Brown Butter Rhubarb Bars

March 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

Today I took a “me” day. I slept in, didn’t set an alarm for once. I bought a pair of red jeans off the sale rack, which I spectacularly managed to squeeze into seeing as they were two sizes smaller than I generally buy. I also bought a lovable tribal print sweater — it pays to be “hipster” in Princeton because no one else is, so everything that would be flying off racks in San Francisco is $20 off here. I had a cranberry orange scone (my favorite) and latte at Small World Coffee and people-watched instead of hiding behind my laptop, writing my thesis. I walked down to the Whole Earth Center and stocked up on local Fuji apples, kale salad with almonds, tofu, and sesame seeds, and organic peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. I wore sweatpants and no makeup, and realized people don’t really look at you any differently. Simply walking around a bit was uplifting — after the snowfall two nights ago, spring appears to have finally arrived; the sun was out, the snow melting, and I could have done without the jacket.

When I got home, I started looking up the top organic and biochemistry grad schools (not for me obviously!) and started mapping out a summer road trip down the West Coast. I tried to tack on the Grand Canyon to the end of the trip (figuring I should give it another shot after my adolescent disinterest consisting of about a five minute look into the canyon before I’d had enough) which added an extra eight hours of driving. For some reason, I find thinking about travel incredibly calming; it’s like a realization that walls were made for falling down. Even more, thinking about driving along the ocean brings me to my happy place, where things are hippie, spontaneous, wandering, and bohemian without effort, because you know, even being boho these days seems to require quite a bit of planning. The images here are ones I took in Big Sur, California on a family trip. I can’t wait to go back. These brown butter rhubarb bars are from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook, and are chewy like a macaroon without the coconut, crackly on the top with a brownie without the chocolate, and stuffed with stringy, sweetened rhubarb, which is finally back in season. Never having been a huge rhubarb fan myself, I always did enjoy eating the raw stalks, dipped luxuriously in white sugar, from my grandparents’ backyard. I handwrote the recipe for these bars on little cards for a couple of people, but alas the actual book is in my room in San Francisco so no recipe today.

That all said, there are parts of the very concrete future to be very excited about. I’ll be calling Boston home next year, and am incredibly delighted to share my new adventures surrounding food justice in the coming months.

Ushering in Fall

September 26, 2011 § 2 Comments

It’s hard to believe it’s fall when the air still hangs damp and heavy, broken up by droplets of rain that seem to cling to the skin, alongside clammy, greasy sweat. I just so love East Coast humidity. But one of these cloudy days found us piling into the bright-red bug convertible and driving the fifteen minutes to Tehrune Orchards. It was Apple Day at the orchard apparently, though I did my research and the real Apple Day, in celebration of local distinctiveness and finding common ground, is actually on October 21st. Lies.

Nevertheless, we enjoyed picking Empire and Red Delicious apples, riding the wagon, cruising through the corn maze and celebrating when we reached the exit, and picking wildflowers. We ate fluffy cider donuts, coated in cinnamon sugar, from a paper bag, and peered at the cases of ginger and oatmeal cookies and racks of apple cider in the general farm store. We forgot for a few hours that we were grown-up college students and rode the parked tractor, poked our heads through the farm animal scene cut-outs and practiced our milking skills on the wooden cow. Then we piled back in the cars and drove back to campus, back to our readings, problem sets and the daily grind.

About a week later, the apples cored and cut, coated in brown sugar and vanilla bean, were piled into little baking dishes and topped with a generous heaping mound of crumbly oats and browned butter.

Crisps were one of the very first things I made in the kitchen, if you exclude the concoctions of shaved chocolate and milk I used to love when I was four-years-old. Every so often, I would pull my only cookbook of my very own, Fanny at Chez Panisse, from the shelf and make a fruit crisp, sometimes doubling the topping to make sure there was enough. Sometimes enough wasn’t enough and I remained unsatisfied with a 2:1 topping to fruit ratio. Nowadays, I go by look and feel for the topping. I use my hands and throw ingredients around, a method that tends to work out well in the dorm kitchens, which are just barely stocked enough to be functional.

Brown Butter-Squash Loaf Cake

March 3, 2011 § 2 Comments

I think I’ve mentioned before that public transportation around San Francisco is often a very interesting experience. From having guys ask for sexual favors on MUNI to having people sit far too close to me on purpose to today, when I was quietly sitting at the back of the bus minding my own business when I was surrounded by a group of five men who were talking quickly in Spanish and leering at me every so often. However, they disembarked a couple of stops later, much to my relief, and a little boy who could not have been more than four years old sat down with his mother next to me. The mother looked frazzled, with an infant wrapped in a patterned felt blanket, very clearly salvaged from a discount store, and trying to keep track of her oldest son, who looked tired, standing with his school backpack. The younger boy was carrying a little Happy Meal box filled with French fries and clutching the toy in his other hand. He grinned up at me and I thought how sad it was that he was excitedly clinging on to the McDonald’s Happy Meal box and that he would likely never smile over the top of a crème brulée, made with locally-sourced, organic milk, that he would likely never know the world of food that existed beyond potatoes fried in vats of fat. But at the same time he looked happy.

