Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Upside-down rhubarb cake

I love rhubarb not only because it offers a lovely tangy counterpoint to simple sweetness, delivers a pretty pink, but also because it indicates that spring is finally here.  A humble vegetable, classified as a fruit (I guess an opposite of a tomato), rhubarb's appearance at farmers' stands means that its time for asparagus, spring peas, with strawberries not far behind.  Spring being my favorite time of the year, I appreciate rhubarb's signal.  

While rhubarb pie is a classic, I was in no mood to start pie dough at 10pm on a Sunday.  I was craving a cake with soft crumb that would let the rhubarb flavor come through, not too sweet for a Monday morning  breakfast treat at work, but indulgent enough to have with an afternoon tea.  The Gourmet recipe was just about perfect, but I reduced the sugar in the topping to 1/2 cup,  replace anise with orange zest, and forgot to add the 1/4 cup of milk with no evidence of harm.  My version is below with the link to the original.  The batter comes together in a no time and you don't have to lay out the rhubarb cubes as obsessively as I did.  Also, baking this in a cast iron skillet reduces clean up.  If you don't have an oven proof skillet of the right size, just melt the butter and the brown sugar on the stove top and then pour it into the cake pan.  

Upside-down rhubarb cake
(Adapted, slightly, from Gourmet magazine)

For topping
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 pounds trimmed rhubarb

For cake
  • Zest of 1 orange, ideally organic, because most of the pesticides are on the skin
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
  • Make topping:
    In a well-seasoned 10-inch cast-iron skillet melt butter over moderate heat until foam subsides and reduce heat to low. Sprinkle brown sugar evenly onto bottom of skillet and heat, stirring occasionally, until the brown sugar melts. Remove skillet from heat. Cut enough rhubarb crosswise into 1-inch pieces to measure 3 cups and decoratively arrange, rounded sides down, in one layer over brown sugar.

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Make cake:
Into a bowl sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl with an electric mixer beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy and beat in vanilla and orange zest. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. With mixer on low speed add flour mixture alternately in batches with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture and beating until just combined (do not overbeat).| Spoon batter over rhubarb in skillet, spreading evenly (be careful not to disturb rhubarb), and bake cake in middle of oven until golden, about 45 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool cake in skillet on a rack 15 minutes.

Run a thin knife around edge of skillet and invert a plate over skillet. Keeping plate and skillet firmly pressed together, invert cake onto plate. Carefully remove skillet and serve cake warm or at room temperature. Feel free to share with colleagues.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Remembering Indonesia over a bowl of gado gado noodles

DC sunset from my window
About a month ago I was in Indonesia, where I met a group of wonderful Fulbright scholarship recipients, who are teaching English in Malaysia. We watched stunning Bali sunsets, ate at the night market, partied in a 5 floor nightclub, and spent hours at the pool...ah-h-h enjoying DC sunset and a bowl of udon gado gado, Indonesian raw salad, I want to thank people who have made my vacation in Bali truly unforgettable. 

This recipe is for you guys and for all Fulbright recipients, Peace Corps volunteer, students, and anyone who is searching for a delicious South East Asian recipe that can be easily prepared in a microwave.
Spicy peanut sauce (1 3/4 cup)
1/2 cup roasted peanuts or, if you don't have a food processor, 1/2 cup peanut butter
1 jalapeno, seeds and membrane removed
1 tsp shrimp paste
1 cup full fat coconut milk
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame seed oil
1inch ginger finely chopped
1 glove garlic crushed
1 generous pinch of salt
1 tbsp brown sugar/honey/agave 
Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until smooth

if you do not have a food processor

Place ginger, jalapeno,  and garlic on a chopping board, sprinkle sugar and salt on top. Press sugar and salt into the ingredients with a side of your knife until the mixture turns into a paste.
Mix the paste with the rest of the ingredients.
Noodles (serves 4)
1/2 cup string beans trimmed 
2 large carrots cut into 1" sticks
4 eggs
1 lb. udon or other long noodles
1 cup cabbage/ spinach shredded
4 scallion chopped 
1/2 cup bean sprouts

1/2 cup peeled cucumber cubed
1 lb tempeh/extra firm tofu cubed
pinch of salt
Fill a microwave safe bowl with hot water and 1 tbsp salt. Place beans, carrots, and eggs in the bowl. Cook on high for 5 minutes until vegetables are tender. Blanch vegetables in ice water leaving eggs in the bowl with hot water. Set vegetables aside.

Add noodles to the bowl. Cook on high for another 7 minutes or until the noodles are cooked through adding more water if needed. Remove eggs from the bowl. While eggs are cooling, strain the noodles. Toss hot noodles with cabbage/spinach, bean sprouts, scallions, and 1 cup of sauce. 

Peel and slice eggs. Top with vegetables, eggs, and tempeh/tofu. Poor the remaining sauce on top and enjoy.

Monday, May 16, 2011

2 sisters cooking Mexican!

Hello friends, I have missed you!  Unless you wanted to read recipes for a green salad or grated carrots, I have not had much to contribute to this blog.  Fortunately, Saule came to visit and dragged me out of my rut, literally and figuratively!  Last Friday, we visited the CIA (the culinary school, not the agency) and she'll tell you about it.  I want to share a few recipes we were inspired to cook in a vaguely Mexican vein.  How vaguely? Well, there was guacamole with spring onions, rib-eye tacos, quick-pickled vegetables, and roasted asparagus with queso fresco all washed down with the fine Blue Point Toasted lager.  It was so nice to cook again and even better to cook together.  I also still find it remarkable that my sister manages to leave the kitchen spotless BEFORE we sit down for dinner!

Rib-eye tacos
We used about a pound of Wilklow Orchards grass-fed rib-eye to feed two

1 pound of good quality rib-eye or another favorite steak, sliced across the grain about 1/4 inch thick
1 chipotle pepper in adobo, chopped finely
1 large lime, juiced
1 clove garlic
2-3 sprigs of spring onion or a small red onion, chopped finely
2-3 sprigs of cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon of cumin seeds, toasted and crushed in a mortar and pestle or 2 teaspoons ground cumin
Salt to taste

Mix all the ingredients and let the meat marinate for 2-3 hours in the refrigerator. Preheat a heavy skillet (we used cast iron) over medium-high heat until a tablespoon of oil shimmers.  Sear the meat on both sides, being careful to not overcrowd the skillet until cooked as you desire.  Scrape in the rest of the marinade and toss around a bit.  Serve with corn tortillas and your favorite taco toppings, such as pickled veggies.

Quick-pickled vegetables
We used radishes, carrots, and a red bell pepper, sliced on a mandoline.  Feel free to use cabbage, mild turnips, and even broccoli stems.  This volume generously served two, but the vegetables will also keep in the fridge for a few days.
5 -6 radishes, sliced thinly
1 carrot, peeled and sliced thinly
1/2 large red bell pepper, sliced thinly
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of sugar
2 teaspoons of cumin seeds, toasted and crushed
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 tablespoon of water
2-3 sprigs of cilantro, chopped

Toss the vegetables in a medium bowl.  Mix the vinegar, water, salt, sugar, and cumin and bring to a boil in a small saucepan.  Pour the vinegar mixture over the vegetables, tossing well.  Let sit for at least 30 minutes, mixing occasionally, and stir in the cilantro before serving.

Gratuitous shot of my thyme plant