Rites of Spring

Although I wasn’t particularly thrilled about “springing ahead” and losing an hour of precious sleep (yeah, who’s lame idea was it anyways and why are we still doing it when it’s universally acknowledged to being rather pointless in the modern world?!), I was, nevertheless, done with Winter.  And you know what really puts me in that “springtime” mode?  It’s the sight of gorgeous, vibrant stalks of crisp rhubarb.

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The first wave of rhubarb at the produce markets tend to be the hot-house variety and a little pricey.  But if you’re like me, you won’t mind splurging on these jewel-like beauties…especially if you’ve got some yummy things in mind–like strawberry rhubarb pop tarts, or tender, melt in your mouth rhubarb crumb coffeecake or rhubarb creme filled lemon cookie sandwiches…

What I love to do with the rhubarb is to cut it up into chunks then quickly poach it in simple syrup, just until the pieces have a little “give” when pinched.  I then shock the rhubarb in ice water to stop the cooking and allow the poaching syrup (which has turned a lovely shade of pink) to cool to room temperature before adding the poached rhubarb back into it.  The poached rhubarb in syrup will keep quite well refrigerated in an airtight container or mason jar for up to two weeks.  You can spoon the poached rhubarb over vanilla ice cream, add it to coffeecake or muffin batter, toss it with strawberries or raspberries and top with streusel for an easy pie.  Best of all, you can use the flavorful rhubarb syrup to make all kinds of drinks…alcoholic or otherwise.

I’ve come up with two…call it my salute to spring.  Both feature my homemade rhubarb syrup and my latest obsession–“make it yourself” fizzy water.  I love sparkling water and fizzy drinks…just don’t like the cost and the ridiculous amount of sugar in most store-bought sodas, so I got myself an inexpensive handy-dandy compact soda maker on Amazon. And, voila…homemade craft sodas!   But getting back to the drinks, the first one is a refreshing non-alcoholic spritzer (yeah, weird I know, me making something without booze!) I’m calling it Rhubarb Spring–basically 2 oz. rhubarb syrup topped off with chilled sparkling water, a squeeze of fresh lime juice, garnished with frozen raspberries and a slice of lime.

IMG_4086The second one is a gin-based cocktail I’m calling Rosie Cheeks.  At first I wanted to name it “Think Pink” after that musical number from one of our favorite musicals Funny Face (1957).  But then Laura came up with “Rosie Cheeks” which better describes what happens after you’ve had a few of these cocktails.  Still, I can’t resist referencing Funny Face.  It’s springtime in Paris, stunning couture (by Hubert de Givenchy), and the s’wonderfully divine Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn.

Rosie Cheeks

  • 2 oz. Gin
  • .75 oz. St. Germaine Elderflower Liqueur
  • 1.5 oz. Homemade Rhubarb Syrup
  • 3-4 dashes Rhubarb Bitters
  • .5 oz Lemon Juice
  • 4 oz. Chilled Sparkling Water
  • slice of lemon for garnish

Combine gin, elderflower liqueur, rhubarb syrup, bitters and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker with 3-4 ice cubes, then shake to blend.  Strain liquor into a chilled glass and top with sparkling water and sliced lemon.

The start of Spring also heralds the coming of Easter.  Now having been subjected to one too many religious movies around this time of year during my Catholic high school days (and I’m not EVEN Catholic!), I tend favor more secular cinematic fare…like the classic Easter Parade (1948) starring Judy Garland and (once again everybody’s favorite) Fred Astaire, with music by the incomparable Irving Berlin.

In keeping with my secular tendencies, I opted to make Easter Loaves–sort of like hot cross (un)buns so to speak.  I used a simple brioche dough and layered in lots of fresh orange/tangerine zest mixed with sugar and dried currants.  I formed the dough into mini loaves (mainly because I was too lazy to form a bunch of little individual buns), proofed them until doubled in size, then brushed the tops with heavy cream before baking the loaves at 350°F for about 35 mins.  or until they were golden brown and tested done.  When the loaves had cooled to room temperature, I made a light glaze with fresh tangerine juice and powdered sugar and dipped the surface of the loaves into the glaze.

Another thing that makes me think of Spring, is the abundance of asparagus.  I love it in all forms–grilled, blanketed in hollandaise, in frittata, on pizza, tossed in pasta.  For those of you who’ve followed this blog, it should not come as a surprise that one of my favorite ways to cook is to deep-fry.  I’m not ashamed to admit that if it’s battered and deep-fried, I’ll probably eat it (okay, maybe not a Twinkie…I draw the line there!).  So, of course I felt compelled to make asparagus tempura…along with red bell pepper, shiitake mushroom and shrimp tempura (hey, I like a balanced meal!).  The process of making tempura is really pretty easy.  The batter is a simple ratio of 1 part all-purpose flour to 1 part cornstarch, whisk in just enough sparkling water or club soda to make a batter that is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, and season with salt and pepper.  I added a little bit of toasted sesame seeds to my batter.  Make sure that your vegetables and shrimp are patted dry before dipping into the batter.

IMG_4100For added crunch, I like to double-dip–that is dip the product into the batter, then dip it into panko bread crumbs.  Fry the tempura in batches (3-4 pieces at a time depending of the size of frying vessel) at about 365°F until golden.  Drain the excess oil off on paper towels.   Arrange on a plate and dust with furikake (seasoned seaweed topping).

Nothing says "Spring" like Vegetable and Shrimp Tempura
Nothing says “Spring” like Vegetable and Shrimp Tempura

To make myself feel slightly less guilty about the tempura, I served it with a side of cold soba noodle salad, which is just cold cooked soba noodles, julienned carrots, sliced cucumber, diced red bell peppers, and chopped scallions, tossed in a light dressing of soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, pickled ginger juice (aka the pickling liquid), sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.

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Spring is about renewal and optimism, and viewing the world from a fresh perspective…or at the very least from a different angle.  On that note, here are two funny, somewhat “unorthodox” takes on Spring.

 

 

Author: Puddingyrl

I'm a pastry chef (geek) whose appetite invariably exceeds the actual size of my stomach. Skinny jeans be damned! My innate curiosity usually leads to full-blown obsessions--culinary and otherwise--which is why you'll find me sticking my finger in the proverbial pudding...if not licking the whole damn bowl. Given my varied interests, I figured blogging is a good way for me to explore those ideas that are always nibbling at my brain. Along for the ride are two of my girlfriends who share some of my obsessions and have no problems diving headlong into that bowl of pudding. After all, it's more fun to share the calories!

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