Archive for April, 2010

Preclusion, rhubarb galette, and rhubarb haze

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Rhubarb galette

I want to tell you about my week, but right now it all seems a bit blurry, clouded by the intermittent rain we’ve been experiencing and the busyness that has precluded my memory. Do you ever have weeks like that?
Oh, yes. I am remembering a bit.

Saturday Brian and I went on a rare childless date trying a restaurant that specializes in local and seasonal fare. Later we found ourselves, rather unintentionally, spending the rest of our precious free time perusing Williams-Sonoma, with the sales associate bringing out all of their stock of a particular cutting board I kept eyeing, and lining them up on the sales counter for us to compare.

“Well, I have this food blog I started, and now I’m always checking out interesting cutting boards, imagining how they will look in photos.” I explained to the affably amused sales associate.

I also made this rhubarb galette, which as it turned out, was no minor occurrence.

Rhubarb stalksDiced rhubarb

I’ve been wanting to make something with rhubarb for over a month now, knowing it is in season and seeing it pop up here and there on other blogs, but the farmer’s market down the street is sans rhubarb, and the standard grocers I frequent were completely out two weeks in a row.

“What we had went bad because it wasn’t selling, and we haven’t gotten another shipment in,” I was told by a man in the produce section at my first store, with my second grocer echoing the same.

Lemon zest

I feel sad thinking about that, yet I think I understand it. I believe there are many fruits and vegetables that are commonly overlooked simply because people are not familiar with how to cook them or what the end result will taste like. It’s natural to cook with the familiar.

I can be included in this bunch at times. Yes, I’ve had strawberry rhubarb preserves, and I’ve seen and heard about rhubarb many times. But somehow, this was my first time cooking with rhubarb.

“I recognize you,” the produce manager at the second store I’ve been stalking said, “You were here last week looking for rhubarb. We finally got some on the last truck!”

I fumbled through the stack of fresh rhubarb picking out the best looking stalks, – yes, I am like that – bought three pounds, even though I only knew what I was going to do with two, and went to work.

Rhubarb with juices released

I adapted my rhubarb recipe from a cookbook by the editor’s of Cook’s Illustrated Brian gave me several years ago from which I had not yet tried a single recipe. Judging from my first bite of this galette, if the other recipes turn out anything like this galette turned out, I have been sorely missing out.

Cook’s Illustrated did their own adaptation of the recipe from an apparently well known Portland, Oregon restaurant by the name of Bluehour. When I am in Portland someday, as I am determined I will be, this recipe has certainly earned my patronage at their swanky little outfit.

FillingGalette dough sprinkled with sugar


You start out making the galette dough by combining flour, fine grain corn meal, a bit of confectioner’s sugar and a dash of sea salt with plenty of cold butter, two large egg yolks, and a nice pour of cold buttermilk.

Next you dice the rhubarb and sauté it with raw sugar, lemon zest, and the seeds and pod of one long slender fragrant vanilla bean, just until the rhubarb releases it’s cherry red juices. The sweet vanilla bean speckled juice is saved and simmered down to serve later alongside the galette.

The partially cooked rhubarb is then cooled and tossed  with just enough cornstarch for thickening, along with petite cubes of diced butter just for decadence sake.

The galette dough is sprinkled with raw sugar and the ruby filling is placed evenly in the center. The dough edges are then pleated in rose petal like fashion around the filling and whole milk is brushed on the exposed dough folds and finished with final sprinklings of raw sugar.


“I really didn’t know what to expect,” Brian said after taking his first bite, “But the ‘rubber’ pie is GOOOD! I guess we will have to grow our own ‘rubber’ in the garden next year.”

Apparently Brian thinks the word “rhubarb” sounds a bit like “rubber” so he has taken to calling it such, but please do not let this deter you – there is absolutely zero other resemblance between the two, I assure you.

The crust was buttery flaky, edgy from the buttermilk, yet softened by the sweetness of the confectioner’s sugar – and with just a little crunch from the corn meal – this was a crust to come back to.

