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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Basic Potato Soup with Lots of Variations

Part of my family and I were enjoying a pre-Valentine's day simple supper of soup and bread, with the Chocolate Cherry Cookies I had made for the holiday. I mentioned that, if the cookies passed their taste test panel, I'd be putting them on this blog. Misunderstanding which part of the menu would be added, my ten year old grandson enthusiastically said, oh yeah, this soup is awesome, you have to share it.

So, I tried to explain why I haven't included too many soups, that so much of soup making is just a matter of starting with some basics and then continuing to add this and that until the flavor is what you want.

But then I was reminded that The New York Times has recently been emphasizing this kind of approach with their Wednesday Cooking email newsletter, featuring no-recipe meals for the middle of the week. Somewhat coincidentally, the Times also included an article this weekend on the variability of measuring standards over time, "A Measured Approach to Cooking."

Maybe it is time to post a basic "recipe." Potato soup is a great meal to fall back on when the wind is blowing the thermometer down to below zero windchills, so I decided to play test kitchen. I began carefully measuring as I cooked up yet another batch. The result of all that measuring is the recipe below, but you will see lots of notes and variations at the end. What I have attempted to do is provide a guide, a starting point, for soup that will match your own preferences and pantry supplies.

You will note that this makes a large amount of soup, one you may think is totally improbable for you and yours to finish before tiring of it. While that could be true, you may be surprised to discover just how many times everyone will go back to the stove to refill their soup mugs or bowls, and a container of the leftover soup will keep in the refrigerator for almost a week, ready for grabbing a serving to heat in the microwave for a fast late dinner, even midnight snack, or for packing to take to the office for lunch. If, however, you don't have pans big enough or if you are sure you want to make less, the recipe is easily halved.

One last note: While I don't generally worry about keeeping my cooking gluten free, this recipe, and most of the variations, will work for those who definitely need to stay away from gluten. The potatoes provide all the thickening needed to make really creamy soups.

Creamy Potato Soup

(For the various vegetables, I have included several different measures to help you have a guide to amounts. However, feel free to adjust as you like.)

1/4 to 1/3 c canola oil
1 large or 2 medium onions, coarsely chopped (13 oz. or about 2 1/2 c)
4 stalks celery, diced (8 oz or about 1 1/4 c)
3 lb potatoes, cut into about 1 inch cubes (approximately 8 c)--I had a mixture of white, red, and russet potatoes for this batch
1/4 c chicken or vegetable bouillon powder OR 4 to 5 bouillon cubes
approximately 2 1/2 quarts water
12 to 16 oz pureed butternut squash (about 1 1/2 to 2 c)--if frozen, no need to thaw
3 oz chopped fresh spinach (app 2 c after chopping)
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced (I used bottled minced garlic today)
1 t dried basil
1 t dried oregano
1 t black pepper
1 12 oz can evaporated milk, either fat free or "regular"
1 to 1 1/2 c nonfat dried milk powder
4 oz processed cheese (like Velveeta in the rectangular yellow box)

1.  Pour enough canola oil into a large pot to just cover the bottom of the pan. Add the onions and celery and saute over medium high heat until the onions just start browning and the celery is slightly tender.
2.  Meanwhile, scrub the potatoes, cut out any spots and eyes, but do not peel. Dice into approximately one to two inch cubes. Add to the onions along with about 2 quarts of water and bouillon powder. Cover the pan and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are very soft.
3.  If desired, use a potato masher to break up most of the chunks of potato. (An immersion blender can also be used for this.) Be sure to do this before adding the spinach, to avoid ending up with a kind of murky green colored soup!
4.  Stir in the squash, spinach, and garlic, along with the basil, oregano, and pepper. Continue to simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes (or until the squash is completely thawed if it is put in frozen).
5.  Mix the dry milk powder with a cup or so of water and add it, along with the evaporated milk, to the soup. Stir well. Cut the cheese into a couple of pieces and add. Stir until the cheese is melted and the entire mixture has returned to a slow simmer.
6.  Taste for seasoning and then serve or allow to simmer together for another 10 to 15 minutes. This is also very good the second day as well.

