Rhubarb. Roasted. Honey-Glazed. Sigh.

Bemidji’s Natural Choice Farmers Market opened for the season yesterday. I was there with my market bag, filling it with fresh butter lettuce, baby turnips, green onions and beautiful rosy red radishes. Oh, and I can’t forget the homemade bread.

I spotted long, slender stalks of rhubarb, too. I didn’t need to buy that, though. A friend supplied me with several pounds of beautiful rhubarb, one of my favorite vegetables of spring.

Vegetable, you ask? Yes. As Kim Ode, author of the recently published cookbook, “Rhubarb Renaissance,” explained in a class she taught at Byerly’s in St. Louis Park last week, since we are accustomed to using rhubarb in desserts sweetened with sugar, we think of it as a fruit. In fact, it is a vegetable that was first used for medicinal purposes centuries ago.

Other things I learned about rhubarb from Ode:

  • Rhubarb is almost 95% water. It’s not necessary to use a lot of liquid when cooking the tart vegetable. It releases moisture as it breaks down during the cooking process.
  • To make an eye-pleasing batch of rhubarb sauce, stir in a tiny bit of red food coloring paste.
  • Although the combination of rhubarb and strawberries is classic (I still have dreams about my grandma’s strawberry-rhubarb pie), it’s become a little tired. Ode suggests stepping out of the traditional rhubarb (dessert) box and exploring new flavor combinations that result in savory appetizers, salads, side dishes and entrees. She offers many savory rhubarb recipes in her book.

I never buy rhubarb. Rhubarb is a lot like zucchini — people who have it growing in their garden usually have plenty to give away. Some years I must work harder than others to find a source for my favorite spring and early summer vegetable. If all else fails, I buy it at the farmers market.

When I have a generous amount of rhubarb, I use some of it to make Roasted Honey-Glazed Rhubarb Sauce. Roasting rhubarb in the oven brings out its flavor and allows it to hold its shape. When chunks of rhubarb are cooked on the stove, it breaks down and becomes a stringy compote.

This time, I added some pomegranate molasses to the sauce as it cooled in the baking dish. That’s another tip I gleaned from my time in Ode’s rhubarb class. Pomegranate molasses, often used in Middle Eastern cooking, is a thick, slightly sweet syrup that adds a sophisticated depth of flavor to rhubarb sauce. Pomegranate molasses is stocked in most supermarkets these days. I found my bottle in the section with all of the syrups.

Honey sweetens the juicy rhubarb as it spends time in the oven. Adding pomegranate juice to the baking dish enhances the color of the sauce and helps create deliciously syrupy juices. A split vanilla bean added to the roasting dish contributes luxurious mellow creaminess to the mouth-watering sour-fruity rhubarb.

I use a little cornstarch to barely thicken the sauce as it bubbles in the oven. If you like a thicker sauce, use an additional teaspoon or two of cornstarch.

Just as rhubarb itself, Roasted Honey-Glazed Rhubarb Sauce is versatile. Spoon it over angel food cake or pound cake. Eat it for breakfast with yogurt and granola. It makes a delicious topping for ice cream, pancakes and waffles. When you make Brenda Langton’s Rhubarb Cake that I have in my column this week (click here for that recipe), float pieces of the cake in shallow pools of Roasted Honey-Glazed Rhubarb Sauce and top each piece with a puff of sweetened whipped cream.

It’s traditional rhubarb sauce with a twist — definitely not tired.

Rhubarb recipes you might enjoy from some of my earlier blog posts:

Rhubarb Ginger Tart

Glorious Day Rhubarb-Strawberry Muffins

Bickey Bender’s Rhubarb Nut Bread

Old-Fashioned Rhubarb Peach Coffee Cake

Rhubarb Blueberry Nut Muffins

Good Neighbor’s Rhubarb Dessert

Rhubarb Cream Scones with Orange Thyme

Better-Than-A-Biscuit Strawberry Rhubarb Scones

Rhubarb roasts in a mixture of honey and pomegranate juice in a glass baking dish.

Roasted Honey-Glazed Rhubarb

  • 2 pounds trimmed and washed rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces (it will measure about 7 1/2 cups)
  • 3/4 cup honey, preferably local
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate juice plus 2 tablespoons
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 3-inch piece vanilla bean, split open down center
  • 3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place rhubarb pieces in a large mixing bowl. Add honey and stir until rhubarb is completely coated with honey. Add 1/2 cup pomegranate juice and stir. Dissolve cornstarch in remaining 2 tablespoons pomegranate juice. (I do this in a custard cup and use my  clean finger to mix it up.) Add the cornstarch mixture to the mixing bowl and stir until it is blended evenly into the rhubarb mixture.

Dump rhubarb mixture into a shallow glass baking dish. A 13- x 9-inch baking dish works well. Push the split vanilla bean into the mixture.

Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for about 25 minutes, gently stirring every 10 minutes. Mixture should bubble and begin to thicken slightly. Rhubarb should be very tender.

Remove dish from oven. Add pomegranate molasses and gently stir to blend. Allow mixture to cool in dish at room temperature. Store, tightly sealed, in refrigerator. Makes about 4 cups.

