Ask Karen – How to Make Crisp Salad

Garden LettuceRecently an attendee at one of our Taste of Home Cooking Schools asked me a question. She wondered, “How do restaurants get the lettuce for their salads so crisp?” Great question. I wanted to share my answer with all of you.

Several years ago I worked alongside a food stylist who was doing a photo shoot for a magazine spread. I did all of her grocery shopping and prepped the ingredients for the recipes, which happened to be salads. Along the way, I learned several tips about making greens look pretty and taste crisp.

Before preparing the salads I submerged the greens in ice cold water in a large bowl. As greens sit in the grocery store, they can lose moisture, which eventually makes them limp. Soaking them in ice cold water for 15 or 20 minutes helps rehydrate them. 

From there, I drained off the water and placed the greens in a salad spinner. I used the spinner until the excess moisture drained away. If you don’t have a salad spinner, shake off the excess moisture and pat the greens with paper towels.

Salad spinnerlettuce knife


Then, I place the leaves in a large plastic storage bag, sealed it, and refrigerated the lettuce until we needed it for the recipes. Before serving, I either tore the leaves into pieces or used a lettuce knife to cut the greens. The salads were crisp, delicious, and pretty.

A Sweet Graduation Party!

Sarah's graduationOur niece, Sarah, graduated from high school this year, and it was fun to help at her party. She had a dessert reception complete with cupcakes, candy, and punch. Talk about a sugar paradise!

My, how times have changed since my parents hosted my graduation party in our home back in the 80’s. As I recall, we set up a table in the dining room with cake, punch, nuts, and mints. Neighbors, family, and friends who attended the party signed a guest book set up by my graduation photo on a little table near the door.

It was pretty low key compared to today’s festivities. But, the overall sentiment is the same. It’s a time to honor the graduate and wish them well as they head on to the next stage of their lives. As for Sarah, she is going to Iowa State University and majoring in Elementary Education.

She’s a sweetheart and we wish her all the best!

Now, on to some pictures of Sarah’s party. I have to add a caveat here and mention that Sarah works part time at Coe’s Floral. Her boss and the shop’s owner, Dan, is also a long time family friend.

So, this is what your graduation party looks like when Dan is on the scene. It was awesome!

party table with food

Here is a shot of the dessert reception table. I had people ask me if I made the food. As I explained to them, this impressive spread was done by several difference bakers hired by my sister-in-law. Smart lady! This would be a ton of work to do alone.

I contributed some fruit kabobs and three punches – orange, blueberry-lime, and strawberry lemonade spritzers. I will share the orange punch recipe at the end of this post.

3 punches

Here is a shot of me with Sarah’s Grandma Bettie, and her brother, Joshua.

KD with Bettie and Josh

Dan from Coe’s Floral, and Vicki, another of Sarah’s aunts, who also assisted in the kitchen.

Dan, Bettie and Vicki

My little helper, Sarah’s sister, Grace.

Karen & Grace

Finally, here is the Orange Sherbet Punch recipe we served at the party.

Orange Sherbet Punch
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Our niece, Sarah, requested punch for her high school graduation party, so this is the one we used. It was a hit!
Servings Prep Time
50servings 20 minutes
Servings Prep Time
50servings 20 minutes
Orange Sherbet Punch
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Votes: 0
Rating: 0
Rate this recipe!
Our niece, Sarah, requested punch for her high school graduation party, so this is the one we used. It was a hit!
Servings Prep Time
50servings 20 minutes
Servings Prep Time
50servings 20 minutes
  • 4 cups waterdivided
  • 2(3 oz.) pkg. orange gelatin
  • 11/3 cups sugar
  • 1(46 oz.) can pineapple juice
  • 48ounces orange juice
  • 1cup lemonade concentrate
  • 1/2gallon orange sherbet
  • 1liter Sprite
Servings: servings
  1. Heat two cups water to boiling. Stir in gelatin and sugar until dissolved. Transfer to a large pitcher. Add two cups cold water, fruit juices and lemonade concentrate. Stir until lemonade concentrate thaws and thoroughly combines.
  2. Just before serving, place mixture in punch bowl. Spoon in sherbet and pour in Sprite. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

I would not recommend making the gelatin mixture the day before, because if it sits in the refrigerator for that long, it may begin to set up.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

RhubarbIf you drive along the backroads of Iowa, you’re sure to see beautiful farmsteads – including the century farm where I grew up. My husband and I live in a small town, but we both still enjoy visiting my parents on the farm. As you drive down their gravel road, you notice parts of the farm that harken back to years gone by.

Most farms of my grandparents’ era had windmills and large barns with stalls for the livestock and a haymow at the top. After a long day of hard work, farm hands stopped at the well to quench their thirst with a cold cup of fresh water. Holly hocks grew up around the windmill and farm wives tended big gardens, preserving the produce to feed their families.

