Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Bars

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I’ve had some sort of garden since I’ve moved to Yakima (11 years now…woah!). It started with a ‘salsa’ planter, essentially a pot with a tomato, cilantro and jalapeno plants, my mother-in-law gave me the first spring we owned our first house (2006…I think). I was 23, knew absolutely nothing about plants or gardening and dutifully watered that pot every time I remembered (which wasn’t often).

My mother is an incredible gardener. She can and does grow everything. Her yard has every type of flower you can imagine and for a few years she tended a huge almost 1-acre vegetable garden growing so much produce she would drop off laundry baskets full of produce at the homeless shelter almost every week.

And then there’s me. Sometimes the apple falls a little farther away from the tree. I’ve had some good years. I remember picking raspberries into October at my old house (although I’m not sure I can take any credit for that, I didn’t actually plant those raspberries). Some years go better than others. I love plants and flowers and I do love to garden but I would say my gardening has more fails than successes most years. Weeds and bugs and moles seem to win out.

This year I really threw some effort into it though. I asked (pleaded and begged) Aaron to build me some garden boxes. I researched companion planting and mapped out what would go into each box. I was envisioning a Better Homes and Gardens Magazine garden spread with overflowing boxes and sweet little paths in between.

The reality is Aaron cut his hand and needed 9 stitches while building the boxes. And even though we filled the boxes with very-high quality soil, our plants are unhappy and turning yellow, lacking the necessary nutrients to grow. Oh and did I mention the weeds? So many weeds.

But I’m not giving up just yet. I’m out there weeding like crazy and we fertilized and changed our watering schedule. If nothing else, I should have stronger arms by the end of the summer from the weeding alone. I keep telling myself it’s good to work a problem.

My friend gifted me literally an armful of rhubarb last week. Her garden is mature and lovely and everything grows like crazy. I was only a tiny bit jealous when she showed me. But anyway, I had to do something with all that rhubarb. I decided on strawberry rhubarb crisp bars from Smitten Kitchen. This recipe was a bit like my garden…it’s good to work a problem. Be smarter than me and really follow the directions. I had to make these twice because I didn’t read the directions carefully enough and the bars ended up soggy and mushy. Sprinkle the cornstarch over the prepared fruit and make sure to store the bars in the fridge. This is an easy recipe, and the bars are sweet and tangy and absolutely delicious, with a buttery oat filled crust.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Bars

1 cup (80 grams) rolled oats
3/4 cup (95 grams) plus up to 2 tablespoons (15 grams) extra all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (95 grams) light brown sugar
Heaped 1/4 teaspoon table salt
6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon cornstarch (optional, but helps firm up the filling)
1 tablespoon (15 ml) lemon juice
1 tablespoon (15 grams) granulated sugar, divided
1 cup (125 grams) small-diced rhubarb (from about 1 1/2 medium stalks)
1 cup (155 grams) small-diced strawberries
Powdered sugar, for decoration, if desired

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. For easy removal, line bottom and two sides of 8-by-8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper. No need to bother (and no greasing needed) if you plan to serve them right in the pan, as I did.

Place oats, 3/4 cup flour, brown sugar and salt in bottom of baking pan and mix. Pour melted butter over, and stir until clumps form. If the clumps feel soft or look overly damp, add the remaining 2 tablespoons flour. Set aside 1/2 cup of the crumble mixture. Press the rest of the crumb mixture evenly in the bottom of the pan.

Spread half the fruit over the crust. Sprinkle it evenly with cornstarch, then lemon juice, and 1/2 tablespoon of granulated sugar. Spread remaining fruit over this, and top with second 1/2 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 smells toasty and amazing.

Let cool in pan; I do this in the fridge, where they become crisp once chilled (less so at room temperature). Cut into squares and sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving. Store leftovers in fridge.

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