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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:

http://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/food/tastiest-way-preserve-sweet-corn
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.

This is also a great pot luck dish, though do remember 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 oil, bacon fat, or a combination
1/4 c yellow corn meal
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.









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:

https://www.mprnews.org/story/2016/07/22/feeling-sweaty-minnesota-blame-corn-crops

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.

Nope.

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:

Wardrobe:
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.

Teamwork:
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


Meat
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
water

Filling
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

Topping
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.

NOTES:

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

Crust
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

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

Topping
blueberries
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.


Variations:
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.

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. 


 






Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffeecake






Raspberry season is almost here! We are having a wonderful growing season here in the upper Midwest, with plentiful rains and just right temperatures, so my backyard berry patch is beginning to get my hopes up for another bountiful season. Every day, the little green nubbins seem to get fatter and fatter; if they continue on course, I will likely have the first picking before the Fourth of July.
 
Of course, that means that those couple of jars of last year's jam should be used up now. What better way than with this coffeecake. The cream cheese layer adds a special touch, making this a good choice for either brunch or a weekend breakfast.



Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffeecake


Batter:

1/2 c oil
1/2 c sugar
1 egg
1/2 c milk
½ t vanilla
½ t almond extract
2 c flour--may substitute up to 1 cup whole wheat for white flour
2 1/2 t baking powder
1/3 c soft raspberry jam (if your jam is very stiff, you may want to thin it a bit with water)
 
Filling:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 egg
1 t almond extract

Topping:
2 T butter, melted
¼ c brown sugar
¼ c flour
1 t cinnamon
½ c pecans (other nuts may be used instead)

Batter:
1. Combine all the liquid ingredients with the brown sugar and mix well.
2. Sift together and stir in the flour and baking powder. Beat just until smooth.

Pour the batter into a well-oiled 7 X 11 pan.
3. Drop the jam evenly across the batter and then use a knife to swirl it in lightly. Do not overmix.




Filling:

Combine cream cheese, egg and almond extract and beat until smooth. Spread over the batter.




Topping:

1. Stir all ingredients together until crumbly.
2. Using your fingers, drop bits of the topping evenly over the top of the coffeecake.
3. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. Allow to cool at least 15 minutes before cutting. (When cutting a warm quick bread like this, using a fork rather than a knife will often work better.) Serve warm or cold.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Radishes, Radishes, Radishes











Fair warning:

This is a post that will be most appreciated by gardeners or by those with ready access to really fresh farmers' market produce.

When I started planting my garden this year, I wanted to use up some old seeds. Knowing that germination rates go down as seeds age, I just planted my radishes closer together, thinking that I'd get at least a few for salads and snacking.

Well, I think that every single one of those seeds sprouted. That could have been good news except that radishes planted too closely to each other produce tiny little barely there roots instead of the round and rosy red salad garnishes I had hoped for. After all, why else plant radishes?

This is what I envisioned:


 

...but this is the most that grew underground:



At least the rest of the plants were lush, with bright green leaves crowding the entire row.

Never wanting to admit failure, I was reminded of research I did a few years ago when provided with an abundance of similarly lovely radish leaves. Upon doing some research, I learned that a) radish leaves are not only edible but also very nutritious and b) they can make a great pesto. With a little experimentation, I developed this tasty, generally economical spread:

http://frugalfastfun.blogspot.com/2011/06/a-surprising-pesto.html

Going back to my own blog post, I made up pesto--two batches worth--and loved it. However, I still had radish leaves and needed to branch out into some other recipes. A little more research revealed that radish leaves are great both cooked and raw.

Not yet ready to venture into cooked radish greens,  I soon had a series of wonderful salads, made up of thinnings from the rest of my garden. The radish leaves combined beautifully with tiny beet greens, baby kohlrabi and broccoli stems, and the earliest chard and spinach leaves.




Add in some tomatoes and cucumbers (still from the store as my Minnesota plants are just starting to blossom), a little feta cheese, walnuts or perhaps hard-boiled egg wedges, and a good dressing, and the results were wonderful.

















Still, the radishes kept growing, and I knew I needed more ideas. While I had been hesitant to try them cooked (would they be too strong, too bitter?), one thinning that resulted in a gallon of bright green leaves pushed me into this previously untested area.



The result? Unexpectedly mild greens perfect in a stir fry. For this, my first experiment, I didn't really have a recipe. Instead, I just went to the refrigerator and started cooking with what I had. Following is a rough approximation of what resulted. It could be endlessly modified by whatever vegetables you have on hand and what mood you are in--curry, Mexican, Italian? Just change the seasonings to fit your tastes.

As I reviewed all the kinds of ways radish greens have been used in various cuisines, there is one thing that is clear: these are greens that need to be used before the plant begins to shoot up blossoms. If you wait too long, the flavor will become too strong, and the leaves will be fibrous--and prickly. In fact, as they continue to grow, the "prickliness" of the leaves may mean you'll want to use them cooked rather than in salads, just for the mouth feel changes.


Finally. If you manage to miss a stray radish in the garden, one more surprise: that delicate little blossom with the geraniums in the photos above and below is actually a radish blossom, one that is lasting for days as a tiny cut flower. It's nice to discover that these quick to grow plants (often ready for harvest barely a month after planting) can add so much versatility to a garden's harvest.

If you are a gardener wondering what to do with the radishes that are more top than radish, try out a salad or stir fry tonight. Miss even that stage of development? Pick the blossoms and enjoy a mini-bouquet!





