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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

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.  Heat the applesauce to just below boiling in the microwave, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the oatmeal and dried cranberries and let mixture to cool, about 10 to 15 minutes.


2.  Meanwhile preheat oven to 350 degrees.

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 an 8 inch round or square pan  that has been well-oiled or sprayed with cooking spray. Immediately put into oven and bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes. (You can also use a 7 X 11 pan, with a slightly shorter baking time.)

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.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Crunch-Top Applesauce and Apricot Bars

Many years ago I found a recipe for some simple applesauce bars that were pretty basic. Adding dried apricots and almonds adds a special burst of flavor. 

The topping is a little messy, but that never seems to keep these cookies from being perenially popular. Cornflakes are an inexpensive way to stretch the crunch of the nuts, so I buy them when on sale just for these bars. Substituting bran flakes can add just a little more nutrition if desired.

 Crunch Top Applesauce and Apricot Bars
1/2 c butter
1/2 c sugar 
1/2 c soft dried apricots, diced, and enough unsweetened applesauce to fill a one cup measure (see Step 1)
1 t vanilla
1 t almond flavoring
2 c flour
1 t soda
1 t nutmeg
1 1/2 t cinnamon

1.  Place the diced apricots in a one cup measuring cup and pour applesauce over them, filling to the one cup measuring line. Make sure all the spaces between the apricots are filled with applesauce. 
If your apricots are quite dry, you can put the applesauce/apricot mixture in the microwave for a minute or two and then set aside to cool.
2.  Blend butter and sugar; stir in the applesauce-apricot mixture along with the almond and vanilla.
3.  Sift the dry ingredients together and add. Mix just enough to blend evenly.

4.  Spread in a greased 15 1/2 X 10 1/2 jelly roll pan and sprinkle with the topping mixture.
5.  Bake at 350 degrees about 18 to 20 minutes. Cool before cutting into bars.

Makes about 4 to 5 dozen.

1/2 c almonds, coarsely chopped
1/4 c sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
2 T butter
about 2 to 2 1/2 c cornflakes, crushed to make a cup of crumbs

Mix all except the corn flakes. Stir in the crushed cornflakes until well blended.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Rice and Bean Salad

There has been a lot of well-deserved attention lately to the amount of food wasted in the US, from the farm fields all the way to grocery stores, restaurants, and our own homes. With this in mind, I started considering some of the ways that I have found uses for relatively common leftovers.

When I cook rice, I often make a large quantity; you can see my method for baking rice at But, what to do with this rice when you aren't in the mood for some kind of casserole or if you have more rice than other leftovers from the takeout or carry home box from your latest restaurant trip?

Another peek into the refrigerator revealed some bell pepper, celery, spinach, and something I've recently discovered, mayocoba beans. Sounded like the start of a great salad, especially since I actually have some cherry tomatoes and cucumber from my mostly failed garden. It is very easy to allow produce to go past its prime and end up in the compost (or worse, just the trash), so this seemed like a good day to use all of these foods while nice and fresh.

A little experimenting and tasting, and I came up with the following salad that will go just right with some chicken salad sandwiches and fresh fruit for a light dinner tonight. You can easily make your own changes to this recipe, based on the contents of your own refrigerator. Lightly steamed broccoli flowerets or carrot slices, frozen peas, or green beans could all be added for more color. Kidney or black beans could replace the mayocoba beans.

The result? A tasty, healthy salad and a little bit of pride in being able to avoid some bit of food waste in your own kitchen. Not a bad combination.

Rice and Bean Garden Salad

3 c cooked rice, well drained--be sure rice is cooked only until just tender, not too soft
1/3 to 1/2 c finely diced onion, to taste
1 c sliced or diced celery
1/2 c diced cucumber
1/2 c diced green pepper
1 1/2 c cooked and well drained mayocoba beans
1 T fresh basil, finely chopped
1 t fresh thyme leaves

1 c cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
2 c baby spinach leaves

1/3 c vinegar
1/4 c canola or olive oil
3-4 T sugar or more, to taste
1 t salt (or more, if both rice and beans are prepared without salt)
lemon pepper to taste

1.  Combine the dressing ingredients and whisk until well blended.

2.  Toss together the first 8 ingredients. Pour the dressing over this mixture and stir just until everything is well mixed.

3.  Chill at least two hours. Just before serving, stir in the tomatoes.

4.  If serving individually, spread the spinach on the plate and top with scoops of the salad. If the salad will be served from a large bowl, chop or tear the spinach leaves into bite-sized pieces and toss into the mixture with the tomatoes.

