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Brewer Burns

Monday, June 20, 2005

Rhubarb, Part II

Okay, so I did a little research and found a site-- www.rhubarbinfo.com-- that explained the poison found in rhubarb. Apparently rhubarb contains an acid which, in large quantities, can make you sick or even kill you. However, the acid is mostly contained in the leaves, and even then you would have to eat a large amount, like 11 pounds, for it to actually kill you. There are also much smaller amounts of the acid in the stalks, but again you would probably have to eat 25 pounds of the stalks for it to kill you. So, don't eat the leaves and don't eat superhuman quantities of the stalks and you should be fine. And, for the record, rhubarb is a vegatble. Not a fruit.

Rhubarb Pie-- June 14, 2005

As I mentioned in my previous post I had a couple of pounds of rhubarb in my fridge from the farmer's market. And what do you do with two pounds of rhubarb? You make rhubarb pie of course. In my case you make the rhubarb lattice pie from the April issue of Bon Appetit. Have I mentioned my love affair with Bon Appetit? I love it, even though I can't always afford the ingredients for some of the dishes.

Just as a side note, if you don't know what rhubarb is, then you are really missing out. It is vegetable/fruit which grows from a plant, close to the ground like broccoli or cabbage, but you eat the stalks. They are really very similar to celery in appearance and texture but the stalks are usually variegated and go from green to red. They are sweet/tart and really tasty. However, some people might be turned off by the tartness. I love it. Also, I think I read somewhere that you're not supposed to eat rhubarb raw because it's poisonous but I have to say that's bullshit because I used to eat rhubarb raw a lot when I was young because it grew wild around my parent's house. So, either it's not really poisonous or I have an immunity to it because I can't ever even remember getting sick from it. Anyway though, consider yourself warned. Raw rhubarb may be poisonous, but maybe I'll try to find out for sure.

Okay, the pie. First you make the crust. The crust is two cups of flour, ice water, sugar, salt and 3/4 c. cold butter, cut into tablespoons. You cut all of this together either with a pastry cutter, two knives, or use your handy dandy cuisinart food processor like I did. Really, it's the most useful gadget in my kitchen. Once it's all mixed up together you form it into two unequal balls. One should be slightly larger than the other. Then you refrigerate it for at least an hour and up to a day. While the dough is hardening in the fridge you can prepare the rhubarb. It is a little time consuming.

You cut the rhubarb into one inch pieces. Then you put it into a skillet with 1/4 c. orange juice (I squeezed mine fresh from an orange), 2/3 c. sugar, orange zest (from the orange I had juiced) and 2 tsp. cardamom. You heat it all up together until it boils then you lower the heat to medium, cover and let it cook until the rhubarb is tender (less than 10 minutes.) Then you remove the rhubarb from the skillet and put it in a colander with a bowl underneath it and let it drain. When the rhubarb is well drained you put the drained liquid from the bowl back into the skillet and bring it all back up to boil. Allow it to boil until the liquid reduces to 2/3 c. and thickens. Remove from heat. Add 1/4 c. strawberry preserves. Now, I would like to say here that I actually allowed the syrup to set a little too much. It was really like a jelly stuck to the pan when I was done so that I had to scrape the bottom a bit when I mixed in the jam to get it to all come together. It wasn't burnt but it was a little too thick. Too thick for easy handling or pot washing anyway. So maybe you should keep a closer eye on it then I did? Just a thought since I was happy with the finished product. When it's all cool you add the rhubarb back in and stir it up.

Then you roll out the dough, the bigger ball for the bottom crust and the smaller ball for the top crust. The recipe actually provides for a lattice top, but I didn't do that because I thought the pie was going to need some added stability because I do not a have a nine inch glass pie pan. I have bad, bad pie pans, and one good one. I used the good one so as to avoid having to use the bad, bad, aluminum, rusting, flaking pie pans. Anyway, I just used a solid top crust with some holes in the top. So, you put the bottom crust in the pie pan, then the filling from the skillet, then put on the top crust, lattice or otherwise. Then you brush the top crust with a mixture of 1 tbl. whipping cream and 2 tsp. sugar. Then bake in a 375 degree oven for 55 minutes.

