Saturday, April 17, 2010

Rhubarb Jelly

My mom's favorite jelly-making technique involves the microwave, a touch of sugar, seasonally appropriate fruit, a large Pyrex measuring bowl, and some plastic wrap. A quick zap and it's ready to be slathered on the nearest piece of freshly baked bread. Since I haven't owned a microwave since college, I had to go old school on my rhubarb. This method isn't quite as fast, but it's pretty darn simple.

Agave nectar is lower on the glycemic index and is therefore better for those who need to monitor their sugar intake. Use a smaller piece of ginger if you prefer a more subtle flavor. Adding the strawberries halfway through the cooking process keeps the flavors bright and improves the otherwise lackluster texture. This is a fairly loose jelly; use 1/4 cup water if you prefer a denser schmear.

Rhubarb Jelly
Makes 3 pints

9 large stalks rhubarb, ends trimmed and roughly chopped
1 piece (1/2 inch) ginger, finely chopped
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup agave nectar
Pinch of salt
1 pint strawberries, hulled and roughly chopped

1. In a flameproof casserole, combine all ingredients except strawberries. Bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Cook, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes.
2. Stir in the strawberries. Cook, stirring frequently, for an additional 10 minutes, or until strawberries are mostly broken down. (The jelly will be sort of thick, but it will continue to thicken as it cools.)
3. Pour into jars. Store in the refrigerator.

Rice Pudding

There are few things that my brother loved as a child more than Kozy Shack Rice Pudding and Tapioca Pudding. I wasn't quite so fanatic, but I was known to sneak a spoonful or two from time to time. Ok, so maybe I ate the whole container. Who asked you? Anyway, last week, I was testing recipes. The recipe called for 5 cups cooked rice. I thought to myself, "Hmmm...I wonder how much raw rice that is..." I dumped 5 cups raw rice into the pot -- knowing that it would give me more than I wanted, but certain to have enough. Just between us, I made more rice than New Jersey has landfills. Since I abhor the idea of throwing out perfectly edible food, I got to thinking. Mmmmm....rice pudding. (For the record, I made so much rice that I also made a batch of congee.)

Now, rice pudding at the core isn't exactly healthy. Still, a co-worker presented me with an interesting thought. First, I made it. I know what I put in it. I controlled the process, and I attempted to use somewhat healthier alternatives. Yet, something that I have failed to consider until this point is that the actual process of making food - rice pudding, in this case - is keeping me active and up off the couch. If my fridge were stocked with Kozy Shack (as delicious as it may be), it would be world's easier to curl up under an afghan on the couch and put away the whole container without even the thought of exertion. I do, however, give you permission to lounge on the sofa, enjoying every last grain of your homemade rice pudding.

Rice Pudding
Serves 4

We chose basmati rice because of its lower glycemic index level. We also used date sugar, instead of cane sugar, for the same reason. Skim milk and heavy cream were what dairy we had on hand when the idea came to us. Feel free to use any combination of milk, cream etc that you have in your fridge. So that you are better informed than I was, 1 cup raw rice equals about 2 cups cooked rice!

1/4 cup currants
2 tablespoons brandy
4 cups cooked basmati rice
2 cups skim milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
Pinch salt
1/2 cup date sugar
1 vanilla bean, scraped
Pinch cinnamon

1. In a small bowl, plump currants with brandy for 20 minutes.
2. In a large flameproof casserole, combine all ingredients. Bring liquid to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes. Serve warm or chilled - but, I think it's best right out of the pot.


Gazpacho is one of my favorite summer time treats. Savored with a crisp white wine under the heat of a blazing sun -- could there be anything better? Recent research also tells me that it pairs magnificently with a grilled cheese sandwich.