Quick Variation

Use a prepared balsamic vinegar dressing (Costco has a really good one) in place of the dressing above, using only enough to barely moisten all the ingredients. If you are using unsalted beans and/or rice, you will still need to add a bit more salt or lemon pepper.

A couple of notes/hints on preparation, illustrated

The batch of rice that I had in the refrigerator was quite moist. To be sure that the dressing didn't end being too diluted, I spread the rice on a plate and let it "dry" for about an hour in the refrigerator, following some instructions I found on the internet for "dried rice." Unfortunately, that didn't seem to help all that much, so I just went to a much more direct method, putting the rice in a fine strainer and pressing it lightly. If your rice is pretty "dry" already, you can easily skip this step.

And then there is the photo of the oil and vinegar. I have added another one below, showing even more clearly that this measuring cup is not clean! I had used the cup to measure the rice, the onions, and other vegetables, and then used it, without washing or even rinsing, to measure out the vinegar and oil for the dressing.

My point?  Just this. Streamline the steps you take in putting foods together and you will save yourself a lot of time, both in prep and clean up. Just a small hint, but over time, if you are accustomed to having to have a separate clean cup or bowl for every step, think about just reusing them without clean up between.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

No Pectin Plum Jam

I have fought a losing battle with the squirrels in my yard this year. I planted two (sour) cherry and two plum trees a few years ago, and this year was the first that I had a really nice amount of fruit growing and prospering.

Until, that is, the fruit began to ripen. Then, in one weekend, the squirrels ate all but two cherries off those two trees, and they then began to systematically harvest the plums as soon as they showed even the slightest sign of ripeness. Since I was out of town several times when they were attacking, I ended up always being behind them, and my futile attempts at netting the plums were in vain.

Fortunately for me, my kids have also planted plum trees, and they live in a neighborhood almost devoid of squirrels. As a result, I ended up with several pounds of "windfalls" this week. After making two desserts, I still had enough to make a small batch of plum jam.

Plums are among the fruits with high levels of natural pectin, so there is no need to add in any commercial pectin. Depending on the variety of plum and ripeness (less ripe fruit has the highest pectin levels), it may take less than half an hour to get to the just right stage of jelling. I like to use a wood spoon for stirring the jam, as it seems to work best for me to test for jelling, as noted in step 5 below.

An advantage with not using purchased pectin is that you can make a batch of jam that matches the amount of fruit that you have. It is wise never to use more than about 6 to 7 cups of fruit, however, as the mixture may not evenly cook and/or it will need a much longer time to jell, leading to an overcooked flavor.

If you have more (or fewer) plums, just use about a 4 parts sugar to 5 parts plums ratio--or a little less, as in this recipe, if your plums are very sweet. Just don't cut back too much on the sugar, as it not only adds sweetness; it also helps in the jelling of the final product.

No Pectin Plum Jam

5 c plum pulp
3 3/4 c sugar
1/4 c reconstituted lemon juice (such as ReaLemon)

To make the plum pulp:
1.  Chop the plums coarsely and put in a heavy pan, with just a tablespoon or so of water to keep the fruit from sticking. Cut out any bad spots but keep the pits in the mix. Cover and cook the plums over medium heat, until the fruit is very, very soft. This will take about 25 to 30 minutes.

2.  Run the fruit through a food mill or press through a coarse colander. (I will admit it: I washed my hands well and just pulled the pits out of the mixture with my bare hands! It didn't take very long and I was able to maximize the yield. Plus, the fruit closest to the pits is often the most flavorful.)

To make the jam:

1. Place a small saucer or two in the freezer. 

2.  Measure the amount of pulp that you have and use 3/4 cup sugar for every cup of pulp (perhaps a bit less if you have very sweet plums). Use about 2 1/2 to 3 teaspoons of lemon juice per cup.

3. Put all the ingredients in a large pan (this will boil up quite a bit) and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

4.  Continue to cook uncovered, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking. Depending on the plums, it will take anywhere from half an hour to 45 minutes to reach the jelling stage.

5.  Testing for jelling:  Hold the spoon with which you are stirring the jam above the mixture and allow the jam to run off the spoon slowly. Watch for when the drops of jam start to "sheet off" the spoon--instead of individual streams of liquid flowing down, the drops start to combine and flow in only one or two syrupy streams.  When it begins to do this, remove one of the saucers from the freezer and put a few drops of jam on the plate.

When you can run a rubber scraper or knife through the jam and it holds its shape, the jam is ready to take off the heat.

At this point, the jam can be put into sterilized jars and kept in the refrigerator for a month or so, the easy way to work with smaller batches of jam. However, if you want to store the jam on the shelf, you will need to process the jars in a hot water bath.

