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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Quick but Wonderful Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes

Here is a use for some of the season's abundant zucchini that is far different from my last post. This one is a dessert reminiscent of an old-timey picnic, but it starts out with a cake mix so it's an option for even your busiest day.  Making cupcakes instead of cake also shortens the time the oven has to be heating up your kitchen, a big plus if you have been brushing with triple digits as we have much of this summer.

Oh, and my initial testing panel has declared these "the best ever" chocolate cupcakes. They are moist, chocolate-y, and far richer tasting than their list of ingredients might indicate. The miniature chips and walnut chunks add enough texture that no one will ever guess the presence of zucchini if you don't give the secret away.

Just about any brand of cake mix will do here, but do choose one of the darker chocolate cake varieties. When I recently purchased some mixes, the brand that was on sale had at least six different chocolate variations, from German chocolate to devils food to fudge and beyond. Any of them would probably have worked with this recipe, but I definitely prefer the darker flavors and think they work much better with the zucchini.

Next time cake mixes are on special, plan to pick up a few chocolate ones to have on the shelf for these quick nuggets of flavor. (This recipe will work with frozen shredded zucchini too. Just thaw in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before adding to the batter.)

Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes

1 standard 2 layer size chocolate cake mix--preferably dark chocolate or fudge rather than devils food
3 eggs
1/2 c water
1/2 c oil
2 c grated zucchini, gently packed--do not drain
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 c chopped walnuts
1/2 c miniature semisweet chocolate chips

1.  Combine all ingredients except nuts and chocolate chips in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, blend well and then beat for 3 minutes, scraping down the batter occasionally.
2.  Fold in the chocolate chips and walnuts until well mixed.
3.  Line standard sized muffin pans with paper cupcake liners. (If desired, spray each one lightly with non-stick spray.) Spoon the batter evenly into the cups, filling each about half full. This recipe makes 24 to 27, depending on the size of your pans. If you do not have enough muffin pans to make all the cupcakes at once, you may set the batter aside while waiting for the first cupcakes to bake.
4.  Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 14 to 15 minutes, until the center of each cupcake is springy to the touch or a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Do not overbake.
5.  Place the pan on a cooling rack and let the cupcakes stay in the pan for a few minutes before lifting each one out on to the rack to finish cooling.
6.  Frost with a basic powdered sugar icing and sprinkle immediately with a few miniature semisweet chocolate chips.

Basic Powdered Sugar Frosting
2 T softened butter
powdered sugar
1/2 t vanilla extract
1/4 t cinnamon (optional)

1.  Put the softened butter in a bowl and stir in about 1 cup of powdered sugar, along with the vanilla and cinnamon if used.
2.  Blend well and then gradually add a small amount of milk (a tablespoon or two). Add another cup or so of powdered sugar, mix well and then a little more milk.
3.  Continue alternating powdered sugar and SMALL amounts of milk until you have used about 3 1/2 to 4 cups of powdered sugar (approximately one pound) and just enough milk to obtain a thick spreading consistency.

This amount will frost about two dozen cupcakes or cinnamon rolls or a 9 X 13 cake.

Variations:  Substitute cream cheese for part or all of the butter. Use lemon, almond, or orange extract in place of or in addition to the vanilla. Increase the cinnamon or delete entirely. Use orange or other fruit juice in place of some or all of the milk. (Note that using juice may initially give a "curdled" appearance to the mix, so you will need to beat a little more to obtain a smooth texture.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Veggie "Pancakes"

We are moving into that season again, the time when the number of zucchinis in your garden may begin to exceed your kitchen creativity. Even if you don't have these in your own yard, friends may be ready to share, and the farmers markets are full of these shiny green summer squashes, from tiny fingerlings to bigger ones than you'll see any other time of the year.

Time for something a little different.

If you like potato pancakes or latkes, you may already have found that you can boost the nutrition of this dish by adding various vegetables in place of part of the potatoes. Moving completely away from potatoes and combining prolific zucchini with bright carrots, these little cakes are a perfect center for  a light brunch, lunch, or even supper dish. Add a tossed salad or fresh fruit plate, a tall glass of milk, and you have a fully balanced meal: lots of color, lots of nutrition, and wonderful flavors that even vegetable-evasive family members might be tempted to try.  Great for the budget too, especially in the middle of zucchini season.

