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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Pinto Bean Cake--Just had to try it!

When I cook dry beans, I generally do a great big batch, since two pounds will take little more time or energy than a cup or two, and the prepared beans are easily frozen.

This week, however, I had a ham taking up a lot of freezer space, so some of the pinto beans that hadn't been "refried" would be available for trying what I have long wondered about: pinto bean cake.


The result was more like a spiced bar cookie than a cake, but it was very easy to make with the processor (so that I could be sure the beans were really pureed and unrecognizable!). Without this appliance, the cake would still be easy to make, but you'd want to be sure to mash the beans thoroughly before adding. There is less fat here than in most desserts, but you are unlikely to notice that, and there is more protein and fiber than usually expected in a cake. This is also an economical dessert and easy to prepare, so it is  a recipe I'll be using again and again.

Note that these are whole beans; if you were to try to use unseasoned canned "refried" beans, I think you would probably want to reduce the amount to about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups. The measurement in this recipe is for beans before mashing.

Pinto Bean Cake

1/4 c canola oil
2 c very soft cooked pinto beans--if using canned beans, drain some of the liquid
1 c sugar--either white or light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 t vanilla
2 cups unsweetened applesauce
1 c flour
1 t baking soda
1 1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg 
1/2 t cloves
3/4 c raisins
1/2 c chopped walnuts

1.  Puree the beans in the processor, using the (plastic) bread blade.
2.  Add the oil, sugar, eggs, applesauce, and vanilla to the beans and process until completely blended.
3.  Sift the dry ingredients together and add to the liquid mixture. Pulse just until the mixture is blended; don't overmix.
4.  Add the raisins and walnuts, pulsing just enough to blend.
5.  Turn the batter into a well-oiled 9 X 13 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes. Cool and frost with basic powdered sugar icing. Top with colored sprinkles or chopped nuts if desired.


Cut recipe in half and bake in an 8 inch square pan for a cake or 7 X 11 pan for bar cookies. In this version, puree the beans and then add all but the flour, raisins and walnuts. Mix well. Then add the flour and pulse just enough to evenly mix all the ingredients. Add the raisins and walnuts, again pulsing only enough to evenly mix.

Friday, March 29, 2013

To Boil an Egg...and Then to Use It

The perfect boiled hard can that be? Actually, not too hard at all, but it can also be an elusive goal, especially if you want to avoid that gray-green ring around the outside of the yolk or to have the center still runny when you had hoped to make deviled eggs or use the slices as a garnish.

Now, with millions (billions?) of eggs meeting a watery fate in preparation for all this weekend's egg coloring fun, time to consider how best to get them cooked to perfection.

First, to "boiling" the perfect hard-cooked egg. This method works well for one egg or a dozen, so even after Easter, when you are ready to cook one egg, why not go ahead and boil up quite a few at once--they keep well in the refrigerator for up to a week.

If you hadn't noticed, I've been putting the word boiled in quotes; why? Because that's the classic name for this method of preparation, but you really want to stop cooking them just as the boiling starts; any longer and you'll have tough whites and really gray-ish yolks. 

Hard "Boiled" Eggs


Put as many eggs as you plan to prepare in a pan large enough to hold them in a single layer. Add enough cold water from the tap to just barely cover the eggs. Cover the pan and place on the burner.

Begin heating the eggs on high or medium high heat, and cook until the water just begins to show a rolling/rippling boil. Immediately remove from heat. Set a timer for the following amount of time:

Extra large eggs      16 to 17 minutes
Large eggs              14 minutes
Medium eggs          12 minutes

As soon as the timer goes off, pour off all the water and cover the eggs with cold water from the tap. Let sit for just a minute or two, until that water becomes warm, and pour it off, replacing it with more cold water. Alternatively, you can place the eggs under cold running water, but that seems pretty wasteful to me.

The whole idea is to get the eggs to stop cooking as quickly as possible after the timer has gone off.
Probably the trickiest step here is to watch for the eggs to come to a boil. Unfortunately, this is not a uniform time. If the eggs were at room temperature, the time will be shorter than if they are straight out of the refrigerator. A dozen eggs will take longer than two or six or whatever. So you'll have to just be a little alert--steam rising from the pan, the eggs starting to "rattle" in the pan as the water begins moving, etc. Maybe the easiest way to do this is to cook the eggs while you are preparing other foods, clearing the table, doing dishes, etc.

In case you are wondering about the holes in the shells in this picture: We all love to color far more eggs at our house than we could possibly eat, so I follow a practice taught me by my thrifty mother. In the weeks leading up to Easter, I use an ice pick to put holes in both ends of eggs I may be using for baking, scrambled eggs, etc. Then I blow out the contents into a cup, wash out the shells and let them dry thoroughly, and put them aside to be ready to supplement the ones we also boil. These are admittedly a little harder to dye, since they float in the solution, but they are also more amenable to decorations that aren't edible--and are super great for hanging on an Easter egg tree.

Even with these blown eggs, we still have plenty of cooked eggs to use up.  Now that eggs have lost the "bad guy" status in our diets, they can be a good way to boost the protein content of your menus at a relatively low cost, but how many times is your family really ready to eat another boiled egg with salt and pepper?! In my next post, I'll be including a recipe or two to get a little more variety into those leftover egg meals.

