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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Winter Salad with Beets

So you don't like beets but you've heard of all the wonderful antioxidants and other nutrients they provide? Well, here is a salad that even non-beet eaters have been known to praise, and even have seconds and third servings. This is best made with beets you have roasted, but you can improvise with canned beets--just understand the flavor will not come up to that of the freshly roasted ones.

This salad is successful because it pairs some strong flavors--feta cheese and a good vinagrette dressing--with sweet apples and mild (yes, that really is an adjective for them) beets. The deep green of the lettuce and/or spinach provides a great mix of colors, and the addition of nuts which can be optional) increases the textural variety.

With protein and lots of vitamins, pairing this with some good bread makes a complete meal. Skip the nuts (a little cheaper that way) and serve smaller portions for a nice bright side salad to go along with a simple meal of mac and cheese or some other quick weeknight meal.

One caveat:  This really needs to be tossed together at the last minute, as the beets will be very happy to share their color with both the apples and the feta if left together for any length of time.

First, some basics for preparing the beets.

Roasted Beets

Whole beets, scrubbed and with about half an inch or so of the greens left on top
Closed roasting pan OR other oven-proof dish with a tight fitting cover

1.  Scrub the beets well, but don't worry if you have a few kind of scaly areas that seem a little hard to get fully clean. Avoid cutting off spots or the root at the bottom at this stage, as any cuts in the beets will cause them to "bleed," losing color, flavor, and nutrients.

2.  Put beets of roughly similar size into a roasting pan or casserole dish. Add about half an inch to an inch of water to the pan and cover.

3.  Place in a 375 to 400 degree oven and begin checking for doneness after about 30 to 45 minutes. Because beets vary so much in size and their cooking time will depend on their size, the time it will take to roast them can vary a great deal.

To test for doneness, use a potholder or heavy towel (one that you won't worry if it gets stained) and squeeze the beet. It should be quite soft. If you have beets of varying sizes, you may need to take out the smaller ones when they are soft, recover the pan, and return the larger ones to the oven for more time. If the water has boiled away, be sure to add more, as the beets need the steam to be sure that they soften well.

4.  When the beets are done, wait until they are cool enough to handle and then use a small knife to help remove the skin. If they have cooked fully, the skins will almost slide off, with only the tops and the roots really needing to be cut off.

Beets may be used immediately or refrigerated for up to a week. You can also slice or dice the beets (or keep whole) and freeze in meal-sized packages.

You will notice a lack of really exact proportions in the salad "recipe." This is because salads are best when ingredients are freely chosen and tossed together in proportions that you prefer, and that reflect what you happen to have in the refrigerator at the time. This is more of a guide to get you experimenting with a delightful flavor combination of sweet beets and apples along with the salty tang of the feta cheese, and the crisp and brightly colored greens. And yes, even the lowly iceberg lettuce can play a part in a salad like this; its much-maligned light green color can add some contrast--and can stretch more expensive greens so that there is salad enough for all. 

Winter Salad with Beets

Greens of choice:
  • mixed lettuces (ex. "spring mix")
  • romaine, torn into bite-sized pieces
  • spinach leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces
  • iceberg lettuc, torn into bite-sized pieces
beets, cut in about 1 inch cubes (while roasted ones are best, you can substitute drained, canned beets)
apples, cored but not peeled, cut to approximately the same size as the beets
finely chopped onion
feta cheese, cubed or crumbled
coarsely chopped walnuts or broken pecan halves (optional)
balsamic and olive oil vinagrette dressing OR raspberry vinagrette dressing
dried or chopped, fresh basil (optional)
freshly ground black pepper (optional)

1.  For a main dish salad, allow about 2 cups of greens for each serving; for a side salad, use only about half that amount per serving.
2.  For each 2 cups of greens, use about 1/4 cup each apples and beets and 1 to 2 tablespoons of chopped onion, to taste. An ounce of feta (about the size of a pair of dice or the size of your thumb above the first joint) per serving is about right too, though up to an ounce and a half can be good too. A tablespoon or so of nuts per serving is probably going to be a nice amount.
3.  Just before serving, put all the ingredients in the salad bowl and toss with enough dressing to lightly coat the leaves. If desired, sprinkle a bit of basil and/or freshly ground pepper over the top.

One more thing: A way to keep apples from browning if you need to prepare them ahead of serving.

Using the smallest container that will hold the apples you will be preparing, put a mixture of about one part of lemon juice (I use reconstituted, like ReaLemon, for this) to about two to three parts water. Cut the apples to the desired size and put into the lemon juice mixture, making sure the apples are completely covered. Cover tightly and refrigerate until using. This will hold the apples for a few hours.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Pumpkin Pudding OR Pie--Both Great Fall Desserts

Sometimes in this season of rich desserts, we may still crave something a little sweet to top off a meal. One very seasonal approach is to make your favorite pumpkin pie filling but then just put it in a heavy glass casserole dish and bake it without a crust. While there is still a significant amount of sugar, all the fat and flour of the crust are done away with.

