Food with an attitude.
May 16, 2012
“You look just like grandma from the back,” my niece told me the last time we were together.
“You’re looking more and more like Mom,” my sister said on another occasion.
I know. I can see it in the mirror and feel it in the way my mouth twitches into a smile and the way I talk to myself when I do something dumb. Even my hair is stubbornly settling into Mom’s wavy bob unless I torture it with my Chi straightener. And now, lord help me, I even crave rhubarb.
I bought a package of rhubarb this spring. It was a first. After looking up recipes and stewing a batch, I found myself regretfully eyeing the leftovers, knowing I wanted more. Badly.
“What is this?” Tony asked with disgust after taking a bite. Apparently rhubarb isn’t a Japanese thing. He hated it.
I can relate. I thought I hated it, too. My mother rhapsodized about rhubarb every spring, but no one else in the family would touch it. She would find some in the woods or a friend would give her a batch, and she would have the whole pan of stewed rhubarb to herself. Ugh.
Now I love everything about it – the shiny red stalks, the way it cooks with no fussing in just 20 minutes, and its sweet-tart fruity flavor. My conversion started a couple of months ago with an idea out of the blue: ginger-rhubarb bread pudding. I had to have it. My first attempt was a failure. I stewed the rhubarb and folded it into a custard mixture with chopped fresh ginger, and poured it over bread cubes. When baked, I could detect neither the rhubarb nor the ginger.
My second try was a success. I steeped fresh ginger in milk to flavor the custard, and added powdered ginger for good measure. I used the stewed rhubarb as a sauce on the baked ginger-flavored bread pudding.
It tasted just as I imagined it would. The sweetness of the pudding tamed the sharp edge of the rhubarb and married beautifully with the ginger.
Tony ate his bread pudding plain, while I ate the rest of the rhubarb sauce directly from the pan with a spoon. I felt like I was channeling my mother. If I take up needlepoint and join a bowling league, I’ll start to worry.
GINGER BREAD PUDDING WITH RHUBARB SAUCE
- 6 cups milk (whole or 2 percent)
- 1-inch section of fresh ginger
- 9 cups (about 10 oz.) sturdy bread in 1-inch cubes
- Pinch of fresh-grated nutmeg
- Fresh rhubarb sauce (recipe follows)
Pour milk into a saucepan. Peel the ginger and cut into four disks. Smash each disk and place in milk, trying not to leave too much of the ginger juice on the cutting board. Scald the milk (bring almost to a boil), remove from heat and let stand for 1 hour.
Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Arrange bread cubes evenly in pan. Remove ginger slices from milk and discard. Into the milk beat eggs, sugar, powdered ginger, nutmeg, butter and salt. Pour over bread cubes, pressing to submerge. Let soak while the oven heats to xxx degrees. Bake pudding on the middle oven rack for about 1 hour or until the top begins to brown and the custard is soft-set. Remove from oven and let stand for 15 minutes before cutting into squares and topping with rhubarb sauce. Makes 12 servings.
- 4 cups rhubarb in ½-inch pieces (about 2 lbs.)
Combine rhubarb, sugar and water in a 2-quart saucepan. Simmer uncovered over low heat, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb is soft and translucent, about 20 minutes. If necessary, add more sugar to taste. Serve warm or cold.
HELP U COOK
Take a drive in the country if you want to find home-grown rhubarb at a reasonable price. I saw a sign advertising rhubarb at the end of a driveway on Copley Road in Copley, between White Pond Drive and Cleveland-Massillon Road. I had just spent $5 for a couple of measly stalks in a supermarket. Arggh. Although the price varies even from store to store, look for rhubarb that is crisp rather than limp, and on the small side. Bright-red, wide mature stalks aren’t as tender as pinkish stalks of medium width, according to Howard Hillman in “The Cook’s Book,” who aptly describes rhubarb as “like celery dipped in red ink.” He notes that rhubarb used to be known as “pieplant” because it is often stewed and used as a pie filling. Strawberry-rhubarb pie is a classic. Rhubarb is quite sour, and requires sweetening in order to be edible. Do not eat the leaves of the plant, which are poisonous.
One of my favorite spring events, the organic plant sale at Crown Point Ecology Center in Bath, will be held Saturday and Sunday, and I’ll be there cooking again this year. The barn will be filled with beautiful vegetable plants for sale, many of them heritage varieties. My job is to bring pots, knives, grills and recipes for turning the eventual harvest into dinner. From 10 a.m. to about noon Saturday I’ll teach a free cooking class and pass out samples of the vegetable creations. I’ll also sign copies of my cookbook, “Jane Snow Cooks,” if anyone is interested. Look for the white tent in front of the barn.
Last year I was so busy grilling that I didn’t have time to buy plants. My husband picked up a few, but they weren’t the ones I wanted. This year I’ll go with a list: Pattypan squash, Chinese eggplant, Sun Gold tomatoes, Eight Ball zucchini, Purple Cherokee tomatoes, Nu-Mex peppers, broccoli rabe and delicata squash, for starters. Four years ago I was introduced to Musque de Provence pumpkin at the sale, but that was the one and only time the fabulous French heritage variety was available there. I was thrilled when I found Musque de Provence seeds a couple of weeks ago at Earth Fare supermarket in Montrose. Eight robust seedlings are growing in my greenhouse.
The Crown Point sale runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at the farm at 3220 Ira Road in Bath. See the website www.crownpt.org for more information.
FARMER’S MARKET TIME
Countryside Farmer’s Market at Howe Meadow in Cuyahoga Valley National Park got underway last weekend and continues from 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays through Oct. 27. The Highland Square market begins May 31 and runs from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursdays. Check out what the farmers are offering at http://www.cvcountryside.org/farmers-markets/program-description.php.
You HAVE to watch the video!
This is my new dream appliance.
Dear Pennie: Whoa! A built-in faucet that dispenses espresso, milk and foam, then cleans itself! I want one, too. I haven’t seen anything that cool since 1986, when a hotel I stayed at in the Burgundy region of France had faucets in each room for white and red wine, included in the cost. On a similar (but less exciting) note, a ramen noodle shop we visited in Japan last month had taps built into the dining bar so customers could refill their own water glasses.
I planted a lot of sugar-snap peas, probably too much. I don’t like to freeze them because they thaw out mushy. Do you have any recipes for salads or stuff made with sugar snaps?
Dear Cheryl: I envy your dilemma. I planted a few, and can’t wait to start picking. I could use a few recipes, too. Can anyone help us?