FRESH FRUIT COOKIE TARTS ARE A TASTE OF SUMMER

Tell your kids that they can be the “King and Queen of Tarts” when they make this gem of a summer dessert. The fresh fruit ingredients from your local market or fruit stand are luscious and good by themselves, but when they’re combined with a cookie base, you’ll have a “WOW” can’t-miss finale to a barbecue or outdoor get-together with friends.

These cookie fruit tarts are super simple to assemble and look “tres francais,” but there’s no from-scratch pastry with mini fluted rims that you have to fuss over. Instead, the easy recipe starts with good, large sugar cookies you purchase at your bakery or grocery store.

FRESH FRUIT COOKIE TARTS
Makes 8
–8 large sugar cookies or your favorite plain round cookie
–8-ounce package of cream cheese
–1/3 cup white or vanilla chips (find them in the baking section of your store)
–assorted fresh fruit and berries for toppings, such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries and sliced peaches and plums, washed and dried
–1/4 cup currant jelly or powdered sugar (optional)

Set cookies on a work surface such as a cutting board.

Place cream cheese in a medium-size mixing bowl.

In a microwave-safe dish, melt chips, spoon into cream cheese and stir until smooth.

Spread the mixture evenly over the cookies. Let kids arrange the fresh fruit and berries in pretty designs on the top.

Meanwhile, if you would like a glaze, an adult should melt the jelly in a saucepan. Cool. Let kids drizzle or lightly brush with a pastry brush over the fruit to glaze the tarts.

Or, dust over each tart with powdered sugar.

Arrange on a serving platter.

Variations:
–Get creative with the presentation and decorate the serving platter or top the tarts with coconut flakes, sprigs of mint leaves, tiny blooms of edible flowers or fresh lavender.

–Make a larger quantity of bite-size tarts using packaged cookies such as gingersnaps.

–Instead of using cookies, make a larger single tart. Press prepared piecrust from the refrigerated section of your market on the base and sides of a 9-inch tart pan. Prick sides and bottom. Bake according to package directions. Cool. Spread cream cheese mixture on the base, arrange fruit attractively, and brush on the glaze.

MAKE DELICIOUS AND ECONOMICAL SLOW COOKER YOGURT

We’re a yogurt-loving family. We wake up to it topped with crunchy granola and fruit, or it’s whirled with other good stuff in the blender for energy-packed smoothies to go. It’s an easy-to-pack car travel snack, the basic ingredient in homemade popsicles and everyone around the dinner table enjoys rich, lemony-flavored yogurt over summer berries for dessert.

No wonder my ears perked up when a friend said she makes yogurt in her slow cooker. “Hmm,” I thought. “Why add yogurt-making to my already busy schedule when I can just pick it up at the store?” Then, when curiosity took over, I did some research to test it out. Much to my amazement, after a couple of easy steps in two timed intervals in the afternoon, I woke up the following morning to perfect, creamy, organic yogurt. Lots of it! Astounded, I ladled the more-than-we-could-use bounty into mason jars and shared the creamy deliciousness with my neighbors. Now they’re hooked.

Lesson learned: The next time around, I halved my original recipe and got a yield of 7 cups. Give it a try with your kids. It’s cost-effective, nutrient-rich and provides a memorable experience in kitchen science.

MAKE YOGURT IN A SLOW COOKER
Makes 7 cups
8 cups whole milk (I use organic)
Food thermometer for testing milk temperature
1/2 cup whole-milk, unflavored (plain) yogurt with live/active cultures for starter
Thick bath or beach towel
Storage containers with lids
1. Midafternoon, pour milk into your slow cooker and turn setting to low. Cover. Set a timer for 2 1/2 hours.
2. At 2 1/2 hours, use a kitchen thermometer to check that milk has reached 180-185 F.
3. Turn off, unplug, cover, and let the milk temp drop to around 115 F. Skim any milk film off the top of the milk with a spoon.
4. Remove 1 cup of the warmed milk and combine with room temperature yogurt in a small bowl. Gently stir.
5. Pour the mixture into the slow cooker and stir with a couple of strokes.
6. Cover and wrap the towel all around the slow cooker to help insulate. Culture 8-12 hours overnight.
7. In the morning, stir yogurt and ladle into storage containers. Refrigerate at least 4 hours before eating. Save 1/2 cup to use as a starter for your next batch.
Cook’s note: For variety, make Greek-style yogurt. Spoon two cups of the slow cooker yogurt into a strainer lined with cheesecloth or coffee filters. Let the liquid (whey) drip through for about 30 minutes. Makes 1 1/4 cups of yummy thick yogurt. Delicious!