This recipe is one that my oldest son has used for years in making the best pumpkin pie ever. He often roasts the pumpkins their family has used for decorations, brought in after Halloween and before they have had a chance to freeze. I am including it just as he makes the pies, with a brief note on the adaptations (very slight) for making pumpkin pudding.

Whichever way you make this, it's a great dessert for these chilly fall days. (And, as this picture shows, this is a recipe so easy even a 3 year old can make it, with just a little help!)

Lance's Pumpkin Pie

2 c cooked pumpkin (prepared as below OR 15 oz canned)
3/4 c sugar
2 large or extra large eggs
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t cloves
1/2 t ginger
1/2 t salt
1 2/3 c evaporated milk (one large can)
Prepared 9" unbaked pie shell

1.  Beat eggs slightly and then stir in remaining ingredients. Beat with mixer until well mixed and pour into the pie shell.
2.  Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for 45 more minutes or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean.

To prepare pumpkin:
Cut pumpkin in half and remove seeds and fiber. Cut into several chunks and place in a roaster with a little water. Cover and bake at 350 until the pumpkin is very soft. Remove from oven and scrape from shell. Mash until smooth. (Any extra pumpkin can be frozen for later use in other recipes.)

Pumpkin Pudding

1.  Prepare as for pumpkin pie filling, but use 3 eggs. I usually increase each of the spices by another quarter to half teaspoon, as the pudding seems better with a little more spice. (I also like a bit of nutmeg so usually add about half a teaspoon of that too.)
2.  Spray a nine inch glass or ceramic pie pan or similar-sized with cooking spray or oil well. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the pan and bake at 325 for 45 to 55 minutes, until a knife inserted in center comes out clean. Serve warm or chilled.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Concord Grape Syrup

-->The colors of fall are deep and rich, golds and bronzes and deep russet reds. And then there are the rich purple colors of Concord grapes. Throughout my childhood, baskets of these grapes were part of the fall harves, and the smell of my mother's simmering grape juice often met us as we burst home from school on increasingly chilly afternoons. When I had the opportunity to pick more than five pounds of grapes on a trip out of town, I was enthralled. Trying to find a way to bring them home in my Amtrak luggage was challenging, but so worth it!
Now that I had the grapes home, I had to get them preserved. Not grape juice or jelly--these are products that are readily available, even if the purchased kinds would never stand up to what I could make myself. No, I wanted to make something more unique, special, and still stretch it beyond just a single pie or two.

With a little research I found some promising recipes for grape jam (not jelly) online and thought I’d try that. Unfortunately, I made an early mistake.

After washing and stemming the grapes, I put them into a large pot, mashed them as directed, and, then, almost without thinking, added about a cup or two of water. Wrong. 

Diluting the fruit in this way meant that the amount of pectin available for jelling was going to be compromised, so jam was also out of the question. Still not ready to drop back to grape juice, I began to consider what to do to redeem the mistake, something that would still be "special." There seemed to be only one option still open to me.

Grape syrup.

A little more research, some trial and error, and I ended up with an incredibly full flavored syrup that brings back the flavor and aroma of fall whenever I open the jar. Still, what was I going to do with pints of grape syrup? 

Actually, this is a pretty versatile liquid, with the following as examples for its use:

  • Grape yogurt:  In fact, I put a cup of yogurt into the cup I had used to ladle the syrup into canning jars, and the result was incredibly flavorful.
  • Grape sherbet/sorbet:  There are so many recipes on line for either of these desserts, and I see them as easily adaptable to this syrup
  • Smoothies of all kinds
  • Syrup for pancakes and waffles—probably will want to mix with honey or add a little more sugar and boil briefly to reach a more syrupy consistency—or maybe a bit of cornstarch?
  • As an ingredient in an autumn marinade for roast pork or even chicken thighs
  • In a dressing, similar to a raspberry vinagrette

So here is how I made the syrup:

Grape Syrup

2 quarts stemmed and washed Concord grapes (see NOTE about NOT increasing the size of this recipe)

1 to 2 c water

6 cups sugar

¼ c lemon juice (I used ReaLemon)

1.  Place the grapes in a large pot. Mash with a potato masher to crush most or all of the grapes. Add the water and bring the mixture to a boil. Lower heat slightly and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, until the grapes are very soft.

2.  Scoop the grape mixture into a food mill and press the mixture through the mill. (If you do not have a food mill for food preservation, you can use a colander with small holes or even a relatively coarse sieve.) You will want to get pulp as well as juice to give the syrup a nice body.

3.  Compost the thick parts left in the food mill or colander and then return the strained grapes to the pot. Stir in the sugar and lemon juice and heat the mixture to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat a bit if the grape syrup begins to splatter.
4.  Continue cooking the mixture for about 30 to 35 minutes, allowing it to thicken somewhat. If foam forms on the top of the syrup, you may choose to ladle this off into a bowl. (The foam is a wonderful way to "test" your syrup; stir a little of it into plain yogurt or save it for tomorrow morning's pancakes or French toast.)

