Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Bars

I can tell spring is here and summer is around the corner, because rhubarb has been all over my Instagram feed.  I’ve had bakery desserts with the red celery-like stalk, but I had never made anything with it myself.  Everyone else is doing it, so why not?  The grocery store had a crazy deal on gorgeous juicy strawberries (2 pounds for $3!) last weekend and the rhubarb looked great, so last weekend was a good a time as any to take the plunge!  It was meant to be.  I also took the opportunity to nibble on a piece of raw rhubarb because I’d only ever had it baked in a dessert.  And boy there is a reason why rhubarb isn’t served raw – my mouth puckers just thinking about the bitter tartness!

Admittedly, I bought far too much rhubarb, and ended up doing some experimenting with the extras.  I made a rhubarb puree and then combined it with a lemon bar.  I think I need to tinker with the recipe some more, because Kevin said it tasted like a Fig Newton.  It was not supposed to taste like a Fig Newton.  Also, let it be known that I am fairly certain they used rhubarb puree for the Psychomagnotheric Slime in Ghostbusters II.  It was bright pink jelly, and I of course forgot to take a photo of it.  Fortunately, no psychokinetic events took place during the making of this puree.

Making Rhubarb Puree (not for this recipe)

But I digress.

Smitten Kitchen’s social media channels have had rhubarb recipes on repeat lately, and the recipe for Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Bars in particular caught my eye.  I doubled the recipe for a 9″x13″ baking dish, and used less fruit in proportion to the original recipe.  You can halve the recipe for an 8″x8″ pan, but the bars will be a bit thinner.  But why would you want less of these bars??  The recipe was originally written as a one-bowl recipe, but the OCD in me kicked in and I ended up using a separate mixing bowl so that I could guarantee the crust/crisp would be mixed evenly.  Here is the recipe as adapted from Smitten Kitchen.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • Heaped 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 14 TBSP unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tsp cornstarch (optional, but helps firm up the filling)
  • 2 TBSP lemon juice
  • 2 TBSP granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups small-diced rhubarb (from about 3 medium stalks)
  • 1 1/2 cups small-diced strawberries
  • Powdered sugar, for decoration, if desired

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. For easy removal and clean-up, line bottom and two sides of 9″x13″ baking dish with parchment paper.

    Lets Make Some Magic!
  2. Mix together oats, flour, brown sugar and salt in a large bowl. Pour melted butter over, and stir until clumps form. Set aside 1 1/2 cups of the crumble mixture. Press the rest of the crumb mixture evenly in the bottom of the pan.
  3. Spread half the fruit over the crust. Sprinkle it evenly with cornstarch, then lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar. Spread remaining fruit over this, and top with second tablespoon sugar. Scatter reserved crumbs over fruit and bake bars for 30 to 40 minutes (firmer fruits will take longer), until fruit is bubbly and crisp portion is golden and your kitchen smells amazing.

    Ready for the Oven
  4. Let cool in dish.* Cut into squares and sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving with (obviously) a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream. Store leftovers in fridge.

    Smells Amazing

*Smitten Kitchen recommends cooling in the fridge to make sure the bars are crisp, but using less fruit than the original recipe I think kept the bars from getting soggy.  I didn’t need to chill mine!

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Bars
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Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding

Dovetailing off the Chicken Enchiladas I made for the Sho-Yu holiday party we had (yes, still a few months behind here), I wanted to share the dessert I made for the potluck!  I took advantage of hosting the party this year and picked a dessert that could be served hot out of the oven – bread pudding!  And not just any bread pudding – croissant bread pudding.  Sometimes I find bread pudding using bread (challah, brioche, etc.) can get a little too dense.  And let’s be honest – if you’re going to have bread pudding, you might as well commit to the buttery, flaky goodness that croissants can bring to the table!

