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Thursday, July 28, 2016

No Bake Yogurt Cheesecake

This summer has been one of the warmest we have had in years up here in Minnesota, not the kind of weather that encourages much use of the oven.

Still, there are occasions when a special dessert might be called for. With blueberries having been featured at attractive prices for the past several weeks, I have made my "classic" blueberry pie but  now wanted to try for a light cheesecake-style dessert.

I say "cheesecake-style" because I had neither cream cheese nor sour cream, but I had plenty of yogurt. I don't use brand names often, but I have made the four pound tubs of Mountain High yogurt--plain, low fat, not Greek--from Costco a staple. The price has been stable at $3.99 for years. So that would be the basis for whatever dessert I finally chose.

I also keep unflavored gelatin in the cupboard through the summer because it is a basic ingredient for various fruit sherbets and sorbets that I have made ever since those hot summers in Arizona. That would become the ingredient that would bring the right amount of firmness to the filling.

In the end, the cheesecake came together easily and, if a pre-baked pie shell is available, required no oven time and only a few minutes of microwave heating. Perfect for a hot summer day in the kitchen.

No Bake Yogurt Cheesecake
1 pkg unflavored gelatin
½ c water
2 T orange juice concentrate
1 t almond extract
1/3  c sugar
1 ¼ c yogurt
1 cup blueberries
Blueberry Glaze 
8 inch pre-baked or crumb pie crust

1.  Stir the gelatin into the water, mix well, and allow to sit for about 10 to 15 minutes.  Be sure to use a large enough dish to allow for the boil-over that could happen when the mixture is microwaved.

2.  Microwave the gelatin mixture about 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture is clear, indicating that it is completely dissolved. You may want to stir once in the middle of heating. Allow to cool to room temperature.
3.  When the gelatin is cool, stir in the juice concentrate, sugar, and almond extract. Then add the yogurt and stir until the mixture is completely blened.
4.   Pour the filling into the pie crust, smoothing it well.
5.  Spread the blueberries evenly over the filling.

6.  Prepare the Blueberry Glaze and spread over the blueberries. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

Blueberry Glaze 


1 c blueberries
3/4 c water
 1/2 c sugar
3 T cornstarch
2 t lemon juice

Cook the blueberries and water together for about 4 to 5 minutes, until the blueberries are very soft.
Combine the sugar and cornstarch, stirring together until completely blended.  Gradually add this mixture to the cooked blueberries and continue cooking until the mixture is very thick and clear. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice. 

An alternative glaze that includes apples can be found here:

Friday, July 22, 2016

Savory Corn Pudding

One sign that we are well into summer is the appearance of pick up trucks full of fat ears of corn at familiar corners around town. Sweet corn season has arrived!

So we buy the first dozen, grilling them to perfection. Then we buy some more because that first dozen was so good. Now we might just microwave one or two for a quick lunch--husk, cover, and microwave for about 3 minutes for a single ear, maybe 5 or 6 minutes for two. A vegetable stir fry is nice, and some more grilled corn.

And then we realize that we bought more than we really are prepared to eat in the next day or two. Now what do we do with all that extra corn?

We can blanch the corn and freeze it. Out of all the great sites out there with the easy instructions on how to do this, here is one of my favorites:

You can also just cook some extra ears while the grill is hot or while the water is already boiling. Cut the corn off the ears while you are cleaning up and you'll have fresh corn ready for the rest of the week. 

Ready for something like this savory corn pudding. It may not be the traditional corn pudding your family serves every Thanksgiving, but it's a nice creamy summer dish that with the bonus of microwave preparation--no heating up the oven on a sweltering day. 

With the eggs, cheese, and milk, this is a good, vegetarian, main dish; served with a salad and fresh fruit, it's a complete meal. Of course, it also works as a hearty side dish to go along with fried chicken, cole slaw, and watermelon.

It's also great to take to a pot luck, though do remember that it is an egg-based dish. As such, be sure to watch how long it stands out of the oven or refrigerator. 

