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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Raspberry Cream Brownies--A Quick But Special Dessert

With a bumper crop of raspberries this year, I have lots and lots of raspberry jam to use. Perfect for use in this easy but elegant brownie recipe.

Whether using homemade jam or a jar of preserves off the store shelf, the addition of jam and a cheese cake like mixture makes a box mix just a little more special. Most of the time, brownie mixes are cheaper than baking from scratch and these little upgrades should satisfy even the most picky chocolate fanatics.

My latest batch went so fast, there was only one left to get into a photo. As you can see, these are chewy, moist, the best kind of fudgy brownie with the added panache of raspberry. Enjoy!

Raspberry Cream Brownies

1 brownie mix--the size that makes a 9 X 13 pan
eggs, oil, and water for making the brownies
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 c plain non-fat yogurt
1 egg
1/3 c sugar
1 t vanilla
2 T flour
about 1/4 c raspberry jam or preserves

1. Prepare the brownies as directed on the package, EXCEPT, use only about half the oil called for in the recipe. Spread in a well-oiled 9 X 13 pan. (May also be put in two 8 inch square pans for slightly thinner brownies.)
2. Beat together the cream cheese, yogurt, egg, sugar, vanilla, and flour until smooth.
3. Drop the cream cheese mixture by tablespoons evenly around the brownie batter. Then, using a teaspoon, place the jam in small dollops in between the cream cheese areas. Using a knife or thin spatula, gently swirl the cream cheese and jam through the brownie batter. You should mix just enough to have delicate ribbons of the cream cheese and jam without mixing everything together.
4. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 to 35 minutes, a little less if using two 8 inch pans. Do not over-bake. (If using glass pans, bake at 325 degrees.)

About half a cup of coarsely chopped walnuts can be added to the brownie mix if desired.

HINT: If you are making these at the last minute and want to soften the cream cheese quickly, just cut it in cubes, put in a microwave-safe dish and heat on medium for no more than 25 to 30 seconds.

An Update--Banana Cupcakes

Several months ago I posted a wonderful family recipe for Banana Cake, an easy recipe that everyone seems to enjoy. This weekend, when my granddaughter and I had an opportunity to spend time with Great Grandma, we decided to do some baking in the old family kitchen. The request was for cupcakes, so we pulled out the old recipe and Granddaughter learned how to move from cake to cupcakes, and she shared the frosting application she learned at her first 4H meeting. The highlight of it all was getting a phone call from her great uncle to tell Granddaughter that these were "the best cupcakes we ever tasted!"

Here is the link to the original post:

Prepare as given in the recipe and then put into paper-lined muffin tins instead of a cake pan. This makes about 18 to 20 cupcakes. The baking time just needs to be shortened to about 18 to 20 minutes.

And then the frosting application approach: Put the frosting in a small zippered bag, seal, and clip a corner off the bag. Use this as an applicator bag to spread the frosting on the cupcakes.

And, if you want to get really creative, poke a little hole in the middle of a cupcake and force some of the frosting into the center for a "filled" cupcake. (My guess is that extra dollop of frosting put these cupcakes over the top into best ever!)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Butternut Squash and Red Lentils, East Indian Style

Here's a perfect vegan dish that even meat-eaters will enjoy. First, the recipe as made for 10 to 12 people. This is easy to put together, and is great both for entertaining a crowd on a cold fall evening or for making ahead for several meals--it reheats well. In case you want to make a smaller amount and don't want to do the math, I have included an adjusted ingredients list as well. Just know that you may need to tweak the seasonings a bit more for the smaller batch.

(And if you haven't worked a lot with winter squashes, scroll down to the post just below this one for a lot of hints and two more butternut squash recipes to try.)

