1 quart strawberries (the smallest, ripest berries you can find)
  • 1 cup plus 3 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp. flour
  • 2 tbsp. corn starch
  • ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. ground ginger
  • 2 tbsp. butter

For Topping:

  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp. turbinado sugar

Tools:

  • Clean hands
  • Sharp knife
  • Large and medium-sized bowls
  • Pie plate
  • Wax paper
  • Rolling Pin
  • A brush (for the egg wash)

Method:

Allow pie dough/refrigerated crusts to come to room temperature, about 15 minutes.

Rinse and dry rhubarb. Cut each stalk into thin slices (between 1/8 and ¼ of an inch thick). Put the sliced rhubarb in a large bowl. Rinse and gently dry the strawberries, then cut them in half (if they’re small) or quarter them if they’re larger. Combine the strawberries and rhubarb in the bowl – you’ll have about 7 cups of fruit. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine granulated sugar and spices. Sift the flour and cornstarch over the mixture, then mix well with a whisk or fork.

Cut butter into small pieces, set aside. Beat an egg in a small bowl, and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Add dry ingredients to the fruit, mix well with your hands.

Roll one of the pie rounds between two sheets of wax paper until it’s about 11-12” in diameter. Remove wax paper and set crust over pie plate so you have about 1” overhang. Press dough into pie plate.

Combine the dry ingredients with the fruit and mix thoroughly with your hands, until all the fruit pieces are coated. Transfer the fruit mixture to the pie plate, making sure the top is even. Sprinkle the butter pieces on top.

Roll out the 2nd crust the same as the first, but this time remove the top sheet of wax paper and score the crust with the tip of a sharp knife. You can cut out little shapes like I did if you feel like being fancy, but this isn’t necessary. You just have to make sure steam can escape from the interior of the pie so it doesn’t explode in the oven.

Peel the back sheet of wax paper off the pie dough and lay it very gently atop your half-built pie.

Crimp together the edges of your pie with your fingers, by folding the edge under and pressing them gently into the rim of the pie plate. Next, grab a fork and press it all away around the edges of the pie. (Cute, right? My mom taught me that.) Finally, brush the egg wash lightly all over the top of the pie, and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar.

Tip: If you don’t want to shell out the bucks for a box of turbinado sugar (like me), snag yourself two packets of Sugar In The Raw the next time your buy yourself a cup of coffee. Done and Done.

Set the assembled pie over a cookie sheet or piece of foil to catch any juice that might leak, and place in the oven. I baked for 55 minutes, until the crust turned a rich, golden brown color. The edges of the crust were not burned, but if you see yours start to burn during baking, cover the edges with foil.

As you can see, the inside of the pie was so juicy that some liquid escaped through the top. I don’t mind; I wasn’t entering this baby in a contest, and more than anything I wanted to make sure the taste and texture were perfect. To that end, I let the pie rest nearly 8 hours before cutting into it.

Right out of the oven.

The results: a perfectly flaky top crust, tender fruit, and running juices. Delicious, but messy. The bottom crust, while cooked, was not cooked enough to my liking. I wanted it to be crisp, but all the juice in the interior made for a semi-soggy bottom. Again, still delicious, but it was impossible to cut a slice of this pie neatly. I have a feeling the crust would have turned out better if I had blind-baked it, but I have not seen the method called for in recipes for double-crust pies. And next time, I’ll add a half-cup of the flour/corn starch mixture, instead of just a quarter cup. In short, more experiments are definitely in order (much to the delight of my boyfriend).

From Market to Table: Homemade Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

You really need smell-o-vision for this.

At around midnight last night, when I finally had a chance to catch up on The New York Times Dining & Wine section, I watched a video of Melissa Clark making fresh rhubarb compote. It looked so pretty. And easy. And more importantly—delicious.

I woke up with rhubarb on the brain.

After I picked up my morning coffee I ambled over to the Grand Army Plaza farmers market to check out spring’s latest local offerings. It was about 40 degrees this morning here in Brooklyn, and the air didn’t feel so springy. But upon entering the market, I caught sight of a crate of rhubarb stalks priced at $3.50/pound.

If you live in New York, you understand what a bargain this is. Even in season, most supermarkets sell rhubarb for about $7 per pound, which makes it cost-prohibitive for a cook like me who relies more on trial & error than published & tested recipes.

Bag of rhubarb in hand, I stopped at the grocery store to get strawberries (still too early in the season to get local ones here). Once home, I re-reviewed Clark’s video and got to work.

