Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Baba au Rhum de la version la maison

Remember this?  The Whiskey Baba I enjoyed at a local restaurant?

Baba whiskey cake

Apparently the photo was so enticing that a friend on Facebook saw it and wanted a homemade version.  I hadn't planned on trying my hand at this but this friend and I experienced the other worldliness that was a network TV production.

He deserves a lot more than a simple recipe for Baba au Rhum after working on a program based on the premise that JFK was assassinated to cover up an alien invasion.  Hey it was the era of the X-Files and it's an adventure I'll never regret.  But what recipe to use?  At it's heart  Baba au Rhum  is a yeast cake dessert so finding a "good" recipe is important.  The recipe originating in France sent me on an email path to Virginia Willis.  Chef Willis is a graduate of Anne Willan's La Varenne Cooking School in Paris. Turns out that Virginia had to make Baba au Rhum as a final exam dish.  Yikes!  Of course she aced it.  However in my kitchen my humble efforts are not nearly as visually appealing or as tasty as Chef Willis's final exam but for friends like Michael, I did my best.

First you need a suitable molds for your little yeasties.  Like this.

Ateco 3-Inch Tall Rum Baba Mold
These I do not have in my pantry.  However I did have this.
Which according to Chef Willis would work just fine as would a muffin pan or ramekins.  This is a two rise recipe if you are making these for an event, they actually work better if made on one day and served the next.
rum baba 2

This my dough after massaging in the butter, rum and currants.

rum baba 3

This is out of the oven and post rum bath.  In all honesty I let these go too long in the oven.  They should have more of a golden coloring instead of mahogany.  Lesson learned.

rum baba 1

This is the traditional serving method with whipped cream and the rum sauce.  Despite my baking failures it still had a wonderful flavor and a creamy interior (thank you rum bath).  However I couldn't leave it at the traditional.  I decided to put my CSA rhubarb spin on it.

rhubarb 3

Instead of the rum sauce I drizzled that delicious rhubarb sauce that I used with the rice pudding liberally over my baba and chowed down.  Of course the rhubarb plays nicely with the whipped cream and even pairs up with the rum flavoring of the baba.  I don't know if this offering would have passed muster at La Varenne but I can assure you that aliens had nothing to do with the dish.  Bon Appetit Michael.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Rhubarb in the Bag

I am a lucky girrrl.  Some friends of mine are currently enjoying spring in Ireland and France. While they are gone they asked me to sit on their house.  This I do not mind for many reasons.  I get to watch Mad Men, not just for the vintage 60s suburban kitchens (can't wait for the 70s) but also for Joan's pencil necklace.  Jackson and I get to stalk the herd of wild rabbits that have wiped out the young eggplant seedlings in the backyard.  Sadly due to Jackson's incredible agility and prey drive, there is no off leash pursuit since the fences surrounding the yard barely slow down his fierce devotion to Kill the Wabbit.  But the best thing about house sitting (until the pool opens) is the weekly CSA.  So far I've enjoyed baby spinach, eggs, broccoli, lettuce, chard, asparagus, and basil.  This week included something I'd never cooked with before - rhubarb.

rhubarb 1

Rhubarb is not exotic or new but it's just one of those ingredients that never made an appearance in the cooking adventures of my youth.  So it was a bit of a surprise to see it in the bag of spring offerings.  Rhubarb seems to me to be one of those old fashioned vegetables.  I'm sure my grandmother would know what to do with these stalks.  I do remember seeing numerous recipes in old church spiral bound cookbooks, usually involving pies, crumbles and cobblers.  The most common use was to pair it up with the first spring fruit, strawberries.  The strawberry's sweetness balanced out the rhubarb's wincing tartness.  I just didn't have enough to make a pie.  Luckily for me my recent batch of library cookbooks included Wild Flavors by Didi Emmons and the recipe for Coconut Rice Pudding with Rhubarb.