Zucchini-Carrot Pancakes

2 c shredded zucchini
2 c shredded carrot
1/2 large onion (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 c dry milk powder (optional)
1/4 c yellow corn meal (preferably stone ground)
3 T to 1/4 c flour
1/2 t Italian seasoning or to taste
cayenne pepper to taste
1/2 t seasoning salt or to taste
basil (optional)
2 eggs
canola or olive oil

1.  Combine the zucchini, carrot, and onion in a large mixing bowl. Stir in all remaining ingredients except eggs and allow to sit about 10 to 15 minutes.
2.  Stir in the eggs. The mixture should be very stiff. If all the vegetable mixture is not well moistened, you may need to add one more egg.
3.  Heat just enough oil to thinly cover the bottom of a cast iron or other heavy skillet. When the oil is shimmering, place small spoons of the pancake batter in the pan, flattening to about 1/2 inch. Allow to cook until golden brown, turn, and cook until the second side is also well browned.
4.  Continue cooking batches, adding oil only if needed to keep the batter from sticking.

Serve with yogurt, ketchup, or sea food sauce (ketchup/horseradish mix). Makes about 14 to 16 small pancakes, 2 to 3 servings. The recipe is easily doubled.

(Though I have not tried it, I think this could be turned to a gluten-free recipe with use of rice flour in place of the flour. I'd love to hear from any of you who might try this out.)

Quick Zucchini Hint:

If you or gardener friends have an overabundance of zucchinis, grate the extra and freeze in one or two cup portions. You will be prepared for this or many other zucchini recipes any time of the year.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Another Sherbet Just Right for the Season

One of the things that led me to making sherbets (or sorbets) when my kids were young (besides the fact that we were living in torrid Arizona) was thrift. My budget didn't always allow for all the special fruits that we all loved, but I could make sherbet enough to feed the family and some guests with only one or two servings worth of some of our pricier favorites.

Mangoes for example. Much as we all loved them, they were often out of my price range, as were fresh pineapples most of the time. However, I could make a quart of sherbet for a lot of servings from one large mango and a cup of pineapple, whether the pineapple was fresh or canned in its own juices.

Oh, and as long as you have a food processor (or large blender), you don't need an ice cream freezer for these either.

And yes, we called this sherbet, even without any dairy in it. If you want to relabel it as sorbet, that is fine with me. Whatever you call it, just plan to make some soon. It's a wonderful summertime refresher.

Mango Pineapple Sherbet

1 large mango, peeled and cut into chunks--about 1 cup
1 c diced fresh pineapple OR 1 c (8 oz) crushed pineapple packed in juice, not in syrup
2 T orange juice concentrate, not diluted (or 1/4 c fresh squeezed orange juice)
2 c water
1/2 to 3/4 c sugar, depending on sweetness of fruit
1/2 package unflavored gelatin (about 1 1/2 t)

1.  Combine the water, sugar and gelatin in a large microwave safe bowl. (I use a 1 quart glass measuring cup/bowl.) Stir and allow to sit for about 5 to 10 minutes.
2.  Microwave the sugar and water mixture for about 5 minutes, until it is boiling and completely clear. Stir and set aside to cool to just lukewarm.
3.  Prepare the fruits and stir into the cooled sugar syrup along with the orange juice concentrate. Pour into a flat dish--a 7 x 11 baking pan is a good size--and freeze until almost firm.
4.  When the mixture is almost completely frozen, break it apart with a knife or mixing spoon and put into a processor or blender. (You may need to do this in batches if you are using a blender.)
5.  Process the mixer until it is light and airy but not so long that it begins to thaw and turn liquid. It will be like a very thick smoothie. Return to the freezer until completely frozen.
6.  If desired, you can repeat the processing step for an even lighter, smoother sherbet.


Substitute peaches or nectarines for the pineapple. Or substitute peaches or nectarines for the mango. Substitute lemon juice for the orange juice. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

"Soft" Fried Chicken

One of the dishes my mother made that was always popular with my family when we would go back home to visit was her "fried" chicken. This was not the Colonel's heavily breaded, crunchy and oily stuff, as good as that may be. No, Mom's was much more like a braised meat, moist, flavorful, falling off the bones good.

Over the years, I worked at duplicating her chicken and then began refining it, adding a few more seasonings and trying out different cooking methods.