RECIPE:

Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

Inspired by Melissa Clark’s Rhubarb Compote, from The New York Times

Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 3-4 cups

Ingredients:

  • One pound rhubarb stalks
  • One pound strawberries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Juice from half a large lemon

Method:

Begin by giving the rhubarb a good rinse and trimming the ends. FYI – The leaves on the rhubarb plant are poisonous.  Next, wash and hull the strawberries. Cut the rhubarb into 1″ pieces. Leave the strawberries whole if they’re small, or cut them into quarters if they are larger.

Combine the strawberries, rhubarb, sugar and lemon juice in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir to coat the fruit with the sugar. The mixture will come to what looks like a boil, and the fruits will start releasing their juices.  When you start to see a fair amount of liquid build, reduce the heat so that the mixture cooks at a steady simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Stir occasionally.

You’re done when the fruit is fork-tender and the liquid is at a syrupy consistency. Transfer mixture to a bowl and allow it to cool for about 15 minutes. Then you can store it away in a jar (it’ll keep for at least a week in the fridge), or serve heaping spoonfuls of this red goodness on any of the following:

  • toast
  • yogurt
  • pancakes
  • french toast
  • pound cake
  • sponge cake
  • granola
  • ice cream
  • corn bread or muffins

 

Happy Weekend, all!

Sweet Tooth: Two Desserts Made With Fresh Ricotta (Caution: Wine and Salted Caramel are involved…)

When last we met yesterday, I was telling you about my experiment making fresh ricotta cheese.  There are lots of desserts made with ricotta—cheesecakes, pies, cakes, cannoli cream, pudding—and when they’re done right, all of those desserts are wonderful. Creamy and dreamy.

But those desserts can take a lot of time to prepare. If you have fresh ricotta on hand and want to satisfy your sweet tooth—okay, need to satisfy it—I’ve got two desserts that do the job. Each recipe takes 30 minutes or less to prepare, and showcases the soft & creamy texture of ricotta alongside simply cooked and incredibly flavorful fruit.

Exhibit A: Broiled Pineapple with Salted Caramel, Fresh Ricotta, and Chopped Pecans

Serves: 4

Time: 25 minutes

Hi there.

What you will need:

  • 1 golden ripe pineapple
  • 2 tbsp. dark rum (I am a fan of Black Seal)
  • 2 tbsp. packed brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. unsalted butter
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped pecans (or walnuts, almonds or hazelnuts)
  • Access to a broiler (and if you don’t have that, a stove-top grill pan will work just fine)

How To Make It:

Set your broiler to high and let it pre-heat for ten minutes.  Peel and core the pineapple, and cut it into 8 stalks. Line up the pineapple stalks down the center of a foil-lined cookie sheet.

Place the pineapple about 2 inches from the broiler flame. Grab a small sauce pan and add the brown sugar, rum, and butter. Set the pan over medium-low heat and stir with a whisk to break up the sugar. Continue stirring until all the sugar dissolves, then add the salt. Allow mixture to boil for 1-2 minutes, then remove from heat.

Check on the pineapple. Ideally, you’ll want a little char on the edges of the stalks, but be careful not to burn them. Remove from the broiler once the stalks are ready. Drizzle half of the caramel sauce on each of four plates and place two stalks on each plate. Place about a 1/4 cup of ricotta on top of each pair of stalks, then drizzle the remaining caramel over the cheese. Top each dessert with about a tablespoon of chopped pecans and serve.

Voi-la!

Exhibit B: Red Wine-Poached Pears with Fresh Ricotta and Chopped Walnuts

Serves: 4

Time: 30 minutes

Hello, gorgeous.

What you’ll need:

  • 4 pears (I used D’Anjou, but Bartlett or Bosc pears work just as well)
  • 1.5 cups red wine
  • 1.75 cups water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts (pecans or almonds work here too)

How to Make It:

Combine wine, water, cinnamon stick and lemon in a medium saucepan and set over medium high heat. While you’re waiting for the mixture to boil, peel the pears.

Add the pears to the boiling liquid and reduce to a simmer.  The pears should be completely submerged in the liquid. Poach pears for 8-10 minutes, until they’re tender enough to pierce with a knife. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pears to a plate to cool. Continue simmer the poaching liquid, allowing it to reduce by about a quarter.