Coconut Rice Pudding with Rhubarb

Makes 6 servings
Rice Pudding:
1/2 cup brown rice
1/2 cup white rice 
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
Pinch salt
3 cups coconut milk (two 13-ounce cans will do)
2 - 3 cups soy milk, almond milk or half-and-half
3 large stalks rhubarb (about 3/4 pound), thinly sliced
3 tablespoons sugar
1.  To make the pudding, combine the rice, sugar, cardamom, salt, 2 cups soy milk, almond milk, or half-and-half, and coconut milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Let the mixture come to a boil, then reduce the heat to very low, cover, and let cook until thick and the rice is tender, about 1 1/2 - 2 hours, stirring from time to time to keep the pudding from sticking to the bottom of the saucepan.  If it does stick to the saucepan, add more soy milk, almond milk, or half-and-half as needed.
2.  Transfer the pudding to a container with a lid and let it come to room temperature uncovered, then chill in the refrigerator, covered.
3.  Meanwhile, to make the topping, combine the rhubarb, sugar, and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan over low heat.  Let the mixture come to a simmer, and let simmer until the rhubarb softens while still holding its shape, about 5 minutes.  Transfer the rhubarb to a container with a lid and let it come to room temperature uncovered, then chill in the refrigerator, covered.
4.  To serve, spoon the rice pudding into clear glasses, then spoon the rhubarb mixture over the rice pudding.  
A couple of notes to the recipe above.  I used everything I had on hand so, 1 cup of brown rice instead of mixing the two, two 14 ounce cans of lite coconut milk, and 2 cups of 2% milk instead of the soy milk.

rhubarb 2

Additionally I wandered far afield of the topping recipe.  I wanted more of a rhubarb sauce instead of a slightly cooked rhubarb topping.  So 2/3 cup of sugar instead of 3 tablespoons and cooked it until it broke down into a chunky sauce.

rhubarb 4

Wow!  The coconut rice pudding is luscious on it's own but adding the distinctive sweet and sour rhubarb sauce turns it into an exquisite dessert.  Not only that but this sauce would be great on oatmeal, yogurt, and ice cream.  So thank you CSA farmers, rhubarb rocks.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Joys of Spring

Remember this book?

Back in October I celebrated the arrival of Virginia Willis' second book but I've been waiting until now to make one special recipe. Grilled Stuffed Soft Shell Crabs with Lemon Gemolata.  What exactly are soft shell crabs?

gumbo crab1

The Atlantic Blue Crab (Callinecties sapidus or beautiful swimmer) has a life span of roughly three years.  During those years the crab molts or sheds it's shell in order to grow.  Since it takes a few hours for the crab's shell to become hard again, crabmen of the Chesapeake Bay have developed numerous methods of finding and harvesting soft shell crabs.  Luckily for me there's a couple of sources for unfrozen soft shells that show up here in Kansas City in early May.  However if the fishmonger is not in (as happened to me at this particular store), you may end up cleaning them yourself like I had to do because the fishmonger's assistant was too grossed out to barely touch the un-moving crabs.


Not that it was a problem since cleaning is fairly simple but should only be done just before you plan on cooking your soft shells.  Cut off the flap on the underside of the crab (it's either shaped like the Washington Monument (for males) or the Capitol Dome (for females).  Next lift up the pointy flap of each side of the top shell.  Underneath you'll find the lungs which you need to snip off with scissors.  Finally you need to cut off the front edge of the crab, just behind the eyes.


Usually the simplest way to cook soft shell crabs is normally your best bet.  Most folks dust them with a flour mixture, fry them and them plop them between two slices of white bread for a quick sammie.  Virginia keeps it simple also by grilling them with just a bit of shrimp filling and a little zesty lemon gremolota


Ideally softshells should be cooked and eaten on the day they were captured to ensure that lovely sweet crab meat taste.To a confirmed omnivore and a lover of all things Chesapeake Bay, it's a beautiful thing.  But not everyone enjoys the concept of eating the entire crab no matter how it's cooked.  This does not bother me in the least.


Just leaves more crunchy legs for me.