Roasted Rhubarb with Orange, Ginger, and Clove

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Hi! It’s been awhile.

Sometimes we take breaks from certain things in our lives because we want to devote our time to other endeavors. Sometimes we go on hiatus for unintentional reasons. Life happens, and we naturally gravitate towards other matters in our lives that are (or seem to be) more pressing.

My break from blogging was an unintentional one. I so badly wanted to blog, but I’ve been devoting my time to co-chairing the 60th New England Book Show. After 10 months of planning, it’s finally going to happen next week on May 9th. If you’re in the New England area and love books, I encourage you to come!

After the book show is done, I’ll be devoting time to writing and branching out of my comfort zone in that arena. One way I like to practice straying away from what I know is to cook with ingredients I’ve never used before in my kitchen.

One such ingredient…rhubarb!

Surprising, right? I’ve had countless strawberry rhubarb pies, rhubarb cakes, and strawberry rhubarb jam, but I’ve never tried cooking the vegetable on my own.

Here’s what I know about confronting something new:

  1. It can be scary. (“What if I fall flat on my face?”)
  2. It can be exhilarating. (“What if this is the best thing that’s ever happened to me?”)
  3. Whether the predominant feeling skews towards fear or excitement, facing the unknown will, undoubtedly, teach you something valuable and make you a stronger person in some way.

The predominant feeling I felt towards those rhubarb stalks sitting on my kitchen counter absolutely skewed towards excitement. I know I love rhubarb. I also know rhubarb pairs well with sweeter ingredients since its sourness creates a balance of flavor.

“So,” I thought, “Let’s dive in!”

Roasted Rhubarb with Orange, Ginger, and Clove

  • 6 stalks rhubarb, cut on the diagonal in two inch pieces (If you buy rhubarb with the leaves attached, throw those leaves away! They are poisonous!)
  • 1/3 cup sugar (I find this amount achieves the perfect balance of sweet and sour. ½ cup sugar works, but it makes the rhubarb almost too sweet.)
  • 1 tablespoon strawberry jam
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 10 whole cloves
  • seeds from ½ vanilla bean
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Wash rhubarb stalks and cut on the diagonal into two-inch long pieces. Place in a mixing bowl.
  3. Add sugar, strawberry jam, orange zest, grated ginger, cloves, and vanilla bean seeds to the bowl.
  4. Mix it all together!
  5. Let the rhubarb mixture sit for 15 minutes so that the rhubarb begins to release some of its juices.
  6. Place the rhubarb in an 8” by 8” square baking dish and roast at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. The rhubarb should be fork tender, practically pulling apart.
  7. Let cool.

I took one bite of this roasted rhubarb, and I did a little dance in my studio kitchen. The spicy ginger, the simultaneous sweet/sour flavor of the sugared rhubarb, the bright kick of orange zest, and the warm clove all melded together at once on my tongue. Enjoy this beautiful concoction over tangy, plain Greek yogurt and granola or vanilla ice cream.

Baking with rhubarb for the first time has made me a better, more knowledgeable cook. Whether you’re facing a new ingredient, a new feeling, or a new life situation, try to embrace that unknown and all the lessons you will learn from that experience with kindness and gentleness towards yourself.

Have a wonderful week, friends, and go bake some rhubarb!

 

Fall Apple Bake and Bourbon Apple Oatmeal

Have you gone apple picking yet? If not, go now and embrace the season!

I went apple picking a few weeks ago. Here in New England we had a drought, so I had to prepare myself for a different sort of crop. Less water means smaller, less abundant apples. However, when we got to the orchard, the apples were still beautiful and delicious.

apple-orchard

Nature shows us that life does not always happen the way we plan it, and that is okay. Beauty still comes from the unexpected events. This was an imperfect year for apples in New England, but that doesn’t mean these apples were useless. Ohh no. I made two fabulous recipes from them. We, too, can create beautiful things in times of uncertainty, when we are in our own “droughts.” I’ve come to find that expectations can easily disappoint, for they hardly ever represent reality. The true measure of resilience is making the most of your present circumstances, rather than discrediting them for not living up to what you thought was perfect.