Tip from the cook

  • Add a sprig of fresh lemon thyme to the roasting rhubarb for lovely aroma and flavor.

 

 

Green Scene No-Bake Energy Bites

I was on a mission. I needed more Green Scene No-Bake Energy Bites. I had been to the cozy organic market and deli just the week before. The half dozen Energy Bites I grabbed from the Green Scene deli lasted only minutes in the car on my way home. I did save a couple for the peanut butter monster I live with. Now, I was on the road to Walker for more of those addictive Energy Bites.

The sweet fragrance of onions and garlic cooking together in a pan hit my nose when I walked into Green Scene. I could see Chef Kristin Melby working at the stove in the open stainless steel kitchen situated in a corner of the small organic market in Walker, Minnesota. The owner of Green Scene, Erin Andrus, was visiting with a customer. It was Thursday, and this customer had come to pick up one of the weekly organic produce boxes Andrus has been offering to people in her community way before she opened her store on June 1, 2011.

Green Scene was started by a woman with a mission. In 2007, when her local grocery store stopped carrying organic produce, Andrus got a special permit from the city and with her friend, Theresa Bilben, started a business in her garage. Her customers would drop their coolers off at her house on Wednesdays. She would pack them with organic and local produce she sourced from farmers in the area and from the Twin Cities. Her customers came back on Thursdays to pick up their loaded coolers as well as recipes Andrus supplied so that people would know how to prepare the fresh vegetables and fruit they took home.

“I grew up in a food-obsessed family,” said Andrus. “My grandpa had a large vegetable garden. I would pick green peppers and eat them like apples. When my family ate meals together, we’d talk about what we’d eat for our next meal.”

It was this appreciation for good-tasting food and her desire to educate people about good food that brought the energetic young mother from one garage to another. Green Scene is housed in a building that was once a body shop garage.

I browsed the few short aisles of gourmet organic groceries. Sun semi-dried tomatoes from Italy and a bag of dried sprouted mung beans went into my sack. I couldn’t pass up a bag of granola made of sprouted organic buckwheat groats, organic dates, sprouted flax seeds and organic raisins. I had to add a loaf of the locally-made artisan bread to my stash on the counter. Strolling through Green Scene is a food-lover’s delight.

When Andrus looked over my purchases, she immediately kicked into her excited good-food educator mode. “Oh, mince up these sun semi-dried tomatoes and put them on a dish along with the oil the tomatoes are packed in. Dip thick slices of that bread into it. It’s amazing.”

I was offered a taste of the Balsamic Green Beans with Kale that Chef Kristin was working on when I arrived. Turns out the aroma of onion and garlic that drifted to my nose was shallots she had sautéed for the green bean dish. Delicious.

Goods in the Green Scene organic produce box I purchased

I left the store with a bag full of groceries, a box of fresh organic produce, some spinach hummus with the recipe and No-Bake Energy Bites with the recipe. Mission accomplished. Oh, happy day!

Use a strong spoon to blend the ingredients for Green Scene No-Bake Energy Bites. Honey sweetens the mixture of peanut butter, oats, ground flax seeds, chocolate chips and coconut. Children will have fun rolling the no-bake dough into balls. It’s best to keep the Energy Bites in the refrigerator. The two dozen peanut buttery balls did not last long in my refrigerator. The peanut butter monster in my house ate them right up.

These Bites are a good snack to have in the refrigerator for children this summer. Runners can get a burst of energy after popping a couple of Energy Bites. Anyone can satisfy a sweet tooth just by eating one or two or six Green Scene Energy Bites.

The recipe for Green Scene Spinach Hummus is in my column this week. Click here to get to that recipe.

Green Scene is located at 617 Michigan Avenue in Walker, Minnesota, right next to Super One Foods and the Sanford Clinic. It’s just a block or two off of the bike trail, making it a convenient stop for weary bikers to grab a snack from the deli.

Learn more about Green Scene’s weekly produce boxes, their deli and catering and their cooking classes by visiting their web site. Click here.

Green Scene No-Bake Energy Bites

Recipe provided by the kind people at Green Scene, Walker, MN
 
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • ½ cup peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup coconut flakes
  • ½ cup ground flax seeds
  • ½ cup mini chocolate chips

Mix all ingredients together in a medium bowl until thoroughly blended. Let mixture chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes. Roll into 24 balls and enjoy. Store in an airtight container and keep refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Better Than a Biscuit Dairy-Free Strawberry Rhubarb Scones

Dairy-Free Strawberry Rhubarb Scones

I’ve steered clear of biscuit-making ever since I mixed up a crumbly mess of dry ingredients with butter and buttermilk years ago. The end result, inedible hockey pucks, came after a very frustrating baking experience. The wanna-be biscuits wound up in the garbage. That was when I decided I just didn’t need to ever, ever be making biscuits. And that’s why, when Katie Novotny, owner of St. Paul Classic Cookie Co. said that scones are simply a biscuit, I got nervous.

Katie Novotny offered to show members of my Bemidji Cookbook Club how to make the perfect scone. We gathered in her bitty bakery with an enormous menu of sweet treats in the south St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul on a recent Friday morning.

