Rhubarb Lavender Crumble

Note: I made this again on May 22 for my adviser’s going away party and tweaked the recipe a bit. Instead of white flour, I used whole wheat flour, more rhubarb, and more ginger. Dare I say it was even better. I think it could even use a few squirts of lemon juice the next time.

I have always loved the smell of lavender. My friend Kim and I took a lavender cooking class years ago to learn how to use it in the kitchen beyond making tea. We learned that the key to using lavender is to use the right amount; use too much and you’ll feel as though you are eating or drinking perfume. After some experimentation, my favorite way to use it is in creme brulee, ice cream, shortbread cookies, and grilled salmon. If you are fond of lamb, it’s flavor supposedly compliments the meat very well. A few days ago I stumbled across a recipe for Rhubarb Lavender Crumble just as I received a huge bundle of rhubarb in my produce box. The following experiment was meant to be.

This was the perfect dessert in every way. The lavender and toasted almonds gave it an earthy flavor and crunchy texture. The rhubarb added a tartness that seemed as though we had added lemon juice to the mix. We realized that we were out of vanilla ice cream so we walked across the street to buy a quart of vanilla ice cream with 12 minutes left on the timer. Alex is already on seconds and I’ve eaten half of his bowl. There is something so fantastically “summer” about a piping hot crisp and fresh cold vanilla ice cream. It almost doesn’t matter that it’s 48 degrees and drizzling outside.

I’ll definitely be making this again as it was easy to throw together (Alex did most of it) and it tastes insanely delicious. Next time, I might substitute whole wheat flour for the topping to add in some nutritional value. Or not.

Rhubarb Lavender Crumble
9×13 pan of rhubarb crumble – serves 4-8

2 pounds fresh rhubarb, leaves removed and discarded
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
Pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon dried lavender buds

Heat the oven to 375°F. Prepare a 9×13 pan by greasing lightly with butter or with oil spray. Cut the rhubarb stalks into small pieces – about the size of your knuckle. They should be evenly sized. Toss with the sugar, honey, and salt. Rub the lavender between your hands, crushing it into the rhubarb. Stir everything and spread evenly in the baking pan.

Crumble topping

1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
Spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger
Pinch of salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Nuts (optional)
Water or milk

Mix the dry ingredients. Stir in the melted butter. Add just enough water or milk so that the mix comes together in loose clumps – not too wet. Stir in the nuts, if using (we used walnuts). Dot the fruit with the mixture evenly.

Spread the crumble topping over the rhubarb.

Final topping

3/4 cup sliced and toasted almonds
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup brown sugar

Melt the butter, toasted almonds, and brown sugar together in the microwave or in a small saucepan, and dot over the crumble topping.

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Bake at 375°F for 40-45 minutes, or until the topping is lightly browned. Let cool for at least 15 minutes, then serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!

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Birthday banana bread

Yesterday was my dear friend Lakshmi’s 30th birthday. We exchange numerous emails back and forth every day about what we’re eating, making for dinner, or dreaming about baking up on weekends. I don’t remember which of us found this coconut pineapple vegan banana bread, but once we did it became the master project for her birthday dinner. Unfortunately, I didn’t leave it in the oven long enough and the middle was still mushy. Let’s hope the toaster can correct for that. Happy Birthday Lakshmi!

2 large or 3 small very ripe bananas
1/4 cup crushed pineapple, drained
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
generous pinch of ground ginger
pinch of allspice
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease and flour a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.

In a large mixing bowl, mash the bananas really well. Add the sugar, pineapple, and oil and whisk briskly to incorporate.

Sift in the flour, baking soda, spices, and salt. Use a wooden spoon to mix until the wet and dry ingredients are just combined.  Fold in the coconut.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and sprinkle with extra sugar if you’d like.  Bake for 45 to 50 minutes. The top should be lightly browned and a knife inserted through the center should come out clean.

Remove from the oven and let cool for 20 minutes before transferring out of a pan and onto a wire rack to cool completely.

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Combining family traditions

I’ve been collecting jam, peanut butter, and chutney jars over the last several months to prepare for fruit season this summer. Apparently, there are blackberry bushes all over the parks in Seattle and people go picking whenever they have a berry, tart, or pie craving. Can you imagine, free berries?! While I’ve never made jam, I’m excited to start experimenting this summer. I have countless memories of my mom and Grammy making jam in our kitchen when I was little. They would gather a bunch of fruit from our orchard and then spend a day or two stewing it down, sterilizing the jars, and labeling them with the fruit and date. If I remember right, they made strawberry, apricot, and peach. Probably more. My Grammy recently told me that she was saving the jars for me which I will take ownership of when I head back to the Bay Area this summer. I can’t wait to ask her how old they are.

