April 19, 2010

Rhubarb -- a taste of Spring!

Rhubarb poppin' through the cool earth is a harbinger of spring in Indiana gardens. Because it often sweetened and used in pies and jams, most people think of it as a fruit. It is actually a vegetable, low in calories, rich in vitamin C and dietary fiber. It has a distinctive tart flavor that can stand alone or can be combined with berries (Strawberry-Rhubarb pie is a favorite of my customers), vegetables or meat dishes.

This plant will grow to a height of several feet as the days warm through April. It is important to remember that there are 2 distinct parts to the plant -- and only one, the stem, is edible! The blade or green leaves of the plant can grow up to a foot or more in breadth and they are poisonous.

The edible stalks are up to 18 inches long with a diameter of 1 to 2 inches. The color red has nothing to do with ripeness. Long thick green rhubarb stalks are just as good as the thinner red ones. The red stalks will be much sweeter, while medium stalks are generally very tender. They all provide good eating!
Rhubarb plants are perennial and they persist for many years -- we have a patch at the Garden House that has been around since the late 60's when Betsy's Grandmother made Stewed Rhubarb from Spring into early Summer.

An excellent reference site for all things rhubarb is rhubarbinfo.com

Here are some quick tips for handling rhubarb:
1. For the most intense flavor, buy your rhubarb from a local farmer's market or better yet, grow your own! It takes 1 full year to establish a plant -- you can begin harvesting late in the 2nd season. It is really hard to hold yourself back, but well worth the wait!
2. When harvesting rhubarb stalks, do not pick too much from any one plant at a time. The longer each clump can hold on to the foliage, the better chance it has to keep producing. Reach down low on the stalk and pull the whole stalk off of the crown. Bring a knife and cut off the poisonous leaves before bringing them into the house.
3. The greener the stalks, the more sugar you may need to add to your recipe.
4. Adding a splash of fresh or bottled lemon juice keeps rhubarb from turning brown as you cook with it.

Here's how I make Fresh Rhubarb Pie.
  • 4 cups of Rhubarb (uncooked) -- cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 & 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • milk
Mix first 4 ingredients & let sit for 15 minutes. Pour into unbaked pie shell. Drop 1 tablespoon of butter into the middle of the pie -- this enriches the flavor. Brush edge of pie with milk, attach top crust & pinch edges as desired. Brush top crust with milk & sprinkle with additional sugar -- this glazes & sweetens the crust. With a knife, cut 4 one inch vents in the top crust.

Place pie on lined cookie sheet -- filling will create sticky mess beneath pie pan.
Bake @ 350 degrees for 50 - 70 minutes -- look for the filling to bubble up through the vents!
Remove from oven and let cool for 2 hours.

Wishing you good digestion!

Chef Alan

April 10, 2010

The Ol' Bakery Case

We have hauled around this ol' bakery case since our retail storefront days at 10th & Emerson -- in the 90's. Most of the time, it sits empty, draped with a cloth, just inside the door to our catering kitchen. It reminds me of our beginnings, our loyal customers, and in particular, one of our favorite employees, Betty. Betty renewed her working career with us at age 70, after several health issues. She loved early morning! Her smile would greet customers and she knew what they wanted as they walked in the door. Betty wasn't too shy about telling customers what she didn't like -- the prune & poppy seed danishes. The bakery case also reminds us of life when our daughter was very young and she enjoyed hanging out with Dad & Mom after preschool. Having a warm cinnamon roll or a cherry turnover was a big treat -- one that she still enjoys, but now only when she comes home from college. Ahhhh....

Even though I only bake a large of batch of pastries around the holidays and for the Irvington Farmer's Market (June > October), I still bake smaller batches for our corporate breakfasts, brunches or if someone calls me... I have been known to bake a batch of Cinnamon Rolls for a family reunion (because they have fond memories from the 10th & Emerson days). We also package up large boxes of my Pecan Caramel Rolls at Christmas -- for people to take into the office.

I enjoy the challenge of yeast baking -- the temperature, the humidity and the timing! In a busy kitchen, we often have something in the oven when the dough is perfectly proofed & ready. Perhaps this is why most catering companies do not bake their own breakfast pastries; or breads & cakes, for that matter.

It's been nice reminiscing about the old bakery days.

Wishing you good digestion!

Chef Alan