rhubarb strawberry crumb cake

one year in college, the garden club grew rhubarb. I’d never really heard of rhubarb before then – is it a fruit? is it a vegetable? I’m still not entirely sure. (update: wikipedia tells me it’s a dessert vegetable!) when it first started coming out of the ground with its red stems and firm leaves, it looked an awful lot like chard. thankfully, someone else in the club warned me the leaves are poisonous before I cooked up a batch and killed my junior year suitemates.

I came across the “big crumb” coffee cake recipe on smitten kitchen shortly after my education in rhubarb. this was back when my aunt was really into the smitten kitchen blog – before she realized she’s really not that much into cooking after all.

in the meanwhile, my junior year was a year of culinary education for me. my friend g taught me how to roast a chicken (and how make pumpkin pie from a real pumpkin, how to salt food correctly, and how to make great risotto – basically the roots of everything I know). I’d always enjoyed good food and baking before, but I do look back on that year as a sort of beginning.

it’s been eight years since then. I’ve made this rhubarb coffee cake a bunch of times – after the first few times, I kind of realized that the fun size of the crumbs wasn’t worth the trace taste of uncooked flour, and I’ve incorporated little hints of added flavor, but the base recipe is a winner and it remains a personal favorite.

makes makes one 8•8-in pan

fruit filling
1/2 lb rhubarb + strawberries*
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp lemon zest (~1/2 lemon)
crumbs
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 3/4 cups cake flour
cake
1/3 cup sour cream
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup cake flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
6 tbsp butter, softened & cut into 8 pieces
 

melissa clark. rhubarb “big crumb” coffeecake. new york times. 6 june 2007. acceed 25 may 2020.

filling|1 slice rhubarb and strawberries ~1/2-in (or thinner), and toss in small bowl with sugar, cornstarch, lemon zest, and ginger. set aside.
crumbs|1 in large bowl, whisk together flour, sugars, spices, and salt until well-combined. stir in butter with spatula until the mixture is well-moistened but still clumpy.
cake|1 preheat oven to 325ºF. grease an 8×8-in square baking pan.
2 in a small bowl, stir together sour cream, egg, egg yolk, and vanilla.
3 using a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt on low speed. add butter and spoonful of sour cream mixture and mix on medium speed until flour is moistened. increase speed and beat for 30 seconds. add remaining sour cream mixutre in two batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl with spatula. scoop out ~1/2 cup batter and set aside.
4 scrape remaining batter into prepared pan. spoon rhubarb over batter. dollop set-aside batter over rhubarb; it does not have to be even.
5 pour crumb mixture evenly over cake and gently press into the batter. bake cake until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean of batter, 45-55 minutes. cool completely before serving.

*you can choose to use 1/2 lb of rhubarb, as the original recipe calls for. I personally like just a handful of strawberries (~6oz rhubarb, ~2oz strawberries) to add a touch of fruity sweetness.

citrus & olive oil cake

here’s a cake for the here and now. it’s been three weeks since life as normal suddenly came to a halt. 

it was a thursday. we came into work like normal that morning. a friend texted me for drinks early the next week. the township called to inform us that schools would be operating as usual through the weekend, but to expect closure on monday. by 12:15pm, we were being told that schools would close at midday and that all parents should come pick up their children by 1:00pm. schools were then closed for what they told us would be two weeks. after two weeks, the officials said, after two weeks they would reassess.

two weeks later, there wasn’t even a need to follow up.

what had seemed distant at the beginning of january – a respiratory illness that seemed either not too bad or else very deadly – completely upended life as we knew it. friends of mine in the service industry were laid off with the promise of a job if the restaurant was able to reopen. my neighbors moved out very suddenly one day. the streets suddenly became devoid of cars, and people, wearing masks or with mouths wrapped with bandanas, started to take wide looping paths to avoid others in the street.

this olive oil cake requires mostly pantry ingredients: flour (if you have it), olive oil, eggs, citrus, a bit of milk, some orange liqueur. our fridge starts out each week full to bursting, so it was nice to finally empty it out a bit.

we may have at least another three weeks yet. while we’ve been inside, the cherry blossoms have blossomed and fallen. going outside now feels like a treasure, and I almost miss my nearly two hour work commute. citrus always reminds me of bright, warm days, and I’m certainly looking forward to sunnier days ahead.