Suggested toppings:

bacon bits, either imitation or real
grated Cheddar cheese
choped parsley or cilantro
diced red or sweet onion

Yield:  Approximately 1 gallon soup, enough for 12 to 16 servings.



Replace 1 quarts chicken or vegetable stock for the water and bouillon.
Omit the dry milk powder and use milk (skim, 2%, or whole) for part or all of the water.
Substitute carrot puree for the squash OR saute about 2 to 3 c sliced carrots with the onions and celery.
Omit the processed cheese. Just before serving, mix in 2 c coarsely grated Cheddar cheese and stir vigorously to incorporate it throughout the soup.


Corn chowder:  Add 16 to 24 oz corn--either frozen or canned--to the mixture, adjusting the seasonings to taste. (Be aware that canned corn will add a lot of salt unless you use the unsalted variety.)

Mexican style chowder:  Substitute cumin for the basil. Add corn as for the corn chowder and stir in a 4 oz can of diced green chilies and/or about half a cup of finely chopped bell peppers. For added heat, use serranos or jalapenos instead of bell peppers. Serve with chopped cilantro and grated white Mexican cheese.

Clam chowder:  Omit the bouillon and use seafood stock or clam juice for part or all of the water. Stir in 16 oz canned clams, with their juices.

Vegetable soups of many kinds:  Use the potato soup as a base, adding broccoli, cauliflower, or mixed vegetables in place of, or with, the spinach and squash. Finely shredded cabbage (about 2 to 3 cups) can be sauteed with the onions and celery for a surprisingly sweet addition to the soup.

Ham bone and potato soup:  Omit the bouillon (to avoid an overly salty soup). If a ham bone is available, add it to the onions and celery and with 2 quarts of water and simmer for about 30 to 40 minutes, until any meat on the bone begins to come off it easily. Add the potatoes and proceed as in step 2. After the potatoes are softened, but before mashing, remove the ham bone, cut the meat off the bone and return the meat to the soup. Proceed with step 3.

Ham or hot dog soup:  Cut the bouillon amount in half (to avoid having an overly salty soup). Cube some ham (2 cups or as desired) or slice a 12 to 16 oz package of hot dogs and stir in with the spinach and squash.

Chocolate Cherry Cookies

Still trying to think of something sweet you can whip up as a valentine treat for friends or family? While these cookies aren't heart-shaped (which confused one 3 year old briefly when they were introduced as "Valentine cookies"), they do have chocolate and sweet maraschino cherries, two ingredients just right for the holiday.

I first found this recipe over 30 years ago but it called for a third of a cup of sweetened condensed milk. Since that is an ingredient I almost never have on hand, mostly because of the cost, and because the other recipes I have seen for this usually call for a full can of condensed milk, I had never tried it.

Still, the idea of making a cookie that has the "frosting" added before baking was intriguing. When looking for something special this Valentine's day, I pulled out that old recipe card and started experimenting. The result is a cookie that tastes richer than the relatively simple ingredients might indicate, and one that--because it is not heart-shaped--could be made any time of the year.

Though the recipe may seem a little fussy, the overall prep time isn't long...and there is a likely bonus: I found that the recipe for the "frosting" was overly generous. Rather than cut it back and discover that I didn't have enough to top all the cookies, I kept these amounts and have some leftovers that will warm easily in the microwave for a few seconds--voila, hot fudge sundae topping. How can you argue with that!

Ingredient Notes

While I don't keep condensed milk on hand, I do stock nonfat dry milk powder on the shelf and maraschino cherries in the refrigerator, alongside other condiments like mustards and ketchup.