And the rhubarb. The rhubarb! Sweet tart, rich from the vanilla and butter, accented by hints of lemon playing off the buttermilk tang in the crust. Not too sweet – just right.

You could serve all this artistry with freshly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, but we happily devoured it with vanilla Greek yogurt and splashes of the vanilla dotted magenta sauce.

Rhubarb galette

Now that rhubarb and I have been properly introduced in my own kitchen, I want to make rhubarb everything! Like this, and this, and this – and many others I am sure I am overlooking in my present state of rhubarb haze – thank goodness I bought extra.

Eating galetteEating galette

All done

Rhubarb galette
Adapted from here who adapted it from here

1/4 cup cold buttermilk
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon water
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour *
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup fine-grind corn meal
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) very cold butter, cut into 1/4 inch dice

2 pounds rhubarb, washed, tops and bottoms trimmed, cut into 1/2 inch dice (about 6 cups)
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) raw cane sugar *
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest from 1 lemon
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds removed, seeds and bean pod reserved
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch dice
4 tablespoons raw cane sugar
2 tablespoons whole milk
vanilla Greek yogurt, whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream, for serving

Make the crust by whisking buttermilk, egg yolks, and 1 tablespoon water in a medium bowl. In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, in a food processor, or in a medium bowl using pastry knives or a fork, combine the flours, confectioners’ sugar and salt. Add the butter to the flour mixture and combine on a low speed just until mixture resembles coarse crumbs, with some pea size bits of butter remaining, about 1 minute. With the mixer or food processor running, or while stirring, add the buttermilk mixture slowly until dough comes together, about 20 seconds (do not overmix). Remove dough from mixing bowl and shape into an 8 inch disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate till firm, about 1 hour.

Make the filling by cooking the rhubarb, sugar, salt, lemon zest, vanilla seeds and pod in a 12-inch skillet over high heat until the rhubarb releases its juices, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer and spread rhubarb out on a rimmed baking pan and allow to cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Then stir in cornstarch and butter and set aside.

Simmer the juices left in the pan down to about 1/2 cup, 3-5 minutes, allow to cool, and reserve to serve as a syrup alongside the finished galette.

Heat oven to 350 degrees and adjust and oven rack to the middle position. Roll the galette dough out on a lightly floured surface to a 16 inch circle about 1/4 inch thick. Transfer the dough to a piece of parchment paper set on top of a rimless baking sheet. Sprinkle the dough with 2 tablespoons of sugar and then lay rhubarb filling in the middle of the dough, leaving a 3 inch rim uncovered by filling around the edge. Fold the edges of the dough up around the filling, overlapping and pleating at equal intervals. Brush the top of the crust with milk and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until crust is golden and filling is bubbling. Cool for 30 minutes and then cut in 8 wedges and serve with cooled rhubarb syrup, vanilla Greek yogurt, whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream.

*may use all white flour or substitute standard whole wheat flour for the white whole wheat flour
*may use standard granulated sugar

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Gruyère, leek, asparagus, shitake, and roasted cherry heirloom tomato tart

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Slice of tart served

We have had over a week full of sunny days perfect for being outside. I always feel I have missed something I can never get back if I do not spend time outside on gorgeous days like we are having now.

Cherry heirlooms

Little Jonathan wants nothing less, banging at the back door, grabbing at the door knob at every moment he is not eating or sleeping, unable to contain his enthusiasm for exploring all the nooks and crannies of our yard, smelling the flowers, and making full use of these newly balmy spring days.

“No, Jonathan, do not put rocks in the garden,” we seem to be saying over and over, as if on tape, on replay.

Cherry heirlooms sliced

We went and picked out flowers at the nursery last week and Brian planted them by the mailbox and around the house. This means so much to me. We are slowly building a collection of perennials in our flower beds and I get excited each spring when I see the first wave of blooms unfold.

“I want to make something beautiful this week,” I thought to myself.

