Thursday, May 29, 2008

Rhubarb: Tart & Tasty Cakes and Pies

5/28/08 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Rhubarb is one of those strange looking plants that makes you wonder who in the world discovered it was edible. Well, wonder no more. Apparently the Chinese discovered it, growing in the wild, way back around 2700 B.C. The actual plant was different than what we eat today but from the same family.

An even stranger rhubarb fact is that the leaves contain poison. We cook and eat the stalks, but throw away the leaves. How the Chinese figured out the good part of the plant from the bad is a mystery. Did someone cook up a batch of leaves and die for them to discover that? We don’t know.

We do know that the rhubarb rhizome (not the same as the food) was and is used medicinally by the Chinese. It was thought to promote blood circulation, relieve pain or inflammation and inhibit intestinal infections. Marco Polo described its now well known laxative qualities when he returned with a bag of it from his travels.

Legend tells us that Ben Franklin brought rhubarb seeds to the states about 1772. It was slow to catch on amongst residents because of its sour taste. High in vitamins A and C; potassium, calcium and fiber, it was used as a spring tonic and an effective counter agent for scurvy. Later, as sugar became more readily available, it took on a new life as a popular pie filling and eventually a wine.

A very old New England cookbook of mine has a recipe for a rhubarb tonic that says in parenthesis: “A drink children like.” It calls for two pounds of rhubarb to be washed, sliced and cooked slowly with 3 cups of water for about 20 minutes. The mixture was then strained; one-third cup of sugar added to the liquid and it was heated until the sugar dissolved. After it cooled the poor kids had to drink it. Bet that got them going!

So what is there to do with a bagful of rhubarb? Well, first, you make many, many pies. Then you experiment with cakes, jams, sauces and relishes. Finally, you chop it, spread it out on a baking sheet and freeze it. Once frozen, place it in heavy duty freezer bags to use during the winter. I don’t recommend canning it because it cooks to smoosh and is not very appetizing looking.

Be sure to cook fresh rhubarb in non-reactive stainless steel or Teflon coated pans. Its high acid count will react unpleasantly with aluminum, iron or copper pots. Enjoy the following recipes that are variations on some old favorites.

Strawberry Rhubarb Coffee Cake

3 cups sliced rhubarb, (1-inch pieces, fresh or frozen)
2 pints strawberries, mashed
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1/3-cup cornstarch

3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup butter or margarine, cut in small pieces
1-1/2 cups buttermilk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

¼ cup butter or margarine
½ cup quick oatmeal
¼ cup flour
¾ cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350° F.

In a large saucepan combine rhubarb, strawberries and lemon juice. Cover and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Combine sugar and cornstarch; stir into strawberry rhubarb mixture. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly thickened; remove from heat.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in butter pieces with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

In a separate bowl, beat together buttermilk, eggs and vanilla; stir into crumb mixture. Spread half of the batter evenly into a greased 9x14x2-inch baking dish. Carefully spread filling over the batter. Drop remaining batter evenly over filling with a tablespoon. Set aside.

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Remove saucepan from heat; stir in oatmeal, flour and sugar until mixture is crumbly; sprinkle over batter. Lay foil on lower oven rack to catch any hot, juicy spills. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until cake tests done. Cool cake in pan on rack. Cut into squares to serve.

Rhubarb Cherry Pie

1 pound rhubarb, cut in 1/-inch slices (about 3 cups)
1 (16 ounce ) can pitted tart, red cherries, drained
1-1/4 cup sugar
¼ cup quick cooking tapioca
Dash cinnamon
5 drops red food coloring
1 double crust pie dough recipe

Preheat oven to 400° F.

Combine sliced rhubarb, cherries, sugar, tapioca and red food coloring; let stand 10-15 minutes. Roll out pie dough and line a 9-inch pie plate with pastry, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Pour in filling.

Roll out remaining pastry to about a 10-inch round. Cut strips of dough, ½-inch wide. Lay half of strips on top of filled pie at 1-inch intervals. Fold back every other strip. Starting at the middle, weave crosswise strips over and under. Dampen edge of pie slightly with water and fold lower crust around entire rim of pie, pressing well to seal. Flute pastry edge.