5.  While the grape syrup is cooking, wash four or five pint jars and lids and keep warm in a pan of hot water at the back of the stove. Heat more water in a water bath canner or pot large enough to immerse your jars in water about an inch over the top. Have a wood cutting board or a thick towel laid on the counter for protecting the hot jars from coming into contact with a cold counter. 

6.  Ladle the syrup into the jars--I use a large coffee mug for this rather than an actual ladle. Wipe the edges of the jars if needed to avoid any drips that could keep the jar from sealing.
7.  When all the jars are closed and the water in the water bath canner is boiling, put the jars into the canner and begin timing when the water has returned to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes.

8.  Turn the heat off and remove the jars from the hot water, again placing them on a wood cutting board or towel. Allow to cool thoroughly before labeling.

NOTE:  This recipe made about 3 1/2 pints. Since I had another 4 cups of grapes, I made a second, smaller batch (cooking it only about 25 minutes after adding the sugar) and then processed all five jars at once. It is better to do a couple of smaller batches rather than trying to increase the amount made at once, because the extended cooking time for larger amounts will decrease the fresh flavor that you want to preserve here.

Barley with Butternut Squash, Apples, and Onions


With an extended Indian Summer season this year, it is hard to believe that we are well into the last half of October. But the leaves--more brilliant than even the beautiful normal here in the upper Midwest this year--are quickly showering down, glowing in the sun, making colorful confetti against the clouds of the drearier days.  

I brought home almost ten pounds of Concord grapes from a trip to Wisconsin, so a batch of grape syrup is right now simmering on the stove. That is a new experiment for me, so I won't be putting the results on this blog until I know that I have something that will work. Meanwhile, another quart of raspberries is in the refrigerator, to be made into a raspberry apple crisp for guests later this week. Sheltered as I am here in town, killing frost has still not hit the everbearing raspberries, but I know that each picking could be the last of the season.

Meanwhile, a visit to Sekapps, my favorite orchard right here in the city, is bursting with other fruits of fall. Beyond the piles of pumpkins and rows of mums, there were bins with dozens of varieties of squash, bags of as many kinds of apples, bushel baskets of fat burgundy beets, and a grocery cart full of the largest imaginable cabbages. I brought two of these home for a total of just $5 and found they each weighed almost 15 pounds. Even at that size, the flavor is sweet, and a giant recipe of Overnight Coleslaw used only a third of one head. There will be more cabbage recipes here soon too!

Along with the cabbages, I came home with a bushel of squash, another of apples, a 50 pound bag of red potatoes, and a fat pie pumpkin that will be decor now, dessert later. With all of this bounty, it was time to get busy in the kitchen. 
Squash. Onions. Apples. This trio of flavors may seem a little unusual for many of us here in the US, but it is a great triumvirate, and today's cool cloudiness was just the weather for some nice warm comfort food. While I often make curried vegetables with squash, today I wanted to just focus on the basic flavors of these key ingredients. Searching the web, I found an idea to combine them with barley, and a little tweaking ended up with a great vegan main dish that would also be good as a side with a  kielbasa or other smoked sausage. 

Maybe just the right kind of dish for the family that has both meat eaters and vegetarians. If you are trying to introduce new grains like barley into your menus, this combination could be a good place to start. It is inexpensive, and, by using pearled barley, the entire dish can be made, start to finish, in barely half an hour.

Barley with Butternut Squash, Apples and Onions 
1/2 c pearl barley
1 1/2 c water
1/2 t salt
1 T olive oil
2 c butternut squash, peeled and cut into about 1 inch cubes (9 ounces)
1 c onion, diced (1 medium onion, about 5 ounces)
1 1/3 c coarsely chopped apple (1 large apple, about 7 ounces)
1/3 c water drained from barley
2 to 3 minced cloves garlic, to taste
1 to 2 t chicken broth powder, to taste (OR 2 chicken or vegetarian bouillon cubes)
1/2 t dried thyme
freshly ground pepper, to taste

1.  Combine barley, water, and salt in a small saucepan; cover and bring to a boil. Turn heat down and simmer until barley is just tender about 30 minutes.
2.  Meanwhile, combine the olive oil, squash, and onion in a heavy skillet--I prefer cast iron. Saute over medium high heat until the vegetables are golden brown and the squash is just barely tender. Stir frequently to avoid sticking and to be sure that the onions and squash cook evenly.

3.  Stir in the apple, garlic, thyme, broth powder or bouillon, and liquid drained from barley. (If the barley has absorbed all the water, just add tap water to the vegetable mix.) Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for about 3 to 5 minutes, until the apples are just tender.
4.  Stir in the barley and mix well.

Serves two to three as a main dish or four as a side.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Apple Butter Bread

This has been a busy week, with two large batches of raspberry apple jam and one even larger batch of apple butter finished and ready for winter. While apple butter is wonderful on toast, French toast, and pancakes, I wanted to try using it in some baking as well.