When I was in grade school, she and Dad had succumbed to a door to door salesman's pitch and bought an entire set of West Bend "Lifetime" cookware, very expensive for our tight budget. However, the pans were wonderful, and the electric skillet was like nothing I have ever seen since, with double stainless steel walls and a way of cooking things like this chicken that was very difficult to duplicate. Thus, as I tried to duplicate Mom's fried chicken over the years, I had to try many different ways of cooking it, on top of the stove, in the oven, in a slow cooker.

Along the way, I started making a few other adjustments in the coating. Hers was usually just flour, salt and pepper, fine and certainly tasty enough. However, I like a little bit of crunch from corn meal and usually include some dried herbs and/or something peppery. These adjustments have, I guess, made the recipe my own, and it is now known in the family as Grandma's Fried Chicken. I think calling it "soft" fried chicken may be a little more descriptive, so that is what I am calling it here.

As usual, this is as much a guide as an ironclad recipe. The nice thing is that this can be made using only a couple of pieces of chicken for a serving or two or in quantities large enough for a dozen hungry people. You can use bone-in pieces or boneless, full chicken quarters or pieces cut to nugget size. (About the latter--I make this as chicken nuggets only about once a year. The smaller the piece of chicken, the greater the ratio of coating to meat, and also the greater the fat content as well.)

Soft Fried Chicken

Quantities are given for 6 to 8 pieces of bone-in chicken (my preference is thighs or drumsticks). The recipe is easily doubled or halved as needed. Because any leftover breading will have had raw meat in it, you should either discard it or freeze (NOT just refrigerate) immediately and use for another batch of chicken within the next month or so.

1 c flour--you can use whole wheat, but plain unbleached flour will work as well
1 c yellow cornmeal
1 to 3 T chili powder, to taste (may substitute a smaller amount of cayenne or black pepper)
1 t Italian seasoning
1 to 2 t garlic powder
1 t seasoning salt
(other dried herbs you may want to try include basil, rosemary, thyme, marjoram or any combination of these)

1.  Combine all the coating ingredients in a flat bowl and stir well.

2.  Heat enough canola oil in a heavy (preferably cast iron) skillet to cover the bottom to an eighth to a quarter of an inch. The oil should be shimmering slightly before adding the first piece of chicken. Keep the burner at medium high to high, enough so that the chicken "sizzles" well throughout the browning time, but not so high that it begins to burn.

3.  If desired, remove the skin from the chicken.

4.  Using tongs or a cooking fork, place each piece of chicken in the coating mix, turning and pressing down to be sure the piece is coated evenly.  Place each piece in the pan, making sure not to crowd. When the pan is full, cover lightly--I use an old pizza pan for my cast iron skillet, so that there is some covering but not enough to build up steam and cause the chicken to poach instead of brown.

5. When all the pieces have browned well (about 5 to 10 minutes), turn with a spatula to be sure that all the coating is turned with the chicken. Again cover lightly and continue to brown the second side.

6. If you are cooking a larger quantity in batches, remove the first group of pieces and place on a platter (or directly in the roaster or slow cooker--see below for cooking method). Scrape any breading from the pan onto the chicken pieces. Add a small amount of oil if needed, heat to shimmering, and continue cooking the remaining pieces.

To finish:
In the frying pan: You should not have much oil in the pan at this point. However, if there is more than you like, pour it off but leave the "drippings" and crusty pieces in the pan. Return the chicken pieces to the pan, add a small (a tablespoon or two) amount of water, cover and continue to cook on low to medium heat--just barely simmering--until the chicken is very tender. Depending on the size of the pieces, this may take 15 to 40 minutes. Check occasionally and add just a small amount of water if needed to avoid burning but not so much that it begins to poach.

In the oven:  Place the well-browned chicken parts and all drippings from the pan into a heavy roaster. Add a quarter cup or so of water to the frying pan, scrape out every last bit of flavor, and pour this over the chicken as well. Cover and bake at 350 degrees about 30 minutes to an hour--the latter amount of time may be needed for a large quantity. The more pieces of chicken you are cooking, the more it will be important to turn the pieces every 20 minutes or so, so that all are exposed to the sides of the pan at some point. This will provide for a more even browning and tenderness.

In a slow cooker:  Place the browned chicken parts and all drippings from the pan into the slow cooker. Cover and cook on Low for up to two or three hours OR cook on High for about an hour or so. As with the oven method, you may find it worthwhile to move the pieces around once or twice to be sure they cook evenly.

Microwave:  If you are only cooking a couple of pieces, you could also put them, along with the drippings, into a microwave safe dish after browning, cover and cook for about 3 to 4 minutes per piece of chicken. In general, I don't find this to be much faster than just finishing a few pieces in the skillet, but it is an option.

Marinated Variation:

If desired, you can marinate the chicken with your favorite mixture. After the chicken has been in the marinade for a few hours, drain and roll in the crumbs as in the recipe above. (Unless your marinade is very salty, reserve the drained liquid and add to the chicken along with the pan drippings, at the beginning of the finishing phase, to heighten the impact of the marinade flavors.)

Two marinade ideas:

Any favorite salad dressing (generally not the creamy, ranch types however)--this is a good way to use up the last dregs of dressings--mix a couple of kinds together with some dried herbs, garlic powder, etc.

2 T orange juice (even better orange pineapple juice) concentrate, 1 t grated ginger, 1 to 2 t chopped garlic, 1 to 2 T soy sauce (preferably reduced sodium)--mix and place in a plastic bag or bowl just large enough for the chicken you are using. This should be enough for 4 to 6 bone-in pieces, 5 to 8 boneless pieces.

Serving suggestion:

This teams well with rice or mashed potatoes. Cole slaw or another tart salad is also a good accompaniment.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Strawberry Raspberry Jam with Lemon

The above average heat and drought conditions have resulted in my first crop of raspberries being less than perfect in appearance this year. Even though I have been watering them regularly, they are on generally smaller than usual, more prone to crumbling, and even "sun-scalded" (my Mom's term) with white patches where the light has hit the ripening berry.

Jam, sherbet, and pies are very forgiving of these visual irregularities, however, so that's where most of the heavy and still flavorful crop has ended up this year--along with the daily bowl of berries and cereal of course! 

I have found that the intense flavor of raspberries is often made better when mixed with some other fruit, so the strawberries in the refrigerator looked like a perfect match. Both of these fruits are low in pectin, so any no-pectin recipe for these jams will include some lemon juice. With a supply of already sliced lemons also in the fridge, I decided to try something new. When we lived in Arizona, I often made orange and other marmalades, so why not try to make a combination jam/marmalade from these ready ingredients?

The resulting "jarmalade" is wonderful! It thickened much more quickly than usual, and the color is bright and fresh. The strawberries temper the raspberries (and make for a slightly less seedy final product) and the lemon is just a little more prominent in the overall flavor mix. Best of all, start to finish--from washing the berries to sealing up the jars--the jam was ready in little more than an hour.

NOTE:  As usual, I did not process the jam in a water bath, as I will be keeping it in the refrigerator until sharing as gifts and using it soon. If you do want to store it on the shelf, you will need to add a little more time for processing. Just about every state has an extension site with good instructions for canning, but a very reliable resource for everyone can be found at:   
Please, don't skip the processing step if your jam will be stored outside the refrigerator for any length of time. There is nothing more discouraging--let alone potentially unhealthful--than to have all your work and produce become moldy or fermented and turned into instant compost!

Strawberry Raspberry "Jarmalade"

4 c red raspberries
4 c chopped strawberries
6 c sugar
1/2 c lemon juice
1 to 2 lemons

1. Wash the lemons well. Slice and then dice, keeping the peeling and the pulp but making sure to remove all seeds. Cut the strawberries in pieces about the same size as the raspberries.

2.  Mix all ingredients in a large pan, stir well, and cook over medium high heat. Continue stirring occasionally to be sure mixture is not sticking to the bottom. If desired, skim foam as it forms on the top. (This is a tasty bread topping for any kids waiting for the jam to finish, so don't discard it!)

3.  Test for jelling by one of the following methods:
  • When the temperature reaches 220 degrees
  • When a few drops on a chilled plate hold their shape--drop a small amount on the plate and then run your finger through the jam. If it leaves an open space instead of running into the center, it is done
  • When the mixture "sheets" off the mixing spoon. Hold the spoon above the mixture and watch how the drops form as they come off the spoon. When they begin to slide together and drop as one, the jam is ready
(For our family, jam a little on the soft side is fine so I often end up stopping the cooking before any of these tests is completely met. In addition, if you will be processing the jam, you might want to finish a little early, as the jam will be "cooked" a few minutes in the hot water bath.)