I realize that it is not yet summer (wishful thinking, I guess), even though today in sunny CA it is breezy and in the 70s - the kind of weather from which young romances blossom. The reason that I am posting this recipe unseasonably early is that I am prepping for a class that I will be teaching with Chef Becca Alonzi of Seasonal Elegance Catering. Beginning in June, Becca and I will be molding young minds (and hands) at Celsius and Beyond Summer Camp. Becca is the real mastermind behind the project, and I will be assisting her one day a week on Bread Day! Although gazpacho is not bread per se, it is derived from a tried and true method of using up dried out, crusty bread. So, there you have it. Tuck this one away in your virtual recipe box, and pull it out as soon as the sun begins to warm your neck of the world -- keeping the wine for yourself, of course, not the kids!

Makes 1 Gallon

(Chop the veggies roughly. There is no need for perfection here since all will end up whirring in the blender.)

4 slices stale bread, chopped
10 tomatoes, cored and chopped
2 green bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and chopped
1 cucumber, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1/4 cup vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup water
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cucumber, peeled and finely chopped (for garnish)

1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except for cucumber garnish.
2. Working in small batches, blend the soup in a food processor until smooth.
3. With a food mill or a fine mesh sieve, strain the soup.
4. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt and pepper, if you like. Garnish with cucumbers. Serve ice cold.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Great Food Where You Least Expect It

This week's Boston Globe contains a collection of stories detailing surprise food finds in very unexpected locales. Of course, I was champing at the bit to share my lunch consumed at an Argentinean gas station (see below, also). I've often found myself saying that I only eat McDonald's in foreign countries when I am experiencing palate fatigue from the strange food, and I long for something comforting. I hate to admit it, but McDonald's french fries fit the bill -- apparently Lane Turner feels the same way about the Golden Arches. The German tale takes me back to a high school trip that I took with my friend and her father. After 3 weeks of all the schnitzel, spaetzle and beer I could put away, I had gained 15 pounds! The blurb on Vienna and some of the former Eastern Block reminds me of the woes of vegetarians traveling in meat-centric societies like Europe or Argentina. And, finally, Turner's second entry where he regales the glory of fire-roasted bologna in the forest makes me think of a weekend trip to the Gold Coast of Spain. Two friends and I (spending the semester abroad) had splurged and rented a room at a 5-star hotel. Having blown our entire budget on lodging, we trudged to grocery store to dig up some cheap eats. We came back with American cheese, a loaf of bread, and a handle of Polish vodka - the best cheese sandwich I ever ate!

High-taste fuel
By Karoline Boehm Goodnick, Globe Correspondent | April 14, 2010

SAN JUAN, Argentina — We had hired a driver for the day, as was our custom. The mountain roads twist and turn and we were there to taste wine. Other than wineries, San Juan is a sleepy town in the northwest, not far from the Chilean border. Argentines had told us that nothing much happens here. We went anyway. The air conditioning inside the car was a welcome reprieve from the sweltering heat. Our driver, despite his Mercedes, was unkempt with wavy, wild hair and a worn red T-shirt. We asked him to take us somewhere for a good lunch. He whipped left and took off without a word.

He pulled into a YPF (Fiscal Petroleum Fields) service station. Maybe he needed to fill up? Then he motioned to the roadside restaurant beside the station.

Inside it was refreshingly icebox cold. Argentines have a national obsession with super chilled beer. We brushed past racks offering regional wines and sought out the tap. In this scorching heat, nothing less than a pitcher of clean, light Quilmes, the local brew, could quench our thirst. At the counter, we flipped through the plastic menu book. We were surprised to see so many Mexican dishes and even though we were curious about the burritos, we weren’t curious enough to order them. We opted instead for the local specialties and headed for a table.

A few minutes later, a waitress brought napkins and flatware. We sipped the delicious beer. Then she brought a basket of bread with aioli and marinated garlic, then a salad, piled with fire-engine-red tomatoes and crisp iceberg, dressed with oil and vinegar.

Then our entrees: milanesas de pollo, a cousin of chicken schnitzel and an Argentine specialty. This version came with a head of roasted garlic and peach chutney. The french fries were standard and good, accompanied by hash browns. There was also a sunny-side up egg, the yolk soft and runny, which made a dipping sauce for both fries and chicken.

We peeked through the blinds into the glaring sun and the whirling dust. Surrounded by absolute nothingness in a very unremarkable gas station, we were dining well.