Monthly Archives: May 2012

Honey Lavender Browned Butter Rhubarb Crisp

I’m not taking the day off for Memorial Day. I have no barbeques or picnics to attend. I’m headed off to the lab to play with my yeasties so that I can take off next weekend. I am going to be spending a few days in Washington, in the company of my family. So I’m okay with not taking the holiday today.

But let’s say I was going to go to a barbeque … I would bring rhubarb crisp. Rhubarb crisp sweetened with honey and flavored with lavender. Topped with an oatmeal-brown sugar topping made altogether more decadent by not just melting the butter, but browning it. With a handful of slivered toasted almonds for a little crunch. Oh boy.

Let’s be honest here. I making this dessert regardless of going to a barbeque or not. I’m just making enough to fill a 6 x 6 inch dish and not a 9 x 13 inch dish. Three generous servings that I am happy not to have to share. One for breakfast this morning, one for dessert later and one for breakfast tomorrow. And because this is a crisp, easy enough to scale up if you’d like. Fill a dish with fruit. Add something to sweeten to your taste (I like my rhubarb, well any fruit really, on the face-puckering side of things). Top with equal parts flour, oats, brown sugar and enough melted butter to bring the dough together. Bake. Eat. Enjoy.

I’ll say it again: I’m okay with not taking the holiday today. I might, however spend the morning working from home first – drinking my coffee and eating a proper breakfast.

Honey Lavender Browned Butter Rhubarb Crisp
serves 2
2 cups rhubarb, cut in 2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon lavender6 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup oats
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds
1/8 teaspoon sea salt

Toss together rhubarb and honey in a small (I used 0.75 quart, ~6 x 6 inch) baking dish. Crush the lavender with your hands and sprinkle over rhubarb. Set aside. In a small saucepan, heat butter until browned, about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. In a small bowl combine flour, oats, brown sugar, slivered almonds. Stir in browned butter until a dough forms. Sprinkle over rhubarb. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until crust is brown and fruit is bubbling.

Thai Red Curry Soup with Winter Squash

I have another soup recipe for you. It’s funny, how as an adult your tastes and preferences change. As a child, I remember not loving soup. Not hating it either, but never, ever getting excited about it. Perhaps it was too many meals of grilled cheese and Campbell’s tomato soup out of a can (the thought of which still kind of makes me gag). My mother told me to plug my nose and drink up. And being a kid, I made the entire process as dramatic and awful as possible.

Times change. Now, I love soup. I love making soup. I love eating soup. I love freezing soup and re-discovering it weeks later when I’ve put off going to the grocery store and have nothing in my fridge. Or when an intense summer storm blows through and all you want is some comfort food. Or (and in this case, in addition to…) when you work in the lab until 8pm and it then takes you a better part of an hour getting home because the silly summer bus schedules. Soup saves the day.

I made this Thai-Red Curry Soup with Chicken and Winter Squash a few weeks back when I was desperate to use a kabocha squash that had been sitting in my kitchen for weeks. Throw in some ginger, a little garlic, some coconut milk and a splash of lime and you’ve got something fantastic going on. I added chicken because at the time I was craving some protein – but it certainly isn’t necessary. The Thai basil, however, is (although regular sweet basil also will do in a pinch).

Thai Red Curry Soup with Winter Squash
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb chicken breasts, thinly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced in quarter rounds
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
3 pounds winter squash—peeled, seeded and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 quart chicken broth
One 13 1/2-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
1 teaspoon lime zest
1 large stalk of fresh lemongrass, smashed and cut into 2-inch lengths
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons fish sauce
Salt, to taste

1/2 cups Thai basil leaves

2 cups jasmine rice, cooked

In large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken and onions and cook for ~5 minutes. Add ginger, jalapeno and garlic, cook for about another minute. Stir in red curry paste and cook for a couple of minutes, until fragrant. Add squash and chicken stock, and lemongrass – bring to a boil and then let simmer for 30 minutes. Stir in brown sugar, lime juice, fish sauce and season with salt to taste. Remove from heat, remove lemongrass and add basil leaves, letting the heat from the soup wilt them slightly. Serve with a small scoop of jasmine rice.