Some questions you may have:
  • How do I prevent the eggs from cracking while cooking?  Sometimes, the eggs will just have shells so thin, they will crack no matter how hard you try. If they do, they are still fine for eating, just not so pretty for coloring or making deviled eggs. And don't use any boiled eggs with cracks for Easter baskets or for egg hunts--the chance for bacteria entering these cracks is too high in these situations.
  • Is it really true that "old" eggs are easier to peel than fresh ones?  Yes, it seems as though the freshest eggs may still have the inner membrane more tightly attached to the shell than those that are a little older. However, using the approach above,  cooling the eggs as quickly as possible, seems to help a little with this problem too. Another way to make peeling eggs a little easier is to crack them and then kind of roll them around, to break up the shell a little more before trying to peel them. Sometimes, however, they just are going to make you work at getting the shell off.
  • What about food safety? My kids will be having an Easter egg hunt with real eggs. Is it true that I just have to automatically throw these out? NO. However, you do need to use some common sense. If you are having a hunt like this, keep the eggs refrigerated until right before hiding them. When the kids have finished finding them (hopefully every one of them!), count them, maybe even mark them with the initials of the person finding them, and then return them to the refrigerator until serving them.  

The U.S. Department of Agriculture makes the following recommendations on buying, keeping and preparing eggs:
•When buying eggs, get them from a refrigerated case, before the expiration date on the carton.
•Select eggs that look clean and uncracked.
•After leaving the grocery store, take the eggs straight home and refrigerate them immediately.
•Store eggs in their original carton in the main part of the refrigerator, instead of the door.
•Make sure the temperature in the refrigerator is at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
•Eggs should be used within three to five weeks from the date they were purchased.
•When preparing raw eggs, remember to wash your hands, as well as the surfaces and cooking utensils used, with hot soapy water, in order to prevent cross- contamination.
•Raw or cooked eggs should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours.
“When decorating eggs, hard-cook them and use food grade dye to color them if you intend to eat them,” said Haynes.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture makes the following recommendations on hiding, keeping and eating eggs:
•During Easter egg hunts, hide eggs away from animals, dirt and other sources of bacteria.
•Keep eggs in the refrigerator until right before the hunt and put them back in the refrigerator right after the hunt.
•Make sure the eggs have not been at room temperature for longer than two hours total.
•Consume hard-cooked eggs in their shells within a week of cooking, and egg dishes, like deviled eggs, within three to four days.

of course, what to do with all those eggs afterward. Now that eggs have lost the "bad guy" status in our diets, they can be a  good way to boost the protein content of your menus at a relatively low cost. The next post will have a recipe or two for fitting hard boiled eggs into the menus for the coming week.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Papaya Cake (Frugal?)

For most of us, most of the time, papaya hardly seems like a "frugal" ingredient. However, some time ago, a local grocery had some large papayas at a very good price. Remembering the wonderful fruits I was able to enjoy when visiting my kids in their South Pacific home, I couldn't resist and bought one.

It was good but there was much more fruit than I could possibly use up quickly. Checking the internet, I learned that papaya was easily frozen, so into the freezer it went.

Fast forward a few months, and I was looking through the freezer to see what needed to be used up. There were a couple of those papaya packages, just waiting for...something. I was also trying to come up with a different dessert for some friends, so I started doing more internet research. A little experimentation and combining of some of the things I found, and here is the result.

Is this really a "frugal" choice? The original cost of the papaya was less than 60 cents a pound, and the rest of the ingredients are typical of any cake, so this barely fits the category. (I think it probably would not be nearly as good with anything but butter for the fat, so that admittedly increases the cost) Since the cake has a rich flavor, it can be cut into relatively small pieces, reducing the cost per serving. Finally, it provides one more option to use up extra papaya pulp if you succumb to the temptation of buying a large one. This summer, I think I shall try this with peaches or nectarines when they are in good supply, as the caramelization seems like it would be a great way to prepare these as well.

Papaya Coconut Cake

1 c papaya, chopped finely or mashed
1 t butter
1/3 c brown sugar

1/2 c butter, softened
3/4 c sugar
2 eggs
2 t vanilla
1 t rum extract (optional)
1 T finely grated orange peel
1/2 c plain low fat (preferably not nonfat) yogurt
2 c flour
1 1/4 t baking powder
1/4 t soda
1 t ground ginger
1/2 c coconut

1.  Melt the teaspoon of butter with the brown sugar in a nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Stir in the papaya, including any juices that have formed as you mash or chop it. Continue to cook until the mixture is well caramelized, the papaya is softened, and the liquid has been absorbed, about 8 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and cool slightly.

2.  Cut the butter into about tablespoon chunks and put in the processor with the sugar, eggs, orange peel, and flavorings. Process until well-creamed, pulsing as necessary to develop a light mixture.

3.  Sift together the dry ingredients. Add half the flour and half the yogurt to the mixture in the processor and pulse just enough to mix, stirring the batter down from the sides once or twice. Repeat with the remaining dry ingredients and yogurt and process until just mixed--do not overbeat.

4. Fold in the coconut manually and then turn the batter into a well-oiled 9 X 12 pan. Bake at 350 degrees about 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Frost with a simple cream cheese  or a "browned butter" frosting (recipe follows). Sprinkle with more coconut and/or with walnuts if desired.

Browned Butter Frosting

2 T butter
1 t rum flavoring
2 to 3 c powdered sugar
app 1/4 c milk

1.  Melt the butter over medium heat in a small heavy saucepan or skillet. Here is the only hard part of this recipe:  Watching it carefully, allow the butter to just start to brown. The butter will begin to foam and then will quite quickly brown. It moves from the browned stage you want to burned very quickly, so be ready to remove it from heat as soon as the browning starts.

2.  Stir 2 cups of the powdered sugar into the pan with the butter and add the rum flavoring and a tablespoon or so of milk. Beat well, adding a little powdered sugar and then milk as needed to reach spreading consistency.

3.  Spread as quickly as possible. The frosting will thicken as it cools, so you will find it much easier to work with right away.