Season

Shrub Two Ways

Strawberry Lemon Verbena Shrub | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Strawberry Lemon Verbena Shrub | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Strawberry Lemon Verbena Shrub | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Strawberry Lemon Verbena Shrub | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Rhubarb and Fennel Shrub | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Rhubarb and Fennel Shrub | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Rhubarb and Fennel Shrub | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

It’s inevitable. This time of year especially. You go to the farmers market and drool over the rainbows of produce. The rhubarb has that perfect blush that begs you to bag up more than you could ever use at once and cart it home. The ruby strawberries glimmer, covering tables, overflowing from their containers. You can just imagine how red they are on the inside, and you take one from the little sample bowl to confirm your suspicion. They taste almost as much like candy as they do like fruit, they are so sweet and perfect in every way.

So you haul it all to your car and then to your kitchen. And then reality strikes. It’s Monday again and no, you’re not going to get around to making that strawberry pistachio pie you’ve been pining after, or pickling that rhubarb to go with the pâté you brought home from the market. You feel guilty, seeing those sad fruits softening by the day every time you open the fridge.

When it comes to fruit that is beginning to turn, I used to turn to compote (the rhubarb) or freeze them smoothies (the strawberries), but this summer that all changes. I started making shrubs, aka drinking vinegars. It’s painfully simple, goes perfectly well with just sparkling water on those long warm days when you want something fruity and tangy and refreshing, and can welcome a taste of your favorite gin or tequila when those long summer days turn into warm evenings and you want a cocktail to sip while you light up the grill.

It seems shrubs are the fancier version of my dad’s old “it’s-too-hot-out” beverage: a Perrier with an entire lemon juiced in. Tart and bubbly and immediately cooling. They take a little forethought, yes, but in all they take about 15 minutes to make and your friends or guests or whomever is lucky enough to partake will be impressed and thankful. I promise.

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Asian Hot Sauce

Asian Hot Sauce | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Asian Hot Sauce | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Asian Hot Sauce | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

My cooking these days feels torn. On the one hand, we’ve been having people over for dinner all the time and when we do, I take it as an opportunity to make those dishes that are just a bit too much of a production for any old night with me and Jonah (i.e. anything from my newest and also favorite cookbook Six Seasons). On the other hand, when it is just me and Jonah I tend to turn to what I have in the fridge. This is a great practice, but when I go to the grocery store, I generally buy the same things for weeknight dinner staples: I pick up some tofu, mushrooms, peppers, leafy greens, onions, occasionally some sweet potatoes, and a bulb of fennel if I’m feeling fancy. These ingredients most often turn themselves into a rice or soba noodle bowl because, well, we love Asian flavors, and it’s simple enough that we don’t have to think about it too much before it can become dinner. But the key to any good rice or noodle bowl is the right sauce.

In my recipe box that sits in my spice drawer, I’ve got at least 3 different asian marinades/sauces. They all have roughly the same ingredients, with a couple extras thrown in or substituted. They are ingredients that are used almost daily in my kitchen: soy sauce, rice vinegar, sriracha, garlic, lime juice. Occasionally there will be honey or maple syrup, sesame oil or miso. But this sauce, the one below, it’s different. Instead of being the base sauce for a meal, it’s a sauce that I keep in a small jar in the fridge. I drizzle it on a plate of food when it needs an extra kick, that beloved tingling on the lips, the gentle burning on the edges of your tongue. It’s not too hot – you can still taste all the ingredients in it because the heat is just at the right level where the flavors don’t get lost. I put it on noodles and rice bowls, but I also put it on fried eggs in the morning, orzo salads that need a little jazzing up after a few days in the fridge, and an afternoon snack of avocado. It has gotten to a point where I like to always have a jar on hand, should the need for it arise. And the need does arise. It always comes in handy.

