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August 2014

Rhubarb Compote, Why Not?

Rhubarb

Sweets have never been a weakness of mine, but lately I’ve been addressing my character flaws. Last week, I had some friends over for dinner, and I thought to buy a key lime pie, from Steve’s, for dessert. For me, that’s progress.

This weekend, I had a hankering for meringues. As far as desserts go, I consider them to be optimal. They’re rich in protein, and not too sweet. Plus, I can make them. In the mood to experiment, I decided to make a rhubarb compote, to put over the meringues. For as Bob Dylan said, “He not busy being born is busy dying.” 

I can’t say that it was the greatest dessert in the world, but a nice aspect about knowing how to make a compote is that it can go with many things. Rhubarb is fairly tart, and my compote might well have been better served if it was spooned over vanilla ice cream. Or as Santa Maria later remarked, spread on warm biscuits. It could even go as a pie filling, but that’s way beyond my ken. 

Compote is easy. So easy that I didn’t even measure anything. If you feel like you need some more specific directions, check out this link and this one. That’s what I did first. Then I cut the stalks into small pieces, to speed the cooking. I started with enough water to cover the fruit. I brought it to a boil, and then simmered it all afternoon, until it was creamy. At that point, I added a spoon or two of sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice, until it tasted right to me.  

Rhubarb Compote

  • 3-9 stalks of rhubarb, depending on how much you want
  • Sugar
  • Lemon juice

Wash the stalks of rhubarb and slice it crosswise, into small pieces

Put it in a pot, with just enough water to cover it.

Bring it to a boil, and then turn down to a simmer.

Cover it.

Simmer until the rhubarb falls apart.

Add some sugar, until it is as sweet as you want.

Squeeze in a bit of lemon juice.

And here's how it looked all put together, garnished with a sprig of fresh basil.

Rhubarb_Compote


How To Store Basil?

Basil_Storage_edit_LR

During my weekly shop on Saturday, the check-out worker at my local coop picked up the massive bouquet of basil that I was buying, and offered me a tip. “You can put the bunch in water, roots and all, and it will keep for days,” he said. Intrigued, I went home and tried it out.

First, I checked the Internet to see if he was right. According to this post on The Kitchn the method had promise. It details how to do it, and its comments section will have you believing it works.

Only, it didn’t work for me. I stuck the bunch in a pitcher of water, and it started wilting before I could put away half the groceries and have lunch. The leaves weren’t far gone, so I washed them and made pesto.

I wondered what I might have done wrong. I didn’t take off the tight rubber band the bottom of the bunch, and maybe that constricted the stems. A closer reading of The Kitchn's article revealed that I should have cut the stems, like fresh flowers. 

I saved two pieces and ran an experiment.

One I cut like flowers, the other I left with the roots intact. I put the two pieces in a clean Mason jar with fresh water, and I waited. A day later, the one with the cut stem is kaput, but the one with the roots is holding on well enough. When I showed it to the kids, Nina said she could smell the basil from across the table. I think I'll try it again sometime with a full bunch. There’s something appealing about having a bunch of basil on the counter, fresh and ready to go, perfuming the air. How do you store your basil? Have you ever tried a method like this?


Wasabi Cream Cheese and Sockeye Salmon Appetizers + A Summertime Giveaway

Plate_of_Salmon_Cream_Cheese_Cucumber_LR

Summer is nearly over, and I can’t believe it. Before it comes to a close, I want to look back. And I want to spread the love--read on for details about a savory giveaway. We started summer on Memorial Day by meeting friends for a hike in the country. The weather was fine, the trail (after we found it) was scenic, and the company couldn’t have been better. It would have been a perfect day, but for one thing—we were late to the meeting point, and our friends were left waiting for an hour. 

Our tardiness was due to a combination of things. That morning I was working on a blog post for this site (flank steak on the bbq!) and Santa Maria was baking her Divine Biscuits (yum!) for my mother and our little ones, Nina and Pinta. We’d budgeted an hour to get to the hike, but family life being family life, that wasn’t enough. Plus, I made a wrong turn on the way to the park, and we ended up driving about twenty-miles out of our way. 

