Thursday, August 28, 2008

Deliciously Out-of-Season

Yea, so this recipe is pretty much seasonally inappropriate right now. But with all the stuff I've had to take care of in the past couple of months (i.e. the bar exam, moving, finding an apartment, booking a trip!), I just haven't had a chance to share it until now. I do hope you'll forgive me.

Rhubarb holds a special place in my heart. I had never tried it before I lived in Austria for six months in high school. My host mother made a wonderful rhubarb tart often, and it was always delicious. Faintly sweet, with the slightest pucker that makes the taste buds stand at attention - I could tell that rhubarb was good stuff.

Rhubarb is a truly fascinating thing - somewhat mystical in its taste, texture and flavor. It really is like nothing else - it's essentially inedible raw, it's leaves are poisonous, it really is like nothing else, and it technically is a vegetable after all. However, once cooked, it becomes something great, it practically melts into something delicate and complex, and it's combination with strawberry creates one of the most classic of food duos. The two complement each other so effortlessly, as the mellow tartness of the rhubarb plays off of the universally-adored sweetness of the strawberry.

This cobbler is especially great at the end of an early summer BBQ, shared with friends all basking in the glow of law school graduation and a shared shirking of bar-review responsibilities (even when the BBQ turns into an indoor grill-fest because, ahem, my lovely friend Sara failed to check that the grill was operational; actually, cobbler is especially good in such a situation). Warm from the oven and topped with vanilla ice cream, it's comfort food in it's purest form.

Cobbler is the type of dessert that even those who don't care much for dessert enjoy. It must be because you don't have to love dessert to love fruit, and cobbler is among the most delicious of ways to showcase summer's bounty.

Though I can only attest to the deliciousness of the precise recipe shared below, I can only imagine that any type of fruit would result in an equally delicious cobbler, since the cornbread-biscuit topping is delicious and hearty and complements the sweetness of the fruit oh-so well. Next time I make this, it's going to be with peaches, since peach cobbler and cornbread are mainstays of any good southern square, why not compact the two into a glorious, sweet, savory, crumbly dish of summer? Just replace the strawberries and rhubarb with some sliced peaches (I'd imagine about two-or-so pounds would do just fine, a few tablespoons of sugar and a tablespoon of cornstarch, bake the peaches a bit before topping with the biscuit mixture. Once topped, just bake as below for about 25 minutes.

Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler With Cornmeal Biscuit Topping

OK, so this recipe should have been shared in late spring. For that I apologize, BUT - with the wide array of high-quality frozen fruits available, a good cobbler can be enjoyed any time of year.

When I baked this, I found the cornbread biscuit to overwhelm the fruit topping a bit in its volume. The proportions were just a bit out of whack, so in the recipe below I have adjusted the fruit filling a bit (such that it should fit a 9 x 13 inch baking dish, as opposed to a pie dish, which the original recipe called for), but I have left the topping unadjusted. If the proportions in the picture look good to you, I have put the adjusted amounts in parentheses.

Adapted from Bon App├ętit, April 1996; recipe from

1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 lbs strawberries, hulled, halved
2 cups 1/3 to 1/4-inch-thick slices fresh or frozen rhubarb
1 cup all purpose flour (1 1/3 cup)
1/3 cup sugar (4/9 cups, or about 1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons)
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal (1/3 cup)
1 tablespoon baking powder (1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon baking soda (1 1/3 teaspoons)
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, diced (4 tablespoons)
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk (3/4 cup)

To Make Filling:

Preheat oven to 400°F. Mix sugar, flour and cloves in large bowl. Add strawberries and rhubarb and toss to coat with sugar mixture. Transfer filling to 9 x 13 inch baking dish.

To Make Topping:

Mix flour, sugar, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Add butter and rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Gradually add buttermilk, tossing with fork until moist clumps form (do not overmix). Spoon topping evenly over filling.

Bake until topping is golden brown and filling is tender, about 25 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. Top with ice cream, if you know what's good for you.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Beeting the Heat

Hello? Anyone there? The bar is (mercifully) over, I have moved out of Chicago, and I am back! For my first post back, I wanted to share with you a recipe that was a constant in my kitchen for a decent portion of the last two months.

There are some things that we eat just because they're good for us. There are things that we eat in spite of the fact that they're, um, not as good for us. Then there are things that fall graciously into both categories, allowing us to eat what we truly enjoy, while reducing the guilt factor by just so happening to be something good for you. For me, beets are one of those generous foods - they allow me to enjoy what I'm eating knowing that I'm doing both my palette and my body a great favor. Not-so-recently there was a post on the NY Times Health Blog of the 11 healthiest foods out there that they presumptuously concluded you and I are not eating, and beets were number one. However, the article noted that cooking them tempts out all the antioxidants and nutrients that make them oh-so-good for you.

I don't know about all of you, but not until recently did I even think of eating a beet uncooked. I love beets, more perhaps than most normal people do, but I had always eaten them cooked. It seemed to be such a rough, hulking root that trying to bite into it without cooking would greatly reduce the enjoyment gained from eating it. However, grating the beets provides an excellent solution to this problem. Fine shreds of beets have a wonderfully inviting crunch and pleasant texture, and just taste that much better knowing how much better it is for you.

The following recipe is not as much of a recipe as it is a jumble of delicious things that become only more delicious when thrown haphazardly together and eaten straight out of the mixing bowl, unless - I guess - you wish to share. I found it in Mark Bittman's list of 101 picnic ideas that was published in the Times dining section earlier this summer. Since everything could be made in under 20 minutes it seemed like the natural place for me to turn while studying for the bar. I unfortunately did not have a chance to get to any other ideas on the list*, but this salad is colorful, refreshing, fresh and healthy - everything a summer salad should be.

I should warn, however, that if you choose to eat this as your main course, there is a slight possibility it will make you pee magenta. This happened to me, and it scared the shit out of me, because, you know - who pees magenta? Really? Once I made the beet-magenta pee connection, I did some internet research and discovered that eating beets causes this same reaction in 14% of the population, and is purportedly a sign of an iron-deficient diet. I'm sticking with the fact that only 14% of the population is eating enough beets to have this reaction. I, for one, am proud to call myself a magenta-peeing beet-eater. I am curious as to whether this actually happens to other people, so if you try this salad leave a comment letting me know!

* Note: this salad is, in fact, number ONE on the list of 101 picnic ideas, so some might say that I didn't get anywhere on the list. Some.

Raw Beet Salad with Pistachios and Goat Cheese

These measurements are all approximate. I just added until i liked the way it tasted, which is easy to do when dealing with a salad. I've made this with both soft goat cheese and semi-soft, and both work equally well. I like to add a bit more cheese atop the bowl just so that there is something in there that is not dyed magenta.

This took me just about 20 minutes to make, but will take no more than 5 minutes if made with a food processor. If you're grating by hand, do yourself a favor and wear dark clothes; that garnet-toned juice, gorgeous as it may be, is not as gorgeous when forever stained on your favorite t-shirt.

2-3 medium-sized beets, peeled
Zest of one-half of an orange
Juice of one-half to one orange (depending on your taste and the size of your beets)
1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1-2 ounces of goat cheese
1/4-1/2 cup of pistachios, roughly chopped
2-3 tablespoons chopped parsley

Grate beets either with a box grater or in the food processor, being sure to capture all the juice. Add the orange zest, orange juice and olive oil, adjusting to taste.

Add the chopped pistachios and parsley and mix to combine. Crumble the goat cheese over the beets and gently mix to distribute. Sprinkle with some sea salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste, dig in, and enjoy.