That Cobbler Recipe: The Secret’s In The Sauce

Okay, I guess it serves me right. You can’t post outright food porn — like this photo of the strawberry-rhubarb cobbler I made this afternoon — without having people ask for the recipe.

Now the first thing I have to admit is that this is not a personal recipe, but one that I Googled up last week after I came home from the farmers’ market with peaches and a stalk of rhubarb. It was posted on someone’s blog, called Eat and Run. So thank you, Helen, whoever you are, because I’ve now used this recipe twice and it’s delicious.

Last week's peach and rhubarb cobbler didn't look too shabby either.

There are two especially lovely things about this recipe. One is that it is very simple, and the batter can be used with just about any combination of fruit. Now that I’m haunting farmers’ markets again, I plan to use this recipe with whatever is in season. Fresh local fruit is the best, and it’s worth paying a little upcharge if you have to in order to get it.

The other thing that makes this cobbler version special is this. Lots of cobbler recipes called for simmering the fruit in a sugar syrup to soften it up a bit before it goes in the pan with the batter. Not many recommend a sugar syrup in which the liquid component is bourbon (the author also suggests sherry or brandy as an alternative).

The cooking and baking evaporates the alcohol, and what’s left behind are those trademark features of bourbon: the vanilla and caramel and butterscotch flavors that the whiskey picks up from the wooden barrels in which it ages. It is subtle in the finished cobbler, but it really adds a little something nice.

Anyway, here’s the recipe, almost verbatim from the other blog. Try it and let me know what you think, and if you add some tweaks that make it even better, pass it along.


For cake -
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons milk

For fruit -
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup sherry, brandy, or bourbon
5-5.5 cups of fruit


Room temperature the cake ingredients. Soften the butter. Slice the fruits. Grease a 9 x 9 inch square pan or something like that. (As you can see in the photos, I use a 10-inch cast iron pan for this with excellent results.

Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat together eggs and 1 cup of the sugar. Add butter and milk. Add the flour mixture, stirring just to combine. Pour batter into greased pan.

Preheat oven to 375 farenheit.

In a saucepan, simmer together the sherry and 1/2 cup of sugar for 5 minutes. Add the fruit and stir to coat with the syrup. Let this simmer for 1-2 minutes. Pour this hot fruit mixture over the batter in the pan. (Don’t worry if some of your fruit sinks. Also don’t worry if the mixture is liquidy.)

Bake for 30 minutes.

Chicago Summer in the City: Cobbling Together An All-American Holiday Dinner

I am in the process of opening a new avenue in my freelance journalism career that will emphasize personal passions such as food, drink and photography. This makes me wonder if they shopping run I made Monday, to Binny’s (a big Chicago beverage store chain, for those who don’t live here), Best Buy and Trader Joe’s is tax-deductible.

At least I can buy all the eats and drinks and camera equipment I want here on the Third Coast. I worked covering elections in Washington, D.C., for 30 years, and just never amassed the resources I would have needed to buy a politician.

We had a second consecutive day of record-setting heat. After getting the walk by the lake out of the way in the morning before it became too unbearable, I decided to spend some more time outdoors at the rooftop pool, addressing my long-term Vitamin D deficiency. Unfortunately, the stiff breeze at ground level was like gale force more than 400 feet off the ground. Having to deal with turbulence is bad enough when you’re flying, but it’s pretty weird altogether when you are laying on a chaise lounge. Half an hour of that turned out to be quite enough.

Monday, of course, was Memorial Day, a day to remember my father, who passed away at age 90 four years ago. Milton Benenson served in the Army Air Force as a navigator during World War II. He must have been pretty good at it, and he certainly was fortunate, as he flew 36 missions over Nazi-controlled Europe and lived to make, among other things, me. I’m not sure how much of the world is grateful for that latter part, but I am.

I decided this would be a good occasion for an all-American dinner. Cooking out isn’t an option, as our apartments have no balconies, but the wide range of cast-iron cookware that I have provides as close to cookout taste as you can get indoors.

Hot dogs (a brand of all-beef organic franks carried by Trader Joe’s), corn on the cob, onion rings, a homemade peach and rhubarb cobbler, washed down with a mint julep. Hard to get more American than that.

The cobbler is worthy of a close-up, if only because I do a lot more cooking than baking as a norm.

I actually had the more traditional strawberry-rhubarb combo in mind when I hit the farmers’ market on Saturday, but I ended up with a bag of peaches that I bought because I thought it was so unusual to see peaches this early in the year. Also, we ate too many of the strawberries that I brought home to make a cobbler out of them.

Anyway, I found a lovely, easy recipe on the Web that had this added benefit: the syrup in which the fruit is briefly cooked to soften before joining the batter in the oven is made of sugar and… bourbon. The alcohol cooks off, of course, but the bourbon adds a nice little vanilla/butterscotch flavor. You have to trust me, but it came out great. And since the instructions say the batter can be the base to any combination of fruit, I need not worry too much about going overboard at the farmers’ markets this summer.