FRESH RHUBARB CUSTARD PIE

Skipping through winding trails, spotting leaping frogs along creek beds and counting deer as they pass by the front porch are a few of the adventures in store for 6-year-old Georgia and her older sister, Eliza, when they visit their grandparents’ home nestled deep in the Wisconsin woods. What a delight for city kids from St. Louis! Like a page out of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic, “Little House in the Big Woods” (set in Wisconsin), many of the girls’ experiences mirror the lifestyle and pioneer spirit of the late 1800s.

For Georgia, walking on a dead-end road to the rhubarb patch in May to harvest giant leafy stalks and, together with grandmother Nancy, prepare rhubarb sauce to ladle over breakfast pancakes, and bake rhubarb custard pie for evening dessert is a delight.“Georgia is the baker and loves to cook,” says Nancy, a recently retired school administrator. “She washes and dices the stalks, cracks eggs and measures carefully. It’s fun!” she adds. “Cooking together is a way to share a common interest.”

Like the first robin, the greening grass and the budding trees, add “first rhubarb pie” to your family’s “signs of summer” list. Whether you harvest rhubarb from your garden, or find stalks in your grocery produce section, give Nancy’s winning rhubarb custard pie recipe a try with your kids while rhubarb is fresh and in season.

FRESH RHUBARB CUSTARD PIE
Makes one 9-inch single-crust pie
Pastry for 9-inch single-crust pie
1 1/3 cups sugar (add more according to taste)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Dash of salt
3 eggs
4 cups fresh rhubarb, diced
2 tablespoons firm butter
Preheat oven to 400 F.
1. Fit pastry into a 9-inch pie plate. Set aside.
2. Let your child measure and stir together sugar, flour, nutmeg and dash of salt in a mixing bowl.
3. Beat eggs until smooth.
4. Stir dry mixture into beaten eggs. Add diced rhubarb. Stir.
5. Fill the crust evenly with the rhubarb mixture. Dot with firm butter. (Cover edge with 2-to-3-inch strip of aluminum foil to prevent excessive browning, if you wish. Remove foil last 15 minutes of baking.)
Bake for 50 minutes.
Cool, and serve warm with vanilla ice cream.
Note: If you are new to fresh rhubarb, be aware that the large leaves are poisonous.

LEMON COOKIE CUPS FOR A TASTY DESSERT

 

              

Dessert is extra-special for kids when it comes in an edible container.

Here’s a cute little lemony crisp cookie cup, ideal for filling with pudding, fresh fruit or ice cream. Top the filling with candles if there is a birthday party in the house.

You also might want to make a batch for a brunch dessert to mimic mini baskets. They’ll be perfect … and memorable with a scoop of icy sorbet nestled in toasted shredded coconut “grass.”

Kids can be involved from the start with this thin cookie recipe that is easy to combine, using just flour, powdered sugar, eggs and lemons. No need for a mixer. So, grab a big spoon, whisk, grater and mixing bowls to get started.

LEMON COOKIE CUPS

Makes 20 cookie cups

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup powdered sugar

3 egg whites

2 egg yolks

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 or 3 whole washed lemons for shaping cookie cups

Position rack in the upper third of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cover two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

  1. Let your child measure and sift flour and sugar in a mixing bowl.
  2. Use a whisk to lightly beat egg whites in one small bowl. In another bowl, lightly beat yolks.
  3. Add egg whites, yolks, lemon zest, juice and vanilla to the flour and sugar mixture. Mix well until smooth with a large spoon. Let set 20 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, let your child draw five 5-inch circles on the back of the parchment paper with a pencil, using a saucer as a guide. Turn paper over, with circles showing through. Repeat for second cookie sheet.
  5. Drop a heaping tablespoon of batter in the middle of each of the circles. An adult should carefully spread the batter to fill the shape. It will be very thin. (I use an angled icing spatula.)
  6. Bake for 5-6 minutes or until edges brown. Remove cookies quickly, and with the assistance of your child, form cupped shapes with the bottom sides of the cookies up, using the lemons as molds. Hold them for a few seconds until the shape is set, then place on a cooling rack. (Use a clean towel between your hands and the hot cookie to form the fluted shape, if you wish.)
  7. Repeat with remaining dough.

Serve as individual desserts filled with fruit, pudding, flavored yogurt, ice cream or sorbet.

