Thursday, May 28, 2009

Rhubarb Crumb Bars

I had other plans for what I was going to post this week. Actually I had many other plans of dishes and techniques to post. However the other night I made the rhubarb crumb bars from Catherine Newman's blog and for many reasons I had to share this recipe first. I made them while Lewis was putting the boys to bed and after they came out of the oven we stayed up late eating them. We only stopped because we really needed to go to bed. The next day I shared them with friends who all wanted the recipe. So I thought I would share the recipe with my changes here while rhubarb is still in season.

Three years ago we were deciding (and by deciding I mean arguing) about whether or not to buy our current house. Lewis spent all his time pointing out the reasons we shouldn't move, and so I spent all my time pointing out why we should. For me one of the features of the house was it came with rhubarb in the yard. If I had this recipe already Lewis would have agreed to buy the house much sooner! Rhubarb is my type of gardening. It comes up in the spring without my doing anything, which matches up perfectly with my gardening abilities. Plus it is useful in the kitchen, I don't really care all that much about growing things just because they look pretty.

I am not sure what it was about the recipe for these bars that sent me to the kitchen. Whatever it was I am glad I did. I know it wasn't her description of them as "achingly sweet and jaw-crampingly tart." I am not one of those people who craves lots of sugar. After all I don't even like soda. Now butter, oil, fat and cheese are another story. So I chose to lower the sugar and sub in some maple syrup. I wanted the flavor of the rhubarb to come through without masking it with too much sugar. They are still sweet enough to tone down the rhubarb just not "achingly" so.

I also used some whole wheat pastry flour in place of half of the white flour. If you follow this blog that shouldn't surprise you. The extra flavor that it gave to the crust really helped to highlight and bring out the rhubarbs flavor. The only two no votes I have received on them is from my boys. Their friends Silas and Rosalie both loved them, so disliking them is not a kid thing. Oh well, more for Lewis and I.

Before I present the recipe we need to take a moment to talk about a new ingredient I have been playing with. On my last visit to King Arthur Flour I bought a bottle of chocolate extract. Since then I have been adding it to many sweet dishes. I added it to sour milk butternut squash waffles twice this past week and everyone said they were the best. So I added it to the rhubarb bars and we love the end result. I am not sure what it adds, I am sure it is fine without it. I just included it in the recipe for any of you who want to play with a new ingredient. In a dish like this that is not chocolate based it does not make it taste like chocolate, it just adds to the depth of flavor.

Rhubarb Crumb Bars

1 slightly heaping cup rolled oats
1 slightly heaping cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 slightly heaping cup all purpose flour
1 cup sugar (I used raw sugar, the original calls for brown sugar, I was out)
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 cup butter (2 sticks, if using salted only use 1/2 tsp kosher salt) sliced into small pieces or chunks
6 cups rhubarb sliced if from a thin stalk, chopped if from a large stalk (original recipe says about 2 pounds before cleaning and trimming, for me it was 3 huge 2 inch thick stalks and 2 small stalks)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup (I used grade B)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup water
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp chocolate extract (optional, but just so you know this is my not so secret new secret ingredient).

Heat the oven to 400° and heavily grease a baking dish that is 13 x 9 x 2 (or close to those dimensions) with butter. Combine the flours, oats, 1 cup of sugar and salt. Add the pieces of butter and toss everything to coat the butter with flour. Use a pastry blender or your hands to mix the butter into the dry ingredients. If using your hands just rub the butter into the dry ingredients. You want it to be in pea sized pieces.