The following bread has a lot of nutrition and flavor, and the use of oil rather than butter (common in this kind of loaf) reduces the cost and ups the value of the fat used. While an alternative set of ingredients is listed after the main recipe if you don't keep nonfat dried milk on hand, I strongly suggest keeping it as a staple. Depending on your part of the country, it can be cheaper than fresh milk, but, even if the cost is similar, it is a great way to up the calcium and protein content of baked goods. The amount used in these loaves is equivalent to more than a cup of milk, even though only three quarters of a cup of liquid can be used to keep the overall balance of liquid and dry ingredients right. Finally, the overall heartiness of the other ingredients makes the whole wheat flour barely distinguishable, even for those who turn their noses up at anything but white bread.

As with most breads of this type, this is even better the second day, but you may find that the fragrance filling the house while it bakes will make it hard for anyone to wait that long to try this out. Spread it with a little butter or cream cheese that has been softened and mixed with a bit of orange juice and grated orange rind or just eat it unadorned. Good enough for dessert and not just as a bread.

Purchased apple butter should work fine for this bread, but I have not tested it with anything bu my own, homemade and wonderful, stuff. You can find my apple butter recipe (actually my sister Merry's recipe) at

I did decrease the cloves a bit when I made this batch, since our family prefers a little less of that very strong spice. One more nice thing about making your own--you can adjust the spices to match your own preferences!

Apple Butter Bread

1/3 cup canola oil
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup water
1 T lemon juice
1/2 c nonfat dried milk powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 cups all-purpose flour
1 c whole wheat flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground allspice
1 cup apple butter
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 c dried cranberries

1.  Put the cranberries in the water and microwave about 1 to 2 minutes. Set aside to cool.
2.  Combine oil, brown sugar, egg, lemon juice, apple butter, and dried milk powder. 
3.  Sift together dried ingredients.
4.  Alternately add the flour mixture and cooled cranberries and water to the egg and oil mixture. Stir just to blend. Fold in the nuts.
5.  Pour the batter into two well-greased 8 ½ X 4 ½  inch loaf pans. This might be a good time to use a baking spray like Pam, to be sure that the breads will not stick to the pans when done--an all too common problem with some of this rich breads!
6.  Bake at 350 degrees (325 if in a glass pan) for about 35 to 37 minutes. Allow to cool in the pans for 10 to 12 minutes before turning out on to a rack. If storing for more than a day, these are best kept tightly wrapped in the refrigerator.


If you do not have dried milk available, make the following changes:

Use 3/4 c skim or 2 % milk instead of water.
Do NOT heat the cranberries in the milk. Instead in step 4, add the milk alternately with the flour mixture. Then fold in the dried cranberries with the nuts. 

 (NOTE: Okay, so the recipe calls for using two 8 ½ X 4 ½  inch loaf pans, but you may have noticed the photo shows two differently shaped loaves. I only have one of these pans in my cupboard, so one of the loaves was baked in a 9 X 5 inch pan. It just makes a little broader slice, which may be your preference anyway!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Apple Raspberry Jam

As the end of the raspberry season approaches, I wanted to use some of the last pickings to make some Apple Raspberry Jam. I have been making No Pectin Raspberry Apple Jam for several years, but this time I wanted to up the ratio of apple to raspberry, in part to see if I could come up with a jam that would not be too expensive for those who have to buy the berries rather than have lavishly producing plants right in the back yard.

I am doubly blessed on costs because friends have shared a couple of bushels of totally organic apples from their own trees, so the cost of this jam for me is the sugar (purchased on a loss leader sale for 22 cents a pound), the lemon juice, and the jar lids that can't be reused. A really frugal treat!

Here is the recipe for today:

Apple Raspberry Jam

8 c raspberries
8 c sugar
4 c diced apples
1/3 c lemon juice (use reconstituted, bottled juice, like ReaLemon brand for most consistent acidity)

1.  Combine the raspberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a large (non-aluminum) pot and stir.

2.  Cut the apples in quarters, remove the cores and spots and dice finely. To keep the apples from browning, cut a cup of apples, stir in to the raspberry mixture, cut another cup, and repeat. (Dicing the apples is the most labor-intensive part of this recipe. A food processor could be used to roughly chop the apples instead, but you don't have to have a processor to make this jam.)

3.  Bring the mixture to a full boil over medium high heat, stirring occasionally. Continue to cook, stirring and scraping down the sides of the pan. You may cover the jam early in the process to speed up the cooking, but be warned: The mixture is VERY prone to boiling over, so you will want to watch it closely and take the cover off when the jam is boiling well.

4.  Cook until one or more of the following tests shows the jam has jelled:
  • A thermometer reads 215 to 220 degrees
  • A few drops of the jam on a chilled plate will keep their shape when you run your finger through the center
  • The jam "sheets" off the spoon
My preference in all of these is the cold plate test. Especially with this much apple, the jam will be quite stiff if you wait all the way to the 220 degree level.

