Thursday, June 30, 2016

Iowa On A Plate- Girl Bonding Over Rhubarb

This is a post from City Girl Country Life, centering around rhubarb and social media. The blog City Girl Country Life is heading into retirement so many of the recipes originally shared there will make an appearance here over the next several months. This story was originally published in May, 2015.


I get super excited in the springtime. Everything is turning green and growing, and around the lake, that means rhubarb! 

In the Midwest it seems like everyone's yard has a nice rhubarb patch. Certainly everyone's grandmother had a nice big spot in the yard and a folder stuffed full of recipes from generations of amazing home bakers. Rhubarb cakes, crisps, cobblers and so much more make up entire sections of church cookbooks. Bake sales surely include a rhubarb coffee cake or two. The first spring strawberries usually partnered up with rhubarb in a juicy delicious pie. So many wonderful food memories include rhubarb!

Rebecca's Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
In spite of this rich history, modern palates seem to shy away from this perennial delight. Even though I see rhubarb in many modern recipes such as jams and sauces, many people I talk to "don't like it" and don't want to try the classic recipes. It's time we turn things around, and get this tart and sweet favorite back on the plate, folks. It practically grows itself, is relatively pest-free and is super easy to freeze for use throughout the year. Simply wash the stalks, chop or slice, freeze on a sheet pan until frozen and bag up in freezer bags. You can easily scoop out whatever you need to make something truly delicious, just like Gramma used to make.

Social media has replaced the backyard fence in today's world, and where I might have shared a recipe with a neighbor across the way years ago, these days we meet and get to know other cooks and recipe collectors through our social media networks and online groups. This is exactly how I got to know Rebecca Manship. In the Facebook group Iowa On a Plate she shared a picture of her Old Fashioned Rhubarb Cake and instantly, the connection between two women who love to bake and love rhubarb was made. Her cake looked delicious and so homey and the pile of fresh rhubarb on the table just screamed springtime.

Like so many wonderful cooks, Rebecca learned by watching and helping her mother. She tells me her mother loved cooking and baking, and I'm quite sure had a number of family favorites in her memory. Talking about the different foods we love to make Rebecca shared that she loves baking pies and zucchini breads and many other things- and, like me, she takes pictures of all her goodies as she bakes them! 

Rebecca's Rhubarb Cake

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter or shortening
1 egg
2 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Cream 1 1/2 cups sugar and the butter or shortening until fluffy. Add remaining ingredients except the cinnamon and remaining sugar. Spread batter in greased baking pan. Combine the remaining sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the batter.

Bake at 325 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until the cake tests done with a toothpick.

This cake is delicious served warm with cream or vanilla ice cream. Rebecca's mom used to make this cake and she thinks the recipe came from her grandmother. I know one thing- as soon as the rhubarb is ready I will be making this cake!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Picnics and Potato Salad- American Icons

     Nothing says summer quite like a picnic. The first warm days of spring give us a chance to shake off the winter dust and get outdoors. Gather up some close friends or your family, throw together some blankets, chairs, picnic ware and FOOD.  It’s really all about the food. Picnic food can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. It’s your picnic- are you going for the casual kids-in-the-park picnic, a big family reunion potluck or a romantic lake-side meal shared on a blanket? For most people the word picnic brings back memories of family, tons of relatives, tons of food, Frisbees and lawn games, and roasting marshmallows at the end of the day.

     Where did this tradition come from? Historians trace it’s origin back to the 17th century, where it really was not a picnic in the modern sense, but rather a bunch of aristocrats drinking wine- outside. When I hear the word picnic, I think of not only my own family’s memories, but I imagine generations of Americans packing the kids in the station wagon and heading out to the lake or park on a gorgeous sunny Saturday with their stockpile of goodies for the meal. It has become a new American tradition. The company picnic. The class reunion picnic. Memorial Day picnic. Labor Day picnic. Just because we want to picnic.

     Growing up in Iowa, for my family a picnic meant two things- cold beer, and potato salad. We very rarely strayed from that formula for perfection. My dad still has the old green picnic basket he’d won as a gift in a raffle and for years and years my mom packed that basket with plastic dishes and forks and all our favorite picnic foods. Loaded the old red cooler with ice, Pabst Blue Ribbon and Shasta sodas and we’d head to the lake. Sometimes my dad would grab a bag of charcoal, some burgers and dogs, and we would grill at the park, other times we would grab a bucket of chicken on the way. No matter what the main course was, it was never a picnic without potato salad.