This looks like as good a place as any to catch up on the Cooler on the Lake Shore Chicago vs. D.C. Weather Smackdown. According to Weather Underground…

Saturday, May 19: Chicago Midway reported a high of 91, a low of 64, and no rain. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 84, a low of 56 and no rain. The 90s, for me, are a bit too hot. Point D.C.

Sunday, May 20: Chicago Midway reported a high of 92, a low of 65, and .14 of an inch of rain. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 81, a low of 59 and .01 of an inch of rain. Point D.C.

Monday, May 21: Chicago Midway reported a high of 65 — yep, a quick transition back to spring — a low of 54 and no rain. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 75, a low of 66 and .03 of an inch of rain. Point Chicago.

Tuesday, Chicago Midway reported a high of 68, a low of 49, and no rain. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 81, a low of 66 and .01 of an inch of rain. Having experienced a lot of days in the 80s in D.C. that felt like they were in the 90s, I’ll give that one to Chicago.

Wednesday: Chicago Midway reported a high of 82, a low of 49, and no rain. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 81, a low of 66 and .33 of an inch rain. That’s a lot of rain. Point Chicago.

Thursday, Chicago Midway reported a high of 90, a low of 65, and no rain. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 83, a low of 69 and a trace of rain. Edge D.C.

Friday, Chicago Midway reported a high of 80, a low of 67, and no rain. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 86, a low of 71 and a trace of rain. We’ll give this one to Chicago.

Saturday, Chicago Midway reported a high of 82, a low of 63, and no rain. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 86, a low of 71 and a trace of rain. We’ll give this one to Chicago, too.

Sunday, a record-setting sizzler as Chicago Midway reported a high of 97, a low of 73, and no rain. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 87, a low of 70 and .05 of an inch of rain. We’ll give this one to D.C.

That brings the overall score to 162-135 in favor of D.C.

Spring in Chicago: A Long, Long Walk For Asparagus

After the chilly weather of April that stretched into the early part of May, it looks like spring has finally arrived for real. Chicago had an official high temperature of 90 today, a first this year, though — as the name of this blog reminds — it was cooler by the lake shore.

Signs of spring are all over. The air conditioning, thank goodness, has been turned on in our apartment building. The rooftop pool likely is a week away from opening, but the deck is open. Here what Wrigley Field looked like this afternoon, through the haze and the scratchy plexiglass that is there to prevent the kind of bad things that can happen when you’re hanging out on a roof 400 feet off the ground.

There is lots of baseball (this photo taken Wednesday night at the game between the Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies), most of it bad, but that unfortunately is also a sure sign of spring in Chicago.

The boats are back in on the lake…

… and so are the birds.

And now, the farmers’ markets around the city are opening up. Possibly the best known is the Green City market, located at the south end of Lincoln Park (the actual park, not the neighborhood), and since I never got there after we moved last summer, I wanted to make a point of getting there early to check it out this year.

I also have a few pounds accumulated from the winter and the sedentaries associated with a big writing project I am just wrapping up, and since I’d already taken some pretty good strolls, I figured I’d walk down there and earn the barbecue brisket dinner I’d put on the menu for tonight.

I did, because it’s kind of a long walk. Two and a half miles, according to my best GoogleMaps estimate.

I can see this market is going to be a very big deal as the growing season progresses. For right now, it’s still mid-May in the Upper Midwest, and produce was a bit scarce.

I don’t regret the trek because I need the exercise, it was a beautiful day and there was little reason for concern that the NATO protestors would make a priority of Occupying Lincoln Park. Still, under normal circumstances, that would be a pretty long walk for a couple of pounds of asparagus, a bag of spring mix lettuce and a couple of containers of admittedly delicious feta cheese from (guess where) Wisconsin.

They did have stands selling fresh local meats and fish, though I decided that I needed cold packs for that given the temperature pushing 90. I will remember that for the future, because truthfully, when you’re walking that far on a hot day, cold packs are not a bad thing to have.

I will be back, for sure. But on the bus ride home (no, I didn’t do the five-mile round trip on foot), I passed what looked like a thriving farmers’ market in a schoolyard just a few blocks from where we live. For the next few weeks, at least until there’s a bigger choice of produce to be had, I think I’ll stick to the market closer to home.

By the way, the brisket, seared on the stovetop, then slow roasted in the oven with a late slathering of barbecue sauce, was delicious. I served it with a home-concocted version of elote, a corn dish that is a Mexican street food and which I first sampled at the White Sox ballpark when we attended the game last Tuesday. Nothing fancy about it: corn (on or off the cob) seasoned with salt, pepper, butter, a little mayonnaise, lime juice, and if you like (and I do) a sprinkling of chili powder. Comfort food to the max, and totally addictive.

