Tag Archives: springtime

Oh … hello!

Is anybody there?

This tiny, online space is not forgotten. I simply took some much-needed time for me. But I’ve missed this terribly. This place. Writing. It’s not to be overlooked or undervalued.

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I haven’t been comfortable sharing my thoughts, opinions and experiences for immediate public consumption. Striking a balance between my online presence and real-world life has been an impossible task over the past year (and it’s not just me). Nonetheless, there has been a fair amount of ice cream and perhaps a cocktail or two. Some fantastic travels to the south of France with dear friends and scuba diving in Bonaire with family (where you might just find yourself swimming with a pod of dolphins) and many other places near and far. A re-upholstered chair and a revamped sofa table turned kitchen cart. But more than anything else – life as an academic and biologist.

This past year has been a doozy and change is underway.

(The details on that are for another time).

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But on to more pressing topics … It’s springtime in Minneapolis! At last! Opening the windows, biking into campus, beers on patios and the start of farmers markets. – a glorious time indeed. I’ve been in a flurry of spring cleaning – my closets, my kitchen, the laboratory. No space I occupy has been safe from my critical eyes. I adore the process of shedding winter layers. To rediscover lost treasures and carefully assess what to keep close and what to finally let go of.  It’s no small task and not an easy one either. But the psychological satisfaction of this particular accomplishment is one of the best there is. It’s not for everybody, but it certainly is for me.

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Now that the dust has been cleared and I’ve got no upcoming travel scheduled, I’ve been having fun playing in my kitchen. To brush up on my skills and hone my culinary instincts. To anticipate the summer bounty and enjoy fresh, seasonal food again. Which brings me to … RHUBARB!!! I’ve waxed poetic time and time and time again about my favorite spring crop, so let me just cut to the chase. An afternoon tart of roasted rhubarb with cardamom pastry cream and orange poppyseed shortbread crust.

This dish took me the better part of a Saturday morning, but there is no reason why the parts can’t be made independently and assembled whenever it pleases you. It’s good. Very good. In my opinion, worth not only the time, but also the number of dirty dishes.

 Not-so simple rhubarb tart
Serves 4
 
Roasted Rhubarb
~10 oz rhubarb, cut in 4 inch pieces
3/4 – 1 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 vanilla bean, split
 
Combine all ingredients in an oven safe dish. Roast at 300 degrees for about 50 minutes, occasionally  so that the rhubarb is soft, but still holds its shape and the juice is reduced to about a quarter cup or so.
 
Cardamom Pastry Cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup milk
2 eggs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½” cubes
 
Make the filling: Whisk together sugar, cornstarch, cardamom, and salt in a 2-qt. saucepan; whisk in milk and eggs. Bring to a boil over medium heat; cook, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from heat; whisk in butter. Transfer mixture to a bowl (pressing through a sieve, if you are so inclined, as I usually am); press a piece of plastic wrap onto surface of filling. Refrigerate until ready to use.
 
Orange Poppyseed Shortbread Crust 
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon orange extract
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
 
Cream the butter, mix in the sugar, lemon zest, poppy seeds and salt followed by the flour and mix until it forms crumbs. Press the mixture into a 4” x 13.5” rectangular tart pan. Freeze for 10-15 minutes and bake in a preheated 400F oven until lightly golden brown, about 15 minutes before letting it cool.
 
Assembly
Spread chilled cardamom pastry cream into baked shortbread crust. Carefully top with roasted rhubarb pieces. Brush with the reduced vanilla orange juice. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Soup Club II

What a week.

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No, scratch that. The entire year of 2013, with the exception of a few days in February has been work-intense. First it was the grant, and now its long days at the bench in preparation for spending a week with a collaborator in Seattle. As much as I love food and cooking, when work takes over I completely abandon my kitchen. There was more than one day during this past week that I had a beer and ice cream for dinner. Does it make it better if dinner was had at 10 pm?