On to the APPLES!

My Momma made this apple bake for my sisters and I every year. I unabashedly have it for breakfast, lunch, or dessert with vanilla ice cream.

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Fall Apple Bake

  • 8 medium size tart apples; peeled, cored, and sliced (McIntosh and Cortland are best)
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoons grated orange zest

Topping

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 2 1/2 quart soufflé dish, deep casserole dish, or 12-inch cast iron skillet.
  2. Mix sliced apples, brown sugar, flour (2 tbs), and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Add orange juice, lemon juice, and orange zest to the apple mixture and transfer to your baking dish.

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  1. For the topping, mix flour (3/4 cup), salt, and brown sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the butter and break down with either a fork and knife or your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
  2. Add the chopped pecans or walnuts to the topping and spread this over the apples.

20160925_144619Bake at 375 degrees for 40-50 minutes. You’ll want the top to be golden brown and the filling to be bubbly!


But wait…there’s more!

Below is the most beautiful breakfast on earth. Make this topping for your oatmeal, and you will start your day off like the champion you are.

Bourbon Apple Oatmeal

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  • 1 Mcintosh Apple, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1.5 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • Cinnamon and Nutmeg to your liking (I like a lot of spice!)
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  1. Melt butter in a skillet.
  2. Add apple slices, water, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Sauté for about 5-7 minutes.
  3. Add bourbon. Sauté for another 3-4 minutes.

Add topping to a serving of steel cut oatmeal. Happiness will ensue.

 

“The Bomb” Ice Cream Sundae — A Tribute to My Grandmother

My grandmother, my Italian Nonna, passed away a few weeks ago.

Memories with Nonna
Memories with Nonna

Nonna Joanne was a fount of confidence, faith, and joy. A meticulous organizer, my Nonna was the boss, the life of the party. Nothing mischievous could get past her. I’ll always remember her laugh, her voice on the phone as she always, without fail, told me how proud of me she was. Though we were only able to see my grandparents twice a year, my Nonna took full advantage of her visits with us. We would play cards together for hours. While she had me and my two sisters at the table, she would chat with us about our lives. The most important lesson she taught me was how to be assertive. There is a way to stand up for yourself without being aggressive or terribly passive. In those chats with her, I learned how to be proud of myself and how to never let anyone else’s mean behavior get in the way of my happiness.

In our summer visits to Massachusetts, it was tradition for me, my sisters, and Nonna to make an ice cream sundae she affectionately titled “The Bomb.” We’d be watching television in the library after dinner, and then suddenly she would say “let’s make the bomb!” We knew exactly what she meant. Down we went to the kitchen, where we grabbed the necessary sweets for this scrumptious concoction.

Nonna Joanne and I, with "The Bomb" Ice Cream Sundae
Nonna Joanne and I, with “The Bomb” Ice Cream Sundae

First, we had to have a fudgy brownie on the bottom. We usually used vanilla ice cream, but moose tracks was an extra special treat. Spoon hot fudge sauce on top of that, lather on the whipped cream, and then top off the sundae with a maraschino cherry or a “truffle” as my Nonna called it. In this picture it looks like we put an Oreo on top!

Though my Nonna is no longer with us in body, she is most definitely with us in spirit. She lives on in my heart as a woman who celebrated life and all of its infinite joys. Ice cream sundaes were one of those little joys she wished to share with her granddaughters.

I made “The Bomb” ice cream sundae yesterday in tribute to her. The sundae may seem simplistic to some, but for me the process of making it fills me with the sweetest of memories.

"The Bomb" Ice Cream Sundae
“The Bomb” Ice Cream Sundae

“The Bomb” Ice Cream Sundae

  • 1 fudgy brownie (You owe it to yourself to make Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Brownies. I use no other brand.)
  • 1 scoop of vanilla ice cream (Any flavor will do, but I prefer something vanilla based for this sundae.)
  • hot fudge sauce
  • whipped cream
  • 1 maraschino cherry, Oreo cookie, or “truffle”

1. Make one batch of brownies. You can use your own recipe. If you use a brownie mix, buy Ghirardelli. You will not be sorry.

