Rhubarb Beverages, Oh My!

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I am a huge rhubarb fan.  Obviously, since my last two posts were about rhubarb.  I’m sure most of you rhubarb lovers have had pies, cakes, muffins, breads and strudels made to show off the glories of rhubarb.

I make a rhubarb simple-syrup that is a refreshing spring treat, and it is so easy.

rhubarb syrupamazing beverages, and it’s pink!  My granddaughter Etta’s favorite color.

We all know what simple-syrup is, the sugar/water combination used to make cocktails, etc.  This one is flavored with rhubarb and I not only use mine for cocktails, I add it to ice tea and to seltzer water for

I typically drink my tea unsweetened but I can’t resist this rhubarb flavor–with just a little bit of sweetener.  The seltzer water is a great thirst quencher.  These are all win win recipes.

Rhubarb Simple Syrup

4 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

Combine all in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil gently stirring. Drop the heat to a simmer and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, and skimming off any froth that accumulates on the top.  Cook until the fruit is soft and the syrup has thickened slightly, about 15-20 minutes.

Using a fine-mess strainger, or a colander lined with cheesecloth, strain the mixture over a large bowl.  Press the solids a little with the back of a spoon to extract more syrup.

Pour the syrup into a clean bottle or jar. Cover and refrigerate. It should keep for quite some time in the fridge.

It’s a beautiful shade of pink.

Beside flavoring ice tea and selzter water the following cocktails is lovely, light and refreshing

Pretty in Pink

8 ounces gin
9 ounces rhubarb syrup
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
12 ounces cold Prosecco
ice
lemon rounds for garnish

Put the gin, rhubarb syrup, lemon juice, and ice in a pitcher. Stir to mix  Pour into 2 glasses filled with ice, and top with Prosecco or sparkling wine.  Add a lemon round. Drink up Shriner!

Spring Has Sprung and Rhubarb is Here!

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One of my favorite memories as a child was my Aunt Lois Lovas’s custard rhubarb pie.  She was a home economics teacher in Mayville, North Dakota.  My dad and I both loved rhubarb and when my mom, Ruth Bennett, made her custard rhubarb pie there were lots of smiles in the kitchen.  This recipe was in a cookbook of recipes from home economic teachers all over the country and I still have it.

One of my student’s asked me if I liked rhubarb and all those great memories resurfaced.  She brought in a huge bag for me and Cheyenne, let me tell you, I have already used it up.  I made two of Aunt Lois’s pies and rhubarb simple syrup for a lovely cocktail!

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Here’s the recipe:

Aunt Lois’s Custard Rhubarb Pie

4 1/2 c. 1/2″ rhubarb
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 large eggs
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Confectioners’ sugar, for serving

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Shape your pie dough into a 9-inch pie plate, fluting the edges, and chill until set, about 15 minutes. Prick the bottom and sides with a fork, and then line the crust with aluminum foil. Fill with pie weights or dried beans and bake until the edges of the crust are just golden, 15 minutes. Remove the foil with the pie weights and continue to bake until the bottom of the crust is dry and lightly browned, another 15 minutes. I know this seems like a lot of work and who precooks a crust for a baked pie?  Trust me, it keep the bottom of the pie from getting all soggy.  Yuck.  Cool completely.

Toss the rhubarb with 1/4 cup granulated sugar and the orange zest and juice until well combined. Transfer to the coled crust and spread to form an even layer. Place the pie on a rimmed baking sheet. Whisk the eggs with the cream, flour and remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar until smooth, and then pour over the rhubarb. Bake until the pie is lightly browned, puffed and no longer wet in the center, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack. Before serving, lightly dust with confectioners’ sugar.
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This is so good it doesn’t even need ice cream  Guaranteed.  Thank you Aunt Lois, who is in heaven drinking thick Norwegian coffee with my mother, Ruth Bennett, Aunt Florence, Aunt Clarice and Aunt Emma.

Testing, Testing, Testing

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Testing what?  I’ve been sitting here for the last three days grading exams.  The weather, through my window at least, shows beautiful weather.  The dog wants to play outside.  My husband is washing the cars.  I’ m grading papers.