     My mother was a potato salad MASTER CHEF. I would not say she was an exceptional cook when it came to most dishes, but her potato salad…….the highlight of the meal. And for as delicious as I think it is, it was a simply prepared dish, but sometimes, as they say, less IS more. Her simple toss of potatoes, eggs, mayo, pickles and mustard is one of my best food memories growing up. She never drowned it in dressing like grocery store potato salad. She would never even consider leaving out the pickles. She always finished with a big poof of paprika on the top- I don’t know why, but that was just her signature thing. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Erika’s Picnic Potato Salad

·         6-8 medium sized Russet potatoes, scrubbed
·         6 large eggs
·         ½ medium onion, chopped
·         ½ cup chopped dill pickle
·         1 cup mayonnaise
·         2-3 tb yellow mustard
·         1 tb chopped fresh dill
·         Salt, pepper, paprika

Place potatoes in large saucepan and cover with cool water. Add eggs. Bring to boil over high heat until boiling, reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender (remove eggs after 12 minutes and set aside). Rinse potatoes with cool water until cool enough to handle. Peel and cut into chunks. Peel and chunk the hard boiled eggs. Toss potatoes, eggs, onions, pickles in large bowl. In small bowl mix remaining ingredients except paprika. Toss with potatoes to coat evenly. Sprinkle with paprika. Cover and chill until completely cold. Toss again and serve.  *Note- you may need additional mayonnaise and mustard if potatoes absorb too much dressing.

     When you are raised around good, hearty food, and have a father who is the 70s version of the foodie, you can’t help but develop an interest in cooking. Dad is a cookbook collector, so therefore, I am a cookbook collector. Dad was always experimenting with cooking, especially French style recipes, so therefore, I also am always experimenting with food, especially French style recipes. Funny how that happens. It’s only natural then that I felt a need to come up with a potato salad that was still picnic-worthy, but all mine. Playing on the salad nicoise theme, and always remembering how much my mom hated it when people served “German potato salad” hot- she was born and raised in Germany, which I suppose qualifies her as an expert, when it really should be served at room temperature, I often make my French potato salad in the summer.  Cute fingerling potatoes, tender haricots verts, zingy Dijon vinaigrette, served at room temperature- and no mayo – makes this a great alternative to traditional potato salad. I will go out of my way to plan a meal around this salad if I find fingerling potatoes and haricots verts at the same time!

French Potato Salad

·         3 lbs new potatoes or fingerlings, scrubbed, unpeeled, cut in half
·         ½ lb haricots verts, trimmed
·         ½ cup finely chopped onion
·         1 tb freshly squeezed lemon juice
·         1 tb apple cider or champagne vinegar
·         1 tb Dijon mustard
·         Salt and pepper
·         ½ cup olive oil

Place potatoes in large saucepan, bring to boil over high heat, reduce and boil softly until tender. Watch carefully- they can take as little as 10 minutes. Drain and rinse with cool water. Refill saucepan with water and bring to boil. Add haricots verts and cook for just a minute or two, immediately drain and plunge in ice bath to stop cooking. Toss with potatoes and onions in bowl.  In small bowl or jar combine dressing ingredients. Shake or whisk to combine, pour over vegetables, and toss to coat. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

     Working so closely with people who are very passionate about food, I wanted to throw the question out there for the world- is a picnic a picnic without potato salad? It was overwhelmingly obvious that people love their potato salad. Of all the people who responded to my question, only a couple said they did not like potato salad.  The next obvious step was to ask them what is their favorite “non-traditional” potato salad recipe?  I got some very creative responses.  German potato salad, of course, was mentioned, as was “potato” salad made with this disturbing new trend of swapping the potatoes for cauliflower. Not to trash on the cauli, I absolutely love the stuff, but let’s be honest, guys, I don’t care how you prepare it, it does not taste like potatoes. Ever. All kinds of different herbs, different dressings, even different types of potatoes appeared in the recipes my friends shared. It was hard to narrow it down to just ONE to share! In the end it came down to which one was, for me, the polar opposite of Erika’s Potato Salad, and that honor goes to-