I’ve been a fan of Michael Chiarello for a few years now, after Kevin and I ate at his Italian restaurant in Yountville, Bottega Napa Valley, which is still arguably our favorite Italian meal (including the ones we had IN Italy!).  I’ve also had the pleasure of dining at his tapas restaurant in San Francisco, Coqueta, where my favorite grilled octopus can be found.  He spoke at an event I worked on at Coqueta, and my boss at the time knew I was a fan and insisted on getting me a photo with him.

Best Buds – I Wish!

After some research online for just the right recipe, I came across Michael Chiarello’s Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding recipe, and couldn’t wait to make it.  I do admit that I made a few adjustments to it, skipping the raisins and bourbon as well as adding an extra 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 12 croissants
  • 3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped small (I use Guittard chocolate baking bars for best results)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a blender or stand mixer*, combine butter and sugar process until well blended. Add cinnamon, and vanilla, and pulse to combine.  *The original recipe says to use a food processor, but it’s too much liquid for the food processor to handle.

    Sugar, Cinnamon, Butter, Vanilla
  2. While the mixer is running, pour the beaten eggs into the mixture. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides. Add the heavy cream and pulse to combine.

    Use a Blender Instead
  3. Lightly butter a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Break up the croissants into 1-inch pieces and layer in the pan. Scatter the bittersweet chocolate over the top, and gently mix to incorporate. Pour the egg mixture over the croissants; soak for 8 to 10 minutes. You will need to push croissants pieces down during this time to ensure even coverage by egg mixture.

    Ready for the Custard
  4. Cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes. Remove foil and bake for additional 10 minutes to brown the top. The croissant bread pudding is done when the custard is set, but still soft. Allow to cool. Serve with the ice cream of your choice!  I used Alden’s Organic Salted Caramel Ice Cream.
    Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding

    I can’t wait for an excuse to make this again!

Chicken Enchiladas

I cooked up a STORM of freezer friendly meals over weeks leading up to Mia’s arrival last fall.  I found a recipe for the “best enchiladas ever” on Gimme Some Oven and was obviously intrigued.  I liked that the site also provided a recipe for enchilada sauce from scratch.  I don’t mind store-bought, but I really like knowing what is my food and being able to make adjustments accordingly.

Chicken Enchiladas

This recipe is great for parties too.  The theme of this year’s annual Sho-Yu holiday party was Mexican food, and this ended up being a great potluck dish!

Here’s the recipe, as adapted from Gimme Some Oven.  I highly recommend doubling the recipe, eating half for now and freezing the rest!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 small white onion, peeled and diced
  • 1.5 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, shredded or diced into small 1/2-inch pieces (*see substitution below for making shredded chicken)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles
  • 13-15 corn tortillas
  • 3 cups Mexican-blend shredded cheese
  • 1 batch red enchilada sauce, or 1 can store-bought enchilada sauce
  • (optional: 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Prepare your enchilada sauce, if making homemade.
  2. In large saute pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add cooked chicken and green chiles, and season with salt and pepper.  Sauté for 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the chicken is cooked through.  Remove from heat and set aside.

    Shredded Chicken with Sauteed Onions and Green Chiles
  3. To assemble the enchiladas, set up an assembly line including: tortillas, enchilada sauce, chicken mixture, and cheese. Lay out a tortilla, and spread two tablespoons of sauce over the surface of the tortilla.  Add a spoonful of the chicken mixture on top of the tortilla, then sprinkle with 1/3 cup cheese. Roll up tortilla and place in a greased 9 x 13-inch baking dish, lined with foil for easy clean-up (unless you love really scraping melted cheese off your baking dishes). Repeat with the remaining ingredients.  Then spread the remaining enchilada sauce on top of the tortillas, and sprinkle on the remaining shredded cheese.

    Assembled and Sauced
  4. Bake uncovered for 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and serve immediately, garnished with chopped fresh cilantro if desired.

    Ready for the Oven

*If you are using pre-cooked chicken, just leave it out of the saute and cook the onion and green chiles for 1 additional minute (instead of 6-8).  Once you remove the onion and green chiles from the heat, stir in the chicken (which should be shredded or chopped into bite-sized pieces).  You can find instructions on how to make shredded chicken here via slow cooker or stove top.

