Rhubarb Almond Bars

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Last summer, I built a trio of large, self-watering cedar planters to start a deck garden. Our home is blessed with a large deck and, since the main living space overlooks the deck, I wanted to give it a little more life. Although we have plenty of yard space for a garden, we also have many critters (and deer) visiting frequently so it made more sense to elevate the garden to keep the plants safe from late night nibblers.

Each planter is 2 ft. by 6 ft., which leaves plenty of room for experimentation.

My interest in gardening is relatively new, but this hobby has quickly turned me into an enthusiastic plant lady. After killing every houseplant I attempted to grow up for many years, I was astonished when my black thumb seemingly turned green after moving into our house.

Apparently the trick for a green thumb is simply having large southeast facing windows—who knew?

Unfortunately, the first attempt at gardening in the outdoor planters was not very successful. In my eagerness to grow my own vegetables, I overplanted the space and didn’t do enough research on how to individually care for each plant. In addition, because the planters are self-watering (through a process of diffusion and soil osmosis), the plants with deep root systems ended up with root rot by midsummer.

By summer’s end, the only “successful” plants were the bell peppers (which grew only one picture perfect pepper each), the green beans, and the herb garden. Everything else—the tomatoes, cabbages, cucumbers, etc.—ended up producing very little or finally completing their slow death.

While the self-watering feature was definitely a curse, I only needed to water the plants once the entire season, so my laziness is more than willing to find a way to work within these constraints.

This year I am taking the failures of the previous summer and using them to (hopefully) do better this time around. To start, I did a little more planning and left more space for the plants to expand. Only plants with shallow root systems are allowed (peppers, onions, shallots, lettuce, carrots, herbs, green beans, flowers); the plants with larger root systems have been relegated to individual, well-draining containers (tomatoes).

I have my fingers crossed for now, but it will be another month or two before I’ll be able to label it a success or failure. Stay tuned.

I have plans to do a little landscaping and put in a rhubarb plant later this summer, but it will still be a couple years before we can harvest. Until then, the farmer’s market has everything I need.

I originally planned to make a strawberry rhubarb dessert, but I didn’t get around to baking until after the strawberries were past their prime. This recipe is all the better for it, because it allows the rhubarb flavor to truly shine. Paired with an almond oatmeal crust, these rhubarb-filled bars are a new way to enjoy this spring vegetable.

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This recipe for Rhubarb Almond Bars is an easy way to use and enjoy rhubarb. Almonds and oatmeal come together to form the base of the bars. Sliced raw rhubarb is added to the center (no cooking required!) before the bars are topped with the remaining crust and placed in the oven to bake. The nutty almond flavor compliments the tart rhubarb well. Cut into squares and serve warm, cold, or room temperature.

Rhubarb Almond Bars

Yields 16 servings (or 8 x 8-inch pan)

Almond Bars
6 tablespoons (100 grams) butter, room temperature
3/4 cup (150 grams) brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cups (150 grams) old-fashioned oats
1 cup (120 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (45 grams) sliced almonds
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Rhubarb Filling
3 cups (~14 ounces or 400 grams) fresh rhubarb, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Lightly grease an 8 x 8-inch pan.

For the almond base, beat together the butter and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl until uniform. Beat in the egg, vanilla, and almond extract, mixing until blended. Stir in the oats, flour, sliced almonds, baking soda, and salt. The batter will be slightly sticky. Using greased hands, press 2/3 of the batter into the bottom of the prepared pan. Set aside remaining batter.

For the rhubarb filling, stir together the sliced rhubarb, sugar, and cornstarch.

Spread the rhubarb filling over the top of the almond base. Crumble the remaining batter evenly on top. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until lightly browned. Allow to cool slightly in pan before serving.

Banana Snacking Cake

Lately, I find myself gravitating towards familiar foods in my kitchen. The meals and desserts that I’ve enjoyed since childhood are on rotation—grilled cheese and tomato soup, spaghetti made with sauce from a jar, and chocolate chip cookies. It feels easier, in these final chaotic days of the school year, to reach for recipes that I know both forwards and backwards.

While there are no moments of surprise with new flavors or textures, the comfort of these routine meals is indulgent in a different way, for both body and soul.

This banana cake is one that I remember fondly from my childhood. Whenever the bananas were forgotten on the counter long enough to blacken, the mixing bowls would come out and this cake would emerge from the oven. The aroma of banana filling the air was the cue for the rest of my family to flock to the kitchen, stealing a bite or two before the cake had properly cooled.

It has been many years since I’ve last eaten this cake. Perhaps having my own little one in the house is causing these food memories to stir up, but, regardless of the reason, I am delighted to revisit this recipe.

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This banana cake is a simple, unpretentious snacking cake—however, that doesn't mean this cake isn't something worth talking about.

The texture is my favorite part of this cake. As with most banana breads and cake, the final product has a bit of heft, but I think it works in the cake’s favor instead of against it. The chocolate glaze is also made with butter instead of heavy cream like a traditional ganache, which lends itself to a more intense buttery, chocolate flavor.

All these years later, my family is still in debate about the best way to eat this cake. My dad and I prefer to eat this cake chilled. The cold brings out a heaviness to the cake we both love, and the chocolate glaze becomes stiff making it literally melt in your mouth. My sister, on the other hand, prefers the cake slightly warmed, which yields a lighter feel to the cake and turns the chocolate glaze silky smooth. Though our debate may never be settled, the truth is that this cake is delicious any way you choose to serve it.

