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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Vegan Chocolate Applesauce Cake

While my diet leans heavily toward the vegetarian side, I am not a vegan and don't generally stock some of the foods that show up in so many vegan recipes--no vegan chocolate chips, vegan Worcestershire sauce, etc. I am also still pretty wary about the "health benefits" of coconut products, so the only form of coconut usually in my pantry is the flaked kind for some Christmas cookie recipes.

Even without all those specialty ingredients, however, this is a cake I can make for my vegan friends without problems. Even better, it's one of the easiest recipes you'll find. Prep time is less than 10 minutes, and this is wonderful served warm straight from the pan, so you can whip it up when unexpected guests pop in too.

It's rich enough to not need any frosting at all. If you're not a vegan, you can sprinkle some regular chocolate chips over the top or serve it warm with some non-vegan ice cream. Or just make it plain and simple; it's that good.

Oh yes, it's also a perfect choice for introducing kids to baking, since there are no raw eggs to worry about if they end up licking--and licking and licking--the uncooked batter.

 Chocolate Applesauce Cake

1 1/2 c sugar
1/2 c cocoa
2 c unsweetened applesauce
3/4 c canola oil
1 t vanilla
2 c flour
2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt

1.  Beat together the sugar, cocoa, applesauce, oil, and vanilla.

2.  In another bowl, stir the flour, baking soda, and salt together to be sure they are mixed well. Pour this mixture into the applesauce mixture and stir well to be sure all ingredients are combined.*

3.   Pour into a well-greased 9 X 13 pan or 10 inch tube pan. Bake at 350 degrees (325 if using a lightweight, disposable aluminum pan) for about 35 to 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

4.   If you are planning to take the cake out of the pan before serving, allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes first. The cake is very tender and may not come out of the pan in one piece if you try to remove it too soon.

*If you have a flour sifter, just measure the flour, soda, and salt into that and sift over the applesauce mixture.

Cupcake Variation

This recipe will make about 24 cupcakes. Just top each one with an almond, half a walnut, or a sprinkle of mini chocolate chips and skip any frosting for these too.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

(Green Tomato) Mincemeat Applesauce Cake

Now that killing frosts have finished off our northern gardens for another year, some of us have access to a lot of green tomatoes. Perhaps my southern friends think immediately of frying ups these end of the season beauties, but, for me, green tomatoes in the fall mean just one thing: green tomato mincemeat. 

I know that many people have never tried mincemeat pie or have and decided it wasn't for them. However for those of us who do like this fruity, spicy mixture (that is almost always in this day and age totally without meat), there are few better choices to end a festive holiday meal.  Buying mincemeat in the store, however, is rarely a frugal choice, but an old, old family recipe that uses green tomatoes can cut the cost dramatically. If you'd like to try making your own, I posted it several years ago here:

The great thing about that recipe is that you can make a big batch and freeze it for a full season of pies.

Or cake.

With the last of last year's mincemeat still in the freezer a few weeks ago, I started looking for a way to use it without having to mix up any piecrust. I also had a few jars left from last year's applesauce canning, so finding a cake that could be adapted to include both applesauce and mincemeat seemed like it was worth a try. 

The result of my experimentation was a super moist cake that was very, very easy. Stir most of the dry ingredients together in one bowl. Mix the rest in another bowl.

Then combine the two together, stir just enough to blend and pour into the prepared pan.

No mixer to clean up, no time-consuming beating. The hardest part is waiting for the cake to bake and cook enough to get it out of the pan.

If you don't have green tomato mincemeat, this one might even be worth the splurge of picking up a jar of mincemeat just to make the cake. The fragrance in your kitchen while the cake bakes is by itself well worth the cost.

One other thing: If you really, really want to have frosting on your cake, make a thin powdered sugar glaze using orange juice for the liquid. Spread it over the top of the cake, allowing the excess to dribble down the sides. 


You definitely should try the sauce. It's easy to make and the flavors are just right with this cake--or for just about any other spice cake. You could even put a little warmed mincemeat over ice cream and top with a drizzle of the sauce and some chopped walnuts for a different mincemeat dessert.