Cabin fever.  I find my mind starting to wander, thinking about all the things I would like to do.  I’m part of a team who are hosting a bridal shower brunch.  I wanted to TEST a couple of recipes.  I am sick of grading TESTS. Oh, and I need people to TEST a couple of recipes.  Hence the title.

So what did I bake today?  Oatmeal Cranberry Bread, Pumpkin Pecan Spice Bread, Irish Shortbread iced with dark and white chocolate ganache and Norwegian Sour Cream Coffee Cake.

The coffee cake is the star today.   A sprinkle of powdered sugar, slice it into 20 slices and you can feed a crowd!  Here’s the recipe.

IMG_1139Norwegian Sour Cream Coffee Cake – a tribute to my darling Norwegian mother.  Uffda!

Ingredients:

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs – room temperature
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 /12 cups of sour cream

Directions:

Oven Temp:  350 degrees

Grease and flour a bundt pan.

Beat together butter and sugar until light in color.  Add the eggs one at a time, beat well after each egg.  Add the salt, baking powder and vanilla.

Add 1 cup of flour, then 1/2 cup sour cream alternately until all in.  Mix until combined, scrape bowl and stir quickly again.

Pour into prepared bundt  pan.  Tap lightly on counter and spread evenly.

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Bake for 1 hour or more until light brown.  Use a cake tester to make sure cake is done.  When done, remove from oven, cool slightly (ten minutes) and turn out onto a cooling rack.

When cooled completely, dust with powdered sugar and slice into 20 slices.

This cake freezes well.  I slice it and bag it into 2 slice servings.  Need a quick dessert– take out what you need.  Right.  Like you’d have any left!  Uffda.

Quick Comfy Food – My Snuggly Cheese Strata

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Cheese Strata–who would have that one would describe that as a snuggly food.  Snuggly food to me are the meals the warm me when I come home from work, can’t think of anything to make for dinner and oh yeah it’s freezing cold out.  Like today.  So I punted and went to one of my favorite easy dinners — cheese strata.

If you are like me you are an over provider.  For a party or dinner I tend to buy more than I need.  God forbid someone would leave my house hungry.  Sometimes you don’t need a whole 8 pack of hotdog buns.  It just happens and when it does I cut the leftover bread and buns into 1″ cubes and stick them in a zip lock bag and into the fridge.  I just keep adding to it.  It allows me to make croutons, bread crumbs, bread pudding and CHEESE STRATA.

Who wouldn’t wunnamedant to cuddle up to this?  I usually have milk, eggs and cheese in the house and that’s all I need.  I can also throw in all kinds of yummies like bacon, sausage, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, hot peppers–whatever you fancy.  Here’s the recipe for this one, and trust me it was a bare bones grocery day.

Cheese Strata

  • 6-8 cups of 1″ bread cubes (torn or cut)
  • 6-8 eggs
  • 2  or so cups of milk, cream, half and half (heck, I’ve even used a mixture and have thrown in sour cream
  • 8 -16 oz. of grated cheese (I usually use cheddar)
  • salt pepper
  • dash of prepared mustard (dijon is delicious)
  • a few pats of butter for the top of the strata

Directions:

1.  Preheat oven to 35 degrees and grease a 9 x 12 pan with butter.

2.  Whisk eggs, milk, salt and pepper, and mustard in a medium mixing bowl.

3.  Place the bread cubes in the pan and distribute evenly.

4.  Sprinkle the cheese over the bread and toss lightly.

5.  Poor milk/egg mix over the bread cubes, top with butter pats and let them set for about 30 minutes.

6.  Bake for 30 – 4 minutes until it it is a golden brown on top.

7.  Let set for about 10 minutes and serve.

It’s great rehIMG_0876eated too!  Enjoy and let me know if you try it, how it turned out and what you added or subtracted to the recipe!  I always measure carefully when I am baking but this is the most flexible recipe I have ever used,

Excuse me.  It’s time for dinner.

 

What No One Ever Tells You About Baking Cookies

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thimble-cookies (1)I’m an exploratory cook/baker.  I learn from experience. and discovery.  I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again, my mother did not particularly enjoy cooking or baking.  Her strategy for baking cookies was to dump everything in the mixer and turn it on full speed.  If they didn’t bake quick enough she’d turn the heat up.  The results?  Very interesting, often disastrous.