5.  While the jam is cooking, wash jars and lids well and place the jars upside down in a pan with an inch or two of water in it. Turn this on a low heat so that the water is just simmering.

6. To process the jam, you will need a "water bath" or other large kettle or pot that is big enough to hold the jars AND have water at least an inch above the tops of the jars when they are processing. Fill this pan at least half full of water and begin heating it, also while the jam is cooking. (Yes, three burners all going at once. It will make you feel like a real home preserver!)

Side note:  Other equipment that will be handy to have: a wide-mouthed "canning funnel," tongs to lift the lids from the hot water, a mug for scooping the jam into the jars (I prefer this over a ladle, but that will do too), and a jar lifter to get the hot jars in and out of the water. If you don't have one of these, you can still make jam, but you will probably want to have a ladle handy to take some of the water off of the jars when they are done. You will then be able to use a hot pad to grab out the jars above the water line.

6.  When the jam is finished cooking, turn the heat off and stir the jam again. The apples have a tendency to come to the top of this mixture all through the cooking process, so you will want to continue stirring as you begin putting the jam in the jars. Using a clean cloth, wipe the jar rims to be sure there is no jam there to impair a tight seal all around.

7.  Put the lids and rings on; while you want the covers closed, don't tighten too much at this stage.
Place the jars in the pot of boiling water, making sure you have enough to cover the jars to about an inch above the tops. (I like to have a tea kettle of water heating at the side, just in case there isn't enough water in the pot to cover. If you end up with too much water, you can just ladle a little out. It really can be a little tricky to decide how much water to heat until you have the jars actually in the pot!)

8.  For half pint or pint jars, bring the water back to boiling and set the timer for 10 minutes. When the time is complete, remove the jars from the water and place on a wood board (to prevent major temperature changes that could break the boiling hot jars). Allow to cool completely before labeling and storing.

With modern canning lids, you will hear a cheery click each time one seals, and you can test if a jar is sealed by pressing lightly on the center. It will not spring back up if sealed. Any jars that do not seal can be refrigerated and used within the next few weeks.

One final step:  After you have scraped the pan, the spoon, and the cup that served as a ladle, there still will be some wonderfully fresh jam left. Scoop some plain yogurt into the cup and stir with the jam spoon. Instant raspberry yogurt, a treat for the hard working cook!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Applesauce Banana Cake with Peanut Butter Topping

Don't laugh at this really long name for today's cake. I often end up with a few bananas at the end of the bunch that get too soft to eat, and applesauce and peanut butter are staples in my pantry, so the ingredients are all right here for a relatively healthy dessert.

Another advantage? If you are old enough to remember when most cakes were made "from scratch," there was always a whole section in cookbooks called "one bowl cakes." This one is a "one pan cake," quick to stir up without a lot of clean up.

It may not be the prettiest cake in the world but it has a nice home-baked flavor that will win over the toughest of critics...and it really is easy.

The method is just a little out of the ordinary, but follow the directions closely and you'll be glad you tried this quick dessert.

Oatmeal Banana Applesauce Cake

1 1/4 c quick or old-fashioned oatmeal (NOT instant)
1 1/4 c water
1 c unsweetened applesauce
1 c mashed banana (about 2 medium)
2 T  butter
1 egg
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
1 t vanilla
2 c flour
1 1/4 t baking soda
1 1/2  t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg

3/4 c sugar
1/3 c water
3/4 c crunchy peanut butter

1.  Preheat the oven to 350. Start the oven heating before you start mixing the cake, as you will want to get the cake into the oven soon after the batter is mixed. Oil well a 9 X 12 pan.
2.  In a 2 quart (or larger) saucepan, bring the oatmeal and water to a boil and cook, stirring constantly, about a minute. 
3.  Remove the pan from heat and stir in the applesauce, bananas, and butter. Stir well, until the butter is melted and blended evenly into the mix. Kind of looks like your standard breakfast oatmeal at this point, doesn't it? Not too worry, this reeally is going to be cake!

4.  Sift the dry ingredients together. Add the egg to the oatmeal mixture and then immediately stir in the dry ingredients.
5.  Spread the batter in the pan and bake for 25 to 28 minutes, until the top is golden. The cake should spring back when touched lightly, or a toothpick inserted in the center will come out without batter clinging to it. (Remember that the cake will be in the oven for about five minutes after the topping is added so don't overbake at this stage.)

6.  While the cake is baking, rinse the pan that the batter was mixed in and add to it the sugar and water for the topping.  Bring the mixture to a full boil and boil for about 2 minutes.
7.  Remove the pan from heat and stir in the peanut butter. (You will need to stir the mixture again right before spreading it on the cake, as it separates quickly.)


8.  When the cake has reached that golden and almost done stage, remove it from the oven and gently spread the Topping over the cake. If desired, you can use a fork to "poke" the mixture into the cake a bit more--just be gentle if you do this!
9.  Return the cake to the oven for another 5 to 7 minutes, until the topping is bubbly all over.
10.  Allow the cake to cool before cutting.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Snickerdoodle Upgrades

Why mess with success? That was the initial comment from a friend when I shared my testing of some snickerdoodle variations. Then, she tasted the "experiments."