 

EASY PICKLED JALAPEÑO PEPPERS



Imagine taking a hungry bite into a warm grilled-cheese sandwich. Yum — good comfort food, right? Now imagine eating that same sandwich, but this time there are crispy pickled jalapeño pepper rounds tucked inside. Now that’s a crunchy bite, and a tasty transformation.

Peter Piper, who picked a peck of pickled peppers from Mother Goose fame, knew what he was picking. My family likes to add these kicky pepper rounds to just about anything, whether they top nachos, fish or beef tacos, enchiladas and tortillas, or they’re tucked in a bun with a brat when we gather with friends for a picnic at the baseball park.

With Cinco de Mayo celebrations coming up soon around the country on the 5th of May, instead of spooning a jar of commercially processed, store-bought jalapeño sliced peppers into or on top of your dishes, make these fresh and yummy pickled jalapeño peppers in minutes in your kitchen with your preteen. Discover the big difference in texture and flavor. Toss the easy-to-prep and peppy-to-eat crunch on your favorite South of the Border recipe and say, “Ole!”

EASY PICKLED JALAPEñO PEPPERS
Makes about 2 pints
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
4 tablespoons sugar, or more to taste (adding more sugar turns down the heat)
2 cloves garlic, sliced in half
1 tablespoon salt
7 fresh jalapeño peppers (from the produce area of your market), thinly sliced
2 fresh red or yellow mini sweet peppers, thinly sliced
2 pint-size glass jars
Stir together the vinegar, water, sugar, garlic and salt in a cooking pot and bring to a boil.
Add sliced jalapeño and sweet peppers, stir, turn off heat and let sit for 10 minutes.
Remove peppers with a slotted spoon to jars, then fill to the top with remaining liquid. Cool.
Keep refrigerated and serve with favorite dishes for up to one month.
Cook’s note: The oils in fresh jalapeño peppers can irritate skin and be painful if you touch your eyes. You may wish to wear deli or rubber gloves when slicing the peppers. Wash your hands well with soap and water afterward.

“A TASTE OF HOME” GRADUATION GIFT

  

               

Pre-addressed, stamped postcards sent by college students from around the country find their way back to Nancy Cripe’s kitchen in Minnesota throughout the school year. Even an old and tattered postcard recently arrived from a UCLA graduate student with the three-word message, “Is this expired?”

“Cookie cards never expire,” replied the high-school biology and human anatomy and physiology teacher at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis.

Nancy’s “cookie cards” have become her unique high-school graduation gift-giving tradition.

At the end of each academic year, she receives numerous invitations to her science students’ graduation open-house parties. A few years ago, she decided to change up how she honored their achievement, by giving something personal that is a little taste from home when they feel far away — in the form of home-baked chocolate chip cookies.Like a monetary gift card with dollar amounts for purchases at stores and restaurants, her cookie postcard can be redeemed for one dozen home-baked cookies. “Not surprisingly, that’s usually during their final exam week,” she says.

It’s a gift that keeps on giving. “Hearing back from students when they send me the postcard is a personal way to stay in touch, and baking for them gives me a chance to think about them individually, and what they are experiencing and working toward.”

This personalized gift idea can work for a graduating grandchild, friend, niece or nephew, too. You even might wish to give several cookie-card postcards to be redeemed quarterly or monthly.

Here’s how she does it:

She designs the postcards with images and words of blessing and inspiration printed on one side. On the left half of the reverse side, she prints this message in the high school’s colors:

“Congratulations on your Graduation! When you’re away at college and need some extra inspiration to help you study (especially science!), just send me this postcard and homemade cookies will soon be on their way to you!”

Below the message are four lines where the student writes his or her college address, along with a space for jotting a note to her. On the right half, she prints her home address and adds a postage stamp.

The postcard is tucked inside a graduation card.

When she receives the postcard, she bakes the cookies (she has a large quantity of cookie dough shaped into balls and frozen to bake a dozen on a moment’s notice) and packs them carefully in a plastic bag wrapped with bubble wrap to fit the smallest U.S. mail flat rate box. She includes a handwritten greeting, and sends it off.

CREATE A HOUSE OF HEARTS

     

The last of the December holiday decor has finally been tucked away in bins in the attic. Well, almost. In frigid snow-covered Minnesota, I’ll keep the white twinkle lights up that frame our outdoor windows and wind around the pine treetops in flowerboxes. The lights seem to brighten our spirits, and add warmth with their sparkle in the evening snow during sub-zero temps and blistery snowstorms — at least through February … OK, March.