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Thank goodness for Soup Club – it ensures that I eat well at least once every other week. This past Wednesday, I brought a Broccoli and Roasted Garlic soup and some Cheddar Pecan Cayenne crackers to share with the sixth floor labs in the Molecular and Cellular Biology building. Given there was less than a cup leftover, I’d say it was a success. And as an added bonus it was remarkably easy – even for soup.

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I love the green of this soup – it oozes vegetable-ness without feeling or tasty healthy. I’m not a a vegetarian or eat dairy- or gluten-free or strive to make food with limited fat content, but this soup satisfies all of those (the crackers, however, do not) and is a happy coincidence with a robust flavor and depth. Adding the cheese crackers – while no longer dairy-, gluten- or fat-free add a pleasant crunch to this silky smooth soup. It’s a nod towards springtime, which cannot come quickly enough for me, while maintaining a winter heartiness.

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Make the soup. It won’t take long and you’ll be better for it.
Broccoli and Roasted Garlic Soup with Cheddar Pecan Cayenne Crackers
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Broccoli and Roasted Garlic Soup
from the LA Times
 
1 large, plump head of garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 medium onion, chopped
3 broccoli crowns (~2 pounds), florets roughly chopped, stems peeled and diced
2 medium baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
6 cups vegetable broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
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Cheddar Pecan Cayenne Crackers
from Martha Stewart Living
 
1/2 cup (60 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3/4 cup finely ground toasted pecans
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons butter, cut in pieces
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
up to 2 tablespoons water
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For the soup:

Roast the garlic. Heat the oven to 400º. Cut off the top one-half inch of the garlic head to make a “lid.” Drizzle the cut surfaces with a little olive oil and season with a pinch each of salt and pepper. Replace the lid. Wrap the garlic in foil and place on a baking sheet. Roast until the garlic is tender and a rich golden color, about 45 minutes. Unwrap and cool.

While the garlic is roasting…

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, then add the onion and cover with a lid. Cook, stirring often, until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chopped broccoli and potato. Add the broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and partially cover the pot. Simmer until the potato is very tender, about 30 minutes. During the last 5 minutes, squeeze the roasted garlic into the pot, discarding the hulls. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Purée the soup with an immersion blender (or in batches with a blender).

For the crackers:

Preheat the oven to 350º. In a food processor, pulse the flour, pecans, salt, black pepper and cayenne. Add the butter; pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the cheese, pulse until the pieces are no longer visible. Gradually add water until the dough comes together. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and divide the dough into two parts. Roll each part out to 1/4 inch thickness – keep well floured (if not, it’s difficult to transfer to a baking sheet). Cut dough with a small cookie or biscuit cutter. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake until the centers are firm to the touch, about 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container.

The Return of Rhubarb

How I’ve been longing for this day. Desperately anticipating the return of my food crush.

Fresh from the community garden of a co-worker. The most wonderful surprise on a otherwise unremarkable Thursday.

Which lucky recipe will be the first of the season? Juice? Tart? Crisp? Cake? Ice cream – alone or sandwiched? Semifreddo? Savory? AppetizerSoup? The possibilities are nearly overwhelming.

I’ll be having sweet dreams tonight : )

Just Because … Strawberry Cake

I am craving a farmer’s market. Sadly, these things don’t open in Minnesota for another month. This summer’s CSA boxes don’t start arriving until June.

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The problem is that it actually feels like springtime here. Days full of sunshine and warmth. The trees are starting to get their greens back. People are on their bicycles. So where are the markets and the fresh vegetables? Right now, I would be satisfied with planting my window herb garden. But it’s nearly impossible to do even that.

Last week I made a strawberry cake. Just because. Bright berries (from who knows where) were on sale at the market. I immediately bought two pounds despite knowing that a single girl like myself couldn’t possibly get through all of them. So into a cake they went. And the cake went to lab. All I brought home was a pie pan full of crumbs, so I am calling it a success.

I found the recipe over at Smitten Kitchen. And fell in love for this cake. Quick, easy and fun to make. It’s not fancy, but when you are dealing with strawberries it doesn’t need to be. The dough has a biscuit-like quality to it and puffs up like pillows when the strawberries are nestled on top. Think strawberry shortcake with the strawberries baked in (or the Rhubarb Cobbler Cake I made last summer). And the colors – oh my!