Mincemeat Applesauce Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup green tomato (or prepared mincemeat)
2/3 cup applesauce
3 tablespoons butter, melted
2/3 c walnuts

Citrus Sauce
1/2 cup sugar
4-1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 c orange juice
1-1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (optional)
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract

1.  In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. In another bowl, beat together the eggs, mincemeat, applesauce, brown sugar, and butter; stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Don’t beat! Fold in the walnuts.
2.  Pour into a well-greased 9-in. tube pan. Bake at 350° for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes; remove from pan to a wire rack to cool until just warm. Don’t try to take out of the pan too early, as it will be tender and may not come out whole.


3.  For sauce, combine sugar and cornstarch in a large microwave-safe bowl. Stir in the water until smooth. Cook in microwave about 2 to 3 minutes at medium power level until it bubbles and thickens.. Remove from the microwave and stir in butter until melted. Add lemon zest and extract. Serve warm with the cake.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Sometimes, a slight adaptation of a recipe yields an entirely new end product. 

Today, I wanted to use the now abundant apples and raspberries for a cake, but I also didn't have a lot of time so would probably do better with cupcakes. I didn't have exactly what I was looking for in my files, and there was nothing on the internet that looked like what I had in mind, so I came back to my blog. 

A search for "apple cake" resulted in a lot of choices, but no apple raspberry cake. 

What I did find was an old favorite, Chocolate Apple Cake. It didn't take much to adapt that one to what I had in mind. Here they are, some sweet little bites that don't need a bit of frosting to make them a delight--though without any topping, they really do look like muffins. 


Once you bite into them, however, you'll find the very tender cake texture that tells you these are more. So, just a simple powdered sugar icing, and the result was exactly what I had hoped for--cupcakes!

Apple Raspberry Cupcakes

2 c flour
1 1/2 c sugar
1 t soda
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg
1/4 t allspice
1/2 t ginger
3/4 c canola oil
3 eggs
2 c apples, cored but not peeled and finely diced--pack lightly into the measuring cup for measuring
1 c raspberries--if using frozen, do not thaw
1/2 c chopped walnuts (optional)

1.  Sift the dry ingredients together into a large mixing bowl.

2.  Stir in the oil, eggs, and 1 cup of the apples. Begin beating with a mixer until mostly blended.

3.  Gradually stir in the remaining apples and raspberries and beat at medium speed for about 3 minutes. The batter will be very thick, so it will be best to use a mixer for this rather than trying to beat by hand.

4.  Fold in the walnuts if using.

5.  Line muffin pans with cupcake liners and spoon the batter evenly into each one. Fill each liner about 3/4 full.  This recipe makes about 24 to 28 cupcakes.

If you don't have enough muffin pans to bake all at once, it will be all right to leave the remaining batter standing at room temperature while the first pan bakes.

6.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the center of a cupcake springs back when lightly touched. Frost as desired when cool.

And a digression:

A Microwaved Mini-Cake

I was in a hurry to get these finished and ended up with more batter than my two pans would hold. As noted in the recipe comments, it doesn't hurt the batter to sit out and wait while the first cupcakes are baking, but I was, as I said, in a hurry.

So what does every impatient cook/baker have in her kitchen? 

A microwave.

Many years ago when I got my first microwave, it came with a hardbound, more than 100 pages, cookbook, and that quickly became a reference for me. I was living in Arizona, in a poorly insulated house, so my kids will tell you that I had "rules" about not using the conventional oven through most of the summer--and spring and fall when the heat remained more oppressive than in other parts of the country ever experience.

In that cookbook were several recipes for cakes and muffins, even cornbread, and I tried many of them, and I discovered that these things could be made in the microwave. Yes, there was no golden brown color or light crust on the top, but that just meant that you focused on chocolate or spice cake recipes. Cupcakes and muffins were easier to get right than a full cake--and nothing bigger than a 9 inch round or square pan was recommended. I soon found a microwavable cupcake pan that helped on this score.

