It was Sunday afternoon a couple weeks ago, and I needed to bring a dessert to our friends’ house that evening for dinner. I had bought rhubarb at the fabulous 61st Street Farmers Market in Hyde Park the day before and really wanted to use it, but didn’t have time to bake a pie.
I consulted my Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts, one of my oldest and most loved cookbooks, and found Erma Mabel’s Rhubarb Cake on page 133. It’s a simple recipe that can be put together in minutes and beautifully highlights the tart rhubarb. It’s not too sweet, and is perfect accompanied with some freshly whipped cream.
Since that dinner, I’ve already made it again for a potluck, and this time, I used rhubarb from our plant in our little backyard.
I will certainly make it at least once more before rhubarb season ends. The recipe calls for all purpose flour, but I just substituted my gluten-free flour blend and added about ½ teaspoon of xanthan gum and made it gluten free.
Erma Mabel’s Rhubarb Cake
½ cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1.5 cup flour (can sub gluten-free flour)
3 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
(1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum, if making gluten free)
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2.5 cup chopped rhubarb (about 4 stalks), chopped into 1-inch pieces
Preheat the oven to 350. Butter a round cake pan or spring form pan and dust with flour.
With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt (and xanthan gum). Combine the milk and vanilla in a small bowl or cup. Alternate adding the dry and wet ingredients to the butter mixture, beating well after each addition.
Spread about 2/3 of the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle with all of the rhubarb pieces. Top with the rest of the batter, spreading as evenly as possible but with a light touch – try not to push the rhubarb pieces into the bottom layer of batter. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean and the cake is golden brown.
Do you have any favorite rhubarb recipes to share?
Maggie Swanson is in her third year working as a class assistant at the Chopping Block. She and her husband have lived in Chicago for over ten years and they love the endless dining opportunities in the city. Maggie has enjoyed being in the kitchen for as long as she can remember and is now thrilled to introduce 3 year old son Eliot to the joys of cooking. Maggie has been on a gluten free diet for over four years. She has developed significantly as a cook through discovering how to make gluten free food delicious. Maggie always has a hard time answering questions about her favorite thing to cook or eat because she's always trying something new!
I love having friends over for dinner and sharing my love for food with them. When people walk into my home for a dinner party of any kind, be it an intimate gathering of four or a Thanksgiving table of 15, it needs to be a special, hopefully perfectly timed evening where everyone feels comfortable and welcome.
These dinners always begin with a special cocktail that I create for each occasion, along with appetizers or nibbles. Then there’s usually soup or salad and then the entrée. At this point I’m very cool, confident and am patting myself on the back with how smooth everything is going. But now it’s time for dessert. Agh!
I start to panic a bit when I think of desserts because they aren’t necessarily my strong suit. I love eating dessert; I enjoy making dessert; I was brought up in a great dessert-making family. My sister Kathy is, seriously, the best with desserts, as were both my grandmothers, my mother, and my other three sisters. I’m thinking it was a gene that was inherited by the women in my family. I say this because my younger brother, who is studying to become a chef, and I didn’t inherit that gene. We’re definitely savory guys through and through.
But once you have a few tried and tested desserts up your sleeve, there’s no need to stress over the last course of your meal.
Here are some of the tastiest desserts I’ve created:
I prepared this dessert to finish one of my favorite dinners for a small intimate party with good friends and neighbors. I made Seared Cod with a Dry Riesling Beurre Blanc Sauce. For dessert, I served an Italian Zabaglione, which is a rich, egg yolk-based custard, made with Marsala wine. By whisking together egg yolks, Marsala wine and sugar in a heavy bowl over a sauce pan with simmering water, you can create one of the richest and most delicious desserts. I layered the Zabaglione with an assortment of berries that were macerated with Amaretto Liqueur. For someone who shies away from sweets, I have to admit that this was a pretty spectacular dessert.