Processing Jam in a Hot Water Bath

You will need a pot (a "canner" ) large enough to put water in an inch above the top of the jars you are using, and you will need to use canning jars with lids specifically made for canning.

Bring water to a rolling boil in the canner and gently lift the sealed jars into the water. Cover and allow the water to return to a boil. At this point, set a timer, and continue boiling gently for 10 minutes for either half pint or pint jars. Remove the jars from the boiling water and allow to cool.


Okay, I cannot tell a lie. I had a small cluster of black grapes (from Aldi, not local) that really needed some attention. Why not, I thought. I already was using two varieties of plums, some deep purple, some rosy red. The grapes would represent less than 10 percent of the total fruit in the jam, so I chopped them up and added them to the plums. The result? Just a richer, fruity flavor, with no real hint of grape in the final product.

Quick Banana Bread

While I had the oven heating for an Apple Raspberry Crisp, I thought it would be a good time to use up some bananas browning a little too rapidly on the counter. Since I also had some mayonnaise in the refrigerator, it was a good time to do some more experimenting with that interesting ingredient.

I discovered there are quite a few banana bread recipes made with mayonnaise on the internet. However, almost all of these seemed a little bland, without any spices or vanilla.


How can you think of baking quick breads without some spices and flavorings?  Cinnamon and vanilla are almost as basic for me as onion in chili or meatloaf.  I like ginger in breads and cakes, and it goes well with bananas. Freshly grated ginger would be even better here, but I didn't have any in the house, so the ground form had to do.

And then there is the whole wheat flour, another thing missing from the internet recipes I found.  I won't pretend this is a totally "healthy" bread, but I prefer to use whole grain flours whenever I can, for the flavor as well as the better nutrition. However, it's not a deal breaker if you don't have any; just use all enriched flour if you don't have whole wheat.

A few notes about bananas:  The riper they are, the more sugars they contain, so you can cut back a little on the sugar. However, besides providing sweetness, the sugar in quick breads like these provides a softer texture; cutting it out completely is likely to leave a much less tender product.

Many older recipes (and some new ones too!) will list "3 bananas" or some other number, rather than a measured amount. A problem with this approach is the variation in the size of each banana. However, you might be tempted to throw away part of a banana if the 3 or 4 called for here equal more than a cup. Please don't do that! How can a site that lists "frugal" as its first word ever recommend such waste?! Be aware that a little extra banana (probably even as much as another quarter cup) will not lead to failure. The bread is likely to be just a little more moist, but you probably won't even notice the difference.

On the other hand, if you have only 7/8 of a cup or so of banana and you don't want to start another one, you can just fill the cup with milk--or applesauce if you prefer. The key here is to be sure the bread is moist enough, but a small variation in amount shouldn't cause problems.

Hmmm, maybe those old-fashioned cooks had the right idea by just saying "3 bananas."

That's a pretty long introduction to a really easy recipe. The longest part of making this is the baking, so it could be whipped up as a last minute dessert after you get home from work. However, as with many breads of this type, it is even better the second day.

Final result of the experiment? A tender, almost creamy bread with lots of flavor (but not a hint of a "mayonnaise-y taste).

Easy Banana Bread

1 c mayonnaise
1 c mashed bananas (about 3 to 4, depending on their size)
3/4 c sugar (if the bananas are very ripe, you could cut this by a few tablespoonsful)
1 t vanilla
1 c enriched flour
1 c whole wheat flour
1 t baking powder
3/4 t baking soda
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1 t ground ginger (optional)
1 c chopped walnuts (optional)

1. Beat together the mayonnaise, mashed bananas, and vanilla until smooth.

2. Sift the dry ingredients together and add to the banana mixture. Stir gently just until completely combined.

3. Turn the batter into well oiled pans. Since I prefer smaller slices, I use an 8 1/2 X 4 1/2 inch pan along with two 3 1/2 X 6 inch pans--the size of those small disposable pans you can buy in sets of three. You could also use two of the 8 1/2 X 4 1/2 pans, but I only have one of those. Using the smaller pans means I always have a small loaf to share with a friend or neighbor too.

4.  Bake at 350 degrees. (If using a glass pan, lower heat to 325 and add a few minutes to the baking time.)

The smaller breads will take about 18 to 20 minutes while the larger loaf will take about 28 to 35 minutes. Test by inserting a toothpick in the center; it should come out with no unbaked batter clinging to it.

5.  Allow the breads to cool in the pans on a cooling rack for 15 to 25 minutes before removing. Store in the refrigerator.


