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Archive for July, 2009

RhubarbDessert

I’m a huge fan of rhubarb — the stalky, perennial vegetable with broad green leaves and stiff, celery-like red stems.  Not exactly the most attractive or tasty piece of produce, with its toxic leaves and tart flavor. But, add lots of sugar and maybe some strawberries and you’ve got yourself a uniquely tart/sweet combination that makes some of the best jams and pies — and this famous family dessert!

My grandmother’s garden in rural Minnesota was always overgrown with rhubarb plants. And that meant lots of rhubarb-inspired delights coming out of her oven: coffee cakes, crisps, muffins, and this rather un-creatively named “rhubarb dessert.”

Tart pieces of rhubarb stock get cooked down almost to a custardy pulp and mixed in with eggs and sugar. (The yellowish color is natural with the cooking; often, rhubarb desserts that have strawberries added to the mix turn out red.)  A sweet meringue bakes to a golden brown on top and adds a delicate sweet fluffy compliment to the much tarter bottom. It has a similar level of tartness to a lemon torte or key lime pie, but the filling portion is more like the gooey inside of a fruit cake. Incredibly delicious.

Grandma’s Rhubarb Dessert

For Crust

1 cup flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter or margarine

— Cream butter and sugar; then add the flour. Bake in 9″ x 13″ pan for 10-15 minutes at 325.

For Filling

3 cups sugar

1 cup cream

10 tablespoons flour

6 cups rhubarb cut into 1″ slices

Juice and rind of 2 oranges (optional)

— Cook all of the above together until rhubarb is tender and thick.

— Add 6 egg yolks, beaten; boil for 5 minutes.

— Cool the mixture before pouring over baked crust

For Meringue

6 egg whites

12 tablespoons sugar

cream of tartar

vanilla

— Whip egg whites and sugar until stiff peaks; spread atop dessert and brown under broiler

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CoconutCupcake

And the winner is….. Billy’s Bakery !   Of all the cupcakes I tried during my year in New York City, Billy’s (184 Ninth Ave) are my favorite — particularly their fluffy coconut variety seen here. Their cake has the perfect balance of moisture and crumbliness. The inventive frostings and flavor combinations are rich and creamy but not cloyingly sweet.

BillysBoxTop

As great as Billy’s cupcakes are, I always have to pick up a slice of the famous banana cake — two layers of moist, vanilla-banana cake separated by a layer of whipped cream cheese frosting, which also blankets the entire masterpiece.  It’s so tender and delicious!  My one criticism is that it could probably use some walnuts tossed in for good measure.

CakeSlice

BananaCake

I’ve found that Billy’s is a great place to take a date for an after-dinner treat. (Hint, hint).  It’s just a downright warm, friendly place to hang out — and soak up the bakery smells! I also love the 1940s-style ambiance, which co-owners Marc & Wayne say is meant to evoke the “warm feeling of Grandma’s kitchen.”

BillysWindow

BillysCupcakes

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Salmon

 Fresh dill. Lemon. Garlic. White wine.  A simple but delicious combination for a quick and easy weeknight poached salmon.

While the steelhead filets marinated a bit (they don’t take long to poach), I devoted my energy to swirling arborio rice over medium heat, infusing the grains with lemon, garlic, onion and chicken stock.  Then I added blanched asparagus, diced yellow bell pepper, lemon zest and a dash of freshly grated parmesean cheese.

 Risotto

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BBerryCake1

One of my fondest summer memories is picking wild blueberries on a remote island in Lake Kakabiketchiwan in Ontario, Canada, where my family has a small rustic shoreside cabin. (I can still hear my mom scolding me for eating more than I was putting in the bucket!)

The berries in this treat are not the tiny, wild variety — and I’m happy to say they didn’t fall victim to my devourment before making it into the mix!  But these larger, plump Michigan kind do pack a “berry punch” that make this a wonderful cake.

BlueBatter

 The blueberries and cake batter form a moist, dense, fruity base. The cinnamon-sugar crumble on top adds a delicate and crumbly finish.

BerryPan

Check out the recipe from Gourmet (July 2009) here.

Berries

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FriedClams

I’d always walked past it — in the bowels of New York’s Grand Central Terminal — but until recently, I never actually sat down to dine at Oyster Bar, one of the city’s landmark restaurants. Beneath vintage tile vaulted-arch ceilings, you can devour an impressive selection of regional oysters, Long Island clams, fresh Atlantic fish fillets, Maine lobsters or Maryland crab. The menu is updated daily.

The fried, whole-body Ipswich clams were incredible. Lightly dusted and crispy, with homemade tartar sauce on the side. The King Salmon fillet (below) was simply prepared, pan-seared to medium rare, and served with a side of fresh veggies and potatoes. I also enjoyed the fresh, flown-in Mahi Mahi with a soy ginger glaze. No frills here and no “saucy” concoctions to mask the freshness. Just downright delicious seafood.

OysterSalmon

If you can’t make it for dinner (and for the record, entrees here aren’t cheap), stop by for lunch on your way through Grand Central. The fried shrimp, clam and/or cod baskets with fries look like they’d be perfect for a midday seafood fix. Plus, you’ll get a taste of the city’s history when you’re at the table: the restaurant opened in 1913 with the station itself and has been serving ever since.

OysterBar2

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