Monday, May 17, 2010

Grown Up Tastes

Fresh Rhubarb

I may have mentioned it before and I will mention again, and some of you may be surprised: I was quite the picky eater as a child.  Ask my mother and she will confirm it.  I can name on long list of items that probably many young kids are not big fans of: Lima beans, Brussel Sprouts, Spinach (maybe it had to do with the color green?).  It almost seems the better it was for me, the more I rejected it.  The idea of eating asparagus was appalling to me; Mushrooms, meh!  Then my mother tried to sneak Tofu into stirfrys, and Swiss chard into fritters.  I remember more than one night sitting at the kitchen table staring into a plate of long since gone cold veggies, wishing I had laser vision and could magically transport them to the trash or make them disappear while my parents weren't looking. 

My how things have changed.  It started slowly, probably when I was in college.  One day the idea of a spinach quiche sounded amazingly alluring.  Pizza arrived with Mushrooms and it was too much a bother to pick them off, and well they kinda tasted good.  Somehow Tofu, Asparagus and Brussel Sprouts have sneaked into my diet as well, along with Sushi and some other things I swore I'd never eat as a child. As I get older, I become more and more of an adventurous eater, but there are no worries that I'll be putting that guy (Andrew Zimmerm?) on the travel channel out of business anytime soon.

It's a shame looking back on my childhood that I turned my nose up at so many great veggies, some of them even grown by my mother on our own land; a luxury in this day and age.  There were some veggies procured from our garden that I adored: fresh juicy tomatoes, Sweet corn, Zuchinni and Yellow Squash.  My mother also grew Rhubarb.  However I always kinda of thought of the Rhubarb as an accident plant.  It wasn't really in the garden; it grew in an old location closer to the driveway, next to the propane take for the house.  Since my mother once had me collect Dandelion heads to put in fritters, I thought maybe this poor plant had just grown up there and my mother decided to use it.  Rhubarb Cobbler or Crisp seemed to be the main use of this strange, reddish celery looking plant (and I didn't like celery either).  Sometimes it would be mixed with other fruits like Strawberries.  I would eat it because, well it was a dessert, but was never really sure if I liked it or not.  It was odd to me, sweet and yet sour.

 Rhubarb and Tea Tart from Mariage Freres

Last March when visiting Paris, I saw Rhubarb being used a lot, including Rhubarb yogurt in the grocery store.  Its seems to be quite a popular flavor in France.  Romain and I had brunch at the Tea Salon, Mariage Freres, during my visit.  Our brunch included our choice of dessert from the dessert display.  Our waiter had us walk over to the display and he went through describing each item.  One dessert choice was a tart with Rhubarb and Tea. It had a nice crumbly topping and flecks of little dried blue flowers from the tea. Romain immediately chose this dessert.  I took a slice of tart with caramelized pastry creme and fresh berries.  I asked Romain about the Rhubarb, he said it was something he really liked, and especially in a crumble.  I tried a bite of the tart and it was really good. 

 Rhubarb Crumble made for Le Cafe du Commerce

Last summer we made a Rhubarb crumble as the dessert du jour one day.  I love the rosy shade of pink the Rhubarb becomes when it is baked.  The crumble looked fantastic and I'm sure it was a hit at Le Cafe du Commerce, but I didn't try any of it that day.  I kept seeing Rhubarb in the markets and meaning to buy some to make a crumble at home....  Last week on a trip to Russo's in Watertown, I finally bought some Rhubarb.  The vibrant red stalks are hard to miss or ignore.  I brought them home and a few days later I made my crumble.  
 Crumble Ready for the Oven

Here is how I made it.  First I cut the stalks into small bite size pieces and tossed them with a few tablespoons of sugar.  I then set them aside.  I prepared a crumble topping with equal portions of Flour, Sugar and butter and then added some old fashioned oats.  (meanwhile thinking I should take measurements so I can recreate this later....).  I then divided the Rhubarb up into two oven proof ramekins. I had only bought a few stalks, so I had just enough for two.  I used my hands to break the butter up into the flour and sugar till it looked like coarse crumbs and then stirred in the oats, and then generously spread it over the top of the ramekins.  The crumbles baked at 350 for about 25 mins till the Rhubarb was soft and bubbly.  I barely let them cool before I dug into to one.  It amazes me how something so simple can be so good and comforting, and I immediately regretted not buying more Rhubarb.   The stalks often catch my eye in the produce section at work now, and all I can  think about is crumble.