2. Take one brownie (as big as you want), and place in a bowl.

3. Top the brownie with one scoop of vanilla ice cream.

4. Warm hot fudge in the microwave per the package’s instructions. If you make your own, even better!

5. Pour the desired amount of hot fudge on top of the ice cream and brownie.

6. Add your desired amount of whipped cream on top.

7. Finally, top the sundae with a maraschino cherry, Oreo, or “truffle”

The sundae is simple, and simple is best in this case. Everyone’s sundae will come out differently, and that’s the point. Making “The Bomb” sundae allowed my sisters and I to celebrate our uniqueness. Who knew making ice cream sundaes could be so profound?

Here’s to you, Nonna Joanne. Thank you for influencing the woman I have become. Thank you for making the best ice cream sundaes in the world with me. They are, truly, “the bomb.”

Homemade Peanut Butter Cups

A few nights ago, all I felt like eating was a peanut butter cup. Chocolate and peanut butter create one of the most satisfying flavor combinations ever to hit your taste buds, so on a quiet, final project-filled evening, I needed something right away. Did I feel like running to the corner market and buying Reese’s peanut butter cups? Not a chance. Boston was cold and rainy, and I was in my pajamas. That’s when the lightbulb when off in my head.

I hopped over to my little kitchen and looked in the cabinet. I spotted chocolate chips, a jar of peanut butter, and the paper baking cups you use for cupcakes and muffins. Bingo!

In just 30 minutes, this is what I created:

Homemade peanut butter cup
Homemade peanut butter cup

Homemade Peanut Butter Cups

  • 1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 jar of peanut butter
  • paper baking cups (used for cupcakes and muffins)

Note: Use as many chocolate chips and as much peanut butter as needed to create the number of peanut butter cups you desire. To create two peanut butter cups, I used about 1/2 cup of chocolate chips and two tablespoons of peanut butter

1. Put chocolate chips in a microwaveable bowl (I used a small pyrex glass mixing bowl), and microwave for about 30-45 seconds, or until chocolate chips are melted. More chocolate chips means more microwaving time. It’s okay to check every 20-30 seconds to see how much more time is needed. The chocolate is the perfect consistency when it falls in a nice drizzle from your spoon but still coats the spoon. You do not want soupy chocolate!

2. Take a baking cup and spoon enough melted chocolate to cover the bottom and a little of the sides. This is the foundation of your peanut butter cup.

3. Take 1 tablespoon of peanut butter and place that on top of your chocolate. Spread the peanut butter out so that you create a circle, but make sure there is a ring of chocolate left on the outer edge. This will ensure that your peanut butter cup doesn’t turn into a chocolate peanut butter sandwich!

4. Spoon more melted chocolate on top to cover the peanut butter and fill in the edges.

5. Repeat the process for as many peanut butter cups as you would like to make.

6. Refrigerate the peanut cups for 30 minutes or until set. Take them out and enjoy!

Some recipes put confectioners sugar into the peanut butter to make it more like the consistency of a traditional Reese cup. To me, regular peanut butter works just as well, and you use less sugar!

Homemade Applesauce

Fall is my favorite season for food. Farms ignite with produce, and the market becomes one colorful treat. Pumpkin is the craze (naturally!) with squash not far behind.

A few weeks ago two of my best friends from college flew to Boston from Chicago to visit me for a quintessential New England weekend. While we walked the Freedom Trail and went to a Red Sox game at Fenway, I knew that no New England fall was complete without going apple picking. There is something so satisfying about picking your own produce from the farm. Couple that satisfaction with hayrides and cider doughnuts and, oh man, you have the best day ever.

I chose to take my friends to Russell Orchards in Ipswich, MA. About 50 minutes from the city, Ipswich is unique in the sense that there can be abundant farms just ten minutes away from the ocean. We were able to pick Cortland, Empire, Gala, Gingergold, Jonagold, Macoun, McIntosh, and just the last bit of Honeycrisp apples left on the trees. Apple picking is popular across the country, so plan to go in mid- to late September if you can. Some farms still have apples through October, so it may not be too late to either pick your own or catch your local farmer’s market for their bounty.