Add half a cup or so of raisins or dried cranberries with ( or in place of) the nuts.

If you are one of those people who need chocolate in everything, a cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips could be folded in with the nuts. I'd omit the ginger and increase the vanilla to 1 1/2 teaspoons.

If you really, really like chocolate, stir in 1/3 cup cocoa with the bananas and yogurt and then add chocolate chips with the nuts.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Mixed Berry Muffins with Grapenuts

Two reasons for posting this recipe today:  the berries and the cereal.

First, the Grapenuts.  Having gotten a very good price on a  humongous box of Grapenuts (typical Costco sizing!), I have been finding new uses for this old-fashioned cereal. One of the things that has always drawn me to Grapenuts is the fact that it remains one of only a tiny handful of "mainstream" cereals with no added sugar. In fact, the total ingredients list (other than the usual vitamin and mineral additions) is: Whole Grain Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Salt, Dried Yeast. 

I am using the brand name here, because that is what I have. However, there are a lot of generic "crunchy wheat nugget" cereals out there that will work just fine for this recipe too.

And then the berries: There are so many berries at good prices in the produce section or (better yet) at the farmers' markets or (best of all) in the back yard. 

Sometimes, however, we may end up with small amounts of one or more kinds of berries that won't quite stretch to fill the measuring cup for a favorite recipe. 

Today, for example. My blueberries are still in their first real season of bearing, so I only had a handful of ripe berries available, and I had about the same amount of raspberries this morning, as the first of the two everbearing seasons taper off.  With some strawberries from the store I wanted to use up, this seemed like the perfect time to make muffins using all three. 

Muffins are a great summertime bread, as they bake in a third of the time of cakes and quick breads, keepingthe kitchen just a little cooler while still enjoying the fragrance, and flavor, of home-baked goodies.

 Mixed Berry Muffins

1 c Grapenuts
1 1/2 c unsweetened applesauce
3/4 c sugar
1 egg
1 T canola oil
1/3 c nonfat dry milk powder
1 c all purpose unbleached flour
2 t baking powder
1 t cinnamon
1 1/4 c mixed berries--raspberries, blueberries, and/or strawberries, whatever you have
1/2 c chopped walnuts (optional) 

1.  Prepare a muffin tin by spraying with cooking spray or placing cupcake paper liners in each. This amount will make 12 to 15 muffins, depending on the size of your pans. (Don't worry if you have only one muffin pan; the rest of the batter can sit on the counter while the first batch is baking.) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2.   Combine the Grapenuts and the applesauce in a large mixing bowl and set aside for 15 to 30 minutes.

3.  After the Grapenuts have had time to soften, stir in the sugar, egg, oil, and dry milk powder. Blend well.

4.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, and cinnamon, and gently fold into the Grapenuts mixture, along with the berries and nuts. Stir only enough to moisten all the dry ingredients--too much mixing of muffin batter can lead to "tunnels" or toughness in the finished product.

5.  Spoon the batter evenly into the prepared muffin pan and bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until the muffins spring back when you press one lightly in the middle. 

6.  Remove the muffins from the tins and place on a cooling rack.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Piquant Carrot Salad and "French Dressing" for Later

Some time ago, I posted a recipe for a carrot salad that is a refreshingly different side, perfect for summer potlucks and picnics. You can find it here at

One thing I didn't note in that earlier post is an extra benefit of the salad. When I have served it for the last time, there is always, always some of the dressing left. The first time this happened, I realized I had some really flavorful liquid that could be used for other things. Since then, I have marinated fish and chicken in the liquid (or just poured it over microwaved fish as a sauce) and added it to tossed salads as a kind of "French dressing."

Today, I still had a few of the carrots left as well as a small amount of the dressing. After tossing together some tomatoes, mixed greens and herbs from the garden and some peppers and radishes from the farmers' market, I poured the few carrots and dressing over the salad. A few cubes of cheese (today I had Jarlsberg Swiss) and a grind of fresh pepper and I had a colorful main dish salad with a "homemade" dressing, with very little prep time needed.

I have done the same thing with "leftover" coleslaw dressing as well--for the recipe I most often use, check this out:

And, one more "stretcher" hint:  There was a special on potato salads in the deli department of a local grocery store, so I picked up a couple of pints. As usual, while the salad was delicious, the ratio of dressing to potatoes was way too large, so I tucked a couple of potatoes in the microwave, "baked" them just until done, cut them to about the same size as in the purchased potato salad, and stirred them in. This doubled the amount of potato salad and reduced the total cost by a lot--without having to make any potato salad myself!