Rhubarb Revamped

I love strawberry rhubarb crisp. With its sweet and tangy flavors, there's nothing better than eating it while it is hot and bubbly right out of the oven served up with a generous scoop of quickly melting vanilla ice cream. I made such a crisp a few weeks ago with rhubarb I purchased at the farmer's market and it was delicious. The following week I came home from the market again with more rhubarb, but I had no idea what I was going to do with it. We'd only finished the remainder of the crisp a few days before so I didn't feel like I should make another crisp so soon after. What else is there to do with rhubarb?

I realized I was not the only person with this quandary when I came across an article in a local newspaper that was titled "The Versatility of Rhubarb" where the author of the article proclaimed that there were endless possibilities with rhubarb, and he was going to prove it by sharing three "very different" rhubarb recipes. My interest piqued, I turned to the page were the recipes were listed, and there I found recipes for rhubarb pie, rhubarb crisp, and rhubarb torte. "What?" I thought, "How are pie and crisp original? Everybody makes pie and crisp with rhubarb!" "Endless possibilities" rhubarb may have, but they were not demonstrated by those recipes. Disappointed, I conducted my own recipe search for rhubarb and came across a recipe for Orange Rhubarb Compote that seemed to be promising and versatile.

With this one compote, I was able to use it in three different ways, two of them definitely departing from the norm, and was quite satisfied with all three results. For my first try at an innovative use of rhubarb, I thought perhaps a rich, very dark chocolate would hold its own against the tartness of the rhubarb. Plus, the orange would bind the two strong flavors together, as it pairs well with both rhubarb and chocolate. To this end, I made devil's food cupcakes filled with the orange rhubarb compote and topped off with a spectacular dark chocolate orange ganache. In Scott's words, the the final product was "ab-so-lute-ly ridiculous" which means really, really good.

For the second idea, I went the sweet route again and made a little vanilla ice cream pie with graham cracker crust and spooned warm compote over top with a drizzle of real maple syrup. As vanilla ice cream goes great with rhubarb crisp, it is natural that rhubarb compote would be a great topping for vanilla ice cream. I would recommend using a sweet, full flavor vanilla bean ice cream to pair with the compote, and for a quick, deconstructed rhubarb crisp, simply sprinkle granola on top.

The idea for my third experiment came about when I was at a barbeque rib festival last weekend with Scott. Each vendor had their own secret rubs, glazes, and sauces for their meat and they were all quite different, with the sauces varying the most. As big sauce fans, Scott and I cared more about trying the different sauces than the meat. It was during this that the idea of pairing the rhubarb compote with a sweet, smokey barbecue sauce came to me. Wait! Don't think this is gross, hear me out. I reasoned that I like the sweet and sour sauce served with egg rolls and that the sourness of the rhubarb could work well to compliment the sweetness of a barbeque sauce. With this reasoning, I decided to give it a try. I chose to try it with a thick cut pork chop as pork seems to be the meat that is paired most often with fruit (apple, pineapple, mango, orange, apricot, etc). I rubbed the pork chop with a traditional paprika based rub, marinated it for an hour in a lime mesquite marinade, and then Scott grilled it on our charcoal grill, brushing the chop with a mixture of sweet barbeque sauce and rhubarb orange compote (in a one to one ratio) during the last few minutes of grilling. The result? It worked! It was sweet, smokey, and tangy all in one. Though there's nothing tropical about rhubarb, the compote seemed to give the meat a delicious bit of tropical flare.

So there you have it. I do believe that rhubarb can be versatile, we just have to be creative and stop limiting it. Other things to try with rhubarb would be trying it in recipes where lemon would normally be used since they are both naturally quite sour! For example, I think a little unsweetened rhubarb compote over salmon paired with rosemary could be good. For another original dessert recipe check this one out. I hope my own take on three original rhubarb recipes has you inspired!