So yes, I occasionally made these desserts in the microwave. After leaving that overly warm kitchen, however, I rarely try baked goods in the microwave, even on the hottest summer days when I still avoid using my oven. My impatience today, however, brought that possibility back to mind. I pulled out an oven-safe bowl, poured inthe remaining batter, and tucked it into the microwave.  About 5 minutes, at medium power (level 5 on my particular model) and a quick check with a toothpick to be sure it was done in the middle. 

Be careful not to overbake; you can't rely on browning to know if it is done.

Voila--a mini-cake! Note that the color is pretty insipid, especially compared to those lovely golden cupcakes in the background. However, a little basic powdered sugar icing and...

A small cake, just right for two, maybe three, people for a special kind of dessert.

Banana Bread with Grapenuts

Lots of bananas that suddenly turned very ripe in the late, unexpected, September heat. A big box of Grape-Nuts still to be used. Walnuts at a better price than they have been for years.

Time for Banana Grape-Nuts bread.

This is a recipe I started making years ago, with just a few tweaks here and there. Adding the lemon juice to the bananas as they are mashed keeps them from browning quite as much and counters, just a little, the overall sweetness of the bread.

Back when I rarely had whole wheat flour on hand, the addition of Grape-Nuts provided just a little more body and texture than more standard recipes. The nice thing about this cereal is that it is still one of the few that does not have added sugar.

As with most of these kinds of bread, it slices much better on the second day, an advantage if you are making it for a brunch or coffee and have lots of other last minute kitchen work to do.

Finally--it is wonderful without any kind of spread--though a little cream cheese or butter on each slice is certainly acceptable!

While the original recipe suggested using one large loaf pan, I have always had better results by making this in smaller pans--a little more of the caramel-y crust and less likelihood that the outside will dry out before the center is completely baked. It also works nicely in small 3 X 6 pans for Christmas or other gift giving occasions.

Banana Grapenuts Bread

1 c mashed ripe banana
1 1/2 t lemon juice
1 1/2 c Grape-Nuts cereal (generic brands work just as well too)
3/4 c sugar
1/4 c canola oil
2 eggs
1/3 c dry milk powder (see NOTE)
2/3 c water (see NOTE)
1 3/4 c unbleached flour
2 1/2 t baking powder
2 t cinnamon
3/4 c coarsely chopped walnuts

1.  Mash the bananas and stir in the lemon juice.

2.  Beat the bananas, Grape-Nuts, sugar, oil, eggs, milk (dry milk and water) together and allow to sit for at least 20 minutes.

3.  Sift together and gently fold in the flour, baking powder, and cinnamon, mixing only enough to incorporate all the flour mixture.

4.  Fold in the nuts and turn the batter into two well oiled 8 1/2" X 4 1/2" pans (OR one 9 X 5 and one 8 1/2 X 4 1/2, if those are the only ones you have--like me!)  


5.  Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes,  until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes; remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack.

 NOTE:  This can be made with 2/3 cup milk or plain yogurt instead of the dry milk and water.

About the nuts:

I have written before about the moljahete that I have been blessed with--if you haven't heard the term, this is a large mortar and pestle made out of rock that makes wonderful guacamole. However, I have learned that, because I don't use mine for a very garlicky salsa, it also provides a very quick way to coarsely chop you can see here:

And one more thing, another OOOOPS moment:

I had taken the photos of the walnuts being crushed in the moljahete and the batter in the pans, so into the oven went the two loaves. As I began to clear away the bowl, spatulas, etc., I realized there were two eggs laying on the counter. 

Two eggs that were supposed to have been in the batter. I quickly pulled the pans out of the oven, thankfully before they had really started to heat up, and turned the batter back into the bowl. Remember the instructions to "gently" fold in the flour? These breads come out best when the batter is handled lightly, but now I had no choice. There was going to have to be more mixing in order to get those eggs fully incorporated.

All turned out well, as I should have expected. While the preferred method is still the one listed in the recipe above, most things we make are more forgiving than we sometimes think. In this instance, it was impossible to tell that there had been an added step in the making of the bread!

Friday, September 21, 2018

Applesauce Oatmeal Cake with Orange Glaze

This is an old-fashioned cake that is just right for a chilly autumn evening or weekend dessert. It goes together pretty quickly, all in one saucepan, and the fragrance it will bring to your house--amazing!

As I've noted before, I like to keep orange juice concentrate in the freezer for recipes like this. The contrast of the orange glaze and the apple-y, cranberry filled cake gives a great depth to this really pretty simple dessert.

Applesauce Oatmeal Cake with Orange Glaze 

1 1/4 c unsweetened applesauce
3/4 c old fashioned or quick oatmeal
1/2 c dried cranberries
1/2 c butter
3/4 c brown sugar 
1 t vanilla
1 egg
1 1/2 c flour
1 t baking soda
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg

2 T melted butter
2 T orange juice concentrate, thawed slightly
enough powdered sugar to make a very thin glaze--about 1 1/2 c at most

walnuts--about 3/4 to 1 cup, coarsely chopped or broken

1.  Pour the applesauce into a pan large enough to hold 5 to 6 cups of batter- quart and a half saucepan will be a good size. Heat the applesauce to just below boiling on medium high heat, stirring to be sure it does not stick on.  

2.  Stir in the oatmeal and dried cranberries and let the mixture cool, about 10 to 15 minutes. 

3.  Stir the butter, brown sugar, vanilla, and egg into the applesauce mixture. Sift the dry ingredients together and gently stir into the batter. Stir just until thoroughly mixed. 

4.  Pour into a 7 X 11  pan  that has been well-oiled or sprayed with cooking spray. Immediately put into oven and bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.

5.  While the cake is baking, mix the butter, orange juice concentrate, and powdered sugar. (Note that I just lightly rinsed the saucepan used for the cake batter; this is truly an easy clean up cake, with one pan for each step!)

As soon as the cake is done, remove it from the oven and spread the glaze evenly over the top, poking it in lightly with a cake. 

Sprinkle the walnuts evenly over the top. Serve warm or cold.

Microwave version:

Put the applesauce in a 2 quart mixing bowl in the microwave. Cover loosely (to avoid spatters) and heat until just below boiling, about 2 to 3 1/2 minutes. Proceed with the recipe as above.

A Larger Cake:

This recipe is easily doubled (just be sure to use a large enough pan!), using a 10 1/2 X 14 1/2 pan--or a 9 X 13 pan and about 6 to 8 cupcakes too.


Monday, September 17, 2018

Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Bread

Much of what I do in the kitchen depends on seasonal produce or what has been on sale lately. Recently, there were some really good sales on store brand peanut butter and bananas, so of course, I stocked up on both. 

While the peanut butter has a nice long shelf life, the bananas have been doing what bananas always seem to do: ripening faster than I had planned. 

I am one of those people who likes to eat bananas out of hand only when they are just barely beginning to get a few brown freckles. Once they get past that stage, well, in my mind, they are really only suited for baking. It was pretty evident this week that my most recent purchases needed to be used--and soon.

Now that I also had lots of peanut butter, I thought it might be fun to try to mix the peanut butter and chocolate flavors together with the bananas for a "new and improved" banana bread.

Someplace in my recipe files, I have cards for both a peanut butter bread and a chocolate bread.  I remember serving them for neighborhood Bible studies decades ago. Served with a little whipped cream cheese or butter, guests would often sandwich them together, one slice of each.

Time to go back to a basic banana bread recipe (from Mrs. Bert Feltham) in my old brown (1936) Brick Church Cookbook. I grew up cooking recipes from this, and the copy I have once belonged to my Great Grandma Mereness. It is still fun to go back and flip through its pages, some carrying the spots and stains that indicate frequent use.  

Starting with that classic, it didn't take much to update the old version by adding in both peanut butter and cocoa. The result was a great melding together of all these favorite flavors for a wonderfully delicious alternative to ordinary banana bread. 

I think even Great Grandma would probably have approved.

Kids Cooking Note

This recipe combines a whole bunch of kid friendly foods and isn't too unhealthy. It also is very easy to make and uses ingredients most families are likely to have available—including those bananas that always seem to go from barely ripe to past their prime overnight. This could be a good cook together recipe.

Chocolate-Peanut Butter-Banana Bread

1/2 c peanut butter—may be creamy or chunky
1 T soft butter OR oil
1 c sugar
1 c mashed bananas
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
1/2 c baking cocoa
2 c flour
1 t baking soda

Cream peanut butter, butter, sugar and eggs together until smooth. Stir in bananas, vanilla, and cocoa powder and beat until well blended. Sift flour and baking soda together and add to remaining ingredients. Stir only enough to blend—don't overbeat. 

Pour into two greased 4 X 8 loaf pans ("medium" loaves) and bake at 325 degrees for about 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from pans and cool on a cooling rack before wrapping tightly. 

If desired, you may sprinkle the loaves with about 1/4 cup coarsely chopped salted peanuts  before baking.

This is especially good the second day, sliced and served with or without butter or softened cream cheese.



Thursday, June 21, 2018

Curried Lentils and Vegetables

In my continuing quest to find uses for lentils, I couldn't miss out on a curried main dish. This one is especially fast if you have the lentils pre-cooked. Just chop some vegetables and saute long enough to get them cooked through while you are getting the table set and putting a little fruit together for a light side. It doesn't even heat up the kitchen very much on a warm summer evening.

Look to at the flexibility seen in the Variations. This means it's perfect for using up some of those produce odds and ends in the refrigerator or for just pulling out whatever vegetables you have in the freezer.

1 to 2 T canola oil
1 medium to large onion, chopped
14 oz butternut squash, cut in app 1" cubes (may substitute 3 medium carrots, sliced)
1 stalk celery, diced
1 diced jalapeno (seeded and white membranes cut out if you want this less spicy)
1 to 2 c shredded cabbage (about 2-3 oz)
ginger root, about an inch square after peeling--cut in two or three pieces--OR 1 t ground ginger, to taste
4 to 5 garlic cloves, coarsely cut
1 1/2 t curry powder
3/4 t turmeric
1/2 t cumin
2 1/2 c cooked brown lentils, including liquid (about 1 c before cooking)
1 to 2 c water
1/2 c applesauce (optional)
2 to 4 c fresh spinach or other greens, chopped coarsely
cayenne pepper and salt to taste

1.  Saute the onion, squash, celery, cabbage, and jalapeno pepper in the oil over medium high heat, stirring occasionally. 

2.  Grate the ginger root and mince the garlic cloves. One quick way to do this is to use a small processor/chopper if you have one, with a few teaspoons of water. 


3.  When the onions begin to turn golden and the squash is just tender, stir in the garlic, ginger, curry powder, turmeric, and cumin. Allow to cook for just a few minutes, enough to bring out the fragrance of the spices, and then add the lentils, water, and applesauce. 

4.  When the mixture has returned to a boil, add the spinach, cover the pan, and continue to cook for just a few minutes, until the spinach is just wilted. Taste for seasonings and adjust accordingly. Makes 4 main dish servings.


Suggested serving:

Top with yogurt (or cottage cheese, as pictured), chopped cilantro, and hot sauce. This is a wonderful meal with naan or any flat bread, but it also pairs well with rice. 


Fast, fast, fast:  Use about half of a 12 oz package of frozen bell pepper and onion strips, skip the celery, and use either frozen diced squash or frozen sliced carrots. 

Other vegetables that can be added/subbed in:  frozen peas, fresh pea pods, broccoli or cauliflower, zucchini, even corn. 

The applesauce can be omitted and 3 to 4 tablespoons of chopped sundried tomatoes or a cup or so of diced fresh grape tomatoes can be added.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Applesauce Brownies--A "Starter Recipe" for Pre-schoolers!

As much as possible, I try to post only "original" recipes here, those dishes that I have created from scratch or have changed significantly enough to call them my own.