Vegan Butternut Squash and Red Lentil Stew

5 to 6 c cubed butternut squash (one medium, about 2 1/2 lb)--don't worry about being exact in this measurement--if your squash is a little bigger or a little smaller, that's okay!
2 c red lentils
1 1/2 c chopped onion (1 large)
1 c celery, sliced
1 1/2 c grated carrot
2 t garam masala
2 t garlic powder OR 4 to 5 garlic cloves, mashed
6 c water
6 vegetarian bouillon cubes (OR 3 of the larger size such as Knorr brand)
salt, cayenne pepper to taste
16 to 24 oz frozen peas
16 to 24 oz frozen cauliflower
2 to 3 t curry powder, to taste

1. To make peeling the squash easier, wash and pierce it in a few places with a fork or knife blade. Place in the microwave 4 to 5 minutes. Remove and cool enough to handle. Peel and cut into cubes about an inch or so in size.
2. Meanwhile, saute the onion, carrot, and celery in a little canola oil, until the onions are starting to brown.
3. Combine all ingredients except the peas, cauliflower, and curry powder in a large slow cooker. Cook on LOW overnight or about 5 to 6 hours, until the squash is soft and flavors are blended.
4. About an hour before serving, stir in the peas and cauliflower and curry powder to taste. Taste and adjust for salt and cayenne as well. You may need to turn the slow cooker to HIGH for the last hour if the frozen vegetables cool the mixture too much.

Serve over rice or with naan, pita, or other flat bread.

This amount will easily serve 8 to 10.

Note--if planning to freeze part of the batch, you may want to wait to add the peas and cauliflower until reheating. This is not absolutely necessary, but it will help retain maximum color retention.

Adjusted amounts for serving 4 to 6:

2 1/2 to 3 c cubed butternut squash (one small , about 1 lb, or half a medium squash)--don't worry about being exact in this measurement--if your squash is a little bigger or a little smaller, that's okay!
1 c red lentils
3/4 c chopped onion (1 medium)
1/2 c celery, sliced
3/4c grated carrot
1 t garam masala
1 t garlic powder OR 2 to 3 garlic cloves, mashed
3 c water
3 vegetarian bouillon cubes (OR 1 to 2 of the larger size such as Knorr brand)
salt, cayenne pepper to taste
10 to 12 oz frozen peas
10 to 12 oz frozen cauliflower
1 t curry powder, to taste

We have a cooperative grocery store in town with bulk spices and herbs, so I can buy small amounts of mixes like garam masala very reasonably. However, if you don't have that option, I found a recipe at to make your own garam masala with things you might already have in your cupboard. I haven't tried this, however, so can't attest to how it would work in this recipe.

Garam Masala
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg


  1. Mix cumin, coriander, cardamom, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg in a bowl. Place mix in an airtight container, and store in a cool, dry place.

Butternut Squash--Hints and Links to Squash Soups

Fall has really arrived, so I once again have a stash of butternut squash in my "root cellar," otherwise known as my garage. It is unheated and is "tucked under" my house instead of being detached, so it is the perfect place to store all kinds of fruits and vegetables throughout the fall and winter. Last year, some of the apples, squash and potatoes I bought in bulk at local orchards and vegetable stands lasted into March and even early April.

With excellent past storage experience, I really stocked up when a local produce market had squash for 19 cents a pound. Today, one of my favorite supermarkets had those same varieties for $1.19 a pound, so I was able to save $80 just with the advance buying.