Ah, that's why. New taste sensations are always good for variety.

Yes, snickerdoodles may be a favorite cookie for just about any sweets lover, but how can you grow wrong if you update it with some fall flavors, including apple butter, or if you add in chocolate.

So today, here are two new ways to make these easy little cookies. And if you have hide-bound traditionalists who still want the old basics, you can split the chocolate variation recipe and just roll some of the cookie balls in sugar and cinnamon and flatten as always. Then you'll have two kinds of cookies to offer your family or guests!

I happened upon a great sale on a dark chocolate peanut butter blend at Costco, so that is what I used to top the chocolate version. Regular peanut butter or Nutela or a similar product would probably work just as well.

As I noted when I originally posted the basic mayonnaise snickerdoodle recipe (here: ), these don't have raw eggs (so the kids can nibble away at the dough with no worries) but there is egg in the mayo, so they aren't vegan. I have been doing some research on line, and it appears that vegan mayo can be substituted for regular mayo in most recipes. Frugal as I am, I have never bought the vegan version, but I would love to hear from anyone who wants to try one of these variations with vegan mayo.

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Snickerdoodles

1 c mayonnaise
1 c sugar
1 t vanilla
2 c flour
1 t baking soda
1 t cinnamon

chocolate drink mix powder (like Quik; NOT hot chocolate mix)
chocolate peanut butter

1.  Beat together the mayonnaise, sugar, and vanilla until smooth.
2.  Sift the dry ingredients together and stir into the mayonnaise mixture, mixing until well-blended. The dough will have the consistency of play dough.
3.  Place about 2 tablespoons of the dry chocolate drink mix powder into a small bowl. Shape the dough into ping pong or golf ball-sized balls, and roll each in the powder until well coated. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet.

4.  Using the handle of a wood spoon or other utensil with a large round end, make an indentation in each cookie. Place a small dollop of the chocolate peanut butter into the cavity in each cookie. (I used about 1/4 teaspoon but don't try to measure! That will be just too messy and not worth the effort.)

5.  Bake in a 350 degree oven about 7 to 10 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies. Allow to sit for a minute or two on the pan before moving to a cooling rack, as they are very easily broken fresh out of the oven.

Autumn Snickerdoodles Variation

1.  Follow the recipe above, but substitute 2 t pumpkin pie spice for the cinnamon.
2.  Roll the cookies in a mixture of sugar and cinnamon--about 1 t cinnamon to 1/2 c sugar.
3.  Place a small amount of apple butter in the indentations instead of peanut butter.

Friday, September 19, 2014

"Northern Style" Greens

If you are a gardener, you probably know that most greens grow best in cool weather. Why, then, does it seem as though these wonderful vegetables have long been most prevalent on the tables of Southerners? Growing up in the upper Midwest, we mostly knew of spinach from Popeye --and it would take more than the power of a cartoon hero to get us to really eat the slimy olive green things that came out of cans.

My parents did love beet greens, and the first beets from the garden were always tiny, picked more for the greens than the roots. Even though she sauteed them only lightly, my mother's best efforts to get us kids to take more than the mandatory bite were usually futile.

When we moved to central Appalachia many years ago, I was introduced to greens as a regular part of menus and learned to appreciate at least a little the slow simmered with ham hocks versions we were often served. But it wasn't until years later when I discovered how wonderful greens could really be if a few basic rules were followed:
  • Always use LOTS of onion and/or garlic
  • Use a small amount of oil (preferably olive)
  • Cut the stems from the leaves and cook them a bit longer than the leaves
  • Saute the leaves only until just wilted and slightly tenderized
...oh, and a splash of good vinegar is always a great addition--balsamic is best, but cider or red wine vinegars will also work.

There are  gradations in how strongly flavored (or bitter) different greens are, so you may want to start out with the milder varieties. Kale and spinach are now much more likely to be used in recipes, but they are still not often sauteed on their own. Mustard greens and collards are more of an acquired taste, but there is a wonderful kind of greens that I heartily suggest everyone become familiar with:


There are red, yellow, and green variations of chard, each of them beautiful to look at and wonderfully mild and even just a bit sweet. As with all greens, a touch of frost mellows the flavor, so the best time of year to buy these is right now, in fall and early winter. The preparation method I give below for chard will also work with just about any greens, but why not start out with these beautiful chard leaves if you are new to cooking with greens? I think you will be very glad you did.

As usual, this is more method than recipe. Amounts can vary according to your taste, so decrease or increase the onion and garlic as desired. Many people will want a dash of a favorite hot sauce and that is a good choice too. After you have tried this with chard (or beet greens--almost interchangeable), try moving on to one of the other kinds of greens so prevalent in the farmers markets and produce aisles right now.

