We recently had a couple of friends over for dinner, and we decided to make it a rhubarb-centric meal, having gotten rhubarb in our CSA. But we got so ambitious with the rhubarb that we had to buy more anyway, which as you can see from the pic, delighted Gretchen.
Rhubarb is too often relegated to the dessert realm. It is fabulous in pies of course, and nice as a compote over ice cream as well. But its sour vegetal flavor makes it a useful ingredient in savory dishes too. Anything that is sweet n' sour is can probably incorporate rhubarb. If you have never cooked rhubarb before, you want to boil it with a little water and a bunch of sugar in a sauce pan until it's soft - then you can mash it up with a fork and add it to sauces. If you want it to keep its shape, just cut it into large pieces and take it off the heat when it is fork-tender. For the mashed rhubarb in these recipes, I used splenda instead of sugar to keep the calories down and it worked just fine.
I came up with a recipe for rhubarb barbecue sauce around this time last year that I made with country pork ribs with delectable results but since this year I'm doing weight watchers (lost 9.4 pounds so far!), I decided to make rhubarb bbq shrimp instead of pork ribs. Gretchen made a Mark Bittman recipe (from the Food Matters cookbook) for braised tofu with a rhubarb & black pepper sauce that was quite good (the tofu had a nice creamy texture).
I have a lot of insecurity about cooking fish and meat. I learned to cook as a vegetarian (I was strictly vegetarian from ages 14 to 21), and I've continued to cook mostly vegetarian food. When I started cooking meat I was so afraid of the bacteria that I consistently overcooked it, which is the death knell for any meat dish that isn't a long, slow braise. I still struggle with getting the cooking times right. I've been especially leary of cooking fish because sustainable fish tends to be pricey, and I'm always afraid I"ll end up messing it up. It seems easier to just pay three times as much to go to a restaurant and have someone else cook it perfectly.
But these fears are really a little irrational. Fish is one of the easier animals to cook, and there are websites everywhere with specific per-inch-of fish cooking instructions. For this occasion, I decided to make shrimp n' grits. I've only cooked shrimp once before in my life. I was staying with a friend In Mexico and she had an in-home cooking lesson on making shrimp with chipotle cream sauce. It didn't seem too hard, but I didn't like the peeling and deveining part. This time, I bought a pound of easy-peel frozen shrimp from Whole Foods, which come already deveined. They came out great! Cooking them was so easy! I don't know why I don't cook shrimp all the time, I think I'm going to start doing that. All you have to do is sautee them in a little olive oil, and as soon as they have changed colors, cut one in half to see if it's done. It only takes a couple of minutes, and you take them off the heat and have lovely, tender, flavorful shrimp (the Whole Foods ones seem to be pretty high quality). Now that I'm a convert, you will be seeing more shrimp recipes on this blog, I promise.
The best part of the meal we made for our friends though was definitely the dessert. Gretchen made three kinds of homemade sherberts-- tangerine, beet, and banana. She made whipped cream with a touch of orange flower water and chocolate sauce from taza chocolates, and we had wonderful banana splits. Beet sorbet may seems strange, and indeed it has a vegetal flavor, but with chocolate sauce, it's delicious. And adding a little orange flower water to whip cream creates a nice floral touch. I don't know how she made all of it, so she will have to explain that with the recipe below.
Rhubarb BBQ Shrimp & Grits
I used the ingredient list and roughly the proportions from my previous rhubarb bbq sauce recipe, but I just kept fiddling with it (adding a little more wine, a little more sugar, etc.) until I was happy with the way it tasted.
Rhurbarb BBQ Sauce
Makes about 2 cups
6 stalks rhubarb
⅓ cup sugar
½ cup water
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup ketchup
½ cup red wine
½ cup strong coffee
¼ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon sea salt
⅛ teaspoon liquid smoke
8 twists of a black pepper grinder
1. Chop rhubarb and place in a saucepan with water and 1/3 cup sugar. Bring to a boil and boil for
ten minutes, adding water if necessary and sugar to taste. The rhubarb should be sweet, tart, and
soft enough to be easily mashed with a spoon.
2. Add all other sauce ingredients, stir well to thoroughly combine, and simmer for 30 minutes.
Defrost and peel shrimp. Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, and throw in a minced garlic clove. Add shrimp, and cook, stirring about so they get cooked on both sides, until cooked through. Test one for doneness, and remove from heat. Add just enough bbq sauce to make them all have a thin sauce layer.
Follow package instructs to cook grits. Add a little cream, butter, and salt at the end.
Serve shrimp with grits! Delicious.
The Tofu Rhubarb dish is from Mark Bittman. It is a Vietnamese-inspired dish, which sounded yummy and interesting. As I made it, there were many times where I thought I had ruined it, but it actually turned out quite good. First you make a caramel, and then let the sugar burn a bit, to get that bitter/sugar flavor that is common in Vietnamese cooking. (This was the first time I thought I'd ruined it--my sugar never quite burned, but it did change texture and become somewhat hard--it softened up a again when I added water though). You then throw in a ton of onions and rhubarb, and let that cook down a bit. There is also a crazy amount of black pepper--like a tbls. This was the second time I thought I'd ruined it--SO MUCH PEPPER!!! and it is very peppery even after it's cooked down, but it was still really good. Then you put in tofu, cover, and let it steam for about 10 minutes. Right before serving you throw in a ton of cilantro. I liked the way the tofu came out--I was skeptical, since the initial dish was with fish, I thought the tofu might be bland or mushy. But actually, the rhubarb flavor seeped into the tofu, and the middle was creamy and yum.
In other rhubarb news, Becky made a really good cocktail with basil, rhubarb puree, and this really good infused pepper vodka that has both sweet and hot red peppers in it. It was delicious.
The sorbets were all made in our ice cream maker that I found under the sink in my old apartment in Brooklyn. For years, I carried it around from place to place, without ever making ice cream. Last year, I used it for the first time, and I have realized how easy making ice cream is. I made three kinds--banana, tangerine and beet. Here is the run-down of how I did each.
The banana is frozen banana. Period. After peeling and chopping up the bananas (about 4), I froze them over night. Then, I threw them in the food processor and processed them til smooth. Put them back in the freezer until ready to serve. So easy, so healthy, so good.
The tangerine sorbet is actually sherbert, from the NY Times cookbook. The original recipe called for gelatin, which I don't use, and which we didn't have, so I subbed agar agar, a Japanese gelatin from seaweed. I can't remember now, but I think I did use dairy milk and cream, since we actually had them in the apt. The last time I made it, I used almond milk, and it came out pretty much the same. The tangerine juice was from Becky's parents' trees. Processed in our ice cream machine.
The beet sorbet was modeled on beet sorbet we had in Argentina. I like the Argentine version better, but basically I used a apricot-champagne recipe that was in our latest Cooking Light magazine, and subbed beets from our CSA for the apricots. The champagne was the last bottle left over from our wedding. I roasted the beets, and then pureed them with a reduced champagne-sugar mixture. I think that might be it! Processed in our ice cream machine.
It was a great meal shared with great friends. Perfect.