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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. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Winter Salad with Beets

So you don't like beets but you've heard of all the wonderful antioxidants and other nutrients they provide? Well, here is a salad that even non-beet eaters have been known to praise, and even have seconds and third servings. This is best made with beets you have roasted, but you can improvise with canned beets--just understand the flavor will not come up to that of the freshly roasted ones.

This salad is successful because it pairs some strong flavors--feta cheese and a good vinagrette dressing--with sweet apples and mild (yes, that really is an adjective for them) beets. The deep green of the lettuce and/or spinach provides a great mix of colors, and the addition of nuts which can be optional) increases the textural variety.

With protein and lots of vitamins, pairing this with some good bread makes a complete meal. Skip the nuts (a little cheaper that way) and serve smaller portions for a nice bright side salad to go along with a simple meal of mac and cheese or some other quick weeknight meal.

One caveat:  This really needs to be tossed together at the last minute, as the beets will be very happy to share their color with both the apples and the feta if left together for any length of time.

First, some basics for preparing the beets.

Roasted Beets

Whole beets, scrubbed and with about half an inch or so of the greens left on top
Closed roasting pan OR other oven-proof dish with a tight fitting cover

1.  Scrub the beets well, but don't worry if you have a few kind of scaly areas that seem a little hard to get fully clean. Avoid cutting off spots or the root at the bottom at this stage, as any cuts in the beets will cause them to "bleed," losing color, flavor, and nutrients.

2.  Put beets of roughly similar size into a roasting pan or casserole dish. Add about half an inch to an inch of water to the pan and cover.

3.  Place in a 375 to 400 degree oven and begin checking for doneness after about 30 to 45 minutes. Because beets vary so much in size and their cooking time will depend on their size, the time it will take to roast them can vary a great deal.

To test for doneness, use a potholder or heavy towel (one that you won't worry if it gets stained) and squeeze the beet. It should be quite soft. If you have beets of varying sizes, you may need to take out the smaller ones when they are soft, recover the pan, and return the larger ones to the oven for more time. If the water has boiled away, be sure to add more, as the beets need the steam to be sure that they soften well.

4.  When the beets are done, wait until they are cool enough to handle and then use a small knife to help remove the skin. If they have cooked fully, the skins will almost slide off, with only the tops and the roots really needing to be cut off.

Beets may be used immediately or refrigerated for up to a week. You can also slice or dice the beets (or keep whole) and freeze in meal-sized packages.

You will notice a lack of really exact proportions in the salad "recipe." This is because salads are best when ingredients are freely chosen and tossed together in proportions that you prefer, and that reflect what you happen to have in the refrigerator at the time. This is more of a guide to get you experimenting with a delightful flavor combination of sweet beets and apples along with the salty tang of the feta cheese, and the crisp and brightly colored greens. And yes, even the lowly iceberg lettuce can play a part in a salad like this; its much-maligned light green color can add some contrast--and can stretch more expensive greens so that there is salad enough for all. 

Winter Salad with Beets

Greens of choice:
  • mixed lettuces (ex. "spring mix")
  • romaine, torn into bite-sized pieces
  • spinach leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces
  • iceberg lettuc, torn into bite-sized pieces
beets, cut in about 1 inch cubes (while roasted ones are best, you can substitute drained, canned beets)
apples, cored but not peeled, cut to approximately the same size as the beets
finely chopped onion
feta cheese, cubed or crumbled
coarsely chopped walnuts or broken pecan halves (optional)
balsamic and olive oil vinagrette dressing OR raspberry vinagrette dressing
dried or chopped, fresh basil (optional)
freshly ground black pepper (optional)

1.  For a main dish salad, allow about 2 cups of greens for each serving; for a side salad, use only about half that amount per serving.
2.  For each 2 cups of greens, use about 1/4 cup each apples and beets and 1 to 2 tablespoons of chopped onion, to taste. An ounce of feta (about the size of a pair of dice or the size of your thumb above the first joint) per serving is about right too, though up to an ounce and a half can be good too. A tablespoon or so of nuts per serving is probably going to be a nice amount.
3.  Just before serving, put all the ingredients in the salad bowl and toss with enough dressing to lightly coat the leaves. If desired, sprinkle a bit of basil and/or freshly ground pepper over the top.

One more thing: A way to keep apples from browning if you need to prepare them ahead of serving.

Using the smallest container that will hold the apples you will be preparing, put a mixture of about one part of lemon juice (I use reconstituted, like ReaLemon, for this) to about two to three parts water. Cut the apples to the desired size and put into the lemon juice mixture, making sure the apples are completely covered. Cover tightly and refrigerate until using. This will hold the apples for a few hours.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Pumpkin Pudding OR Pie--Both Great Fall Desserts

Sometimes in this season of rich desserts, we may still crave something a little sweet to top off a meal. One very seasonal approach is to make your favorite pumpkin pie filling but then just put it in a heavy glass casserole dish and bake it without a crust. While there is still a significant amount of sugar, all the fat and flour of the crust are done away with.

This recipe is one that my oldest son has used for years in making the best pumpkin pie ever. He often roasts the pumpkins their family has used for decorations, brought in after Halloween and before they have had a chance to freeze. I am including it just as he makes the pies, with a brief note on the adaptations (very slight) for making pumpkin pudding.

Whichever way you make this, it's a great dessert for these chilly fall days. (And, as this picture shows, this is a recipe so easy even a 3 year old can make it, with just a little help!)

Lance's Pumpkin Pie

2 c cooked pumpkin (prepared as below OR 15 oz canned)
3/4 c sugar
2 large or extra large eggs
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t cloves
1/2 t ginger
1/2 t salt
1 2/3 c evaporated milk (one large can)
Prepared 9" unbaked pie shell

1.  Beat eggs slightly and then stir in remaining ingredients. Beat with mixer until well mixed and pour into the pie shell.
2.  Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for 45 more minutes or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean.

To prepare pumpkin:
Cut pumpkin in half and remove seeds and fiber. Cut into several chunks and place in a roaster with a little water. Cover and bake at 350 until the pumpkin is very soft. Remove from oven and scrape from shell. Mash until smooth. (Any extra pumpkin can be frozen for later use in other recipes.)

Pumpkin Pudding

1.  Prepare as for pumpkin pie filling, but use 3 eggs. I usually increase each of the spices by another quarter to half teaspoon, as the pudding seems better with a little more spice. (I also like a bit of nutmeg so usually add about half a teaspoon of that too.)
2.  Spray a nine inch glass or ceramic pie pan or similar-sized with cooking spray or oil well. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the pan and bake at 325 for 45 to 55 minutes, until a knife inserted in center comes out clean. Serve warm or chilled.