4.  While the jam is cooking, wash jars and lids and place in a pan of water kept just below boiling on another burner. This will maximize sanitation and help prevent broken jars from too great a temperature contrast when you pour in the hot jam.

5.  Immediately after removing the jam from the heat, skim the foam if desired, and then pour into the hot jars. Put the covers on immediately.  Cool in an area away from drafts, again to avoid any potential glass breakage.

This mixture made a little more than four pints.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Summer Sandwich Meal, with or without a Grill

I don't have a grill.

I have no plans to get one.

In some circles, that might seem just, well, weird. I mean, how DO you cook in the heat of summer?

Well, I manage, quite well in fact. That is not to say that I don't enjoy grilled foods when I am a guest in other people's homes. It's just that I never did master grilling way back in the days of a basic charcoal grill (without a cover even!) and my style of cooking doesn't include a lot of foods that cry out for grilling anyway.

I have also learned a few dishes that work just as well without a grill--and without necessitating turning on the oven in summer heat either.

Today's sandwich is one that is typically grilled. However, by cooking it inside, you can skip the step of brushing all of the ingredients with oil and just turn them into a heavy pan for sauteeing. Another plus in this approach is that you can capture all the rich juices on each bun, much like a French dip.

All in all, a quick vegetarian entree, perfect with a tossed salad and fruit tray for a light summer meal.

First the "recipe" and then a few comments on adjustments you might want to make.

Portobello Mushroom Sandwich

For each serving:
olive oil or canola oil
1 large portobello mushroom cap
2 thick slices sweet, red, or white onion
1/4 to 1/2 a sweet red bell pepper, cut in long strips
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 to 1 ounce Monterrey Jack, smoked provolone or other mild white cheese, thinly sliced
seasoning salt and black pepper  to taste
 optional--basil or any other fresh herbs you may have available
1 good quality roll

1.  Remove stem from portobello if still attached. Set aside for another use (or cook next to the portobello cap so it is ready for another meal). Rinse lightly or brush. Pat dry with a paper towel.
2.  Put a small amount of oil in a cast iron or other heavy skillet, just enough to thinly cover the bottom. Heat until shimmering.
3.  Place the mushroom cap(s) and onion slices in a single layer in the pan. Try to keep the slices together rather than separating into rings. If they do come apart, don't worry. They will just cook a little more quickly than the mushroom and will have a softer texture when done.
 4. Saute the onions and mushrooms until well browned. Turn and add the red pepper strips, garlic, herbs if used, and salt and pepper to taste. Continue cooking over medium heat until the mushroom is just tender and the onions are a rich golden brown.
5.  Slip the mushrooms, onions, and pepper onto a plate. Then, take the roll and press into the juices that remain in the pan.
6.  Place the mushrooms, onions, and pepper in the roll, top with the cheese and press the sandwich together. Allow to sit for a few minutes for the cheese to melt slightly. If you want the cheese even softer, you can put the sandwich in the microwave for perhaps 10 to 15 seconds.


This is not the time to try to cut corners with soft mushy white bread rolls!
As you will notice in the photo above, I made my most recent sandwiches with "brat buns." When I arrived at the bakery department late in the day, these were the only reasonably priced, "chewy" rolls available. It was a simple matter to just cut the cooked portobellos in half to fit the rolls. It is more important to have good hearty rolls of any shape than to substitute round buns that are like the packaged hamburger buns so often used at cookouts.

Portobellos can sometimes be quite pricey. In fact, today's price, at the same supermarket where I bought these on a weekend sale, was exactly four times as much as I paid two days ago! So here is a thought if you like these but don't want to spend quite so much:  The portobello mushroom is really just a grown up cremini (or button or table) mushroom. Yes, it does have a more meaty texture, but you could slice some of the smaller mushrooms as thick as possible, cook as above, and then spoon the mushroom/onion/pepper mixture into the rolls. Continue with the cheese topping as before.

You could also substitute smaller mushrooms in the recipe and then put the mushroom/onion/pepper mixture into a long baguette. Top with the cheese and put it under the broiler or just microwave it as noted above. Cut into hearty lengths to serve.