Remove the pan from heat, and use the same slotted spoon to lift out 4 of the lemon slices, placing each on a dessert plate. The lemon slice will anchor the pear so it doesn’t roll around. Next, spoon some of the reduced poaching liquid over each pear, letting it pool on the plate.

Set about 1/4 cup of ricotta on each plate, right in the pool of liquid, and sprinkle the top of each dish with the chopped nuts.

Boom! Done.

Happy eating!

Need to use Leftover Buttermilk? Try Blueberry Muffins with Crunchy Cinnamon Topping

Have you ever bought a quart of buttermilk, only to use a half-cup for a recipe and then completely forget that said buttermilk is in your fridge?  Then one day, you find the buttermilk, open the carton and gag, only to throw the aged lumpy mess away?

Yep, I’ve been there. And the last time I found myself with leftover buttermilk in the fridge, I was determined not to let it go to waste.

So, the experiments began.

I used the buttermilk in place of butter & cream in cheesy mashed potatoes (success), as a soaking liquid for chicken that I ultimately breaded and oven-fried (success again), and mixed some into my parsnip & apple smash (a delightful success). But because a little buttermilk goes a long way, I still had some left. What to do?

I remembered a buttermilk berry cake recipe I read last summer on Creamed Butter, a blog written by my friend Andrew’s fiancé, Adrienne.  The cake looked delicious and the recipe was so simple I dubbed it “Lazy Summer Cake”—it requires so little effort, and though it’s not fancy, it’s incredibly satisfying and a great way to showcase the marvelous berries of summer.

I didn’t really feel like making a cake, but revisiting the recipe gave me an idea: muffins. The great thing about muffins is that they’re perfectly portioned, not to mention portable, which makes a muffin an ideal breakfast on a busy morning. As you’ll see from the pictures on Creamed Butter, the cake is pretty light, but it’s not high-rising, so I had to do a little tinkering to make the cake recipe muffin-friendly.

For starters, I substituted the all-purpose flour with cake flour (an easy sub is included below).  I made sure to sift the cake flour a few times until I had a pile of snowy, feathery light powder—ideal for a delicate crumb and a generously puffed muffin top. I kept the rest of the proportions in the recipe the same, except for the berries—I used a pint of blueberries—then folded them into the batter instead of placing them on top. You could use less berries, but I like muffins with a lot of fruit.  Finally, I prepared a crunchy topping of oats, cinnamon, sugar and crushed sliced almonds.

The result is a portable, pretty and satisfying treat perfect for breakfast or to kill the mid-afternoon slump—and unlike most coffee shop muffins that are lead-weight and huge, you a muffin that won’t give you carb coma. At first bite, you’re greeted by the warmth of the cinnamon sugar and the crunch of the oats & almonds, followed by the pop of juicy blueberries & the hint of lemon in this gently sweet cake. Bliss.

Now go make some.

RECIPE:

Buttermilk Blueberry Muffins

Adapted from Creamed Butter, Summer Buttermilk Berry Cake

Time: 40 minutes

Tools:

  • Electric mixer
  • Fine mesh strainer (for sifting flour)
  • Mortar & pestle (for topping)
  • 12-muffin pan
  • 12 muffin cups

Ingredients

For the muffins:

  • 1 cup cake flour*
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3-cup sugar
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 pint fresh blueberries

For the Topping (all measurements are approximate):

  • ¼ cup rolled oats
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tbsp sliced almonds

* One cup cake flour = 1/8 cup cornstarch and 7/8 cup all-purpose flour. The easiest way to do this is to put 2 tablespoons cornstarch into a dry measuring cup, spoon flour in to fill the rest and level off. Mix with a fork or whisk before sifting.

Method:

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Place paper cups in muffin pan, and spray the cups lightly with non-stick cooking spray if you have it. (If not, no big loss.)

Combine the ingredients of the topping into a small bowl, then use your mortar & pestle to grind the oats and almonds down a bit as they mix with the cinnamon and sugar. Set aside.

Sift the cake flour once into a medium bowl. Add baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Sift two more times and set aside.  In a separate bowl cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.  Then beat in the egg, followed by the vanilla and lemon zest, until all are fully incorporated.

Alternating the flour and the buttermilk, mix with the butter/sugar/egg mixture until just combined, beginning and ending with the flour.  Gently fold in the blueberries with a wooden spoon or a spatula.

Use a spoon to fill each cup about 2/3 full, then spread the tops until they’re even.  Use a clean spoon to sprinkle the topping on each cup of batter. You’ll have enough to coat the surface of each one.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the middle muffins comes out mostly clean (if it’s got blueberry juice on it, that’s a good thing.)

