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Monday, October 25, 2021

Spiced Rhubarb Pie


Yes, I said spiced. Rhubarb has got to be one of my absolute favorite perennial plants. It's incredibly hardy and can grow just about anywhere, even in Alaska. It's bright and sour and adds depth of flavor to just about anything. Yes, it's quite fibrous and can be a little difficult to prepare in the wrong hands - but it's so worth it to keep at least a couple of these beautiful mounding plants alive in your garden. Not only are they a wonderfully flavorful addition to countless dishes, but they look quite nice in the garden bed. I suggest planting them in a sunny spot where you don't mind an eventual big mound of beautiful rhubarb and where it will be for a long time. Perennials mean a permanent commitment!


For this recipe, I'll also be using spicebush berries, which are made from these gorgeous foraged berries native to the Americas. Don't fret, though, if you don't have these! I've got an excellent substitute down the line... You dry the berries for use, of course, and store them in jars or bags. When ready to use, simply grind them in a spice grinder to release the incredible oils and bright orange spice inside. The taste, to me, is like a pink peppercorn made love to a cinnamon stick, and then the spice that came from that union eloped with a big peel of juicy orange. It's truly a spectacular spice that I love to use in many of my baked goods.

This is a foraged spice which means it is not bought and sold commercially. As far as I can tell, the kind of spicebush that grows the berries hasn't been cultivated as of yet, so I couldn't simply tell you to go out and buy the plants. This is a shame since it's such a lovely and unique spice that I think everyone in the world should get to have. I can't tell you where to buy it, so I'll just refer you to Prairie Birthday Farm, which is how I get mine. I'm sure that they could ship to wherever you may be staying if you ask nicely. They're nice, warm-hearted people over there, and they've been kind enough to include me in the possibility of propagating and cultivating the bush in hopes that more and more Midwestern folk will fall in love with native plants and start planting them in their own yards. The transplants won't be ready until spring of 2022, of course, but you can bet that this gal will be awaiting their arrival to her garden with bated breath.

Spiced Rhubarb Pie 
yields one 

Flaky all-butter pie crust

  • 8 oz vegan butter, cold, chopped 
    • We all know I love Earth Balance and Miyoko's butter!
  • 14 oz all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • Ice water, as needed
Rhubarb filling
  • 7 cups chopped rhubarb
    • Fresh is ideal, but frozen is just fine
  • 1 1/4 c granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbsp spicebush berries, ground in the spice grinder**
    • If you cannot get spicebush berries, simply use:
      • 1 tsp cinnamon
      • 3/4 tsp pink peppercorns, ground
      • Zest of 1 orange
      • A pinch of Chinese Five Spice powder
      • A pinch of turmeric
  • 1 tsp good vanilla extract
  • A fat pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/2 c cornstarch
  • 3/4 c orange juice
For the filling, mix - in a large bowl - the chopped rhubarb with the sugar, spices, vanilla, and salt so that everything is coated. Cover with clingfilm or a tea towel and set aside while you make the pie crust. Ideally, you're going to want to let this soak for an hour or more. 

For the crust, simply cut the butter into the flour and sugar with either a pastry cutter or two knives. If you have a food processor, feel free to use that instead. The idea is to get pea-sized chunks going on throughout the flour mixture before adding ice water. How much? Oh, just enough to barely get the dough to come together when mixed with a fork! It's quite dry where I am right now, so I think I used about 1/4 cup of water. Simply ball together and set in the fridge for an hour.

When you're ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350. While we're waiting for the oven to heat and the dough to cool, let's talk a bit about rhubarb!

Please don't be put off by the color!


As you can see, the rhubarb is green. As you may have noticed from the date on this blog, it's the middle of October. This may confuse you because many people are mostly familiar with rhubarb in the context of strawberry rhubarb pie, which is a late springtime and early summertime delight. The truth of the matter is that rhubarb doesn't just grow in the spring, but in the fall as well. This lovely plant grows in what I like to call the 'in-betweener seasons,' which means the transitional seasons between extreme heat and extreme cold, summer and winter. The stalks start green but turn red as they ripen with the warmth. You won't always see red rhubarb in the cooler months, but that shouldn't turn you off.

If you aren't familiar with rhubarb's flavor profile, I've asked my husband - who up until recently had never had a straight rhubarb pie - to describe it. His exact words were:

"Oh. Uh. I don't know... Kind of tart?"

I would describe it as sour and vegetal, which is oddly good. Maybe a super-sour celery with a hint of citrus fragrance? It's a truly unique flavor that's got a surprisingly high amount of vitamin C, potassium, and calcium so you can feel good about having more than one slice of this ultra-thick pie. It's got a very nice depth of flavor that is so unique...and also a vegetable! Would you ever think that you could make a sweet pie out of vegetables? It's so good, you can make any pie, cake filling, or jam from it and it'll go down a treat for anyone who tastes it. 