In the past, I’ve been a bit of a hot head when I’ve made a wrong turn, but I’ve matured somewhat, and I remained calm. This, I’ve discovered, has had the curious effect of making the rest of my life a lot easier. When I mess something up, I no longer panic, but I accept it, and fix it. I was doing my best to keep our detour to myself, but my kids in the back seat could sense that something wasn’t right. Harried inquisitions were jettisoned at the back of my head. In the passenger seat, Santa Maria caught on, and the emotional temperature inside our Chevrolet rose higher than that of the steel-forging blast furnace that built it. By the time we arrived, some of our friends were tense, too. If unspoken irritation could keep away mosquitos, we wouldn’t have needed any bug spray. 

Fresh air and sunshine does wonders for city dwellers, however, and by the time we were a few miles into the woods, everything was back to normal. I could tell because the topic of conversation, as it often does among my friends, turned to food. I mentioned that I was working on developing a recipe for Kraft*, as part of its Tastmakers program, and that I wanted to use cheese in it. One of my friends, Paul Greenberg, rose to the challenge.

Paul is an insightful and talented writer (his first book, “Four Fish,” won a James Beard award) whose latest book, “American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood” details how and why we export our best seafood and import all the dubious things that flood our markets. He’s also a dedicated home cook, and he tossed of ideas for blue-fish pâté (made with cream cheese), a list of avocado delights too numerous to mention, and tips for deconstructing a Feta-fueled Greek salad, to make a mouthwatering appetizer. I countered with ideas combining fresh tomatoes and cheese, variations on bruschetta, but nothing seemed quite right. 

With the afternoon sun speckling our shoulders under the leafy expanse of Tallman State Park, Paul and I landed on an impressive construction of wasabi-cream cheese, cucumber, and smoked Sockeye salmon. I was filled with optimism as the day ended, and not just because I had a good idea for a recipe—spending time with friends is one of the most enjoyable things I can think of doing.

This is where cheese can come in handy. I love cheese because it’s easy to have around the house, and if you ever want to have friends over, you will always have something delicious to serve them. And here is your chance to entertain your friends. If you tell me in a comment below or via Twitter using #ForTheLoveOfCheese at @stayatstovedad what you love about cheese, you could win the following:

  • A nifty guitar-shaped cutting board.
  • A wee Brad Paisley recipe book.
  • A totally awesome mini charcoal grill.

Cheese also has a history that I can relate to—do you think the first person to make cheese didn’t make a mistake when creating it? Just imagine how the ancients discovered how to turn milk into cheese in the first place. In “The Oxford Companion to Food,” Alan Davidson observes: 

“Cheese is one of the oldest of made foods, dating back to the prehistoric beginnings of herding. As with all fermented products, it seems likely that the discovery of cheese was accidental. It could be that the curdling action of rennet was noticed when a herdsman poured milk into a pouch made of an animal’s stomach… Once any kind of cheese had been formed by chance, its owner would have observed not only that the taste was pleasant but that it kept well—always a problem with milk products—and even kept hard and dry.”   

When I was back at home, I started working on the recipe. All the various concepts we had come up with when we were high in the mountains (involving rolling, stuffing, and slicing) failed to work down on the ground, and I was left with a cutting board of failure. Rather than wrestle with the laws of physics (as I mentioned above, I’ve learned long ago not to resist natural forces, and I’m not just talking about Santa Maria), I looked to simplify things—good advice under any circumstance.

  Cucumber_Peeled

I peeled alternating strips off the cucumber to give it a festive look.

  Cucumber_sliced_LR

Sliced the cucumbers.

  Salmon_cucumber_LR

Layered salmon on top.

  Single_Cucumber_Salmon_Treat_LR

And finished it with wasabi-flavored Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese, held together with a toothpick.

The result was a quick, attractive, and delicious appetizer. The crunch of the cucumber is topped by the smoky richness of the salmon, and followed by the spicy smoothness of the wasabi cream cheese. I would serve these at any summer party. Santa Maria, for her part, said she liked them so much that she could eat them for breakfast with a pumpernickel bagel.  As I learned that day of the hike, it’s important not to give up after a small setback. The complete recipe can be found on the Kraft site. Enjoy!