Set pie on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake 40-50 minutes. Cool slightly and serve with vanilla ice cream.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal!
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes 
that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Memorial Day is a day to say thanks

May 21, 2008 Cottage Grove Sentinel Opinion Page Editorial Memorial Day is a bittersweet holiday. It is not a frivolous holiday. It is the day we honor the memories of the tens of thousands of men and women who lost their lives in gory, grinding battles in service for our country: i.e. you and me. It is a day to reflect and remember. It is a day to say “thank you” to guardians whom we have never met. It is a day of sorrow. Once upon a time, the observance of Memorial Day was truly a solemn day of mourning. It began as a day to honor the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers. Every year on May 30, entire families spruced up cemetery gravesites with flowers and flags. Businesses closed for the day; parades were held and long-winded speeches were given. Freedom’s memories were shared through stories handed down from generation to generation. Then, in 1971, more than 100 years after the original Decoration Day, Congress got the not-so-bright idea to change things. They changed the official May 30 Memorial Day to a revolving date. Tradition was shoved aside and trumped in favor of a three-day weekend holiday. The observance now falls on the last Monday in May. Somehow that action watered down the spirit and true meaning of the day. We stopped showing respect. Frivolity became more important than meaningful reflection and the offering of prayers. We found other things to do with our time. And little by little, many of us forgot that freedom — past and present — isn’t free. It always comes at a cost. Blood is always shed in wartime. It matters not whether the hostilities are during the American Revolution, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, El Salvador, Grenada, Panama, the Gulf War, Haiti, Bosnia, the cold war with Russia, Afghanistan or Iraq. Loss of life is inevitable. And then came Sept. 11, 2001. It was quickly followed by battles in Afghanistan and Iraq. Suddenly patriotism was back in vogue but this time with a twist. Bloodshed had been expected in other wars but not now. Media hype or delusional thinking seemed to convince us that SHOCK and AWE would overcome body counts. It wasn’t so. The shock was that so many flesh and blood human beings still died. Today, all eyes are on the Middle East. Next to Vietnam, Iraq is probably the most controversial war of the last 50 years. Unlike other wars, the casualty rates are somewhat lower due to modern technology but combatants on both sides of the conflict are still tragically killed, maimed and wounded. Parents lose sons and daughters; spouses are widowed; children are orphaned; the nation loses future greatness. Yes, it is always the soldier who pays the ultimate price and bears the brunt of battle. The government that sends them goes on but the individual life is snuffed out. Therefore, it should always be the soldier who is honored for his or her sacrifice. Oregon does this well. As of this writing, there have been 104 Oregon fatalities in Operation Enduring Freedom and the War in Iraq. Gov. Kulongoski, who attends as many of the funerals as possible, says that he is humbled by each person’s courage and grace. He considers each one a patriot and is forever thankful for their belief in duty, honor and country. The governor’s staff has compiled information about each Oregon service member’s death in Iraq. The site is called “Oregon’s Most Honorable.” Those honored range from 19 to 45 years of age and died in either Afghanistan or Iraq. Four of the young men killed served with the Oregon National Guard, 2nd Battalion, 162 Infantry Regiment of Cottage Grove. The first three were killed in an ambush in Baghdad’s Sadr City when assailants used an improvised explosive device and rocket-propelled grenades Col. Richard Meyers, chaplain for the Oregon National Guard said of these men, “There was nothing about them that was average. These are young men worth commemorating, to say the least.” Sergeant Justin Eyerly, 23, died June 4, 2004, in Baghdad, Iraq. He attended South Eugene High School and his hometown was Corvallis. He worked in web design for the Portland Trail Blazers. Specialist Justin Linden, 22, died June 4, in Baghdad, Iraq. His hometown was Portland and was survived by his wife Sarah. At his funeral, Gov. Kulongoski, Linden’s family, “The people of Oregon wrap their arms around you…Together we have lost a wonderful and courageous young man. First Lieutenant Erik McCrae, 25, died June 4, 2004, in Baghdad, Iraq. He attended Tigard High School and his hometown was La Grande. His wife Heather survived him. He was a mechanical engineer who had graduated college in two years with degrees in math and physics! Specialist Eric McKinley, 24, died June 18, 2004, in Baghdad, Iraq. He attended Philomath High School and his hometown was Corvallis. His fiancĂ©e Coventry survived him. He was described as the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back. Just seeing the faces and reading the bare bones descriptions of these young servicemen who gave their lives, is humbling. They had so much to live for but they died in the line of duty, following orders and protecting their country. Like so many others, it was their duty to go and do and ultimately die. It now falls to us who remain to hold high a torch of gratitude and keep it brightly burning. May we always be a grateful community and show our respect for the sacrifice of all eras. We must never, ever forget!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Spring Supper

5/14/08 Cook’s Corner
Spring menu
Betty Kaiser

So many recipes, so little time! For some of us, reading a recipe book or column is better than a novel. I guess we could be called (in the best sense of the term) “food junkies.” We collect recipes like others collect precious coins or gems and can never get enough.