The advantage of dried milk here is that the amount used is more than the milk solids you would get from a third cup of skim milk (the kind I buy), adding body and richness to the topping. If you don't have dry milk powder, it will be best to substitute whole milk or even half and half. Evaporated milk could probably also be used, but, once again, you would be using only part of a can. (Of course, you could use the rest for a nice creamy soup, like some I have posted and will be adding later this week.)

Maraschino cherries are another "staple" food for me. I buy a jar or two whenever they are on special (usually in the Thanksgiving to Christmas baking season) and keep them on the shelf. Given the high sugar content, the pull dates are usually quite long and, after they are opened, they will keep for a very long time in the refrigerator. If you don't have any of these, you might try substituting frozen (thawed and drained) sweet cherries. While I haven't tried it, my guess is that a miniature marshmallow in place of each cherry could also be very good. In a pinch, just try making these without any cherries, marshmallows, or other substitutes; the baked frosting will still be special.

Hidden Cherry Chocolate Cookies

1/3 c water
1/3 c nonfat dry milk powder
1/3 c sugar
1/2 c semi-sweet chocolate chips

 Cookie Dough
1/2 c butter, softened but not melted
1 c sugar
1/3 c cocoa
1 egg
1 t vanilla (OR 1/2 t vanilla, 1/2 t almond extract)
1 1/2 c flour
1/4 t baking soda

approximately 15 to 20 maraschino cherries, including syrup

1.  Prepare the cherries by putting them in a small strainer. Reserve the juices that drain from them. Cut each cherry into two or three pieces, depending on how large they are.

2.  Stir the water, dry milk powder, and sugar together in a large saucepan. (The mixture may foam up, so don't choose too small a pan.) Cook over medium to medium low heat, stirring often, until the mixture is bubbly and begins to thicken. This can take 10 to 15 minutes.
3.  When the mixture is about the consistency of a light gravy, stir in the chocolate chips and continue cooking and stirring until the chips are completely melted and the topping is smooth and silky. Set aside.

Cookie Dough
4.  Beat the butter, sugar, and cocoa together until well blended. Stir in the egg and vanilla and continue to beat until smoth.
5.  Sift together the flour and soda and stir in, mixing just until all the dry ingredients are incorporated. If the dough seems a little sticky, you may want to chill it for a short time.
6.  Roll the dough into 1 inch balls and place on a well-greased cookie sheet about an inch or two apart. (I find it easiest to make uniformly sized cookies by making them all into balls before proceeding to the next step.) If the batter seems very sticky, you could also just drop the batter on to the cookie sheets, forming drop cookies about an inch around.
7.  Using your thumb OR the end of a wood spoon OR the bottom of a quarter teaspoon measure, make a depression in the center of each cookie. Place a cherry piece into each cookie.
8.  Using a small spoon, spread a small amount of the topping over the cookies, just enough to cover the cherry pieces. While you want to be sure you have enough to cover the cherries, spreading too much on each cookie will just cause the topping to sag off the cookie and melt on to the cookie sheet.
9.  Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes, until the cookies are just done. (While it will be hard to do the "until the cookie springs back when pressed lightly" test, you can judge by the outer part of the cookies starting to be less dry and shiny. If you underbake them, they will just be more chewy/gooey...but also more prone to breaking.)
10.  Allow the cookies to cool on the pans for about 3 to 4 minutes and then slide them on to a cooling rack. The cookies should be cooled completely before stacking in a cookie tin or on a tray.

Yield: about 3 to 3 1/2 dozen cookies.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Raspberry Marble Cake

Way back when, when our grandmothers did a lot of baking, they had some very basic cake recipes that could be tweaked into something special without a lot of effort. Taking a plain white cake and marbling in some chocolate to part of the batter was one of those things. This recipe does the same kind of thing with frozen raspberries. The version I made today has a simple powdered sugar icing and then, to make it look more complicated than it really is, some chocolate chips were melted and swirled over the top.

For less time of prep, frost the cake while in the pan and then just sprinkle some chocolate chips over the top--you will still get that favorite flavor pairing of chocolate and raspberry. And don't be intimidated by the cake itself. It's pretty easy to make, you can boast about it being made "from scratch," and there isn't that long list of unpronounceable ingredients that you would have been feeding your family and guests had you used a mix.

Raspberry Marble Cake

1 c butter, softened
1 t vanilla
1/2 t almond extract
1 1/4 c sugar
3 eggs
2 1/4 c flour
1 T baking powder
3/4 c milk
1 c (OR 10 oz pkg) frozen raspberries, partly thawed; do not drain

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees, or 325 degrees if using a glass pan. Thoroughly butter (or use baking spray) a 10" round cake pan. See below for other pan choices.

2.  Beat butter, sugar, vanilla, and almond with an electric mixer until very light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.

3.  Sift the flour and baking powder togeterh and add alternately with the milk. Beat another minute or so, until the mixture is very smooth.

4.  Place the raspberries in a large bowl and mash with a fork. Fold in about a third of the cake batter and stir only until well blended.

5.  Drop the white and raspberry cake batters in alternate spoonfuls into the prepared cake pan. Pull a table knife or small spatula through the two different batters to add a marbled effect. (Don't stir too much, or you will end up with just a single color of cake. It won't affect the flavor but it will take away the attraction of a marble cake.)

6.  Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cake to remain in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes before turning out onto a cake plate or cooling rack.

Alternate pan sizes:  You may use either a 7 X 11 rectangular pan or a very deep 9 inch pan. If using the deeper 9 inch pan, increase the baking time by about 10 minutes.

Basic Almond Frosting

1 T softened (but not melted) butter
1 T softened low fat or regular cream cheese
1/2 t almond extract
approximately 2 to 2 1/2 c powdered sugar
approximately 3 to 4 T milk--anything from skim to whole milk is fine

1. Beat the butter and cream cheese together until smooth. Gradually add about half the powdered sugar, the almond extract, and a tablespoon or so of milk. Beat well.

2.  Add the rest of the powdered sugar and then stir in milk, just a teaspoon or so at a time, until the mixture is of the right consistency to spread.

3.  Cover the top of the cake with the frosting and then push some of the frosting to the edges. You may choose to leave the cake with the frosting "drizzling down" the sides or you can continue to spread the frosting so that the sides are completely covered.

Microwaved Chocolate Topping

3/4 c semisweet chocolate chips
1 t canola oil

IMPORTANT:  Be sure that the bowl and spatula used for stirring are completely dry. Chocolate has a wonderful property of irreversibly "seizing up," getting granular and lumpy, if there is ANY moisture in the melting process. That's why you don't want to cover the bowl, in case there is any steam at all generated in the heating.

1.   Place the chips and oil in a small bowl, one that does not generally heat up in the microwave. Microwave, uncovered, for about 25 seconds, on no more than half power. (I use power level 4 out of 10.)

Another interesting chocolate fact: When melting in the microwave, the chocolate will not lose its shape even as it is melting. You need to test how much it has melted by taking it and actually stirring it. If you wait for the chips to melt into a liquid on their own, you will end up with burned and unusable chocolate--and a not very pleasant smell in the kitchen as well. You have been warned!

2.  Remove the bowl from the microwave and stir. The chips will not yet be melted at this point, so return them to the microwave and repeat the heating at half power for another 20 seconds.

3. After stirring the chips, return them to the microwave and repeat the heating, removing, and stirring at decreasing intervals (down to only 10 seconds at a time) until the chips begin to be melted throughout most of the mixture. At this point, you will just stir them until the remaining small chunks melt smoothly into the rest.

4.  If the mixture seems a little too thick to spread, you may add another few drops of canola oil.

5.  Immediately, while the chocolate is warm, drop the chocolate in little blobs around the surface of the frosted cake, and then use a table knife to swirl the chocolate into a pleasing design.