Yup, you did the math right; I now have eighty pounds of squash ready for baking, cooking, and experimenting. I'll be sharing some of the recipes I've found in coming posts, but first some basic squash cookery hints:
  • An important step not to be missed in any of the following hints--pierce a whole squash in several places. From experience, I can tell you, this is an important step, unless you really enjoy cleaning up after a squash explosion in your oven or microwave.
  • Most winter squashes can be used interchangeably in recipes that call for squash puree. Acorn, buttercup, etc., may be used in most butternut squash recipes, though the other varieties sometimes have a more pronounced "squashy" flavor that might stand out more than you'd like.
  • It is easier to peel and seed a cooked winter squash rather than a raw one. For any recipe that calls for mashed or pureed squash, just poke some holes in several places in a washed, whole butternut squash, put on a baking tray (to save oven clean up) and bake at 350 to 375 degrees. Baking time will vary depending on the size of the squash, so you just test for doneness by squeezing the thickest part or inserting a fork there. The squash should be quite soft at this point. Remove from the oven and allow to cool just enough to handle. Cut in half, remove the seeds and seed fibers (a grapefruit spoon works well for this) and then scoop out the pulp.
  • To peel and cube a raw squash, pierce the washed squash in several places and then microwave it for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on size--perhaps a minute or so less for small squash. This step softens the squash enough to make peeling easier without actually cooking it. Allow it to cool just enough to handle before peeling and cubing.
  • Roasting can add a lot of flavor to your squash, just as with other vegetables. Cut small to medium washed butternut squash in half, remove seeds, and place cut side up on a tray. Brush lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with salt (and herbs or other seasoning of choice) and bake at 400 to 425 degrees until the thickest part is easily pierced with a fork and the flesh is golden and "roasted." This can be served as is or put in a processor or blender for additional flavor in other dishes calling for squash puree.
  • Whenever you have the oven on for other reasons, wash a squash, pierce it and put it on a baking sheet next to whatever you are baking--"free" energy! If you are just baking squash for a specific recipe, put in a couple of extras to puree and freeze for another time. Time and money saving. It takes no longer to bake an oven full of squash than it does to bake just one.
  • Butternut squash puree freezes well. Since many recipes call for a cup, measure one cup servings into small, inexpensive sandwich bags. Lay flat on a cookie sheet and freeze. When solidly frozen, stack the bags inside a gallon freezer bag and label with the date. This provides a double layer of protection, takes minimal space in the freezer, and gives you a ready source of puree for the increasing number of uses you are sure to find for squash. 
  •  Home canning is not recommended for squash puree (pumpkin either) since the material is so dense, it is almost impossible with non-commercial equipment to be sure the center reaches a high enough temperature long enough to kill all bacteria--including the very dangerous botulism.

To get you started, here are links to a couple of soups that include squash puree for full flavor, color, and nutrition.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Refried Beans and "Flat Enchiladas"

Refried beans are a staple of so many Mexican meals, and there is nothing quite so good as those you make at home. Here's a list of just a few of the meals you can prepare focused on this great dish:
  • Burritos--bean and cheese, bean, bean and vegetables (sauteed peppers, onions, and spinach or other greens is a great combination), bean and ground beef, breakfast (egg) burritos, etc., etc.
  • Enchiladas--pretty much the same list of variations as for burritos
  • Refried bean soup--if your family isn't really excited about the old standard bean soup, this is a good one to try
  • Bean and cheese nachos--try this dip with apples and raw vegetables as well as with chips
  • And then of course there is the addition of a side of refried beans to any Mexican main dish, stretching the meal economically and nutritionally.

If you start with a bag of dried beans, this is also one of the most frugal foods you can prepare. Cooking up a two pound bag of beans takes no more real time to prepare than smaller amounts, and most of the time doesn't require your attention at all.

If you have never prepared dried beans, this is a good place to experiment. Pinto beans are almost always the least expensive of all your choices and they are pretty resilient in how you prepare them, and they are the usual basis for frijoles refritos. However, lots of other beans can be prepared in the same way--and we all know how popular refried black beans have become at a lot of restaurants.

First, the basics of dried bean cookery:

1. Almost all beans will need to be pre-soaked. There are primarily two approaches to pre-soaking:

Wash the beans and add water, covering to at least an inch above the beans. Allow to sit at least five to six hours or overnight.
Wash the beans and add water, covering to at least an inch above the beans. Bring the beans to a boil and cook for about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit for an hour or so.

2. After the beans have soaked, drain well, rinse lightly if desired, and then cover with fresh water, again allowing about an inch of water above the top layer of beans.