She sliced small chunks of butter into a bowl holding her measured dry ingredients, emphasizing the fact the butter must be well-chilled. I use the same technique when I make my favorite recipe for scones — the ones I plop onto a baking sheet using a measuring cup. That technique keeps my hands off the dough, convincing me that I am making scones, not biscuits.

With a gentle touch, the experienced baker used her fingers to quickly work the butter into the flour mixture in her large, metal mixing bowl.

“Never over-handle the dough,” said Novotny as she mixed cold milk into the bowl. “Less is more.”

She patted the soft dough into a rectangle on her work surface and speckled the top of it with chunks of frozen strawberries and rhubarb. She explained that frozen fruit will hold its shape while baking.

Each long side of fruit-embedded dough got folded into the center, sealing the fruit inside. Novotny expertly cut the dough into four equal squares. She created triangle-shaped scones by cutting diagonally through each square.

She placed the fluffy fruit sandwiches on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

While the sweet fragrance of baking scones wafted through the bakery, the multi-talented baker gave us a lesson on how to frost sugar cookies using a pastry tube with tips attached.

I was still doubtful about my own scone-making skills. Novotny reassured me that it just takes practice with really good recipes. She suggested I watch other experienced scone-makers in action.

Could I really make scones as good as the ones created by the hands of Katie Novotny?

My first attempt didn’t work. I used my tried-and-true drop scones. With Novotny’s flatten, fill and fold method, my soft, moist dough flattened in the oven. The scones did not hold their triangular shape.

I called Novotny for help. She went over my recipe and suggested some changes. My next try ended with a batch of moist, light triangles of fruit-studded biscuit dough. Katie Novotny is not just a great baker — she is an excellent teacher. My flatten, fill and fold-friendly scone recipe is in my column this week. Click here to get to that recipe.

I became so confident, I was ready to experiment with a dairy-free scone. Why dairy-free? Less fat, less calories, less cholesterol. But, I still wanted moist, delicious scones. And that is just what I got.

The dairy-free scones are made with organic coconut spread rather than butter and unsweetened flax milk. My local natural food co-op carries Good Karma Flax Milk. You can try another non-dairy milk, such as almond or soy.

Coconut spread melts very quickly, so I measured it and put it in the freezer while I organized the remaining ingredients. Because I was using quick-melting coconut spread, I did not use my fingers for mixing. I put my pastry cutter into the freezer to chill and used that for cutting the butter into the dry ingredients.

I made Dairy-Free Strawberry Rhubarb Scones over the weekend. When my husband came home from the golf course on Sunday, he was blown away by these moist, not-too-sweet, fluffy and light scones topped with  honey-sweet crunch.

And, I’m blown away by the fact I can now make “really just a biscuit” scones that are the real deal. Thanks to Katie Novotny.

Katie Novotny’s St. Paul Classic Cookie Co. is located at:

2386 Territorial Rd,  Saint Paul, MN 55114

 

Dairy-Free Strawberry Rhubarb Scones

  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup organic coconut spread
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened flax milk
  • 1/2 cup frozen strawberry chunks
  • 1/2 up frozen rhubarb chunks
  • 2 tablespoons local honey, for brushing

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

Use a whisk to mix flour, baking powder, salt and sugar, nutmeg and lemon zest together in a large mixing bowl. Add cold coconut spread by small chunks to the bowl. Use chilled pastry cutter to mix coconut spread into flour mixture until it resembles coarse sand. Pour in cold flax milk. With a gentle touch, use a spoon to mix until just combined.

Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. Working quickly, pat the dough into a rectangle about 12 inches long and 4 inches wide. Evenly distribute the frozen chunks of fruit over the dough. Press the fruit to embed the chunks into the dough. Fold one long side into the middle. Fold the other long side over to cover the fruit. Pat to seal.

Cut the rectangle into 4 squares. Cut each square in half diagonally to form 8 triangles. Place triangles on parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush the top of each one with honey. Bake scones in preheated 425-degree oven for about 15 minutes, until done. Remove from oven. Transfer scones to wire rack to cool slightly before serving. Makes 8 scones.

 

 

 

 

Celebrate Earth Day with Mushroom Crostini

Mushroom Crostini

I’ve spent most of my life turning up my nose at mushrooms. That all changed last summer when I discovered the sublime flavor of chanterelle mushrooms plucked fresh from the forest floor and sauteed in butter with garden-fresh sage leaves. I blogged about my foraging experience in Duluth with Dick Ojakangas last summer. Beatrice Ojakangas immediately transformed our chanterelle harvest into a luscious appetizer. You can read that blog post by clicking here.

That foraging experience was followed by my weekend at Mushroom Camp. After that, a visit to Dallas Flynn’s farm in Frazee, Minnesota. He sent me home with some of the shiitake mushrooms he raises. Those beauties went into a pasta dish. I became hooked on mushrooms.

On this Earth Day weekend, I’m making Mushroom Crostini. Buttery cremini mushrooms or creamy and light shiitakes are both good choices for this appetizer or snack. It’s so easy to make.