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makes one 9-inch cake

280g (2 cups) all-purpose flour
300g (1 1/2 cups) granulated sugar
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
265g (1 1/3 cups) extra-virgin olive oil
285g (1 1/4 cups) whole milk
3 large eggs
2 tbsp grated orange zest*
60g (1/4 cup) fresh orange juice
55g (1/4 cup) grand marnier or other orange liqueur

genius recipes. maialino’s olive oil cake. food52. 11 february 2014. accessed 28 august 2019.

1 preheat oven to 350ºF. grease and lightly flour (tapping out excess) a 9-inch cake pan that is at least 2 inches deep and line the bottom with parchment paper.
2 in a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and powder. in another medium bowl, whisk together olive oil, milk, eggs, orange zest, juice, and orange liqueur. add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and whisk until just combined.
3 pour batter into prepared pan and tap pan on the counter a few times to get out the air bubbles. bake until top is golden and cake tester comes out clean, ~1 hour. transfer cake to a rack and let cool for 30 minutes.
4 run knife around edge of pan, invert cake onto rack, and let cool completely, ~2 hours.

*a mixture of lemon & orange zest is very nice too.

chocolate orange scone loaf

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recently, my days have been busy, so I’ve been reaching back into the archives for simpler recipes. in general, it seems like the pace of life is getting ever-faster and that life and world events tumble over each other at mind-numbing speed.

just these past few weeks, britain left the eu, the wuhan coronavirus death toll surpassed sars, trump was acquitted along party lines (with the notable exception of mitt romney). one of my best friends suffered through the sudden, surprising end of a long-term relationship, and another invited me to her upcoming courthouse marriage. a good family friend’s mother passed away. a cousin shared with us that after many failed relationships with cruel partners, he is finally in a healthy relationship with someone nice. and yet, in the busy blur of day to day life, I find that moments blend into each other and last monday will probably have felt very much like today.

today felt like the first day I had space to breathe in a while. I canceled my workout class, got brunch with friends, took them to see the best view of philadelphia, and then we went to see l’s new apartment. we ended up curled on her couch, chatting for a very, very long time about nothing in particular as the light slowly faded.

for me, baking has long been a form of self-care. but lately, though I have a long list of recipes I really want to try, facing the prospect of baking and clean-up has felt like a chore. yesterday evening, after such a restful day, I finally felt in the mood to bake again. and it felt right to make this chocolate orange scone loaf, which I used to make literally weekly a few years back, I loved it that much.

makes one 9•5-in loaf

284g (2 cups) all-purpose flour
15g (1 tbsp) baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
50g (1/4 cup) + 1 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tsp orange zest
12 tbsp (171g) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-in cubes
2 large eggs
1/4 cup (60g) heavy cream
1/4 cup (60g) orange juice
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

sarah kieffer. chocolate orange scone loaf. the vanilla bean blog. 9 october 2016. accessed 9 february 2020.

1 position rack in center of oven and preheat to 400ºF. lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 9×5-in loaf pan and line with parchment paper.
2 using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine flour, baking powder, salt, 50g sugar, and orange zest. add butter cubs and mix on medium-low until butter is size of peas.
3 in a small bowl, whisk together eggs, cream, orange juice, and vanilla. with mixer on low, add wet to dry ingredients and mix, using a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides, until just combined. fold in chocolate chips with rubber spatula.
4 pour mixture into prepared loaf pan and spread it evenly. brush lightly with heavy cream, then sprinkle top with remaining 1 tbsp sugar. bake until golden brown on top and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 35-45 minutes.
5 cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove to rack and let cool to room temperature. slice with serrated knife and serve.

adjarian khachapouri + las vegas

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on a rainy afternoon back at the beginning of the summer, I met up for happy hour bites with a friend down in d.c. at a restaurant called supra. we sat watching people running, caught unawares by the flash thunderstorm, and chatting about upcoming summer plans. now it’s nearly the end of the summer, and it’s interesting to remember back on which plans materialized while others will have to wait for some other summer.

the highlight of our meal was the ajaruli khachapouri: a boat of bread filled with melted, hot cheese, butter, and a raw egg mixed in. so, so decadent, and so, so good. it’s been on my mind ever since. I saw a recipe for it the other day and thought, no better way to spend the long hot days of summer than to try my hand at a new bready project. (also I realize I’ve used at least three different names/spellings for the same dish – it seems everyone in the sources I looked at has their own slightly different spelling.)

