Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Romp with Rhubarb

My mom always raved about strawberry-rhubarb pies from her childhood. In Best Food Writing 2007, there's an excerpt from Barbara Kingsolver's 2007 book, Animal Vegetable Miracle, that highlights rhubarb's savior-like qualities when no other seasonal fruit is available. And when I made rugelach this summer, I used some strawberry-rhubarb preserves in a few of them (heated and mashed a bit, of course).

Reading Kingsolver's book this summer piqued my rhubarb curiosity once again, and the Boston Globe Magazine serendipitously printed a recipe for Foolish Rhubarb Cardamom Parfaits. Naturally, I wanted to have my hand in preparing this,, plant...

What the heck is rhubarb? According to wikipedia, rhubarb is a vegetable, but we use only the stalk for cooking/baking. Good thing, because the leaves are toxic. I'd suggest checking out the wikipedia article (linked above) to see photos of the stuff before it's chopped up into packable pieces for the grocery store.

My adventure with rhubarb turned into a late-night cooking craze, as I decided to make the parfaits after finishing up a batch of Scottish scones (some made on the griddle, some in the oven). And unfortunately, I was actually the only person that even tried the parfait, or the rhubarb for that matter, because my parents both had stomach bugs at the time. So you'll either have to trust my judgment or make it yourself!

The rhubarb is a hard stalk, with skin about the same color as a red onion. Under the skin, it's a pale green. I have no experience with it, so I don't know if mine looked healthy, or if it was old as the hills - all I know is that it cooked up fine so I don't have any complaints. You have to peel off the skin by digging under it with a knife and peeling all the way down the stalk. It's very simple, and produces beautiful curls of purplish ribbon.

After peeling and chopping the rhubarb, I threw it in a saucepan with some sugar, orange juice/zest, cardamom, and vanilla. I didn't think there was enough liquid, so I added more juice. That ended up being a mistake: first of all, the rhubarb oozes liquid when it's cooked, so the extra juice was unnecessary; secondly, the sauce ended up too orangey.

Once cooked down and mashed up, I refrigerated the sauce overnight. I made whipped cream the next morning, and then assembled a giant parfait (if made with cream, parfaits should be tiny, I've learned). I must say that I liked the look and idea of the concoction better than the actual taste. I thought it was too sweet, so maybe with less sugar and less orange juice it would work better. But it was still fun, and paired well with the plain scones I had made. Not bad for a first attempt at rhubarb preparation.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Let's Do Brunch


Brunch is, without hesitation, my favorite meal of any day I can get it. Since I normally wake up at a crisp 11AM, brunch and I have had a long love affair--full of scones, home fries, pancakes...

Sabrina’s, Rx, and my newfound favorite Honey’s Sit 'n' Eat are all fine choices in the Philly brunch scene. However, during my last weeks of school I didn't want to bother with SEPTA, an hour-long wait, and a $14 omelet. Instead, a brunch in the comforts of our home and pajamas sounded more to my liking.

Hosting a brunch may sound overwhelming when you take them on full force but with the right attitude, some good planning ahead, and a solid menu, they can be an easy and relaxing event for all. The most solid advice I could offer is don’t be overambitious. I’ve made this mistake too many times while hosting dinner parties. Individual omelets with the guest’s choice of ten different chopped fillings can be elegant but why go through the hassle? Instead, go for scrambled eggs which can be made in a big batch and served buffet style.

It's also important to do enough preparation. This starts with having a menu in mind long before the morning of the party. Try to prepare as much as possible beforehand to avoid being exhausted and stressed by the time your guests arrive that morning. For example, scone dough can be prepared in advance and simply cut up and baked the morning of. It is important to have a game plan before cooking. Know what order you plan to make items so you can figure out what needs the oven and what should be served warm.

As far as what should be on the menu, try to make a balance of savory and sweet dishes to cater to different brunch palates. Avoid making dishes for the first time - stick with tried and true recipes so you don't encounter unexpected surprises midway into cooking. A pot of coffee is a must, even if you don’t drink it. I assure you others will.

It is best to do your brunch family style--have dishes out on the table and let guests serve themselves. And of course, a vase of flowers is always a nice touch.

My last piece of advice, and the most important, is that you should enjoy yourself as the host. If a dish does not come out as perfectly as hoped, don’t obsess over it. Enjoy the company of your friends and family and by all means, eat until you can’t even think about dinner.

Our Brunch Menu
• Asparagus and Onion Frittata (Courtesy of Epicurious)
• Trader Joe’s Basil Chicken Sausages
• Roasted New Potatoes with Rosemary and Garlic
• Banana Berry Smoothie
• Trader Joe’s Orange Juice
• Lemon Poppy Seed Pound Cake Muffins (Courtesy of Joy of Baking)

Other suggested menu options: French toast, quiche, scrambled eggs or frittata with various toppings (goat cheese, lox, mushrooms, artichokes, leeks, spinach, etc.), yogurt, coffee cake, cinnamon rolls, bacon, hash browns, home fries, biscuits

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