Please don’t forget the slightly sweetened whipped cream … just because.

Strawberry Summer Cake
from Smitten Kitchen
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6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for pie plate
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound (450 grams) strawberries, hulled and halved
 
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
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Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 10-inch pie pan or 9-inch deep-dish pie pan. Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, beat butter and 3/4 cup sugar until pale and fluffy with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes. Mix in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined. Add dry mixture gradually, mixing until just smooth. Pour into prepared pie plate. Arrange strawberries, cut side down, on top of batter, as closely as possible in a single layer. Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over berries (Do this! It will make the the top of the cake crispy in the most lovely way.). Bake cake for 10 minutes then reduce oven temperature to 325°F and bake cake until golden brown and a tester comes out free of wet batter, about 50 minutes to 60 minutes. Let cool in pan on a rack. Cut into wedges. Serve with lightly whipped cream.

 

Creamy Pea and Asparagus Soup with Parmesan-Thyme Shortbread

Goodbye winter. Hello springtime.

Which, sadly, means the end of this season’s soup club.

Surprisingly, it actually feels like springtime. Sunshine and warm weather, although I’ve yet to spy any pretty spring color. I would revel in it more, except I’ve sprained my ribs in a tumble that I took on the ice just last week and have been hobbling around and hunched over like a 90 year old woman. At least I had this creamy pea and asparagus soup to comfort me.

I volunteered to bring in the vegetarian soup offering for this final week of soup club, in the place of an out-of-town coworker. Desperate to part ways with heavy root vegetables, but not quite willing to transition into a chilled soup, I scoured my favorite cookbooks, magazines and websites hoping to find something that would suit my mood. When I chanced upon this creamy pea and aspragus soup with parmesan-thyme shortbread from Food and Wine, I knew I had found my match.

I like most everything about this soup. The smell of asparagus. The sweetness of the peas. The green-ness. The delicacy of the tarragon. The cheesy-saltiness of the shortbread.

I especially love this soup because I could test out the newest addition to my kitchen arsenal, an immersion blender (and a completely unexpected birthday present). I was first introduced to the immersion blender just a few months ago when I was making this soup at a cooking class. I had high hopes for it, as this particular kitchen instrument has been talked up a lot amongst my friends. It was … eh … okay. A remarkable amount of work to blend it all together, all the while standing over a hot flame.

But then a lovely little (green!) hand blender arrived on my doorstep, with a note pleading me to reconsider my stance on immersion blenders. How could I resist? And now I must eat my previous words, because this blended up my soup like a charm. It was delightfully intoxicating to use. So, thank you Jenny, you know me well.

Creamy Pea and Asparagus Soup with Parmesan-Thyme Shortbread

slightly adapted from Food and Wine
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Creamy Pea and Asparagus Soup
3 tablespoons butter
2 small onions, thinly sliced
2 1/2 pounds (2 large bunches) asparagus, cut in 1 1/2 inch pieces
4 cups vegetable broth
2 ounces (~1/3 cup) tarragon leaves
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups frozen baby peas
splash of white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
 
Parmesan-Thyme Shortbread
1 1/2 cups (180 g) flour
1 1/2 cups grated parmesan
1 teaspoon dried thyme
zest from 1 lemon
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) butter, softened
2 egg yolks
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For the soup:

Heat butter in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add onions and cook until translucent, about 6 minutes. Add asparagus, cook one minute longer. Add vegetable broth, cover and cook until aspragus is tender, about 15 minutes. Add tarragon leaves and blend until very smooth (me: with my new immersion blender or in a standing blender, worked in batches). Stir in heavy cream and peas. Season with white wine vinegar, salt and pepper.

For the shortbread:

In a large bowl, combine flour, parmesan, dried thyme, salt and lemon zest. Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachement add the butter (cut into tablespoon-sized pieces) and the egg yolks and mix until a moist crumb forms. Gather dough and knead a few times, while rolling into a 2-inch log. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes. Cut log into 1/4-inch slices and bake at 325º for 25 minutes.