Rhubarb Orange Compote

2 tbsp butter
1 lb. rhubarb
3/4 cup sugar (I was a couple tablespoons shy of 3/4 cup as my rhubarb was mostly red and thus sweeter)
2 tbsp orange liquor (I do not have orange liquor so I did 1 1/2 Tbsp of frozen orange juice concentrate)
zest of one orange

1. Trim the Rhubarb of the ends, split it lengthwise down the center and cut across in 1/2 inch intervals.
2. In a large bowl, toss the rhubarb with the sugar, orange liquor, and orange zest, and set aside.
3. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When the butter has melted add the sugar coated rhubarb. Let this cook over a medium heat, undisturbed, for about 2 minutes. When the rhubarb has started to release its juices, stir gently.
3. Continue cooking the compote over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the juices are all released, then begin to thicken. Cooking time is about 10 to 15 minutes total, until the compote looks thick and the rhubarb is tender.
* Many of the cubes will break down from cooking, but some of the larger ones will remain as little tender lumps, offering bursts of tart rhubarb flavor in the mouth, and a pleasant texture on the tongue. The less you stir, the more chunks you will leave intact. Or, if you want you can puree it and pass it through a sieve if you desire a smooth compote.

Rhubarb-Filled Devil's Food Cupcakes with Dark Chocolate Orange Ganache

1 recipe of your favorite devil's food cake (Must be rich and dark chocolatey tasting)
1 recipe of Rhubarb Orange compote

Dark Chocolate Orange Ganache
1/2 cup half and half or heavy cream
8 oz. of good quality dark chocolate chopped into chip size pieces (I used a mixture of 62% and 74% dark chocolate)
2 tbsp. frozen orange juice concentrate (Do not dilute! Take it straight from the can, you want this concentrated, the less watery liquid the better.)

Make devil's food cupcakes as you normally would. Once baked and cooked slightly take a serated knife and cut a cone shape out of the top of the cupcake. Fill the cavity with 1/2 Tbsp rhubarb orange compote. Cut the point of the cone off so you are left with a disk and replace the top back onto the cupcake.
For the ganache heat the half and half (or heavy cream) with the chocolate chunks and orange juice concentrate in a glass bowl set over (but not touching) boiling water. Stir occasionally until the chocolate melts and the ganache becomes smooth, shiny, and irresistable. Alternatively, simmer the half and half in a small sauce pan, remove from heat and pour over chocolate and orange concentrate in a heat proof bowl. Wait 10 seconds and then whisk together until until chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Let the ganache cool slightly to thicken it before frosting the cupcakes.


Just to let you know, I've published a new post in my Reflections blog.  The link to it can be found on the right hand side of this blog or simply click here.


A Perfect Fit: The Cookie to Fulfill My Cravings

I am so excited to share this recipe with you!! I think it is just perfect! (See title) They are so good, I think you're going to love them, but first, let me explain how the creation of this cookie came about so you understand what this cookie is about, and why it is the perfect fit.

You see, I've been wanting to bake for quite some time. It had been awhile, and with the bombardment of cake, cupcaketart, scone, cookie, and muffin recipes I happened to encounter in the last few weeks, my itch to bake was only aggravated further. On Tuesday night I found myself with supper done and dishes washed and nothing I had to do before my bedtime, which was about an hour away. If I would have had more time I might have tried an elaborate cake from one of Epicurious's 30 top-rated cakes, but since I did not, I needed to find something quick that still satisfied the constant desire in me (for better or worse) to be somewhat creative and experimental when I'm in the kitchen. I craved something sweet, but with substance, something that had the texture of a cookie, but flavors that one might find in muffins or scones. I wanted something a little more complex in taste, but easy to make. Scanning through the cookie pages of a local cookbook I found only one recipe that piqued my interest, they were called Honey Bee Cookies, and they had potential. Using this recipe as a base, I modified it and added on by switching half of the flour called for to whole wheat flour, and adding mini cinnamon chips, pecans, and blueberries, and finishing the cookies with a lemon glaze. Sweet success! The wheat flour gives it the hardiness and depth I wanted, the honey, with its sweet nuance, paired with the cinnamon brought complexity, the pecans and cinnamon chips brought texture, as well as a muffin/scone flair (struesel topping anyone?) along with the blueberries, and the lemon glaze (sorry for the dramatics but seriously it's true) made the cookies sing--or at least me!!

My Honey Wheat Cookie Muffin Scones

*Additional thoughts:

  • If you like tea, these cookies make an excellent accompaniment!