I was sitting at lunch the other day at work.  Someone had left cookies there for staff.  They were very tasty but I commented on them, constructively of course, and someone said, “I didn’t know about that.”

Of course, as a teacher, I never miss a teachable moment.  Here, right here in the middle of the holiday baking season, I got to share what I have learned about cookie baking!  Wahoo.

1.  First of all, read through all the instructions first.  You might not know this, but some people leave steps out and some recipes have quirky directions.  Prepare yourself.  I have a complex chocolate chip cookie recipe that has ingredients like 2 cups minus 2 Tablespoons of bread flour?  Really?  That precise?  Yes, and may I add well worth it.  Grown men have wept over these cookies.

2.  Use unsalted, room temperature butter and beat the heck out of it until is is pale yellow, light and fluffy.  Totally worth the extra time.

3.  After the butter is sufficiently beaten, don’t over beat from this point on–incorporate till mixed and stop.

4.  Obviously preheating the oven is essential.  When the oven is preheating and temperature is higher to heat the oven up.

5.  Never discount the importance of a cool pan and once the cookies are on the cookie sheet — CHILL the dough!  Fridge, freezer, out on the back porch in the winter — wherever, just CHILL the dough.  The results?  Cookies with a beautiful shape and lift.  Not flat, greasy cookies that have spread all over the cookies sheet.

6.  Leave the cookies on the cookie sheet for a few minutes to cool so they will come off the pan nicely and retain their shape.  When cooled a bit place them on baking rakes to avoid a greasy overcooked cookie bottom.

7.  So when you go to round two of cookies, always make sure the baking sheet is completely cooled.

Trust me, everyone has had cookie failures.  I have a confession to make.  Last weekend I threw two batches of dough out.  I finally figures out that there was an error in the recipe.  Oops.  By the way, another good reason to read through the entire recipe first!

Happy Holiday Cookie Baking — G

Apple Cheesecake Yum Yum Yum!

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I love fall.  The air is so fresh.  The colors so vibrant.  The apples so tasty.  I am known for my apple pies.  In the last 10 years I have probably made over 1,000 apple pies.  Not lying.

I have always been intimidated by cheesecake.  Making cheesecake that is.  Eating it has always been easy.  So I experimented with and combined pieces of several recipes and came up with a winner.  Not only does it easy to make and tastes delicious, it looks pretty too.

A few weeks back I made this with the help of my 3 year old granddaughter Etta.  She was great and it was a happy project for both of us.Truthfully, she is better to cook with in the kitchen than anyone else (sorry Andy, it’s true).

Look at this beautiful cheesecake.

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Here’s the recipe.

Caramel Apple Cheesecake withGingersnap Pecan Crust

Crust

1 package of store bought gingersnap cookies
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
dash of salt
1 stick of melted butter

Topping

6 granny smith apples
2 Tablespoons butter
1/3 cups brown sugar
dash of salt

Filling

3 8 oz. bricks of cream cheese
1 1/3 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1 Tablespoon flour

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1.  Finely grind the gingersnaps in food process.  Add nuts, salt and butter until combined.  Pour into a prepared spring form pan.  Bake in the oven for ten minutes or until golden brown.  Remove and cool on a wire crack.

2.  Peel apples and cut them into small wedges.  Toss the apples in a bowl with 1/3 cup brown sugar. In a large frying pan melt butter at medium to high heat.  Pour the prepared apples in pan and cook for about 10 – 15 minutes until they are caramelized and golden.  Cool.

3.  In a mixer place the cream cheese and brown sugar and cream at a medium speed until smooth, about 5 minutes.  Add eggs one at a time.  Mix until combined.  Add flour and vanilla.photo 2 (5)

4.  Pour into cooled crust.

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5.  Arrange apples in a pattern of your choice (see first picture).photo 1 (5)

6.  Bake for 55 – 60 minutes.  Remove and cool on rack.  In about 15 minutes.  Undo the spring form pan but do not remove until totally cool.

7.  Cover the cheesecake and cool in refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

8.  Serve with a drizzle of caramel and a dollop of whipped cream.

Stand back and take a bow!

Pesto is the Besto!

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A shout out to my girlfriends via a text message was the start to a very fun evening.  I had just returned from a month at the lake and to my dismay and delight I came home to bushels of herbs ready to be harvested.  I had tarragon, coriander, sage, thyme, chives and tons and tons of basil.  