Savory Microwaved Corn Pudding

1 medium onion, chopped (I prefer red onions for color contrast)
1 medium green pepper, diced
1 T olive butter, bacon fat, or oil
1/4 c yellow corn meal (optional)
2 c fresh, blanched corn or 12 to 16 oz thawed frozen corn--don't drain
3 eggs
1/2 c milk
1 to 1 1/2 c grated mozzarella (or cheddar)
seasoning salt and black pepper to taste (start with about 1 t salt if using oil, 1/2 t salt if using bacon fat)

1.  Saute the onions and peppers in the oil or bacon fat, until the onions are just starting to turn golden. Stir in the corn and corn meal and remove from heat.

2.  In a well-oiled 1 1/2 quart casserole dish, beat the eggs, milk, salt and pepper; add the grated cheese and mix until well blended.
3.  Fold the corn mixture into the eggs and cheese and stir until well blended.
4.  Cover lightly and bake in microwave at medium (power level 6 or 7) about 6 minutes. Remove from microwave and stir, making sure that the center (which is likely still quite liquid) and the edges (starting to firm up) are well mixed.

5.  Return to microwave and continue cooking, uncovered, at medium power for about 4 to 5 more minutes. To test, insert a knife in the center; if there is no batter adhering to the blade when you pull it out, it will be done.
6.  Allow to cool for about 5 minutes before serving. serve with salsa and/or hot sauce if desired.

Serves 4 as a main dish, 5 to 6 as a side.

Some added thoughts:

While I generally use olive oil or canola oil for sauteeing, this dish benefits from the added flavor of either butter or bacon.
I have fresh peppers in my garden right now, so that is what I used. However, you could substitute fresh peppers as hot as you'd like or you could substitute a 4 oz can of diced green chiles for the bell peppers.
The corn meal gives a bit more corn flavor and body. If you prefer a creamier pudding, this can be omitted.

A meteorological note:  Local news sources have been telling us that maybe there is a relationship between some current record breaking warm days and the high percentage of land here in our area given over to corn and soy beans. It's a phenomenon know as "corn sweating" and you can read more about the impact of humidity given off by a field of corn on dew points here:

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

No Pectin Cherry Jam

(Reader alert: This is a blog entry with lots of memories before getting to the recipe. If you are just looking for how to make cherry jam, scroll to the bottom of the post.)

I grew up in the upper Midwest where the climate was too cold for sweet cherries but where "pie cherries"--a kinder name for sour cherries--were common in many back yards. In our area, pies were the main way these were served, and there was even some kind of state level cherry pie contest back in the 50s. I haven't found it yet on the internet, but I remember that a family friend, Mary Stewart, was a finalist (maybe even winner?) for it. Because she had to have a "perfect" pie for the finals, she was baking one about every day, so we had a lot of opportunities to both watch her demonstrate her method and have the fruits of much of her labor. I remember watching in wonder as she deftly lifted the pastry strips and made the most beautiful lattice tops, something I have never been able to duplicate.

Even after our family moved to a home where there was a cherry tree in the orchard, that was never enough to keep our family supplied with all the fruit we loved, for our own pies and just plain "cherry sauce:" sweetened canned cherries served as a simple dessert on brisk winter evenings.

To make sure there were always plenty of quart jars of the bright red fruit on the basement shelves, Mom would buy at least one 30 pound can of frozen Michigan cherries each year. These were a wondeful convenience food, as the shiny copper-colored cans contained pre-sweetened and pitted cherries, ready to be heated, divided among many quart jars, and put in the water bath canner to be preserved for colder days ahead.

There was one year, however, when something went wrong, either in the labeling or at the factory where the cherries were processed. We didn't realize it until sometime in the fall when Mom made the first cherry pie from the batch for friends at one of our usual Sunday dinners.

The pie was as beautiful as all of Mom's pies, but the first person to take a bite (of course, one of the guests) immediately stopped chewing and slowly withdrew not one but two cherry pits from his mouth. Now, it was not at all uncommon to find a very occasional pit in these mechanically pitted cherries, but all of soon became aware that this batch of cherries was completely unpitted. Amidst the ensuing laughter we all enjoyed a very tasty pie as we spit out pits almost like one might eat a seeded watermelon. I have since found some sites online that indicate cooks in some countries deliberately leave the pits in, considering them to provide a richer cherry flavor. I'm not sure about that, but I do know we spent the rest of that season enjoying the cherries as usual, just now knowing what we would encounter as we ate.