Mmmmmmm, Delicious
I'm very happy for Rhubarb to join the ranks of Spinach and Tofu in the list of things I now like to eat as a grown up, I'm sorry I shunned it in the past.  Today I found a great recipe in the Boston Globe today for a savory use of Rhubarb I am eager to try.  However until I find a good recipe for poor Lima beans, they are  staying put in the dislike catagory, sorry.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Playing Chef- Crepe Night

 The Remains of the Meal

A common misconception about chefs is that once we are done with our work day, we don't want to cook/bake ect.  Chefs are known for eating out quite a bit, but its usually because we are foodies, and not so much due to laziness.  However I am not claiming I have never come home from work and just ordered a also helps that I live in close proximity to some decent and inexpensive places to eat.  What comes after work? Play time.  The first sentence then should be: after working, a chef no longer wants to cook/bake what others want them to make, it is now the time for them to cook/bake whatever it is the chef wants to make (assuming you are not the head chef of your own restaurant/cafe, ect and are calling the shots-ah luxury). 

Sunday night dinners started out as burger nights with my roommates at my last apartment.  Then it morphed into dinners of other types of food, and inviting whomever was able to join us.  But once you start getting more "chefs" involved, it quickly becomes more complex.  Menus are planned, drink pairings are discussed, and of course their has to be delicious appetizers to start.   I have always been a fan of having regular and frequent dinner gatherings; planned or impromptu.  Nothing makes me happier then mixing good friends and good food.  If I could be paid to nothing but plan and host dinner parties like this, well I'd be a pretty darn happy person.

This past Sunday night dinner started out as an innocent, hey lets get together at G's house, oh and I invited, M, J, and T as well.  Fine. 
"What are we having?" 
"Well G and I decided it would be fun to have brunch for dinner."
"That is a fantastic idea!  Oh we have to go get that cheese I was telling you about."
The J says  he wants crepes and remembers that I have a crepe pan as well and the plan begins to snowball. This is why I love having so many chef friends, we are all so food crazy in ways only other food crazy people can understand. 

After trips to the cheese, grocery and liqour stores, a series of phone calls to plan who was bringing what, we gathered at G's to start the crepe making madness. We were all very excited.  Here was our menu (items followed by the contributing chef)

Lovely Hummus and chips - Amanda
Selles-sur-Cher Chevre with Pepper water crackers- Jenni
Fruit Salad of fresh Papaya, grapes and Kiwi with fresh Key Lime juice- Amanda
Sesame seed crepes with Duck Confit and Garlicky Asian veggies- Justin
Buckwheat crepes with Black Forest Ham and Emmenthal Cheese- Jenni
Buckwheat crepes with White Beans, Collard Greens and Sun-dried Tomatoes- Gwen
Home made Smoked Salmon-Amanda
Served with Bloody Marys, English and French Cider
Best Hostess-Gwen
Justin's Work Space for Making the Asian Duck Confit Crepes

 Amanda's Tastey Fruit Salad

The four of us worked quite efficiently in the tiny apartment kitchen.  J and I manned the stove, A and G made some strong Bloody Marys.  We talked about food as we prepared our dinner, compared notes on crepe recipes and cooking techniques.  Once everything was finished cooking, plated and the table was set, we sat down for a well-deserved and even more anticipated dinner.  It was awesome.

Crepe Making Action 
We had all the fixings for some lovely dessert crepes.  I had candied some kumquats and squeezed some juice from a Blood Orange to make a version of Crepes Suzette. Amanda brought the requisite Nutella, but we were just too full to even think about dessert after.  So we sat and finished the cider, talked for a bit and then all headed home to our beds because we were very tired.  Playing chef was fun, now it was time to get some sleep before going back to our very busy jobs working as chefs.

Of course we've already started talking about next Sunday's dinner.  A few of us will be quite busy and not sure if we will have time or energy to cook next week, but that is why I have a good pizza place number stored in my phone.  Or maybe we'll just go out.