Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Rhubarb? No, a Tea Party with Rhubarb, etc.

My only rhubarb (ahem!) would be with the weather.  Will sun ever come out again I growled towards the heavens? And despite - or because of the incessant rain - my garden is lush and glorious. I'm one of those lucky New Yorkers who has an outdoor space.  Not just a sliver of balcony but a full-on, south-facing space with established plants and an enormous Norway maple - growing in the adjacent garden - that hangs over a corner of my garden, and in the summertime gives the blazingly hot spot a patch of shade.

The periwinkle blue clematis (don't ask me its name - because it has long ago been erased from my memory - which I shouldn't have trusted in the first place - and like a real gardener, should have written down)  and its saucer-like, white neighbor are the first plants I see when I open my back door. They almost make me forget the weather.  But not for long, because the relentless rain battered them, and they are disappearing sooner than usual. 
The heuchera, however - ding-dong (my adjective) coral belles and purple palace - are enduring specimens having lived for at least 15 years confined to not too big pots. They live through the freezing and thawing winter weather, love to be covered with snow, and faithfully come back, year after year.

I chose this apartment, with its very large garden (almost the size of my apartment)- instead of one with an extra bedroom - so that I can entertain outside.  I can invite more people for a meal in the warm weather then the cool.  My guests can dine comfortably, surrounded by fragrant plants, chirping birds, and the occasional firefly, buffered from screeching city noise by thick greenery and my apartment.   All is weather-dependant, of  course.    

My friends, the Bellati had been in New York for the past 2 weeks visiting from their home in the Veneto, Italy - ( see Contessanally for all their adventures while in the City - well, at least Nally's!) - I wanted to have them over for tea - in the garden - on their final day in New York.  You probably know how that tea in garden didn't happen - it happened inside.  It wasn't really raining - but it was grey and chilly.   However, I carried on with my menu.  

This rhubarb started with rhubarb, the stalk.  It seems that every farmer, in every market in the greenmarket system has piles of blushing rhubarb for sale.  I'm crazy about rhubarb - even although it makes my teeth feel like a chalkboard being scratched by fingernails.   I do several things with rhubarb.  But this compote is my favorite way to use it.  Once I have the versatile  compote in the fridge I use it in several preparations.


I use honey for this compote.  First and most importantly, my brother-in-law, Jim Gross, is a beekeeper on Nantucket.  His dozen or so hives produce hundreds and hundreds of pounds of  blue-ribbon award-winning honey not defined by a particular blossom - but, a blend of many - he collects his honey at the end of season.  I like the way its deep, earthy flavor  takes the edge off the rhubarb without turning it into something that's cloying. And, the sturdy rhubarb stands up to the honey and retains its integrity.   Local strawberries are coming from South Jersey.  Huzza.

Makes about 1 3/4 quarts

1 1/2 - 1 3/4 pounds rhubarb, leaf end and root end removed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 quart strawberries, hulled and cut in half
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
juice of 1/2 orange
1/2 - 3/4 cup pure honey

1.  Add all the ingredients to a large, non-reactive saucepan over medium-low heat.  Cook until the rhubarb is soft - 15 - 20 minutes.
2.   Let cool.  Store in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Late May Tea Party:

Sweet and Salty Almonds  (see Cocktail Prolonge, January 11, 2011 blog for recipe)

Radish and Butter Sandwiches - good quality butter spread on each side of sliced egg challah or brioche bread.  Line one side of bread with sliced radishes, sprinkle with coarse salt - I like flaky Maldon salt -  and chopped chives.  Make a sandwich and press firmly to insure that the radishes will adhere to the butter.  Cut into 2, 3, or 4 pieces.

.  Smoked Salmon on Cucumber Slices -  cut English cucumbers on the diagonal into 1/4-inch slices - smear each slice with a bit of softened cream cheese, top each piece with a little folded piece of smoked salmon and garnish with a piece of chive.

.    Kunik Cheese with Crackers - I've talked about this upstate New York cheese in other posts.  It is with a doubt my favorite local cheese.  The voluptuous triple creme is made with goat's milk and Jersey cow's milk cream. 

.   Rhubarb- Strawberry Parfaits -  I used  juice glasses to create this Sunday sundae - first, some Rhubarb & Strawberry Compote, Ronnybrook Farm coconut yogurt and topped with a sprinkling of homemade granola.


