While my final few moments were ticking away as a cannoli vendor during Festa Italia a few weekends ago, a customer approached me with a question about how I “twirled my spaghetti”, and I smiled. Assuring him of the proper manner returned me to a red Formica kitchen table where I sat as a child and was shown by my Sicilian immigrant father the proper way to do just that and it didn’t include a spoon.

Using only a single fork, the long thin vermicelli Mother boiled and drained awaited a scoop of spaghetti sauce over the top before twirling just the right amount for my mouth. If there were bits of vegetables or meats in the sauce, I was to poke the fork at an angle into a few strands of pasta, then lift and eat, otherwise I could twirl my heart out for a perfect amount, which continues to work just fine. It also helps if you poke the fork along the side of the pasta for just the right amount and not in the middle of the pasta mound where you’d end up with more spaghetti than you need.

Sharing this news also brings to mind the honor bestowed on my good friend, Sherie Sasso, who recently became Madison Elks 410 Exalted Ruler. She is an exceptional leader as well as being an incredible cook and wife of Steve Sasso, Elk’s PER (Past Exhalted Ruler).

Here is one of their favorite recipes adapted from a “Taste of Home” magazine.

Italian chicken

8-12 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced

2 tablespoons butter

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut in 1-inch x 1-inch cubes

2 tablespoons Italian salad dressing mix

1 can reduced-fat reduced sodium cream of mushroom soup, undiluted

1 8-ounce carton Weight Watchers chive and onion cream cheese

1⁄³ cup white wine or reduced sodium chicken broth

¼ cup fat-free milk

½ cup Parmesan, Asiago, or Romano cheese, or a mixture of all three

1 pound pasta (hearty pasta like rigatoni works just fine)

1 tablespoons minced fresh chives

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and keep warm in cooking pot. In a large non-stick skillet, saute’ mushrooms and chicken together in butter. Sprinkle with salad dressing mix while sautéing until chicken is cooked through and mushrooms are brown.

Mix together soup, cream cheese, wine, and milk. Add to pan with chicken and mushrooms and bring to a gentle boil, stirring constantly. Simmer chicken for about 15 minutes before mixing with pasta.

Pour chicken mixture into pasta, add cheese, and toss well to coat pasta with sauce.

Note: Rigatoni is a large grooved pasta that doesn’t require “twirling.”

With good friends in mind, Steve Keip, well-known in town from the original Edgewater Hotel, currently of Panera Catering, shared a gem of a recipe from the rhubarb plants his father planted in the 1970s. His mother, being an exceptional pie maker, always felt rhubarb with bright red stalks made the best pies. Today, having inherited the rhubarb and transplanting them 20 years ago, Keip, whose cooking talents were often highly recognized during past State Journal recipe contests, continues to cherish rhubarb memories while admitting that he doesn’t like the sweetness of rhubarb pie, cake, crumble, or crisp. So he discovered a different kind of rhubarb recipe that required many tweaks before everyone referred to it as being a “big hit.”

Rhubarb cucumber salsa

2 cups fresh rhubarb, ¼-inch cubes

1 cup English cucumber, ¼-inch cubes

2 scallions, white and green parts, minced

½ cup chopped cilantro

½ cup jalapeno pepper, finely minced, more to taste

2 tablespoons honey, more to taste

Zest and juice of one lime

3 tablespoons olive oil

Generous pinch of salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Combine all, taste to correct seasonings. Let stand 10 minutes and serve. Delicious on grilled chicken or pork or just for dipping chips.

Responding to a request from Iline Marking for a rhubarb recipe with vanilla pudding in a graham cracker crust, Wendy McCurdy hopes this is close to what Marking remembers from the past.

Rhubarb dessert


2 cups graham cracker crumbs

½ cup melted butter

¼ cup sugar

Mix all ingredients together. Reserve ½ cup for topping. Pat remaining crumbs into a 9x13-inch pan.

Rhubarb filling:

4 cups chopped rhubarb

4 tablespoons cornstarch

2 cups sugar

Bring all ingredients to boil, stir and cook until thick. Cool. Spread on crust when cool.

Cream filling:

1 ½ cups mini-marshmallows

8-ounce container of Cool Whip

Mix and spread on top of rhubarb.

Top layer:

6-ounce package of vanilla pudding, made according to package directions

Spread on cream filling layer.

If you happen to like chicken wings and enjoy the flavor of maple syrup, here is a simple and delicious recipe shared by Bill Hartman from a flight attendants collection of favorites for the Canadian Maple Wings Association.

Canadian maple wings

2-3 pounds chicken wings

¼ cup salad oil

½ cup soy sauce

¼ cup maple syrup

1 garlic clove, minced

½ teaspoon ginger

½ teaspoon dry mustard

Cut wings at joints, discarding tips. Place in large shallow casserole. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over chicken. Cover and marinate in refrigerator for 2-6 hours, turning occasionally. Bake, uncovered, at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes, basting occasionally. Excellent sprinkled with parsley and served with rice and a crisp green vegetable.

Serves 4-6

If Dutch babies with blueberry compote bring a smile to your face, thank Dan Roahen, Fort Atkinson, for responding with praise for a recipe he discovered in a column from Kim Ode of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Roahen describes these as “puffed pancakes” made in muffin tins to become baby Dutch babies. Using two muffin tins makes a dozen puffs, placing batter in every other cup to make room for the puffiest puffs possible. They can also be made in one pan, though they’ll just be a little crowded. The batter comes together in a minute, but benefits from a 10-minute rest before baking while you make blueberry compote.

Baby Dutch babies with blueberry compote

1 cup flour

4 eggs

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ teaspoon salt

Pinch of ground cinnamon or nutmeg, optional

2 tablespoons unsalted butter.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, eggs, milk, vanilla and salt until smooth. Add cinnamon or nutmeg, if desired. Set aside to rest for 10 minutes.(This allows the flour to fully absorb the milk and eggs.). Cut each tablespoon of butter into 16 equal pieces (equal to ½ teaspoon) and place a piece in 6 of the 12 muffin cups, spacing them in every other cup; repeat with the second pan. Place pans in the oven until butter melts, about 1 minute.

Measure ¼ cup batter into each buttered cup. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Once out of the oven, the puffs will immediately began to deflate, forming a cup for the blueberry compote or other filling. Run a knife around the edges to remove then fill and serve immediately. You could also serve these with a dollop of yogurt, or a sprinkling of powdered sugar. Nonstick pans work best. Makes 12.

Blueberry compote

2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries, divided

3 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons sugar

Zest of 1 lemon or 2 teaspoons lemon juice

In a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup blueberries, 3 tablespoons water, sugar and lemon zest or juice. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until berries start to break down. Add remaining blueberries and cook for five more minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes about 1 ½ cups.

Recent requests: A German recipe for mashed potatoes using bacon and a splash of vinegar. The sauce recipe (or one similar?) served on burgers at the Plaza Tavern. Exceptional salad dressings and dairy-free dessert recipes.

Contact the Cooks’ Exchange in care of the Wisconsin State Journal, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI, 53708 or by email at greenbush4@aol.com.