Tonight I put a few of my own new jars to the test with my mother-in-law’s lemon butter recipe. Her own grandmother made lemon butter and it’s now her tradition to give it away at Christmas. I halved the recipe and will be giving none away.

I wonder how long my own jars will survive and what delightful recipes will be made in and shared from them in years to come.

Full recipe for the Roetter Family Lemon Curd

Grated rind and juice of 8 lemons (rind is optional, but it adds a lot of zing)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut up (1 stick)
2 1/2 cups sugar
8 eggs, lightly beaten

Melt the butter with the lemon juice, rind, and sugar in the microwave. Don’t let it get too hot or the eggs will curdle when you add them. In a separate bowl beat the eggs lightly, and pour them through a strainer into the lukewarm lemon mixture.  Microwave on high for 2 minutes, then whisk thoroughly. Return to the microwave for one minute, approximately four times, whisking vigorously in between. The mixture will be somewhat thick, don’t over cook it or it will curdle. It sets up further in the refrigerator. Pour the lemon butter through a strainer into another bowl. Pour into jars, bring to room temperature, cover and refrigerate. It lasts 6 weeks, if it isn’t gobbled up sooner. If you do make smaller quantities, shorten the amount of time in the microwave for each stage.

Biscotti for the brain

I don’t know if I invited my friends over this morning to study or to eat brunch. Does it really matter?

Last week I got my hands on David Lebovitz’s latest book, Ready for Dessert, at the library and decided to try his Almond and Chocolate Chunk Biscotti. The recipe read well and was easy to prepare. (I always get nervous about forming the logs but his remedy for that is to dampen your hands first to prevent sticking- genius!) Biscotti appeal to me because they will satisfy a sugar craving yet aren’t too sweet that I feel guilty about eating more than one in one sitting.  Just ask my study-mates…

Ingredients

2.5 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
7 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped into 1/2 inch chunks (or 1.5 cups chocolate chips)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and the baking powder. In a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, whisk the eggs, sugar, and vanilla on medium until the mixture thickens and holds its shape, about 5 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, stir the flour mixture into the egg mixture, then mix in the almonds and chocolate.

On a lightly floured work surface, divide the dough in half. Using dampened hands (again, crucial step!), shape each half into a log 3 inches in diameter. Set the logs lengthwise on the prepared baking sheet, evenly spacing them apart. Dampen your hands and smooth the surface of the logs.

Bake, rotating the sheet midway through baking, until the logs are lightly browned, about 20 minutes. (They will flatten out while baking.) Remove the baking sheet from the oven and decrease the oven temperature to 300F. Let the logs cool on the baking sheet for 10-15 minutes.

After the first go in the oven

After the first go in the oven

Transfer the logs to a cutting board. With a serrated bread knife, cut each log diagonally into slices 1/2 inch thick. Place the cookies, cut sides up, in a single layer on the baking sheet. If necessary, use 2 sheets. Bake until the biscotti are firm, about 20 minutes, flipping them midway through baking. Let cool completely; they’ll continue to firm up as they cool.

The final product

The final product

Storage: The biscotti will keep in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Purple carrots?

Have you ever seen purple carrots? These beauties appeared in my produce box today. They bleed a purple beet color when you slice into them and taste less sweet than their orange siblings. I love to try all the odd varieties of produce that come in the food box (or hippie box as some have termed it) every other week. I wonder how long my tongue will be purple…

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Update from my awesome friend Heather who is working towards her RD/MPH:

“Anthocyanin – another type of pigment, is what makes purple carrots purple. Anthocyanin is a powerful antioxidant within plants (making it resistant to things including pests) and then, in flowers, they make the plant attractive to things that would pollinate it. But when consumed by us, it doesn’t seem to have any nutritional value (bummer).  But, still, they look REALLY cool 🙂 and apparently are supposed to add an astringency to food.” She also said wild carrots were purple first. Crazy, huh? Last but not least, she left me with this website: http://www.carrotmuseum.co.uk/history.html. Enjoy!