First, toast some baguette slices. Brush both sides of each slice with olive oil. I toast them in a grill pan. When the weather is nice, use your outdoor grill.

Then, saute thinly sliced mushrooms with dried Italian seasoning blend. When I made this treat during a “Cooking with Herbs” demonstration for the Lakes Area Garden Club in Detroit Lakes the other night, I added a sprig of fresh thyme and a sage leaf to the pan as the mushrooms cooked. Some garlic, salt and pepper is all that’s needed for the finishing touch of flavor.

Serve the warm mushroom mixture on the little toasts, or crostini.

What better way to celebrate Earth Day than enjoying a gift from its soil?

It will soon be time to hunt for morel mushrooms. Won’t those be the perfect treasures to create this delicious crostini? I can’t wait!

You can watch as I prepare Mushroom Crostini on my weekly Lakeland Public Television segment, Good Food, Food Life, 365. Click here to go right to the video.

Mushroom Crostini

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 ounces cremini or shiitake mushrooms, wiped clean, stems removed, sliced thin
  • Italian dried herb blend, to taste
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons dry sherry or white wine, optional
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Baguette slices, toasted

Heat olive oil in saute pan. Add sliced mushrooms and Italian seasoning. Saute until mushrooms are soft and tender. Add garlic and optional dry sherry or wine. Continue to saute for a minute or two, just long enough for garlic to lose its raw flavor. Season mixture with salt and pepper.

Serve warm on toasted baguette slices. Makes about 8 crostini.

Tip from the Cook

  • Brush both sides of baguette slices with olive oil before toasting in grill pan or on outdoor grill.

 

Wok Cooking with Stir-Fry Grace

When we got married, my husband and I received a gift of a wok. It wasn’t electric, it wasn’t non-stick — it was made for function, not beauty. I looked at the metal  pan with the rounded bottom and wondered what I would do with something that wouldn’t even balance on a burner on our apartment stove. And, what would I do to prevent the thing from turning into a bowl of rust?

If only I had owned one of Grace Young’s cookbooks at that time.

I met Grace Young a couple of weeks ago when I attended a demonstration she did at the International Culinary Center in New York during the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) annual conference.

The petite, dark-haired woman handles a wok the way a seasoned pizza maker handles dough — with ease, confidence and passion. Grace Young, also known as Stir-Fry Grace, calls herself a certified wok therapist. If you’ve got any problems having to do with woks or wok cooking, she is the person you need to contact.

What did I learn from Grace Young? Lots. But here are five things everyone should know:

1. Never use a non-stick wok. They don’t hold up to the heat necessary for stir-fry cooking. Grace Young claims she has a non-stick radar. Watch out.

The home cook should use a 14-inch carbon steel flat-bottom wok.

As a traveling cooking teacher, Young packs her carbon-steel wok in her carry-on bag. It sends the security agents into a frenzy. Eventually, she makes it through.

Grace Young suggests two New York Chinatown Wok Sources:
Hung Chong Imports Inc.
14 Bowery
New York, NY 10013
212-349-3392
An excellent source for flat-bottomed carbon-steel and the traditional Chinese made castiron woks. Also, carries sandpots, spatulas, bamboo steamers, and a large selection of
Western cookware. Be careful when shopping as they do carry nonstick woks.
KK Discount Store
78 Mulberry Street
212-513-7043
This small shop is packed full of Chinese cooking equipment including 14-inch flat-bottomed carbon-steel woks. Their prices for woks tend to be a little less expensive than Hung Chong.

2. Wok cooking has been around for 2,000 years. In ancient times, the wok was used for drying grains and tea leaves. Now, there are 8 uses for the wok: pan frying, deep frying, boiling, braising, poaching, smoking, steaming and of course, stir-frying. In other words, a wok is a sort of all-purpose pan.

3. Because stir-frying vegetables, meat and seafood over high temperatures takes little time, it’s very important to use fresh, in-season ingredients.

4. Use an oil with a high smoke-point. Peanut oil and grapeseed oil are good choices for stir-fry cooking. Be sure the wok is hot before adding the oil, swirling it down the sides of the wok.

5. It’s important to season your wok. Grace Young calls it wok-bonding time. In the photo at the top of this blog, she is showing our group how to season a carbon steel wok.

 

Seasoning a Carbon-Steel Wok with Scallions and Ginger

by Grace Young

1 bunch scallions
1/2 cup sliced unpeeled ginger
2 tablespoons canola or grapeseed vegetable oil
1. Wash the inside and outside of a carbon-steel wok with hot water using a stainless steel
scrubber and liquid dish-washing soap. Rinse with hot water. Dry the wok on a burner
over low heat for 1 to 2 minutes until no water droplets are visible.
2. Open the windows and turn the exhaust fan on high speed. Heat the wok over high heat
until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in the oil and add
the scallions and ginger. Reduce heat to medium and stir-fry 15 to 20 minutes, pushing
mixture up sides of the wok to the edge. If the mixture becomes dry add an additional
tablespoon of oil. Remove from heat and allow the wok to cool. Discard the scallions and
ginger.
3. Wash the wok with hot water. Dry the wok on a burner over low heat for 1 to 2 minutes
to make sure the pan is totally dry. The wok is seasoned and ready for cooking.

