Until a couple of weeks ago, I had never tasted rhubarb. But that first taste was eventful. Dan and I were in San Francisco for the evening. We didn’t have a plan beyond “let’s hang out in the city”. I used to live in SF, albeit briefly (about one year). It’s a great town and while Dan knows his way around SF as well as I do, I wanted to share with him at least a little of my SF. Admittedly, my navigation skills are not precise… one might call them approximate. So after taking the long way around, we finally arrived at Hôtel Biron. This is probably my favorite wine bar, tucked away in an alley behind Market Street (I love hidden gems like this. Partly just for the surprise of it… As you are walking along, your companion is asking himself why this crazy girl is walking toward an obviously closed or abandoned building, then víola you are inside and its lovely)… All brick walls and sort of cave-like, it’s very warm and cozy. I love it-love it.
We began our dinner there with wine and cheese. Dan chose mostly French wines; I think maybe there was something in the air that evening because we were both in a French sort of mood. Which is why when dinner was brought up for real, I suggested a couple of nearby French restaurants. There are two good French restaurants not too far from Hôtel Biron: Zuni Cafe and Absinthe (random note: Jamie from Top Chef is the executive chef at Absinthe. I haven’t eaten there since a year or two before she was on the show, but from what I recall it was excellent then). Since Zuni was literally around the corner, we started there and perused the menu posted outside. Everything on the menu looked fabulous so we asked for a table. After the generous portion of wine and cheese at Hôtel Biron, we were both only modestly hungry so we chose to split a few oysters, a frisée salad with goat cheese toasts and an entrée of lamb mixed grill. It was all completely delicious and just enough food to satisfy without feeling overindulged. Then it was time for dessert. The first thing that jumped out to me from the menu was a rhubarb upside-down cake with crème fraîche ice cream. Oh my my. It was heavenly.
And so began my obsession with rhubarb. I had never had it before then and so I certainly had never cooked it or even touched it at a store… I’m not sure I had ever even noticed it before to be honest. Oh sure, I’ve heard all about the one-two punch of strawberry-rhubarb , but I have never crossed paths with it. Until now… now it’s personal (I am personally offended that rhubarb stayed away from me for so long) and so I am taking things into my own hands.
About a week after the upside-down cake epiphany, I walked over to the produce market near my apartment. I was a girl on a mission, on the look out for rhubarb. I bought two pounds. What the heck am I going to do with two pounds of reddish celery looking stuff? Well, here is where I tell you about how UPS had serendipitously delivered a freezer-bowl attachment for my KitchenAid mixer just earlier that day (I don’t know exactly why UPS delivered it… something about amazon and a moment of weakness… the rest is a blur).
So there I was with two pounds of rhubarb and a spanking new freezer bowl. Add to that a sweetly fragrant pint of strawberries and this is what you end up with: Rhubarb-Strawberry Sorbet. Tangy and sweet. Cold and refreshing. Just the thing to serve to your friends after grilled kebabs out on the deck.
The cookies in these photos are to die for… the kind of cookie that elicits a “Ooooh, what are you baking?” from everyone who walks within 10 feet of the kitchen. That warm, buttery vanilla scent goes straight will go straight to your head. I spotted the recipe on Smitten Kitchen. It sounded just like what I wanted to balance the sorbet: twice-baked shortbread cookies. I wanted something that could stand on its own but also not compete with the fruity joy of the sorbet. These shortbread cookies were perfection. And while it may seem like a bit much to make two things for dessert, it really wasn’t. I made the sorbet the night before and the shortbread the day of our dinner party. To me, sorbet alone is not dessert. It is lovely and delicious. But on its own, sorbet leaves me wanting. Served in a cone, I’m happy. I don’t know why. Maybe that’s just me. But the cookies, like a cone, were a great compliment… a hush fell over the table for a moment as everyone took their first bites of sorbet and shortbread. It was the perfect end to a delicious meal with friends.
Rhubarb-strawberry sorbet (adapted from the LA Times)
This mixes up quickly and can be stashed in the refrigerator for the next day for instant sorbet.
3/4 pound rhubarb (5 or 6 thin stalks), trimmed
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup water
10 ounces fresh strawberries (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1. Cut the rhubarb into half-inch pieces. In a medium, nonreactive saucepan, bring the rhubarb, two-thirds cup water and the sugar to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the rhubarb is tender and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Cool to room temperature.
2. Slice the strawberries and purée them in a blender or food processor with the cooked rhubarb mixture and lemon juice until smooth.
3. Chill the mixture thoroughly (a couple of hours or overnight), then freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Twice Baked Shortbread: see Smitten Kitchen.
I made the cookies in a round springform pan, then sliced them into long biscotti-like pieces before the second baking. I also used vanilla-sugar to dust the top (but that’s just because I love to smell the jar of vanilla sugar and will use any excuse to open it).
** I only used about half of the rhubarb I purchased to make the sorbet. What happened to the rest of it? You will have to wait and see. But it’s pretty and its pink. I plan to attempt recreating the rhubarb upside-down cake and the crème fraîche ice cream before rhubarb season is over… I will let you know how that goes.