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Entering Russell Orchards
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Entering Russell Orchards
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Entering Russell Orchards

After picking ten pounds of apples, it was time to bake!

My Dad always made homemade apple sauce for us in the fall. It’s such a versatile dish, something you can have straight up for breakfast, warm up and ladle over vanilla ice cream, or have on the side with roasted pork tenderloin. The flavors are sweet, spicy, and altogether heartwarming!

Homemade Applesauce

  • 5 lbs. apples (I used a variety from the apples I picked, but I recommend Cortland or McIntosh)
  • 1/2 cup craisens or dried fruit
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 1/2 cup orange juice (you can be creative and do 1/4 cup orange juice, and 1/4 cup of your favorite liquor – I used Pimms, my Dad uses rum sometimes)
  • 2 tbs lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Core the apples and cut them into wedges. You can peel the apples if you wish or leave the skin on. Spread the apples out onto your baking dish and add the craisens and/or dried fruit.

3. Warm up the apple cider, brown sugar, orange juice (and liquor if you choose) in a pot, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.

4. Add the lemon juice, nutmeg, and cinnamon to the pot and stir until mixed in thoroughly.

5. Pour the liquid over the apples in your baking dish.

6. Cook the apples for 45 minutes. Make sure the apples have some liquid on them so they don’t dry out too much.

Tummy-warming applesuce
Tummy-warming applesauce

The potential for apple baking is endless. While apple pies, bars, and crisps are amazing, sometimes all you need is some simple applesauce to make your day better.

The Best Fruit Salad I Ever Made

I attended dinner party recently to say goodbye to another dear friend of mine moving away. Charged with bringing a sweet treat, I wanted to make something healthy, refreshing, and incredibly delicious. I don’t know why, but for some reason the most random song came to my head – a song from that children’s show The Wiggles my little sister always used to watch and sing around the kitchen. The song repeats the phrase “fruit salad, yummy, yummy” over and over again. Fruit salad. Yes! Perfect choice.

Fruit salad is truly an all-purpose dish. You can have it with breakfast, lunch, dinner (better yet “brinner”), or dessert (especially over vanilla ice cream). While you can make fruit salad by simply chopping and combining your favorite fruits, adding flavors brings a little more “oomph” to it. Fruits like apples and bananas also brown easily when exposed for a period of time. Do you want to serve your guests brown fruit? Do you want to eat brown fruit? I didn’t think so.

My solution? Add honey, cinnamon, lemon juice, and lemon zest. That’s it! This fruit salad tastes like I’m eating freshly made pie filling, but without the inches-on-the-hips adding crust.

Best Fruit Salad
The Best Fruit Salad I Ever Made

 

Best Fruit Salad

Yield: 4 servings

  • 1 banana, sliced
  • 1 cup cubed watermelon
  • 1 apple, chopped (the photo below has two, I chopped one and saw I had enough)
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 cup strawberries, cut into quarters
  • 1/3 cup honey (any kind of honey works – I used clover honey)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon (if you like more, go for it!)
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon (I used just a little less than this)
  • lemon zest, to taste

1. Wash your fruit (the apples, blueberries, and strawberries in this case).

Let's get chopping!
Let’s get chopping!

2. Slice your banana, watermelon, apple, and strawberries. Keep those blueberries whole.

3. Transfer your sliced fruit to a large bowl.

4. Put 1/4 cup of honey into a glass or microwave safe bowl. Warm up the honey for 30 seconds in the microwave so it becomes more liquid.

5. Add the liquified honey to your fruit. Then, add your cinnamon, lemon juice, and lemon zest.

6. Stir all the goodness around in your large bowl. Done!

Note: If you let this fruit salad sit in your fridge for a few hours, the sugar from the honey will bring out the juices in the fruit (this is called maceration). The flavors will mesh even further, and it will taste even more like pie filling. Yum!