Monday, May 25, 2009

Strawberry, rhubarb, ceviche

In addition to grilling, Memorial Day seems to require some kind of fruity dessert. Although the weather in San Francisco has been decidedly wintery--we've been wearing sweaters and cranking up the heat all weekend--we're still enjoying summery produce. Apparently, somewhere the weather is nice enough to grow things like strawberries and rhubarb. So, I decided to make a crisp to bring to the BBQ at my mother's house.

Simple enough, right? Armed with my best recipe, I was feeling cocky. I'll just swap the berries and rhubarb for the apples, I thought. Easy peasy.

The husband wandered through the kitchen as I chopped up the fruit and tossed it cavalierly into a bowl with sugar and vanilla.

"What recipe are you using?" asked the husband.

"Oh, I'm just basing it on the Baking Illustrated apple crisp I always make," I responded breezily. "It's just about a method," I assured him patronizingly.

Method, indeed. Good thing I decided to get bloggy and take this photo pre-topping, as it was the best this stupid crisp ever looked.

I crumbled the lovely cinnamon and walnut mixture over it and into the oven it went.It emerged bubbling and golden, if maybe a little juicier than I expected. Perfect, I thought smugly. Rustic!

Unfortunately, the crisp had to travel. I let it cool for close to an hour, as long as I could wait, before covering it gently and driving it to my mom's house, 40 minutes away. By the time we arrived, it looked terrible. The once-crumbly topping had sunken into the fruit and what was left on the surface looked shiny and a little soggy. And it was becoming evident that the fruit below was too juicy.

By the time we dug into it, it was a mess.

"It looks like jam," my mother said, more observantly than unkindly.

The flavor was good--I liked my additions of vanilla and cardamom, and thank goodness I'd decided to add a little tapioca to the filling--it was the only thing that made it a jam and not a juice.

At the end of the night I covered what remained of the "crisp" for the ride home. I knew it would make a one-night pit-stop in the fridge before getting tossed the next day.

I guess I'm not quite as good an improviser as I thought. As my wise mother reminded me, strawberries and rhubarb have a much higher water content than apples, so the recipe couldn't have worked out exactly the same just by copying the method. Oh well. It actually tasted decent, and wasn't it Julia Child who said that the best thing about cooking was that you can eat your mistakes?

And, the dessert was only a blip in the evening after perfectly grilled steaks and sweet corn. But the dark horse of the evening was my mother's shrimp ceviche, which she cobbled together from two recipes. Marinated in lime and dressed up with tomato, avocado, and, surprisingly, tarragon vinegar, the ceviche was a perfect balance of bright and tart without being acidic. She also added her own touches, including toasted pumpkin seeds and cooked sweet potato, an homage to her childhood in Peru. The result was absolutely addictive. I guess I have a bit to learn when it comes to playing fast and loose with recipes, but maybe observing my mother in the kitchen is a good place to start.


  1. That ceviche sounds yummy!

    I say the more you live, the more you learn.

    I've got a bunch of strawberries that have to be used. Nothing worse than fruit going bad from my lack of inspiration.

  2. Ahhh yes, you hit one of the key issues with baking with rhubarb: it disintegrates. Same with strawberries, unfortunately for your crisp. You might want to check out the version I created earlier this spring, which uses apples with rhubarb. This works admirably well. You get plenty of rhubarb taste and a nice texture and shape to boot.

    And the other key issue with cooking rhubarb? The color. It fades. I'm dealing with this today as I attempt a rhubarb, lemon grass and ginger ice cream. We'll see what happens...

  3. Cee: wasn't there a time when you thought you were allergic to strawberries? So glad you're not!

    LunaCafe: It makes me so sad that the color fades. It's so beautiful raw, but totally inedible. I'll check out your apple/rhubarb recipe. Thanks. And thanks for stopping by!

  4. Thanks, SJ! I've had some pretty fantastic disasters, too. Just check out The Milk Baby.