Apparently from my youngest days, I was a great lover of cherries, begging, so my parents would tell me, for "just one more bowl full," no matter how many I had already had.  It's no surprise then, that I planted two cherry trees a few years ago after moving back to the Midwest. My kids here in town had already planted trees on both their lots so they were a couple of years ahead of me.

And that is a good thing.

My first cherry crop, prior to squirrel depredation
Last year, when I thought I finally had a large enough harvest to perhaps make one dessert or maybe even a batch of jam, I came home from a weekend out of town to find my tree totally without any fruit. It appeared that it was both birds and squirrels, since birds usually eat the fruit and leave the seeds, and the squirrels were seen nibbling away on whole cherries as well as the leftover seeds. This year, there were quite a few more cherries so I was sure I would have at least some left to enjoy.


In only a couple of days, both trees were pretty well stripped clean, before most of the cherries had even a bit of pink on them, so I hadn't yet gotten netting over them.

Fortunately, my kids were again luxuriating in their own harvests, and last night one of my daughters-in-law picked over 5 pounds of cherries for me. While I did hold the ladder for her a few times, she really did all the work and handed a bulging bag over to me for whatever use I might have for them.

So today I made some delightful cherry jam in little over an hour and a half. No special equipment and only cherries, sugar, and lemon juice. Now I have over a quart and a half of jam to put in pretty little containers to go along with loaves of fresh bread for housewarming, Christmas or hostess gifts. And still enough to spread on toast for a quick breakfast now and then.

Some hints along the way:

I found one site that said you should start out by wearing something red. While that may work, you really need to be sure that you are wearing something that is not at all valuable, since you almost assuredly will get cherry juice someplace on your shirt (and pants and tablecloth and...), and you also most assuredly have great, great difficulty washing any stains out. So be warned; this is not the timy to be a fashionista.

Pitting the cherries:
If you have lots of cherries available to you, you may want to invest in a cherry pitter, but if you are like me, I'd rather not clutter up my shelves with one more single use gadget. My kids' great-grandmother would take an old-fashioned, brand new hairpin (not a bobby pin) and use it to pop out the pits quickly and cleanly. Not having access to hairpins, I soon discovered that a small paper clip can achieve the same results.

It is a little hard to describe, but try this:  holding the paper clip in your right hand (lefties, use your left hand), insert the end without the double loop into a cherry at the place where the stem had been attached. Press the paper clip in far enough to "catch" on the pit and pull gently. The pit will just pop out and into the bowl that  you should of course have waiting. Put the pitless cherry in another bowl and repeat. Once you get a rhythm going, you may be surprised how quickly this goes.

Do it now:
Cherries are much like peaches, apples, and other fruits that brown very quickly after being cut or pitted. To keep the jam as bright as possible, plan to move immediately from the pitting stage to making jam.

Pitting cherries is the kind of activity that is much less tedious and much more fun if done with others. It is a great job for grandparents and kids, especially with the promise of cherry jam over fresh bread at the end of the process!

Not enough cherries?
One of the nice things about not using pectin to make jam is that you can just use the ratios of sugar to fruit and lemon juice and adjust to whatever amount of fruit that you have. However, when I ended up with only about 2 cups of cherries one day. I didn't really want to go through all the steps for so little product. Since my raspberries have started their usual lavish production, I just stretched the jam by combining the two fruits. My variation is below. You could also stretch the cherries with finely chopped apples. Other combinations could also work, but you should be aware that the pectin levels of different fruits vary enough to make the results a little more or less firm. Not to worry: If it's too thin, you have a fine topping for ice cream, pancakes, etc. If it is too thick, you can always warm it with a little added water, apple juice, etc.

Cherry Jam without Pectin

5 pounds sour cherries, about 10 cups pitted
1/4 c lemon juice (for most consistent results, use the reconstituted bottled stuff like ReaLemon)
4 to 5 cups sugar

1.  Put a small glass or china plate in the freezer. Pit the cherries. As you pit the cherries, toss them occasionally with the lemon juice to slow the browning.