Springtime soup

Today Alex offered to pre-make some dinners for me since he is working from the Bay Area this week. I decided to take him up on his generous offer and gave him a recipe I’ve been meaning to try: Springtime Barley & Mushroom Soup from Anna Thomas’ Love Soup. Other than substituting chicken broth for veggie broth and adding a little more fennel than the recipe called for, he followed the directions (right down to the creme fraiche at the end!) perfectly. I’m as happy as can be knowing I have this delicious springtime soup waiting for me at home this week. Not as good as Alex himself, but it’ll do for a few days…

Springtime Barley and Mushroom Soup
(serves 6-7 but he doubled it)

2/3 cup pearl barley
8-9 cups basic light veggie broth (Alex used chicken broth)
2 TB olive oil
1.5 cups chopped leeks, white part
12 oz white button or oyster mushrooms
1 clove garlic, minced
sea salt
8 oz fresh green asparagus
1 large fennel bulb
2 TB chopped fresh dill, plus more to taste (I’m not a dill fan yet I love the soup.)
2 TB fresh lemon juice
freshly ground pepper
optional: dill sprigs, creme fraiche

Rinse the barley and combine it in a medium soup pot with 4 cups broth. Simmer it over very low heat, covered, for about an hour, or until it is tender.

Heat a TB of olive oil in a nonstick saute pan and cook the leeks over a medium flame until they are just soft, about 5-7 minutes. Stir the leeks into the barley.

Rinse the mushrooms and slice them thinly, cutting them in halves or quarters first if they are large. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan and stir the garlic over a medium flame for a minute or two before adding the mushrooms. Salt them lightly and saute them until they sizzle and begin to color, about 10 minutes.

Trim the asparagus and slice the stalks thinly, at an angle. Cut the trimmed fennel bulb (discard the middle part) into wedges lengthwise, then slice the wedges thinly crosswise.

Add the mushrooms, asparagus, fennel, and dill to the barley and leeks, along with 4 more cups broth (we only added 3 more cups since the mushrooms put out so much broth on their own). Simmer the soup, covered, for about 15 minutes, or until all the veggies are tender but not mushy. Stir in the lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste. Garnish the soup with dill sprigs or a spoonful of creme fraiche. Serve immediately or cool to room temperature before adding to plastic/glass containers to eat later.

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Another way: The book says to try this soup with fresh morels if you can find them. There will be more work in cleaning the wild mushrooms but the soup will be fantastic.

Tuna with flageolet beans and radicchio

I’m still on a bean kick (just ordered 4 lbs worth from the nice folks over at Zursun) so I was excited when I found the following recipe in A Twist of the Wrist by Nancy Silverton: Seared Rare Tuna with Mashed Flageolet Beans and Radicchio. I couldn’t find any flageolet beans at Whole Foods so I used great northern beans instead. Wow. What a fantastic, simple, yet delicious recipe. The wilted radicchio and olive oil together with the presentation really step it up a notch so that you feel as though you are eating a meal prepared in a fancy restaurant. I’ll definitely be making this one again!

Beans:

1/4 cup plus 2 TB extra virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, grated or minced (about 2 tsp), I used more
1 15 oz can flageolet beans, rinsed and drained (or cook up 1.5 cups dried beans)
2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves (makes a huge difference to use fresh)
2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp aged balsamic vinegar (don’t use your everyday version here as it will make the beans taste too acidic)

Tuna:

4 6 oz sushi-grade tuna steaks (1-1.5 inches thick)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup canola oil (or other neutral-flavored oil), plus extra for searing radicchio if necessary (definitely wasn’t for us)
8 large whole radicchio leaves
High-quality extra virgin olive oil for drizzling (very important to use a good one as it adds a lot of flavor to the final dish)
Aged balsamic vinegar, for drizzling
Lemon, for squeezing over fish (I forgot about this step and still enjoyed the dish)

To make the beans, heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil with the garlic over medium-high heat and cook for about 1.5 minutes, until the garlic is soft and fragrant, stirring consistently so the garlic doesn’t brown. Turn up the heat to high, add the beans, rosemary, salt, and 1/4 cup water, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the beans for 2 minutes until they are tender enough to smash with a fork. Transfer the beans and their cooking liquid to a large mortar or bowl (I mashed them in the original pot). Add the remaining 2 TB of olive oil and the balsamic vinegar, and mash with a pestle or masher until the beans are mashed but still slightly chunky. Add a few drops of warm water if necessary to obtain a creamy, spoonable consistency.