6. (a bonus!) I must go shopping for a carbon-steel flat-bottom wok and purchase Grace Young’s most recent cookbook, “Stir Frying to the Sky’s Edge: The Ultimate Guide to Mastery, with Authentic Recipes and Stories.” The cookbook won the 2011 James Beard Best International Cookbook Award.

Grace Young prepared Classic Dry-Fried Pepper and Salt Shrimp as part of her demonstration. She was adamant that we eat it immediately after it came out of the wok. That is when you will experience the best wok hay. In Cantonese, hay means energy, life force or breath. Wok hay is the highly prized but elusive taste that food achieves when properly stir-fried in a wok and served immediately.

Learn more about Grace Young and her cookbooks and find some of her recipes at her website. Click here.

Classic Dry-Fried Pepper and Salt Shrimp

used with permission from Grace Young

There are many versions of this beloved dry-fried stir-fry. The absence of liquid in the stir-fry allows you to experience a concentrated shrimp flavor accented by the garlic, ginger, chilies, and Sichuan peppercorns. For this reason it’s imperative to use the freshest ingredients. Frozen shrimp will work just make sure it’s quality shrimp. (GY)

  • 2 tablespoons plus ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • ¼ teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon roasted and ground Sichuan
    peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 teaspoon minced jalapeno chili, with seeds
    1. In a large bowl combine 1 tablespoon of the salt with 1 quart cold water. Add the shrimp and swish the shrimp in the water with your hand for about 30 seconds. Drain. Add 1 more tablespoon salt to the bowl with 1 quart cold water and repeat. Rinse the shrimp under cold water and set on several sheets of paper towels. With more paper towels, pat the shrimp dry. In a small bowl combine the remaining ½ teaspoon salt, sugar, and ground peppercorns.
    2. Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or 12-inch skillet over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in 1 tablespoon of the oil, add the garlic, ginger, and chili, then, using a metal spatula, stir-fry 10 seconds or until the aromatics are fragrant. Push the garlic mixture to the sides of the wok, carefully add the shrimp and spread them evenly in one layer in the wok. Cook undisturbed 1 minute, letting the shrimp begin to sear. Swirl in the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and stir-fry 1 minute or until shrimp just begin to turn orange. Sprinkle on the salt mixture, and stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes or until the shrimp are just cooked. Serves 2 as a main dish with rice or 4 as part of a multicourse meal.

Flatbread: All-Purpose, All Delicious

While vacationing in Arizona a couple of weeks ago, I attended a cooking class at Sweet Basil Gourmetware and Cooking School in Scottsdale. My friend, Pat Sinclair, and I pulled into the parking lot of the strip mall where the store is located just minutes before the class was to begin.

I grabbed my camera and my tripod from the back seat and we rushed into the store, passing by displays of gourmet food items, beautiful dishes, cookware and bakeware and shelves of cookbooks as we made our way to the back of the store where the kitchen classroom is located.

Shelley Sikora Holman, instructor for the Flatbread Fantasy class, stood in the kitchen looking cool as a cucumber wearing her tomato-red chef’s jacket. A copy of the cookbook she co-authored with Hallie Harron, “Tomatoes & Mozzarella,” was propped on an easel on the counter that separated her from her students.

I considered Holman an expert on all dough that is flat. I had visited with her by phone before I went to Arizona and learned that her cookbook, “Skinny Bread: 100 Amazing Ways to make Flatbread” will be released in late summer of 2012.

Holman explained to the class that flatbread has been around ever since there has been fire. On a trip through Europe, she enjoyed a variety of flatbreads. Each country had its own unique style of flatbread. That’s when she decided to write a cookbook focused on dough that’s been enjoyed by people all over the world for over 2,000 years.

Eleven students worked together in the kitchen, preparing recipes that will be included in that cookbook that’s in the hands of Holman’s publisher right now. My cooking partner, Roger, and I made flatbread bowls filled with a romaine and watercress salad. Holman gave me permission to use that recipe in my food column this week. You will find that recipe by clicking here.

Another team of two cooks prepared an appetizer using small rounds of pizza dough topped with bacon, watercress and tomatoes along with olives and goat cheese. It seems we never have enough appetizer ideas. These are nice for spring and summer since the mini rounds of pizza dough can be baked on the grill before topping.

Fresh, peppery watercress takes the place of lettuce on these two-bite pizzas. Holman suggests giving each pizzetta a couple of drops of anisette, a liqueur that tastes like licorice. I think they would be very tasty without the addition of the alcohol.

The class ended with a flatbread buffet. Flatbread was rolled, wrapped, turned into pockets and bowls and tarts and stuffed with tasty morsels of sweet and savory food.