Forty years ago I had one recipe box that was barely full. The restaurant business gradually increased the number of boxes and then I added expandable files. The last few years my recipe boxes and files have overflowed into a kitchen drawer filled with manila folders. Now dozens of recipes also languish on the computer.

In the confusion that I call filing, it is easy to forget where I put the latest appetizer, chicken or dessert recipe. In fact, I have been known to spend hours tracking down something as simple as a variation on vegetable soup. Cooking is easy. Organizing is hard.

I think that’s one reason why I enjoy the “food and family” magazine put out by Kraft. Their staff of test kitchen cooks and publishing empire is not only organized but their presentation is beautiful. An added plus is that their motto is similar to mine: “Deliciously simple.”

Recently, between snow showers and with spring briefly in the air, I was hungry for something different. But what? In the frig I had defrosted some boneless, skinless chicken breasts. There was also some asparagus, broccoli and sugar snap peas. Even a bag of frozen blueberries and raspberries from last summer. Of course, I could have simply steamed and served these ingredients ‘naked’ but I wanted to dress them up.

Leafing through some old copies of “food & family” I found inspiration for a beautiful, tasty and tangy supper. Good enough to serve guests but simple enough for family. These chicken skewers are so good you’ll wonder why you haven’t tried them before. Try them over hot steamed rice for dinner or a bed of mixed lettuce for an elegant lunch.
I have made a variation on this hollandaise sauce for years. It keeps well without breaking if you just heat but do not boil! Great on many different green vegetables. This no-bake cheesecake dessert is easy to prepare and the recipe easily halved. Enjoy!

Easy Chicken Skewers with Peanut Sauce

¼ cup Kraft Catalina Dressing
3 tablespoons peanut butter
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into lengthwise slices
2 tablespoons dry roasted peanuts, chopped
¼ cup chopped green onions

Mix dressing, peanut butter and soy sauce in large bowl until well blended. Add chicken; toss to coat. Cover; refrigerate 10 minutes to marinate.

Preheat broiler. Remove chicken from marinade; discard marinade. Thread chicken evenly onto 8 soaked wooden or metal skewers. Place on rack in broiler pan.

Broil, 4-6 inches from heat, 4 minutes on each side or until cooked through. Serve sprinkled with peanuts and onions.

Simple Hollandaise Sauce

½ cup Kraft Mayo Light Mayonnaise
½ cup plain nonfat yogurt
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Mix all ingredients in saucepan. Cook on low heat 5 minutes or until heated through, stirring constantly.

Serve over hot steamed fresh asparagus, sugar snap peas or broccoli.

Makes 1 cup or 8 servings (2 tablespoons each)

Philadelphia Fruit Smoothie No-Bake Cheesecake

1-1/2 cups Honey Maid graham cracker crumbs
¼ cup butter, melted
2 tablespoons sugar
4 packages (8 ounces each) Philadelphia Neufchatel Cheese, softened
½ cup sugar
1 package (12-ounces) frozen mixed berries
1 tub Cool Whip Lite whipped topping, thawed, divided

Line 13X9-inch baking pan with foil; extend ends over sides of pan. Mix graham crumbs, butter and 2 tablespoons sugar; press firmly onto bottom of prepared pan. Refrigerate while preparing filling.

Beat Neufchatel cheese and ½ cup sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Smash drained berries with fork; stir into cheese mixture. Gently stir in 2 cups of whipped topping. Spoon over crust. Cover.

Refrigerate 4 hours or until firm. Use foil handles to remove cheesecake from pan before cutting into pieces to serve. Top with remaining whipped topping. Store leftover cheesecake in refrigerator.
Serves 16 one piece each. (Yeah, right!)

All recipes are courtesy of Kraft. Their publications are free and published quarterly. Sign up at

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal!
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes
that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.