Eat warm or at room temperature, with a cup of tea or mug of coffee.  If you’re prepping breakfast for the week, allow the muffins to cool completely before wrapping each individually with plastic wrap, placing into a zip-top bag and then putting them into the freezer.

Voi-la!

PS – Weight Watchers Points Plus per muffin: 4!

PPS – This is my 50th post!

Oatmeal, champion breakfast, gets by with a little help from some friends

There is something remarkably comforting about a hot breakfast.

I need coffee just to get myself started in the morning.  On a cold morning like this one, a hot breakfast helps me ease into the day.

Oatmeal does the job: it’s easy to make, takes very little time and warms the belly.  It’s also a breakfast you can feel good about, packed with nutrients, health benefits, and the filling-power needed to keep a grazer like me satisfied till lunch. By itself, oatmeal can be more than a little boring—bland and a bit soupy.

With the help of a few friends—fruit, nuts, brown sugar and cinnamon—oatmeal gets a boost in flavor and texture.  Plus it makes you feel like you’re eating a real breakfast, instead of a bowl of blah. And no one wants to start the day feeling blah.

My method: Cook the oatmeal as directed on the package. Turn off the heat, and add the flavor: cinnamon (a sprinkle), brown sugar (about a teaspoon), and the fruit (I like a lot, so I add about a cup).  Cover and let rest for about 2 minutes, then serves with a sprinkle of chopped or sliced nuts (this morning, it was almonds for me).  Eat happily.  You’re ready to conquer the day.

Other terrific add-ins for morning oatmeal:

Mashed banana, made even better with chopped walnuts

Sliced banana, cooked with a touch of butter and brown sugar

Chopped apple, raw or roasted with cinnamon (my preference)

Pears, same preparation

Any combination of fresh berries

Maple syrup

Nutmeg (a really light touch – nutmeg is powerful stuff)

Honey & a couple drops of vanilla extract

Chopped dried fruit—apricot and cherries make a great combination–plus brown sugar

Toasted wheat germ

A spoonful of your favorite jam

 

 

Sweet Tooth: A Little Taste of Summer in January

I miss fresh summer berries. Even though all the grocery stores in my neighborhood carry blueberries, raspberries and cherries this time of year, the taste just isn’t the same.  (Likely because any berry you can find in Brooklyn in January comes from a land very far away).

I could live on blueberries alone in July. In August, wild raspberries abound in my mother’s garden, and I eat them right off the bush.  And cherries—well, I’ve been known to eat them by the pound. Berries are wonderful pops of sweetness in your mouth. They taste like summer, too.

It’s a good thing I’ve gotten to like winter vegetables so much, because I’m quite tired of winter fruits.  And on this rainy and cold day, I could use a taste of summer.

Enter frozen berries.  Yeah, I know—they’re not the same as fresh, but they’re picked and frozen in season. And when you cook them, their flavors concentrate—particularly well with the addition of Grand Marnier and honey—and summer has arrived.

Berry sauce is ridiculously simple to make and takes about 30 minutes of largely unattended time.  Four ingredients thrown into a pot, brought to a boil, then reduced to a simmer until the mixture cooks down to a texture that’s half jam, half syrup.  It’s delicious right out of the pot, or spooned over cake, yogurt or ice cream.

Recipe: Berry Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups frozen berries (I’m a fan of Trader Joe’s Very Cherry Berry Blend)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 oz. orange-flavored liqueur (like Grand Marnier), or dark rum
  • Pinch of orange zest (optional)

Method:

  • Combine all ingredients into a saucepan. Bring to a boil.
  • Once the mixture has boiled for 2 minutes, reduce heat to a simmer for 25 minutes or so, until the mixture has thickened and reduced by half.  It will continue to thicken as it cools.
  • This recipe will yield 1.5 cups.  Serving size is 2 tablespoons, so there are 12 servings.

Weight Watchers Points Plus Information:

  • 2 points per serving

5 Ways to Serve Berry Sauce

  1. Spoon over toasted Angel Food Cake.
  2. Mix with Greek yogurt and top with a sprinkle of granola or sliced almonds.
  3. Use with fruit and frozen yogurt to make a parfait sundae (pictured).
  4. Spread on toasted wheat bread with a touch of butter.
  5. Spread on hot corn muffins, or any muffin. It’s delicious!