Posts tagged rhubarb
Posts tagged rhubarb
Sipping Homemade Soda and Sweating
Dave recently purchased a digital thermometer for Bear’s room, which is how I can tell you with some accuracy that it reached 90% humidity INSIDE OUR HOUSE today. Basically, it’s about to rain inside. And it’s hot. I mean, for Maine. It’s Maine hot.
Which is actually kind of hot since central AC is not as universal here as it is in say, DC. So when it gets 90 degrees outside with 90% humidity, it can very well be 90 degrees and 90% humidity inside, too. The only time it was 90 degrees and 90% humidity inside in DC was on the Metro (it takes a lot to make a Prius-driving vermicomposting liberal hate public transportation, but the DC Metro managed to do just that).
I’ve gotten off track.
It’s cold beverage weather.
I was chatting about rhubarb with the woman working at our CSA pick-up the other week, and she mentioned that she made a rhubarb simple syrup that she’s been drinking with seltzer for a DIY soda. I’ve been making rhubarb compote for ice cream and yogurt and toast with ricotta, but it hadn’t ever occurred to me to make a simple syrup. And since I’m still nursing, a good mocktail is really appealing.
I can’t believe I just wrote “mocktail.” But it’s a really lovely light soda, perfect for early evening when you might otherwise have a mojito, say, or a gin and tonic.
Make rhubarb simple syrup:
Mix all ingredients together and bring to a boil. Stir until sugar is dissolved, turn off heat, and let sit for…a little while. 1/2 hour?
Strain out the rhubarb pieces, pressing on the solids.
Combine 1 - 2 tablespoons rhubarb simple syrup with seltzer.
Leftover simple syrup can be stored in the fridge.
It’s little baby rhubarb! She’s gotten so big! (see here to compare)
I transplanted her maybe a month ago during that brief really warm spell we had.* If you recall, I thought she was a goner when I saw the forecast for a series of cold days with hard freezes, but I took mar-see-ah's advice and covered her up with mulch and she's doing really well now.
One leaf got a little ripped up in the burying process, but look at all the other leaves! As a gesture of gratitude I decided that I’m not going to harvest any rhubarb this year to give her time to really establish herself.**
If all goes well, this is what she should look like:
The leaves are great in terms of having a healthy plant, but ultimately you want a lot of stalk, since that’s the edible part.
* I know it was too early to be planting things, but she had been growing at my dad’s old house that was being sold at the end of March, so I didn’t have the option to wait.
** And also for me to get a soil test done so I don’t give myself lead poisoning.
Meet little baby rhubarb. I transplanted planted her just a few weeks ago. Look how well she’s doing! Look how big she is!
We’re supposed to get a hard freeze tonight. Farewell, little baby rhubarb.
My cake looked nothing like this, by the way.
I’m not a big baker. I bake at times, because sometimes the making of food requires baking. And sometimes a person wants a good cream cheese brownie with almondy-ness and that’s going to be hard to buy. But for instance, in a breakfast situation, I almost always prefer some fruit or oatmeal or eggs or smoked salmon to a muffin or coffee cake. I also don’t love cake that much. I mean, I like cake. But I don’t feel about cake the way I feel about pie. For instance. Or ice cream. Or even, on a hot day, a good tart frozen yogurt. Yes, I love carrot cake, but that’s almost more because it is the most perfect vehicle for cream cheese frosting. By the way, if you live in DC, Red Velvet Cupcakery in Penn Quarter on E Street makes fantastic red velvet cupcakes. Again, really good vehicle for cream cheese frosting. But we’re getting off track. My point is, it doesn’t often occur to me to make cake.
So I was whining about buttermilk, and Anna suggested this cake recipe from now-defunct Gourmet magazine.* I had been planning to make a buttermilk pudding, but that got only so-so reviews on epicurious (to be fair, it only had four reviews. Two of them had comments about the pudding not setting quite firmly enough, but it’s hard to know if that’s significant when n=4, you know?). So I switched to the cake.
I used rhubarb instead of raspberries, in part because I love rhubarb, but also because I picked maybe more rhubarb than I technically needed.**
It was fantastic. It was light and moist and the rhubarb worked wonderfully. It was the perfect amount of sweet. It was everything you would hope for cake to be. It was cake that redeems cake for those of us who have generally mixed feelings about cake.
Photo from the Life Photo Archive on Google. Taken in 1939 by David E. Scherman. Here’s the caption: “Mrs. Ernest Humphrey Daniels offering a cake during cake sale held by the American Federation of Women’s Clubs.”
* No, I am still not over it.
** I carefully arranged the rhubarb into a nice set of concentric circles, but they just sank into the cake as it cooked, so don’t bother.
Yesterday was a rough day for buttermilk. I thought it had gone bad, it had not gone bad, it got used in a salad dressing that disappointed me. But today! Today buttermilk redeemed itself.
1. I made buttermilk muffins with rhubarb. I used the Joy of Cooking recipe, which, though it involved flipping to three different pages, was fantastic. The muffins were light and moist and a little bit tangy with chunks of sour rhubarb. So tasty.
I used their buttermilk muffin recipe, which is just an adaptation of their sour cream muffin recipe, along with the blueberry or cranberry muffin adaptation. I’m going to piece the different parts together here:
Buttermilk Muffins with Rhubarb
All your ingredients should be at room temperature, so let the buttermilk and egg warm up for an hour or two first. It also helps to melt the butter early on and let it cool a little.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Grease a muffin tin with butter.
Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and baking soda together into a medium bowl.