Reserve a heaping cup of crumbs and then pour the remainder into the prepared baking dish. Press the crumbs into place to form a bottom crust. Spread the sliced/chopped rhubarb evenly over the crust. In a small saucepan combine the white sugar, maple syrup and corn starch. Stir in the water and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens slightly, about five minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the extracts, or extract. Pour the syrup evenly over the rhubarb in the baking dish. Sprinkle the reserved crumbs over the top and bake for ten minutes. After ten minutes turn the heat down to 325° and bake for another hour. Serve warm or at room temperature. I am sure it would be wonderful served with vanilla or maple ice cream, whipped cream or Bird's Custard. We have been eating it plain, I am a little afraid of making it taste better.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Homemade Pizza Perfected

"What's for dinner?" Most days I have to find the answer to this question, even when I haven't gone shopping and I have no inspiration. Monday was one of these days. I arrived home with 2 slightly cranky boys in tow and no ideas for dinner. I feel like I really should have an idea what we are having for dinner by 3, 3:30 at the latest, sometimes 4 but... well, you get the idea. However on Monday we arrived home shortly before 4 with no ideas. However as part of the never ending delivery of junk I received the latest new catalog from King Arthur Flour in the mail which had a tantalizing photo of pizza on the cover.

So we went in the house and the boys immediately began raising a ruckus in the playroom and I started making pizza dough. I decided to more or less follow the recipe in the King Arthur Flour catalog as I have been searching for the perfect crust. However I do not stock, Sir lancelot High Gluten Flour, Hi-maize natural fiber or pizza dough flavor in my kitchen. The major change in the preparation of that nights pizza was prompted by this note in the recipe, "or the crispiest pizza, bake the crust for 8 minutes, until set, before topping with sauce and cheese; then bake for an additional 4 minutes." At first I thought I would follow that advice, but then I decided to use that general method but cook them on the grill instead.

I have been making pizza at home for a while now. My pizza is always good, however it has never been inspired. The toppings and sauce are often wonderful, it is the crust that I have not been happy with. The crust was always fine, everyone happily ate it. However I was not going for fine. I was looking for a crust that was crisp while still being tender and full of flavor. Well that is what I got by grilling it. Well to be perfectly honest, that is what I got on 1 of the 3 pizzas I made. I actually tried three methods of grilling the pizza, just to make sure I knew the best way. I should probably admit, it is also because I am a bit neurotic.

The method that won was to preheat all burners and then cook the dough briefly with no toppings for approximately 3-5 minutes until there were good sear marks on the bottom. On my gas grill I did this with the lid closed, with a charcoal grill I believe you would leave the lid open. Next I removed the pizza dough from the grill and dressed it with sauce, cheese and toppings. To finish the cooking I put the pizza back on the grill over indirect heat, (I turned off half the burners and put the pizza on the side that was off).

For toppings I caramelized an onion and cleaned out my fridge of leftovers. Half a grilled chicken breast, cooked potatoes and sliced pears. I also wanted a green vegetable on the pizza and had nothing in the house. Remember how I said I did not go shopping?

Happily my neighbor had offered me some broccoli volunteers from his garden as garden starts. We have both now planted as many of those as we want, so I pulled up several more of them for the pizza. Broccoli is one of the many vegetables where the tender young plants can be eaten whole. Truly a great thing to remember here in the spring. I just cut off the roots and chopped them up and then mixed them with some olive oil.

Homemade Grilled Pizza

1 3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 1/4 to 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp yeast
1 1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups tepid water (105° - 110°)

Dissolve yeast in the tepid water and mix the ingredients together in a food processor, stand mixer of bread machine to create a smooth soft but not too sticky dough (the dough I made was a little sticky but when I poked it none stuck to my finger). Let the dough rise in a covered bowl for 1 hour before shaping, or let it rise in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. If you let the dough rise in the fridge you will have a more complex flavored crust.

Divide the dough into 3 - 4 pieces. Roll out on a well floured surface to approximately 1/4 inch thick. Don't worry about having perfectly round pizzas, rustic pizza is very popular now. Allow to rise on a greased cookie sheet or parchment paper approximately 30 minutes.

