Monday, May 29, 2017

Old Fashioned Rhubarb Pudding Cake

I don’t think I knew anything about this “old fashioned” way of making a rhubarb cake until I found this recipe on the information superhighway. It’s kind of cool, though, and really delicious. It’s also pretty quick and easy to throw together with, as long as you have access to plenty of rhubarb like I do, common ingredients that are likely to be in the average baker’s pantry.

This cake starts with a layer of chopped rhubarb in the bottom of a baking dish. That gets covered with a very simple batter, which in turn gets covered with an abundant topping of sugar and cornstarch. It’s when you pour boiling water over that topping, and then bake your creation, that the magic happens. The top of the cake gets a thin but crunchy sugary coating, and the bottom gets a pleasantly gooey and pudding-like rhubarb layer.

That boiling water step in the recipe is a totally genius contribution to the culinary world. I can’t help but wonder exactly how such a process evolved in the common-sense kitchens of yore, perhaps from pudding to cake/cobbler and back again. It really does work as a means to make something delightful in texture and just a bit different than some other cake with fruit in it.

I think this cake could be made with other fruits, and if you are thinking in the cobbler range of concoctions, you might be on the right track: berries, peaches, plums or cherries for example. In fact, this does resemble a cobbler when it’s being made, but I find the cake layer to be softer and probably sweeter than the biscuit-like toppings of cobblers.

I love the sugar-crunch top of this cake, and the sweet-tart pudding layer of the rhubarb, so I’m going to continue baking it this way for a while. It’s a small and fairly light cake that disappears quickly among rhubarb dessert enthusiasts. I’ve already made it twice (largely because we ate the first one before I could snap some photos), and it was perfectly delicious both times. The topping does soften within a day or so of baking, but it stays delicious. Exciting, even! At least I’m excited about another satisfying way to enjoy rhubarb!

Rhubarb Pudding Cake

2 cups chopped rhubarb
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon fine salt
1 ¾ cup granulated sugar, divided
½ cup milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2/3 cup boiling water

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray or grease it with butter or oil. Spread the rhubarb evenly over the bottom of the pan.

2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan, or in the microwave if you prefer. Set aside.

3. In a medium-size bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and ¾ cup sugar. Whisk together. Set aside.

4. In another medium-size bowl, combine the melted butter, milk, vanilla and almond extracts. Whisk together until smooth. The butter may re-solidify, but that’s okay.

5. Pour the butter mixture into the flour mixture and stir until all of the dry ingredients are moistened. Spread this batter over the rhubarb in the baking pan. The batter will be thick and will just cover the rhubarb.

6. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 cup sugar and cornstarch. Sprinkle evenly over the batter in the pan. Pour the boiling water evenly over the sugar mixture.

7. Bake at 375 F for 45 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the rhubarb layer is bubbly. Cool completely.

Makes 6-8 dessert servings.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Shrimp Pasta Salad

This recipe doesn’t have a long and exciting history for me. Well, not a long one anyway. I simply saw it while spinning through Pinterest and decided I wanted to eat it. At its base it is a simple macaroni salad with mayonnaise dressing, but it’s got shrimp and peas and a few other vegetables, too, all of which help to bump it up to something new and exciting for my kitchen.

It doesn’t matter what size shrimp you use to make this. If they’re bigger than you want, just chop them. I started with some medium-sized ones that I had on hand and chopped them into about ½-inch pieces, which fit in well with the elbow macaroni. You could also put more shrimp into the salad (the original recipe did), or more of anything else you like, really.

If you’re lucky enough to have some fresh peas, they would be as terrific in here as they are everywhere else. I used frozen sweet peas and they were good, too. Also, any kind of bell pepper will do. I used red because it was what I happened to have on hand, and I liked the color it added to the salad. I love dill, so, for me, it really makes this especially delicious, and especially spring-flavored. It’s great with shrimp and with peas and with macaroni.

This recipe makes a pretty hefty amount of salad for a two-person household like mine, but it held up really well in the refrigerator for a few days, which meant I had lunches ready for a good chunk of the work week. And I didn’t get tired of it either! It’s far too delicious for that. I think I may be on my way toward having a long and exciting history with this fresh and tasty salad.

Shrimp and Pea Macaroni Salad
Adapted from

½ pound shrimp, peeled, deveined, and tails removed
8 ounces elbow macaroni
¼ cup chopped green onion
1 medium-size red bell pepper, diced
1 cup diced celery
1 cup frozen green peas, thawed
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

1. To prepare the shrimp, cook in boiling water about 5 minutes (depending on the size of the shrimp) until fully cooked. They will be pink in color and firm. Drain and chill. Chop shrimp into about ½-inch pieces. Set aside

2. Cook macaroni in boiling salted water until al dente or to the texture you prefer, about 8-10 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water.

3. Place the shrimp and cooked macaroni in a large bowl. Add the green onion, bell pepper, celery, and peas, tossing to combine.

4. To make the dressing, combine the mayonnaise, lemon juice, sugar, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Whisk together to combine. Stir in the dill.

5. Pour the dressing on the shrimp mixture and stir gently to coat well. Chill 30 minutes or more before serving.

Makes about 8 servings.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Honey Almond Cheese Spread

This is such a simple idea and such a good one. When I get up in the morning, I’m not particularly functional. (Heck, I’m not sure how functional I am as the day goes on.) A quickly toasted bread product with something delicious spread upon it can do wonders for my ante meridian attitude. And so I jumped on this recipe as soon as I came across it.

Well, that’s not exactly how the story goes. If you’ve been paying attention to The Messy Apron at all (or if you actually know me), you know that I don’t exactly get to anything right away. I’ve had the cookbook from which this recipe came for many years, and I had neglected it for almost as many (which is a shame because it’s great.) It was, however, only a matter of weeks after I re-discovered this recipe that I made it. We don’t have to talk about how long it took me to get it to these pages.

Anyway, the good part of the story: this is delicious, especially for how little effort it takes to make (assuming you have a food processor.) All it involves is toasting some almonds, grinding them, then whirling them with cream cheese, cottage cheese, and honey. Toasting the almonds is worth the extra time for the extra flavor, and if you can get good honey produced close to home, all the better.

I like this spread on toasted bagels, but just about any toasted bread without competing flavors will do. I think it would be great on a sturdy muffin, as the original recipe suggested, heavenly on a scone, and over the top on a croissant. It’s not especially sweet, with the cream cheese keeping it kind of tangy, but if you want it sweeter, more honey might be pretty good. I also think changing up the nuts, swapping in ricotta for the cottage cheese, swirling in some jam, or adding warm spices, like cinnamon or nutmeg would be great ways to vary the flavors without increasing effort.

This spread lasts at least a week in the refrigerator (I’ll admit that it was in mine longer, and was still just fine), so easy breakfasts on slow mornings are in the bag for a little while. Of course, so are mid-afternoon pick-me-ups and perhaps a midnight snack or two, if that’s how you prefer to roll.

Honey Almond Cheese Spread

¼ cup almonds
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup cottage cheese
3 tablespoons honey

1. Place the almonds in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Warm the almonds, stirring or tossing frequently, just until they are beginning to brown, about 5-8 minutes. Be especially careful not to burn them. Cool.

2. Place the cooled almonds in the bowl of a food processor. Process until finely ground. Add the remaining ingredients and process until well blended. Keep refrigerated for about 1 week.

Makes about 1 ¼ cup.

Another recipe like this one: Chocolate Cookie Butter