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one of the other things I really wanted to do this summer was visit one of my closest friends out at her new place in vegas. honestly, I have no love for las vegas. I find casinos incredibly depressing: I’ve heard the conversations of people as they walk out of those places commiserating about how much money they lost, and some of the numbers are alarming. the glamour of each casino feels like a veneer of pyrite painted onto some slithering, shadowy underbelly, and they all have that same smell of cheap perfume, stale alcohol, cleaning supplies, and indolent sadness.

but I do love my friend – we’ve been friends now for almost fifteen years (over half of my life!). so I popped out to vegas for a short weekend visit and it exceeded my expectations. it turns out the mountainous desert landscape around las vegas is desolately stunning, and there is a fairly vibrant local scene outside of the garish unceasing party of the strip. and best of all, my friend is much, much happier now than she was back in texas. we spent most of the weekend just talking for hours and hours, and basking in her settled, calm happiness was easily the best part of my time out there.

places I loved
taco y taco | all the delicious sloppiness of street tacos, located in a pretty cute restaurant in a strip mall. the four-line ordering system is a bit confusing, but it makes so much sense once you get the hang of it. my friends got me hooked on lengua (tongue!) mulas, which is basically a mini quesadilla but with more lengua than cheese.
block 16 urban food hall | what’s a person to do on the strip if they don’t like clubbing or gambling? well, I ate my heart out in cosmopolitan’s bougie food hall. we gave up on the ridiculous eggslut line, but hattie b’s hot chicken and compost cookie soft serve from milk bar were two excellent alternatives – and we got to enjoy our ice cream under the crazed gaze of a larger-than-life plastic caterpillar smoking a bong.
velveteen rabbit | I could have spent the whole night here. located on a fairy light-strung, quiet street in las vegas, velveteen rabbit is a small, shabby-chic bar featuring plush, antiquated love seats, mason jar lighting, and really, really well-mixed drinks made by friendly bartenders. people were there to chat and hang out with friends, and later in the night, there was some bumping live music.
the golden tiki | there was a bit of a line to get in, but once inside, golden tiki was bustling but not crushingly busy, service was friendly and surprisingly fast, and we got a table! golden tiki really committed to the tropical pirate ship decor, and drinks were fruity but very, very strong, which made the kind of sad alt rock cover band seem like the most fun ever.
valley of fire state park | you could literally just drive down rte 15 and never get out of the car, and the scenery would be absolutely worth the $10 admission fee + complimentary/complementary bad attitude from the park staff. hikes in the park are fairly short, but the desert gets scorchingly hot, so pack lots and lots of water. the valley of fire felt like an alien landscape and a sweeping old west epic rolled all into one compact yet insanely stunning area.

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makes 6 khachapouris

dough
7g (1/4 oz) fast-action dried yeast
24g (2 tbsp) granulated sugar
200mL (7 fl oz) lukewarm water
450g (1 lb) bread flour + extra for dusting
10g (1/4 oz) fine sea salt
filling
100g (3 1/2 oz) full-fat ricotta cheese
250g (9 oz) raclette
250g (9 oz) feta cheese, crumbled
10g (1/4 oz) unsalted butter, sliced into 6 pieces
6 small eggs + 1 egg yolk
2 whole eggs + 2 tsp water

olia hercules. kaukasis: a culinary journey through georgia, azerbaijan & beyond. london: octopus publishing group ltd. 2017.
maia acquaviva. adjaruli khachapuri. food & wine. may 2016. accessed 17 august 2019.

dough|1 in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix yeast with sugar, water, flour, and salt. start on low speed until dry ingredients are completely hydrated (2-3 minutes) then increase to low-medium speed and mix until a smooth wet dough comes together (3-4 minutes).
2 transfer dough to oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. let rise in a warm place until dough is almost double in size (~60 minutes).
filling|1 mix cheeses with single egg yolk and use fork to mash together well.
assembly|1 preheat oven to its highest setting and heat up a few upside-down baking sheets (or pizza stone).
2 flour work surface well. cover hands in flour and scrape dough onto work surface. knead in extra flour if dough is too sticky.
3 divide dough into 6 pieces – each piece should be just a bit heavier than 100g (3 1/2 oz). roll out each piece of dough on lightly floured work surface into 7-in round. stretch both sides of each round to elongate then pile 100g (3 1/2 oz) filling in center, leaving a 1/4-in border around the edge. bring two sides of dough up to meet in middle and pinch seam together to seal. press down with flat of hand to flatten it, then flip over so seam is face down. repeat.
4 beat together 2 eggs and water to create egg wash. brush dough ovals all over.
5 with sharp knife, make slash along middle of a dough oval and push sides open to expose filling. repeat with rest of dough and filling to make 6 khachapouris.
6 slide khachapouris onto hot baking trays and bake until sides turn golden, ~10 minutes. crack egg into center of each, then bake for another 2-3 minutes. to serve, use fork to mix egg yolk into hot cheese and top with a pat of butter.