You can learn more about Shelley Holman and find more of her recipes at her blog: backpocketrecipes.com

MINI BLT PIZZETTAS WITH AGED GOAT CHEESE

Recipe from Shelley Holman, author of the soon-to-be released cookbook, “Skinny Bread: 100 Amazing Ways to make Flatbread”

Makes 18 servings

  • 1 pound store-bought refrigerated pizza dough or substitute a homemade dough
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, coarsely chopped
  • 8 ounces Chevre goat cheese, cut into 35 thin wedges
  • ¼ cup Kalamata olives, pitted and quartered
  • 18 cherry or grape tomatoes, cut into quarters
  • 6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • Crushed red pepper, optional
  • 1 bunch watercress
  • 2 teaspoons Anisette

On a floured work surface, roll out the pizza dough with a rolling pin until very thin.  Using a 3-inch cookie cutter, cut the dough into 18 rounds.  Brush the tops of the dough rounds with oil, salt and rosemary, (and crushed red pepper if using), pressing the herbs down to make sure that they stick.  Transfer dough rounds to a baking sheet and, using a fork, pierce the rounds to prevent bubbles.

You can grill or bake it – your choice!

Grill it: Heat your gas grill to medium-high.  Use tongs  and place dough rounds, herb side down, on grates and grill for 1-2 minutes. Brush the top of each pizzetta with oil.  Grill about another minute or until the bottom is crisp and golden brown.  Use a metal spatula to return the pizzettas to the baking sheet when cooked.  Top each with 2 pieces of cheese and evenly divided portions of tomato and bacon. Add a pinch of the crushed red pepper if desired.  Add watercress, along with a few drops of Anisette.  Return the pizzettas to the grill and continue to cook until the cheese is melted.  Transfer to a platter and serve while still warm.

Bake it:  Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Follow the exact topping instructions as for outdoor grilling.

 

Drink green on St. Patrick’s Day — and I don’t mean beer

A few weekends ago I listened in to several free call-in webcasts, all part of a two-day Conscious Foods Summit. It was the description of the event that caught my interest:

“The Conscious Foods Summit sessions cover the physical, emotional, mental and – yes, spiritual – benefits of eating healthfully. If you’re like most people on a path of transformation, you’re always on the lookout for ways to create more vitality that are good for the planet, too.”

Yes, I am always looking for ways to be the best me I can be. I listened to several of the live sessions. It was time well spent.

One of my Facebook friends, Jill Nussinow, also known as The Veggie Queen, presented a session titled: Why Eating Plants Can Change Your Life. The registered dietitian and cooking instructor convinced me that I must  invest in a pressure cooker. I’m one of those people who has always been a little squeamish about pressure cookers — they can explode, after all. Well, that’s what I thought. Jill Nussinow said she has used pressure cookers in the classes she teaches at Santa Rosa Community College for more than 20 years, and there has never been an exploding pot. I guess I’ll start shopping for my own.

Nussinow also inspired me to experiment with green smoothies, blended concoctions of vegetables and fruits, nothing like the protein powder and berry drink I usually make for breakfast.

My pretty green smoothie came together after a recent dinner at True Food Kitchen in Phoenix, Arizona. A list of natural refreshments on the menu included Kale-Aid, a mixture of kale, apple, cucumber, celery, lemon and ginger. It sounded like one of those green smoothies Jill Nussinow recommended drinking. I may have tried the health drink, but at the time I spotted it, I was already sipping on an Acai Pomegranate Mojito — a different kind of health drink.

I’ve been concocting a green drink of my own and I think it’s good. It must be. I saved some of my last batch in the refrigerator. This afternoon, when I needed a boost of energy, I went right to the refrigerator to get my powerful green liquid. It had disappeared. This evening, my husband confessed to drinking up the potent elixir before he went to bed last night. And he liked it. What?? It must be good.

It makes sense to drink green on St. Patrick’s Day. When you think of all of the health benefits this drink delivers, it makes sense to drink it everyday. It’s a great way to get some fruits and vegetables into your daily diet.

Sparkling Green Power Juice

  • 1/2 to 1 cup water
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 of a seedless cucumber, unpeeled, cut into chunks
  • 1 apple, unpeeled, core removed, cut into chunks
  • 6 chunks crystallized ginger, or to taste
  • 2 kiwi, peeled
  • 2 large kale leaves
  • 1 handful baby spinach leaves
  • Sparkling water, for serving

Place ingredients, except sparkling water, in blender in order listed. Turn on blender and puree mixture until smooth.

Pour through a fine mesh sieve and allow to drain into a bowl or pitcher. Cover juice and put in refrigerator to chill.

At serving time, pour juice into glasses and top off with sparkling water. Makes about 2 cups green juice.

Tip from the cook

The pulp that remains in the sieve can be spooned into plastic trays and frozen. Transfer frozen cubes to freezer-strength zip-top bag. Seal tightly and store in freezer. The cubes are a great addition of chilled cucumber soup made with yogurt for summer meals. In fall and winter, add frozen cubes to soups and stews for additional flavor and nutrients.

It’s not all about mushrooms at a Mushroom Club meeting — how about some Candy Bars?

A few days before the Paul Bunyan Mushroom Club members were scheduled to assemble at my home for their monthly meeting, member Terry Schaedig sent me an email note. He explained that, along with everyone else who was coming to the meeting, he was planning to bring a dish to share. There was a problem, though. He needed crisp and buttery Nabisco Waverly crackers for the recipe. It seemed in the 10 years since he last prepared the recipe, Waverly crackers had disappeared from grocery store shelves. I hadn’t even noticed.