Preheat all burners on your grill on the highest they will go until blazingly hot. Brush the surface of each crust with extra virgin olive oil. To cook place the dough olive oil side down for 3 - 5 minutes with the lid closed if using a gas grill, until there are nice grill marks on the bottom side and the top has bubbles. Take the crusts off and when all of the crusts are pre-grilled turn off the burners on one side. Top the pizzas with sauce, shredded cheese and topping and place over indirect heat (the side that is off) and cook until the cheese is melted, about 4 minutes.

Note: in the winter I will preheat my pizza stone in a 500° oven and prebake the crusts for 8 minutes before topping and finishing to bake.

Pizza Sauce

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves thinly sliced (cut open and sprout removed if any first)
1 quart home canned tomatoes or 28 ounce can tomatoes in own juice
1 jar tomato paste (make sure it is one without added sugar)
Dried oregano
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil and garlic in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the garlic releases its flavor. Stir in the tomatoes and tomato paste and add dried oregano to taste (I used about 1/2 tsp). Cook. stirring occasionally until thick and then add salt and pepper to taste.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Asparagus with Brown Butter

Local asparagus just appeared in the store last week. The appearance of local asparagus means the true start to Vermont spring, it means more choices for local food are coming, it also means we can begin eating it so often that we all become thoroughly sick of it. That way I won't start really hankering for it until January or February, at which point I am so close to the real thing I somehow convince myself to wait. Eating local asparagus is so different from the woody stalks shipped around the country that the wait is worth it.

Asparagus is one of those vegetables that my children love. That is, they love it if prepared exactly to their tastes. I do understand, some preparation methods can result in a stringy tough stalk. Neither one of them will touch boiled or even steamed asparagus.

They prefer the sugars in the asparagus to caramelize and even have some spots of brown. Until last year this meant roasting or grilling. However late in the season last year I was searching for a new way to make it and stumbled upon Jack Bishops "Pan Browned Asparagus with Brown Butter."

Like grilling and roasting this recipe caramelizes some of the sugars, resulting in a sweeter flavor. It also retains some of the crisp tender quality that my children require, or to be more precise is not stringy. In addition the brown butter melds with the asparagus and makes the flavor smoother, silkier and richer. When I make grilled and roasted asparagus Sebastian will not eat the tips and I get extra of my favorite part. With this recipe the sumptuous flavor is the most perfect in the tips and Sebastian eats the whole thing. I have noticed he even saves the tips for last.

Pan Browned Asparagus with Browned Butter
From Vegetables Every Day by Jack Bishop

2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 pounds thin or medium asparagus, ends snapped off where they naturally break
Kosher Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a large skillet set over medium heat. Place the asparagus in the skillet in a single layer (I don't always have the space for a single layer, if so shake the pan occasionally to rearrange the asparagus). Season with kosher salt to taste. Cover the pan and cook until crisp tender, 5 to 7 minutes.

Remove the cover, raise the heat to medium high and cook, shaking the pan occasionally to turn them, until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer the asparagus to a serving platter with a slotted spoon or tongs. Season with pepper and serve immediately. (or, you can tell your family to wait while you just take 30 photos of the finished dish for your blog).

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Winter Squash Whole Wheat Bread

I admit it, I was formerly one of those people who looked down on bread machines. I am now having trouble remembering my pedestal, something about not being able to adjust the recipe for the current conditions and batch of flour, not getting your hands in the dough etc. Ironically enough, when I was the most insufferable about it we often bought mass produced bread in the store, the sandwhich loaf kind that is always soft and the recipe is never adjusted for the flour or humidity.

Amongst my freinds I was not alone in this snobbery, as part of her "25 random things about me" on Facebook a friend posted that she used to think bread machines were cheating until she got one. She also apologized to those who used them while she thought that. That item in my friends list began the process of chipping away at my negative attitude about bread machines. But when I first read it I admit I might have been a bit smug about my bread making, while ignoring that sometimes I wished people would stop eating it so fast.

Then I helped a friend acquire a bread machine from Goodwill. After delivering it to her I immediately regretted not keeping it for myself, what with the tales of waking up to fresh bread etc. So the next time someone posted a bread machine on Freecycle I arranged for Lewis to pick it up. I may have admitted it might be a nice addition, but I did not have to be involved in the transaction.