  • If you desire something even more hardy, old fashioned oatmeal would be the way to go

  • These cookies store quite well (I kept them in the fridge). Scott prefers them warmed in the microwave compared to room temp, I like them either way, but of course, fresh from the oven is always best.
1/2 cup (one stick) butter softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup honey (Make sure to scrape it all out of the measuring cup!  Or spray the cup with oil first.)
1 egg
3/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3 Tbsp mini cinnamon chips (if you don't have mini, leave these out, or chop up regular size ones--do not leave them whole as the dough is crumbly and it would be difficult to keep it all together with the bulkier size. I also prefer the texture and the "doses" of cinnamon that you get with the mini)
3 Tbsp. chopped pecans (toast them for extra flavor)
1/3 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (I used frozen, do not thaw them)
Lemon glaze (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Mix butter, brown sugar, honey, and egg together.  Mix flours, baking soda, and cinnamon together and add to wet ingredients, mix until well combined.  Add the cinnamon chips and chopped pecans and mix in adding the frozen blueberries last and gently folding these into the batter.  Place dough onto a cookie sheet by the tablespoonful, pressing back in any blueberries that may fall out of the crumbly dough, and bake until light brown, about 7 to 9 minutes.  When done remove from cookie sheet and place on a rack to cool before topping with the lemon glaze.  Store cookies in the refrigerator.  Do not double recipe.

Lemon glaze
Lemon juice, powdered sugar, and milk were used to make the glaze.  I would estimate that I used 1 Tbsp. lemon juice, 1 Tsp. milk, 1/2 cup powdered sugar.  Play with these amounts to achieve a tart but sweet, slightly runny glaze that will harden on the cookies when they are cool.

Enjoy and happy baking!


Happy Mother's Day

I'm very blessed to have two wonderful mothers in my life, my own and my mother-in-law. These two women are my role models, and perhaps someday I can be like them and hopefully raise my own kids as well as they did. They are selfless and servant-hearted--this is what makes them the outstanding mothers that they are, but it is also why they don't always get the recognition that they deserve. That is why this post is dedicated to them, to the women who deserve honor and thanks the most, but seldom receive it.

My mother’s Rock n’ Roll Bars*

Growing up, my family took a week long vacation to Lake Okoboji, IA every summer. I loved these trips, not because the place was that exciting, but more because of all the traditions and memories we had established there over the many years. When I was little, I made friends with other girls on the beach at the resort and we made all sorts of sand creations together, from castles, to sea turtles, to dragons. As I became a bit older I started to be on the lookout for cute boys wishing for a "summer love" to come my way. Ha! I remember one time, I think I was in 7th grade and this little boy came up to me on the beach and held out a walkie-talkie to me and said his older brother and his friend thought I was cute and wanted to talk to me on the walkie-talkie. When I asked where they were, the younger brother pointed to a bush about 50 feet away that they were hiding behind and immediately I saw two boys dart out of it and run away embarrassed! Oh dear. Family traditions included renting a boat for a day, eating breakfast at least once at O'Farrell Sisters (a small, unassuming restaurant in a trailer park that was famous around the lake for their breakfasts and pies made by the cute old ladies that ran the place), relaxing on the beach and swimming in the lake every morning, playing multiple rounds of mini golf in the afternoon, and playing Uno every night.

The week before vacation my mom would prepare two big coolers full of food for the week and one of the things she always made sure to have is a big batch of her Rock n’ Roll Bars.  These bars are one of her staples, they have made many appearances on road trips, picnics, in care packages while I was in college, and even now when my family comes to visit Scott and I she often brings a batch of them for us.  They are more than just a staple though, they are really, really good!  While they share similar flavors with the much loved skotcheroo/Special K bars, I much prefer these because of their texture, the fact that they are something different, and, well, I just like them better.  Chocolate on the bottom, gooey marshmallows in the middle, and crisp, airy, rice cereal covered with butterscotch and peanut butter on top, what’s not to like?!

*These bars originally went by the name Rocky Road bars, but when my younger brother was little he thought we were saying "Rock and Roll bars" and called them by that name instead.  My mother loved his name for them and it’s been Rock ‘n Roll bars ever since.

My mother-in-law’s Holiday Salad

I first had this recipe at Scott's family Christmas with his grandparents and relatives.  This was the first extended family event I went to before we were married.  I had heard many times from Scott and his brothers about the prime rib served every Christmas and the ridiculous amounts of it that they eat--not just because they want to or that it is good, but because it’s almost an issue of pride between them of who can eat the most.  Myself on the other hand, I can become intimidated by big, massive, sometimes fatty, sometimes bloody, hunks of meat. It just doesn’t excite me the way it does for Scott and his two carnivorous brothers.  So while the boys piled their plates high with meat, I took my modest slice of prime rib (which, by the way, I liked much better than I expected) and scanned the table laden with food for something more up my alley.  What I found was my mother-in-law's Holiday Salad .  I think I may have had three or four servings of it that day!  It has crisp greens with sweet red apples and green pears, shards of savory swiss cheese, tart dried cranberries, and toasted pecans all coated in a homemade poppy seed vinaigrette.  It is the perfect salad for me.  Now when the boys pile their plates high with prime rib every Christmas, I head straight for my own “prime rib” and pile my plate just as high with my mother-in-law’s Holiday Salad.