I’ve gotten way behind on the Cooler on the Lakeshore Chicago vs. D.C. Weather Smackdown, so I guess this is as good a place as any to catch up. According to Weather Underground…

On Wednesday, May 9: Chicago Midway reported a high of 60, a low of 46, and a trace of rain. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 75, a low of 59 and .58 of an inch of rain. That’s a lot of rain. Point Chicago.

Thursday, May 10, Chicago Midway reported a high of 65, a low of 45, and no rain. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 70, a low of 56 and no rain. Virtual tie, but edge to D.C.

Friday, May 11, Chicago Midway reported a high of 78, a low of 48, and no rain. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 73, a low of 52 and no rain. Point Chicago.

Saturday, May 12 Chicago Midway reported a high of 67, a low of 51, and .25 of an inch of rain. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 78, a low of 52 and no rain. Point D.C.

Last Sunday, Chicago Midway reported a high of 69, a low of 53, and and no rain. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 80, a low of 62 and no rain. Beautiful day in Chicago, but to be fair, point D.C.

Monday, Chicago Midway reported a high of 78, a low of 46, and no rain. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 73, a low of 62 and .24 of an inch of rain. Point Chicago.

Tuesday, Chicago Midway reported a high of 84, a low of 56, and a trace of rain. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 79, a low of 67 and 1.22 inches of rain. Easy one for Chicago.

Wednesday: Chicago Midway reported a high of 63, a low of 52, and no rain. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 83, a low of 62 and no rain. Point D.C.

Thursday, Chicago Midway reported a high of 71, a low of 49, and no rain. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 77, a low of 61 and no rain. Edge D.C.

Friday, Chicago Midway reported a high of 85, a low of 57, and no rain. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 76, a low of 55 and no rain. We’ll give this one to Chicago.

That brings the overall score to 158-130 in favor of D.C.


Tales Of The Cast-Iron Griddle: Heavy Metal Burgers

My wife Barb, over our more than 31 years as a couple, has expressed her love in many ways. But last Christmas, she provided cast-iron proof, in the most literal sense.

As the cook in our home, I have long favored cast-iron cookware because it conducts heat so well. I don’t think there is anything better for the “keep it simple” method that is my preferred way to cook just about any kind of meat: Sear the outside at high temperature for about half the cooking time to get a little char on the surface, then lower to medium until cooked to the desired doneness.

But I didn’t go all in on cast-iron until after we moved last summer from Washington, D.C., to Chicago, and into my first-ever apartment with ventilation sufficient enough that high-temperature stove-top cooking didn’t immediately set off the smoke alarm. So onto my Christmas list went a couple of items I had been desiring: a two-burner griddle that is flat on one side and a raised grill on the other, and a deep 12-inch skillet.

I would have been happy if Barb had gotten me either. But she went to a nearby cookware store and got both.

Then lugged 30 pounds worth of old-school heavy metal several blocks to where she parked.

I will take this as affirmation that my wife does indeed love me. And enjoys my cooking.

The Lodge two-sided griddle, as I expected, is now my Best Christmas Gift Ever. It cooks anything that doesn’t steep in liquid, from pancakes to pork chops. Long cuts of meats, including bacon strips, can cook without being cut up or crammed into a pan in which they don’t quite fit. And, if cast iron is seasoned correctly — meaning given a light veneer of vegetable oil after every use — it is at least as non-stick as the synthetic stuff.

(With the one essential disclaimer about cast-iron cookware: handle with extreme care, and truly heat-proof hotpads. I had a slip a couple of months ago and painfully branded my left index finger. I’ll have more to say about care and maintenance of cast iron pans in a future post.)

But the best part is that it is a perfect tool for the kind of nice and easy, two- or three-ingredient cooking that provides a restaurant-quality meal at home, usually in a half-hour or less.

The following dinner idea follows these principles. The next night, I made cod fillets with Greek seasoning on the flat side of the griddle, accompanied by a saute of diced green pepper, onions and pimento-stuffed green olives, and I’ll follow with these instructions in the next day or two.

Enjoy, and may all your cooking be heavy lifting. In the good sense.


2 lbs. ground turkey

About 2 oz.cheese — Crumbled (I used Salem blue, and feta is also excellent) or shredded is the easiest to handle for this, but any hard cheese (such as cheddar) diced small works fine, too.

Salt and pepper to taste, or your favorite seasoning blend: I used Penzey’s Old World seasoning, but their Greek seasoning also is great with turkey burgers, especially if you use feta cheese

Canola oil to coat

* Turn the two-sided griddle grill side up and place over two burners on the stovetop

* Preheat to medium high (7 out of 10 on my stove)

* Divide meat into six even portions (about a third-pounder each).

* Make a little well in each portion and fill it with the diced or crumbled cheese, then coat lightly with seasoning.