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Rhubarb Galette with Ginger and Cardamom

Rhubarb Galette with Ginger and Cardamom | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Rhubarb Galette with Ginger and Cardamom | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Rhubarb Galette with Ginger and Cardamom | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Rhubarb Galette with Ginger and Cardamom | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Rhubarb Galette with Ginger and Cardamom | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Rhubarb Galette with Ginger and Cardamom | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Rhubarb Galette with Ginger and Cardamom | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

There is something about home that is indescribable. We haven’t finished purchasing all the things we need for our new apartment yet, like shoe racks and lamps and soap dispensers. But still, this place feels more like home than any place I’ve lived in a long time. We picked the curtains and the plants, our art is hanging on all the walls, and I have all of my kitchen appliances in one place – no boxes, no storage, no knowing that one day I’m going to have to go through all these cookbooks to figure out what belongs to whom. Nope – it’s all ours.

And now that we have a table and enough chairs for a few extra bums to sit in, all I want is to have people over all the time. We’ve been pretty successful so far – having people over almost twice a week since we’ve moved in. It has reinforced my love of cooking for people, of making an excuse to get together. But why should we need an excuse? Isn’t good company enough? Add to that a home cooked meal and a bottle of wine and how could anyone turn you down? I feel lucky that we’ve gathered a little community who feels the same way, that there’s no better reason to be together other than it’s been a few days since we’ve last seen each other.

It helps that it’s spring – dusk drags its feet a little more each day, the tulips on our walkway have come and mostly gone at this point, and they’ve put up the annual rosé wine display at the local grocery store. It’s the time of year when people come out of hibernation, itching to wear their short sleeves and dig out their sunglasses, ready to get their hands dirty in the garden (we’re hoping to plant ours this weekend), antsy to go on evening strolls. For me spring means always having a pound of rhubarb in the fridge, ready to roast into a compote for topping ice cream or simmer into a syrup for mixing into cocktails or slice and bake into a galette. I would do the same if I were you.

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Hummus Three Ways: Basic, Balsamic, and Chipotle

Hummus Three Ways: Basic, Balsamic, and Chipotle | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Hummus Three Ways: Basic, Balsamic, and Chipotle | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Hummus Three Ways: Basic, Balsamic, and Chipotle | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Hummus Three Ways: Basic, Balsamic, and Chipotle | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Hummus Three Ways: Basic, Balsamic, and Chipotle | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Hummus Three Ways: Basic, Balsamic, and Chipotle | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Hummus Three Ways: Basic, Balsamic, and Chipotle | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

There are some foods that have such a sense of place. For me, scallops take me back to the first time I gathered the courage to taste them – my dad had doused them in a carrot sauce – on the back patio of my childhood home. Deeper n’ ever pie takes me to my mom’s kitchen. Beer bread takes me to my apartment, senior year of college, my friend Rosie and I standing in the kitchen, waiting impatiently for the bread to cool so we could eat a slice. Annie’s mac n’ cheese takes me to the early days of my relationship with Jonah, standing in his college kitchen, scraping the pot of the tangy cheese sauce to procrastinate on our studies.

Hummus was never a food I loved growing up. I never understood why you would purée beans and then dip dry, bland pita chips in it. I would’ve rather eaten broccoli dipped in ranch, or Doritos, or almost anything else you would find hummus next to at the food table at whatever party you were at. It was cold, thick, and grainy, and seemed like a punishment to have to eat. I avoided eating it mostly until the past few years. I remember a hike that my dad and I went on, and we took a little tub of Sabra’s roasted garlic hummus to the top of Little Si outside Seattle and nearly polished the whole thing off. From then on, Sabra was the standard for me: rich, creamy, and smooth. At parties, I stopped avoiding hummus altogether, but I never really sought it out.

When I went to Israel a couple years ago, I knew I was going to eat the best hummus of my life. And I did, four times over. I ate hummus dusted with za’atar, hummus slathered in olive oil, hummus sprinkled with ground lamb and pine nuts, and hummus dolloped with roasted mushrooms. I would go back to Israel just for the hummus, eaten in the Jerusalem heat, watching the city bustle around me as I sat licking my fingers. When I got back from that trip, I started making my own hummus – I have become a snob about it, and I futzed with Ottolenghi’s recipe until it was as close as possible to the plates I scraped in Israel.

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