I sent the message to my girlfriends–geez, we’ve been friends for 20+ years, asking if anyone needed any basil.  Well, you know when several people are texting how confusing it can get.  The gist was that Kelly wanted some basil but she wanted to learn how to make pesto.  I invited them all over to make pesto and  several of the girls came over at various stages of the process.  We had a little wine, we chatted a bit and laughed a lot!

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I have to admit it is a little embarrassing to say you are “teaching” someone how to make pesto.  It is such an easy process and very forgiving.

There are two really important things you need to know about pesto.  One, the ingredients can very widely.  Two, the only really important thing you need to be careful of is to keep air and pesto apart.  When you are packing it in containers, always put a little bit of plastic wrap right on top of it, kind of like you would a pudding to avoid a skin.  When there is too much air, pesto can turn dark, and who wants that?

I’m going to give you a pesto recipe that I have used for years.  Then I am going to tell you that I never follow it.  I use it as a guideline.  You will see what I mean.

Besto Pesto (clever title, don’t you think?)

1/2 cup nuts (pinenuts, walnuts, almonds–any combination as long as it adds up to 1/2 cup)

6-9 cloves of peeled garlic

5 cups of packed, clean basil

1 tsp of salt (sea or kosher)

1 tsp of pepper (fresh ground is best)

1 1/2 cups of quality olive oil

1 cup of grated cheese, a hard Italian cheese like parmesan or romano or a mix

Directions:

Start by filling your food processor with the nuts and garlic.  Pulse until both are well processed.  Add the basil, salt and pepper and continue to processes.  When all reaches an even consistency slowly pour in the olive oil from the top chute while continuing the processing .  Add 1 cup of graded cheese and processes for about 10 seconds more.

Pour into containers, add the plastic wrap and seal the containers.  

Hints for pesto:

1.  Put some in ice cube trays or small containers. (make sure to cover well with plastic wrap). Place in freezer to save.  If using ice cub trays–when they are frozen pop out and store in a zip lock bag.  When you are making a stew, stoup just pop a cube or two into the pot.

2.  The small containers also make quick meals for one or two people.  My daughter would come home from work at night, cook some pasta and throw a cube or two in.

3.  I mix a cube or two in cream cheese for a delicious, quick spread for crackers.

4.  Want to pack a punch into a savory smoothie?  Throw a couple of cubes in.

5.  Place a “plop” of pesto on a small puddle of olive oil (on a plate of course!) and garnish with coarse sea salt and fresh ground pepper..  Serve with bread.

6.  Tonight my niece came home from work and I made her a quick pesto cream sauce and served it over pasta.  I cheat.  I heat up cream cheese in a sauce pan, add pesto and milk and fresh parmesan cheese and a little pasta water and toss with pasta.

Just a few suggestions.

Now I challenge you.  Comment on this post and tell me how you use pesto.  Are there any ingredients that you have added to pesto before that I have not mentioned?

I look forward to hearing from you!

 

 

Saving Summer . . . or should I say savoring summer?

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It’s been a crazy busy summer.  I spend a lot of time contemplating how I am going to suck the most that I can out of summer.  Spending time at the cottage, gardening, and traveling are just some of the things I try to pack in. The cooking is fabulous with all of the wonderful fresh produce available . . . a virtual cornucopia of choices.  My cottage happens to be in one of the most incredible fruit belts in Michigan and it is also the asparagus capital of the world.  I just drool at the thought of Stony Lake Inn deep fried asparagus.  Then the parade of fruits:  strawberries, blueberries, cherries, peaches and apples.  I love the little fruit and vegetable stands around here.  It is not summer without a trip to Cherry Point in Silver Lake or the Fox Barn Winery.  Whippy Dip or Country Dairy for ice cream, fresh butter and cheese.  Mac’s Meats for bacon and brisket.  Oceana County is a cooks paradise.

So what do you do when you have a refrigerator full of beautiful produce and you have an opportunity to leave the cottage to see your lovey loves–my grandbabies?  I’ve discovered that my Vitamix is my life saver!