vegan mexican hot chocolate snickerdoodles

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one of my best friends, j, introduced me to vegan goddess isa chandra moskowitz back in college. isa’s mexican hot chocolate snickerdoodles were our favorite cookies to bake – so fast, so easy, and with ingredients that we usually already had on hand – and one of our friends’ favorite cookies to eat. as college kids, we were always looking for minimal effort, maximum payoff recipes, and isa came through again and again. my friend is such a fan of her, I think he owns every single cookbook by her! (and because of him, I’ve added a few to my collection – isa does it is a particular favorite of mine.

these days, the recipes I choose tend to be longer weekend projects, require at least 12 hours of chilled rest time, call for specialized ingredients, or take many, many steps. it was a welcome change to reach back into the vault, make some vegan chocolate snickerdoodles (with a few modifications j and I have made over the years), and reminisce a bit back on the days when j and I mixed these up in communal dorm kitchens with whatever bowls and utensils we could find, baked them up yellowed, likely inaccurate ovens, and still somehow emerged with something delicious every time.

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makes 24 cookies

100g (1/2 cup) canola oil
200g (1 cup) granulated sugar
85g (1/4 cup) pure maple syrup
3 tbsp almond milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
225g (1 2/3 cups) all-purpose flour
50g (1/2 cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cayenne
sugar topping
67g (1/3 cup) granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom (optional)

isa chandra moskowitz. mexican hot chocolate snickerdoodles. isa chandra. 16 september 2009. accessed 10 march 2019.

1 preheat oven to 350ºF. line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
2 mix sugar topping ingredients together in a shallow bowl. set aside.
3 in medium mixing bowl, vigorously whisk together oil, sugar, syrup, milk, and vanilla extract.
4 sift in remaining ingredients. once all ingredients are added, use a rubber spatula to fold ingredients together until dough is pliable and no streaks remain.
5 roll dough into walnut-sized balls (~30g). roll around in the sugar topping. transfer to baking sheet, at least 2 inches apart, then flatten into disks with ~2-in diameter. (I like to use the bottom of a cup to flatten, but the palms of the hands will work too.) if the dough is weepy (e.g. leaving little oil puddles), refrigerate for at least 10 minutes and up to half an hour before baking.
6 bake for 10-12 minutes, until cookies are crackly on top. remove from oven and let rest on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool.

buckwheat chocolate chip cookies

for the first time in a while, I picked up a fairly short, breezy read, a actual work of fiction. I’ll admit it only caught my eye because the author’s name is andrew sean greer, which immediately reminded me of a friend from high school who went by sean andrew – god forbid you ever address him as just sean.

maybe the whole netflix-driven marie kondo craze had me feeling in the mood to spark some joy in my life, because though the book, less, did not immediately pull me in (the main character is anxious, indecisive, bumbling, a bit forgettable – not the classic traits of a novel’s hero), I kept reading. it’s a travel-driven plot done well, with tons of cheeky literary references that anyone who loves the english language would appreciate, and each page brings more often hilarious, sometimes poignant incidents that draw the reader in further.

I think the moment I fell in love with the book was during the chapter in berlin, when the author described what made arthur, the main character, so alluring:

“he kisses – how do I explain it? like someone in love. like he has nothing to lose. like someone who has just learned a foreign language and can use only the present tense and only the second person. only now, only you.”

what a beautiful way to describe a kiss, to condense the romantic ideal of love all into that one affectionate action. there were so many parts of the book that had me openly smiling in public, and after I finished the book, I reread it three more times.

anyways, I realize that this little ode to less has little to do with the gluten-free buckwheat chocolate chip cookie recipe below. but like realizing while reading a book that you’ve found a work that will become one of your favorites, when I smelled the ingredients mixing together and tasted the raw cookie dough for this recipe, I knew I’d love it. and experiencing that previously unknown, almost-nutty taste of buckwheat, perfectly tempered by the light sweetness of coconut, certainly sparked some joy.

makes 18 cookies

330g (2 3/4 cups) buckwheat flour
30g (1/4 cup) shredded, unsweeted coconut
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
113g (8 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
52g (1/2 cup) coconut oil, at room temperature
150g (3/4 cup, packed) light brown sugar
150g (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
226g (8oz) bittersweet chocolate chips (at least 60% cocoa)
flaky sea salt, for sprinkling

lisa ludwinski. sister pie: recipes and stories from a detroit bakery. new york: lorena jones books, 2018.