Today, I am bringing you a recipe so simple you can find hundreds of copies in any basic web search. I think I have even seen it on the back of a brownie mix label. Why add just one more blog entry for these simple treats? After all, these chocolate bar cookies...
  • are only slightly less unhealthy than brownies made with the original mix directions.
  • do include a mix, with all the preservatives, etc., that implies.

On the other hand, this "recipe" may be a way for even the busiest of households to introduce pre-schoolers to prepare a dish entirely on their own, from assembling the ingredients all the way to handing over the filled pan over to whoever will handle the heat of the oven steps. While you are doing this, you can even talk about why we might want to try to substitute healthier ingredients whenever possible in all our cooking and baking.

A simple "recipe" like this is also good to have handy for the time when you have a last minute need for a quick dessert. While I know that most of us live lives where few friends or family just casually "drop in" with little or no advance notice, wouldn't it be nice to know that you could call someone on a whim and ask them over for coffee, tea, etc. and freshly baked brownies?

To be sure, we must admit that brownies, whether made from scratch or from a mix, are inherently not "healthy." They are treats that should be for special occasions, not seen as daily fare. Understanding that we will be consuming mostly "empty calories" with every bite might allow us to accept the presence of additives here that we would forego in any other part of a well-balanced meal. As for flavor, many of today's mixes are at least as good as the majority of from scratch recipes--and the applesauce in this recipe gives added depth and moisture too.

Finally, there is a cost factor to consider. Brownie mixes are often loss leaders at many chains, especially around "baking holidays" like Valentine's Day and Christmas. If you were to do a cost comparison with a favorite brownie recipe, it is very unlikely that you could match the price of the mix. In most cases, substituting applesauce for the oil in the mix instructions will reduce the cost a bit further.

So I now present a "kitchen-tested by 5 year old" recipe for applesauce brownies. Next time you see brownie mix on sale, pick up a box, make sure you have applesauce in the house, and then think of who you could call to share them with you; you'll be glad you did.

Applesauce Brownies

1 standard size brownie mix, enough for a 9 X 13 pan
2 eggs
2/3 c unsweetened applesauce (if you don't have unsweetened, the other will do--just be aware your dessert will be REALLY sweet)
1/4 c water
broken or chopped walnuts (optional)

Preparation:  Turn the oven to 350 degrees as you begin to make the brownies. These go together so quickly, you don't want to have to wait until the oven is hot to put the pan in. If you are using a glass pan, you may want to heat only to 325.

Whether you use a cooking spray or oil for preparing the pan, be sure the sides as well as the bottom of the pan are well-coated.

1.  Pour mix into bowl and then add all the other ingredients, except walnuts.

2.  Combine all the ingredients and then beat with a wood spoon or cooking fork about 50 times, or just until the mixture is well blended and there are no lumps of dry mix.

3.  Pour the batter into a well-oiled 9 X 13 pan. Sprinkle walnuts evenly over the top and bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes, until just done.

To test, press the center lightly; if it springs back, it is done. You also should watch the edges of the brownies. If they start to pull away from the sides of the pan, they are also getting done. You don't want to overbake brownies.

4.  Allow the brownies to cool about 15 to 20 minutes before cutting. Makes 24 to 32, depending on the size you want to cut them into.

Variations and notes:

Why nuts only on top? While you can mix the walnuts into the batter, spreading them on top allows for several things:
  • If you have anyone in the household who doesn't like nuts (as is the case with many young children), you can spread nuts over only part of the batter, leaving one end "plain" for non-nut-eaters. 
  • This will usually reduce the amount of nuts used, a way to economize if cost is a serious consideration. 
  • While brownies are often served without frosting, placing the nuts on top gives a little bit more "finished" appearance to the un-iced bars.

Chocolate chips and/or mini-marshmallows could also be sprinkled over the top instead of or with the walnuts. If using marshmallows, press them lightly into the batter.

For a less rich bar with even a little more positive nutritive value, stir in a half cup or so of quick (NOT instant) oats with the other ingredients.