White Peach Upside Down Cake with a Brown Sugar Amaretto Crust
Over the summer, I had a small brunch on the back deck of my apartment for friends. It was a great brunch with Peach Bellinis, several breakfast meats, egg dishes, and several veggie dishes as well. While shopping for the brunch, I saw some beautiful white peaches. I bought a few to make the nectar for the Peach Bellinis and then thought why not pick up some more and come up with a dessert using them as well. I got home, did a bit of research and came up with White Peach Upside Down Cake with a Brown Sugar Amaretto Crust. It turned out to be another one of my all-time favorite desserts.
Mexican Chocolate Pot de Crème, topped with Grand Marnier Whipped Cream and Chopped Dark Chocolate Bark
The next dessert was inspired by my love of traveling! For the past 5 years or so, I’ve been traveling to an extremely beautiful colonial city located in the central highlands of Mexico called San Miguel de Allende. I go once a year and spend an entire month there. It’s a charming city with amazing restaurants, great chefs, friendly people and is very walkable. There is a restaurant there, Café San Agustín, which specializes in Mexican hot chocolate and churros. You go there any given night and the place is packed with people there to experience the cooked-to-order churros and the hot chocolate. So I wanted to pay tribute to not only San Miguel, but also Café San Agustín with a dessert inspired by their Mexican hot chocolate. I’ve made this dessert twice already.
The inspired dessert was a Mexican Chocolate-Pot de Crème, topped with Grand Marnier Whipped Cream and Chopped Dark Chocolate Bark. This is another one of those egg yolky, custardy, pudding-like desserts, except that it’s made with chopped Mexican chocolate which is found in most grocery stores in the Hispanic section. If you are not familiar with Mexican chocolate, it is sweetened with ‘piloncillo’, Mexican raw sugar, spiced with ‘canela’ (the Mexican variety of cinnamon), vanilla and almonds along with some incredible bittersweet chocolate. It ends up being a very rich and very decadent, a truly special dessert, made with lots of love for very special friends.
Along with dessert and coffee, I also served this amazing liqueur called Mandarin Napoleon. Produced in France, it’s a liqueur that is Cognac-based and infused with macerated mandarin oranges as well as a blend of aromatic spices. This is truly one of my favorite after-dinner drinks. Years ago, I worked as a wine bar manager at a popular Chicago French restaurant and this was one of the best selling items on the bar menu. That’s why I love it! Along with its great flavors, it brings back memories of this wonderful restaurant, its amazing cuisine and my fellow co-workers. It also has a very special place in my heart because it was the place that my stepdad proposed to my mom.
Apple Crumb Pie with Walnuts and Raisins
The last dessert was actually a spur of the moment decision that involved an abundance of Honey Crisp apples I had on hand. It was an apple crumb pie with walnuts and raisins. I loved the simplicity of the topping for this pie. The recipe for the crumb topping was just ¼ cup of brown sugar, ¼ cup of all purpose flour, ½ a teaspoon of cinnamon and 4 tablespoons of chilled butter, cut up into small pieces, all blended together to resemble coarse corn meal. After tossing together ¼ cup of brown sugar, ¼ cup of granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 3 tablespoons of flour in a large bowl with 6 cups of sliced apples. I placed it all in a 9 inch, unbaked pie crust shell, top with the crumb topping, cover loosely with foil and bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil after the 25 minutes and continue cooking for 25-30 minutes until top is golden brown. If you prefer an apple that has a bit more tartness, I would recommend using Granny Smith apples.
The lesson I learned was that, even though I had not inherited the dessert-making gene from my grandmother, I was able to conquer my fear of making tasty desserts. And I encourage those dessert-challenged home cooks to conquer their fears as well!
Quincy has been a Chef Instructor with The Chopping Block since 2006. He has a great passion for cooking and enjoys teaching others to cook. When he is not at The Chopping Block, he can be found trying out new recipes on friends and family. Quincy also travels throughout Mexico, especially in the town of San Miguel de Allende, where he checks out the many new and exiting restaurants opened by chefs from all over the globe. This love of traveling has also taken him to such far off places as China, as well as several European countries, which brings inspiration to his cooking and teaching.