Thank you moms for your recipes, examples to follow, wise counsel, encouragement, friendship, time and devotion, for your unconditional love, and everything else that you’ve given and continue to give. 

Rock and Roll Bars

3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup flour
2 rounded Tbsp. cocoa powder
1/2 cup butter melted
2 eggs at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 bag miniature marshmallows
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup peanut butter
2 1/2 cups Rice Krispies

Preheat oven to 350F
Whisk together the first three ingredients in a medium bowl.  In a large bowl whisk butter, eggs, and vanilla together. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and whisk until smooth.  Spread into a 9x13 inch pan and bake at 350F for 15 minutes.  Spread 1/2 of a bag of miniature marshmallows on top of the chocolate layer and bake another 3-5 minutes more.  Marshmallows should still be white in color and slightly melted together, do not bake until they turn golden because then the bars will be hard to cleanly cut through later.  Let bars cool while you make the topping.  Melt the butterscotch chips in the microwave for 30 seconds, stir, melt another 30 seconds if needed, stir again.  Add the peanut butter to the melted butterscotch chips, stir to combine and then add the rice cereal gently folding them into the butterscotch peanut butter mixture.  When bars have cooled dollop the rice cereal mixture evenly all over the bars as it is hard to spread.  With a rubber scraper spread the rice cereal mounds as best you can to create an even top layer. Refrigerate 1 hour before serving.

Holiday Salad

2/3 cup oil
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. chopped green onions
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. poppy seed
8 cups torn mixed salad greens
1 medium apple chopped (I would recommend not using a Red Delicious)
1 medium pear chopped (I recommend a D'Anjou)
1 cup chopped toasted pecans
1 cup shredded swiss cheese
1/4 cup dried cranberries

 Thoroughly whisk the first six ingredients together for the dressing.  Put remaining ingredients together in a large salad bowl and toss together with the dressing and serve.


Date Night!

For Easter Scott and I received gift cards for a local grocery store from both my parents and his. Hmm, do you think someone knows I like cooking? Needless to say we were thrilled as it meant our grocery budget was out the window with these precious cards in our hands and a "fancy," and thus romantic, meal was in the works! First item on our grocery list: goat cheese. I don't know why, but this is always so with us. For Christmas we received a similar gift card from Scott's youngest brother and immediately both of us thought "let's get goat cheese." Is it silly that we automatically go for an item that's not really terribly expensive, though still off-limits on our normal budget, when we could go all out and get lamb or some other expensive meat instead? Maybe it is, but goat cheese is just so good, and it's hold on us isn't weakening--especially after the dynamite meal we made last Sunday night. 

Goat Cheese and Eggplant Ravioli with a Tomato Basil Sauce. My mouth is watering right now thinking about it, wishing I could have just one bite more! Scott had suggested that we use the goat cheese to make a goat cheese ravioli (he had it once at one of our favorite restaurants in Iowa City) and make a "date night" out of it by preparing the meal together and eating it by candlelight, so that is exactly what we did! The rich, strong flavors of the goat cheese were displayed at their best with the backdrop of the mellow, earthy eggplant. The homemade tomato basil sauce that topped the dish made it come alive with its freshness. Oh so good! I'd better get on with the recipe though because writing about it makes me long for it, and alas, the last bit was long gone on Monday for my lunch. But first, some pictures recapping the night.

Check it out! My husband (a self proclaimed "disaster in the kitchen") discovered he can crack eggs with one hand! Seriously, he can. Who knew?

Scott was in charge of making the pasta and rolling out the dough while I made the filling and the sauce. Since we don't have a pasta maker, Scott was out to prove how thin he could get the pasta. He did good didn't he? He was quite proud of his work so if you see him, make sure you tell him great job on the pasta dough!

The mood is set and it's time to eat!

If you decide to do this as a date I would request that you do not do the dishes that night, instead pretend like your at a restaurant, relax, take your time eating, and enjoy each other's company. So grab your sweetheart, or best cooking pal, and get in the kitchen!

