Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

Mother’s Day is the perfect chance for me to tell my incredible mom how special she is.  She deserves to be thanked for all the thoughtful things she does every time I talk to her but life being life, it doesn’t always happen.  This past year was particularly rough for my family as my dad was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and his health was touch and go for several months.  Through it all, there was Mom – holding down the fort, playing Nurse Jane Fuzzy Wuzzy, staying positive and strong when it all looked pretty grim.  My father readily admits if it weren’t for my mother scheduling his doctors, handing him his pills at the right times, and basically standing over him telling him what he could and could not do, he wouldn’t still be alive.  Thank goodness for her. 

Judging from my Facebook page this past Sunday, many of you feel the same way about your mom as I do mine.  If so, make her (or another special someone) this cake.  I promise you, it will not disappoint.  It’s not a difficult recipe and oh so pretty and delectable when it’s done. 

As I’ve mentioned before
, rhubarb is one of my favorite dessert ingredients and a true harbinger of spring.  Last week I saw it at the market for the first time this year and knew my mom would like anything I made with it.  I was right!  She loved this upside down cake.  The sour cream batter produced a soft and delicate crumb, the rhubarb was sweetened just enough to take the edge off its inherent tang, and the crumb topping (which actually ends up on the bottom) gave each bite a pleasant crunch.  This cake, like my mom, is an absolute keeper!

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake
Adapted from Martha Stewart

Whoever designed this KitchenAid beater is a genius!  The spatula-like edge eliminates the need to scrape down the sides of the electric mixer bowl.  I’m not a fan of too many kitchen gadgets but this one is worth every penny.

Crumb topping
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for buttering pan
1 pound rhubarb, trimmed and cut on a very sharp diagonal about ½ inch thick
1 ¾ cups sugar
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
Coarse salt
½ teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with rack in center of oven.  Make the topping:  Stir together butter, flour, sugar, and salt until moist and crumbly.

Make the cake:  Butter a 9-inch round, 2-inch deep cake pan.  Dot with 4 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces.

Toss rhubarb with ¾ cup sugar; let stand for 2 minutes.  Toss again, and spread in pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and 1 ½ teaspoons salt.  Beat remaining stick butter and cup sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy.  Beat in zest and juice.

Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, until incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl.  Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with sour cream, until smooth.  Spread evenly over rhubarb.

Crumble topping evenly over batter.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and top springs back when touched, about 1 hour.

Let cool for 10 minutes (less time and the rhubarb will be too hot to handle; more time and the cake might stick to pan).  Run a knife around edge of cake and invert onto a wire rack.  Let cool completely.

Serves 10

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Lisa Bynon's beautiful garden gates

I sometimes find it hard to believe I’ve lived in New York City almost 20 years because at heart I’m really a country girl.  Growing up in Somerset County, New Jersey, my family lived across the street from a farm with fields of corn and strawberries and a barn where my mom bought fresh eggs.  Although the barn and fields are long gone (thankfully the old farmhouse was saved and restored), my country upbringing remains with me.  Part of what draws me to support local farms and cook simple meals with the freshest ingredients is my fondness for where and how I was brought up. 
As much as I loved being a kid in the country, every month I anxiously awaited the next issue of Vogue and Bazaar to arrive and counted the days until I could move to the Big City, wear beautiful clothes and go to the Met and MoMA on a whim.  Well, I’ve done that and consider myself lucky to have lived both dreams of City Girl, Country Girl.  The call back to the country is getting stronger but for now I content myself with fantasies of hanging laundry outside on a line to dry, raising chickens, and having flower and vegetable gardens...

Speaking of gardens, my jaw dropped when I saw these garden gates!  If and when I have a garden, I’d do a cartwheel if it could look like this.  The garden, in Southampton, NY, is owned and created by landscape designer Lisa Bynon and recently featured in House Beautiful.  
Hatfield House

The fence was inspired by one she saw in the gardens of Hatfield House, a Jacobean masterpiece just north of London and home to the 7th Marquess and Marchioness of Salisbury.  Bynon increased the scale of the fretwork, which is what makes the fence modern and chic.  If you’re wondering how she keeps critters out with such an open design, look a little closer and you will see she cleverly added chicken wire to the frame.

Her table is likewise bold in scale yet simple and clean; she continues the theme with her plates, glasses, and flowers.  Can’t you imagine how soft and luscious the carpet of grass feels underfoot?  Yes, if I had a garden, I’d love it to look like this.  Thank goodness for dreams; without them I never would have left New Jersey for Manhattan...or let a garden gate inspire me to maybe "go country" once again.
Photos of Lisa Bynon's garden by Ngoc Minh Ngo