Dad cutting rhubarb

One crop you often find in an Iowa garden during the spring months is rhubarb. My parents still have a patch, so when I was visiting them recently, Dad offered to share some with us. When cutting the rhubarb, he takes a knife and cuts off the leafy tops. He chooses the smaller stalks rather than the wider, overgrown ones.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

I took the rhubarb home and made a Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp using this Taste of Home recipe with the strawberry option. (Click on the recipe name to link to the printable recipe.)

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp


3/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

3 cups sliced fresh rhubarb or frozen rhubarb, thawed

2 cups sliced peeled apples or sliced strawberries

1 cup quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup butter, melted

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Vanilla ice cream, optional


1. In a large bowl, combine sugar and cornstarch. Add rhubarb and apples or strawberries; toss to coat. Spoon into an 8-in. square baking dish. 

2. In a small bowl, combine the oats, brown sugar, butter, flour and cinnamon until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle over fruit. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes or until bubbly and fruit is tender. Serve warm with ice cream if desired. Yield: 8 servings. 

Note: If using frozen rhubarb, measure rhubarb while still frozen, then thaw completely. Drain in a colander, but do not press liquid out.  © 2015 RDA Enthusiast Brands, LLC

Instead of baking it in the 8-inch square pan, I used 8-ounce coated baking cups. The recipe made enough for six of these cups. Here are some similar cups available for purchase online, in case you want to try this method. They are sold 50 to a pack.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

My husband, Scott, and I enjoyed the first two servings and then tucked the other four cups in the freezer. When I want to warm one up, I put it in the microwave for about 1 1/2 minutes on high or until the crisp is warm and bubbly. I wondered if the crisp would stay crunchy after being frozen, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well they reheated for serving.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

These are especially good with a scoop of ice cream or frozen yogurt. Yum!

Ask Karen Your Baking Questions

Taste of Home attendees While on the road as an instructor for the Taste of Home Cooking Schools, I often receive questions from our attendees. I look forward to the questions, because they let me know what’s on your mind, and they are great teaching opportunities. Today I thought I’d share answers for some recent questions.


When a recipe just calls for vinegar, what type of vinegar does this mean? 

Several summers ago while recipe testing for a cookbook project in the Better Homes and Gardens Test Kitchen, I asked that same question. I noticed the kitchenette where I was testing had a standard set of baking ingredients — including things like baking powder, baking soda, vanilla extract, flour, sugar, salt, and so on.

In with the supplies I spotted a bottle of apple cider vinegar. This prompted me to ask, “Do you use apple cider or white vinegar when a recipe calls for ‘vinegar’”? I learned that apple cider vinegar was used as the default vinegar when a specific type was not designated in a recipe.

Apple cider vinegar (made from fermented apple cider) has a slightly fruity flavor and is milder than a distilled white vinegar. So, if your recipe doesn’t specify a particular type of vinegar, using apple cider vinegar is a great choice.

Butter versus Shortening

Can you substitute butter equally for shortening in a recipe for baked goods? 

In general, yes. These are both fats and serve the same function in most recipes for baked goods.Continue reading

Tip Toe Through the Tulips

IMG_0516-Rita and KarenWhile at home the past few days (on a break from my Taste of Home Cooking Schools), I have been enjoying time with family and friends.

Our niece, Sarah, had her high school graduation party, my home church held a special service commemorating their 150 anniversary, and my older brother celebrated his birthday. It kept me hopping, but it was also lots of fun.

Last week, just prior to the activities I mentioned above, I made a quick trip with my friend, Rita, to the central Iowa Dutch community of Pella. They are hosting their 80th annual Tulip Time Festival on May 7-9, 2015.

IMG_0538-tulip bed

We had heard the tulips were in full bloom, so we decided to go early. It was one of those rare nearly perfect weather days with temperatures in the 70s, low humidity, and a gentle breeze. The Dutch wind mills looked so pretty against the bright blue sky.

IMG_0494-town square windmill

Our reservation at their local tearoom was at 1:00 pm, so while we waited for that, we stopped in one of the bakeries on the square. No visit to Pella is complete without a Dutch letter and some other goodies. Rita and I both purchased delicious apple bread, cookies, and Dutch letters. So good!

Pella bakery

Then we strolled through the gardens in the middle of the town square and enjoyed the colorful views.

Pella square

In addition to the beautiful display of colorful tulips, the trees were also blooming.

IMG_0497-close up flowering tree

Eventually we headed to the Tulip Tea Room for lunch. It is in a large old home one block north from the square (918 Main Street). The main floor serves as the dining area. Upstairs is a little gift shop where I found a cute apron for our niece, some colorful spring paper napkins, and a lime green tea pot for my kitchen.

Pella Tea Room

I ordered their signature chicken salad with a side lettuce salad topped with hot bacon dressing. Rita ordered quiche and a side lettuce salad with poppyseed dressing.