A Front Porch Cocktail

The warm weather has hit Minneapolis. It’s quite lovely and all together pleasant.

It makes me long for a front porch, a rocking chair and a cocktail. To sit back, reflect upon the day with the warm summer air washing over you, all the while sipping a cold drink and greeting the people walking through the neighborhood. A moment of quiet. The very best kind.

I don’t have a rocking chair. Or a front porch. But I do have a cocktail perfect for just a scene. While I lived in North Carolina, it was gin & tonic. But here in Minnesota … it’s rhubarb, rosemary & rum. It’s light, refreshing and herbal.

But best of all – it has rhubarb! (And there are many more rhubarb-related recipes in my queue – you have been warned!)

Rhubarb, Rosemary & Rum
from Bon Appetit, April 2009
makes a single drink 
1 ounce white rum
1 ounce rosemary simple syrup (see below)
2 ounces rhubarb juice
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
ice cubes
rosemary sprig, for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a glass. Stir to combine. Garnish with rosemary sprig. Enjoy!

Rosemary Simple Syrup
makes 1 cup
1 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup fresh rosemary leaves

Bring water and sugar to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat, stirring often. Remove from heat; add 1/2 cup rosemary leaves. Let steep 5 minutes. Strain, pressing on rosemary; discard rosemary. Let syrup cool at least 1 hour.

Entering into a science-writing state of mind

Let’s just get the name of the recipe out of the way:

Brown Butter Almond Petite Cakes with Rhubarb served with Roasted Strawberry Coconut Milk Ice Cream.

We’ll get to the food later…

I’ve begun my descent into the writing hole. It’s not enough to collect and analyze data, we (academic) scientists have to publish on it. For me, it means entering into an entirely different state of mind. I like to publish science stories – and I don’t mean that I like to fabricate science, but rather present the bits and pieces of data in a cohesive storyline. Wrap the whole thing up and put a pretty bow on top so that people will be excited and intrigued about what might be inside. And once it’s unwrapped, hopefully readers will find a brand-new toy that is not only fun to play with, but easy to use with clear instructions.

Sometimes science papers aren’t wrapped pretty or else contain a lopsided, hand-knitted sweater from your crazy aunt – you don’t get excited about them. Other times they might have the coolest toy you can imagine – but it’s difficult to assemble, with thousands of parts and instuctions only in japanese – difficult to interpret. There is a delicate balance between selling and overselling, between having too little details or having way too many.

Hence, entering into the science-writing state of mind. Clearly articulating a complete and well controlled study without being boring, while at the same time, making sure that you aren’t overstating the data. It’s not an easy thing to do well. And the beginning stages, especially for this scientist, are not a pleasant place to be in. I find myself at the end of a day with nothing to show for it, as all I’ve done is try to collect all the threads of the science story. The writing won’t come for a few more seemingly unproductive days.

During these early days of science writing I find myself wandering the internet, strolling over to some of my favorite blogs and digging through their archives. Or finally taking the time to check out a new one that a friend referred to me. And thinking about food, as I am want to do. Then making it, so that I can put off writing for just a little bit longer.

As soon as I saw the recipe for Brown Butter Almond Petite Cakes with Rhubarb I knew that it was going to jump to the beginning of my kitchen queue. And once I started smelling the browned butter – I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into these cute little cakes made with almond flour and topped with diced rhubarb. I paired it with the Roasted Strawberry Coconut Ice Cream, another recipe that I had had my eye on ever since my friend Kelaine pointed it to me and is about as close as I will ever come to presenting a strawberry-rhubarb combination here. But it works.