It was delicious. The whipping cream and sugar glaze on the top crust just makes it more sugary and delicious. The filling is sweet, but a little tart from the rhubarb. My only complaint about the pie is that mine was a little flat. However, I'm sure it was my fault for not using the right pie pan. I just need better baking tools. I'm working with hand me downs and so on when it comes to that and it leaves something to be desired. Anyway, next time I will use the right pie pan and then perhaps the pie will sink less. Or at least a different pie pan. That or maybe there just wasn't enough filling. I'm not sure. Anyway, do make rhubarb pie. It's delicious.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

First CSA Share and Spinach Pie-- June 13, 2005

So what is a CSA share you ask? Well, I will tell you. A CSA share is basically an agreement by which you (the average consumer who does not have a farm in his or her back yard) share in the crop of a local farmer by pre-paying (usually in late winter or early spring) a sum of money ($400.00) for a box of fresh produce once a week throughout the farmer's market season. In my case, I get a box of fresh produce each week from Tolstoy Farms, a cooperative organic farm located just outside of Davenport, Washington, which is about an hour from Spokane (or maybe 45 miles.) The advantage of the agreement is that you get farm fresh organically grown produce starting in June through mid October (or is it September?) Fabulous. The disadvantage (or perhaps not a disadvantage depending on how you look at it) is that when you buy a CSA share you must adhere to the maxim of "caveat emptor" because you are, in effect, agreeing to support the farm whether or not any actual produce is produced. In other words, if they have a bad year so do you. But, I think the advantages far outweigh the risks.

Last weekend was the first week that we got to pick up our box of produce. In it we found: three bunches of spinach, mature not baby, a pound of rhubarb, a bunch of mustard greens, a head of butter lettuce, a bunch of radishes, and a bunch of oregano. I was extremely, ecstatically excited about all of this. To give you an idea, we put off leaving for my husband's brother's graduation party until early Saturday morning instead of Friday night so that we could pick up our CSA share at 8:00 a.m. So what to do with all of this farm fresh exquisite produce? Well, the first thing I did was make Greek Spinach Pie.

I got the recipe from the Tolstoy Farm's newsletter. I couldn't think of anything else that would use up that much spinach all at one time and that the newsletter written by the farmers themselves would be a good source for a recipe using the produce they've grown. I'm pretty sure the author of the recipe was attempting to imitate spanokopita without buying filo dough or using very many ingredients. First you make a crust involving a one to three ratio of water to flour, some chopped oregano and a couple tablespoons vegetable oil. I was a little sceptical of this at first since there was no butter in the recipe, or egg, and in my experience this can make a very dry, hard crust but I figured, what the hell, may as well follow the recipe and see if it works. After mixing all of the ingredients together you then knead the dough for a couple of minutes and then separate it into three balls of equal size. You then roll out the first dough ball so that it is big enough to overlap the sides of an 8x12 pan. I confess that mine did not overlap the sides but I later learned that the dough is stretchier than I thought it was and that my dough balls were a bit uneven in size so that my subsequent two dough balls were bigger. Note to self: work on making dough balls of the same size. Either that or have Stephen spot me when it comes to making dough balls (men being better with that whole visual thing.)

Once the first dough ball is rolled and/or manually stretched to its proper size you set it in the bottom of the pan, allowing the dough to overlap the sides. I greased the pan first, but this was not called for in the recipe. I just thought that it couldn't hurt to increase my chances of getting the food out of the pan later. Then you put half of the filling on top of the dough. The filling consists of: a pound of chopped spinach, tough stems removed, chopped shallot, chopped parsley, and chopped oregano. I know, still no butter or cheese in sight. Then you roll out the second dough ball so that it will both cover the filling and overlap the sides of the pan. Then you put the rest of the filling on top, and top that with the last dough ball rolled out to overlap the sides of the pan. Then you fold all three crusts together and bake in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes.

Now, I have to tell you that the absence of butter in the recipe worried me. Did I mention that I salted and peppered both layers of filling? Do that, it's a must. I also worried a little when I could hardly get all of the filling to fit into the pan because the spinach had so much loft (spinning term: it means that it was fluffy.) But after 45 minutes I took the spinach pie out of the oven and the spinach had achieved the perfect compaction in the pan. The crust, as I expected, was a little dry and a little hard but not at all inedible. It was quite nice actually. And the pie, all in all, was quite good, particularly because I could still taste the fresh spinach taste even though it had been cooked. I have a fear of overcooked, mushy spinach. It reminds me of all the times my mother tried to make me eat canned, reheated on the stove spinach when I was little and it makes me gag. So, the spinach pie did pass the gag test.