TWO SIDE NOTES HERE--Changing the water and salting--or not--the beans

About the rinsing and changing the water--yes, you probably lose a few nutrients by not cooking the beans in the same water in which they soak. However, these little guys are so nutrient-dense, they still are packed with minerals and fiber...and the water that is washed away carries with it at least most of the "flatulence producers" for which beans have a sometimes well-deserved reputation. For this reason if no other, don't forget to drain the soaking water and add in one more rinse if desired!)
And a debate that probably only hardcore cooks really worry about: do I salt the beans while cooking or not?
  • There are two basic schools of thought on this. One group of cooks insists that adding any salt before the beans are well-cooked will toughen them and they will never become truly soft. The other group says Nonsense, if you don't salt them first, they will never really pick up the flavor you want.
  • I have generally been a don't salt them till they are cooked person, but I did find a third way awhile ago that seems to be a great compromise. Add salt to the soaking water but then, when you drain the beans, don't add any salt to the cooking water. This works very well--my only problem is that I all too often forget to add the salt at the beginning and think of it only after the beans have finished their soak.

3. Bring the beans to a boil, turn down the heat, and cook gently until the beans are soft. Test by mashing a bean or two against the side of the pan. You will need to allow about an hour or so for this phase.
  • Instead of cooking on the stove top, you can instead place the beans in a very large slow cooker; cover the beans with water and cooking on LOW for five to six hours or on HIGH for two to three hours.
Note that the cooking time either on the stove top or in a slow cooker will vary, rather dramatically at times. Why? Dried beans will stay perfectly edible and nutritious on the shelf for literally years. However, the older the beans, the longer it will take to cook them to tenderness. Since you probably won't know just how old the beans are when you buy them, you will have to use your best guess for the cooking time, always being ready to cook them longer than you had planned!

When the beans are tender, they are ready to be made into refried beans (or for any other recipe calling for canned beans for that matter). You can also freeze some or all of the beans in their cooking liquid at this point too. That two pound bag of beans you started with (just $1. 39 right now at my local Aldi store) will yield at least six pounds of prepared beans, so you have lots to work with.

Now, for the "re-frying." That is truly a misnomer, since, as Wikipedia points out,

The name is based on a mistranslation.In Mexican Spanish, the prefix re is an informal form of emphasis meaning "very" or "well", not to be confused with the English re and the most common use of the Spanish prefix re outside Mexico, which indicates repetition. Thus, frijoles refritos, the Mexican name of this dish, should translate to English as "well-fried beans", not "refried beans". However, this still does not explain the reference to frying in the name. In this dish, the beans are not fried. Indeed, beans are never fried, so the name is bizarre on any count. A sensible name in English for this dish would be "mashed beans."

So our "sensible" cooking style will include very little oil as well, just enough to keep the beans from sticking to the pan as they are gently cooked with seasonings. As with so many of these basic, "ethnic," dishes, the recipe proportions here are easily adjusted to suit your family's own preferences. Oh, and if you just can't get the time together to cook beans from scratch, you can still make refried beans from canned beans; just be sure to avoid adding any salt until you have tasted the mixture, as most canned beans are way too high in salt. (One more reason to make your own!)

Frijoles Refritos--mashed, not fried

1 T canola oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 4 oz can diced green chiles
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced (OR 1 to 2 t garlic powder)

3 to 4 c cooked pinto beans, with liquid
2 t oregano (Mexican, if available)
2 t cumin
1 T cider or balsamic vinegar
1 to 2 T chili powder (optional)
1/3 c chopped cilantro, stems and leaves (optional)
salt to taste
Saute the onion in the canola oil until just starting to turn golden. Stir in the garlic, beans, oregano and cumin. Add enough of the bean liquid to make a rather runny mixture.

Using a potato masher, mash the beans while stirring over medium heat. Add the chiles, vinegar, and chili powder and continue stirring. Use a spatula to scrape the bottom of the pan--a little bit of crust formed at the bottom will add flavor to the mix, but you do not want the beans to burn on. Taste for seasoning and add salt as needed, along with additional bean liquid or water if the mixture becomes too thick. (These will thicken when cooled, so you want to be sure that they maintain the consistency of thin cooked oatmeal.) Add the cilantro near the end of cooking.

One of the challenges I had in this post was trying to come up with a picture that would be both appetizing and would show how the beans start to come together as you prepare them. Not sure I succeeded, but this is what the mashed, seasoned beans will start to look like.

And now a quick enchilada recipe that uses some of your homemade refried beans.