Perri Pender’s Country Cottage Potato Salad

·         6 large unpeeled red potatoes
·         10 green onions, chopped
·         2 cups mayonnaise
·         1 24 oz carton small curd cottage cheese
·         Salt and pepper

Place potatoes in a large pot and cover with salted water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and allow to steam dry for a minute or two. When cool enough to handle, cut into ¼ inch thick slices; refrigerate until cold.
Spread about ½ cup of mayonnaise on the bottom and up the sides of a large salad bowl. Place half the potato slices in the bowl in a layer. Generously season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle half the green onions over the potatoes; layer half the cottage cheese and half the remaining mayonnaise. Repeat layers ending with mayonnaise. Spread to sides of the bowl to seal in the layers. Sprinkle black pepper on top of the salad, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Toss well before serving. 

**Recipe courtesy of Perri Pender and can be found on

      Now I really want to pack the picnic basket with delicious food, cold drinks, and a blanket and enjoy a day in the sunshine. Fresh air, blue Iowa skies, and…….ants. What’s a picnic without ants? 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Eat The World- Classic French Clafouti

I feel like cooking. Something really good, something rich and hearty, something wonderful for a cold day. Something that braises all day and is filled with beautiful vegetables and red wine and mushrooms and rich beef. As long as I have the oven on all day, I might as well make dessert too, right? Of course!

A while back I was invited to attend a cooking class given by my friend Wini, the author of Chez Bonne Femme Cookbook and a well-known local food writer and reviewer. Sadly I was late for class (such is my luck- a day late and a dollar short) but I was just in time for dessert. Wini taught the group how to master the classic French dessert- clafouti. If you have never had a clafouti you are truly missing out. Wini made her clafouti that night with stone fruit, including big fat juicy cherries. I however, was totally in love with the creamy, eggy custard that surrounded the fruit. Eggy is the perfect way to describe the custard. It has more body than a baked custard and really, you can use any fruit you like. I have a freezer full of fruit, so I'm going to poke around in there and decide what my fruit will be.

When you think of the typical French home cook, you might think of a cook who is busy creating multi-course feasts with encroyable dishes from appetizers to cheese plates to fabulous pastry creations. Not so. The French home cook is much like the American home cook- they just want to get dinner on the table without a lot of fanfare. The French do enjoy their sweets however, but instead of spending hours fussing with pastry and creme Anglaise and meringues and pate choux, they are more likely to pop into a bakery or make a simple, delicious dessert like a clafouti. You will love this recipe. It's easy to make, no outrageous ingredients, and you can use whatever fruit you have on hand. Stone fruits, such as cherries or peaches are super delicious. Wini's recipe uses cherries, I used chunks of juicy peaches and blueberries.

Wini's Cherry Clafouti
  • 12 ounces pitted fresh or frozen sweet cherries, thawed and drained well
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon kirsch (cherry brandy)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter and sugar a 9 inch round nonmetal baking dish with 2 inch sides. I didn't have a round ceramic dish so I used an oval casserole- it works just as well.

Spread the fruit in the baking dish. In a bowl combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla, kirsch and salt. Beat with electric mixer until combined. Add the flour, milk and cream until combined. Pour the batter over the fruit.

Bake until a thin knife inserted near the center of the clafouti comes out clean and the top is a deep golden brown, about 40 minutes. If the top browns too quickly, cover loosely with a sheet of foil. Cool slightly on wire rack. Serve warm, sprinkled with powdered sugar.

A little bit of spiked whipped cream goes beautifully with this dessert but it's just as delicious without. Like Wini said at the class, leftovers are amazing for breakfast the next day. A nice cup of coffee or cappuccino alongside- perfect! Now you MUST own this cookbook. Wini has graciously given me permission to share a recipe or two, but you truly must own this book- the recipes are amazing and easy for us to make at home. Click HERE to get your copy!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Summer Berry Crisp

This is a post from City Girl Country Life, centering around fresh berry season. The blog City Girl Country Life is heading into retirement so many of the recipes originally shared there will make an appearance here over the next several months. This story was originally published in May, 2015.


