Saturday, July 2, 2011

Getting seasonal-Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp!

     I am having far too much fun thinking about and playing with this blog.  What's that you say? "You've actually DONE something to it?"  Why yes, yes I have, as I slowly but surely bring back memories of html and webpage design from my childhood. (That's right, my Neopets had some fancy petpages back in the day. 200 points to you if you understand that reference, applause to your general lack of 90's & millennium-aged nerdiness if you do not.)
     In any case, this blog is hardly any good without new recipes, so I figured I should get busy and post some!  The problem I am facing currently, however, is that while I have been tinkering away in the kitchen of my condo this summer, having not planned to start a blog, I have ZERO pictures of all my efforts.  So, you're just going to have to make do with text-only posts and recipes for the moment, and when I get a chance to re-create all these treats I'll be sure to update with photos as soon as I can-particularly of this scrumptious summer treat I whipped up well, more like blundered and guessed through a couple of weeks ago for two friends who were kind enough to be test subjects for some of my cooking one night for dinner.  Recipe and, of course, a story after the jump!

     I had not often been lucky enough to indulge in rhubarb during my younger days-I remember my mother making something with it once (the memory stuck with me because I was intrigued as to why she was cooking with an apparently poisonous plant) but it didn't really come to my notice again until a graduation party I attended about 4 years ago.  Then, too, was this highly under-appreciated plant paired with one of my more frequented lovers, strawberries-but in a pie.  It was love at first bite, I tell you.  Even after having previously visited several other graduation parties (which around here tend to mean huge buffets of desserts and snacks) I managed to go back for a second slice.  So, I was thrilled when I visited home a few weeks ago to find that my mom had cooked a small batch of strawberry rhubarb crisp, and that about a third of it was still left. (It was more or less gone by noon the next day.  My arrival had been late the night before...coincidence? I think not.)
     Anyway, I immediately stole the recipe from her (which she had found in a recent edition of Food Network Magazine) and jotted down her notes about what she would have improved upon (not too much, really, as the thing was a bit of a dreamboat already, as far as foods go).  Then, I waited.  Scheming for the perfect opportunity to test it out for myself--more difficult than it sounds, as I have difficulty motivating myself to spend lots of money for unnecessary foods (this was at the beginning of my culinary adventures when I lacked basic staples such as "sugar", much less "rhubarb") and also, knowing myself as I do, I find it HIGHLY unadvisable to cook large portions of desserts and leave them lying about. They do not last long at all, and then, in a rather corresponding fashion, my pants do not fit at all. Ahem.
     Small edits to the recipe were made, the most noteworthy being that I baked the thing in an 8x8 inch dish as opposed to a 8x11, and therefore halved the recipe.  Excepting, however, the sugar, as my mom mentioned she thought hers could have used a bit more to sweeten up the rhubarb. Therefore instead of cutting the amount down to 5/8 cups (what an awkward amount anyway!) I simply plopped in 3/4 cup and all was well.  I also cut the rhubarb & strawberry a bit differently than advised in the recipe, as "1 inch diced" bits of rhubarb sounded HUGE. For thicker parts of the stalk I simply divided those chunks in half again, and I sliced all of my strawberries, at LEAST in half if not quarters, depending upon their size.  
     As far as problems go, there weren't too many overwhelming ones with this recipe.  I found, yet again, that my lack of kitchenware is irritating a times.  For, you see, I have no zester, and therefore had to use one of our 3 knives (not counting butter knives) that was wholly not up to the job to slice off bits of orange zest, little by little.  Not only did this take a RIDICULOUSLY long time, but our knives are also a wee bit dull, so my attempts to mince the zest afterwards rather than having awkward chunks floating about didn't really amount to anything...they weren't huge, but there were one or two pieces that definitely were noticed by the aforementioned test subjects.  Alas.  Overall, though, this recipe is sweet and mouth-watering, with the rhubarb adding just a hint of tartness, and I will admit I was picking at it between meals for the rest of the weekend.  I'm providing the proportions for the original recipe (as in, not the one I halved) but with edits here and there where I deviated.  Oh, and here's the other half of that whole dinner shindig: a Lemon & Olive Oil Spaghetti found at Smitten Kitchen. 

For baking beginners: If you've never used or heard of or eaten rhubarb before, here's a glorious tip: The leaves are poisonous. Don't consume them.  Don't cook them and then consume them.  The stalk, which appears like a giant piece of ruby-colored celery, is actually NOT poisonous, despite what you might infer based on its color.
For baking experts:  Upon venturing into the local Kroger for ingredients, I came to the conclusion that I have absolutely NO clue as to what a good stalk of rhubarb should be like.  I attempted to pick those that weren't completely rubbery and had lots of the signature color (though admittedly, both were in low numbers that day), but any tips for the future?

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp slightly adapted from Ina Garten's version in Food Network Magazine (*Note, this is the recipe for the full-sized dessert, not the half-batch I made.)

4 Cups fresh rhubarb, 1/2-1 inch diced 
4 Cups fresh strawberries, hulled & cut into slices or quarters if large, halved if small
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar, divided (I'd advise adding at least another 2 Tbls to 1/4 cup, with the extra going into the fruit filling)
1 1/2 tsp grated orange zest
1 Tbls cornstarch
1/2 Cup Freshly squeezed orange juice
1 Cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 Cup quick-cooking (not instant) oatmeal
12 Tbls (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter (I used margarine), diced

  1. Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit
  2. Toss rhubarb, strawberries, 3/4 cup of the granulated sugar and the orange zest together in a large bowl.  In a measuring cup, dissolve the cornstarch in the orange juice and then mix it into the fruit. Pour the mixture into an 8x11 inch baking dish and place it on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper/foil.
  3. For the topping, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, (or a large mixing bowl with an old hand-mixer, if that happens to be what you have...) combine flour, the remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar, the brown sugar, salt, & oatmeal.
  4. With the mixer on low, add the butter and mix until the dry ingredients are moist and the mixture is in crumbles.  Sprinkle over the fruit, covering it completely, and bake for approx. 1 hour or until fruit is bubbling and the topping is golden brown. 

Optional: Top with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream when serving!

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