Flat Bean and Cheese Enchiladas

Yes this is a large recipe and can easily be divided. However, make it in an 11 X 13 or similar casserole dish for a crowd, or divide it between two 7 X 11 pans and freeze one to pop in the oven on another day.

2 to 3 c refried beans
3/4 c cubed or sliced processed cheese
1/2 c yogurt (optional)
12 to 15 corn tortillas
12 to 16 oz grated cheddar or Monterrey jack cheese

Enchilada Sauce:
28 oz can or jar spaghetti sauce, preferably a garden vegetable variety
1 c prepared enchilada sauce
1/3 to 1/2 c finely chopped onion
1 t garlic powder OR 2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 2 t cumin, to taste
chili powder to taste--start out with about a tablespoon or two
8 oz butternut squash puree (optional, but see NOTE)
1/2 c chopped cilantro (opt)
1 4 oz can diced green chilies OR 1/3 c diced bell or jalapeno pepper (optional, to taste)

1. Combine all the enchilada sauce ingredients and heat on the stovetop or in the microwave. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.
2. Meanwhile, combine the refried beans and processed cheese in a microwave safe bowl. Heat for a minute or two to soften the mixture. If it is still very thick, add a little yogurt to make it "spreadable.)
3. Spread a few spoonfuls of the sauce over the bottom of an 11 X 13 or similar sized casserole dish. Arrange tortillas evenly across the sauce, tearing as necessary to completely cover the bottom of the baking dish.
4. Spread about half the refried bean mixture evenly over the tortillas, then layer with a third of the remaining enchilada sauce. Sprinkle with a little of the grated cheese.
5. Repeat the layers--tortillas, remaining beans, a third of the sauce, and cheese.
6. Finish the dish with one more layer of tortillas, the remaining sauce, and a thick layer of cheese. Be sure that the tortillas are completely covered with sauce to avoid any hardened edges when done. If freezing one part of the enchiladas, cover tightly at this point, label, and freeze.
7. Bake at 350 degrees about 30 to 45 minutes, until the mixture is bubbling around the edges and the cheese is melted and golden. (If the cheese begins to brown, cover with foil for the last 15 minutes or so.)

NOTE: If you do not use squash, you may want to reduce the amount of spaghetti sauce slightly to avoid having the final dish too thin. You could also precook and mash carrots or sweet potatoes to substitute for the squash.

Raspberry Filled Coffeecake and Sticky Buns

One way to stretch precious raspberries--and brighten up the brunch or breakfast table--is to put raspberries in a favorite sticky bun or coffee cake recipe. Here is one dough, shaped in two ways, half as buns, half as a coffee cake. If you want to make the entire batch into rolls, double the glaze recipe to be sure the rolls will be well coated.

While either form can be frozen after baking, I think the coffee cake thaws more satisfactorily.

Raspberry Sticky Buns and Coffeecake

Basic Sweet Yeast Dough
3 c very warm water
1/3 c canola oil
1/2 c sugar
2 eggs
1 T salt
1/2 c oatmeal (not instant) or steel cut oat groats (optional)
1 c nonfat dry milk powder
1 pkg instant dry yeast (or 1 T)
4 c bread flour
approximately 3 unbleached white flour, as needed

1. Combine water, oil, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Beat in the eggs, oatmeal, dry milk powder and about 2 cups of the bread flour. Stir in the yeast and allow mixture to sit for about 20 minutes (up to an hour or so if that fits your schedule!), until the mixture is forming bubbles and beginning to expand.

2. Beat in remaining bread flour. You can use a bread hook on a mixer if you have one, but just beating with a large wood spoon will work too. The key is to beat the dough until it begins to look "satiny."

3. Gradually add the unbleached flour, a cup at a time at first and then only small amounts, beating well after each addition. The key is to add enough so that the dough begins to form a ball around the spoon without adding so much that it becomes too dry.

4. At this point, you can either turn the dough out on to a floured surface and knead for a few minutes until it forms a smooth, springy ball OR just use your hands and knead the dough right in the bowl--you did use a very large one, didn't you?

5. Cover the dough with a clean towel and set aside in a warm (not hot) place to rise for an hour or so. At this stage, you can also "punch down" the dough several times if that works for your schedule better. The key is to be sure the dough has risen at least once to the doubling stage.

For the Sticky Buns:

6. Prepare the Raspberry Glaze and divide evenly into two 9 inch pie plates or 9 inch square pans.

7. Cut off about a fourth of the dough and roll into a rectangle on a lightly floured surface. Spread with a fourth of the Raspberry Apple Filling. Roll up as for cinnamon rolls and cut into ten to twelve evenly sized pieces. Place the rolls in one of the prepared pans and press down lightly. Repeat with another fourth of the dough and filling.

8. Cover the pans of rolls lightly with a towel and allow to rise until doubled, about 40 to 50 minutes. Continue with the coffeecake assembly.

For the Raspberry Filled Coffeecake:

9. Roll the remaining half of the dough into a rectangle and spread with the remaining Raspberry Apple Filling.

10. Roll up as for cinnamon rolls and place the entire roll on a well-oiled baking sheet. Bring the ends of the roll together to form a circle, pinching the ends together to seal. Using kitchen scissors or a sharp knife, cut slashes a few inches apart, halfway through the roll.

11. Cover lightly with a towel and allow to rise until doubled, about 40 to 50 minutes.

12. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven--about 25 minutes for the rolls, until the center rolls are very well-browned. The coffee cake may take about 5 to 10 minutes longer and should be deep golden brown.

12. Remove from oven. Turn the coffeecake on to a cooling rack. The sticky buns shoudl be allowed to sit in the pan for about two to three minutes. Then invert each pan onto a serving plate and allow to cool.

13. The coffeecake should be frosted with a plain powdered sugar icing before serving.

Raspberry Apple Filling and Raspberry Glaze--Base

3 c raspberries
1 1/2 c water
1/2 c sugar

Combine raspberries, water, and sugar and microwave about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove and place in a colander, separating the puree from the juice.

Raspberry Glaze

1 1/2 c raspberry juice (add water if there is not quite enough juice)
1 c sugar
2 T butter
1 t cinnamon

Combine all ingredients and microwave in a large bowl about 3 to 4 minutes, until the mixture boils vigorously. This will bubble up so be sure you have a large enough container.
Divide the glaze into two 9 inch pans.

Raspberry Apple Filling

2 c raspberry puree
1/3 c sugar
2 t cinnamon
2 c finely chopped apples--cored but not peeled

Combine all ingredients and microwave for about 2 minutes. Cool to just warm before spreading on the dough.

Minnesota "Hot Dish"--A Fall/Winter Tradition?

I grew up and lived most of my life in parts of the country where a conglomeration of starch, vegetables, and protein in some kind of (usually creamy) sauce was called a "casserole." My kids will tell you that this catch-all title probably made up over half of our family meals when they were growing up, though I think it was a little lower percentage than they would claim.

Still, it was nice to come home after a long day and be able to answer the "what's for dinner" question with the catch-all "casserole" while I rummaged through the cupboards and refrigerator, deciding on whether it would be rice or some kind of pasta to go with some frozen vegetables and whatever leftover meat might be around.

Now I live in "hot dish" country. In fact, a senior editor of the Rochester (MN) Post-Bulletin recently conducted a contest for the best hot dish recipe. One of the requirements was that the finished product had to include condensed soup, something I no longer use, so I was out of the running from the start. Still, it reminded me that it is really time to start making more of these "comfort foods" as part of my weekly menus.

Saturday I had the joy of cooking with four fellow cooks in my kitchen. We made several main dishes together so everyone could take some home to freeze for later. One of the entrees was a ham, vegetable, and rice combination that freezes well and that became the token "hot dish" for our afternoon in the kitchen.

The recipe that follows is very much a "guideline" rather than a rigid formula, with substitutions easily made and proportions of ingredients changed to fit an individual family's tastes. The dish can easily be cut in half, but making the full amount (easily serving 8 to 10) will provide a meal for now and two or three portions to freeze for later quick meals. Put the extras in freezer bags, and flatten both for easy stacking and for quick reheating in the microwave.

Ham and Rice Casserole

1 pound boneless ham, cubed
1 to 2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 c chopped onion
1/4 to 1/3 c diced bell pepper (optional)
12 to 16 oz frozen broccoli, chopped
2 medium carrots (about 1 1/2 to 2 cups), sliced or diced
1 c processed cheese, cubed or sliced
1 to 2 t mixed dried herbs (see NOTE)
salt and pepper to taste
milk or plain yogurt, if needed
4 to 5 c cooked rice

1. Prepare the rice in a rice cooker, in the oven (see below), or on top of the stove.
2. Meanwhile, saute the onion, celery, carrots, and pepper in a small amount of canola oil, until the onions are just translucent.
3. Turn the burner to low and fold in the broccoli, cheese, mixed herbs, and ham into the pan with the sauteed vegetables. Stir to melt the cheese and blend the ingredients.
4. Add the cooked rice and taste for seasonings. If the mixture is not as creamy as you would like, add a little milk or yogurt.
5. Remove portion to be used for later meals and package for the freezer.

The photo above shows the unadorned version of this, the way you might serve it when rushed for time. However, it can be made even more attractive with a topping of grated cheddar cheese and/or seasoned bread crumbs. Bake for 15 minutes at 350 until the cheese has melted and the mixture is bubbly, or put in microwave for about 5 minutes to melt the cheese.

NOTE: Dried basil, rosemary, and marjoram is a good mixture to go with the ham, but you may want to try other favorite herbs instead.

Vegetable variations:
Fresh broccoli may be substituted for frozen. Trim, cut in bite-sized pieces, and microwave with a small amount of water until a bright green and barely tender--about 2 minutes or so.
Other vegetables may also be added or substituted--frozen corn, peas, cauliflower, etc., as well as any leftovers you might have in the refrigerator.

Oven Baked Rice

If you don't have a rice cooker, this is a great way to make rice in large quantities to have ready for future meals, either in the refrigerator or freezer.

For white rice:
6 c water, boiling
3 c rice
2 t salt

Bring water to a boil in a large, oven safe pot. Stir in the rice and salt, cover tightly, and put in a 350 degree oven about 20 to 25 minutes. Stir after about 15 minutes if desired.

This can be doubled or tripled--if you have a pan big enough--and then put in freezer bags for microwaving later. Larger quantities may require a few more minutes of cooking, so check after 25 minutes and continue baking if needed.

For brown rice:
5 1/2 to 6 c water, boiling
3 c rice
2 t salt

Follow the same process as with white rice, but expect the rice to take about 30 to 40 minutes for this quantity.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Time Has Come...

I have covered the raspberry patch, along with my pretty scraggly tomatoes, green beans and yellow summer squash, through two nights of possible light frost in late September. The effort was worth it, as unprotected ferns next to the house are blackened while I have continued harvesting a few garden vegetables and lots of raspberries. But now, the forecast is for a few consecutive nights of temperatures perhaps even below 30 degrees, with even the possibility of a few little snow flakes in the air on the next couple of mornings. The vegetable plants seem to have gotten the message, as they have already begun shutting down, with only a handful of beans left, no more baby squashes or even blossoms forming, and the tomatoes only halfheartedly hanging on to the neglected vines trailing across the ground.

But the raspberries! They continue to form, with a stray bee or two always out in the patch, finding one more blossom to sip from, and baby berries hide under leaves and among the brambles. As these pictures show, there are big as your thumb berries without a hint of red--way too early to pick and thus probable victims of the coming cold.

So I went into the patch and gathered the last picking of the season, this time pulling off berries I would have left on for a few more days at any other time. But they are ripe enough to carry that rich raspberry flavor, without the mellowing sweetness that full maturity would have brought. Mixed with the completely ripe berries and some sweet apples, they will still provide much wonderful flavor in crisps and breads and pies through the winter. This last time through the batch yielded another two pounds or so, and the freezer is now full and ready for plenty of raspberry treats.