Slicing leeks

Asparagus dicedLeeks sliced


I’ve been a tart admirer for some time now, both savory and sweet. I love how tarts are so casually sophisticated, with their endless possibilities of fillings, carefully supported by a flaky, buttery crust, and adorned with beautiful, often avant-garde, garnishings. They are an ideal canvas for experimentation, as well as turning humble ingredients into art. Yet, in all their artistry, they remain perfectly suited for a simple lunch or brunch. Yes, tarts have a certain restrained panache. I like that about them.

“A tart will be perfect,” I decided.

Tart sliced

When I was living and working in D.C. shortly after college, I would occasionally find myself in a la Madeleine cafe (do you know the ones?) sipping coffee, and encountering some of my very first tarts. I am quite certain they serve any number and variety of tarts there, however, those that stand out in my memory are of the sweet variety, made with a soft creamy custard filling and topped with a simple but elegant assortment of fresh berries. These petite tarts, or tartlettes, were one of my favorite treats.


I have not been to a la Madeleine in years, and truthfully I do not know how good the tarts are in reality, but that does not really matter. What matters is that the essence and concept of the tart made a strong enough impression on my subconscious to be carried into the present and push me towards giving it a go in my own kitchen this week, even if it took seven years to achieve this.

Yes, this was my very first homemade tart!

Thyme, bay leaf, and Vermouth

After plenty of poking around, I also honestly do not know if it would be more appropriate to call this a quiche, since it is baked with eggs, milk and cream, or, if since it was baked in a “tart pan” and is relatively slender and full of vegetables, if it may rightly pass as a savory tart. In the end, I simply like the sound of “savory tart” over that of “quiche.” So, for now – save being duly informed otherwise – I will call it a savory tart.

flour and butterDough rolled

Tart dough

I couldn’t find a recipe that combined all the ingredients and flavors I was craving, so I decided to blend all my research into one recipe that consisted of a bit of everything I wanted. But lest you tune me out now, having already admitted that this was my first tart attempt, I am happy to share my concoction of inspiration – I’m sure you know many of them well - from this, to this, and this, and even a consultation with this.

Dough in tart pan

I sauteed leeks and shitake mushrooms with thyme from our garden, bay leaf, and a splash of Vermouth and set them under a layer of small dice fresh spring asparagus, all blanketed by a surprisingly light tasting cover of egg, Greek yogurt, milk and cream, Gruyère, pinch of nutmeg, sea salt, ground pepper, and Parmesan.

For the crust I decided to use part whole wheat pastry flour to impart a nutty quality without adding weight, and an addition of grated Parmesan for additional depth of flavor and character.

Finally, I dotted roasted heirloom cherry tomatoes on top, which resulted in a welcome sour and chewy contrast to the overall delicate nature and flavor profile of the filling.

Tart dough in pan

“That was different from any quiche I’ve ever had,” Brian said to me after we finished our first slices, making me a little nervous to hear what was to follow.

“It’s like I was tasting real quiche for the first time!” he exclaimed. “I don’t know how hard this is to make, but we could make this all summer long using the vegetables from the garden!”

I laughed. Apparently, at least one person has no qualms whatsoever in calling my tart “quiche,” just so long as it is not my last.

Ready for bakingWork surface

Tart complete

Gruyère, leek, asparagus, shitake, and roasted heirloom cherry tomato tart

1 recipe for savory tart crust to fit a 10″ tart pan
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup Greek Yogurt (higher fat percent is preferable)*
1/2 cup half & half, heavy cream, whole milk, or combination of these*
1/2 t. sea salt
1 T. butter
2 1/2 T. olive oil
1 1/2 T. Vermouth or dry white wine
1 bay leaf
6 sprigs fresh thyme
pinch or two of nutmeg – according to your preference for nutmeg
3 oz. Gruyère cheese (about 1 1/2 cups loosely packed)
1 oz. freshly grated Parmesan (about 1/3 cup loosely packed)
8 asparagus stems, cut into half inch diagonals
6 oz. leeks, white parts only, cut into thin circles (2 leeks)
4 oz. shitake mushrooms, washed, stems removed, cut in slivers
About 20 small cherry heirloom tomatoes, if available, or Roma/plum tomatoes (may sub thinly cut slivers of sun dried tomatoes)
1 t. balsamic vinegar
natural sugar
sea salt and ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Begin by preparing the tomatoes for roasting by cutting in half, placing in a bowl, drizzling with 1/2 T. olive oil, splash of balsamic vinegar, light sprinkling of natural sugar and sea salt and pepper, carefully mixing to coat, and laying tomatoes on foil on a cookie sheet with seeds facing up. Roast for 45 minutes and set aside.