Goat Cheese and Eggplant Ravioli with a Tomato Basil Sauce
Adapted from Emeril's recipe

For the filling:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/3-inch dice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup minced shallots
1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
4 oz. goat cheese,
1/4 cup finely grated Parmigianno-Reggiano, plus more for serving, optional
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh basil (All I had was the "fresh" basil that comes in a squeeze tube and this worked fine)
1 recipe fresh pasta (see below for recipe) thinly rolled out or 1/2 package wonton wrappers, defrosted--they will taste more "eggy" than normal pasta but still good
For the sauce:
1 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup finely chopped yellow onions
1 teaspoons minced garlic
2 1/2 cups peeled, chopped, and seeded tomatoes **
1 sprig thyme or 1/4 tsp dried
Kosher Salt
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoons chicken or vegetable broth
1 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup half and half
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Sprigs of fresh basil, for garnishing
Lightly toasted pine nuts, for garnishing, optional

For the filling:
In a large skillet or saute pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add the eggplant and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the eggplant is tender and lightly golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the shallots and garlic and cook until the shallots are soft, about 2 minutes longer. Transfer the eggplant mixture to a food processor and set aside to cool before proceeding.
If you can handle two things at once start the sauce now, if not, wait until you finish the ravioli.
When the eggplant has cooled, add the goat cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano, chopped basil, and pulse until combined and mixed thoroughly. If you do not have a food processor just mix the ingredients well my hand.
Cut the pasta sheets into 4-inch (2x2 in.) squares. Place mounds of the eggplant mixture, about 2 tablespoons each, in the center of each square, then brush the edges with water. Top each square with another square of pasta, easing the sides over the mound of filling and trying to seal the filling with as little air as possible. Press the edges to adhere firmly with fingers or a fork. Transfer to a "waiting station" next to boiling water and repeat with the remaining pasta and filling. (You should be able to make 14 ravioli using about 1 1/2 tablespoons filling for each. If you opt to use wonton wrappers, your yield may vary.) If you need to make the sauce now, set aside, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerate, while you make the sauce. (Alternately, the ravioli may be made in advance and frozen for about 2 months until ready to use. Defrost before proceeding.)

For the sauce:
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and thyme. Season with salt and crushed red pepper, and cook until the tomatoes give up their liquid, about 5 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add the chicken broth and tomato paste, bring to a boil, and cook until reduced by 1/3 in volume. Add the cream and cook until reduced by 1/3 in volume, or until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Add the butter and basil and stir to combine. Remove the thyme sprigs. If you have an immersion blender, you can puree the sauce in the pan, or do as we did and puree it in the food processor. Taste and adjust the seasoning and consistency if necessary. Return to the saucepan and keep warm while you cook the ravioli.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the ravioli, in batches, until they float, 3 to 4 minutes. *I often find that they start to float before the allotted cooking time is done, if you take the ravioli out then the pasta will be tough so make sure you wait the 3-4 minutes! Remove using a slotted spoon and transfer to shallow serving bowls. Serve the sauce ladled over the cooked ravioli and garnish with fresh basil leaves, pine nuts, and more Parmigiano-Reggiano if desired.

Fresh Pasta

1 cup semolina (can substitute all purpose flour)
1 cup all purpose flour
pinch salt
3 eggs
1 Tbsp. olive oil

Mix dry ingredients together in a food processor. Add eggs and olive oil and mix again until a ball of dough forms. Take the dough out of the food processor and knead with your hands for 8-12 minutes on a well floured surface until dough is smooth and supple. Wrap dough tightly in plastic wrap, or cover with a damp towel, and allow to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes. At the end of the rest period roll out the dough using a pasta maker or a rolling pin to desired thickness. If using a rolling pin get the dough as thin as possible making sure to use plenty of flour often so the dough does not stick. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the pasta.  If you have extra pasta cut it into long strands, let dry, and use as linguine.

**To peel and seed tomatoes simply slit the skin on the bottom in the shape of an "x" and take out the core on top of the tomato. Like this:

Then dump them in boiling water for about 30 seconds, remove with a slotted spoon, and place them in a large bowl filled with cool water. Remove from cool water and starting at the "x" peel the tomato, the skin should come right off, if it does not return to boiling water for 30 seconds more. When peeled cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze them with the cut side down to get all of the seeds and juice out so you are only left with the meaty part of the tomato.