We both had flavored iced teas (blueberry pomegranate). Our meals came with a small almond bar, a scone with Devonshire cream, and a toothpick threaded with small bits of pickle, Pella bologna, and cheese.

It was all so nicely done. I love a meal like this that offers samples of the local cuisine. For dessert Rita and I divided a slice of rhubarb crumb pie with vanilla ice cream. When the waitress asked if we enjoyed it, Rita chuckled that she could have licked the plate. I agreed!

After the tearoom, there were plenty of quaint shops to explore around the town of Pella, along with historical tours of various sites and gardens in town. But this day, we decided to simply soak in the beautiful weather and scenery.Pella gardens

We drove to another garden with a little pond and windmill a few blocks from the tearoom. That’s where we stumbled onto a mother with her adorable kids dressed in Dutch clothes. So cute! Rita and I strolled by blooming lilac bushes, sat on a bench under a flowering tree, and just lingered — not really wanting it to end.

I think Rita said it best. She said, “This is our ‘do whatever we want to day’”.  And she was right. We didn’t have to rush, we didn’t have to hurry up and meet our husbands somewhere (sorry, honey). We just had a delightful time.

It is one of those memories I will tuck away in the back of my mind for years to come. I am glad I have some photos to help me hold on to our experiences.  Thank you for going with me, Rita!

Mother’s Day Centerpiece

Mother’s Day is just around the corner, and I have been thinking of ways to honor my Mom. I met her and my Dad for lunch yesterday, so I shared a copy of the post I wrote earlier this week. She was a little teary-eyed as she read the reasons I am thankful for her — which, in turn, touched me.

Flowers in Rain Boot

At the age of 47 I’m still so grateful to have both of my parents in my life. I know many people have lost their mothers. However, we often have other special women who have impacted our lives.

My Mom

I decided it would be fun to honor the women in our lives with this simple arrangement of flowers displayed in a rain boot. I purchased a pair of kid’s rain boots along with plastic cups that were small enough to slide down into the legs of the boots and hold water for the flowers.Continue reading

Why I’m Thankful for My Mom

Karen & Mom

Mother’s Day is just around the corner, so I wanted to introduce you to my mom, Ann.

There are many things I’ve learned from her over the years. As I look back at my upbringing, and look ahead to Mother’s Day, I am so thankful.

Mom and Dad - weddingI am thankful my Mom is selfless. After going to college, becoming a registered nurse, and working for a few years, my Mom moved from the city to the country to marry my Dad and live on the farm. About a year later she became a new mom, and then went on to have three more kids. She stayed at home with us while we were growing up, and I am forever grateful for her sacrifices.

I am thankful my Mom is creative. Whether I was entering a project in the 6th grade science fair or preparing a presentation for 4-H, she helped me make it extra special. For instance, when I wanted to do my science fair project on the importance of giving blood, she took me to tour the local Blood Bank and we brought home slides and actual samples for my display table.

I am thankful my Mom is supportive. My Mom is soft spoken, tenderhearted and loyal. Whenever I came home from school with a challenge, she was ready to lend an ear, and I knew she had my back. She didn’t push me to be in activities and allowed me to choose the ones I wanted to do.

I am thankful my Mom is brave. After raising her kids my mom returned to college to get her Bachelor’s degree in English. I was impressed with her courage to do this and graduate the same year my sister graduated from college. She then went back to work as an RN at a hospital in Des Moines. It impressed me then, and it impresses me even more now as an adult.Continue reading

My Easy-Bake Oven

Young KarenEvery Christmas as I was growing up I had a favorite toy or doll on my wish list. By the time I was about 8 years old, I had already started to fall in love with baking. So, one Christmas I asked for an Easy Bake Oven.

We celebrated Christmas Eve with a holiday dinner at my Grandma and Grandpa Kalsem’s house.

Here is a picture of me with my siblings and first cousins at Grandma and Grandpa’s. You can see both my sister and I were proudly sporting our Dorothy Hamill haircuts. I was wearing my aqua blue jumpsuit, which I remember being one of my favorites. I still love that color.

Grandkids with Grandma & Grandpa

After my Grandma’s wonderful holiday supper, the kids would help distribute presents to family members gathered around the room.

This particular year, I was thrilled to open my present and find a burnt orange and harvest gold Easy-Bake Oven inside. The color certainly gives away the era.

I could hardly wait to get that little oven home and start baking. It had a light bulb inside that gave off enough heat to bake miniature cakes.  The oven came with mini baking pans and a plastic wand to push the pans into the side of the oven and pull them out from the other side once they were done.

Easy-Bake Oven

I also remember the box with the oven included several cake mixes. Once those were used up, I started experimenting and making my own recipes for cookies and cakes (that tasted pretty bland, as I recall). I also helped Mom as she made full-sized cakes in her oven and poured a little of her batter into my mini pans.Continue reading