If you DO have a grill and want to make this sandwich outside, brush the portobellos, onion slices, and pepper strips well with your favorite oil, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper as desired, and then grill as with any other vegetables.

Feel free to experiment with both the kind of cheese you use as well as herbs added near the end of the cooking. I would suggest a relatively mild cheese so as not to overpower the flavors of the main ingredients.


And there you have it--a sandwich as fresh as the summer, that really takes little time to make and provides a filling meal full of summer flavors. It is a great option to have available if you have vegetarians at your next cookout as well, whether you cook it inside or out on the grill. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Start the Day with Veggies!

Have you looked at a calorie chart for the typical coffee shop muffin or bagel and toppings?

It doesn't take long for just one of these to top 500, even 600 calories.  Add the calories in that mocha or whatever other special drink you ordered with it, and your "light" breakfast has eaten up a huge part of the day's calories, without much real nutritional benefit.

(And if you really want to go "whole hog," eat a classic Cinnabon roll, just one, and you've consumed 730 calories.)

If you'd like to make a weekend breakfast (or brunch) that will give you a much healthier start, no more calories, lower cost, and not a lot of prep time, here's a suggested alternative...veggies for breakfast!

Okay, I know that vegetables may still be the "good" food group hardest to get enough of. Now that there are lots of bright vegetables at the farmers' market and in the grocery store, it's time to try some new flavors and combinations.

Today's recipe (with toppings shown in the photo) will add up to well less than 400 calories, high in protein, and even gluten-free if that is important to you. With carrots and onions mixed in with the colorful chard, this might be something even the most resistant greens eaters will try. You can reduce calories further if you use yogurt as a topping instead of the tablespoon of 2% cheese shown here--or just skip entirely.

Morning Vegetables with Eggs

canola or olive oil
4 c rainbow chard (about 4 to 6 oz)
1/3 c chopped onion
3/4 c sliced carrots (1 medium)
1 seeded jalapeno, chopped (optional)
1 to 2 cloves garlic (optional)
1/4 to 1/2 t Italian seasoning OR dried basil

3 eggs

Optional toppings:
shredded 2% cheddar or mozzarella cheese
plain, fat free yogurt
roasted, salted sunflower seeds

1.  Separate the chard stems from the leaves. Coarsely cut the leaves and set aside. Chop the stems in 1/2-1 inch lengths.
2.  Put just enough oil in a non-stick pan to lightly coat it. Stir in the onions, carrots, and chopped chard stems. Saute over medium heat until the onions are translucent and the carrots are barely tender.
3.  Stir in the jalapeno, chard leaves and seasonings. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook just until the chard is limp and tender.
4.  Meanwhile, stir the eggs together with a fork just enough to blend the yolks and whites into a uniform color. Heat to medium to medium high a small amount of oil in a small skillet and stir the eggs into the pan.
5.  Stir the eggs occasionally as they cook, breaking them up as needed to obtain the scrambled egg texture you prefer.
6. Serve the eggs and vegetables with any of the optional toppings--or anything else you like to add! Fresh herbs, hot sauce, even soy sauce might be choices your family prefers.

Serves two but easily doubled or more.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Frugal, Fast, and "Cool" Pie Crust, and Ideas for Filling It

The heat wave continues, but you really want to make a great dessert for tonight's barbecue. Someone else has offered to bring a watermelon carved and full of mixed fruit, so you need something a little more. well, baked and dessert-ish.
Then again, the electric bill that arrived yesterday was a good reminder to keep the oven off until the temperature outside drops...a lot. What to do, what to do.

Here's an idea. Make a pie. Without using the oven. And frugally, with a bread crumb crust.

So how does this...

Become this?

It all starts with good bread that you have dried in order to keep it from going stale or getting moldy. You can use leftover homemade whole grain, a chewy loaf that didn't get turned into garlic bread or even some leftover hot dog buns. Add in ground nuts, sugar, and butter, and you'll have a great replacement for the old standby graham cracker crust. This recipe is very easily doubled, so you can make dessert for a crowd with little extra effort.