Since it is my belief that snacking cakes should be easy to prepare, instead of making a chocolate glaze, you could simply add chocolate chips to the batter to bring in the chocolate flavor without needing to use more pans. The choice, as always, is yours.

This Banana Snacking Cake combines the classic flavors of chocolate and banana. The addition of mashed banana to the cake lends a moistness, while a touch of cinnamon brings out a greater depth of flavor. The chocolate glaze is simple to make, melting together only chocolate and butter, but I could eat it by the spoonful (and I usually do). The glaze spreads smooth when slightly warm and holds its shape like a dream. This cake is a good option to reach for when you are looking for a sweet snack and, if your kitchen is anything like mine, it will disappear before you are ready to see it go.

Banana Snacking Cake

Yields 9 x 13-inch cake

Banana Cake
2 1/2 cups (300 grams) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (150 grams) brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
3 medium ripe bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup (180 mL) buttermilk (or regular milk)

Chocolate Glaze
6 ounces (170 grams) semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (113 grams) butter, cubed

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (160 degrees C). Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.

To prepare the banana cake, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the mashed bananas and vanilla extract.

Beat in the flour mixture and buttermilk in alternating additions, starting and ending with the flour. Pour batter evenly in the prepared baking pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cake cool completely.

To prepare the chocolate glaze, melt together the chopped chocolate and cubed butter in a small saucepan over low heat until smooth and uniform. Spread evenly over the cooled cake and allow the glaze to set before cutting and serving the cake.

Lemon Almond Cake

The fog of early parenthood has finally lifted. I have emerged stronger—with a bigger heart, immeasurable patience, and the ability to function on limited sleep. I am starting to feel like myself again and it feels good.

I lost myself in those first few months, as I imagine happens often with new parents. With the newborn routine of eat-change-sleep on repeat every three hours, I felt like a shell of my former self. There wasn’t time to explore interests or hobbies—there was hardly time to sneak in a shower.

To survive, I followed the mantra “one task a day.” Some days the only thing I accomplished was making dinner; other days it was making it to mama/baby yoga class so I could start the process of making my body feel like my own again. These small daily goals fueled me without overwhelming me.

It was the only balance I could seem to manage.

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Even though I enjoyed my time at home with sweet Baby N, I credit the act of going back to work with helping me reclaim my individuality. It’s true that I am a parent now, but that is not the only attribute that defines me. I welcome the daily challenges of being a high school teacher because my students remind me of the other aspects of myself that I appreciate (plus, the knowledge that summer break is around the corner eases the transition of being away from N during the day).

Although I’ve started to realize how important it is for me to have time for myself, I still very much struggle with allowing that dedicated time. Although the days feel long, the hours are short and time seems to evaporate into the ether. The great irony of parenthood is the knowledge that I could be more present for my daughter if I spend time away to recharge myself.

This balance between a parent and an individual with my own needs and desires will be a work in progress, but the journey is helping me understand myself on a new level, which I recognize is a gift in itself.

Lemon and almond is one of my favorite flavor combinations in spring. The sharpness of lemon and the nutty warmth of almond add both warmth and a wake up call to a palate that has been saturated in the comfort of winter. Taking advantage of a day off from school and Baby N’s napping schedule, I spent some much needed time in the kitchen. It wasn’t until I had finished the photographs that I realized this cake felt—and looked—remarkably familiar.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, after an exploration into the recipe archive, I noticed this lemon almond cake was quite similar to a lemon cake I had made the year prior (down to the exact date!). Mom brain, anyone?

I like to believe these resemblances work in my favor—this cake is so good, I unknowingly created a recipe for it twice. Perhaps that is all the encouragement you’ll need to turn on the oven, zest a couple lemons, and start baking.

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This Lemon Almond Cake brings together the warmth of almond with the spiritedness of lemon. The cake batter is infused with both lemon zest and lemon oil to give it a bright lemon flavor, and almond extract and almond flour to round out a nutty undertone. Once baked, the cake is brushed with a lemon glaze on the outer edges to give the cake additional flavor and to seal in the cake's moisture. This cake is perfect to serve plain and unadorned—the flavors are so vivid, it needs nothing else to feel complete.

Lemon Almond Cake

Yields 12 servings

Lemon Almond Cake
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated sugar
Zest of 2 lemons
3/4 cup (180 mL) vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon lemon oil (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/4 cups (270 grams) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (75 grams) almond flour
1 cup (250 mL) milk

Lemon Glaze
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
Juice of 2 lemons

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Heavily grease and flour a 10-cup Bundt pan. Set aside.

For the lemon cake, place the granulated sugar and lemon zest in a large mixing bowl. Rub the sugar and zest together until fragrant. Whisk in the vegetable oil, eggs, vanilla extract, almond extract, lemon oil, salt, and baking powder. Alternate adding the flours and milk, stirring after each addition, until the batter is smooth and uniform in appearance. 

Pour batter into the prepared baking pan and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow cake to cool in pan for 15 minutes before unmolding.

While the cake is baking, prepare the glaze by heating the granulated sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Set aside. 

Place the cake on a cooling rack and brush the glaze over the cake, giving time for the glaze to absorb between layers. Allow the cake to cool completely and the glaze to set before cutting and serving.