2.  If desired, chop the cherries lightly in a processor or just leave them whole. 
3.  Put the cherries in a large pan--since the mixture will boil up, as much as double in height, be sure to use a large enough pan. Stir in the sugar and allow the sugar and cherries to sit for 20 to 30 minutes.
4.  Bring the cherry mixture to a boil over medium to high heat, stirring often to avoid sticking. Continue cooking until the jelling point is reached.

How will I know what that "jelling point" is? Use one or more of the following tests:
  • A candy thermometer should reach 220 degrees for at least 3 to 4 minutes.
  • Put a teaspoon or so of jam on the plate from the freezer. Run your finger down the center of the jam. If it holds its shape and does not run together, the jam is firm enough.
  • Put a little of the jam on the stirring spoon and allow it to run back into the pan. If the jam "sheets" off the spoon--the droplets come together and fall down slowly--it is ready.
5.  Remove the jam from heat and ladle into sterilized jars. If you want to keep the jam on the shelf and out of the refrigerator, process the jam in a water bath canner for 10 minutes for pints or smaller and for 15 minutes for quart jars. Even if you plan to store the jam in the refrigerator, I recommend sterilizing the jars.

6.  This amount of cherries makes about 3 to 4 pints.

Raspberry Cherry Jam

5 c fruit (I used about 3 c raspberries, 2 c cherries)
3 c sugar
2 T lemon juice

Follow the same steps as in the Cherry Jam recipe above. If desired to emphasize the cherry flavor, a teaspoon or so of almond extract can be added when the jam is removed from the heat.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Green Chile Pork Enchiladas...and Pulled Pork Sandwiches Too?

I first learned to prepare pork with green chiles back in Arizona, and I still associate this combination with warm summer days. Back then, I would cook the meat to the falling apart stage and then use it as a kind of pulled pork filling for good hard rolls.

While that still is an option, I now prefer the pork mixture as a filling for enchiladas. If desired, you can make up a double batch of the pork, take out half of the diced meat for the enchiladas and then continue cooking until the falling apart stage for a later meal of pulled pork sandwiches.

Boneless pork loins are currently a real bargain, so this might be the time to try out doubling up the prep. Using the slow cooker keeps the kitchen cool too, a win-win for easy summer meals.

Green Chile Pork Enchiladas

16 corn tortillas

1 ½ lb boneless pork roast, cubed
2 large cloves garlic
2-3 chicken bouillon cubes or 1 T chicken bouillon powder
½ large onion, finely diced
4 oz can green chiles, including all liquid

2 c nonfat yogurt
2 c mozzarella or Monterey Jack cheese
1/4 c (or more, to taste) chopped cilantro

Enchilada Sauce
canola oil
15 oz can diced tomatoes
1 can or jar of spaghetti sauce, your favorite variety
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 rib celery, diced
2 to 3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 c unsweetened applesauce OR butternut squash puree (optional)
1 to 2 T chili powder, to taste
1 t cumin

approximately 2 c mozzarella or Monterey Jack cheese

1.  Combine the pork and the next five ingredients in a slow cooker, adding about 2 to 3 tablespoons of water. Cover and cook on low for 4 to 5 hours, until meat is just tender.

2.  Meanwhile, prepare the enchilada sauce. Saute the onions,  celery, and garlic in a small amount of oil until the onions begin to turn golden. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes to blend the flavors.

3.  Combine the yogurt, cheese, and cilantro.

4.  Assemble the enchiladas:
  • Spread a small amount of the enchilada sauce in the bottom of a 9 X 13 casserole or pan.
  • Warm the tortillas by spreading 3 or 4 of them in the microwave for about 20 seconds or so. Repeat warming tortillas as you go.
  • Put about 4 to 5 cubes of the pork down the center of a tortilla and top with a tablespoon or two of the cheese yogurt mixture. Roll the tortilla up and lay in pan. Repeat with remaining tortillas, nestling them in closely.
  • Spread the remaining enchilada sauce over the rolled tortillas and then spread with as much shredded mozzarella as desired.

5.  Cover tightly and bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove foil and bake another 10 minutes or so, until the top is bubbly and just starting to brown.

Allow to sit 15 minutes or so before serving.


Do not discard the liquid from the meat! This has a great flavor and can be used as a basis for soup or in place of any Mexican-themed recipe calling for chicken broth.

If you have a favorite enchilada sauce, you can just substitute that, using two 15 ounce jars of the sauce.