Make a scrumptious Rhubarb & Strawberry Smoothie  for one - add 1/2 cup of the compote, 1/2 cup whole milk plain yogurt, a splash of pure vanilla extract, a pinch of ground cinnamon, and 6 or 7 ice cubes to a blender and blend until thick and smooth.  Consume, with pleasure, immediately!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Asparagus, again

I had all good intentions of making this entry close on the heels of my last post, Asparagus, Finally - but BLOGGER, the host of this blog - lost my last post and then stayed down for awhile.  The excuse is a little better than "the dog ate my homework" - isn't it?
A few weeks ago, when there was a lovely, sunny and dry Saturday a couple of friends came over for afternoon tea.   Great chance to see these friends and a a great opportunity to cook some more asparagus.
The savory asparagus-ricotta tart, made with an olive oil crust rang just the right note with icy hibiscus tea, which turned into hibiscus tea margaritas - or something like that - before you could say muy bueno.

The olive oil crust is basically a pasta frolla - shortbread, that uses olive oil for fat rather than butter.  It's crunchy - almost cracker-like, and a perfect little platter for ricotta and roasted asparagus.


Tarts like this one can be served as a contorno, a side dish to an antipasto offering of  cured meats like prosciutto, soppressata and speck.  They're also a perfect teatime savory - served just as I did.  After all, teatime quickly segues into cocktail hour and before you know it it's time for antipasto.  Well, this way you'll get a jump start.

Serves 4 - 8

for the pastry
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 eggs
1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 pounds asparagus, tough bottoms removed, peeled to within 1 inch of the tips
5 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
fresh chives, cut into 2-inch lengths - optional

1.   Make the pastry: in a food processor, combine the flour, olive oil, eggs, and salt and process until a dough forms, less than 1 minute.  Divide the dough in half, form each half into a disk, wrap separately in waxed paper or plastic wrap, and chill for at least 10 minutes.
2.   Make the filling:  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.   Place the asparagus on a baking sheet with sides and cover with te 5 teaspoons olive oil.  Use your hands to thoroughly coat the stalks.  Roast until pale gold- about 10-12 minutes.  Remove from oven.
3.   Lower oven temperature to 375 degrees F.  Remove pastry from refrigerator and let come to room temperature, a botu 15 minutes.   On a lightly floured, smooth surface, roll out one of the disks into a 1/4-inch-thick circle.  Use two metal spatulas to place it on one side of an 11 1/2-by-17 1/2-inch baking sheet (I usually cover the sheet with parchment paper).   Use your thumb and forefinger to roll in and pinch the edge to create a little rim.  Repeat this with the remaining disk.  Spread half of the ricotta on the bottom of each pastry.  Place half of the asparagus, in a decorative way, over each layer of ricotta.  Sprinkle half of the Parmesan and salt over the top of each tart.
Bake until the pastry is golden, about 30 minutes.   Let cool on a rack just a bit, then cut each tart into 4 wedges.   Garnish with chives, if using, and serve immediately.

I made the hibiscus tea according to instructions given to me by my friend (and one of my guests), Amy Chaplin, of Coconut and Quinoa.   Amy gave me my first packet of dry hibiscus petals - and these directions:   steep the tea - about 1 heaping tablespoon per cup of boiling water - sweeten with agave syrup to sweeten to taste.  A spritz of fresh lime juice to finish.   Drain the tea after 5 - 10 minutes and serve this breathtakingly beautiful drink over ice with a slice of lime.  If you're so inclined - and it's 5 pm somewhere in the world, add a splash of tequila, white rum or vodka.
SUSANSIMONSAYS: Guess what? Research has proven that hibiscus tea will lower high blood pressure.   Soothe hypertension.  How's that - beautiful, delicious, and healthy.  Sounds just right to me.
Find both loose hibiscus tea and tea bags at Republic of Tea.
BTW - my friend, Maryam - My Marrakesh -  tells me that the Egyptians sweeten their hibiscus tea with vanilla-flavored sugar.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Delicious, In-Between-The-Seasons Salads

I get to the point where I just can't bear to look at another box of  mixed baby greens,  baby arugula, hearts of romaine or  a wilted head of green leaf lettuce - even if they are all organic.  They all taste the same.  As I anxiously await the first heads of local lettuce - I'd trade, hmmm, what would I trade for a head of slightly bitter oak leaf lettuce, a bunch of just-picked (dandelions mixed in) peppery rucola, and a head of buttery Boston lettuce - well, I'll trade anyone of the below salads that I've been making to take their place.  These salads may require a bit more effort than simply rinsing and drying leaves and dressing them with fruity olive oil and fragrant vinegar - but they'll satisfy.  For sure.  As a matter fact, bring some of the "in-between" salad ingredients forward with you to mix with fresh lettuce leaves. Especially, nuts, seeds, and fresh herbs - they add color and texture - and nutrients.