As I mentioned previously, rhubarb is a perennial plant, which means it comes back every year. Strawberries, which go excellent with rhubarb, is also a perennial. They are also a good cold weather plant which means that they can survive underground in the snow. This means they can grow in the same patch together and be just fine! To ensure their survival, a healthy amount of straw and mulch over the beds will do you a world of good. I have some large maple trees on my property that - of course -  shed their leaves when autumn comes. This is a natural mulch, but is so much more than that.

I finished this bed two days before I gave birth!

In nature, autumn leaves aren't meant to be raked up. The leaves that fall are a natural blanket for the underlying vegetation an a cozy home for pollinating insects to lay their eggs until they can hatch in the next year's spring. This protects any plant life from hard frosts and blankets of snow in the winter months.  Nonmigratory birds also benefit from these leaves because worms feast on them and fat worms mean healthy birds. Fat worms also mean healthy soil and healthy soil means healthy biome. Do you see how it's all connected, and how you - in your own small way - can help your own tiny microcosm of plant and animal life? Just something to think about while you finish your pie...  

I don't even know what this is supposed to be. Maybe like a triceratops doing a cosplay of Jack Skellington?


Divide the dough in half and give your dough a good smack or two with a floured rolling pin to soften everything up while keeping the fat still cold. This is great therapy, especially if you have a newborn like me, and you are so sleep deprived and you just need some kind of safe release... It's ideal if you can roll all of this out on a marble surface, but whatever you're using is probably just fine. You can either roll out two discs on floured surfaces or you can sandwich your dough between two sheets of parchment paper that have been lubricated liberally with aerosol pan spray of some matter. I prefer this method, simply because it helps with cleanup and minimizes the chance of overworking the dough. If you're going to use a more intricate design on your pie crust top, however, it may benefit you to use flour and a bit of kneading, just to ensure the pie crust is strong enough to do fun things with. My design was fairly simple, so I kept my rolling method simple. 

Important note: No matter which method of rolling out you use, be sure to lay your pie crust in your pie dish of choice with plenty of overhang and allow it to rest in the dish for at least five minutes while you work on your top. It's imperative that you do this to minimize any shrinkage that would otherwise occur. You can let it rest on the counter, but I personally think it's better to let it rest in the fridge so the dough can get cold again before anything else. When the bottom is ready, give it a quick dust of semolina or equal parts sugar and flour. 

When you're ready, give the filling a good stir. You should have quite a bit of liquid that's come from your rhubarb! Drain that into a small saucepot and whisk in the cornstarch. Slowly bring to a boil over a medium flame and allow to thicken. It'll get quite thick so don't worry! When boiling, immediately remove from the heat and add the orange juice. Give it a good whisk to ensure there are absolutely no lumps and add it back to the rhubarb. Mix everything until it's all well incorporated and pour into your prepared bottom crust.  There will be quite a high rounded top on this, so please keep that in mind when designing your top crust. Make sure you have at least a few vent holes in your design.

Bake your pie at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the crust is golden-brown and there's slight bubbling of the filling that's showing. Remove and allow to cool for about an hour before cutting into it. This pie is sour, sweet, herbacious, and incredibly satisfying in the fall. The cornstarch helps it set so you can get clean slices, and the orange juice brings out the naturally citrus-like flavor of the rhubarb. The spices compliment the sour-bitter notes with aromatic fragrances that remind us of fall. 

I love this pie because it uses one of my favorite 'surprise fall' ingredients and gives me a break from pumpkin. Don't get me wrong - pumpkin and apple are life! But you do need a break from these two juggernauts of autumn flavors and I think that this pie is just the ticket. Variety is the spice of life, as they say. 


As always, I want to send out a special thank you to my good friends at KC Farm School at Gibbs Road for their tireless efforts in agricultural education and advocacy for the community, and for their help and generosity during my pregnancy and birth journey. The friends I have made during my time working with this farm and the community I have found during the pandemic because of this organization has meant more to me than I could ever write. Thank you.

I'd also like to take a moment to say thank you to the nursing students at Research Medical Center, who happened to be at the farmer's market at KC Farm School on Wednesday, October 13th, of 2021, that checked my blood pressure and alerted me to the fact that I had suddenly developed gestational hypertension. This is a condition that isn't serious in and of itself but it does have a 50/50 chance of developing into preeclampsia, which can be a life-threatening condition for both mother and baby. Because of them, I went immediately to the hospital after the market and was able to get induced and safely deliver my baby. Thank you. 

Actually, my entire birth story was awesome and it was all thanks to the incredible nurses and nursing students of Research Medical Center. If you're at all curious, you can find my birth story here on IGTV Live! It's a long one, so be forewarned. 