Memories of Mom

5/7/08 Chatterbox Memories of Mom Betty Kaisers Sunday is Mother’s Day. And whether you call her mom-mama-mother-or mum, it’s a great time to pay tribute to one of the most influential people in your life. In good times and bad, all moms are memory makers, leaving an indelible impression on each precious life entrusted to them. So, today, in honor of mothers, some ‘kids’ who grew up in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, will take us down their mom’s memory lane. Betty Roberts lived in St. Helens, OR during WWII. It was a time of clothing, food and gas rationing. Money was especially tight for a family of five children. “Mom was very sacrificial, always putting us before herself. For my 8th grade graduation she took me to Portland shopping. I found the cutest pair of Wedgie shoes, which we bought with my ration coupon. Later that day, in another store, I put the package down and lost the shoes! Of course, I cried! And we looked everywhere. But no shoes… “Then mom came to the rescue! Bless her heart. She gave up her own ration coupon so we could go back and buy me another identical pair of shoes.” How important was that sacrifice? “Well, if anyone would like to see those shoes, they are still in my cedar chest along with my beautiful graduation dress and jacket. A great memory.” Kay Habenick was born in North Dakota during WWII, while her dad was stationed with the Army in Alaska. Upon reflection, she realized that thinking of her mom puts her whole life in focus. “It was just mom and me for 18 months until my dad came for us, so we bonded maybe stronger than most. She was quiet, sweet and loving. She never raised her voice and taught by example. I only remember one spanking, when she caught me smoking in the fourth grade. She was my best friend my whole life and although she has been gone four years, I still head for the phone when I need to talk to someone when really good or bad things happen.” Audrey Bobbitt was born and raised in Hollywood and a graduate of Hollywood High School, She is a treasure trove of history and stories about that wonderful era but her most loving memories are of her mom. “When I think of my mother I always remember what a gracious and lovely lady she was to everyone who entered her home. During the Great Depression my dad was out of work. But despite those times of rationing, she was able to stretch a casserole to serve our family and whoever else happened to stop by at dinner. She was a truly lovely and kind person. I never heard her criticize anyone. “As my sister and I were growing up I can never recall a time she was mad or yelled at us. We loved her so much and always tried to please her. She set an example of being a wonderful mother and I hope that all young mothers today would like to be remembered as I remember my mother.” Neysa Zurkammer’s husband Dee won my “First Tomato” contest in 2001 and they since been honored to twice win the Cottage Grove “Yard of the Week” award. Neysa has successfully planted flowerbeds all over the country and she gives her mom Nora, the credit. “Mom was a (natural) master gardener who could grow anything and knew every weed by name. In the cold Illinois winters, she started seedlings in our utility room where they got the necessary humidity from our old wringer washing machine. When I was old enough I was outside working with her, pulling weeds, pruning rose bushes and planting.” Thanks to mom’s influence, she hasn’t stopped yet. Charlene Hornick has a funny story about her very genteel, non-swearing mother. Charlotte, her mother, doted on her three grandchildren and delighted in taking their pictures. However, cameras with those early unpredictable flash bulbs were her enemy. Picture taking sessions were the only time this lovely grandmother used the forbidden “damn” word. “Mother would arrange the grandchildren; get the setting just right; ask for smiles and click the camera. She would then ask my dad, “Bill, did the flash go off?” If he said, “No,” she’d say “damn” and we’d do it all again. To this day, any time we stand in front of a camera for picture posterity, we laugh, remember Charlotte and invariably someone says, “Bill, did the flash go off…damn!” Rita Stafford was raised as an only child in Los Angeles. Her mother, in an early attempt at “discipline correctness,” decided that she would not spank her misbehaving 5-year old. Instead, she determined that perhaps her daughter would feel worse if she slapped her mother’s hands whenever she was naughty. “This punishment didn’t last long,” Rita laughs. “She soon discovered that I was thoroughly enjoying it and even giggling as I did it!” Jeannie Hand comes from a large Italian family — 10 kids! Her mother, Maria Teresa Osti came to America in 1914 as a bride, settling first in San Pedro and then in Sierra Madre, CA. Jeannie was the youngest child, born when her mother was in her 40’s. “Although we were poor, Mama thoughtfully shared what we had with our neighbors and friends. Mama would send us younger children around the neighborhood dispensing her bounty whether it was a large catch of fish caught by my brothers; lugs of peaches, tomatoes or corn when they were plentiful; even small bouquets of flowers. An elderly neighbor gratefully received dinner plates of Mama’s ravioli or spaghetti. And if you happened to stop by for a visit you were always offered a cup of coffee. Mama felt very blessed in her life and showed it by sharing her blessings with others.” And finally, comes this very recent memory from Buck Buchanan who made the difficult decision to move back to Los Angeles to care got his ailing mother who went to heaven on January 19. “I still remember mom’s smiling, loving expression when I returned home and got out of the truck. She had a look of awe, calm, relief and pure excitement. I knew that she had released her worry and that I had made the right decision. She was a praying, very proud and elegant woman who loved and accepted everyone. Many of my friends wanted her as their mother! What a legacy. If only I could be as accepting, loving and faithful as she. I declare my mom “priceless.” Well, folks, if you have a priceless mother, I suggest that you tell her so. Add a note to her Mother’s Day card relating your favorite “mom memory.” It will make her day. And God bless all mothers everywhere. It is both the best and most difficult job on earth. Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Read her weekly columns in the Cottage Grove Sentinel: