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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Spring Pea Soup

For many people, "pea soup" means a soup made with dried split peas, perhaps pureed into a thick creamy soup (like the kind in the old fashioned red and white can). However, Grandma Laack welcomed the early summer season with a fresh pea soup that is a lot lighter and a good dish for spring. Frozen peas are about as easy an ingredient to include in dishes like this.

As for the stock:  Ham is a traditional paring with split pea soup, but you can be very flexible in your choice of stock--or even chicken or vegetarian bouillon cubes if needed. This is a great way to get the last flavor and bits of meat from a ham bone too.

After the initial chopping and sauteeing, there is little work to this soup. This makes a large batch, perfect for freezing or keeping in the refrigerator for those busy nights when you don't have time to cook anything from scratch.

Spring Pea Soup

canola oil
1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
1 c chopped celery
1 1/2 to 2 c diced or thinly sliced carrots
1 to 2 chicken or vegetarian bouillon cubes or packets (if no stock is available)
1 quart rich chicken stock or ham juices
1 to 2 quarts water, depending on your preference for consistency
1 t dried oregano
1/2 t dried thyme
1/2 to 1 t black pepper
salt to taste
1 bay leaf (optional)
24 ounces frozen green peas
1 ham bone (optional)

1.  Saute the onion in a small amount of oil until translucent and just starting to turn golden.
2.  Combine all the remaining ingredients, EXCEPT the peas,  in a large pot. When the onions are golden, add to the remaining mixture. Cover and bring just to a boil. Reduce heat to low, to keep the mixture barely simmering, and cook for about one to two hours, until the celery and carrots are tender. Taste and adjust seasonings.
3.  About ten minutes or so before serving, remove the bay leaf if used and stir in the peas (no need to thaw). Turn the heat up to medium and allow the soup to return to a simmer. The sooner you serve the soup after adding the peas, the more color they will retain.


The soup may be prepared in a slow cooker. Allow about 6 hours at LOW setting. About 20 minutes before serving, turn the cooker to HIGH and add the peas. 

Use up bits of ham along with the ham bone--you may add the cut up ham at the beginning of the simmering process or with the peas.

Diced potatoes, pearl barley, or cooked brown rice may also be added if you prefer a thicker, starchier soup.  You may need to adjust the cooking time slightly to be sure these are fully cooked.

Garlic Bread Spread

A close member of my family (who shall remain nameless for now!) says she always loved having spaghetti and (vegetarian) meat balls for dinner because that meant they would also have garlic bread, one of her favorite dishes.

If your family enjoys garlic bread as much as this, you may have been tempted to pick up a loaf of pre-prepared garlic bread in the bakery department on your way home after a busy day. Before you do, think again. A quick scan of the ingredients list, at even the best stores, is likely to reveal some unpleasant information. Rarely will the spread include either butter or olive oil;  instead there will be lots of hydrogenate or partially hydrogenated fat, along with a list of unpronounceable additives. Add to this the increased cost of most of these "convenience" loaves and you have good reason to make your own.

But, you say, I don't have time to make my own garlic bread. Actually, the time it takes to make your own is far less than you think. The recipe below is easily made ahead--on a weekend or while you are cleaning up the kitchen after another meal--and stored in the refrigerator for weeks. Then, when you need a fast side of garlic bread, just spread it on whatever bread you have on hand--no need to wait for the spread to come to room temperature. The photo above shows the consistency of the spread straight out of the refrigerator.

As noted below, you can take the time to make crusty garlic bread by heating it in the oven, but an even quicker--though softer--version can be done in the microwave in minutes.

So go ahead and mix up a batch. As the notes at the end of the recipe show, this can be a versatile ingredient for more than just traditional garlic bread too. 

Garlic Bread Spread

1 c butter, cut in chunks
1 c canola oil (OR olive oil--see NOTE)
1 to 2 t garlic powder (adjust to your taste)(You can substitute fresh garlic, but the powder blends more smoothly and takes much less time to prepare, with little loss in flavor here)
1/2 t salt (optional)

1.  Melt the butter in the microwave on a medium setting, about 30 to 45 seconds (or longer), depending on your microwave's power. (I recommend covering the dish to avoid spattering.)
2.  Stir in the remaining ingredients and refrigerate at least an hour or so, until it reaches spreading consistency.
3.  Store tightly covered in the refrigerator.

NOTE:  I recommend canola oil for a couple of reasons: It will be less expensive, may be slightly healthier (yes, there are those who feel this is actually even better than olive oil), and the garlic generally will keep the olive oil flavor from predominating. So save the olive oil for the salad or drizzling directly over your pasta dish and use canola oil here.

Frugal and fast uses for your spread

If you like crusty garlic toast, spread this on any firm bread, wrap in foil, and bake as usual.
For quick, softer garlic bread, spread several slices, put into a covered casserole dish, and microwave for about 15 to 20 seconds per slice used.

Just about any bread or roll can be turned into garlic bread with this spread. Your family may not be fond of the end slices of bread loaves, but their crusty firmness can be just right for making garlic bread. Bake or microwave as you would a regular baguette or French loaf.

Toast sticks are another way to stretch a meal. Spread slices of any bread (good use for stale ends) or even things like hot dog bun halves with the garlic spread, place on a baking sheet, and bake at 375 to 400 degrees until just golden. Cut into "sticks"--or just leave as whole slices.

For a savory breakfast or brunch side, make toast as usual but spread with the garlic spread instead of regular butter. This is especially good with frittatas or stuffed omelets.

Substitute this garlic spread for butter on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Use the spread on slices of stale bread and toast on a baking sheet until quite crisp. Remove from oven and cut into cubes for use as croutons for salads or casseroles.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Sweet Leftovers

Though it may be hard for some to believe, I ended up with an "extra" cake this week. Some changed plans for a dessert potluck meant that I had an unfrosted, plain from the box mix white cake, with no immediate purpose for it. Thinking it would make a good basis for a trifle, I cubed and dried it. However, I needed a different kind of dessert for a meal I was making today, and I had a little time to experiment, so I decided to try my hand at those frosting and cake balls that have been making the rounds on the internet for some time. 

Almost every recipe I found used purchased frosting, and I had a canister of vanilla frosting I was ready to use up. I've never been a fan of these prepared frostings but this was part of a buy-the-cake-mix-get-the-frosting-free offer, and how can you pass up something that's free?!?

Since I was working with white cake and white frosting, I decided to punch up the flavor with some almond flavoring and ground almonds. I would guess that anyone with Amaretto in the pantry would probably find that add an even better addition, but that is for one of you to try since I didn't have any on hand.

None of the recipes for these lollipop cake-candy confections use dried crumbs nor ground nuts, so I knew mine would need to have added moisture.  I decided to use some maraschino cherry juice for more almond-y flavor and color as well. And if I was going to use the juices, I might as well go the next step and put a cherry in each, for a bit of a surprise center.  I ended up using only pieces of cherry, as the whole ones kept the balls from holding together well. I also abandoned the idea of lollipop serving, since this dough did not adhere to the sticks long enough even to dip.  As it turned out, I think their bonbon appearance was just fine without the sticks--and might be easier to eat anyway. 

I also used chocolate chips since I had some really good semisweet ones and didn't have "dipping chocolate" available. Though many of the recipes using chips add in solid vegetable shortening, that is something I have never had in my kitchen, so I just went without. The coating might be just a tad thicker than it would have been with the Crisco, but I doubt anyone will resent the extra chocolate.
  • Are these fast? Not particularly, though they were a lot easier to work with than I might have thought. Are they frugal? Not particularly either, though I had gotten the cake mix and frosting at a very good price, and I watch for sales at our Fleet Farm store to get their very good chocolate chips and ground almonds as inexpensively as possible. (I've mentioned it before and I'll say it again--I love living in a small city in the Midwest where I can go to a farm supply store to get the best buys on good quality nuts, dried fruits, and chocolate chips.) 
  • Are they fun? As mentioned in the method, the dough in the processor reaches PlayDo-like consistency, so this could be something that would be fun for kids to help with. 
  • Are they healthy? Not at all. Still, for an occasional birthday party or something similar, they are a nice change of pace treat.

Chocolate Covered Cake Candies 
(aka Cake Truffles)

Unfrosted, white or yellow cake, cubed and dried
16 oz container vanilla frosting
1/2 t almond extract
1 c ground almonds
2 to 3 T maraschino cherry juice
9 to 10 maraschino cherries, cut in quarters or fifths, drained
12 oz semisweet chocolate chips

1.  Working in batches, process the cake cubes to the texture of coarse cornmeal or oatmeal.
2.  Return about three cups of the crumbs to the processor bowl and whirl once or twice with the almonds. (See NOTE below for uses for extra crumbs)
3.  Add the frosting, almond extract and maraschino cherry juice. Process until the mixture begins to form a ball and is about the texture of PlayDo. Add more of the crumbs, a tablespoon or so at a time, if the mixture remains too sticky.

4.  Take pieces of the dough about the size of a ping pong ball, and shape each around one of the maraschino cherry pieces. Place the balls on a waxed paper lined tray, keeping them from touching each other. Chill for 30 to 60 minutes.

5.  When ready to dip the centers, place all but about a quarter cup of the chocolate chips in a deep microwave safe bowl (I used a 4 cup measuring pitcher)*. Be very sure the bowl and any utensils are completely dry and do not cover the chocolate.
6.  Begin heating the chips at power level 5 (MEDIUM) for a minute. Stir and then continue heating on power level 5 another couple of minutes, stirring EVERY 30 seconds. When the chips are completely melted, stir in the last quarter cup of the chips and heat another 30 seconds, just until the mixture is thoroughly melted and somewhat thinned. DO NOT OVERHEAT.
7.  Using two forks, roll the centers, one by one, in the chocolate. Return to the waxed paper sheet (OR, place each one in a miniature cupcake paper), again not allowing the balls to touch. I found that a wooden pop stick worked well to scrape excess chocolate back into the bowl and to give a little swirl at the top.

8.  Work quickly. If the chocolate becomes a little thick, return to the microwave at power level 5 for perhaps 15 seconds, just enough to return it to dipping thickness.
9.   Allow at least an hour for the chocolate to set, either at room temperature or in the refrigerator.

Makes about 32. I had enough coating for that many, though I did have another three or four centers that ended up without chocolate. Part of that I blame on my own failure to wipe the excess chocolate off the early balls, so they were really very chocolate-y. I moistened the extra centers with a tiny bit of cherry juice and then rolled them in plain cocoa powder for a real chocolate kick. Not as pretty but good nonetheless.

Variations:  A chocolate cake with either chocolate or white frosting would be good, with or without the almond flavoring.
The 16 oz frosting canister held about 1 1/2 cups of frosting, so I would like to try this another time with the same amount of a plain powdered sugar icing made to about the same consistency.

*  I learned this little trick from a "Chocolates Made Easy" website. Apparently, this addition late in the process will keep the surface much glossier than without the extra step. Since these ended up with a lovely sheen, I'll take their word for it. (This site also encourages the medium setting on the microwave, since it allows the chocolate to "rest" when the microwave cycles down periodically, also best for getting the best texture.)

NOTE:  Store the remaining crumbs (probably about a third of the total amount) in a tightly covered jar in the refrigerator. Then use them as a substitute in your favorite graham cracker crust recipe. They are especially good as a crust for a simple chocolate pie made with instant chocolate pie filling.  

If you do a search, you will find a lot of ways to decorate these beyond the plain chocolate coating I have included. However, that will add time and cost, and these chocolate bonbon-looking cakes seem fine to me just as is.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Healthy food even at the end of a busy day

Sometimes balancing budgets and time may seem to make really healthy family meals an impossible dream. However, here is a meal that used fresh foods on special and took hardly more time than waiting for a prepackaged microwave meal. I'll give you the method used for this menu and then provide some alternatives that can be used when other foods are the specials for the week and/or season. (The meat still has bones, so expect it to be finger food for all but the most formal of guests--Emily Post says that is acceptable!)

The recipes below are given with amounts for four servings but can easily be adjusted to serve more or fewer people.

First, the main dish.

Browned Chicken with Sweet Potatoes

2 large or 4 medium chicken thighs, with bone and skin still attached
2 large or 3 to 4 medium sweet potatoes
canola oil
seasoning salt, to taste
black pepper (optional)

1.  If using large thighs, cut roughly in half, along the bone so one side will be boneless. Heat a small amount of oil--just enough to barely cover the bottom--in a heavy skillet on medium high, until the oil begins to shimmer.
2.  Place the chicken pieces in the pan, skin side down. Cover loosely and cook about 5 minutes, until the bottom is golden brown. Sprinkle with a little seasoning salt. Turn and cook another 3 to 5 minutes, until both sides are brown. Sprinkle a little more salt on this side.
3.  Add about a tablespoon or so of water, use a spatula to be sure that all of the pieces are not sticking to the bottom of the pan, cover, and then turn the heat to medium low. Continue to simmer while you prepare the sweet potatoes.
4.  Scrub the sweet potatoes and cut out any spots. (Did you know you don't have to peel sweet potatoes?) Slice about 1/2 inch thick. Place the slices in a single layer around the bottom of the pan. 5.  Add a little more water if needed. Cover again and simmer for about 5 to 8 minutes, until both the chicken and the sweet potatoes are tender. For maximum flavor for the sweet potatoes, turn them after about 3 or 4 minutes. Serve with the pan juices over the chicken.

Barbecued chicken: Skip the seasoning salt. Remove the sweet potatoes from the pan when they are done and drizzle your favorite bottled barbecue sauce over the chicken, cover, and cook for a couple of minutes more, until the sauce has blended into the pan juices and have spread over the chicken.

Teriyaki chicken: Skip the seasoning salt. Remove the sweet potatoes from the pan when they are done and drizzle some bottled teriyaki sauce over the chicken. Cover and cook for a couple of minutes more, until the sauce has blended into the pan juices and have spread over the chicken.

Alterations to adjust for weekly specials:
Use drumsticks or chicken quarters instead of the thighs, cutting into serving sizes before sauteeing. If chicken breasts are on sale, use those with skin still on--without the skin, the result is likely to be quite dry and flavorless. (Since the rest of the meal is going to be pretty healthy, you can just resign yourself to having some fat here! You can--and should--cut the skin off before you eat this anyway.)

If sweet potatoes are out of season, thick slices of carrots can be substituted. You might want to sprinkle just a teaspoon or so of brown sugar over the carrots if you want to duplicate some of the sweet potato sweetness.

Then the salad.

If strawberries are one of those luxuries your tight budget can't handle most of the time, check out the spring prices right now, perhaps close to the cheapest of the year. Still, a growing family can easily eat up several dollars worth of the berries if served alone or as an ice cream or short cake topping. This salad stretches the berries a long way--and you can easily double the amount of berries if cost isn't a problem.

The cabbage adds critical nutrients and stretches the usually more expensive lettuce or spinach. For the greens, choose whatever is on sale for the week--and don't ignore iceberg lettuce if that is all you can fit into the budget. It is still a good way to keep kids learning to enjoy crisp green vegetables instead of all the other far less nutritious things they may otherwise fill up on.

As for the nuts: watch for sales, be ready to substitute whatever nuts are most reasonable (this season, almonds seem to be the most abundant, with their prices sometimes as low as peanuts). Sliced almonds are often much more expensive per pound than whole almonds. It doesn't take much time to roughly chop a few almonds for this salad, but you may make the trade off of added cost for the time you won't have to spend cutting the nuts.

Fruit Stretcher Salad
3 to 4 c spinach, torn romaine, or torn iceberg lettuce
1 to 2 c shredded cabbage
4 to 5 medium to large strawberries, sliced or cut in coarse chunks
2 to 4 T sliced or chopped almonds
Parmesan cheese to taste
your favorite bottled dressing--vinaigrette, poppy seed, or Caesar are all good choices
freshly ground black pepper (optional)

1.  Prepare the greens--Wash the lettuce or spinach if not pre-washed. Tear into bite sized pieces (a great place for kids to start helping in the kitchen!) and place in a large bowl.
2.  Cut the cabbage in thin slices (or use pre-bagged coleslaw if desired) and add to the spinach or lettuce.
3.  Wash and cut the strawberries and add to the salad along with the nuts.
4.  Shortly before eating, pour enough dressing over the salad to just moisten. Toss lightly and then add the Parmesan cheese and pepper if used.

Apples or pears can be diced and used instead of the strawberries.
Raspberries could be used in place of the strawberries, but they tend to break up quickly and their tartness may need a sweeter dressing.
Replace the nuts with raisins or dried cranberries for a little more sweetness.
Use red cabbage if you don't have red berries in the mix.
Use all these amounts as estimates. You have a lot of greens? Use more of them.  If you

To sum up:


This meal has two to three vegetable servings (depending on how much salad you allow per person). It only takes a few strawberries to make a fruit serving; if you are stretching the berries a bit, add fresh fruit for dessert, using whatever is in season and inexpensive. Better, you have a deep orange and a deep green vegetable and the berries, even in small amounts, are going to give you some good antioxidants.

You have plenty of protein even when cutting the thighs in half (and the nuts add even more), and glasses of milk for those still short of their daily dairy can be served instead of water.

What about carbs? By evening, many people--kids included--will have reached and probably surpassed their starches serving. If, however, you really need to get some kind of starch in--or you have growing kids who will be reaching for less healthy snacks if you don't build more calories into dinner, there are a couple of options to consider.

"Starchy vegetables" - corn, peas, maybe even (in some families at least) lima beans. Keeping bags of these unadorned veggies in the freezer can be a great time saver. Don't spend the extra money for the "steamers" versions. You'll usually pay the same for this "convenience" but the package will be only 12 instead of 16 ounces, 33% more, and I still haven't figured out what is really gained. For the "plain" veggies, pour into a microwave-safe bowl you can serve from, cover, and microwave just a few minutes--the bag will give you the time needed. (And, you won't be nuking your food in plastic--even if it is "safe," why take the chance!) If your kids aren't real crazy about these veggies, don't be afraid to dress them up a little with a tiny bit of French or another favorite dressing drizzled over.

Rice - Putting some brown rice in your rice cooker or just in a pan on the stove top right before you start the chicken will get you this side that can then be topped with those pan juices. However...if you have planned ahead when you had a little more time, you could have cooked up a double or triple batch of rice a few days earlier; then all you have to do is pull out enough for this meal, put in a covered dish, perhaps with a few teaspoons of water if a little dry, and microwave that.

Bread - This is always a good standby in many families. The options are endless, from the very home-y fresh baked bread out of the bread machine to any kind of rolls to garden variety whole wheat slices.

However you supplement with starches, just look at the basic parts of this meal--colorful and appealing even in its simplicity. No soda, no artificially colored juices, relatively healthy fat and not too much of that either.  All this and I guarantee, you should be able to put it all together in 45 minutes or less. Try it and let me know how it works--and let me know if you have some other frugal and fast meals that you have found to be healthy too.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Week after Easter Potato Salad

That ham bone is starting to make you feel guilty every time you open the refrigerator. Look at all the meat that is still clinging to the bone; but it's mostly in little pieces that are hard to think of ways to use it. And boiled eggs! Nobody in the family even wants to hear about another egg salad sandwich for at least a month, and plain boiled eggs for breakfast have also lost any special "magic they might have had before.

Time for a potato salad dinner, one that is really fast to make and different from the rest of what you've been having lately. Today's recipe is a variation on a "German" Potato Salad my kids' Great Grandma often made in the summer--and always when there was going to be a "brat" fry.

Using ham scraps and some of that extra fat around the bone will still give the smoky flavor Great Grandma's bacon and bacon fat provided, and the eggs will provide more body and texture, even as they are more "hidden" from those who might be ready to complain about "oh no, boiled eggs again. (In case you noticed, yes my photo has the eggs on the side. Just couldn't get the photo to look quite as good without them placed separately. Some day I'll get this food photography thing down!)

I also use something Great Grandma never had to cook the potatoes--my microwave. The potatoes cook in just about the same amount of time the rest of the recipe comes together, a real benefit at the end of a busy day. Add a tossed salad and/or fresh fruit and you have a complete meal.

German Potato Salad with Ham
This amount serves four as a main dish or six if it is used as a side. It is easily doubled for potlucks and picnics too.  

1 pound potatoes, in large dice (or sliced)
about 1 to 1 1/2 c small ham pieces, with fat not trimmed off
1 small to medium onion, diced
1 c water--divided
1/4 c sugar
2 T cider vinegar
2 T cornstarch
2 boiled eggs, coarsely chopped
salt and black pepper to taste

1.  Place the potatoes in a microwave safe mixing bowl (about a quart to a quart and a half size) with 1/2 cup water. Cover loosely and microwave on high about 7 minutes. Stir after a few minutes and then check again after about 6 minutes to be sure the potatoes are just done but not too soft. Microwaves vary, so you may have to make some adjustment in the time.

2.  Meanwhile, put the ham in a skillet. if it is very lean, you may need to add a teaspoon or two of oil, to just cover the bottom of the pan. Heat the ham over medium high heat, stirring and pressing on the pieces to release the fat on to the pan.  About a minute or so before the potatoes are done, add the onions to the ham and allow to cook lightly.

3.  Stir together the sugar, cornstarch, vinegar, and 1/4 c water in a measuring cup, until the mixture is very smooth. 

4.  When the potatoes are done, drain any remaining liquid into the sugar and vinegar mixture and add enough water to reach the 1 1/2 cup line. 

5.  Pour this mixture into the pan with the ham and onions. Stir until the mixture becomes thick and clear. Fold in the potatoes and chopped eggs, turn off the heat, and allow the mixture to sit for a few minutes to blend the flavors.

6.  Now, check for seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste. You need to wait until this point because there is so much variation in the saltiness of ham.  Best served warm but it can also be chilled if you prefer.

VARIATION--if you also have leftover potatoes (like those little red ones you boiled in their jackets and served with just a bit of butter and salt and pepper), make the following changes:  Omit the potato water in step 4 and just use tap water to reach the 1 1/2 cup level.  Stir the potatoes into the sauce and allow to simmer on low for several minutes, until they are thoroughly heated through.

Frugal? Of course--this uses those leftovers you might otherwise be tempted to toss.
Fast?  From the time you start scrubbing the potatoes until the salad is ready for the table, you probably won't have spent more than half an hour.
Fun? Potato salad is one of those foods I think of as a warm weather dish, so this just might make you feel a little more springlike.

Tomorrow I'll be adding a soup recipe or two for the bone and any juices you may have reserved. Meanwhile, you can look to my very first Frugal, Fast, and Fun blog post for my take on classic
 Split Pea Soup with Ham .

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Quick Rhubarb Coffee Cake

Rhubarb season has started early this year, so I had enough for some kind of coffeecake to take to Easter breakfast along with the hot cross buns. I was looking for something easy and quick and wanted to try a recipe without the support of strawberries or other fruit. Scrolling across the web, I found a much copied recipe from the New York Times ( ) but it was a little more elaborate than I had hoped.

Underneath, it was very similar to the streusel kind of coffeecakes I have made for years. Two recipes from an old (over 50 years old) Better Homes and Garden cookbook have been the basis for these quick breads using blueberry, peach, and just about any other fruit combination you might think of. Surely I could adapt this coffeecake receiving rave reviews to my easier version.

I kept the mixing of the rhubarb with some sugar and cornstarch, avoiding the tendency of fruit to sometimes leave sticky, gummy places in the dough. The original did not mix the rhubarb into the cake, instead spreading it over the top, with a saved cup of batter to be spread "evenly" over the top. Since the "evenness" of that last step has always been a problem for me, I decided to just mix the rhubarb mixture into the batter and spread the whole thing into the pan at once.

Though most of my other fruit coffeecakes stick with cinnamon or perhaps a little nutmeg or mace, the ginger was just right with the rhubarb, so that stayed in. And the cake is just a little lighter with yogurt instead of sour cream.

The result was wonderful, though I would go to a 9 inch square pan next time, making the pieces a little shorter even though it would spread the crumbs out just a little more. My own rhubarb is mostly green, so I imagine that the newer varieties that are much redder and sweeter would have even more color.

The resulting cake was super moist, dense and sweet. For those with lots of rhubarb in the backyard, this is a nice addition to your collection of recipes using the "free" fruit. 

Crumbly Rhubarb Coffee Cake 

Fruit Mixture
2 c (8 oz) diced rhubarb
1/4 c sugar
2 t cornstarch
1/2 t ginger
1/2 t cinnamon

Cake Batter
1/3 c butter, melted
1/2 c sugar
1/2 t vanilla
1 egg
1/2 c plain non-fat yogurt
2 c flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
3/4 t baking soda

1/4 c butter, melted
1/2 c brown sugar
3/4 c flour
2 t cinnamon
1 t ginger

1.   Toss together the rhubarb, quarter cup sugar, cornstarch, ginger, and cinnamon until well mixed. Set aside while making the batter.
2.  Cream together the butter, sugar, egg, yogurt, and vanilla.
3.  Sift the flour and baking powder and soda together and add alternately to the batter with the rhubarb mixture, stirring gently but well after each addition.
4.  With a fork, mix the butter, brown sugar, and spices until well blended. Add the flour and continue to mix just until large crumbs form.
5.  Generously oil an 8 inch square pan. Pour in the batter and spread evenly. Using your fingers, distribute the crumbs evenly over the top, pressing them into the batter just slightly.
6.  Bake at 350 (325 for a glass pan) for 45 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.
7.  Allow to cool. If desired, dust the top generously with powdered sugar.

Makes about 16 servings.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Eggs, Eggs, Eggs

Perhaps you are looking for ways to use up all those boiled eggs. Or maybe you have been asked to bring an egg dish to an Easter brunch. First, some egg dishes you can still make for this year's Easter breakfast or brunch:

Vegetarian Strata
Basic Frittatas, and More
Raspberry French Toast and Savory Breakfast Eggs with Vegetables

And then, the boiled eggs. I have not had to deal with an excess of boiled eggs over the years, thanks to my mother. Many years ago, well before I was born, she introduced the custom of "blowing eggs" in preparation for the coming Easter egg decoration. With a large family, there was no way we would have been able to eat all the hard-boiled eggs needed to satisfy the artistic endeavors of several kids.
Thus, every time she made anything with eggs in the weeks before Easter, the ice pick would come out, and we would take turns poking holes in each end of a well-washed egg and then blowing the contents into a cup before adding it to the batter. A big goal was to get the egg contents out with an unbroken yolk, while still keeping the holes as small as possible. After rinsing and draining, the eggs were then set aside, ready for the Easter Saturday egg decorating extravaganza.

Blown eggs can be very ornately decorated because they will not be immediately cracked and eaten. Inedible trims are not a problem either, so crayons, markers, glued on tissue paper, etc., are all fuel for the budding egg artists.

Now, when I bring out the old ice pick, the grandkids wonder what it is, they ask if it is safe to put their mouths on the shells, if we are sure the eggs have been washed...but then they enter into the process with gusto.

Since I didn't start early enough with the egg blowing, there are another dozen and a half "real"--boiled--eggs for coloring as well. Still some more decorating of the hollow eggs before we slip strings into them to tie on a bush in the front for our own Easter egg tree. 

The boiled eggs are already in the refrigerator; some will be used for a batch of egg salad filling. The rest will become part of a salad or two during the coming week. For a couple of recipes, including a very unusual one, go to the following link.

 Two Salads with Boiled Eggs

And the egg salad? Here's my quick recipe. It is best on homemade rolls, with lots of new garden lettuce or baby spinach to add texture and crunch.

Egg Salad Sandwich Filling

6 hard boiled eggs, chopped
1/4 to 1/3 c plain nonfat yogurt
1 T sugar
1 to 2 t prepared yellow or brown mustard
seasoning salt to taste (optional)
sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper
good hard rolls or homemade buns

1.  Peel and coarsely chop the eggs. Use a pastry blender or fork, OR use an egg slicer and cut the eggs first in one direction and then in another.
2.  Stir in the remaining ingredients and taste. Your family may prefer a little more or less mustard, a little more or less sugar. Adjust as needed.

Six eggs will make enough for six good sized sandwiches.

Use equal amounts of honey mustard dressing and yogurt, omitting the other seasonings. 
Add small amounts of finely chopped onion (red onion gives this a lovely color contrast), bell pepper, celery, or grated carrot.

Easter--Hot Cross Buns and More

Because we have long attended churches with Easter breakfasts, our family tradition has not really included a large Easter dinner. On the day before Easter, however, the house is almost always full of the fragrance of Hot Cross Buns. This is also the time for lots of egg dishes and early spring desserts. This year, our early Minnesota spring has brought a crop of rhubarb ready to go with the strawberries on special at almost every grocery store in town.

The link to my Hot Cross Buns recipe is at
Hot Cross Buns

Some rhubarb recipes are at
 Fructose-Free Rhubarb Crisp
Rhubarb Apple Crisp

Strawberry Rhubarb Cake Mix Cake

And of course, fresh fruit is always great to brighten up any menu. Oranges, strawberries, even pineapples were all on sale this week, so add these to your table--no need for recipes--just pay a little attention to the presentation and fresh fruit will take center stage all on its own.

In another post, I will be including some ideas for using boiled eggs. For now, happy baking and a blessed Easter to you all!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Pumpkin Gingerbread Bars--good any time of the year

When I freeze things like applesauce, pumpkin, etc., I put measured amounts in small sandwich bags, labeled with the contents, and then put like bags together in a larger, heavy freezer bag. Keeps things organized and easy to find....if you read the labels carefully.

But reading labels doesn't always seem necessary, especially when I am in a hurry. Yesterday, I had plans for three pounds of applesauce, so I pulled the little bags out of the freezer and put them on the counter to start thawing. It was only later, after they were already partially melted, that I realized I had three bags of pumpkin instead!

Some of the pumpkin went into a vegetable soup I was beginning to simmer in the slow cooker, but there were still three cups to use up. Instead of the strawberry applesauce cake I meant to make, I first stirred up a batch of pumpkin oatmeal cookies.

I had also purchased some fresh ginger root over the weekend, and the natural blending of pumpkin and ginger seemed like it must be the basis for some kind of gingery cookie as well. Another internet search and I discovered that there really wasn't anything out there exactly like what I was thinking of. Another little bit of experimentation and I ended up with these frosted gingerbread bar cookies.

Iced Pumpkin Gingerbread Bars

1/3 c butter, softened
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c dark molasses (not blackstrap)
2 eggs
3 T water
2 t grated fresh ginger (see NOTE 1)
1 c pumpkin puree (about half a 15 oz can)
1 3/4 c flour
2 t ground ginger
1 1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1 t baking soda

1.  Cream the butter and sugar and then stir in the molasses, eggs, grated fresh ginger, pumpkin, and water. Beat well.
2.  Sift together the dry ingredients. Stir into the pumpkin mixture and mix well--however, no need to beat! You just want the ingredients completely combined.
3.  Oil well a 10 X 15 baking pan. Spread the batter evenly in the pan and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 15 to 20 minutes.
4.  Frost with a basic powdered sugar icing, using orange juice for part or all of the liquid if desired. (See NOTE 2)

NOTE 1:  If you don't have fresh ginger, increase the amount of ground ginger to as much as 4 teaspoons, depending on your family's preference for spicy flavors.

NOTE 2:  While searching for a recipe like this, I found several references to orange flavored frostings. I happened to have a can of prepared frosting from a promotion (buy a cake mix, get the frosting free), and it happened to be light orange (it was a Halloween special if you haven't guessed). While the use by date is still 8 or 9 months away, this seemed like a good time to use up the frosting. I stirred in about 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract (didn't have any orange extract) and about a tablespoon or so of frozen orange juice concentrate. To be honest, I still would prefer a from scratch frosting, but the orange flavor did blend well with the cookies...and the frosting really was easy to spread in lovely swirls and cut well too.

Two cookies, both with pumpkin, and yet totally different. And while we often think of pumpkin as only a fall ingredient, now is as good a time as any to try one or both of these recipes. Both make large batches, so they are ideal if you are called upon to take something to a potluck or bake sale.