I made this one for  Easter Sunday luncheon.  It was a beautiful day and my Easter bunny guests - and their adorable French bull dog, came to me after parading their splendorous finery on 5th Avenue.  Bill Cunningham caught them all in On the Street - Easter Parade 2011, his New York Times column that appeared in the paper, Sunday, May 1st.  We started our casual, by now traditional, lunch with this very pretty salad.  I choose it for color, pink and green, and for the way  creamy, nutty avocados mix with sweetly tart, explode-in-your-mouth grapefruit.  I added toasted hazelnuts for crunch, and chives for their defining flavor and because I have many pots of them in my garden.  My first springtime crop!

Serves 4

2 pink or red grapefruits
2 avocados, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons chopped toasted hazelnuts
1 tablespoon chopped chives, plus a few whole blades for garnish
2 teaspoons vincotto or aged balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon fruity extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
romaine lettuce leaves for serving

1.  Remove the sections from the grapefruit:  use a very sharp paring  knife to peel away the skin, then the white pith from the fruit.  Using the same sharp knife, carefully remove the segments one at a time by cutting between the fruit and membrane.   Remove the seeds from the segments.  Add to a mixing bowl.
Add the avocado pieces, chives and hazelnuts.
2.  In small bowl whisk together the vincotto, olive oil and salt.   Add to the larger bowl and carefully toss ingredients together.
3.  Serve, immediately (or the ingredients will discolor) on a bed of torn romaine lettuce leaves.


I love pineapple - you may know this from other blog entries.  There must be a huge harvest  going on right now in Costa Rica as I keep buying them by the twos - two for 5 bucks.  Irresistible!   Instead of making dessert with them I'm now using pineapple for a savory salad - sort of.   I enjoy eating my version, basically a combination of two retro salads;  pineapple, and carrot, with marinated tofu, with a frittata,  or with roast chicken.

Serves 6 - 8

1 golden pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
4 carrots, peeled and grated (I used a box grater - not worth getting a food processor dirty for 4 carrots)
1/3 cup Thompson raisins
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
1 heaping tablespoon good quality mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon sherry vinegar - or another fruity vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1.  Add the pineapple, carrots, raisins, and sesame seeds to a bowl.  Toss together to evenly distribute the ingredients. 
2.  In a small bowl whisk together the mayonnaise, vinegar and oil.   Add to the large bowl and combine with the other ingredients.   Serve immediately.   Salad can be refrigerated in a tightly sealed container for up to a week.


This salad is kind of a relative to the pickled red cabbage - another blog.   I toast the walnuts for this salad, just as I did the hazelnuts for the previous salad, because it brings out - emphasizes their flavor, and gives them extra crunch.  Once made it  lasts for up to a week in the refrigerator, and retains its crispiness.  

Serves 6 - 8

juice and zest of 1 lime
2 apples such as fuji or gala, cored and thinly sliced on a mandolin
1/2 red cabbage, cored and thinly sliced on a mandolin
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1 heaping tablespoon coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1.   Add all the ingredients to the bowl in the above order - lime first and the olive oil last.  Thoroughly mix together.  I used my hands in order to evenly distribute all the components.   Let sit for at least an hour before serving.

SUSANSIMONSAYS: I went out to the borough of Queens again a few days ago.  This time it was to visit the wonderful Greek supermarket, Titan.   If you go - you must carefully peruse every aisle and pay special attention to the enormous selection of a Greek favorite, spoon fruits.  Jars of all sizes and shapes are filled with figs, cherries, sliced oranges and so on preserved in syrup.  Don't miss the handmade orzo; jars of taramasalata; bags of rusks; cans and bottles of olive oil; dried herbs; honey; preserved-in-brine grapes leaves - just for starters.  In the back of the market find a case of what seems to be the Himalayan mountain range, but it's really a selection of various kinds of feta cheese.  Near the cheese cases find barrels filled with kind of olive imaginable.    In the front of the market there's a bakery.  I can't resist baklava - and I didn't.  However, I discovered a new Greek sweet whose name eludes me.  It's a soft, soaked-in-syrup pastry filled with sesame paste - a kind of halvah.  The impression that I got with my first bite was "this is the best peanut butter cookie I've ever eaten".   It's beyond peanut butter cookie - soft and sweet, smooth with a slight sesame seed crunch. Heaven.