I did a quick check on the internet and discovered Nabisco no longer makes Waverly crackers. I suggested Schaedig use Keebler Clubs instead. I still had no idea what he was making with crackers. Maybe some kind of hardy mushroom topping piled on crackers?

Looking fit, happy, healthy and not one bit out of breath after pulling another member out of the ditch just down the road from my house, Schaedig came in with an aluminum foil-covered plate in each hand. With a wide smile on his face, he handed the plates over to me.

I lifted a corner of the foil covering one plate. As I peeked in, my eyes focused on a perfectly-cut square of layers of chocolate and yes, crackers. The sweet aroma of peanut butter mixed with butterscotch hit my nostrils. I began to salivate uncontrollably.

It was difficult to wait until dessert time to eat one of those bars that kept tempting me from the buffet of food contributed by all the members in attendance. It was a good thing lunch was the first thing on our agenda for that meeting.

One bite of one perfectly cut Candy Bar – think butterscotch, peanut butter, chocolate and crunch. Chewy. Just enough chocolate. And, nice crunch from buttery, crisp crackers. Schaedig told me that after a lengthy quest for Waverly crackers, he ended up using Club Crackers.  I’d say that was a perfect choice.

Schaedig told me the recipe came from his mother’s recipe box. “Mom made these when she felt the kids were deserving (very infrequently) or when we went on strike (at least once a day) and demanded fair labor practices, which included her homemade Candy Bars.”

After the group watched a DVD about mushroom identification and discussed a few items of Paul Bunyan Mushroom Club business, our meeting came to an end. I noticed some members grab a Candy Bar for the ride home. It was my lucky day. Schaedig left several for me. They didn’t last long.

Terry Schaedig shared the Candy Bar recipe from his mother’s recipe box. Lucky for you. And, lucky for me, Mushroom Club meetings aren’t all about mushrooms!

If you enjoy learning about mushrooms, foraging for mushrooms, eating mushrooms and eating things that aren’t mushrooms, you might like to get more information about the Paul Bunyan Mushroom Club. If you are interested, send an email to johnmike@charter.net.

Candy Bars

  • 8 ounces Waverly Crackers  (Terry’s note: good luck with this one — Club Crackers are a good substitute)
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup brown sugar (packed)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup Butterscotch chips

 

Place a layer of crackers in the bottom of an ungreased 13- x 9-inch pan.  Melt butter in a heavy saucepan and add milk, graham cracker crumbs and sugars.  Bring to boil.  Boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly.  Pour half of mixture over crackers.  Add second layer of crackers.  Top with remaining crumb mixture and followed by a layer of crackers.

In a saucepan over low heat, melt chips and peanut butter and pour over crackers.  Cool and cut into squares.

Notes from the back of recipe card:

  • Crumble graham crackers pretty fine
  • The graham cracker mix gets too thick if cooked too long.  Try to get it to start boiling sooner.

Note from Terry:

I know I have added raisins in the past and there is a note that says you have to put in a lot for them to be noticeable.  But, hey, why put anything healthy in with this belly buster?

l.c. finn’s roasted pears warm the soul with cinnamon extract

Some say it makes no difference what kind of vanilla is used in cookies, cakes, quick breads and custards. Some home bakers are sure artificial vanilla flavoring works just fine for giving the best flavor to their baked goods. Others would argue that you shouldn’t waste your time baking if you use artificial flavoring. Only the real deal, pure vanilla extract, will work for giving the best flavor to desserts.

I’m a member of the pure vanilla extract club. I would never use an imposter in the custard for our family’s special banana cake, layers upon layers of homemade vanilla custard, sliced bananas and vanilla wafers covered with a thick blanket of real whipped cream. My special pound cake would have something missing if it was made with artificial vanilla. Pure vanilla extract costs a bit more than its artificial look-alike, but to me, it’s worth every penny.

Chad Gillard and Lee Zwiefelhofer favor the real deal, too. The two Twin Cities guys were discussing the absence of locally-made vanilla extract – extracts of any kind, really, as they downed some Finnegans together. They decided they’d make it themselves. In 2010 they started a company called l.c. finn’s Extracts, l. for Lee, c. for Chad and finns for those Finnegans that were downed as the business ideas developed. A few months ago, they launched their first three extracts: vanilla, cinnamon and cardamom.

When Gillard (you may also know him as the Aunt Else’s Aebleskiver guy) sent me the three extracts to try, I quickly opened the brown, glass bottles and sniffed each one. A whiff of cardamom extract brought floral, citrus fragrance to my nose. I thought how much it would be appreciated by Scandinavian bakers who smash whole cardamom pods to get the seeds they sprinkle liberally in their cakes, buns and pastries. How much easier it will be to use l.c. finns cardamom extract.

The cinnamon extract smelled sweet, warm, homey and exotic all at once. I added it to a batch of granola I mixed up that afternoon, along with some l.c. finn’s vanilla extract. The next morning, a splash of cinnamon extract was a fine partner to my fresh red grapefruit for breakfast.

l.c. finn’s vanilla extract has a rich, full-bodied, slightly earthy aroma that has brought new flavor to my homemade granola. I plan to use it in my next batch of Power Balls.