There is a lot of discussion in the sustainable, good food movement about making locally-sourced, organic food available to everyone. But despite all the talking about making healthy food accessible to all, the idea does not seem to perpetrate across the board. Even in San Francisco, which is arguably the local produce capital of the U.S., the idea of eating all-local, all-organic food remains a mantra deeply attached to elitism. Something about telling people how they should eat, attached to the high price tag of artisan and organic food, seems to really put people off. Time and time again, at farmers markets, food festivals and seminars, you are likely to see the same crowd. The food movement does have an audience, but it lacks in diversity. The vast majority of “good” food remains inaccessible to the lower classes.

I’m not sure what the solution to this is. On one hand you want to support the food producers who are doing their best to provide a handmade, healthy product while supporting all the workers that are part of the process through good wages and working environment. On the other hand, the fact is that most people can’t afford to buy $16 bags of coffee beans and that does not appear to be changing any time soon. So, in order to explore the issue, I am starting a new little pet project to see exactly how much can be done with a box of locally sourced ingredients. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, please try this loaf cake. After a series of failures in the kitchen, this has helped restore my confidence a bit. Rifted off of Heidi’s (101 Cookbooks) recipe for brown butter squash bread, this is a quick, decently healthy cake. I replaced the oil with more pureed butternut squash, used two-thirds buckwheat flour and one-third white instead of whole wheat pastry flour, and omitted half of the sugar. Next time, I think I’ll try replacing some of the butter too. Oh and I also added chopped candied ginger, because I could eat that stuff out of the bag.

Brown butter-squash loaf
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup white flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamon
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons well-pureed roasted winter squash*
1/4 cup (I used skim)
1/3 cup lightly toasted sliced almonds
1/4 cup chopped candied ginger (I used the uncrystallized kind)

Brown the butter in a small pot over medium heat until it seems nutty and the butter solids are nicely toasted. Allow the butter to cool while you prepare the rest of the ingredients, you can put it in the fridge as well.
Preheat the oven to 350F / 180C. Butter and flour a 1-lb loaf pan, or roughly 9x5x3-inch.
Sift the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamon and seat salt in a large bowl. Set aside. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the sugar, eggs, squash and milk (I have found that adding the milk to the squash in the blender aids the pureeing process). Whisk in the melted butter. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and fold until just combined. Fold in candied ginger.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle with sliced almonds. Bake for about 50-60 minutes or under the edges of the cake are browned and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Life loves: Brown butter brown sugar shorties

May 31, 2010 § 1 Comment

This morning I went for a run in Golden Gate Park. My plan was to follow John F. Kennedy Drive all the way down to Ocean Beach, run along the sand dunes and then make my way back. Unfortunately, I only got about 15 minutes along JFK before I completely wiped out on the gravel trail. The rest of the morning was spent picking gravel out of my hands. I know you really wanted to hear that right before I tell you about everything I’ve been baking.

Fortunately, I got patched up enough in time for a family brunch by the Bay at the Epic Roasthouse. Brunch is probably my favorite meal of the day. The waiter, who was a little standoffish, brought out a selection of cheese-chive popovers, cornbread in the shape of madeleines and white crusty bread with a pad of salty butter. I ordered an asparagus omelet, while my mother ordered the crab cake benedict and my brother and father, typical picky non-brunch eaters, ordered sides of steak fries, onion rings and scalloped potatoes. Tall glasses of champagne and lavender lemonade completed my love for brunch, and my father’s disdain for brunch. Apparently, it’s strange to drink champagne at 11:30 a.m. Who knew?

Speaking of other things I really love. Shortbread cookies. Brown butter. Brown sugar. And those three things altogether? Heaven. We really didn’t need any more cookies in the house, but after reading the heated comments on this recipe, I decided I had to give it a shot for myself. I mean, who doesn’t like a challenge? Deb at Smitten Kitchen swears that every time she has made these brown butter brown sugar shorties, they have come out heavenly. About half of the commentators agree. The other half complain about sandy, crumbly cookies that don’t hold their shape or, alternatively, lacy flat cookies that are more like florentines than shortbread. There’s some debate about how long to let the butter re-harden for and how long to chill the finished dough but not many conclusive answers either way about why people seem to be having different results. Luckily for the people in my house, these cookies came out perfectly for me. Unluckily, they were so good there were only three left by the end of the day. These cookies are wonderfully sandy and simultaneously salty and sweet. Hey that’s an alliteration.

Brown Butter Brown Sugar Shorties
Adapted by Smitten Kitchen from Gourmet

Makes about 32 cookies

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar (preferably dark)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt (flaky salt would be great in these)
Demerara sugar (Sugar in the Raw) or sanding sugar for rolling (optional, I didn’t use it)

Cut butter into four or five pieces and cook butter in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it has a nutty fragrance and flecks on bottom of pan turn a light brown, anywhere from 4 to 7 minutes. It helps to frequently scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. Transfer butter to a bowl and chill until just firm, about 1 hour.

Beat together butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in vanilla, then mix in flour and salt at low speed until just combined. Transfer dough to a sheet of wax paper or parchment and form into a 12-inch log, 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Chill, wrapped in wax paper, until firm, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Unwrap dough and roll it in coarse sugar, if using, and press the granules in with the paper you’d be using to wrap it. Slice dough into 1/4-inch-thick rounds, arranging 1 1/2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake until surface is dry and edges are slightly darker, 10 to 12 minutes. Let sit on sheet for a minute before transferring to a rack to cool. (Cookies will quite fragile at first, but will firm up as they cool.)

Dough keeps, chilled, up to 1 week, or in the freezer,

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