Thursday, May 28, 2015

Shaker Spiced Grape Drink for Summer

I'm intrigued by old Shaker recipes, which is probably not a surprised considering how often I post them on the blog. (Shaker Squash Rolls and Chilled Strawberry-Mint Soup for example.)

Ever since my stint as a Canterbury Shaker Village tour guide, I’ve had an interest in the cuisine created by the sisters. Of particular interest is their skill at adding herbs and spices to dishes in ways that may not seem obvious to everyone. This Spiced Grape Drink is a good example.

One hot summer afternoon, many years ago, I paid my first visit to the Village. The grounds were so peaceful and beautiful, with the gardens in full mid-summer form.

To cool off for a bit, I took a break in the shade of a huge tree with a glass of icy spiced grape drink. It was a revelation! Cool, refreshing, and restorative. The perfect summer drink for both kids
and adults.

The Village has a decades-long tradition of serving visitors grape juice. The late Eldress Bertha Lindsay wrote in her book Seasoned with Grace: My Generation of Shaker Cooking:

“Many times in the summer, in the earlier days, our guests—the tourists who came here—would be served a quart of our grape juice. We didn’t expect them to pay for it either; they were given the drink because it made a delightful, cooling beverage in hot weather, and we were very happy to have them enjoy the fruit of the vine as we did.”

This recipe was adapted from one I found in The Shaker Kitchen by Chef Jeffrey S. Paige. The spiced-filled juice tastes wonderful on its own over ice. However, for a more grown-up taste, top it off with bubbles, such as club soda, seltzer, or sparkling wine.  

Keep a batch in the refrigerator and you will be set for summer.

Shaker Spiced Grape Drink
Adapted from The Shaker Kitchen by Chef Jeffrey S. Paige
Makes 2 quarts

As the Shaker’s did, I recommend using Concord grape juice for this recipe, preferably organic.

2 quarts Concord grape juice
1/2 cup sugar
12 whole cloves
4 cinnamon sticks
3 tablespoons whole allspice

Put all of the ingredients into a large saucepan. Bring the mixture to barely a simmer and let it cook for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour the juice through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into a bowl or pitcher to remove the spices. Allow the juice to cool to room temperature, and then refrigerated until well chilled.

Serve juice over ice. Add club soda, seltzer, or sparkling wine, if desired.  

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Choco-Cherry Cookies

I adore the flavor combination of chocolate and cherry, even more so than chocolate and strawberry, orange, or any other fruit flavor.

My eyes light up at the sight of Black Forest Cake.

I love the burst of cherry when biting into one covered in chocolate.

I’m instantly a kid again when I order a Choco-Cherry Love Blizzard at Dairy Queen.

So, when needing to satisfy a cookie craving, it makes sense I reached for the cocoa powder, chocolate chips and dried cherries in my pantry to create these wonderful cookies. The rich chocolate flavor is delightful, and each surprising bite of dried cherry is
a tasty treat.

I ate these cookies warm from the oven.

I ate them while watching television.

Yes, I even ate a couple for breakfast.

Thank goodness I left a bunch on the hallway table by the elevators for my neighbors. Otherwise, I may have eaten them all!

Choco-Cherry Cookies
Makes about 5 dozen

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s.)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli.)
1 cup dried cherries, rough chopped if too large
1 cup chopped nuts, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the butter, brown sugar, sugar and vanilla. Beat until creamy. Add the eggs and beat until well combined. With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl a couple of times. Add the chocolate chips, dried cherries and nuts (if using) and mix for just a moment to combine.

Drop rounded teaspoons of the cookie dough onto the baking sheets. Place in the oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, turning the cookie sheets and swapping shelves halfway through baking. Take the cookies out of the oven and allow them to sit on the baking sheets for two minutes. Then place them on racks to cool. Store in an air-tight container.      

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Berry Care 101

Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries…I love them all, especially when they are freshly picked and tasting like sunshine.

However, few things are more discouraging than spending money on fresh berries only to have them go bad before you use them up. Thank goodness Cooks Illustrated magazine published a great cleaning method that keeps the fruit around longer.

Wash the berries in a bowl with three parts water and one part white vinegar. Then drain and rinse. (For other fruits and vegetables, fill a spay bottle with the water-vinegar solution, give them a spritz, and then rinse.)
To dry, place more the sturdy ones like strawberries and blueberries into a salad spinner lined with three layers of paper towels. Then spin until dry. Delicate raspberries can be laid out onto paper towel-lined counter or baking sheet and allowed to dry. (A fan blowing on the berries will speed up the process.)
Once cleaned, place the berries in a container lined with paper towels and keep in the refrigerator. Leave the lid opened a bit to allow any excess moisture to escape.
The extra berries I purchase are headed straight for my freezer to enjoy the rest of the year. After the berries are cleaned and dried, I place them on a rimmed baking sheet lined with waxed paper. Then I pop the sheet into the freezer. Once they are completely frozen, I remove the berries from the sheet and place them into a zippered freezer bag.