Rinse the tuna steaks under cool water, pat them dry with paper towels, and season both sides with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Heat the canola oil in a large heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat for 2-3 minutes, until the oil is almost smoking (you will begin to smell the oil at that point). Place the tuna steaks in the pan and sear for 1 minute for rare or 1.5 minutes for medium-rare on each side. Transfer to a plate to rest.

If the skillet is dry (ours wasn’t), add enough canola oil to coat it and heat it over high heat. Put 4 radicchio leaves in the skillet in a single layer and cook them for about 45 seconds on each side, until they are seared and slightly wilted (this took about 20 seconds for me). Remove the leaves from the skillet and place two leaves on each of the two plates. Cook remaining leaves in the same way, adding oil if necessary.

Spoon the mashed beans onto the radicchio, dividing them evenly and smashing them down slightly to create a bed for the tuna. Drizzle each serving of beans with the high-quality olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and pepper. Place the steaks first-seared side up on top of the beans, drizzle them with the juices from the plate they were resting on, and squeeze a few drops of lemon juice over them. Voila!

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Risotto bliss

I’ve been craving risotto ever since I realized how much chicken stock was leftover from making soup this weekend. I turned to my old standby, The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters, and was not disappointed. I bought this cookbook for myself, my mom, and my mother-in-law several years ago and am always amazed at how simple yet delicious the recipes are. I guess that’s what they were going for with the title but it’s actually true!

Tonight Alex and I made the Asparagus and Lemon Risotto but we swapped zucchini and green onions for the asparagus and regular onion. The lemon is a refreshing touch and the flavors came together beautifully. I can’t wait to try it with asparagus next time.

Snap off the ends of: 1 lb asparagus and cut the spears on the diagonal into 1/4-inch pieces. Remove the zest from 1 lemon. Cut it in half and squeeze out the juice. Melt in a heavy-bottomed 2.5-3 qt saucepan over medium heat: 2 TB butter. Add 1 small onion, diced fine. Cook until the onion is soft and translucent (I dare you not to nibble on the caramelized green onions). Add 1.5 cups arborio rice and cook, stirring now and then, until translucent, about 4 minutes. Do not let it brown. Meanwhile, bring to a boil and then turn off: 5 cups chicken broth. Stir the lemon zest into the sauteed rice, then pour in: 1/2 cup dry white wine. Cook, stirring fairly often, until all the wine is absorbed. Add 1 cup of the warm chicken broth and cook at a vigorous simmer, stirring occasionally. When the rice starts to get thick, pour another 1/2 cup of the broth and add some salt. Keep adding broth, 1/2 cup at a time, every time the rice thickens. Don’t let it dry out. After 12 minutes stir in the asparagus. Cook until the rice is tender but still has a firm core, 20-30 minutes in all. When the rice is just about done, stir in half of the lemon juice and: 1 TB butter and 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese. Stir vigorously to develop the creamy starch. Taste for salt and lemon juice, adding more as needed. Turn off the heat, let risotto sit uncovered for 2 minutes, and serve.

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Beans and soup

This time last week I was walking around the Presidio in San Francisco with a sunburned nose. This morning I walked to ballet class wearing three layers, a raincoat, gloves, and a wool hat. I’ve been mourning the loss of spring break and warm weather by hoarding my cabinet full of heirloom beans and researching soup recipes to make in the slow cooker. The apartment is freezing but at least it smells good!

I found The Gourmet Slow Cooker, Simple and Sophisticated Meals from Around the World at the library next door and chose to make the Tuscan White Bean Soup using stock I made this week from a roasted chicken dinner. It was hearty, delicious, and even healthy. The recipe makes enough for 4-6 servings so I’ll be adding this to the freezer for late nights at school.

Ingredients:

2 cups dried white beans

6-8 cups water (I used homemade chicken stock)

1 carrot, peeled and firmly chopped

1 yellow onion, finely choped

1 celery stock, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 sprig thyme (I used dried)

1 14.5 oz can crushed tomatoes

Salt

4-6 TB olive oil, for garnish

Freshly grated Parm, for garnish

I soaked 2 cups of Rancho Gordo cannellini beans overnight, drained them this morning, and added them to the slow cooker. Cover with fresh water or broth and add the carrot, onion, garlic, thyme, celery, and tomatoes and stir well. You can also add a ham bone or parmesan rind to add more flavor. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours until the carrot and beans are very tender. Stir in salt to taste and remove the thyme. Garnish each serving with 1TB olive oil and a sprinkle of cheese. Yum!

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