Brown Butter Almond Petite Cakes with Rhubarb

from Orangette
makes four 3-inch cakes
12 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup almond flour
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
100 g (1/2 + 1/3 cup) powdered sugar
3 large egg whites
2 slender stalks rhubarb, finely chopped


Put the butter in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, and stir until it turns a dark amber color, about 10-15 minutes – this seems like forever while you are cooking it – but it is well worth the effort. Remove the butter from the heat, and strain it through a cheesecloth-lined sieve into a small bowl to remove the foamy butter solids and any dark sediment. The butter should smell deeply caramelly. Set it aside to cool, but do not allow it to harden.

When the butter is cool, weigh it. You should have 3 ounces for this recipe, and 12 tablespoons, when browned, yields just a bit too much. Set a small bowl atop a scale, zero the scale, and pour exactly 3 ounces of browned butter into the bowl. This is what you will use for the recipe; any remaining butter can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for other uses.

In a large bowl, sift together the almond flour, all-purpose flour, and powdered sugar. Add the egg whites, and stir with a rubber spatula to combine. It will look a little odd and slimy. Add the brown butter, and fold until smooth. The batter will at first look strange and oily, but keep folding and stirring gently, and it will come together. Refrigerate, covered, for at least one hour and up to a day.

When you are ready to bake the cakes, preheat the oven to 350º. Lightly butter four, 3-inch ramekins. Scoop the batter by 1/3-cupfuls into the prepared ramekins. The batter should be thick and dense: you may want to spoon it into the measuring cup, and then scrape the contents into the muffin cup. Sprinkle about 1 1/2 tablespoons minced rhubarb on top, and lightly press the rhubarb into the batter. Bake the cakes for 45 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned and the tops look dry. Allow them to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges to release them, and remove them to a rack to cool completely.


Roasted Strawberry Coconut Milk Ice Cream

adapted from Sprouted Kitchen
makes 1 quart
1 pound strawberries, halved
1 tablespoon raw sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 tablespoons cream cheese
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup half and half
2/3 cup granulated sugar

Place halved strawberries in a 9 x 9 inch baking dish and sprinkle with raw sugar. Roast in a 300º oven for about an hour (my strawberries were rather large – it may take less time with smaller berries). Keep the strawberries in the oven, but turn off the heat and allow them to cool. Transfer to a food processor or blender and puree.

In a small bowl, mix cornstarch and 1 tablespoon of the half and half into a slurry until smooth. Set aside. In a large batter bowl, mix together cream cheese and salt. Stir in roasted strawberry puree and set aside.

In a medium pot, combine coconut milk, half and half and sugar over medium high heat. Bring to a roiling boil and cook for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in cornstarch slurry. Return to medium heat and cook for about a minute longer and the mixture starts to thicken. Remove from heat and stir into the batter bowl with the strawberries and cream cheese. Cool completely. Freeze in an ice cream maker.

Rhubarb Pie à la mode and a lesson in kitchen math

Rhubarb. People don’t call it the ‘pie plant’ for nothing.

I decided to keep it simple with the first batch of the season. Straight up rhubarb pie with a citrus twist. À la mode, of course.

But first, a lesson in kitchen math. It’s no secret that I like to bake and share. However, somethings are easier to bring into work than other. Cookies, cupcakes, quick breads, brownies all have a hardiness to them that lends themselves well to transport and sharing. Pies, on the other hand have a certain delicacy to them that does not. I like pies, but eating an entire pie on my own is probably not the greatest idea. Enter the 7-inch pie pan.

I bought this pie pan as part of a set with a standard 9-inch pie pan. Mostly because they are in my favorite shade of green, but with the added benefit that I can now make a more reasonably sized pie. Exactly how much more reasonable, one may ask. Here’s the math: the volume of a pie dish = Π*r*r*h. So for a 9-inch pie pan the volume is (3.14)*(4.5)*(4.5)*(1) ≈ 63.6 cubic inches. A 7-inch pie pan is (3.14)*(3.5)*(3.5)*(1) ≈ 38.5 cubic inches. That’s approximately a 40% reduction in pie volume (38.5/63.6)! Eating 40% less pie – that’s a piece of cake … I mean pie …  well you know what I mean.