 

*In case it wasn’t clear, this is a post under the paid Kraft Tastemaker’s program. All ideas and opinions are mine. Also, if you’ve read this far, you deserve a greater reward: If you visit www.ForTheLoveofCheese.com you can not only find more great recipes, but you can also enter for a chance to win a VIP Brad Paisley Concert experience for four and a lifetime supply of cheese (awarded in the form of a check for $8700)! NO PURCHASE NECESSARY.  Begins 5/5/14 and Ends 9/7/14.  To enter and for official rules, click here.


Block Island Carbonara

Block_Island

We are just back from an exhausting adventure on Block Island, a tiny teardrop-shaped spot land with an outsized role in my life. I had my first job in journalism there, some two decades ago, and I later proposed to Santa Maria on its slender northern tip, where the roiling waters of the North Atlantic meet the rapid currents of Block Island Sound. The ten-mile square island is a paradise of rolling fields, endless beaches, and natural beauty. 

I’m fortunate to still have an old friend on the island, and we stayed in his converted barn and windmill. He introduced us to two friends of his, a couple with girls the same age as Nina and Pinta. One night, when we were at their house having cocktails, the hour grew late. By the time we left for home, we needed a quick dinner. Santa Maria and I had snacked on the fresh ceviche and hummus provided by our hosts, so we weren’t too hungry. Nina and Pinta, however, had eaten only chips and lemonade. 

In cases like this, an easy default is to make breakfast for dinner. A couple of scrambled eggs later, and Nina and Pinta were off to bed. By this time, though, Santa Maria and I were hungry. Scrambled eggs might have been fine for our little ones, who were so tired after running around with their new friends that they could have gone to bed without eating anything, but I wanted something more.

Breakfast for dinner got me to thinking—I had bacon and eggs in the house, and I had pasta. Like the steady breeze of Block Island, a thought whipped its way into my head: carbonara. The classic egg and pasta dish was never something I liked, but I was willing to try it. I don’t know why. Maybe I wanted to do it for the same reason I kept dragging myself back to that wacky island. The promise of something good outweighed the effort required to experience it. 

I mentioned carbonara to Santa Maria and she was thrilled. She had a recollection of having it in Rome once, and she loved it. I had no idea. My only experience with “carbonara” had been in a fraternity-house kitchen, where a friend would sometimes make himself dinner by boiling a pot of spaghetti and then throwing an egg in it.  

I Googled the recipe, and came up with the Pioneer Woman’s take on it, which looked good enough to get me started. I fried up three pieces of bacon, sweated some onions, and tossed in a bit of garlic. I reserved the pasta water after I drained the cooked spaghetti, and I heeded her advice to combine the eggs and cheese very carefully, under a low heat. I tossed in a bit of baby spinach, to give mine a sharp and healthy counterpoint to the richness of the sauce, and I was rewarded by a delicious dinner. Santa Maria had her’s without the spinach, and she liked it so much that it was a highlight of the trip for her. 

Block Island Carbonara

  • Pasta of choice (spaghetti, in this case)
  • 3 strips of bacon
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup baby spinach (optional)

Put a large pot of water on to boil, for the pasta, and salt it heavily.

Start cooking the pasta as soon as the water boils.

In the meantime, fry the bacon in a large frying pan until crisp.

Set the bacon aside, and leave the bacon fat in the pan.

Sauté the onion in the bacon fat until it is soft and clear, about ten minutes.

While the onion is cooking, whisk the eggs in a bowl and add in the grated cheese and salt and pepper.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain it, being sure to reserve the liquid.

Once the onion is soft, add the garlic, and cook for a few minutes more, until fragrant.

Toss the pasta into the frying pan and slowly stir in the egg-and-cheese mixture.

Under a low heat, keep stirring the pasta-and-egg mixture as it cooks. The goal here is to make a creamy sauce, and to keep the eggs from scrambling. Add a few spoonfuls of the pasta water as needed.

While the egg-and-cheese mixture is cooking, toss in the spinach.

Continue to combine until the egg is cooked, a few minutes more. 

Serve with slices of fresh Parmigiano Reggiano.

Serves 2 to 4 to 6, depending on appetites.