Summer is officially kicked off! That means it's time for loads of fresh fruit and berries in our gardens, farmers markets and store shelves. Strawberries, blackberries, raspberries...... so many delicious summer desserts can be made with these juicy summer favorites.

Last year here in Iowa we had an unexpected late snow and killing frost that really hurt the berry crops. Many of the pick your own berry farms nearby didn't have enough of a crop to even open. Not the case this year! I'm already seeing beautiful berries in the markets and that makes me so happy! Berry pies and crisps have always been favorites of mine, so imagine how thrilled I was today to run in to the store for just a couple things and find they have a great sale of fresh berries. You bet I grabbed some and headed home to bake something.

I could have taken the easy way out and just sliced some strawberries, tossed with the raspberries and blackberries and served draped over ice cream, but I wanted something really good, and really homey. Fruit crisps have always been among my favorite desserts. This classic recipe is a church cookbook staple, and something you can find at just about every potluck or church dinner. Often made with sliced apples or peaches, or even cherries, here I used a four berry combo to make a ruby red and crunchy crisp with loads of juicy berry goodness. Just a package of each kind of berry is all it takes. Wash, drain and you're ready to go. I quartered the strawberries so they'd be similar size and shape as the other berries. Let's bake!

Fresh Berry Fruit Crisp

1 package blackberries
1 package raspberries
1 package blueberries
1 package strawberries, quartered
1/4 cup cornstarch
2/3 cup sugar

1 cup flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter
dash cinnamon

In a large bowl toss the berries with the sugar and cornstarch. Pile the fruit in a 9x9 baking dish.

In a medium bowl mix the topping ingredients, dry ingredients first, then use a fork or pastry blender to cut the butter in until mixture forms coarse crumbs. Sprinkle evenly over the fruit.

Bake at 400 degrees about 45 minutes until bubbly and the topping is deep golden brown.

This recipe is a super simple dessert that's just as easy to throw together with frozen berries as it is fresh. I like to stock the freezer with berries when they go on sale- freeze them on a sheet pan until frozen solid, then spoon into freezer bags. You can easily measure out the amount you need when you need it! With most recipes, just add 10 minutes to the baking time if using frozen berries.

This fruit crisp is delicious with a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream. It is heavenly if it's slightly warm from the oven!

No Recipe Cooking- Shrimp Pesto Pasta

Some nights I just need a quick dinner idea. Today was one of those days. Nothing fancy here, I don't even need to worry about a written recipe. This is about as easy to throw together as a grilled cheese sandwich. If you keep a jar of ready made pesto in the cabinet, some shrimp in the freezer and a box of pasta around, you can have a pretty nice dinner for two in no time.

Start with pasta- whatever you have on hand works just as well. I had a big package of spaghetti so spaghetti it is!

Thaw your shrimp, if frozen, and clean them. Make sure you are using nice BIG shrimp instead of the littler salad size shrimp. Be sure to get that nasty vein out of there- you DON'T want to eat that!! Rinse them and pat dry with paper towels. Place in a bowl and add 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/4 cup pesto and 2 cloves garlic. I use a microplane grater to grate the garlic. Season well with salt and pepper. Let marinate for half an hour or so.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook the pasta til al dente, then drain (reserve some of the water) and toss with 1/4 cup butter and 1/4 cup pesto. Add a splash of the pasta water of you need. Cover and keep warm.

You want a heavy skillet or a grill pan to cook the shrimp. I used a cast iron skillet and it worked great. Heat the skillet til screeching hot, then add a tablespoon of oil. Add half the shrimp, without crowding, and cook 1-3 minutes per side. The heat of the skillet will sear the shrimp nicely. You want a beautiful golden brown crust, but don't over cook the shrimp. They cook very quickly.

To serve, pile a nice mound of pasta in a shallow bowl, and top with several shrimp. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese if you like. Serve with Insanely Easy Breadsticks- use a can of refrigerated breadstick dough, spread with garlic butter with fresh minced parsley stirred in. Twist, place on baking sheet, and bake as directed on package.

This dish would have been even better if I would have had some fresh asparagus or mushrooms to toss in the pasta- use whatever you have on hand to dress it up as much as you like.