It is time to write Cooks’ Corner again, the morning I use every week to sit down in front of my computer and type out what I am going to say.  Usually, I have very few, if any, interruptions.  However, today has been a different story.  Birthdays are like that – filled with phone calls and texts wishing me a happy day and filled with lots of love and caring. 

I decided a few weeks ago what my recipe subject was going to be – February is National Cherry Month, and cherries are my favorite; therefore, I quite often use the last week of February (which includes my birthday) to feature cherry recipes in this column.  This year is no exception.  I planned to try at least one new recipe, but when I looked at all the ones I have collected over the years that have not been repeated, I decided to resurrect a few old favorites.  Now my dilemma is which ones to choose!

During a telephone call from two of my sisters, we were discussing some of my past birthdays.  One year, my family gave me a green parakeet as a gift.  I struggled with a name for my bird, finally settling on “Daniel.”  We had several cats at our house, all of which kept watchful eyes on what could be a tasty treat for them.  It reminded me of the Biblical Daniel in the lion’s den, thus the name for my parakeet.  I remember that Daniel went with us when we moved from the city to the country; however, I don’t recall what happened to him after that.

Another birthday memory is the time my parents held a circus-themed birthday party for me.  Instead of stacking my cake, Mom decorated the individual layers as three rings of the circus.  My party was attended by cousins, neighbors, and, of course, my sisters except for Terri.  She was sick that day, and so my dad took her to my grandmother’s house to keep her away from the other children.

It’s funny how certain things bring birthday memories.  An often-repeated present was a small can of salted cashews.  My parents knew I loved them, and I didn’t even have to share them if I didn’t want to.  Another frequent gift was a potted flower from Dad.  It was usually either a red geranium or a blooming hyacinth.  One year, I received a set of Chinese jacks.  They were plastic circles that could be pushed together, and I made a necklace out of them.  I think I still have them, but I’m not sure where they are.

My age this year brings with it all kinds of mail reminding me that I will be eligible for Medicare next year.  I’d rather have a red geranium.

Now for the cherry recipes.  Anyone that likes cherries as much as I do should enjoy them!

Spinach and Cherry Salad

1 medium pear
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
8 cups baby spinach leaves, washed and dried
1/2 cup chopped dried cherries
3 tablespoons toasted almond slivers
2 ounces medium-firm goat cheese (optional)
Cherry Vinaigrette (Recipe follows)

Cut pear in half vertically, and remove core. Cut halves crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Stack the slices and cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-wide slices, forming thin matchsticks. Toss pear sticks in lime juice in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
Add spinach, cherries and almonds to the pear. Add just enough dressing to coat the spinach (about 1/4 cup); toss well. Divide salad evenly among 6 plates. Crumble the goat cheese and sprinkle over the salads. Serve immediately. Pass extra dressing separately.
Makes 6 servings.

Cherry Vinaigrette

1 tablespoon dried tart cherries
2 teaspoons onion powder

1 clove garlic
3 tablespoons fruit-flavored vinegar
1 tablespoons orange juice concentrate

1 tablespoon water

2 tablespoons cherry juice concentrate
3 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste (I used 1/4 teaspoon of each)

Chop cherries and garlic in food processor; pulse until finely chopped. Add onion powder, fruit-flavored vinegar, orange juice concentrate, water, cherry juice concentrate and honey; puree. With food processor on, slowly add olive oil; mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Makes 3/4 cup or 6 (2-tablespoon) servings.

Pork Chops with Cherry Sauce

(4) 4-ounce boneless, center-cut pork chops, trimmed of fat

1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

3/4 teaspoon dried leaf oregano, crushed

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Nonstick cooking spray

 (1) 16-ounce bag frozen dark-red pitted cherries, thawed and drained

1/2 cup red grape juice (May use tart cherry juice)

Coat a large skillet with nonstick cooking spray.  Coat pork chops evenly on both sides with garlic salt and pepper.  Arrange in preheated skillet and brown well on both sides over medium heat.  Combine grape juice, vinegar, remaining seasonings and half of cherries in blender.  Puree and pour over pork chops in skillet.  Sprinkle remaining cherries over top, and then reduce heat.  Cover and simmer 10 minutes. Serve immediately with brown rice. Serves 4.

Mini Cherry Pies

1-1/2 cups tart pitted cherries, drained and patted dry – from 2 (15-ounce) cans (may use frozen tart cherries, thawed and drained)

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon quick-cooking tapioca (may substitute 2 tablespoons flour)

Pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon almond extract

1 (14.1-ounce) package refrigerated “just unroll” pie crusts (with 2 crusts)

2 tablespoons milk, optional

2 teaspoons sugar, optional

In a bowl, mix cherries, sugar, tapioca, salt and vanilla; let stand for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Lightly mist 6 cups of a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray, alternating to keep space between them. Unroll 1 pie crust onto a lightly floured surface. Roll out to about an 11-inch round. Use a 5-inch round cutter to cut out 6 rounds. Transfer rounds to muffin tin. Gently fit dough into muffin cups, leaving some overhang. Chill for 15 minutes. Repeat rolling with second pie crust, cutting out 6 (3-inch) rounds. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and chill.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees; line a baking sheet with foil. Stir filling; spoon about 2 tablespoonfuls into each dough-lined cup. Remove rounds from fridge and cut a small star out of center of each. Place one round on top of each pie. Fold edges of round over the overhanging dough; crimp to seal. Repeat with remaining dough rounds. Brush tops with milk and sprinkle with sugar, if desired. Place tin on baking sheet.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until filling bubbles and crusts are golden brown (check frequently and cover with foil if crusts brown too quickly). Remove muffin tin to a rack to cool.