Well, my Vitamix and my freezer.  After consulting the expert, my daughter Emily, I created what I call my smoothie starters.  Some savory, some sweet and some a combination of both.  I surveyed the refrigerator and took out everything that would not survive the trip.  I had kale, spinach, parsley, leeks, tomatoes, grapes (white and red), peaches, celery, carrots, blueberries and apples,

I took the tomatoes, parsley, celery, leeks and spinach and a 1/2 cup of water.  Pureed the heck out of it and frozen it in small plastic containers, labeled them and froze them.  Now when I am making a stew or soup or a smoothie I can whip one out and add it to whatever I am making.  Imagine someone dropping by at cocktail hour and you are caught without a snack.  Whip out a can of chick peas and a savory frozen bundle.  Add garlic and olive oil and there you got yourself a fabulous hummus.

Then the fruit.  I always add celery to my fruit smoothies.  It is such a refreshing flavor and so good for you.  I made several combinations and added kale to them all too.  Now, when I wake up in the morning I can whip up a great smoothie and I don’t have to add ice because my fruit is frozen.

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Label them well.  Throw in a little lemon or lime zest and coconut water, ice tea or any other fun liquid.  Enjoy a quick snack and a healthy summer.

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Just About the Cutest Most Delicious Darn Idea

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Just spent some time in Wisconsin visiting my darling grandchildren Etta and Abbott.  It was so nice to meet my daughter’s new Wisconsin friends.  I enjoyed putting faces with names.  I also enjoyed their kind of fun!  Wednesday night is “Concert in the Park” in Green Lake.  These adorable families (adults, children, parents, grandparents, dogs) you name it, all bring food and beverages to share.  Everyone is so generous and amazingly creative.  Some good eats.  The kids play, everyone eats and oh yeah, there is some pretty good music going on too!

My new hero however, is my daughter Claire’s friend Alex.  She’s a full-time surgical nurse, newlywed (that’s anything under five years) with a beautiful home and three rambunctious dogs.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  All these young people are incredibly amazing.  They are all super involved in their parenting, jobs, community etc., but I could only pick one hero this week and it is Alex.  Why?  She show’s up at this picnic/concert thing like freaking Martha Stewart. Baskets laden with not only delicious but healthy food.  Then I hear the litany of food she brought the week before.  Quite impressive.

So what was I so impressed with on this week’s menu?  Alex made a lime, mint and watermelon salad that was fabulous.  The cutest darn thing is she served it in pint sized mason jars with handles and lids.  Individual!  You could grab one and go.  The adults and kids both loved them.  Tasty and fun.

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Etta and Izzy — just two of the delightful children there — really enjoyed them as you can see                                                   Image

WATERMELON SALAD

 

 

  1. 8 cups seedless watermelon chunks cut into about 1 inch
  2. 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  3. Pinch of cayenne pepper
  4. 1/2 cup mint leaves, torn
  5. Salt
 
You can make this the night before but don’t put the pint leaves into the mix until just before you serve.
 
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It was sure nice to see what great people my daughter and her family hang out with.  Thank you all for making me feel so welcome.

 

Nostalgia! aaaaahhhhh

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These cookies are fabulous for two reasons.  First one is that it is my Grandma Bennett’s recipe.  I had a nostalgic flash from out of nowhere the other day when cleaning out my pantry.  I found my mom’s old recipe box.  You know, the one with 567 recipes for jello?  They are Grandma Bennett’s Nut Cookies.  Secondly, these will be great to make and store in freezer/fridge when my grandbabies come over.  Once made and refrigerated you just slice and bake.  A almost three year old doesn’t have that much patience you know.

By the way, these are delicious and super dooper easy to make!  Fifteen minutes to make, tops.

GRANDMA BENNETT’S NUT COOKIES

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

 

Directions

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at time, beating well after each addition.

Combine the dry ingredients:  flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a bowl and using a whisk combine.

Gradually add to the creamed mixture and mix well.

Stir in pecans. (I like to toast my pecans first, be sure to cool before you add in to dough!)

Divide the dough into four equal parts and shape into four 6-1/2-in. rolls; wrap each in wax paper and refrigerate overnight.

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When ready to bake . . .

Unwrap and cut into 1/8-in. slices. Place 1 in. apart on an ungreased baking sheets.

Bake at 375° for 7-10 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool.

Yield: about 9 dozen.

Come on over to G’s house Etta and Abbott.  Let’s bake some cookies!