Sunday, April 25, 2010

Deborah Madison, Rhubarb, and Kitchen Assistants

Only a few cookbooks inspire me in unexpected ways and Seasonal Fruit Desserts from Orchard, Farm and Market (2010) by Deborah Madison is another gem to add to that list. Madison's recipes are treasure trove of inspiration for combining ingredients in new delicious ways. And it doesn't hurt that she's a local food advocate and a compelling food writer who has honed her cooking on local foods for decades.

Founder of the famous Greens Restaurant in San Francisco, Deborah Madison is a longtime market shopper, gardener, food writer and popular cookbook author. Her seasonally-infused food writing and flavor pairings have been a large influence in my kitchen over the years.

Nearly two decades ago in Madison's The Savory Way (1990), I discovered acidic flavors were the secret link shared by all salads. When Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (1997) came out, I turned to Deborah's comprehensive soup chapter for inspiration again and again. And when I got Local Flavors (2002) her simple seasonings and use of oils, citrus and vinegars, helped shape the flavors of local foods in my kitchen. Madison's newest book, Seasonal Fruit Desserts, is also a great kitchen reference that I will turn to again and again.

However, if you read this book before dozing off, you're likely to have sweet, delectable dreams.

I wanted to pick one of Deborah's recipes and write about it, but here's what happened. I had rhubarb on hand and after a quick glance at the recipes, I zeroed in on "Baked Rhubarb with Vanilla, Orange and Clove."

It was the vanilla that sucked me in. Here are the ingredients for Madison's recipe:

juice and zest of 1 orange
vanilla bean

The ingredients are combined and baked for 30 minutes, which Deborah says helps rhubarb maintain its shape.

I didn't feel like heating an oven just for a rhubarb dessert and I didn't have an orange, so I'd simmer instead of bake and add coconut milk to replace the orange. Here are my ingredients for the recipe:

4 cups rhubarb, washed cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
sugar, enough to sweeten (1/4 to 1/2 cup)
small can of coconut milk
2 vanilla beans
handful of dried North Star pie cherries

I slit the vanilla beans down the middle and simmered them in them for 5 minutes coconut milk and water (a can of milk, a can of water) to infuse the milk with vanilla. The delicate aroma of vanilla wafted through the kitchen as I added the sugar, rhubarb and pie cherries. The amount of sweetener depends on the cook, add what you like.

I simmered everything until rhubarb was soft. Some had fallen apart into a puree just like Deborah Madison had mentioned in her rhubarb information section. The flavors of vanilla, rhubarb and cherries mingling in a decadent coconut milk base--what's with the flavor of coconut? It's a good thing I really don't eat a lot of coconut milk much because I might seriously love it in everything.

I topped my dessert with coconut sorbet, because it just seemed right and I ate it warm--the tart tones of rhubarb, flavor of cherries and a blast of real vanilla tasted so good, I'm still dreaming about it. That's what you get when you go crazy and use two whole vanilla beans.

When I was finished I realized my rhubarb dessert wasn't exactly the trio of flavors of Madison's recipe, but like I said, her recipes inspire cooking in unexpected ways. And isn't that the true joy of cooking?

Who is your kitchen muse?

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