Organic cinnamon sticks, organic green cardamom pods and Madagascar vanilla beans soak in alcohol for weeks in an incubator kitchen in Minneapolis to produce l.c. finn’s Extracts. The flavor is given plenty of time to develop. Zwiefelhofer and Gillard have an approach to extract that takes plenty of time – they aim for full flavor with no additives.

Gillard and Zwiefelhofer give a portion of their profits to a scholarship fund they have created to give financial assistance to potential food entrepreneurs. The scholarships will give these students an opportunity to attend Kindred Kitchen, a training program in north Minneapolis that can help them start their own businesses.

Last month, Heavy Table named Gillard and Zwiefelhofer as food entrepreneurs to watch in 2012. When I visited with Gillard by phone recently, I asked what we might expect to see. “We’ll soon be introducing anise extract and chocolate extract. We’re working on pecan and almond extracts,” he said. “And, we are developing hibiscus extract. Tea lovers are enjoying hibiscus. We think there are many other ways to enjoy the flower that research suggests may help control blood pressure.”

Right now, l.c. finn’s Extracts are available in select stores in the Twin Cities area. You can find a list of those locations on the l.c. finns web site. You can also order extracts on the l.c. finns web site.

A recipe for roasted pears came in the box with the extracts I received. They are quick, easy, elegant and versatile. Serve for dessert with ice cream or whipped cream. They were delicious chopped and stirred into granola or oatmeal.

Only the real l.c. finn’s deal will do.

l.c. finns Roasted Pears

1. Slice pears in half and remove core. Place in lightly greased baking dish.

2. Mix olive oil, Cinnamon Extract and salt together.

3. Spoon mixture evenly over pear halves (or apples).

4. Roast for 45 minutes at 400 degrees F.

5. Serve warm, with dollop of Cardamom Whipped Cream or scoop of vanilla ice cream.

l.c. finns Cardamom Whipped Cream

1. Chill large glass or metal bowl and mixer beaters in freezer for 10 to 15 minutes.

2. Pour heavy whipping cream in the ice-cold bowl.

3. Beat whipping cream with ice-cold beaters until peaks are just about to form.

4. Add sugar and Cardamom Extract.

5. Continue to beat until peaks form. Do not over-beat, cream will become lumpy and butter-like.

A Valentine’s Day treat that will make hearts happy, too.

I would never let Valentine’s Day go by without sharing at least a little bit of chocolate with you. In these sweet bite-sized hearts, a little chocolate goes a long way.

The recipe comes from my friend, Joyce. I stopped by to see her just before Christmas. She was busy creating menus in preparation for her family who would be coming home for Christmas. She was hunting for gluten-free recipes she could prepare for her granddaughter. She told me about Power Balls, a gluten-free treat that had become a family favorite.

Joyce moved to the refrigerator as she offered me a Power Ball. Alas, the Power Balls must have been left in the refrigerator of their other home. Rather than a taste, she sent me home with her recipe so I could make some of my own.

I’ve made several batches of Power Balls since that visit with Joyce. They are a snap to mix together in a food processor and they need no baking. All it takes is walnuts, Medjool dates, dark chocolate chips, some pure vanilla extract and a bit of sea salt.

Once February arrived, Power Balls became Power Hearts. I simply patted the date mixture out in an even slab on a silicone baking mat and used a small heart-shaped cookie cutter to shape the sticky mixture. I keep the ready-to-eat treats in the freezer or the refrigerator.

Large, plump Medjool dates are sweet, creamy, low-fat packages of  protein, fiber, minerals, antioxidants and vitamins. Walnuts are a rich source of heart-healthful monounsaturated fats and an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, offering protection to the cardio-system and providing anti-inflammartory benefits. Add some dark chocolate to the mix  and you may be helping blood flow through the arteries that supply the heart and the brain. Now, that’s a Valentine treat with power, for sure.

Whether you shape the magic mixture into balls or hearts, they will be a treat appreciated and enjoyed by all.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Power Hearts (or Balls)

(from Joyce Henderson)

  • 1 cup Medjool dates  -  pits removed
    2 cups walnuts
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate morsels
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Pulse dates, walnuts and chocolate morsels in food processor until the mixture looks like coarse gravel. Add vanilla and salt and pulse to mix. Add 1 teaspoon water, if necessary, to form balls.

To make hearts, pat mixture into an even layer on a silicone baking mat. Cut with cookie cutter. Refrigerate hearts in a sealed container for up to a couple of weeks. They can also be stored in freezer for a couple of months.

Or, form into 1-inch balls. Makes about 3 dozen when formed with a #100 portion scooper.
Makes about 3 dozen formed with a #100 portion scooper.

Tips from the cook

  • Medjool dates are often found in the produce department of well-stocked grocery stores.
  • Lightly spray the cookie cutter with non-stick cooking spray before cutting to make release of the sticky mixture very easy.
  • You can watch me make the healthful Valentine treats on Good Food, Good Life 365 at Lakeland Public Television. Click here.