Alternative toppings:

If this all sounds too complicated, just take some mini chocolate chips and sprinkle them over the top of the cake.

For either method, with melted chocolate or just the chips, you could add a few fresh raspberries as a special garnish as well.

Alternative topping:

If this all seems too complicated, just take some mini chocolate chips and sprinkle them over the top of the cake. If it is fresh raspberry season, you might also add a few whole berries for garnish too.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Dutch Apple Bread with Honey Ginger Spread

Whether in the late fall, when the first snow of the season may have started to fall or here, in mid-winter when the nights are still long and it seems like spring is still weeks and weeks away, the fragrance of something apple baking in the oven is a wonderful warming thing.

Generally kind on the budget too. I am blessed to still have apples in my garage-that-doubles-as-a-root-cellar, but the frugal cook should still be able to find some apple specials in local grocery stores. Today's apple bread recipe will stretch only a few apples into a loaf able to satisfy family and guests.

As a basis for my bread, I pulled out one of the few cookbooks I still reference, one I have been using for decades. Dolores Cassella’s A World of Breads, is once again the start for today's baking. As usual, I have adapted her recipe a great deal, but I don't think she would mind. 

Some of the adaptations I have made do contribute a bit to the overall nutrition of the bread--whole wheat flour, orange juice concentrate, dry milk powder, and using apples with their peelings intact. If you don't typically keep dry milk powder on hand, you could use milk instead of the water or just omit the dairy entirely. Because the price of butter has risen so dramatically, I have also shifted to using oil in the recipe as well.

To go with the bread, try the Gingered Honey Spread. This works well on many quick breads or yeast breads fresh from the oven. It can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator for several days.

Oh, and one other thing (today's little kitchen tutorial!): some whole wheat flours are more coarse than others, and there may sometimes be some larger flakes of wheat in the bottom of the sifter. Just sprinkle these into the batter with the rest of the flour; don’t discard them!

Dutch Apple Bread

½ c canola oil
1 c sugar
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
3 T orange juice concentrate (see NOTE)
¼ c dry milk powder
1 c whole wheat flour
1 c unbleached flour
1 t soda
1/4 c water
1 c grated or finely chopped apple, cored but not peeled—press the apples firmly in the cup
1/3 c chopped walnuts

(While you can use a food processor to grate the apple, I still like my very old-fashioned flat grater for small amounts like this.)

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees OR 325 degrees if using a glass pan. Generously oil a 9 X 5 1/4 inch loaf pan. This will make a very high loaf, so you could also oil one or two individual sized loaf pans to put some of the batter in. Just reduce the baking time a bit if you do this, and think of a neighbor or friend who might be cheered by the gift of a little loaf of fresh apple bread.

2.  Cream the oil and sugar until smooth. Stir in the eggs, vanilla, orange juice concentrate, and dry milk powder and beat until light.

3.  Sift the dry flours and soda together and add alternately with the water to the beaten egg mixture. Stir just enough to mix well.

4.  Fold in the apples and nuts.

5.  Turn into a very well oiled loaf pan and bake for about 35 to 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

6.  Cool in the pan about 5 to 7 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool. Slices best the next day.

NOTE:  If you prefer, you can omit the orange juice concentrate and substitute 1/3 c orange juice for the water. However, the concentrate provides a more distinct orange flavor. 

Honey Ginger Cream Cheese Spread

3 to 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 T honey
1 ½ t ground ginger

Beat all the ingredients together until smooth. Keep refrigerated. May substitute freshly grated ginger for the ground ginger. If candied ginger is available, finely dice some of it and stir in to the mixture.