Finally, I'd like to thank you for joining me for a portion of your day. I know that reading food blogs aren't always the most exciting thing to do with your time, but the fact that even a tiny portion of your day was spent with me makes me feel special. I hope that I can provide education and insight to food and growing it for yourself. I also hope that I made you laugh. 

Happy cooking and happy eating!

Friday, October 1, 2021

Cinnamon Caramel Apple Cake


Fall is here and my body is ready. Going apple picking is one of my absolute favorite things in the world to do, and I'm so fortunate to live in the Midwest where apple picking orchards are a-plenty! Apples are relatively easy to grow, but the trick is that they are not self-pollinating trees so you really need at least two trees to get apples. I don't often recommend doing that if you have a smaller lot, or if you can't commit yourself to getting every apple off the ground before it ferments and gets all of your squirrels and hornets drunk...but if you do have those things covered, then by all means go for it!

The apple, which is not native to the Americas, is one of my favorite ingredients. I write about it a fair bit! That being said, you don't have to get apples fresh from a farm to enjoy them, even though it is recommended. Yes, you could get a bag of apples for $5 at the store instead of driving out to an orchard, paying $36 to pick your own in 88 degree heat wearing fall clothing with your kids screaming at you about being itchy and having to go potty all the time...but if you can get to a farmer's market where they're selling apples you can split the difference and get great quality produce!


These apples are from the farm. They're small but much sweeter than many I could get in the store! I don't mind the bruises at all, and neither should you, especially if you're going to eat them straight away in a pie or cake. There's a ton of perfectly good food wasted every year because it's not exactly "up to standard." You can watch this awesome documentary about it if you're so inclined! Of course, the issues are much more nuanced than just one documentary can present, but it's still interesting to think about.  The bottom line is that when you buy organic produce it will not look exactly perfect like how you see in the grocery store. Food will be in its natural state, with bites and bruises, and it won't matter a lick how it looks if you put it into a cake. 

Cinnamon Caramel Apple Cake
yields 1 9" square or round cake

Caramel

  • 200 g white sugar 
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp white vinegar

Apples

  • 4 small apples, sliced thinly on the mandolin + 1 small apple, cut decoratively
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tsp vinegar
  • 5 Tbsp white sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ancho chili powder
Cake
  • 150 g vegan butter 
  • 220 g brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp grated fresh ginger or 1/2 tsp dried ginger
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 250 g all-purpose flour
  • 240 g (1 cup) almond milk
This is a cake that takes many steps, but it is worth it. Trust me.

Prepare the pan of your choice by buttering it generously with either non-dairy butter or coconut oil spray. Get all of the sides, of course, but especially get the bottom! Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 




Prepare the apples by slicing them thinly on a mandolin or with a sharp knife and tossing them with the sugar, zest, and spices. You may add a tsp of good dark rum if you like, but it is not necessary. Set it aside and prepare the caramel bottom. Slice your decorating apple and arrange it in a pattern on the bottom of your pan. This will be the top!

Add the sugar, honey, vinegar, to a small saucepot along with just enough water to cover the sugar mixture. Pop a lid on top and bring it to a boil. You're going to boil it for about five minutes, or until lovely golden-brown caramel forms, and immediately pour over the apples as evenly as possible. Pop this into the oven and bake for about 5 minutes, just to set it and to ensure that the caramel is evenly distributed among the apple slices. When ready, remove from the oven and set aside.

Cream the butter in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whip attachment until quite light-colored and fluffy. Add the brown sugar and whip it all together until completely incorporated and the sugar looks to be mostly dissolved. Add the eggs, one at a time, being sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl between each addition. Make sure the eggs are entirely incorporated before going to the next step!

Add in your baking powder, baking soda, salt, and vanilla, and whip together until combined. Add in the flour, a third at a time, while alternating with the milk to make sure no big lumps occur. Scrape down the bowl and give one final stir. Remove the whip attachment and stir in the macerated apple mixture by hand with a spatula. Allow the batter to rest for about 15 minutes on the counter to let the flour soak in. 

When ready, scrape the batter into your prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the cake slightly pulls away from the sides of the pan and springs back when touched. Remove from the oven and let sit on the counter for about 15 minutes before turning out onto a plate. If everything goes well, your caramel will still be warm enough to bring the cake away from the pan! Let cool for another 15 or 20 minutes before slicing into it, as molten lava has nothing on hot caramel.

This cake is incredibly soft and moist and will fill your heart with warming love. I can't think of anything more perfectly delectable than this cake for the first taste of fall. It keeps on the counter, covered, for up to four days, but it really doesn't last that long. It's quite excellent with a morning cup of coffee or warmed, after dinner, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I hope you'll give it a try with some apples you pick up from your own local farmer's market!



Thank you so much for spending some of your day or night with me. Happy cooking and happy eating!