Even as I rue the passing of the berry season, I am reminded of how blessed I am to have these berries right in the back yard, and I know that without that personal patch, I could never pretend to be making "frugal" desserts with so many raspberries. For those who do not have such a wonderful supply, I have a few recipes that stretch out the rich raspberry flavor when you are able to fit a pint or so into the budget. You could also try substituting strawberries (often more available at more reasonable prices) or even blueberries for raspberries in some of these recipes as another cost-cutting measure.

A few of the postings I have included here in the past:

In a salad:


And, of course, jam:

A future post will include some yeast breads with raspberries. Notice that I now have added a widget so you can follow Frugal, Fast, and Fun and be notified via email when a new post is added. Try it out! (This will also keep me on my toes, making sure I have some new thoughts to share regularly.)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Caramel Apple Bread Pudding

Sometimes a cool and cloudy fall day calls out for an old-fashioned dessert, and this bread pudding fills that role well. Served warm or cold, with or without a dollop of whipped cream or (while still very hot) even a scoop of vanilla ice cream, this will say comfort food anytime you serve it. Best of all, it's pretty easy and inexpensive, especially if you have some stale bread you are not sure what to do with.

I used soft whole wheat bread cubes in today's version, but you can include all kinds of breads--even leftover hot dog buns! If you have some dried bread cubes (not crumbs), they can also be included but you will probably want to increase the amount of liquid by up to half a cup.

The sauce is easier than you might think, but it does need to be attended to while you are cooking. There is a certain "cool" factor for kids to watch as the sugar gradually turns from dry white crystals to a golden liquid, so this could be fun to do together with them. If you are not up to that whole thing, you can buy a bag of caramels and melt them with a little milk in the microwave...but the flavor of this homemade sauce is ever so much better, and the cost will be substantially less. Any leftover sauce (if there is any!) is good over any apple dessert or as an ice cream topping too.

Apple Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce

6 c (9 to 10 slices) soft whole wheat bread, cut in about 1 inch cubes
1/3 c raisins
3 c finely chopped apples, cored but not peeled
1 c brown sugar (may use less if a sweet variety of apple is used)
2 1/2 c milk
2 eggs
1/4 c butter, melted
1 to 2 t cinnamon
1 t vanilla

1. Toss the bread cubes, raisins and apples together until well mixed.
2. Beat together the milk, eggs, butter, cinnamon, and vanilla in a large bowl. Gently fold in the bread mixture and stir just until evenly blended.
3. Turn into a well-buttered 10 inch deep dish pie pan or flat casserole dish--12 inch square or 9 X 13 will work. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. (The flatter the pan, the faster this will bake.) After about 25 minutes of baking, cover the dish lightly with foil so the top is golden but not dry.

Caramel Sauce

1 c sugar
1/4 butter
1 c very hot milk
1 t maple flavoring

1. Place the milk in a microwave safe dish and heat for about a minute or two, depending on your microwave, until very hot but not boiling. This can be done while you are caramelizing the sugar. You want to be sure that the milk is still very hot when adding it to the sugar.
2. Pour the sugar into a heavy nonstick pan or cast iron skillet, spreading evenly over the bottom. Heat the pan to medium high and stir the sugar occasionally. Watch carefully; when it begins to melt in spots, you will need to begin stirring it pretty continuously, until it has all melted and turned light gold.
3. When the sugar is completely melted, reduce the heat to low and add the butter and stir until evenly blended.
4. Slowly add the very hot milk, stirring continuously. When the entire mixture is smooth, remove from heat and beat in the maple flavoring. Store in the refrigerator. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

If the milk is not hot or if you don't stir quite quickly enough, it is possible that you will suddenly have a hard clump of melted sugar in the middle of a puddle of milk! Don't despair. If this happens, just turn the heat down and keep stirring until the mixture finally comes together--as it will. You do have to be patient if this occurs, but you don't have to toss the whole thing out. The only way you can ruin the sauce is by burning the sugar, so just keep stirring and keep the heat low enough to avoid that. (Trust me, it will be worth the few minutes it takes to do this.)