Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Favorite Visitors, Profanity, Etc.

Wednesday? Are you sure? Really? Jeez. Ok then.

We have been enjoying an awesome string of lady visitors. First, an evening with a cross-country trekker on her way to Maine. We had not hugged her since our wedding almost two years ago, so you can imagine that it was durn good to squish her some. Due to crazy calendars I had to work for most of her visit, but she and my man drank beers and cooked food and talked about life and things that grow and when I came home from work at 11 (righty-o, that is LATE for this family) they were both animatedly on the living room floor examining serrated arborist tools. Good times, and I only let her go because now that she and her girl live in Maine I will see them much more often.

Then that girl up there flew right into Asheville for a seriously awesome weekend. I have a feeling she might give me shit for putting that photo up there, but can you blame me? What a babe. Her mama took that photo at our wedding, and although you can't tell from her carefree smile, she is busting her ass in the hot morning sun helping get the farm where we were married ready to roll. This one is my oldest friend, someone I have known for over 30 years now. I know that and it still blows my mind. This is the woman who makes me laugh the hardest, that kind of hold-your-stomach-in-and-try-not-to-pee kind of laugh. Is that an old friend thing? It's definitely an awesome friend thing. We took it sloooooow for the weekend - ate some barbecue, went to the plant nursery, worked in the garden, yammered. Then she took off for Namibia because that is how she rolls.

Speaking of the garden, can I just high five the heck out of this spring? Aside from the few unnecessary days of 90+ degree weather, this spring has just sprung in the most delightful fashion. Which is to say: no Dogwood Winter frost/snow snap. The warm weather rushed the daffodils and tulips some, but oh - the trees. This is the year for redbuds and dogwoods. The latter are seriously blowing my mind - lacy white visions of loveliness, everywhere I look. The garden has been correspondingly pleased, with carrot seeds up in less than a week (last year they took almost three weeks) and bok choy ready to be eaten already. Our raised bed is full of dahlias and lupine and yarrow, and with Rachel's help we also planted in our shade garden underneath our bedroom window: Sweet Woodruff, a native Piedmont Azalea, Solomon's Seal, Ostrich Fern, Columbine, Nasturtium, and some lettuces and cilantro that will get some sun but hopefully not enough to make them bolt. It looks spare right now, but everything in there has a reputation for size, so I think by the end of the summer it should look mighty fine in there. We were hunting for a Cinnamon Fern, and I'll admit that the Trilliums really hollered at me at the nursery, but they were too dang pricey. Lastly, can we talk about the rhubarb? It is enormous. People stop and talk to us about it. Multiple people have made Little Shop of Horrors comparisons. We have been picking it in a restrained way even so, and yesterday we ended up with enough for a recipe we'd been eying from this lovely book.

Hello Rhubarb Cherry Brown Betty. I will not repeat them here, but good grief when I put the first bite of this in my mouth I uttered some seriously signature swears to convey just how awesome it was. As it turns out: rhubarb from your garden tastes better than the rhubarb from the store. Will I never come to just expect this?? And, while we're on the subject, how would you describe the taste of rhubarb? We came up with sour, spicy, earthy, and BRIGHT. If you can get your hands on rhubarb and cherries, make this make this make this. We used the cherries we picked and froze last year, mostly sour cherries but a few wild sweet cherries too. Note that we did not adjust the sugar content for the sour cherries, and we both thought it was a perfect amount of sweet, so with Bings we would probably dial the sugar back just a bit. Also, we thought this shortbread from this book was even better than the Cook's Illustrated shortbread, bonus.

Rhubarb Cherry Brown Betty

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, for pan
1 pound vanilla bean shortbread, crushed (approx 4 cups crushed, recipe to follow)
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
6 cups rhubarb, trimmed and sliced 1/2 inch thick (about 1 1/2 pounds prepped)
2 cups (12 ounces) Bing cherries, fresh or frozen, pitted (we used mostly sour)
2 tablespoons kirsch or brandy (we used whiskey and almond extract)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Generously butter a 3-quart baking dish.

Rub the sugar and cinnamon together in a large bowl, then add the rhubarb and cherries and toss to combine. Stir in the liquor, then let sit for 15 minutes to draw some of the juices from the fruit (ours sat longer than this).

Evenly spread half of the crushed cookies in the prepared pan, then add the rhubarb mixture and all of its juices and gently spread it over the crumbs. Top with the remaining crushed cookies.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and, using the back of a large offset spatula or something similar, gently press down on the betty to ensure the rhubarb mixture is submerged in its juices. Bake uncovered for an additional 15 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned. Test the rhubarb with a paring knife to ensure that it is soft. Cool for 20 minutes before serving, topped with a dollop of whipped or ice cream.

Vanilla Bean Shortbread

This recipe makes 48 cookies, which is almost-but-not-quite three times the amount you'll need for the Betty. We halved it.

1/3 cup granulated sugar
Seeds scraped from half a vanilla bean
2 cups unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 cups unsifted confectioners sugar
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup rice flour

Stir the granulated sugar and vanilla bean seeds together in the bowl of an upright mixer with the paddle attachment, then add the butter, confectioners sugar, and salt. Mix on medium speed for 1-2 minutes, until fully incorporated but not fluffy. Stir in the vanilla and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Stir in the flours in two additions, scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition. Fully incorporate the flour without over mixing.

Dump dough onto work surface, divide in two pieces, place each on a sheet of parchment paper and form into a log about 12 inches long. Shape, wrap, and chill for at least two hours or until firm.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice each log into rounds 1/2 inch thick and arrange on a baking sheet one inch apart. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until the edges are golden brown (note: this of course took way longer in our oven). Allow to cool, store in an airtight container. You can also freeze the unbaked logs, well wrapped, for up to two months.

Serious yum.


cake said...

i wish we had sour cherries in our freezer, but the only tree we know about didn't produce much last summer. we need to find some others!

i did, however, grab some rhubarb from the farmer's market and whip up that big-crumb, rhubarb coffee cake (of last year's fame). i added some not very sweet peach jam (that we have too much of), and kind of wish i hadn't. but still, it was really yummy. i'd like to try the brown betty too.

i don't know how to describe the taste of rhubarb. i was surprised when i took the first bite of the crumb cake. i expect it just to taste like sour fruit with a bunch of sugar. but it doesn't. it has it's own special thing. "earthy" and "bright" are good choices.

Heather said...

Does Cosmo eat rhubarb? I feel like little guys or gals might be the best folks to ask about what rhubarb tastes like, insofar as not being (unintentionally) limited to food words! If he eats any, tell him inquiring minds want to know. (And make that Brown Betty, it is SO GOOD. Although definitely best the first day - B and I decided that we would halve or third the recipe and just make it fresh two or three days in a row - it's that much better the first day...).