I admit that I have a rather plentiful pantry at all times. I often have to remind myself that we don’t need to be prepared for the next natural disaster. But when I decided it needed to be cleaned up and organized, I discovered that I had 12 cans of canned pumpkin! My husband loves pumpkin pie, and so I always like to be prepared to put a pie in the oven, but finding that I had an entire case of canned pumpkin on hand was a bit embarrassing.
To celebrate Valentine’s Day last week, I decided that I would make him his favorite pie. I know there are countless recipes for pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake, etc., but my favorite recipe that I always come back to is the one on the Libby’s canned pumpkin label. I like to make the crust from that recipe too. My favorite way to prepare the pie dough is to use a food processor. It’s so easy!
I rolled out my dough using my new Casabella silicone mat. I love how the mat just clings to the counter and doesn’t move around while I am rolling out my dough. Voila!
While I was measuring out the ingredients I realized that I was out of powdered ginger, so I decided to add some crystallized ginger I found in the pantry instead.
The hardest part about baking this pie was trying to keep it a secret from my husband. The rich buttery aroma that wafted through the house while it was in the oven gave it away. So, this pie didn’t quite make it to Valentine’s Day after all!
For the recipe, check out the link on the Libby’s website here. The Chopping Block has a pretty good version too, which actually calls for crystallized ginger.
For all your baking needs, come visit our bakeware sale at The Chopping Block.
All bakeware is currently 20% off through the month of February!
What special treats did you make for Valentine’s Day? Please share them with me.
Susanne Wiesen's love of cooking started when she was 10 and her mom landed in the hospital, leaving nobody to prepare dinner at home. The former Director of Finance at The Chopping Block has never looked back and enjoys experimenting in the kitchen for family and friends. She can usually be found with some knitting project in her lap and also enjoys reading, swimming, mountain biking and spending time in the great outdoors.
After initial inspection of the 12 pint jars of cherries I have in my fridge, I was excited to pop some open and make some cocktails. To my dismay, the texture of the cherries was not at all what I was hoping for. The flavor was amazing, but they were very soft and a bit mushy. The liquid, mostly brandy and sugar, was also amazing, so I figured I had to do something to recoup this semi-disaster.
After a bit of research, I found that tart cherries would produce more of the result that I was after. But since it’s January, there are not any tart cherries hanging out at the grocery store waiting to take a plunge in some brandy. However, I did find plenty of dried tart cherries, which turned out to be a fantastic solution to my brandied cherry woes.
Here is what I did:
I started by draining all of the sweet cherries from brandy that I had in my fridge, reserving both the cherries and the brandy. I put a few bags of dried tart cherries in a medium sized stock pot and poured the brandy over them. I turned the heat on low and warmed them slowly over the low heat as to not lose any of the alcohol. In about 30 minutes, the dried cherries had plumped up with the brandy and were ready to go. I put them in jars again, covered them with the remaining brandy and back into the fridge they went. About a week later, I gave them a try and they were everything I wanted them to be.
So, what did I do with the remaining sweet cherries that I had?
I made a batch of The Chopping Block’s pie dough and lined a couple of pie tins with it. I took all of the cherries and tossed them with a bit of cornstarch, just enough to coat them, a pinch of nutmeg and a pinch of cinnamon and poured them into my pie shells. I dotted the top with a little butter and put another layer of dough on top of the pie. I sealed it all up, poked a few holes in the top and baked them in the oven at 375 for about 45 min. Voila!
I ended up with amazing pies that really did bring a bit of summer to this cold January as well as some delicious additions to a warming winter cocktail.
Have you ever had a kitchen experiment not turn out the way you wanted? How did you salvage it? Share your stories here.