Lewis picked up the machine while I was at work and immediately found a simple white bread recipe and made it for snack that night. My children refused to eat it, and to be honest so did their parents. Lewis really enjoys the foods we eat, the whole wheat flour, the vegetables etc. However when Lewis gets in the kitchen he sometimes seems to forget that and makes white bread or prepares a stir fry where the only seasoning is butter, (in fairness the stir fry was 17 years ago). So with boring tasteless white bread as its inaugural voyage I left the bread machine in the basement for a month.

However the last month has been really busy for me. At the beginning of the month we went away to New York City for Passover, bringing a local Vermont Brisket with us and preparing a seder for my family in my dad's apartment. Then right after we got back I started to work for the 2010 census with a week of training. I am really enjoying my work for the census. The training could have been awful if it wasn't such a great group of people. Our supervisor apologized at the start that he had to read the manual to us verbatim. However as part of the hiring process we were all asked if we would have a problem asking people personal questions. The fact we all said no, this did not bother us means the entire group was outgoing and friendly. The test we had to take to be hired also means everyone was smart and as luck would have it quick witted. However the training did not leave me any time to bake, there was even homework in the evenings.

After the training was over, all the time I would usually spend baking bread has been filled with knocking on doors asking people what their address is and then mapping the location of the buildings. I have learned a lot about my city and I have also been missing some of my free time. So I decided to use the new to me bread machine.

I started with a bread recipe that I have made before using my stand mixer. The recipe is really a bread machine recipe. It is from the blog "Have Cake Will Travel" and is a vegan pumpkin whole wheat bread. I have made a few changes, some because we are not vegan and I avoid butter substitutes. As I have mentioned before we don't eat foods that need a lab to produce them. Also some of the changes just make it easier to make and I have discovered do not have an impact on the end result. Also we like a mix of white and whole wheat flour, although you could go ahead and make this with all whole wheat flour if you want, I am sure it would still be great. I use butternut squash puree in the bread because I have it stored in my freezer. You can use any winter squash puree, or even canned pumpkin from the grocery store. Just make sure to buy the pumpkin puree that does not have added sugar etc for pie.

When I made it the first time in the Bread Machine I got the go ahead from Sebastian. We need bread to go lunch for school so his buy in is important. However he is still 6, and when a round slice first appeared on his plate he refused it. Darn children and their survival instincts for foraging in the wild and avoiding foreign foods. My children are not gathering food in the forest, so I would really like them to stop mistrusting new foods. By the next loaf though both Julian and Sebastian loved the new bread and happily began gobbling it down. And now I can continue to make our bread, even when I am super busy or it is too hot out to turn on the oven. We can all hope I will still make bread with my stand mixer occasionally...

Winter Squash Whole Wheat Bread

1 cup winter squash puree
1 Tbsp butter at warm room temperature or melted (you could sub oil if you want)
1/2 cup water
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar (I use what ever sugar I am in the mood for, brown, sugar in the raw, turbinado, maple sugar...)
1 Tbsp vital wheat gluten (optional, especially if you use some white flour)
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 3/4 tsp yeast

Place the ingredients in your bread machine in the order listed. Turn it on and let the machine make you bread.

(A note on measuring flour. When using a bread machine it is important to measure accurately as you will not have a chance to adjust the quantity of flour while kneading. Spoon the flour into the measuring cup and level it off with a knife. The amount of four I get when using this method id vastly different from when I use the measuring cup to scoop up the flour and then leveling with the knife, or sometimes just wiggling the cup to level.)

If you don't have a bread machine you can still make this, because bread has been around for a long time and bread machines are a new thing. Just put the yeast in the water and allow to stand until bubbly in the bowl of your stand mixer. Add the butter, squash puree, sugar, salt and vital wheat gluten. With the mixer on low add the flour until the bread forms a ball that pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Continue kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic.