June 2013 Cookie of the Month: Spider Cookies

 

Oh, these bring back sweet childhood memories!  I grew up knowing these as “Spider Cookies”.  However, they are often simply called “Uncooked Chocolate Cookies”.  Regardless their name, they are simple to make and very tasty; in fact, I’d say they are a close neighbour to candy.

These are indeed a vintage cookie.  I don’t know their origins but do know they were popular in the 1960s and since.  They have often been found at picnics and, whenever there was an event at school, inevitably somebody’s mom showed up with these treats in tow.

The great thing about these cookies is that you don’t have to bake them, they don’t take uncommon or a long list of ingredients, and they are relatively quick and easy to make, even for novice bakers.

Here is what you will need to make these special treats:

Ingredients:

2 cups white sugar

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup margarine, butter, or shortening

pinch of salt

1 tsp. vanilla

2 1/2 cups quick cooking rolled oats (not instant)

1/2 cup coconut

6 tbsp cocoa

Method:

In medium-sized saucepan, combine sugar, milk, margarine, and salt.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat and add vanilla.  Stir.

In large bowl, combine rolled oats, coconut, and cocoa.  Stir well to combine.

Pour liquid ingredients over dry ingredients in bowl.  Stir to combine.  Mixture may seem soft but resist the urge to add more rolled oats which will make the cookies hard and chippy.  Let mixture stand, undisturbed, for 15-20 minutes and it will begin to firm up.

Drop by spoonfuls onto wax-paper lined baking sheet.  Place in refrigerator for apx. 1 hour to firm up cookies.

Yield:  apx. 36 cookies

Store in airtight container.  These cookies also freeze well.

Make sure you use a good quality cocoa to get the best, richest taste in these cookies.

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Rhubarb Cordial

Oh, those lazy, hazy hot days of summer!   They sure can work up a thirst.  One of the most refreshing summertime drinks in my repertoire is Rhubarb Cordial.  Not only is it refreshing, but it is tasty and a very showy drink with its bright orange/red color.

Rhubarb Cordial
Rhubarb Cordial

Making Rhubarb Cordial is also another great way to use up rhubarb from the garden but make sure you pick the brightest red stalks as that is what gives this drink its superb color.

Making the concentrate for the Cordial is a bit time-consuming but the end result is worth the time and effort.

Here is what you will need to make the Cordial:

6 cups red rhubarb, cut into 1/2″ pieces

3 cups water

(This will yield about 5 cups of rhubarb juice)

1 cup sugar

1 – 295ml can frozen pink lemonade, thawed

juice of 1/2 pink grapefruit

juice of 1/2 lemon

juice of 1/2 orange

(These three citrus juices together will yield apx. 1/2 cup liquid)

Lemon-lime soda (or 7-Up, Sprite, or Gingerale)

Yield:  Apx. 7 – 7 1/2 cups (depending on the water content of the rhubarb used as well as how much juice is extracted from the citrus fruits)

Method:

Cook rhubarb and water for apx. 15 minutes, until rhubarb is soft and mushy.

Strain rhubarb through a fine sieve into a large pot to extract the juice.  Discard the rhubarb pulp.  You should have about 5 cups of rhubarb juice from this process.  I like to strain the juice a second time to refine it further and remove any traces of rhubarb pulp.

Squeeze and strain the grapefruit, lemon, and orange juices.  Discard fruit pulp.  Add the citrus juices to the rhubarb juice.

Stir sugar into rhubarb and citrus  juice mixture.   Heat over medium-low heat to dissolve the sugar.  Do not boil.  Remove from heat.  Strain lemonade concentrate into the juice.  Chill.

Pour into large pitcher if serving immediately or pour into sterilized bottles, seal, and freeze for later use.

Mason jars also make good containers in which to store the Rhubarb Cordial.

To serve:

For individual servings, fill glass 1/3 full of chilled Rhubarb Cordial.  Fill remaining 2/3 glass with chilled lemon-lime soda.  Stir.  Add ice cubes and a sprig of mint.  Decorate glass with rhubarb curls if desired.

To make multiple servings, such as in a punch bowl, for example, follow the 1 part Rhubarb Cordial concentrate to 2 parts soda rule.

This is a great drink to sip on a warm, sunny day while sitting under the cover of the front verandah or on the back deck.  It also makes a great picnic beverage as well.

  DSC_0481

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Rhubarb Cordial
Rhubarb Cordial

 

Lady’s Slipper Afternoon Tea

Lady's Slipper - The Provincial Flower of Prince Edward Island
Lady’s Slipper – The Provincial Flower of Prince Edward Island

June brings a plethora of flowers to bloom on Prince Edward Island.  None are more exquisite than the Lady’s Slipper, so named because its petals form a shape that resembles a slipper.  This member of the orchid family blooms on the Island in late May – June in moist, wooded areas, often under spruce, beechwood, or pine trees.

The Lady’s Slipper was adopted as the Island’s provincial flower on April 24, 1947.

If you come across these beautiful orchids that bloom in both pink and white in PEI, please just admire and enjoy them in their natural surroundings or take some photographs of them.  Please do not pick these natural flowers as that will affect their seed for continued growth on the Island.  They also do not transplant well and generally do not survive outside their natural habitat.  All the more reason why they should just be enjoyed where they are found.

The close-up photograph below shows the petals of the Lady’s Slipper.  I think the shape resembles an animal of some sort!

A few months ago, at a flea market, I came across a lovely plate with the Lady’s Slipper on it.  It is by Royal Adderley of England.  I bought the cake plate and moved along a few tables where I discovered a matching cup and saucer from a different vendor.  Of course, those purchases set my mind to thinking about an afternoon tea featuring the Lady’s Slipper china.

For the menu, I wanted to also feature some local, seasonal food product.  Rhubarb is still available on the Island so my choice was to start with a refreshing Rhubarb Cordial and serve a Rhubarb Torte with a good quality Assam tea.

Rhubarb Cordial
Rhubarb Cordial

Rhubarb Cordial makes a wonderful, refreshing drink on a hot summer’s day.  I garnished the drink with a wedge of watermelon, a sprig of mint from our herb garden, and a tiny pansy.

The “pièce de résistance” is the luscious Rhubarb Torte.  Our rhubarb season will soon be drawing to a close but I just had to have one more rhubarb dessert before that happens.  Of course, I have bags of it stored away in my freezer to enjoy throughout the year.

Rhubarb Torte
Rhubarb Torte

This torte features a graham wafer crumb base, followed by rhubarb sauce, smothered in whipped cream and marshmallows, and topped with vanilla pudding.  It’s as showy and colorful as it is tasty!  I love how the pudding on top looks translucent.

These tiny shortbread cookies, decorated in pink, just seemed the fitting addition for the Lady’s Slipper plate.

The photo below shows the detail in the plate design.

And the matching cup and saucer is filled with Assam tea.

The Rhubarb Cordial and the Rhubarb Torte make for a colorful tea table!

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Lovely Lilac Tablescape

I adore lilacs!  I love their scent, color, and shape.  I will admit they do have a very strong scent so I rarely bring them indoors.  So, that causes me to use them in tablescapes for Al fresco dining.  Lilacs are always something I look forward to in June.

We have a number of lilac trees and they make a wonderful backdrop for a June dinner.  In the background, you’ll notice the  red soil, characteristic of Prince Edward Island!  This field has just been planted with potatoes.

Although it doesn’t show in the photo above, there is mauve in the quilt on the chair.  Purple and all its shades, tints, and hues – yes, my favorite color!  The quilt, entirely hand-quilted, was made by my mother.

I have an old silver coffeepot that has seen better days so I have re-purposed it and it now makes a ready vase for flowing flowers such as lilacs.

Lilacs do not require a lot of arranging since nature has pretty much arranged them beautifully in bunches on the tree already!

Some day in the winter, I will look at these photos and try and remember it really was warm enough to dine Al fresco in PEI!

The old coffeepot has such lovely detail on it that it was a shame not to find another purpose for it.

I have always liked checked tableclothes.  This mauve one just seemed the perfect match for the lilacs.

When you like a color, it’s never hard to find matching accessories around the house, like the purple tealights and mauve placemats.

For the napkin, I loosely gathered the fabric, used a mauve hair elastic (yes a new one!), and inserted a lilac stem into the fold.

Lilacs don’t last long.  They are here and gone before we know it.

These are just a standard lilac, no particular variety.  Last year, I planted two French lilac trees and was surprised to see both bloom this year.

The bumblebees love the lilacs and are frequent visitors to our trees!

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Dining and Guest Etiquette

It’s the beginning of the season of wedding receptions, summer dinner events, get-togethers, and banquets.  I thought this might be a good time to post an article on dining and guest etiquette.  Many of us, at one time or another, have probably found ourselves at a dinner event, sat down to a somewhat crowded table with heavily laden place settings that displayed more cutlery and glassware than imaginable and wondered, hmmm, which bread plate was ours – the one on the left or on the right of the place setting.  Or, perhaps you have wondered what to do if your neighbour to the left has started to use your bread and butter plate thinking it was his or hers.  Maybe you have deliberated over which utensil to use.  Perhaps you have wondered if it is proper to tilt or pick up a soup bowl to get the last drop of that yummy soup.  For answers to these and other guest and dining etiquette questions, I contacted Tina Lesyk, Banquet and Catering Coordinator at The Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown, PEI.  I first introduced you to Tina in May 2012 when I posted a feature on how to properly set a table.

The purpose of learning and practicing proper table manners is to feel comfortable at any table, not insult your host or hostess and, in the case of business functions, it is essential for professional success.  Let’s face it, no one wants to embarrass him or herself in these social situations.  Follow the basic guidelines outlined below and you’ll be well on your way to being a model dinner guest in any setting, whether that be at a dinner in a private home, in a restaurant, or at a formal or state dinner.  For a description and explanation of the elements of place settings, please see my earlier posting “Let’s Set the Table”.

First, let’s begin with some general tips on dining and guest etiquette.

General Dining Etiquette

 –          The old rule still holds true – elbows off the table when food is present.

–          You should sit in the chair so that your back does not actually touch the back of the chair – this forces you to sit up straight.

–          Everyone, leave the tech gadgets away from the table.  Out of respect for the host/hostess and other guests, put cell phones on vibrate.  If you absolutely must take a call during dinner, never answer the phone at the table in the presence of the host/hostess and other guests.  Excuse yourself and move to another room to discretely take the call.  The same applies to making a telephone call.

–          Never use a toothpick while at the table.  Picking food out of your teeth in front of fellow guests and the host or hostess is not appropriate conduct.

–          If you drop a piece of cutlery on the floor, leave it there; do not retrieve it.  If you are in a restaurant, signal to the waiter to bring you a replacement.  If at a private event at someone’s house, ask your host/hostess for a replacement.

–          If you find you have taken a bite of food that has a piece of gristle or small bone in it, do not make a big scene or draw attention about it.  As discretely as possible, remove the item with your fork (the utensil it went into the mouth with) and set it to the side of your plate.

–          If you have a severe food allergy, advise your host/hostess in advance of the function.

–          If you are served a food that you do not like and cannot eat, make no mention of it; rather, simply go through the motions of moving the food around the plate.

–          Never push the plate away from you when you have finished eating and do not stack up plates, utensils, and so forth, from your place setting – you may think you are helping but this gets in the way of the servers’ techniques for clearing tables.

–          Applying lipstick, combing hair, and so forth are considered grooming activities, inappropriate for the dining table.

Napkins

The purpose of the napkin is to protect clothing by acting as a shield or guard for spills and, if necessary, to dab the fingers and mouth, and remove traces of food particles from the outside of the mouth.

–          Remove the napkin from the place setting and place it on your lap immediately upon being seated at the table.

–          For a normal-sized napkin, completely unfold the napkin and place it on your lap.  It is not considered appropriate (and there is no need) to “shake” a napkin out of its fold.  Simply, and very discretely, unfold the napkin.

–          If the napkin is exceptionally large, fold it in half and, with the fold of the napkin facing you, place it on your lap.

–          The napkin always goes on the lap and is never tucked into the collar and used as a bib.

–          The napkin remains on your lap during the entire meal.  If you need to temporarily leave the table during the meal, loosely bunch up the napkin and place it to the left of your plate.  When you return to the table, re-place the napkin on your lap.  At one time, the general rule was to place the napkin on the seat of your chair during a temporary absence from the table.  However, there are a couple of issues with this that suggest an alternative location for the napkin may be preferable.  First, the napkin may have food particles on it that will stain an upholstered chair and may also stain your clothing or leave crumbs on the chair when you return to the seat.  Second, given the sole use of a napkin is to dab the mouth, many do not want to use that napkin for that purpose after it has laid on the seat of a chair that is used for, uh, sitting on the derrière.  One never knows how clean those chairs are!  Now, when bunching up the napkin that has stains or food particles on it, you will want to loosely fold the napkin in such a way that the stains/food particles are not visible when you temporarily leave the napkin on the table during your absence; leave the napkin, clean side up.  You will also want to make sure your napkin does not touch the elements of the place settings of your neighbors to the left and to the right.

–          A napkin is not a tissue or handkerchief so avoid using it to blow your nose (Note – you should excuse yourself from the table before blowing your nose).

–          At the end of the meal, loosely bunch up the napkin and place it to the left side of your place setting, not on the dirty plate.  A paper napkin, however, could be left on the [dirty] plate since the napkin will be discarded anyway.

Cutlery

–          If the cutlery is already on the table, begin using the utensils placed farthest away from the plate (assuming there is more than one fork and knife at the place setting).  If there is no cutlery at the place setting when you sit down at the table, this means the host/hostess will bring the necessary utensils with each course of the meal.

–          Never gesture or point with a piece of cutlery.

Proper Ways to Hold Cutlery While Eating

There are two main styles – American and European.

American

Normally, with this style, you hold the fork in the hand you write with.  For demonstration purposes, I will describe the procedure for someone who is right-handed.

Hold the fork in your left hand and the knife in the right.

Proper Way to Hold Utensils
Proper Way to Hold Utensils

With fork tines facing down, gently spear the food with the fork to hold it in place as you cut the food. Once a bite-sized piece has been cut, rest the knife diagonally across the upper right edge of the plate.  Switch the fork to your right hand and, with tines facing up, pick up the food and transfer it to the mouth.

If there is a pause in eating a course during the meal (e.g., to take a sip of water or briefly leave the table), there is a way to signal to the wait staff that you have not yet finished eating.  Lay the fork, tines facing up, as shown in the photo below and place the knife, diagonally on the upper right-hand corner of the plate.  Note that, once the knife has been picked up from the table, it should not touch the table again during the meal.

American Style for Cutlery Position During Brief Pause in Eating
American Style for Cutlery Position During Brief Pause in Eating

At the conclusion of the course, place the knife and fork together (fork tines up), parallel to each other at about the 4:30 clock position on the plate to signal to the wait staff that you have finished eating.

Placement of Cutlery at Conclusion of Course
Placement of Cutlery at Conclusion of Course

European

With this style, the fork remains in the left hand and the knife in the right for the entire meal.  Food that needs to be cut is speared gently with the fork and cut with the knife held in the right hand.  The knife is used to push food onto the back of the fork.  The food is then transferred to the mouth with the fork, tines facing down, held in the left hand.

If there is a significant pause during the course, the fork and knife are placed on the plate as shown in the photo below.

European Style for Placement of Cutlery During Brief Pause in Eating or Short Absence from the Table
European Style for Placement of Cutlery During Brief Pause in Eating or Short Absence from the Table

At the conclusion of the course, place the knife and fork together (fork tines facing down) at about the 4:30 clock position on the plate to signal to the wait staff that you have finished eating.  This would be the same as the American style with the only difference being that the fork tines would face downward toward the plate.

Which is mine?

–          Follow this easy trick for remembering which bread and butter plate and which glass is yours:  With your left hand, touch the tip of your first finger to your thumb.  You will see it makes a lowercase “b” shape; “b” stands for “bread” – it goes on the left of the place setting, aligning with your left hand.  Now, do the same thing with the first finger and thumb of your right hand.  This makes a lowercase “d” shape.  The “d” stands for “drink” and drinks go the right of the place setting, aligning with your right hand.

–         If you find your neighbour has already starting using your bread and butter plate, discretely ask your host/hostess (if at a private dinner party) or your server at an event to bring you another.

Bread and Rolls

 –          Break bread and rolls with your fingers (as opposed to cutting with a knife).  The knife is provided for buttering the bread or roll, not cutting it.

–          If the bread or roll is served cold, take the butter pod and place it on to the bread and butter plate provided and butter each piece/bite of the broken bread or roll at a time as you eat each bite.

–          If the bread or roll arrives warm at the table, break it apart and butter each broken section all at once to let the butter melt.

 Soup

–          The appropriate way to consume soup is to scoop it away from you as you will be less likely to spill or splash it on yourself.

–          Do not place the entire bowl of the soup spoon in the mouth.  Rather, sip the soup from the spoon.

–          It goes without saying that there should be no ‘slurping’ noise during the soup-eating process!

–          If the soup is too hot to comfortably consume, wait for it to cool.  It is never considered proper etiquette to blow on the soup or stir it vigorously to cool it.

–          It is inappropriate to dip bread in the soup as a way to gather up the soup – this is what a soup spoon is for.

–          It is acceptable to tip the bowl ever so slightly away from you to scoop up the last bit of soup.

Acceptable to Slightly Tip the Soup Bowl up and away from you to Scoop up Remaining Soup
Acceptable to Slightly Tip the Soup Bowl up and away from you to Scoop up Remaining Soup

–          It is not appropriate to lift the bowl up and hold it close to the mouth as you consume the soup.

–          If the soup bowl has been served on a server plate, place the spoon on the server plate once you have finished the soup.  If there is no server plate provided, leave the spoon in the bowl.

Wine

 –          If you are not a wine drinker, or do not want any wine with the meal, there are two ways to handle the situation when wine is being served:  1) discretely place your hand on top of the wine glass as the server approaches you with the wine.  This will signal to the server that you do not wish to partake; or 2) simply let the server pour the wine and just do not drink it.  The key is always discretion – you don’t want to make an issue of anything or draw attention to yourself.

–          The proper way to hold a wine glass is by the stem so that your hand does not warm the wine or that fingerprints get left on the goblet itself, making it look smudgy.  Holding the glass by the stem is also considered to give you better control when moving the wine in the glass and tasting it.

Proper Way to Hold a Wine Glass
Proper Way to Hold a Wine Glass

–          Monitor your consumption – if several wines are being served throughout the meal, it is completely acceptable etiquette not to finish every glass.  Intoxication does not make a good dinner guest.

Starting to Eat

 –          Wait for everyone at the table to be served before starting to eat.  This applies to each course of the meal.  If you are at a private dinner, it is proper etiquette to wait until the host/hostess picks up his or her fork before starting to eat unless, of course, the host/hostess tells you to start while he or she is still continuing with the dinner preparations and serving other guests.

–          If food bowls, platters, etc., are being passed around the table for guests to serve themselves and one is starting with you (i.e., you pick up the bowl or platter directly in front of your place setting), offer it first to the person on your left while holding it for him/her to serve him/herself.  Then serve yourself and pass the item to the person on your right.  Always send everything to the right around the table and never directly pass items to guests across the table.

–          Never intercept food being passed.  For example, if someone asks for the basket of rolls to be passed, do not sneak a roll from the basket as it is going by you.  Rather, after the requester has been served, ask for the item to be passed back to you.

Salt and Pepper Shakers

–          Salt and pepper shakers should always travel in a set together even if someone ask for just the salt or pepper to be passed to him or her.  This is because the next person looking for them will find them together, not orphaned here and there somewhere on the table and end up having two people passing them from different directions along to the requester.  When someone ask you to pass him or her the salt and pepper, set them down on the table in front of the requester.  This is the preferred method as there is less chance of dropping the items or upsetting them as could happen if they were transferred hand to hand.

–          It is considered proper etiquette to always taste the food before seasoning it or you may insult the chef/host/hostess who has prepared the food – theory being that the chef has already properly seasoned the dish before serving it.

Special Food Items

Ever wonder what foods must be eaten with a fork and knife and which ones are acceptable to be eaten with the fingers?  Here are some of the more common foods which are acceptable to be eaten with the fingers:

Asparagus (unless covered in a sauce)

Crispy bacon (ever chase a piece of crispy bacon with a fork around the plate as you try to capture it or cut it with a knife and the bacon lands on your neighbour’s plate?)

Oysters (probably the only, or one of very few, foods that can be acceptably eaten with a ‘slurping’ sound!)

Corn on the Cob

Pizza

Crostini

Artichokes

Chicken Wings

Ribs

Shrimp

Cookie served with a dessert (the cookie is considered a finger food)

Dinner Conversation

 –          Stay with topics that are neutral and of general interest, non-conflictual in nature – the old advice about avoiding discussions on politics and religion still holds true.  The last thing you want to do is to instigate, or become engaged in, a heated discussion that leaves everyone around the table uncomfortable or at odds with each other.

–          Do not discuss food allergies, health issues, or bad experiences with food.  The fact that you may be lactose intolerant, have irritable bowel syndrome, or once got violently sick from eating shellfish, or have had food poisoning, does not make these subjects suitable table topics.  As they say, that’s way too much information and detail, particularly at a dinner table where food is being served.  Nothing can zap an appetite faster than to have a dinner guest regaling at length the graphic details of a bad food experience.

My thanks again to Tina Lesyk for taking the time to chat with me about proper guest etiquette and to share her extensive knowledge on the topic.  We certainly haven’t covered every aspect of dining etiquette but, hopefully, we have covered the main points.  Happy dining!

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Rustic Rhubarb Pie Recipe

Rustic Rhubarb Pie Served with French Vanilla Ice Cream
Rustic Rhubarb Pie Served with French Vanilla Ice Cream

The rhubarb is at its prime on PEI right now and, of course, I am busy making the usual repertoire of my favorite recipes while the rhubarb stalks are at their best.   Used too early before they have some maturity and the stalks won’t have much flavour; left too long and they go woody and lose their flavour.

It’s always a spring-time boost when I start to see the rhubarb shoots poking their way through the ground and, within a short period of time, they grow into very large plants.  We have two rhubarb crowns and, with leaves, they measure a little more than three feet tall with stalks that are about 20-22″ long.  It doesn’t take many to make a pie!  For the pie below, I used 2 1/2 stalks.

Rhubarb Plants

The photos below show how to harvest rhubarb which is done by giving the stalk a good tug and pulling it from the crown, not cutting it off.

Harvesting Rhubarb
Harvesting Rhubarb

Today, I made a fresh old-fashioned rhubarb pie.  Nothing fancy, just plain and simple – rhubarb, sugar,  flour, and a sprinkle of salt all encased inside a double-crusted pie.  Here is what you will need to make this pie:

Ingredients:

Pastry for a double-crusted 9″ pie

4 cups rhubarb (roughly 1 pound), cut in 1/2″ pieces

1 1/2 – 1 2/3 cups white sugar (depending on how tart or sweet you like the pie)

1/3 cup flour

dash salt

Method:

Wash and dry the rhubarb stalks.  Chop rhubarb into apx. 1/2″ pieces.  Place chopped rhubarb in a large bowl.   Set aside.

Whisk sugar, flour, and salt together in a medium-sized bowl.

Add dry ingredients to the rhubarb and stir and toss to coat.  Allow mixture to sit for approximately 20 minutes to allow the sugar to start to dissolve.

Meanwhile, roll pastry to desired thickness.  Line bottom and sides of a 9″ pie plate with the pastry.  Spread the rhubarb mixture into the pastry-lined pie plate.

Roll pastry for top crust.  Dampen top edges of lower pie pastry and transfer the top crust to the pie.  Using the tines of a fork, press top and bottom edges of crust together to seal.  Cut slits in top crust or prick with fork tines to allow steam to escape as pie bakes.

Bake at 400F for 50 minutes.  (Tips:  I line a pizza pan with tin foil and place the pie plate on the pan as fruit pies tend to bubble out and can make a sticky mess in the oven.  If the edges of the pie crust start to brown too quickly, loosely place a piece of tin foil over the pie as it finishes baking.)

Rustic Rhubarb Pie
Rustic Rhubarb Pie

This makes a wonderful spring-time treat, especially when served with a dollop of French Vanilla ice cream as I have here with my own homemade ice cream.

Be sure to also check out my recipe for Rhubarb Marmalade.

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