Thursday, May 6, 2010

Seasonal Stems

Since I began our subscriptions to this CSA, with its regular season and winter share post season, I’ve come to think of January through April as the “off season.” I’ve been eating what’s in the freezer, a few green things imported from the Emerald City, and a few of the fruits in the markets that manage to achieve something at least a little bit fruity. Now, however, is when things start getting exciting. More locally grown stalks and leaves, such as asparagus and spring salad greens and spinach, are available and the drab dinner table is perking up again.

Still, however, it will be a month or so before sweet and juicy home-grown fruits start sneaking into the shops and farm stands and markets. Unless I just ignore botanical conventions and call rhubarb a fruit. Some of those locally-grown pale green and red stems are available now, and I’m going to treat them like a fruit anyway, so I don’t have a problem using incorrect plant part classification. Especially when rhubarb is so yummy!

I tend to get myself into trouble when buying rhubarb. Not wanting to miss the season, I buy it when I can. Then, a perusal of my recipe stash reveals some great-looking desserts that will require another trip to the store and often other ingredients that just aren’t in season yet around here, like berries. (I realize I could easily get berries grown in other places, and often do, but they’re not always so great, and I want to make sure what I make with the rhubarb is going to have a chance to be pretty darn good.) I decided, for my first rhubarb dish of the 2010 season, to go with something relatively simple, made with rhubarb and pantry staples: muffins.

There seem to be a couple schools of thought in the muffin world. In some recipes, softened butter and sugar are creamed together like they would be for cookies or a cake. In the others, melted butter or oil is combined with the other wet ingredients. I tend to use the latter method for two very simple reasons: #1 That’s the way they do it in my favorite muffin cookbook, The Ultimate Muffin Book by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough and #2 When I decide to make muffins, I rarely have thought to take some butter out of the refrigerator to soften it. It’s quicker and easier to just throw the cold butter in a pan and melt it.

I switched out some of the all purpose flour in this recipe for whole wheat pastry flour, bumping up the WFQ*. The sour cream in the batter keeps the muffin soft and moist, but still not quite encroaching on the cake category. There’s lots of brown sugar to balance the sour cream and sweeten up the super-sour rhubarb, but when you bite into a piece of the softened baked rhubarb, it’s still pleasantly tart, with that sort of floral-berry flavor that makes rhubarb so unique. I think the rhubarb aroma was even more available when the muffins were still a little warm.

Since I bought roughly four times as much rhubarb as I needed to make these muffins, I hope to try some more recipes with it soon. Or maybe, since they’re so simple to make and delicious to eat, I’ll just whip up three more batches of these muffins!

Rhubarb Sour Cream Muffins
Adapted from Martha Stewart Every Day Food magazine

I used 2% milk and reduced fat sour cream in this recipe, which seemed to work just fine.

The raw sugar on top of the muffins is optional, but it does make a nice, sweet, crunchy crust.

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 packed cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
8 ounces rhubarb, cut into ½-inch chunks (about 2 cups)
1 large egg
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
½ cup sour cream
½ cup milk
about 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar (raw sugar), optional

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Coat the cups of a standard (12-cup) muffin pan with cooking spray, oil or butter (I use cooking spray). You could also line the cups with paper cupcake liners. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, combine the all purpose flour, whole wheat pastry flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Whisk together to combine. Add the rhubarb and toss to coat with the flour mixture.

3. In a medium bowl, beat the egg lightly with a whisk. Add the melted butter and whisk together. Whisk in the sour cream and the milk.

4. Make an indentation in the center of the flour mixture. Pour in the egg mixture and stir until just moistened. You don’t want any large dry patches, but you also don’t want a very smooth batter. The batter will be quite thick.

5. Spoon the batter evenly into the prepared muffin cups. Each cup should be filled almost to the rim. Sprinkle each cupful of batter with turbinado sugar if desired.

6. Bake at 375 F about 25 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out free of wet batter. Cool in the pan 5-10 minutes. Carefully remove from the pan and cool on wire racks.

Makes 12 muffins.

Other recipes like this one: Rhubarb Yogurt Cake

*WFQ: Whole Food Quotient

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