Mix the buttermilk, egg, and melted butter together in a separate bowl.
(You should have all the ingredients prepared at this point with the tins greased and the oven preheated so you can cook the muffins immediately.) Pour the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture and stir once or twice. Add the rhubarb pieces and quickly fold the batter together. The Joy of Cooking has a long section about how you’re supposed to keep the mixing here to an absolute minimum: “a light stirring of from 10 to 20 seconds, which will leave some lumps. Ignore them. The dough should not be mixed to the point of pouring […] but should break in course globs.” The key here is you don’t want gluten to develop, which will make the muffins tough and chewy.
Spoon the batter into the tins. The recipe says this makes 2 dozen 2-inch muffins, but it made exactly one dozen in my tins (which aren’t huge by today’s standards). Bake for 20 - 25 minutes.
"They really are best eaten at once." Do with that information what you will. I took it to mean I should have three immediately.
2. I had the leftover dressing on a salad of greens and avocado and it was perfectly good.
3. I found a recipe for buttermilk pudding. The sauce calls for mixed berries, but I’m going to adapt it to use rhubarb and strawberries, because that’s what I’ve got and I love rhubarb.
I picked a whole bunch of rhubarb at my dad’s today and am now contemplating recipes. Cannot wait.
Also, there was mint, which means I got home and had a big mojito. I feel a lot of guilt about ordering mojitos at bars, because they’re pretty labor intensive, but they’re perfect for making home (by the way, I used the lime slices that were pre-cut in the baggy in the fridge). They’re also perfect if you grow mint, because mint is crazy prolific and a mojito takes a ton of mint.**
Even better, on the way home, we stopped at the New Hampshire Liquor Store and bought bourbon for mint juleps. We got Jim Beam instead of Maker’s Mark accidentally, but that’s okay. I’ll find a way to manage.
There was no hunting involved, actually, except that I found a dead mouse in the barn and my dad picked it up and threw it into the trees in the back yard.
I am so excited for summer.
* I like mojitos so much that I went to Miami more or less for the sole purpose of drinking mojitos. Also my husband has close friends in Miami. But I was in it mostly for the sunshine and the minty drinks.
I have noticed in the past few years that the grocery store has been stocking rhubarb, generally a small amount, year-round, for about $5/lb (at least). I love rhubarb, but I cannot bring myself to buy it out of season at the grocery store. It was not until I moved to DC and away from my rhubarb sources that I realized that I might have to buy it at all. I have moved back, and those sad, dark days are over. Rhubarb season is approaching, and I cannot wait.
Once rhubarb establishes itself somewhere, it’s really prolific. It’s also a sort of strange and wonderful looking plant— like an enormous hosta with giant elephant-ear leaves and red stems (see photo above of the rhubarb at my dad’s house last week). What you need to do is find people who grow rhubarb and cajole them into letting you pick some. I once heard a farmer at the farmer’s market say that it doesn’t matter how red the stems are. I am willing to allow that this is possibly true (although I suspect he himself was feasting on great plates of the reddest stems, and trying to convince us it was okay to buy the big green leftover stalks), but I always pick the reddest stems I can find and try to avoid the really thick green stems. If you have located a source, and they’re letting you pick the stems yourself (in which case, congratulations), get your hand around the stem near the base and try to pull it cleanly out in the direction that it’s growing so it doesn’t break off. Also, if someone is growing rhubarb, they likely have a compost heap. Pull the leaves off the stems and leave them in their compost bin before you go, because the leaves are poisonous and enormous and, if you live in an apartment, not really something you want to deal with at home.
My dad grows rhubarb in a big patch near the barn (next to the horseradish, and, at one point, strawberries, and although you can sometimes still find an errant strawberry in there, they were really no match for the rhubarb and horseradish horticulturally). I have been picking rhubarb and making this dish since I was really little, and it is the light of my life every year during rhubarb season.
Another photo of the rhubarb at my dad’s house, this time with stems.
Strawberry Rhubarb Compote
You can make this with just rhubarb, but I like the mix of strawberry and rhubarb. I often use frozen strawberries, obviously if you have good fresh in-season strawberries, you can use those. If you use frozen strawberries, don’t bother to thaw first.
1. Combine the ingredients in a saucepan. I’ve seen recipes that tell you to let them sit until the rhubarb extrudes water. I never do this. I add just enough water so that things don’t stick to the bottom of the saucepan as they start to cook.
2. Bring to boil, then simmer, stirring occasionally, until everything is tender and sauce-y but before it all falls apart completely (10 minutes? 15 minutes? I don’t know really). You want some chunks of fruit remaining.
3. Cool, then refrigerate.
Here is where the magic happens:
For breakfast, spread ricotta on toast and then top with the compote. This is without question my favorite breakfast in the entire world. It just does not get better than toast with ricotta and rhubarb strawberry compote.**
You can serve the compote on vanilla ice cream, which is also my favorite.
I imagine it’s good on top of oatmeal.
* Rhubarb is very tart, so you’ll need sugar, but not so much that the tartness disappears. If you’ve got a fair amount of rhubarb (4 cups chopped, maybe?) try a 1/4 or 1/2 cup sugar and see how that goes. I usually add a bunch of sugar at the outset, and then taste and add more if it needs it towards the end of the cooking. I wish I could provide more guidance, but this isn’t really something that I ever measure out, and the inherent sweetness of the rhubarb and strawberries can vary a huge amount.
** Rhubarb is also a vegetable, so you are eating vegetables at breakfast. Awesome, no?