Thursday, April 28, 2011

Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce

I know I've mentioned before that my father side of the family is Pennsylvania Dutch Mennonite.  Although I'm not a practicing Mennonite and wasn't raised as one, most of the rest of my father's side of the family are still Mennonite. Because of this the Mennonite culture has had a huge impact on who I am. Much of the culture in just ingrained in my soul. Especially when it come to food and feeding people. It's nearly impossible for me to cook for less than six people, no matter how hard I try. I also inherited my inability to dance or play sports from the Mennonite side of my family, but that's another story. Back to the food stuff, Mennonites (at least the one I know) have a love affair with gravies, sauces, relishes, etc. Gravy is so sacred in my family, it's practically its own food group. I don't remember not knowing how to make gravy. Then there's applesauce. Also nearly a food group. Applesauce is more or less a condiment in my family.  It was almost always on my grandmother's table. As a child, I thought everyone dipped their potato chips in applesauce or poured it on top of their coffee cake. So not surprisingly, I too love a good sauce.
Anyway, both my grandmother and my mother, who is not Mennonite but cooks like one, instilled the love of rhubarb in me at a very young age. I look forward with great anticipation to the arrival of rhubarb every spring. Even if you think you don't care for rhubarb, I'm telling you this sauce will change your mind! It's amazing on ice cream, mixed into plain yogurt, poured over a slice of pound cake, smeared on hot buttered pancakes... Hungry yet? 

Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce
(Printable Recipe)
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar, depending on desired sweetness
1/3 cup water
1 pound rhubarb stalks, diced
1 quart strawberries, cleaned, hulled and sliced
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice

In a heavy saucepan over medium heat combine sugar and water. Stir to dissolve sugar. Add rhubarb and allow to simmer for 15 minutes or until very tender. Add strawberries and lemon juice and simmer for 10 minutes more. Allow mixture to cool slightly before serving. It's great served warm or cold.
The perfect balance of sweet and tart!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Carrot Cake Cookies

I love carrot cake. For some reason I always really want it around Easter. Maybe it's a subconscious thing with seeing all the Easter bunnies that gets me craving carrots. Who knows! This year was no different. I been craving a piece  hunk of carrot cake. Although as much as I really do adore carrot cake, the recipe I usually use makes an enormous cake. Not necessarily a bad thing if you've got a big family, or are entertaining a crowd, or don't mind eating only carrot cake for a week. Actually I could probably do the last one, my pants, not so much though! Anyway since it is just hubs and me, and he'll only eat a couple slices, and I do want to zip my pants, I thought I try these carrot cake cookies. They had everything I love in carrot cake; nuts, raisins, carrots, and cream cheese frosting. The original frosting recipe mixes cream cheese and honey together for the frosting, but I decided to use the cream cheese frosting I use on my cake for the cookies. I mean really, it's the cream cheese frosting that has you licking the plate with carrot cake, right?
I was really happy with  these cookies, they really did taste a lot like a traditional carrot cake. I got my carrot cake fix and didn't have to eat 75 percent of a cake to do it!

Carrot Cake Cookies
(printable recipe)
Source: Gourmet,  April 2004 (adapted)
1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup coarsely grated carrots (2 medium)
1 scant cup walnuts (3 ounces), chopped
1/2 cup raisins 
Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a baking sheet or line with parchment paper.
Whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.
Beat together butter, sugars, egg, and vanilla in a bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Mix in carrots, nuts, and raisins at low speed, then add flour mixture and beat until just combined. 

Drop 1 1/2 tablespoons batter per cookie 2 inches apart on baking sheets and bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until cookies are lightly browned and springy to the touch, 12 to 16 minutes total. Cool cookies on sheets on racks 1 minute, then transfer cookies to racks to cool completely.
While cookies are baking, make the cream cheese frosting.
Ice the tops of the cookies with cream cheese frosting and sprinkle with chopped nuts or sandwich flat sides of cookies together with a generous tablespoon of cream cheese frosting in between.
On some of the cookies I just iced the tops. Either way is yummy!
Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
8 oz. cream cheese
3 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
With an electric mixer, mix together the butter and cream cheese , until very smooth. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.  Add the vanilla extract and the powdered sugar, mix until smooth.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Trail Mix Cookies

We are heading to the beach for a week...yea! So just a short post for now. Anyway, I wanted to bring along some hearty and hopefully somewhat healthier, cookies for us to snack on during the week. I came across quite a few recipes for trail mix cookies that seemed to fit the bill. I took some elements from a several recipes and came up with these cookies. This recipe is open to endless interpretation, so use whatever combo of dried fruits and nuts that you want.