Now make the tart dough, with the idea that by the time the dough is ready and had its 30 minute fridge time, the tomatoes will be out of the oven.

While the tomatoes roast and the dough sits in the fridge, saute leeks in the butter, 1 T. olive oil, bay leaf, and three sprigs thyme till beginning to wilt, about five minutes, and then add mushrooms, 1 T. olive oil, Vermouth, and salt and pepper to taste, allowing to cook another five minutes, or until leaks and mushrooms are just soft. Remove bay leaf and thyme sprigs. In the mean time, parboil the asparagus by boiling three cups water, and adding the asparagus to the boiling water for 1 minute. Rinse hot asparagus in cold water to stop the cooking. Whisk egg, Greek yogurt, 1/2 t. salt (and pepper to taste), pinch or two of nutmeg, and half & half together to combine. Finally, add in the Gruyère.

Fill the par-baked tart crust by spreading the leek mushroom mixture evenly over the bottom of the crust, then add the parboiled asparagus evenly on top. Next, pour the egg cheese mixture over the vegetables. Finally, sprinkle the top with the parmesan.

Place the tart in the oven and set the timer for 20 minutes. Remove the tart at 20 minutes, and add the roasted tomatoes evenly across the top. The idea is for the tart top to be partially solidified so that the tomatoes do not sink into the tart, yet the tart is still soft enough to cook around the bottoms of the tomatoes and keep them in place. Return the tart to the oven for another 20 minutes, or until the top begins to brown and the tart is set. Allow to cool on a wire wrack for at least 15 minutes before cutting. Add extra sprigs of thyme for garnish.

* I used a 2% Greek yogurt, but mascarpone cheese or sour cream would likely make good substitutes and would yield a richer, creamier tart.

* I used a combination of whole milk and half and half, but thought it would have been nice a bit creamier – you may decide based on whether you want an overall lighter taste, or richer, creamier taste.

Savory whole grain tart crust with parmesan

1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour*
3/4 cup pastry flour (can use regular all purpose flour)
1 T cornstarch
3/4 (.75) oz. finely grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 egg yolks
2 1/2 Tablespoons buttermilk
6 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 8-12 pieces

Lightly beat the egg yolks and buttermilk and set aside. In a food processor (or using a fork or pastry knife and a bowl, working quickly), combine flours, cornstarch, salt, and cheese and pulse a couple of times to combine. Add cold butter to the flour mixture and pulse another few times to turn mixture into sand like texture with some pea sized bits of butter remaining. Working quickly (you want to keep the butter cold without melting the little lumps and without strengthening the gluten by over handling the flour in order to produce a light flaky crust), pour the flour butter mixture into a medium bowl and add the beaten egg, stirring just to combine and bring mixture together. When mixture is beginning to clump together, dump onto a work surface and press dough together to form a ball. You may need to wet your fingertips with ice water a few times to add a small amount of moisture needed to achieve this. Try to handle the dough and add as little water as possible to make a cohesive dough. Flatten the dough into a 5 inch round, wrap in plastic wrap, place in the fridge for 45 minutes or up to 36 hours (allowing the gluten to relax so the dough will roll out more easily).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Turn dough out on well floured work surface and roll into a 12-13 inch circle with a flat rolling pin. Again, use ice water on the fingertips to solidify the dough, only if needed, and as small amount as possible. Roll the lightly floured dough over the rolling pin in order to transfer into a 9 or 10 inch tart pan. Gently push dough into the pan and use the rolling pin to roll around the edges of the pan to trim off the excess crust. Using a fork, prick the surface and sides of the dough. Par-bake the crust by placing in the oven for 12 minutes. Remove crust and allow to cool at least five minutes on a wire wrack before adding tart filling and baking further.*

* You may substitute regular whole wheat flour, but in that case, I would not use more than a 1:3 ratio whole wheat to white flour and would recommend white whole wheat flour.

