Archive for May 6th, 2010

Masters in Action

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

Among the masters in my midst are Martha Nichols and Susan (Sue) Palmquist.  Martha, an interior designer, is a longtime friend who has helped me make my successive homes more lovely than I could have done myself.  Besides her skills in putting together all the design details, I call her the Color Empress.  To see Martha consider colors for a room is akin to watching Dale Chihuly invent his glass creations or Olympic gold medal figure skater Kim Yu Na soar over the ice.

I’ve recently gotten to know Sue, Martha’s collaborator in many projects and friend of many years. Sue, co-owner of Sawhill Kitchens in Minneapolis, designs kitchens as a maestro who first listens to the client’s vision and then, makes sure the range plays well with the sink, that the backsplash complements the countertop and cabinets, and there will be room to open the refrigerator door all the way to remove the crisper drawers.

I watched these masters in action last week. Imagine an equally supportive game of tennis between two of the very best. Martha and Sue each have true joy in what they do and the highest standards of excellence.

Not only does Susan make kitchens that work, she’s a wonderful cook. She made us a Roasted Vegetables and Orzo Salad and served it with baked chicken breasts.  My contribution to this lunch was bread and chocolate chip cookies. Here’s Sue’s recipe:

Roasted Vegetables and Orzo Salad

Cut the following vegetables into 1-inch cubes, squares, or pieces:

  • 1 eggplant (medium size)
    1 red pepper
    1 yellow or orange (or both) pepper
    1 red onion
    1 cup green beans

3 cloves garlic – minced
1/3 cup good olive oil
1-1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 pound orzo

Dressing

1/2 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice – approx. 3 lemons
1/3 c. good olive oil
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Final additions

6 scallions, minced
1/2 c. toasted pine nuts
3/4 lb. feta cheese (crumbled or diced)
20 – 24 fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips (chiffonade)

Heat oven to 450 degrees F. Place eggplant, red, yellow, and/or orange peppers, onion, and zucchini in baking pan. Toss in 1/3 cup olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Roast about 30 minutes until browned, turning once.

In medium saucepan, cook orzo according to package directions. Drain, rinse lightly, and place in large bowl. Add the vegetables along with all the scrapings from the pan. Meanwhile, make the dressing and add to the warm orzo & vegetables.

Just before serving, add scallions, pine nuts, feta cheese, and basil chiffonade.

Serve with roasted or grilled chicken breasts.  Makes about 10 servings.

Rites of Spring: Rhubarb

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

Rhubarb tastes best to me when I pull it myself and cook it right away. Always pull from the root plant to get the ‘good end.’ I’ll be replacing my small, unproductive rhubarb patch this year. In the meantime, I watch for stands of rhubarb that look as though the owners have more than enough of the stuff or simply don’t pick it. I look for the pale green bulb, meaning the plant has “bolted” or gone to seed. The stalks taste best if it has only just gone to seed.

I’m not shy to inquire about the rhubarb. If the answer is “no,” no problem. But, it never is.  Yesterday, I was granted permission to pick what I wanted and got enough rhubarb for two pies and some sauce.

Adding eggs to rhubarb pie makes a creamy filling that balances rhubarb’s tart, sour flavor. Sugar is essential, of course. My mom’s recipe came from the Better Homes and Gardens “Red Plaid” and the Betty Crocker “Big Red” cookbooks she received as a bride in the early 1950s. Alas! Neither the latest BHG book nor the latest BC book still has the recipe. My copy of the Pillsbury Kitchens Family Cookbook, 1979, has it.

A side note: in my first job, I helped test the recipes for the dessert section of the Pillsbury book, working with experienced home economists who contributed to my development as a cook and food writer. Later I wrote as a staff food editor for Better Homes and Gardens magazine and worked often as a freelance food writer for the Betty Crocker kitchens.

Rhubarb Crumble Custard Pie

Adapted from the Pillsbury Family Cookbook, 1979.

9-inch single crust pastry

4 eggs

1½ to 1¾ cups sugar

¼ cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon nutmeg

5 cups sliced rhubarb, ½-inch pieces

Oatmeal Crumble:

½ cup firmly packed brown sugar

½ cup oatmeal     TIP: I use a mix of  steel-cut and rolled oats.

¼ cup all-purpose flour

¼ to ½ tsp. nutmeg

3 tbsp. butter

1/2 cup chopped nuts of your choice:  pecans, walnuts, almonds

Heat oven to 400 degrees F.  Place pastry crust in 9-inch pie plate.

TIP:  Pastry cooks most evenly in pottery or ceramic pie plate than in glass or metal.

In large bowl, beat eggs. Stir in sugar, flour, and nutmeg; mix well.  Stir in rhubarb.

In separate bowl, prepare Oatmeal Crumble: Stir together brown sugar, oatmeal, and flour.  Cut in butter with pastry blender or two knives. Stir in chopped nuts.

Spoon rhubarb mixture into pastry. Flute pastry edge. Sprinkle filling evenly with Oatmeal Crumble. Bake in 400 degree oven about 70 minutes. Place aluminum foil collars around pastry edge to avoid over-browning. If it browns too fast on top, place a sheet of aluminum foil loosely over top. Bake until golden brown, filling is set, and mixture bubbles. Makes 8 servings.