Trail Mix Cookies
(printable recipe)
1 cup butter, softened
1 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour or a mix of white and wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips or chunks
1 1/2 cups total of any mixture of dried fruits and nuts. (I used cranberries, almond slivers, and raisins)

Preheat oven to 350° F.
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat until smooth. Beat in vanilla.Combine flours, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon. Mix into butter mixture. Add rolled oats, chocolate chunks, and dried fruits and nuts. Roll into balls ( I made mine 2" because I wanted a big cookie), place on an ungreased or parchment lined baking sheet, and flatten slightly. Bake 10 to 15 ( depending on how big you made your cookies) minutes or until bottoms are golden, not browned. Cool on pan for
5 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
Makes about two dozen cookies
Other great recipes for trail mix cookies:
Trail Mix Energy Cookies/Breakfast Cookies

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Eating her curds and whey...

Back in Miss Muffet's day there were many family owned and operated dairies in the U.S. My grandfather was one of those dairy farmer's so I feel a personal connection to the dairy farmer. There has been a rapid decline in the past 20 years in family owned and operated dairies. In Alabama, my home state, 10 years ago there were approximately 200 small family run dairies. Today there are only about 60 and they are struggling hold on to their farms. There are numerous reason for the decline, but one of the major reasons for the decline is the takeover by corporate farming. These farms are strictly for money making. There is little regard for the animals or the quality of the product. The cows are fed high corn diets, attached to mechanical milkers, and pumped full of hormones, all in an effort to get the most milk for the least expense. The small farmer can't simply compete on volume and are not paid enough for their milk to keep their farms running. It's a sad situation that only we as consumers can change by supporting our local farmers. Not only will you be helping keep them in business but you will be getting a much higher quality (and healthier!) milk.
Brand new baby calf!
Sorry for getting out my soapbox, but the plight of the small farmer, is an issue near and dear to me!
I'm lucky enough to live very near Working Cow Dairy,  a certified organic milk dairy. Hubs and I visited their farm this past weekend. If I were a cow, this is where I'd want to live! The day we visited, they were offering milk buy one get one gallon free! I came home with 2 gallons of organic milk and a half gallon of organic chocolate milk.

I needed to use up some of my milk so I decided to try give cheese making a try. This was a first for me so I decided to make a simple farmer's cheese. Farmer's cheese is a simple unripened cheese, similar to cottage cheese, but drier and firmer in texture. It has a mild, slightly tangy flavor and is firm enough to slice or crumble. It's an all-purpose cheese that can be eaten as is or used in cooking. I think it's great spread on fresh bread. I added flat leaf parsley and chives to mine, but it's very good just plain.

Farmer's Cheese

1/2 gallon whole milk (NOT ultra-pasteurized)
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons of any fresh herb, chopped (optional)

**Note: You do not want to use ultra-pasteurized milk for cheese making because a curd will not set. Ultra-pasteurized milk is not always labeled as such, but you can tell because the expiration date is extremely long, usually 30-90 days from the day you buy it. Regular pasteurized milk, however, will work fine for cheese making. Milk from a dairy in your area will give you the best results.

Bring milk to a slow boil. Keep the heat at medium or medium low, otherwise you risk burning the milk to the bottom of the pot.
When small, foamy bubbles begin to form on the surface of the milk, but it is not yet at a rolling boil, turn off the heat. If you have a thermometer, which is helpful, the temperature will read about 190 degrees.

Add the vinegar and stir the milk. You will notice curds immediately beginning to form.

Let the milk sit for 15 minutes. After this time, add any additional flavors (like fresh herbs).
Place a colander over a large bowl or pot. Drape either cheesecloth or a thin dish towel over the colander. Pour the curds into the cheese cloth. The whey (liquid) will drain and be collected in the bowl below and the solids curds will be caught in the cheese cloth.

Parsley and chives for my cheese.

Look at those lovely curds!


Lift the cheese cloth up and wrap it around the curds, twisting and squeezing to expel moisture. After squeezing out the moisture, the curds for farmer's cheese will be dry and crumbly. If you want a creamier texture, mix a little of the reserved whey back in with the curds. To shape the cheese, keep it wrapped in cheese cloth and form it into a mound on a plate. Set another plate on top and press the curds into a flat disc that is 1-2 inches tall. Cover and refrigerate for an hour or so before removing cheese cloth.

I love the pattern from the cheese cloth!

Buy local, support your local farmers!!