Using Juice Concentrates

Readers of this blog may have noticed that I often use small portions of frozen juice concentrates in my recipes. There are several reasons why you might want to try the same approach:
  • I can stock up on cans of concentrate when they are on sale and keep them handy. They don't take a lot of space in the freezer even if I buy three or four at a time.
  • The concentration of the juice can provide a big flavor boost in many recipes where the added liquid of "regular" juice might be a problem.
  • I buy only 100% juice, so these concentrates add sweetness without excess refined (or high fructose) sugars. 
  • You can try out many different juice combinations in recipes. For example, cranberry juice concentrate in this recipe, along with a half cup or so of dried cranberries, could change the flavor emphasis dramatically. 
  • In a pinch, many recipes become more accessible even if you don't have the fresh, canned, or frozen fruit called for handy. For example, a main dish calling for a small amount of pineapple can be made with pineapple juice concentrate to keep the flavor blend even if you don't have the "mouth feel" of the pineapple chunks. Fresh raspberries may be too pricey to make into a quick bread, but a raspberry apple juice concentrate could be substituted for part of the liquid to still have end up with a raspberry bread.
Almost all brands of 12 and 16 oz frozen concentrates are the same circumference as a standard canning jar lid, so I can easily cover the opened can with a tight seal. (Of course, it isn't totally air-tight, so you wouldn't want to keep the opened can for months and months.)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Black Bean and Tomato Soup

Here is a hearty soup for a cold winter evening, perfect for vegans if you use vegetable broth, but still hearty enough for the most carnivorous family members. This warms up well too, so pack leftovers into single meal sized containers tot take to work or school for a quick warm up in the microwave.

When served with a winter salad (see link here) and a grilled cheese sandwich, this would make a really hearty and healthy meal to top off a day of snow shoveling, skiing, or otherwise getting a good winter work out.

 Black Bean and Tomato Soup

1 T canola or olive oil
1/2 large onion (about 3/4 c), chopped
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced, to taste
3 c cooked, unsalted, black beans, including liquid--divided
1 14 1/2 oz can diced tomatoes and chilies
1 c butternut squash puree
2 chicken or vegetable bouillon cubes
1 t cumin
1 t oregano
approximately 1 c (loosely packed) chopped cilantro, including stems

1. Saute the onion and garlic in the oil over medium heat, until the onions are translucent and starting to turn golden brown.
2.  Meanwhile, combine 1 1/2 c of the beans and the tomatoes and chilies and squash in a processor or blender and blend until smooth.
3.  Add the tomato and bean mixture to the onions, along with the bouillon cubes, cumin, oregano, and about 2 c water. (Fill the tomato can with water to rinse it out and add that to the mixture.)
4.  Bring the mixture to a boil, stir in the remaining black beans and cilantro, and taste, adjusting seasoning as necessary. If the mixture is too thick, you may want to add a bit more water.
5.  Turn the burner to medium low and continue to simmer about 20 minutes, to blend the flavors. The soup can be chilled at this point and reheated.
6.  Serve topped with yogurt and chopped cilantro if desired.  Makes about 6 one cup servings.

NOTE: If you have an immersion blender, you could add all ingredients except half the beans and the water to the sauteed onions and blend until the mixture is smooth. Then add the remaining beans and water, continuing with step 5 above.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Applesauce Pie

I was looking for a dessert recipe that would use more than a cup of applesauce and would be something a little different than what I have recently tried. I remembered someone once talking about a "fabulous" applesauce pie they had had, so I started researching, not expecting to find many options.

Wrong. A search for applesauce pie turned up dozens of recipes. With a little tweaking and a few additions to adapt to my preference for slightly spicy apple dishes, I ended up with this pie that is a very nice alternative to the usual apple dessert. If you like custards, the consistency of this dessert will really please you. My guess is that it is at its very best served warm, perhaps with a little ice cream on top, but chilled with a piece of good cheddar cheese won't make anyone unhappy either.

Oh, and one more thing--this is really very easy, since there is very little fruit preparation involved. If a pre-made pie shell is used, you could put this together and into the oven within 15 minutes or less.