For a "redder" version of the enchiladas, omit the cheese topping, finishing the assembly by just spreading the enchilada sauce over the top.

And here, if you decide to prepare enough meat for pulled pork, is the recipe for that:

Green Chile Pulled Pork

1 ½ lb boneless pork roast, cubed
2 large cloves garlic
2-3 chicken bouillon cubes or 1 T chicken bouillon powder
½ large onion, finely diced
4 oz can green chiles, including all liquid
hot sauce, cumin, or chili powder to taste
2 to 3 T water

1.  Prepare the meat as in the enchilada recipe above, but cook in the slow cooker until the meat is falling apart.
2.  Serve the mixture in good hard rolls, being sure to include some of the liquid along with the meat for each sandwich.

If preparing pork for both of the recipes above, remove half the pork from the liquid when the cubes are barely tender. Use these for the enchiladas. Taste the remaining amount for seasoning (this is the point where you may want to add hot sauce, more cumin or chili powder to taste. Then continue cooking the remainder of the meat until the cubes can be pulled apart with a fork.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Fourth of July "Cheesecake"

Looking for a dessert for this holiday weekend, I wanted something light, relatively quick, with little oven time, and using some of the many fresh fruits on special this week.

A recipe I've made for years fit all these requirements (although I did pre-bake the Cheerios crust to be sure it held together a little better when baked.) I have put "cheesecake" in quotes, as this isn't quite so rich and thick as the "real" thing...but then, it is quite a bit lower in calories than the original style.

While a processor makes the whole thing come together quickly, it isn't an absolute requirement. Putting the cereal in a heavy plastic bag and crushing it with a rolling pin (or just your hands) will work, but Cheerios are harder to crunch than other cereals.

I had planned to arrange the blueberries in one corner, with stripes of strawberries across the rest, making a flag facsimile. However, those who would be eating this dessert are all blueberry fans, so I had visions of people bargaining for the corner where all the blueberries would have been. The final arrangement still carries out the Fourth of July color scheme. And, as you can see from my usual non-professional photos, even slightly askew stripes and randomly sized berries still makes this an attractive addition to any cook-out dessert array.

No Bake Cheesecake for the Fourth of July

3 c Cheerios crushed to 1 1/2 cups
1/3 c ground pecans or almonds (optional)
1/4 c brown sugar
1/3 c melted butter
1/2 t cinnamon

 1 pkg instant vanilla pudding
1/4 c cream cheese, softened
2 c nonfat yogurt
1 c milk

strawberries, halved

1.  Put the Cheerios in the processor and process until very crumbly. Add the other crust ingredients and pulse until evenly mixed. Press the mixture into the bottom of an oiled 9 X 13 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Allow to cool slightly before adding filling.

2.  Meanwhile, beat all the filling ingredients together, using the plastic processor blade. Blend just until smooth and the pudding mix is completely dissolved.

 3.  Pour the filling evenly over the crust. Arrange the berries and strawberries over the top. Chill for at least an hour before serving.

Pan size:  If you prefer a greater proportion of filling to crust, you may make this in a 7 X 11 pan. Use the following amounts for the crust: 2 cups Cheerios, 1/4 c ground nuts, 3 T brown sugar, 1/4 c melted butter, and 1/4 t cinnamon.

Crust:  Replace the Cheerios with Rice Krispies or corn flakes. OR just use a pre-made graham cracker crust. Any of these substitutions could be made without any baking, though the crust may not hold together as well when cut. The Cheerios really need to have the pre-baking step included for best results.

Filling:  Use any flavor of instant pudding. Lemon pudding goes well with fruit toppings.

For pumpkin pie spice flavor--something I found marked down after last Thanksgiving season--or butterscotch pudding, top with candied nuts or a mixture of nuts and dried fruits. The crust could have ginger snaps substituted for the Cheerios.

Use other fresh fruits such as peaches, bananas, etc.

Canned (or prepared at home) pie filling makes a good topping as well. Just spread evenly over the top. 

Use chocolate pie flavor and top with bananas, nuts, chocolate chips or shaved chocolate, and/or whipped cream, etc. The crust could be made from chocolate cookie or cake crumbs instead of Cheerios and brown sugar.