Chard, Northern Style

olive or canola oil
onion, coarsely chopped
garlic, minced
1 bunch of chard, washed
salt to taste
hot sauce (optional)
balsamic or other vinegar

1. Prepare the chard by separating the coarsest parts of the stems from the leaves. Chop the stems coarsely. Roll the leaves into tight curls and then, using scissors (the easiest way) or a knife,  cut the leaves into coarse pieces. Set the leaves aside.

2. Measure the stems and use about the same amount of onions as stems.
3. Saute the onions and chard stems in a small amount of oil over medium high heat, stirring occasionally. Make sure the pan you use will be large enough for all the leaves you will be adding.

4. When the onions are soft and translucent, stir in the garlic and then add the leaves.

Lower the heat to medium, cover the pan, and cook just until the greens are wilted and slightly tender. For most greens, this will be only 5 minutes or so. If needed, a bit of water can be added to the pan to avoid over-browning.
5.  Remove from heat and salt to taste. Serve with vinegar and hot sauce as desired.


Thanks to one of my loyal followers (who seems to be having a problem making comments here), I have been reminded that greens love, love, love, the addition of some cubes of feta cheese when served. You might also try a dollop of plain yogurt (Greek or regular), especially if you are drizzling the greens with hot sauce.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"Roasted" Green Beans

The green beans in my garden got off to a late start, but now that September has arrived, they are producing beautifully. One of our family's favorite ways to eat green beans is roasting in the oven, but the same results can easily be obtained by grilling and, I have discovered, by using my old standby cast iron skillet. One of the nice things about this method is that it works well for beans of all sizes, from the sweet and tender little pencil-sized ones up to the fat, lumpy ones that get missed under the leaves of the vines. (A friend of mine confided that she only plants the purple beans now, as they are so much easier to find when picking them in the garden.)

Whenever you have fresh green beans available, do try this variation from the steamed or (yikes) boiled kind that many people have come to expect from "string beans." Note that the "recipe" below is once again more method than measurement, scalable to whatever amount of beans you have. Just don't be surprised if your family eats far larger servings of these than you might be accustomed to serving.

I have included the variations for roasting or grilling the beans as well, but I wouldn't start the oven or grill just for the beans; it's just too easy to do these on the stovetop without needing to start another heat source.

Stove Top Roasted Green Beans

cast iron skillet, sized to allow beans to cook in a single layer (if you have a lot of beans, just do them in batches)
olive oil
green beans

1.  Put a small amount of olive oil in the skillet, enough to just put a thin coat of oil across the entire surface. Heat the pan with the oil over medium high to high heat until it begins to "shimmer." (If you are not familiar with this term, just watch the oil and you will see it start to have tiny ripple-like movements across the surface, indicating the oil has reached a good cooking temperature.)

2.  While the oil is heating, rinse and dry the beans and remove the stem ends. No need to take off the pointy "tails" of the beans. If some of the beans are quite large, you may wish to cut them lengthwise into two or three pieces.
3.  When the oil has begun to shimmer, spread the beans in a single layer in the skillet. Do not turn down the heat! Sprinkle the beans lightly with salt and allow them to cook for a few minutes before turning.
4.  Continue cooking until the beans are lightly browned and a little crispy and wrinkled on both sides.


Roasted Green Beans
1.  Heat the oven to 400 to 450 degrees (depending on what else you might have in the oven at the time).
2.  Cover a cookie sheet with foil (for easier clean up but not absolutely necessary). Spread the prepared beans (see step 2 above) in a single layer in the pan and drizzle with a little olive oil.
3.  Using a silicon spatula or your fingers (which is really the best way), toss the beans so that they are well-coated with the oil. Sprinkle salt over the top.
4.  Roast the beans in the oven about 5 to 8 minutes, until they are beginning to brown in spots. Remove from oven and turn. Return to oven and cook a few minutes more, until the beans are nicely browned, wrinkly and maybe even a little crisp.

Grilled Green Beans
1.  Prepare the beans as in step 2 for Stove Top Beans. Spread on heavy aluminum foil and put on the grill.
2.  Roast on the grill, turning as needed so that the beans are evenly browned.

Stove Top Green Beans and Other Vegetables

Cook the beans as directed above. When completely cooked, remove the beans to a plate. Add a bit more oil to the pan as necessary and then saute onions and peppers, matchstick sized zucchini or yellow squash, and carrot slices as desired. Return the green beans to the pan to warm before serving.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Garden Fresh Salsa

After a slow start, my little garden is producing a good crop of tomatoes each day. I planted 6 varieties, including an heirloom plum type tomato (currently sprawling across a large part of the raspberries, even though I continuously tie these back to their stakes), a single grape tomato plant, and both yellow and red medium to large sized tomatoes.

Very conveniently, HyVee, a regional grocery chain here in the upper Midwest, is featuring their annual Hatch chili pepper sale, with these big beautiful peppers only 99 cents a pound. Cilantro and great big onions are available at a good price at the farmers' markets as well as in most of the grocery stores. So...