Applesauce Pie

9 inch pie shell, unbaked
1/4 c very soft butter
1 c sugar
2 c unsweetened applesauce
2 large or extra large eggs (see NOTE)
1 t vanilla
1 t cinnamon plus some for sprinkling on top
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 t ginger

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2.  Cream the butter and sugar until very light.
3.  Stir in the remaining ingredients and beat until completely mixed. Pour into the prepared pie shell and sprinkle generously with cinnamon.
4.  Bake the pie for 15 minutes at 400 degrees and then turn the temperature down to 350 degrees and bake for another 30 to 35 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. If the edges of the crust begin to brown too quickly, cover them with strips of aluminum foil.

NOTE:  I used home-cooked applesauce which is quite thick. If you are using purchased applesauce that is runny, you may want to use a third egg to be sure the mixture thickens.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Fig and Squash Cakes--"Figgy Pudding" Adaptation

Since today is only day 9 of this year's Twelve Days of Christmas, it's not too late to think about making some "figgy pudding" for those late cookie trays or mid-winter snacking.

Yes, I know; figgy pudding should be steamed, but the original takes a lot of time and equipment to pull off. This adaptation still provides a really moist, and pretty figgy, dessert that is tasty and attractive enough to put on a dessert tray without any added frosting or topping. It is actually relatively healthy to boot, so why not try this today?

If you really want more of a topping, figgy pudding is traditionally served with Hard Sauce, much like a very buttery  powdered sugar icing, with any of a variety of flavorings. This pudding would go well with orange or lemon, though some would use rum or brandy for the liquid. A basic Hard Sauce follows the cake recipe below.

The recipe uses a food processor for ease of mixing. If you don't have a processor, some adjustments to the method follow.

Figgy Pudding, American Style

1 1/3 c cooked butternut squash
1/3 c water
1 c coarsely chopped figs
1 2/3 c flour
1 1/3 c sugar
1/4 t baking powder
1 t soda
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t cloves
1 t ginger
1/2 c butter, softened 
1 egg

1.  Combine the squash, water, and figs in the processor or blender and process until quite smooth. (If you don't have either a blender or processor, mash the squash and water together until smooth and chop the figs as finely as possible. Mix together and proceed to step 2.)
2.  Replace the chopping blade with the plastic blade and combine all the ingredients except the walnuts. Pulse until the ingredients are completely mixed, scraping down the sides once or twice.
3.  Oil mini-muffin pans well (this is where a spray coating like Pam is ideal) and fill each about half full. Top each one with a large walnut piece and bake at 350 degrees for about 12 to 15 minutes. If you don't have enough muffin tins, you can fill the ones you have and allow the remaining batter to sit at room temperature while the first batch is baking. This recipe makes about 5 dozen little "puddings.

Method using a blender:
1.  Pulse the squash, water, and figs in the blender until smooth.
2.  Add the butter and egg and pulse just until the mixture is well blended.
3.  Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl, and pour the squash mixture over the top. Stir just until the batter is smooth and proceed to step 3.

Method without either a processor or blender:

1.  Mash the squash and water thoroughly. Chop the figs as finely as possible and stir into the squash. Then proceed as with the method for the blender.

Stir about 3/4 c chopped walnuts into the batter rather than placing them on top.

Use full-sized muffin tins rather than mini-muffins and top with a caramel frosting after baking.

Hard Sauce

1/3 c softened butter
1 to 1 1/2 c powdered sugar
flavoring--see below for amounts

1,  Beat the butter until very creamy and add about half a cup of the powdered sugar and your shoice of flavoring.
2.  Gradually beat in the remaining powdered sugar to reach the desired consistency. Excellent when warmed slightly and drizzled over the tops of the little cakes.

Flavoring options

Choose one of the following
  • 1 to 2 t vanilla or almond extract
  • 2 T orange or lemon juice
  • 2 T rum or brandy
  • For a spiced version, beat in about 1 t cinnamon and/or 1/2 t nutmeg or ginger and add a bit of cream as needed for desired consistency.