This time of year I think about the happy color pink, the taste of chocolate and lovely heart shapes everywhere. Even outside. That’s why I’m inspired to freeze water with a sprinkling of birdseed in heart-shaped cake pans to unmold and hang with twine from tree branches in the front yard. It’s a suncatcher attraction for feathered friends and passersby (search Heart-Shaped Ice Sculptures at www.donnaerickson.com).

What’s next? More heartfelt ideas to create a house of hearts. Enjoy them with your kids no matter where you live:

  1. Heart-shaped cookies

Use your favorite rolled-out sugar cookie recipe and cookie cutters in heart shapes to fill your cookie jar with cookies made by you and the kids.

For a creative twist, when making medium or large cookies, use a knife to cut out a 1 inch deep and 1/4 inch wide wedge off the side of the heart-shaped dough before baking. Once cool and decorated, hang the cookie on a glass of milk or a mug of hot chocolate.

Or, poke a hole through the top of several cookies before baking. When cool, string them with twine individually, and hang from a table centerpiece of bare branches. When friends visit, they can take home a cookie heart.

Make mini cookies with your smallest heart cookie cutter. Pack in a cardboard jewelry gift box lined with waxed paper. Give to someone special with a Valentine message attached.

                             

  1. Say “I Love You” on Valentine’s Day

Put a love twist on breakfast. Use strawberry jam from a squeeze container to draw a heart on your child’s toast. When you prepare pancakes, spoon the batter onto the pan in various sizes of heart shapes. Top them with fresh strawberries cut lengthwise to make hearts.

  1. Family love

Share your wedding photos with your children. Tell them how you and your spouse met, and include any funny or romantic stories they would enjoy. Look for formal wedding pictures of grandparents and great-grandparents, too. Learn their names and share family love stories and lore.

 

CELEBRATE CHINESE NEW YEAR WITH FIRECRACKER SHRIMP



When it comes to demystifying Chinese cooking, my friend Katie Chin, daughter of restaurateur Leeann Chin, knows what it takes to bring tasty recipes into American homes. As a chef, cookbook author and television personality, Katie believes in spreading the word about how truly delicious Chinese cuisine can be, starting with sharing culinary traditions with her 8-year-old twins.
“Chinese New Year is coming up on January 28,” she reminds me. “Firecracker shrimp is a tasty and whimsical appetizer to kick off the celebration in our home in Southern California. My sous-chef kids mix the dipping sauce and roll up the ‘firecrackers,’ revealing shrimp tails and carrot strips for ‘fuses.’ As we prep, I’ll tell them about their grandmother’s memories of growing up in China, and how firecrackers (believed to ward off evil spirits) lit up the sky on New Year’s Day.”
Roll up her firecracker shrimp for an appetizer that explodes with flavor in every bite. Adapted from her new cookbook “Katie Chin’s Everyday Chinese Cookbook: 101 Delicious Recipes from My Mother’s Kitchen.”

https://www.amazon.com/Katie-Chins-Everyday-Chinese-Cookbook/dp/0804845220

I enjoyed an afternoon in the kitchen of Katie’s sister Laura with Katie’s fabulous twins, 8 year old Becca and Dylan. Here are some in-step photos of our cooking adventure along with the complete recipe.

The first step in preparation was taking the thin spring roll wrappers out of the package and separating them—a fun job for kids to do.

Cut the wrappers into thirds with kitchen scissors to make 12 long strips, then lightly brush the ends with beaten egg.

                                  

Becca and Dylan showed me how to lay the carrot sticks and shrimp tails just so on the spring roll wrappers to resemble firecrackers when they are fried.

Be sure the ingredients are dry to prevent spattering while frying. She places 4 or 5 at a time in the wok and turns them frequently. It only takes 2-3 minutes per batch.

The kids were in charge of stirring up the tasty dipping sauce while Katie fried the shrimp.

And I got to enjoy eating the tasty, hot appetizer! I’m crazy about them, and so is my family! They’re fabulous  for a special occasion like Chinese New Year, birthdays, and definitely 4th of July!