Definitely time for salsa.

Start out with the basic mixture and then consider some of the add-ins noted at the end of the recipe.  Use the salsa as a classic dip with tortilla chips or serve it with grilled fish or chicken. Bake a potato in the microwave or on the grill and top with plain yogurt and a generous dollop of this salsa, and you have a pretty balanced meal all in one dish.

If you make this an hour or two before serving, the flavors will blend a bit more, but you may find it impossible to wait so long before trying it out.

Garden Fresh Salsa

3 c coarsely chopped tomatoes--no need to peel
1 c diced white or sweet onion
1 c diced green chilies--remove the inner ribs and seeds for mild salsa; leave some of the ribs if you want more heat
2 cloves garlic, minced, or to taste
1/2 t salt
1 T lemon juice
1 t cumin, or to taste


Combine all ingredients, stir, and chill for an
hour or so to allow flavors to blend. However, if you can't wait, can be served immediately.


1.  Add one or more of the following to the basic salsa:
1 c corn--these can be uncooked or cooked kernels cut off the cob or even frozen or well-drained canned corn
1 to 2 c black beans, drained--if using beans that were cooked without salt, taste for seasoning after adding
1 c diced avocado--if using this, the salsa should be served the same day

2.. Stir 1 to 2 cups of salsa into 2 cups of yogurt or light sour cream. Taste for seasoning and serve as a dip with chips or fresh vegetables.

3.  The chilies can be combined or replaced  with other varieties of peppers to increase the heat. For a very mild salsa, use bell peppers instead of the chiles. This is especially colorful (and relatively sweet) using red bell peppers and yellow tomatoes or yellow bell peppers and red tomatoes.

...and a special bonus:  Gazpacho for one 

Garden tomatoes are notorious for being extra sweet and juicy, so you could end with a lot of juice in the bottom of the dish after serving this as a dip. A wonderful use for this flavorful leftover is to add about an equal amount of peeled and diced cucumber to the juice in the blender, throw in an ice cube or two, and blend until smooth. Add in a bit more salt and hot sauce to taste.

...and an even easier way to use up those juices: Chill and drink just as you would tomato juice or a V-8. Just, whatever you do, don't throw that delightful liquid away!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Raspberry Swirl Coffeecake

I have been making "quick" coffeecakes for decades, starting with two basic recipes from the 1962 Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. One was titled simply "Coffeecake" while the other was "Blueberry Buckle." Over the years I have layered these with many kinds of fruit, have changed the toppings, have upped the nutrition with the use of whole grains and added ingredients like extra dry milk powder, various seeds and nuts, etc.

This week I added the latest variation by turning the base recipes' streusel topping into a fruit swirl. From past experience I know that just mixing raspberries that have been frozen or cooked (as with the pulp in the recipe below) into a batter will result in the whole mixture being an unattractive grayish light purple. This swirling approach avoids that problem by concentrating the raspberry color in irregular bands. A few nuts and a drizzle of powdered sugar icing (really only a few tablespoons at most) replace the more typical streusel topping for a bread that will stand out at your next brunch or special family breakfast.

Raspberry Swirl Coffeecake

1/3 c softened butter--may also use half and half butter and canola oil
3/4 c sugar
1 egg
1/2 c milk
1 T lemon juice
2 c flour
2 1/2 t baking powder

Raspberry Swirl
1/4 c melted butter
1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 c flour
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t almond flavoring
1 c raspberry pulp (see NOTE)

1/2 c slivered or sliced almonds (optional)

1.  Beat together the butter, sugar, and egg until smooth. Add the lemon juice and milk and stir until well blended.
2.  Sift together the flour and baking powder and add gradually to  the butter mixture. Stir only until the batter is completely mixed.
3.  Spread the batter into a well oiled 7 X 11 inch pan.
4.  Prepare the Raspberry Swirl by mixing all but the raspberry pulp, beating until well-blended. Add the raspberries, stirring until well-blended.
5.  Drop spoonfuls of the raspberry mixture over the top of the batter. Using a table knife or fork, gently swirl the raspberries into the batter in an attractive pattern. Avoid swirling too much, as you want to keep the two mixtures distinctive.
6.  If desired, sprinkle the slivered almonds evenly over the top of the cake.

7.  Bake in a 350 degree pre-heated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
8.  If desired, drizzle a small amount of powdered sugar icing over the top when the cake has cooled.

This has been tested with the pulp remaining from making raspberry syrup. However, you can use frozen, thawed, raspberries. You will need to start with about 12 to 16 oz of frozen raspberries. Place in a colander or strainer and press lightly to remove most of the juices. This will keep the cake from being too soggy. The juices that are drained will be quite tart but are an excellent addition to smoothies, slushies, or gelatin dishes. For the latter, just substitute about 1/2 c raspberry juice for the same amount of cold water in raspberry or any other flavor of "red" Jello-type desserts. This heightens the fruit flavor and counteracts the excessive sweetness of many of these packaged gelatins.