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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.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Raspberry Almond Cupcakes--Frugal?

This is a recipe that uses a lot of raspberries, frugal enough if you have them free for the picking in the back yard or relatively inexpensively at a pick-your-own farm, but, yes I know, an extravagance for anyone having to buy them in the store. So you may need to decide if they will fit your budget. (And I am hoping to try this with strawberries at some point when those are at seasonally low prices, so that variation may be more reasonable for some.)

I can guarantee that, if you do decide to make these, the results will be spectacular. The flavor blending of raspberries and almonds is perfect, and the cake is tender and rich. By making these in the "regular" sized muffin pans (not the giant ones so often used for muffins and cupcakes lately), the recipe makes three and a half dozen rich dessert servings, each one just right to finish off a meal.

A few things to keep in mind:
  • You really do need to use butter in these rather than any substitutes. (Budget hint: Watch for sales on butter and put an extra pound or two in the freezer.)
  • While you can use frozen raspberries, you will need to drain them very well. If not, the juices will "leak" into the batter, making it a less appetizing grayish purple.
  • For that same color-of-batter reason, be very careful to fold the raspberries gently into the batter, only to get them evenly distributed but no more.
  • Ground almonds are something you might need to look for a bit. In places where ground nuts are sold, they are usually at a lower per pound price than whole or chopped nuts. I have not ground my own but you could try. (Upper Midwest readers: Fleet Farm and Farm Fleet stores regularly stock ground almonds, pecans, and walnuts.)
  • As noted in the recipe, don't under-bake. These little gems are very tender, so they need to be completely cooked. Look for the color to be similar to the photo below.
  • If you don't have unsweetened applesauce available, you can substitute a tightly packed cup of grated apple.

NOTE:  These are a little on the ugly side before frosting, as the tenderness of the cake and the weight of the berries will cause them to look like they have "fallen." However, if you let them bake until fully done, they will be wonderfully delicious, and the frosting will turn the Cinderella chamber maids into Cinderella princesses. 

Raspberry Almond Cupcakes

1 c butter, slightly softened
2 c sugar
2 1/2 c flour
1 T baking powder
1 c ground almonds
1 c unsweetened applesauce
4 eggs
6 T milk
2 t almond extract
1/2 t pure vanilla extract
3 c raspberries

1. Beat the butter and sugar together until very smooth. Add the eggs, almond extract, and ground almonds and continue to beat until the mixture is very light and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes.

2.  Sift the flour and baking powder together and add to the beaten egg mixture alternately with the applesauce and milk.

3.  Gently fold in the raspberries (use a silicon scraper or wood spoon) just until mixed throughout the batter. 

4.  Spoon the batter into standard sized muffin pans lined with cupcake paper liners. Fill each about three quarters full.

5.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 22 minutes, until the tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Don't underbake, as these are very tender.

6. This recipe makes about 3 1/2 dozen cupcakes, so you will probably need to bake the cupcakes in batches. The batter will not be affected if it sits while waiting to put another pan or two in the oven.

7.  Frost with the Almond Butter Cream frosting. If desired, reserve a few whole raspberries to top each cupcake and add slivered or sliced almonds.

 Almond Butter Cream Frosting

1 pound powdered sugar
3 to 4 T very soft butter (the amount depends on your preference for richness)
1 1/2 t pure almond flavoring
milk as needed

1.  Stir about 1 cup of powdered sugar into the butter and beat until smooth. 
2.  Add the almond flavoring and a tablespoon or so of milk. Gradually add more powdered sugar and then milk, continuing to beat the frosting until smooth. You will probably need about a quarter to a third of a cup of milk for this much powdered sugar. 
Store extra frosting in the refrigerator. This can be used with peanut butter on toast or French toast--honest, it isn't half bad!