Mario Scordato is the Culinary Training Manager and a Chef Instructor at The Chopping Block. In addition to teaching, he is responsible for overseeing the training of all chefs and class assistants, as well as the scheduling of the culinary staff. Mario is an accomplished Sushi Chef of over 12 years, working both in Denver and Chicago, but his food interests and kitchen prowess don’t stop there. He grew up in a fairly traditional Italian family and has not lost his love for true rustic Italian fare. Mario has spent many an hour in several butcher shops perfecting his skills in butchery and charcuterie. When not in the kitchen, chances are that Mario is in the shop creating and working on his custom line of knives.
I am really excited, okay almost delirious, about fall. Here are just some of the things I love about fall: cozy sweaters, the fact my Starbucks order turns from boring iced coffee to pumpkin lattes, crispy days, burning candles and finally getting back into the kitchen!
I started cooking again a couple of weeks ago. Usually during the summer, I avoid my kitchen because it is too hot. Instead, I turn to gallons of ice cream and seasonal fruits and vegetables for my sustenance.
This fall will be even better since I now have a Le Creuset French Oven. As I pondered over what to make on a crispy day last week, I decided to give some sausage soup a shot AND make the sausage from scratch. My mom used to make this for me a lot as a kid, however, her idea of making sausage was rolling ground hamburger into round balls and adding Quaker oats. It was gross, but bless her for trying. So, I decided to jazz up her recipe a bit and came up with my take on it.
A couple things to remember about making sausage: you will need some fat. In this case, I used pork fat and ground it up with my Kitchenaid meat attachment. Mix about ½ cup of pork fat to 2 cups ground pork and add spices. I use salt, pepper, cinnamon, coriander and cumin. Then bake off, and voila! The soup is really easy to make and is pretty healthy, too.
5 cups water
3 large white potatoes, (about 2 1/2 pounds), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 stalks celery, sliced
1 small zucchini, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, chopped, juice reserved
1 15-ounce can kidney beans, undrained
3/4 cup sliced olives
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon aniseed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 lbs sausage
Cook hot and sweet sausages in a Dutch oven over medium heat, breaking them up into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until browned and cooked through, about 6 minutes. Drain fat.
Stir in water, potatoes, celery, zucchini, onion, tomatoes with their juices, beans, olives, garlic, aniseed and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.
Now, for dessert. I am inspired, no obsessed is more like it, with all things pumpkin. I love this time of year because it is perfectly acceptable to put pumpkin flavoring in just about anything from coffee to cake! So, I was inspired to try some Pumpkin Pie Panna Cotta. I love this dessert: it is easy, cheap, and so yummy. I was the kind of kid that used to eat the entire 6 pack of Jell-O pudding packs my mom used to get, so my love of custards began as a young child. If you want a new twist on something pumpkin-licous, I encourage you to try this recipe.
Pumpkin Pie Panna Cotta
1/4 cup cold water
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
3 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup sugar, or more to taste
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon freshly grated fresh ginger
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (an 8-ounce container) sour cream
1 cup pureed pumpkin (could be roasted sweet squash, like Kabocha, or butternut, or canned pumpkin)
1. Put the cold water in a small cup, and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Let it stand 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in a 3-quart saucepan, warm the cream with the sugar, salt, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, and vanilla over medium-high heat. Do not let it boil. Whisk in the gelatin until thoroughly dissolved. Take the cream off the heat and cool about 5 minutes.
2. Put the sour cream and pumpkin puree in a medium bowl. Gently whisk in the warm cream, a little at a time, until it is smooth. Taste the mixture for sweetness; it may need another teaspoon of sugar. Turn the panna cotta into a serving bowl, or 8 2/3-cup ramekins, custard cups, or coffee cups. Fill each one about three-quarters full with the cream. Chill 4-8 hours.
Now that the seasons are changing and the sweaters and scarves will soon come out, I encourage you to get in the kitchen and start experimenting. What are some of your favorite fall recipes?
Andrea Larson is a lover of all things food and wine. She is a culinary graduate of the Illinois Institute of Art Chicago and has worked at such local restaurants as Uncommon Ground, Spring and Custom House. Currently she is working on her local dream of eating her way around Chicago and probably spends more money on dining out than she should!