Bread Crumb Pie Crust

 1/3 c butter, melted
1 c fine dry bread crumbs (about 3 1/2 oz)
1/2 c ground almonds (approximately 2 to 2/12 oz)
3 to 4 T sugar
1/2 t cinnamon

NOTE:  Be sure the crumbs are well dried and very fine. See hints below on making them
1.  If ground almonds are not available, place about 3/4 cup whole almonds (or weigh out 2 to 2 1/2 ounces) in a blender or processor and process until quite fine. Set aside.
2. Melt the butter in a large bowl in the microwave. Stir in remaining ingredients and blend thoroughly with a fork.
3. Lightly spray a glass 8 or 9 inch pie pan with cooking spray. Pour the crumbs into the pan and press with your fingers to an even thickness across the bottom and up the sides of the pan.
4. Microwave the crust for about 2 1/2 to 3 minutes, until the butter is bubbling out of the crust. WATCH CAREFULLY TO BE SURE THE CRUST DOES NOT BEGIN TO BURN.
5. Remove from microwave and allow to cool before filling.
Hints for Making Bread Crumbs

 1.  Any breads or rolls can be used, but you should avoid those with raisins or other dried fruits or those with strongly savory ingredients (garlic bread, herb breads, etc.) This can be a good way to use up that one extra hot dog or hamburger bun, the ends of bread or crusts cut off of sandwiches, etc.
2.  For best results, slice whole loaves or rolls thinly or cube already sliced breads in pieces about 1/2 inch square.
3.  Spread the sliced bread or cubes on baking sheets and allow to dry at room temperature OR place in a very slow oven (180 degrees or so) and allow to dry until the bread is crispy and easily broken or crushed. The flavor is generally better if you toast it inn the oven; just drying will sometimes result in a somewhat stale flavor.
4. Pulse the bread in a blender or processor until evenly fine. You can also place the bread in a heavy plastic bag and use a cooking mallet or rolling pin to crush the crumbs evenly.
5. Once the crumbs are made, store tightly covered in a glass jar. Even when dried, these do become more stale so should be used within a week or so.
6. If you find that you don't have quite enough crumbs for this or another recipe calling for bread crumbs, you can add crushed Rice Krispies or even crumbled saltines in a pinch.


So now you have the crusts. What are some quick fillings that will be quick to make and won't heat up the kitchen?

Any flavor ice cream--soften just enough to spread evenly over the crusts. You can then add whatever trims you might put on an ice cream sundae--chocolate syrup, chocolate chips, chopped nuts, maraschino cherries, etc.

Instant pudding, any flavor--again, you can dress this up with toppings, or you can slice some bananas into the crust before pouring in some vanilla pudding for a quick banana creme pie.

Fruit filling--For blueberry, peach, or raspberry fillings, you can check out these earlier posts:

For a very patriotic dessert, why not make one blueberry pie, one raspberry pie, and then serve the pies with whipped topping or ice cream? Red, white, and blue at its best!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Summer Desserts--No Oven Needed

Sometimes you just want a homemade dessert, even when the thermometer is climbing close to (or beyond) the century mark. Turning on the oven, however, is one of the last things we want to do, both for cost and overall comfort. Spending a lot of time in the kitchen is probably also not high on your busy summer list of things to do.

In the next couple of days, I'll be posting some desserts that will satisfy your sweet tooth with only minimal cooking and short preparation times. The first is adapted from my daughter-in-law's childhood favorite, "No Bakes." I have reduced the sugar and butter slightly (original amounts are in parentheses) so you can pretend they are just a little healthier!  Taken in reasonable quantities, these can add some nutrition to the day without too much guilt--the only problem is that "reasonable quantities" is a term hard to stay within with these goodies. Feel free to go back to the original too--these are still going to be lower in calories than a lot of the dessert options you might otherwise choose!

Amy's No-Bakes

1 c sugar (originally 1 1/2 c)
1/2 c milk
1/3 c butter (originally 1/2 c, one stick)
1/2 c chocolate drink powder (Quik or similar product)
1/2 c peanut butter, smooth or chunky
3 c oatmeal--rolled oats; not instant and not old-fashioned
1 t vanilla

1.  Stir the first five ingredients together in a large pan and bring to a boil over medium to high heat. Stir often to be sure the mixture does not stick.
2.  When the mixture comes to a rolling boil, continue boiling for one minute and then remove from heat.
3.  Stir in the oatmeal and vanilla. Mix well and then drop by spoonfuls onto waxed paper.

Depending on the size that you make these, the yield will be 30 to 36.