Shredded Chicken with a Batch of Enchilada Sauce

Red Enchilada Sauce

Here’s another recipe made so much better with a touch of smoked paprika, and I also added a little tomato paste to give it a little touch of acidity.   The obsession is still going strong!

I found the original recipe is on Gimme Some Oven.  I’ll share the full enchilada recipe that I used it with soon!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, or any other neutral oil)
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 3 teaspoons tomato paste
  • 2 cups chicken stock

INGREDIENTS:

  1. Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour and whisk together over the heat for one minute. Stir in the remaining seasonings (chili powder through smoked paprika).

    Stir in the Spices
  2. Stir in tomato paste until well incorporated. Then gradually add chicken stock, whisking constantly to remove lumps. Reduce heat and simmer 10-15 minutes until slightly thickened.
  3. Use immediately or refrigerate in an air-tight container for up to 3 days.  Mason jars work well.

I’ve made this enchilada sauce a LOT in the last year and have subsequently gone through quite a few jars of chili powder.  I’ve tried Spice Islands, Simply Organic, Kroger, and McCormick.  And I have to say my favorite chili powder as of late is Target’s Market Pantry chili powder!  I’ve purchased two jars of it and have enjoyed the extra bit of kick it has compared to other chili powders both times.

Red Enchilada Sauce

Rigatoni with Eggplant Puree

I wanted to make a pasta dish that had sauce different from pesto, marinara, or bolognese, and Giada de Laurentiis’s healthy eggplant-based sauce sounded interesting!  The original recipe calls for mint instead of basil, but I thought basil would pair better with a protein.  I picked shrimp for this dish, but I think chicken would go just as well.

Here is the recipe as adapted from Giada’s.  If you want to eat this with meat, simply cook your meat through separately, cut into bite size pieces, and mix it in with the pasta and sauce.  I sauteed a pound of shrimp in a little oil, salt, and pepper and added it in during step 5.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 medium eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 pint (2 cups) cherry tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more if you like it spicy)
  • 1 pound dried rigatoni pasta
  • 1 cup mushrooms, stems removed and cut in half
  • 1/4 cup torn fresh basil leaves, plus a couple extra, slivered, to finish
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl combine the eggplant, cherry tomatoes, garlic, 3 tablespoons olive oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Spread the vegetables out in an even layer on the baking sheet. Roast in the oven until the vegetables are tender and the eggplant is golden, about 35 minutes.

    Roasted Eggplant and Tomatoes
  3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water (salty like the ocean!) to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but a bit under done, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta but reserve 2 cups or so of the cooking water.
  4. Transfer the roasted vegetables to a food processor or blender. Add the torn basil leaves, mushrooms*, and additional 3 tablespoons olive oil. Blend until almost smooth.

    Ready to Pulverize
  5. Return the pasta to the cooking pot, pour sauce over it and about 1/2 cup of cooking water and cook together over medium-high heat for 1 to 2 minutes, tossing occasionally to coat pasta evenly. Add more pasta cooking water a little at a time if needed to loosen the sauce.
  6. Transfer pasta and sauce to a serving bowl; garnish with extra herbs, pine nuts and parm, and serve.

*The original recipe didn’t call for mushrooms, but I had bought a package to throw in a vegetable soup and had some left over.  I had meant to roast them with the eggplant and tomatoes but forgot. I threw them in raw, and they soaked up all the sauce-y goodness once pureed, and cooked enough in step 5.  The mushrooms added a nice earthy compliment to the sauce, but simply omit if mushrooms aren’t your thing!

You can easily make this vegan by forgoing the cheese.

This was earthy and delicious!  I made this the first time a few months ago, while you could still get local eggplant and tomatoes.  I made this again recently, and the produce was from South America.  I didn’t enjoy it as much the second time around, as I think all that distance traveled to get to me made a difference in the taste.  I can’t wait for summer eggplant and tomato season to come around when eggplant and tomatoes are in their peak!!

Rigatoni with Eggplant Puree