* Fold meat over so the cheese and seasoning are covered, but don’t overhandle.

* Coat the surface lightly with canola oil (helps hold the seasonings and brown the meat), and season to taste.

* Place burgers on the grill-griddle, and cook at medium-high heat for 4 minutes on each side.
* Turn heat down to medium (4 on my stove) and cook for another four minutes on each side. [See note]

* Check for doneness, and serve on buns with your choice of condiments and garnishes.

Note: The pan will give the meat the kind of grill lines you would get in outdoor cooking. If you want to do a cross-hatch, rotate the burgers 90 degrees about midway through cooking.

While these go great with the typical burger sides, such as fries and cole slaw, I served these with roasted asparagus, which is one of the world’s easiest preparations. Rinse and dry a pound of asparagus, break off the tough ends, sprinkle with a little olive oil, salt, pepper and granulated garlic, and roasted in the oven on a baking sheet at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.

Basketball: The Night Michigan State and I Both Got Blistered

I did something dumb in the kitchen tonight. Hurrying to finish cooking dinner, I grabbed a cast iron pan from the oven with a towel instead of a hot pad. Like I said, dumb. Left index finger made contact with hot metal and, as the Kramer character on Seinfeld once said, I let the expletives fly. Got ice on it right away, but still gave myself a heck of a blister.

Yet it is symbolic of how much Michigan State’s athletic teams mean to me that the kitchen incident was only the second most-painful thing for me this evening. Number one was the 70-55 defeat that Indiana inflicted on the Spartan men’s basketball team, which came in ranked 5th in the nation after a seven-game winning streak and has clinched at least a share of the regular season Big 10 championship.

The Spartans, now 24-6 overall and 13-4 in the Big 10, came out flat in a place where they could ill afford it. Indiana has an impressive record itself, at 23-7 overall and 10-7 in the conference (including an 80-65 loss when these teams played in East Lansing in their Big 10 opener on Dec. 28). The Hoosiers came into tonight’s game ranked #20 in the nation in large part because it already had staged a series of remarkable upsets on its home court, delivering the only loss that #1 Kentucky has endured all season, on Dec. 10; beating Ohio State, then #2 in the nation, on Dec. 31; and beating Michigan, the team still competing with Michigan State and Ohio State for a share of the Big 10 title, on Jan. 5.

It didn’t take long to fathom that MSU was off its game. Tied 6-6 with three minutes gone in the game, the Spartans allowed Indiana to build at 18-8 lead with a 10-2 run over the next six minutes. The closest they came after that was four points with a bit less than seven minutes left in the first half, but by the break, they were down by 14 (41-27).

Michigan State did muster a bit of a run that closed a 16-point deficit to six with seven minutes left, but went ice-cold again and failed to score another field goal until Travis Trice hit a meaningless layup with 15 seconds left.

Just about everything that could went wrong for MSU in this game. Draymond Green, the senior forward and team captain, tried to put the team on his back and undoubtedly burnished his credentials for Big 10 Player of the Year by scoring a game-high 29 points with eight rebounds. But balanced scoring, a team strength this year, was absent: Green, who on the season averages 21 percent of his team’s total points, carried 53 percent of the load tonight. Senior guard Austin Thornton had a decent night with 3-for-4 shooting, hitting both his 3-point attempts, but that amounted to a total of only eight points.

Indiana, meanwhile, had five players in double figures, topped by 18 for center Cody Zeller, a freshman phenom who the Spartans had held to four points in the Dec. 28 game in East Lansing. MSU also shot a dismal 59 percent (10 for 17) from the free throw line, while Indiana bolstered its margin by nailing 86 percent (19 for 22). And to cap one of the few truly bad games this year, MSU — usually one of the nation’s rebounding powerhouses — was beaten off the boards, 30-28.

The Spartan team has shaken off the handful of previous setbacks this year and will have to do so quickly this time. Their next game, and their regular season finale, is Sunday against Ohio State.

It is not clear yet whether the Buckeyes, now tied for second place with Michigan, will still have a shot at tying MSU for the title, because they first have a road game Wednesday night at Northwestern, a team fighting to qualify for its first NCAA tournament ever. Nonetheless, the Buckeyes, the runaway pre-season favorites to win the Big 10 championship this year, will be seeking to avenge a 58-48 defeat by Michigan State on their home court in Columbus.

But the Spartans come in undefeated in 17 games at MSU’s Breslin Center this season, and their smallest victory margin there has been nine points. Indiana’s team appeared clearly elevated by the enthusiasm of its home crowd tonight. There’s every reason to expect the Spartans’ famous student “Izzone” — named for head coach Tom Izzo — to be every bit the sixth man Sunday on Seniors’ Day, with an outright Big 10 championship on the line.

Now excuse me while I go nurse this finger and a nice glass of whiskey.