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At home in the blue ridge mountains, a cabin retreat, and John’s caesar salad

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

John's caesar salad

It’s a funny thing when people ask me where I am from, instinctively I respond,

“The mountains of North Carolina.”

Though, in fact, I did not move to Hendersonville, NC until age 7, and both my mother and father are rooted in Alabama, in addition to my having been born in one of Alabama’s southern most cities, Mobile.

Nevertheless, I am “from” the Blue Ridge Mountains. Often it is where our souls first define themselves, and where our souls once again feel at rest upon return, that we come to identify as “home,” and “from.”

For me, this is in and alongside the mountain town of Hendersonville, NC, known for its large migration of retiree Floridians during the summer months, close proximity to the Biltmore House, the annual apple festival, a thriving arts community, and four perfect and gorgeous seasons each year.

Bearwallow Den cabin

However, after I left for college and my parents parted ways, my mother married John and moved, and my father died shortly thereafter, my brother and I were left with no family ties to our beloved, quirky, artsy and beautifully seasoned hometown, nestled in the cradle of the Appalachians.

That is, until about a year ago, when my mother called, saying, “Laaa-ra,” in her distinctive, sweet southern accent, “I have something reeeally important to tell you.”

Mother sitting in the sunlightBeautiful Blue Ridge

“Yes, Mother?” I responded, as usual, for my mother often has important things to tell me.

“We are going to retire near Hendersonville. It is decided. I have already talked to John and we are going to start looking at real estate.”

“Yes, Mother.” I responded, as usual, for my mother loves to make plans, dream and prepare years ahead of fruition (as do I), and I figured only time could tell what was to come of this plan of late.

So, despite Mother’s convincing resolve, it still hit me as a lovely surprise last fall when Mother called saying, “I have the perfect idea!”

“Yes, Mother?” I said.

“John and I want to rent a cabin in Hendersonville where we can all meet and spend Christmas. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?! We can start looking around at neighborhoods and retirement areas,” she said, in her characteristic, endearing, enthralled and punctuated manner.

Olive oil for dressingSmashing garlicAnchovy pasteSpreading dressing on sides of bowlWashing eggsPlacing romaine leaves in bowlBlending eggTossing saladParmesan Reggiano

So it was decided. For the first time in over a decade, I spent a week in my hometown with my family. Despite Christmas snow, icy roads, and power outages, I was finally home, and it felt wonderful.

And it seems a tradition is being born, as Mother called again in February saying, “Do you want to meet again at the cabin in Hendersonville for Easter? And maybe again in the summer?”

“Yes, that sounds lovely, Mother.” I said.

And so it happened, last week, that my little family – Brian, little Jonathan, and myself met my mother, John, and my brother in that same mountain cabin in my hometown, spending the days sitting on a sunny porch cuddling Jonathan, talking late into the night, laughing, resting, poking around stores downtown, and of course, cooking and eating.

The food with Mom and John is always wonderful. They really do know how to eat well. Simple, beautiful dishes prepared with the best and freshest ingredients. At their house in Oklahoma, it is three inch high filet mignons wrapped in bacon bought from local farms, slowly simmered risottos with tender shrimp, herbs, and greens, and homemade southern pound cakes made from recipes handed down. Yes, they know how to cook, and how to live, really.

Meals carefully planned ahead of time, playing ball with their standard poodle “Rufus” in the afternoon, aged cognac following dinner, and listening time – primarily to Bach – each evening in their music room.