1 in a medium bowl, gently whisk together buckwheat flour, coconut, baking powder, baking soda, kosher salt, and cinnamon. set aside.
2 in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter, coconut oil, and brown and granulated sugars on medium speed until homogeneous and paste-like (~4 minutes).
3 add eggs and vanilla and mix until fully combined (~2 minutes). scrape bowl thoroughly using silicone spatula, being sure to reach to the bottom of the bowl.
4 add flour mixture slowly and mix on low speed until flour is almost completely incorporated and only a few streaks of flour remain. using spatula, fold in chocolate chips. if you notice any flour at the bottom of the bowl, use spatula to finish mixing process.
5 scrape cookie dough from bowl onto big sheet of plastic wrap. wrap dough tightly and transfer to your refrigerator to rest for 24 hours to 3 days. (dough can also be frozen for up to 3 months.)
6 preheat oven to 350ºF. line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
7 take dough out of fridge 2-3 hours before baking. once dough has softened, use 1/4-cup measure to portion dough into 2-inch (or ~64g) balls. place on parchment-lined baking sheets. slightly flatten each cookie with palm and top with a few flakes of sea salt.
8 transfer baking sheets to oven and bake for 16-18 minutes, until edges are just slightly golden.
9 remove baking sheets from oven and transfer cookies to wire racks to cool. store in airtight container for up to 5 days.

pistachio and yogurt chicken curry

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my father recently texted me a photo of a dish he’d made, nigella lawson’s mughlai chicken. apparently he read in a hospital waiting room magazine that it was one of taylor swift’s favorite dishes.

that’s when you know a famous person has becomes a true household name: when your 60-year-old father is texting you midday something he learned about said celebrity while killing time in the waiting room of a hospital.

anyways, reading over the recipe reminded me of a dish I used to enjoy making a few years back but hadn’t done for a long long while, meera sodha’s pistachio and yogurt chicken curry, or pista nu murghi. turns out I got déjà vu because both recipes are pulled from mughlai cuisine, the food of the medieval mughal empire.

the mughal empire spanned two prosperous, culturally definitive centuries before declining rapidly in the early 1700s and fading out with a whimper in the 1850s at the hands of the rapacious british east india company. these days, a friend of mine informed me, young people in the cities don’t even learn hindi and instead have english as a first language. in fact, he was a bit offended when I assumed he spoke hindi because he was born in delhi and lived there until moving to the us for graduate school – I still don’t think that’s a crazy assumption to make! then again, I guess it’s like how my cousins who grew up in hong kong speak perfect continental english but not much cantonese (as we learned during one unfortunate taxi ride that cost us too much money and dumped us unceremoniously on the wrong side of the island).

I’ve always wanted to be fluent in my mother tongue, but in the absence of language, I’ve found other ways to honor my heritage, largely through food. and I suppose my friend has made his own peace as well – he may not be fluent in hindi, but he sure makes a mean chana masala.

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makes 4 servings

4 oz unsalted pistachios (plus more to serve)
2-in piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
3 tbsp canola oil
2 large onions, sliced into fine rings
2 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tbsp coriander seeds, crushed
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1 3/4-in cinnamon stick or 1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
1 3/4 lb skinless, boneless chicken thighs, chopped into 3/4-in cubes
1 cup hot chicken stock
4 tbsp greek yogurt (plus more to serve)
juice of 1/2 lemon

meera sodha. made in india. new york: flatiron books, 2015.

1 in food processor or spice grinder, grind pistachios into fine powder and set aside. bash up ginger and garlic into a coarse paste using a mortar and pestle and set aside.
2 in a wide-bottomed, lidded frying pan, heat oil over medium heat and when hot, add onions. fry until caramelized (~20 minutes). add garlic and ginger paste and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes before adding tomatoes.
3 cover with lid and let tomatoes cook until they start to break down (~ 5 minutes). add black pepper, garam masala, chili powder, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, and salt. stir, then add chicken pieces to the pan.
4 turn chicken so that the exterior on all sides cooks, then add ground pistachios. stir-fry for another minute, then pour in chicken stock. lightly whisk yogurt with fork, then stir into pan. cover with lid and cook until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (~15 minutes). taste and adjust to taste.
5 serve with a dollop of yogurt, chopped pistachios, and a squeeze of lemon juice. eat with a bowl of basmati rice or some naan (or both!).