Now, it was good the first night but the next night was much, much better. First of all, the flavors in the filling really had time to meld together and permeate each other and the crust, and we decided to put cheese on top. Yes, cheese. Why would we take this glorious low fat, low calorie meal and add saturated fat and calories? Because we love cheese. Stephen shredded a little sharp cheddar on top before reheating his in the microwave and I put some ricotta on top after reheating mine. Fabulous. I'm happy to say that we ate the spinach pie for three nights in a row and now, thankfully, it is gone. Because really, how many nights in a row can one eat spinach pie?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Black Bread 6/5/05

I bought my newest Moosewood Cookbook, Sundays at the Moosewood Restaurant, several months ago. Ever since then I've been itching to try the black bread recipe.

Let me explain. I love baking bread. I love proofing the yeast, waiting for it to foam, mixing together the ingredients, kneading the dough, waiting for it to rise. All of it. But it takes a serious block of time to accomplish when you're making the bread completely by hand. I usually set aside at least four hours for the endeavor. Of course, most of that time is actually spent waiting for the dough to rise.

The black bread recipe is even more time consuming and ingredient intensive than most. First you have to boil two medium potatoes, then mash them, then melt together unsweetened baker's chocolate and butter in a small saucepan. Then you mix the butter/chocolate mixture into the mashed potatoes. Then the yeast must be proofed and then added to the mix. Then you add the cinnamon, nutmeg, caraway seeds, and molasses, then the rye flour, wheat flour and white flour. Oh and I forgot that you have to reserve a cup of the water used for boiling the potatoes and add that to the mix as well. All in all it took me probably an hour to prepare the initial dough to the point that it was ready to be kneaded and then put up for the first rise. Which is why I had not made the bread before this weekend. Besides the fact that I generally don't have a stash of unsweetened baker's chocolate hanging out in my cupboard I don't have that amount of time to devote to making a loaf of bread.

But finally I did. On Sunday. And it is beautiful. I made one large loaf so that I could use it to make sandwiches for lunch this week, instead of the two smaller loaves that the recipe calls for. This means that the loaf is huge and a little misshapen but still perfect for the open faced sandwiches we've been having for lunch all week. The bread itself is very dark brown, darker even than a dark rye bread. And it's taste is strong and varied. The smell of the nutmeg, cinnamon and caraway seeds is what you notice first. They add a tangy spicy sweetness. Then the unsweetened chocolate and the strong taste of the rye takes over. It is strong and sharp and little bitter. Then it finishes sweet. But it's a strong, syrupy, thick, sweetness, like the molasses that creates the flavor. I am extremely pleased with it. Next time I'm going to make two smaller loaves though so that it is a little easier to maneuver. Seriously, the loaf is taking over one side of my counter right now.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Okay, I suck (and some ricotta-leek gnocchi with fava beans) 6/4/05

So I started my blog and then I abandoned it like a baby in a trash bin. Well, that's okay because it's my fucking blog, alright? But I'm back now. At least for the moment. No promises though.

Anyway, what have I been up to lately? A lot of cooking and baking, actually. Ironically. And I've tought myself to spin. You know, wool into yarn, that sort of thing. Very relaxing, if frustrating at first. I think everyone should try it.

So I got ambitious last Sunday and decided to finally make the ricotta leek gnocchi with fava beans recipe in the May Bon Appetit. For those of you who don't know, gnocchi is basically dumplings, made from the usual ingredients, a little flour, egg, leek and ricotta cheese. In this case I blanched the leeks first so that they were tender. You mix all the ingredients together and then roll the dough into many many little balls. Then right before you throw them in a pot of boiling water, you dredge them in flour. In a separate pan you melt some butter until it foams, throw in some sage, and then allow the butter and the sage to brown. When that is finished you throw in the fresh fava beans that you have already shelled and then peeled (favas have a very thick skin around each bean that must be peeled before they are cooked. This is accomplished by slicing a slit in the thick outer skin and then popping the inner bean out of it. Not as hard as it sounds, really.) Once the favas are cooked you throw in the boiled and drained gnocchi and warm it all up together, making sure to get the butter spread over everything. It was amazing. It was so good. Buttery and sagey. And the gnocchi were neither too doughy or too liquidy. They were just right.

Really fabulous meal. Exciting. I'm going to have to make many, many batches of gnocchi.

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