Mother in the sunlight with garlic chives

It would be prudent from here on out if you take any recipe for which I give John credit, as one that would be regretful to overlook. John is a microbiologist. As a scientist, he is innately an experimenter, while at the same time being extraordinarily precise. As a cook, this combination of characteristics makes for something quite exceptional. He has inspired me greatly in my culinary endeavors and continues as one of my primary influences.

When Mom said that John wanted to make his caesar salad at the cabin over Easter, I was so excited. I knew I had to document this spectacular dish. It is quite simple, but completely blows away every other caesar salad I have ever tried.

John says the recipe comes from his own personal research on authentic caesar salads as well as trial and error over many years. No two salads are ever quite the same – my favorite type of recipe – perfected over time by taste and tradition.

Ready for the lettuceCrushed croutons and parmesan toppingSliced lemonCaesar in the sun

You start by adding two or three fat cloves of sliced or crushed garlic to a generous pour of a nice extra virgin olive oil, smashing the garlic against the sides of a large bowl until it is pulverized and has completely infused the oil.

“The quality of the ingredients is very important,” John said as he was putting the salad together. “The most important part of the salad is also what you have the least amount of control over. Fresh garlic and tender, sweet hearts of Romaine make all the difference.”

Next you add just a hint of a key ingredient, anchovies. You may use them whole and smash them into the dressing alongside the garlic, or you may buy a high quality anchovy paste, which is what we did this time. It’s important that the infused garlic anchovy oil is spread all over the bowl so that when you go to toss the salad, every leaf is thoroughly coated.

After this you add in whole hearts of Romaine leaves, and squeeze in the juice of half a lemon. Then you add in another key ingredient: two beaten raw eggs, which gives the salad a wonderful sticky quality that also invites the topping to adhere to each leaf.

Finally, you finish by topping the salad with a tumbling of freshly grated parmesan cheese and crushed oversized croutons. Oh, and I almost forgot one of the best parts. You eat it with your hands, curling each long sticky, garlicky leaf around the knobbly crunchy parmesan topping and eating it like a caesar burrito. It is out of this world.

Ready for toppings

It was good to be “home” again, finally. And it was even better to be with my family, sharing wonderful meals and most importantly, just being together.

John’s Caesar Salad

4-6 hearts of Romaine lettuce heads, rinsed and separated (4 large, 5 medium, 6 small)
1/4 cup of nice extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2 large lemon
2-4 cloves garlic, crushed (2 large, 3 medium-large, 4 small/regular size cloves)
1 teaspoon anchovy paste or equivalent amount of whole finely chopped/minced anchovies
2 large organic eggs, outsides washed with soap and water*
1/3-1/2 lb. freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 package (5 oz.) high quality, all natural large restaurant style caesar salad croutons, crushed
Freshly grated sea salt and black pepper to taste

In an extra large bowl add olive oil, garlic and anchovy paste. Mix well, crushing and mixing garlic and anchovies thoroughly with the oil and spreading across the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add cracks of black pepper and sea salt to taste.

In a separate medium/large bowl mix grated cheese and crushed croutons. Set aside.

Add whole hearts of Romaine leaves into the large bowl with the olive oil, garlic, and anchovies, and drizzle or squeeze the lemon juice on top. After thoroughly washing the outside shells of the eggs and your hands, crack and whisk eggs in a medium bowl till blended and then pour on top of the lettuce. Using your hands, carefully toss the salad on top of itself in circular fashion until each leaf is coated with all ingredients. If you desire your salad to be more “wet” add a bit more olive oil to taste, and check for salt and pepper.

Finally, divide leaves evenly between all plates (approx. 6 leaves per serving), and top each leaf with a generous spoonful of the parmesan/crouton mixture. Wash hands. Serve immediately and eat with your hands! Makes 4-6 dinner plate servings. Recipe may be halved.

* People often think that salmonella lives inside raw eggs, but in fact, if an egg has salmonella, it is found on the outside of the egg, on the shell, not on the inside – so the important step in using raw eggs is to wash the outside of the eggs and your hands before cracking them, and to add them at the end shortly before serving. Nevertheless, please use at your own discretion.

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