So how would one go about making 60% of a recipe? Conversions, conversions, conversions. And as I tell my students when they start working in the lab – keep track of your units! For example, 1/4 cup = 4 tablespoons and 1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons. So 1 cup = 16 tablespoons = 48 teaspoons. Working with our 60% recipe analogy, 6/10 cup = 28.8 teaspoons ≈ 9.5 tablespoons ≈ 1/2 cup + 4 1/2 teaspoons. Got it?

I didn’t say this was easy.

For larger volumes, I rely on my kitchen scale. One of the best twenty dollar investments I’ve made for my kitchen. 1 cup flour = 120 g, so 0.6 cups of flour = 72 g. Much, much simpler to keep track of (and doesn’t require multiple measuring devices.). For reference, 1 cup sugar = 240 g.

Let’s get back to pie. Rhubarb pie, specifically. I love this pie. It is bright, tart and sassy, perfectly balanced with a scoop of rich and creamy vanilla ice cream. It practically screams springtime. The rhubarb is cooked with a little bit of orange juice and a dash of cardamom and the flavors complement each other beautifully.

Rhubarb Pie
adjusted from Bon Appetit
serves 6
180 g (1 1/2 cups) all purpose flour
4 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 tablespoons ice water
6 cups 1-inch pieces rhubarb (about 1 1/2 pounds)
97 g (0.4 cups) sugar
2 tablespoons + 1 1/4 teaspoons orange juice
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 tablespoons + 1 1/4 teaspoons raspberry-rhubarb preserves
1 tablespoon whipping cream

For crust:

Blend flour, sugar, and salt in processor 5 seconds. Add butter. Using on/off turns, blend until coarse meal forms. Add 3 tablespoons ice water. Using on/off turns, blend until moist clumps form, adding more ice water by 1/2 tablespoonfuls if dough is dry. Gather dough into ball. Divide into 2 pieces, 1 slightly larger than the other. Flatten into disks. Wrap and chill at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

For filling:
Combine rhubarb, sugar, orange juice, orange peel, and cardamom in large deep skillet. Toss over medium-high heat until liquid starts to bubble. Reduce heat to medium. Cover and simmer until rhubarb is almost tender, stirring very gently occasionally to keep rhubarb intact, about 8 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer rhubarb to colander set over bowl. Drain well. Add syrup from bowl to skillet. Boil until juices in skillet are thick and reduced to 1/3 cup, adding any additional drained syrup from bowl, about 7 minutes. Mix in preserves. Cool mixture in skillet 15 minutes. Very gently fold in rhubarb (do not overmix or rhubarb will fall apart).

Preheat oven to 375°F. Roll out larger dough disk on lightly floured surface to 10-inch round. Transfer to 7-inch glass pie dish. Roll out smaller dough disk to 9-inch round; cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips. Spoon filling into pie dish. Arrange 4 dough strips atop filling, spacing evenly apart. Arrange 5 dough strips atop filling in opposite direction, forming lattice. Seal strip ends to crust edge. Stir cream and 2 teaspoons sugar in small bowl to blend. Brush over lattice, but not crust edge.Bake pie until filling bubbles thickly and crust is golden, covering edge with foil if browning too quickly, about 55 minutes. Cool pie completely. Cut into wedges; serve with ice cream.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home
makes ~1 quart
2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) cream cheese, room temperature
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cups sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup
1 vanilla bean, split


Mix 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a slurry. Whisk the cream cheese and salt in a medium batter bowl until smooth.

Combine the remaining milk, cream, sugar, cornstarch and vanilla seeds and bean in a medium saucepan, bring to a roiling boil over medium-high heat and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry. Return to heat and cook until slightly thickened, about 1 minute.

Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth. Chill thoroughly. Freeze in your ice cream maker.