Both fresh and frozen berries work well in so many recipes, from smoothies to pancakes. When using the frozen ones, most recipes will tell you if they need to be thawed out first. When in doubt, thaw the berries.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Chilled Strawberry-Mint Soup

I love when strawberry season arrives. While I occasionally buy organic berries at the supermarket (I feel they have the best flavor), my favorite place to get them is at the Saturday morning downtown farmer’s market. If you have only eaten berries from the store, please do yourself a favor and find a freshly picked pint. It will be life-changing! When the season arrives, I always purchase one container to eat right away and one or two extra to freeze for later in the year.

One of my favorite strawberry recipes is this chilled strawberry-mint soup that I first tasted at the Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire. This soup is the perfect remedy for a hot, humid summer day. I bought the strawberries, spearmint, and honey all at the farmer’s market. A batch can be made when the berries are fresh, and then frozen to enjoy all summer long.

Chilled Strawberry-Mint Soup
Serves 6 to 8 people
Adapted from The Shaker Kitchen by Jeffrey S. Paige.

This recipe needs to chill at least 8 hours before serving, so plan ahead. Note: If using frozen strawberries, measure or weight them first, and then allow them to thaw. Be sure to include any juice that comes from the thawed berries into the recipe.

1 cup sugar
1 cup loosely packed spearmint leaves
2 pints (20 ounces) fresh strawberries, washed and hulled
3/4 cup honey
1 quart (32 ounces) plain yogurt
For garnish: Plain yogurt, sliced strawberries, and spearmint leaves
Place the sugar and spearmint leaves into the bowl of a food processor. Whiz together until the leaves are very finely minced. Add the strawberries and honey and process until smooth.           

Pour the strawberry mixture into a bowl. Add the yogurt and whisk until smooth. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours, or overnight. Serve cold. Garnish with a dollop of yogurt, a couple of strawberry slices, and mint leaf.  This soup can be frozen to serve at a later date. Just allow it to unthaw in the refrigerator before serving.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

My Mom

I call my mom every day. She once told me, “You don’t have to do that. I know you’re busy.”

I replied, “But I want to!”

My mom is my first best friend. She is my biggest fan (though The Picky Eater gave her a run for her money.) She never scoffed at my dreams and always supported me in any adventure.

When Dad wanted me to go to college in my home state of Missouri, Mom understood my need to venture outside of my childhood area. When I would leave school for periods of time to work as a nanny along the East Coast, she understood my desire to see parts of the world I only knew from books and television. When I wanted to spend five weeks exploring Great Britain, Mom understood, even though it meant returning to school mid-semester.

When I settled down in New England for almost 20 years, she understood. When I went years between visits home, she understood. When I felt the need to move back to the Midwest but chose Kansas over Missouri, she understood.

And in this past year, the darkest year of my life after loosing The Picky Eater, she understood. She offered support—both moral and financial—as I waded through my grief and started to move forward in life once again. She did all of this while dealing with her own grief after loosing Dad.

I am who I am because of my mom.

A nasty virus is keeping me from visiting Mom this weekend, but I’ll be there in a couple of weeks to celebrate her birthday. However, my heart, thoughts and prayers are with her daily.

If you’re thinking about a treat for your mom, may I suggest my mom’s favorite angel food cake. It is easy to prepare and delicious.

Yes, Mom, I’ll bring one with me when I come!  

I love you! 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo

Just like everyone is a little Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, we all become a little Mexican on Cinco de Mayo. Most Americans mistakenly think May 5th celebrates Mexico’s independence, which is actually on September 16th. Cinco de Mayo is the celebration of a band of Mexican fighters and their victory over the French army in 1862. In Mexico, it is largely a regional celebration, while in the States, it’s more of an excuse to have a good time, Mexican-style.

On my Carnival cruise vacation in February, I went on two food-and-beverage-themed excursions, and came away with these recipes perfect for Cinco de Mayo.

The first excursion was the Tequila Experience at Discover Mexico Park in Cozumel. I participated in a professional tequila tasting. Set up like a wine tasting, we learned to judge the aromas, color, body and aging of three different tequilas: White tequila, which ages 15 days in stainless steel tanks before it is ready to bottle; rested tequila, which is left at least 2 months in wooden tanks or barrels; and aged tequila, which spends at least 1 year in wooden barrels.

When the tasting started, our group was fairly quiet. By the end, we were all chatting and laughing, to which our guide, Eric, noted, “That’s what tequila does. It makes friends.”

After the tasting, we enjoyed a wonderful Mexican lunch, complete with a Mango Margarita. What makes this drink unique is the addition of chili sauce swirled inside the glass, and the rim coated with chili powder instead of salt. The combination of the spices with the sweet mango was perfect.