Stir Fry with Radish Greens

Vegetables:
Use any combination of the following vegetables, adding in whatever else you might have: corn, diced tomatoes, broccoli, shredded cabbage, etc. This time, I used:
  • coarsely chopped red onion
  • garlic cloves, diced or minced
  • carrot, sliced
  • celery, diced
  • zucchini, sliced
  • jalapeno, with seeds and white "pith" cut away 
  • (though the picture shows a potato, I made a last minute decision not to include that)
  • radish greens--probably about 4 to 5 cups of greens for 2 to 3 total cups of chopped vegetables--at this stage, I discarded all but the smallest of stems and used only the leaves




Seasonings:
  • For this version, I used a little chicken bouillon powder and some curry powder and garam masala. I also mixed in some mango peach salsa (not very Mexican and well-suited to the curry flavor) and a little raspberry juice, just because I had it.
  • Other options:
  • Mexican--chicken bouillon powder, cumin, coriander seeds, perhaps some chopped cilantro, extra garlic
  • Italian--seasoning salt, fresh or dried basil, black pepper, marjoram or Italian seasoning blend
  • "Californian"--salt and lots of fresh herbs--basil, marjoram, thyme, etc.
1.  Heat a small amount of olive oil in a heavy skillet or wok. Saute the vegetables (but not the greens) with the seasonings until just tender.
2.  Add in the salsa (and raspberry juice)
The method I used? Heated some olive oil in a pan, sauteed the vegetables lightly with the seasonings sprinkled over and then stirred in the chopped radish greens along with a bit of raspberry juice (just because I had it) and a little peach mango salsa that was more sweet than Mexican so it went well with the curry. I covered the pan and cooked just a few minutes more, until the greens were wilted and just slightly soft. Taste for salt, add a bit of hot sauce if desired, and serve, over rice if desired. Yogurt is a good topper as well.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Chunky Applesauce Muffins






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We all have heard that "fresh is best,"  to avoid anything with more than five ingredients listed long or with ingredients we can't pronounce. These are definitely good guidelines, but they are often difficult with our limited budgets and times to follow consistently.

Now, some studies have identified a clearer classification of the "processed" foods almost everyone eats regularly. Yes, bread bought from the store or bakery is not made at home from fresh ingredients, and canned and frozen fruits and vegetables are also processed outside our own kitchens. However, the real items to avoid are what are now being called "ultra-processed foods." These are the ones that include the flavors, colors, sweeteners and hydrogenated oils, emulsifiers and other additives--all those things "that you wouldn’t cook with at home."

If you scroll through the entries on this blog, you will find a very limited number of ultra-processed ingredients. In fact, there are probably only two that will show up more than once or twice: processed cheese (aka Velveeta) and cake mixes. 

And while I resort to cake mixes less and less these days, I do still keep one or two on hand for a variety of reasons. First of all, they are very versatile quick starts to things like a shortbread type crust for bar cookies or even for making rolled out cookies with the grandchildren. Secondly, if purchased when they are on sale, their loss leader prices make them a very economical start to a once in awhile dessert.

So...

Have I given enough justification for using a cake mix in these muffins? Well, maybe I need to provide a little explanation of why I would want to turn cake into much plainer muffins. Why not just make cupcakes and be done with the whole matter?

Much of this comes back to my old-fashioned thought that a muffin should be a muffin and a cupcake should be a cupcake. Muffins are a kind of quick bread (think of banana bread or cornbread) while cupcakes are, well, cake. There is a difference in density and, in days gone by, there was usually much less sugar, and usually less fat, in muffins than in cupcakes. 

No more. Muffins now often are as sweet and rich as cupcakes, sometimes having only the distinction of not being frosted--though a lot of the streusel-y toppings are probably at least as high calorie as frosting. 

So today I was looking for a way to make old-fashioned muffins quickly and inexpensively.

Enter the white cake mix I had gotten on sale for 78 cents a few weeks ago. Add in the chunky applesauce in the refrigerator and I was on my way to making a batch of muffins with the right kind of texture, the (slightly) healthier mix of ingredients, and a quick bread that turned out to be popular with all my taste testers. 

Yes,  there were a few more preservatives than a from-scratch batch would have included, but the added fruit and oatmeal balanced that out, at least a little bit. There was no mixer to wash up, few ingredients to measure, and the "muffin method" meant these were stirred up and ready for the oven in less than 10 minutes.



Spiced Applesauce Muffins

1 white cake mix
½ c old-fashioned oatmeal
1 1/2 c chunky applesauce, homemade (see NOTE below)
2 eggs
1 T pumpkin pie spice
1/2 c dried cranberries
1/2 c chopped walnuts (optional)



1.  Combine all ingredients except the dried cranberries and walnuts in a large bowl. Just dump them in all together.

 

 
Stir until just mixed and there are no dry lumps. No need to get the mixer out; in fact, they will be more muffin-textured if you just stir gently.




2.  Fold in the dried cranberries and walnuts. 





 






3.  Spoon the batter evenly into well-oiled muffin pans. Unless you fill the pans very full (with the muffins spreading out over the tops of the pans after baking), this recipe will make about 14 to 16 muffins. It is okay to let the remaining batter sit while the first pan of muffins is baking.

4.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 to 18 minutes, until the top springs back when lightly pressed with your finger. 



5.  Allow to cool for a few minutes before removing from the pan. 

NOTE: If you only have access to applesauce that is not chunky, substitute 1 cup of that and 1/2 cup finely chopped apple for the chunky applesauce. OR, make your own chunky applesauce by cooking about 2 pounds of cored and coarsely chopped apples with a small amount of water in the microwave for about 3 to 4 minutes, until the apple chunks are very soft. Cool and measure out 1 1/2 cups of the applesauce, including juices.