FIRECRACKER SHRIMP and DIPPING SAUCE
Serves 6 as an appetizer.
1 large carrot, cut into 3-inch-by-1/4-inch matchsticks
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt, divided
12 shelled and deveined large, raw shrimp (tails left intact)
4 spring roll wrappers
1 egg, beaten
Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
Place carrot slices in a small bowl. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt. Sprinkle shrimp with remaining garlic salt. Set aside.
Cut each spring roll wrapper into thirds to make 12 long strips.
Brush the top third of each strip with egg. Lay one shrimp at the bottom of the strip. Set a carrot slice on top of the shrimp. Tightly roll, letting the egg seal it together at the end. (The tail of the shrimp and the carrot should protrude from one end to resemble a firecracker) Repeat with remaining wrappers.
In a large wok or deep skillet, heat 2-3 inches of oil to 350 degrees. Fry the shrimp rolls 5 or 6 at a time until golden brown, about 2 minutes, turning 2 to 3 times. Transfer to a cooling rack lined with paper towels.
Serve hot, with dipping sauce.
DIPPING SAUCE
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Sriracha chili sauce
In a small bowl, mix the mayonnaise and Sriracha together.
Cook’s note: Find spring roll wrappers in the freezer section of Asian markets. You may substitute with egg roll wrappers from the produce section of grocery stores.

RESOURCES: “Katie Chin’s Everyday Chinese Cookbook: 101 Delicious Recipes from My Mother’s Kitchen” (Tuttle Publishing) and www.chefkatiechin.com.

 

AND, THERE IS MORE…

Katie has boundless, creative energy. Within minutes of preparing the firecracker shrimp, she was stirring up her Pineapple Fried Rice recipe from her new cookbook for a demo she was off to at KSTP-ABC’s Twin Cities Live studio. (see her segment:  http://twincitieslive.com/article/stories/s4229844.shtml)  It’s a heart healthy, easy meal to prepare.  Serve it in pineapple halves to make it look refreshing…and impressive!

            

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EASY BAKED PANCAKE

pancake
Long holiday weekends call for special family breakfasts. It’s a time to relax, read the paper and stir up a new family recipe together. If pancakes have been your Saturday standby, keep up the tradition with a new twist. This Oven Pancake is simple to prepare and dramatic to serve piping hot, right out of the oven. It’s more dense than the common “Dutch Baby,” puff pancake recipe, so it serves more people.

OVEN PANCAKE
Serves 6

4 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups milk
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
1. Let one of your kids count and crack the eggs into a mixing bowl. Inspect it to be sure there are no remaining shells. Beat eggs with a whisk. Stir in salt.

2. Add milk and flour gradually. Mix well with spoon.

3. Meanwhile, place utter in a 9 x 13 pan. Place the pan in the oven until butter is melted, not brown.

4. Add egg batter and bake for 45 minutes until puffy and golden-brown on the edges.

Serve with good maple syrup, fresh fruit or jam.

I cooked up this recipe in my kitchen for Fox News with host Todd Walker-click below

Donna-Pancake Bake-Fox News 11/27/16

BEST FUDGE SAUCE

fudge

What’s in your refrigerator right now? Mine is in a bit of disarray with the basics — milk, eggs, yogurt, condiments, a few nondescript leftovers, and wilting arugula. Now, if you open Nancy Nyberg’s fridge door in Naperville, Illinois, you eye her delectable homemade fudge sauce in neatly stacked jars in the back corner. Any day, month or year.

No wonder her four grandkids think she is the sweetest grandmother ever. Her signature “Heavenly Hot Fudge Sauce,” which she has been making for 20 years, is now affectionately renamed “Mormor’s Hot Fudge” (“mormor” is Swedish for “grandmother”).

Granddaughter Paige, 9, makes it with Nancy to sell annually at a country fair by their summer place in Bethany Beach, Michigan. “She learns how to measure, pour and stir until the sauce is ‘just right,'” says Nancy. There’s a bit of finance that goes into the mix, too. “We shop together and figure out how much each jar should sell for to cover costs with enough left over to give to a nonprofit project. We have fun learning and cooking together. It’s really more about the relationship-building with my granddaughter than the fudge sauce,” she says.

Here’s the recipe with steps to involve school-age kids.

HOT FUDGE SAUCE

Makes 1 quart

4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate bar (in the baking section of your market)

1/2 cup unsalted butter

3 cups sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 12-fluid-ounce can evaporated milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

Let kids break up chocolate and place in the top of a double boiler with the butter. Stir until melted together. Add salt.

Stir in sugar gradually, making sure it is completely blended before making another addition. Mixture will become very thick and dry.

Stir in evaporated milk, a little at a time. (Shake the can well before adding.)

Continue to cook about 10 minutes to blend the flavors and dissolve the sugar.

An adult should remove from the heat and set on a trivet. Add vanilla and stir. Serve warm over ice cream.

To store in containers: Pour into a quart-size measuring cup with spout and pour into storage containers such as Mason jars. Keep refrigerated