The second excursion was called Salsa and Salsa, where the participants learned to make salsa and to salsa dance! Our guide, Carlos, took us to the Piedra de Agua Hotel in Merida. Waiting for us on the tables in the restaurant were platters of ingredients so we could make salsa and guacamole.

We made a basic salsa and, my favorite, Drunken Salsa, with beer and tequila. The guacamole was the traditional recipe and it is now my go-to choice when I make it at home. (I often enjoy it for lunch since it is so easy to make.)

After our cooking session, we enjoyed our salsa lesson in the hotel’s beautiful courtyard. Carlos was the instructor, and since I didn't have a partner, I danced with him. It was so much fun learning to salsa with a handsome dance partner who knows
how to do it well.

If you have the chance, I recommend both of these excursions. They were fun, lively, and tasty. Best of all, I have three terrific recipes to satisfy my Mexican food cravings.      

Mango Margarita
Serves 2

The original recipe calls for Tajin brand chili sauce and chili powder, also called snack sauce and snack seasoning. Check for it in the import food section of your favorite grocery store or Mexican food shop, or order on Otherwise, just use your favorite chili sauce and powder brand.

2 ounces sugar syrup
2 ounces triple sec
2 ounces tequila
1 ounce lime juice
Mango pulp, to taste
Chili sauce
Chili powder

Place the sugar syrup, triple sec, tequila, lime juice, and mango pulp into a blender. Add ice and blend until thick and smooth.

Wet the rim of the margarita glass and dip it into the chili powder. Then swirl a small amount of the chili sauce along the inside of the glass. Pour in the blended margarita mixture and serve.     

Serves 2
1 avocado
1/2 Roma tomato, diced
1/4 large white onion, finely diced
1/2 Serrano chili, finely diced
1 lime
Cilantro, chopped, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste

Scoop the flesh of the avocado into a bowl or mortar. Mash with a fork or pestle. Add the tomato, onion and chili. Stir to combine. Squeeze in the juice of the lime, and then stir in the cilantro, salt and pepper. Serve with tortilla chips.

Drunken Salsa
Serves 2

1 Roma tomato, roasted
1 green tomato, roasted
1/2 white onion, roasted, and chopped
2 garlic cloves, roasted
1 dried pasilla chili, chopped (available online or substituted ancho chili.)
1/2 ounce Mexican beer
1/2 ounce tequila
Cilantro, chopped, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste

The tomatoes, onion, and garlic can be roasted over an open flame or in a 450-degree oven until the skins are charred and softened.

Place the chopped pasilla chili into a mortar or the bowl of a food processor. Mash (or process) until the chili is broken into fine pieces. Mash in the garlic. Then add the tomatoes and mash together. Add the chopped onion, beer, and tequila and mix well. Add the cilantro, salt and pepper, to taste. Serve with tortilla chips. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Picnic Tips with Apple and Brie Sandwiches

Perhaps the easiest way to make a meal into an event is by going on a picnic. The most basic lunch or dinner seems special when dining alfresco.

To be ready at a moments notice, keep a picnic kit packed with the essentials so you can grab and go. The kit can be a traditional basket, backpack, tote bag, cooler bag, or a cooler or suitcase-on-wheels. Just be sure to keep in mind your picnic location. You don’t want to find yourself wheeling a picnic kit over rocky terrain or carrying a heavy basket up a remote hillside.

The kit should contain the basics:

  • A blanket, sheet, or tablecloth to sit on and a plastic tarp in case of dampness.
  • Dinnerware, such as heavy-duty paper plates, napkins, and plastic utensils, which are available in many fun colors and designs. For the environmentally conscious, pack reusable plastic dinnerware and cloth napkins. Just tote everything back home to be washed.
  • Serving utensils
  • A sharp knife
  • Cutting board
  • Bottle opener
  • Corkscrew
  • Paper towels and hand wipes
  • Garbage bag
  • Insect repellent
  • Sunscreen

When you’re ready, all you need to add is the food and you’re all set. For a picnic, the rule of thumb is to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Start by picking food that taste just as good cold as hot. (One of the reasons fried chicken is a popular picnic staple.) Also, keep the menu simple. Nothing too

One of my favorite picnic meals is this apple and brie sandwich. Just pack up the ingredients and assemble the sandwich on site. It is simple to make but gives a picnic an elegant flair. (Don’t worry about keeping the brie cold unless it will be a long time before you dine or it is an extremely hot day. Brie tastes better at room temperature.)

Apple and Brie Sandwich
Serves 2
4 slices good sturdy bread
2 tablespoon bottled mango chutney
1 apple, sliced
6 slices brie cheese
1 small bunch watercress (optional)
Spread mango chutney on each slice of bread and layer with apple, brie and watercress. Cut in half and serve.