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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.


Lentil Cookies



Always economical and nutritious, lentils are also surprisingly versatile. When I recently was able to get some of the basic brown lentils for 59 cents a pound at Costco (in a Costco-size 10 pound bag!), I knew that this was the time to really test their versatility. 

I will be posting several recipes in the next few weeks for things as varied as veggie burgers, enchiladas and curried lentils with vegetables. Today, however, I'll start with the end of the meal, sweets, cookies to be specific.

When I try out these kinds of "what can I do with this ingredient" recipes, I start with an internet search to be sure that the idea I have isn't completely crazy or inedible. Sometimes, there are few if any precedents for what I might have thought of, and that usually scares me off from continuing.

With the "lentil cookies" search I started, however, I discovered dozens of sites with recipes. As I started looking at some of these, the same pattern emerged as for many similar searches in the past: Blog after blog includes a recipe that is identical with others, without any attribution and all too often without any effort to change even a single word in the instructions.

(As a side note here, one of the things that I aim to do with Frugal, Fast, and Fun is to be sure that anything I post here has some unique adjustment to ingredients and/or method so that I can claim it as an original OR, if I find something really, really worth posting as is, with only a few comments added, I will be sure to provide the source and link. If you ever find that I have violated my own "rules," never be afraid to call me out on this. Thank you.)

There is one bright side to this repetition of recipes: They are no doubt good enough to make lots of people happy.

That seems to be the case with the key lentil recipe out there, a version with oatmeal and coconut key ingredients. This seemed like a good start but, imagining what the recipe might yield, I foresaw two potential problems I wanted to overcome. First, they seemed a little bland. Yes, most of them used almond flavoring along with the vanilla, but overall, unless you really like coconut, I thought they might be a little too "tame" for many.

My second concern revolved around texture. Though the recipes all emphasized the need to be sure the lentils were very well cooked (or over-cooked), I still wondered if there might be a problem for some super-cautious people (read, fussy toddlers) who might balk at finding an almost whole lentil in their cookie.

Where to start to avoid these possible issues? Where else when making cookies? Chocolate chips! In particular, mini chocolate chips, for a couple of reasons. First, I generally prefer them because they mix in better, so almost every bite has a little bit of chocolate in it.

The second reason would directly address that texture problem for those  "suspicious" eaters. The small chips are just about the same size as any lentil that might not get mashed thoroughly, helping disguise this high protein, high fiber addition to the cookies.

Then one more flavor enhancer: upping the cinnamon content while keeping in both vanilla and almond extracts. I also made a texture change by substituting walnuts for coconut, but these would probably be good with a half and half mixture of both.

The finished product turned out to be more cake-like than crispy or chewy, but that didn't deter any of my taste-testers from declaring these perfect for a cookies and milk snack. About the only reaction I got when I divulged the presence of lentils was a, "great, now that I know they are healthy, I can have another one or two."

Well, maybe not exactly health food here, but there is a lot of goodness mixed in with the great taste, making them a snack that can be indulged in more often than some of the alternatives you might be craving.

Lentil Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 c cooked lentils, mashed (see NOTE)
1 c butter, softened
1/2 c oil
2 c brown sugar
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
1 t almond extract
4 1/2 c flour (up to half can be whole wheat flour if desired)
2 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
2 t baking powder
2 1/2  to 3 c rolled oats--either "quick," but not instant, or old-fashioned
2 c semi-sweet chocolate chips--I prefer the mini size, but any will do
1 c coconut OR chopped walnuts

NOTE: This recipe used lentils cooked until very, very soft. If you have cooked the lentils to just the firm stage (for use in multiple recipes), you may want to combine about 1 3/4 c lentils with a half cup of water and cook again, until they are very soft. Set aside to cool before proceeding.

1.  Combine the butter, oil, sugar, eggs, and flavorings. Beat until smooth and then stir in the mashed lentils.


2. Sift 2 cups of the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir into the lentil mixture and beat until evenly mixed.

3.  Add the remaining flour and then the rolled oats. When all ingredients are evenly mixed, stir in the chocolate chips and coconut or nuts.












4.  Drop the batter by tablespoons full on to a well-oiled cookie sheet. Flatten lightly with a spatula and bake at 375 degrees for 11 to 12 minutes, until well-browned.

Makes 5 1/2 to 6 dozen cookies. This recipe is easily halved too, but why not make the full batch and freeze some for later!

A few hints:

My kitchen was quite warm today so the batter was very soft and the cookies flattened out without needing to press them down. If your dough is colder, be sure to flatten them out or they may be rather thick and a little tough.

There is no need to use an ice cream scoop or cookie scoop to make these--that always seems just like one more dish to wash!

When making cookies that call for an oiled baking sheet: Usually you won't need to re-oil the pans; just scrape them clean if any cookie residue remains from the first batch. And don't ever feel the need to wash the pans between batches! Unnecessary work for sure.


Ways to make these even thriftier:

You could switch the proportions of oil and butter, i.e., a scant cup of oil and half a cup of butter.

The amount of chocolate chips and/or coconut can be reduced.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Quick Cocoa Frosting

When my mother wanted to make chocolate frosting, she usually started out with boiling water and cocoa. It was fast and the use of the boiling water eliminated what she called a "raw taste" that just adding cocoa to a basic powdered sugar frosting.

When making chocolate apple cupcakes recently, I wanted to frost them with chocolate frosting but didn't want to take the time to make my favorite "often-fail" fudge frosting. Suddenly I remembered Mom's method and went looking to see if I could find something similar. One of the few cookbooks I still have in hard copy is the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion, something that is full of a lot of "old-fashioned" recipes. Sure enough, there was a chocolate butter cream recipe that was kind of like what I was looking for. However, it had baking chocolate instead of cocoa. My guess is that Mom used her method because cocoa was so much cheaper, so I tried doing the substitution. The result was an easy frosting that pleased all my chocolate-loving testers, a lot.

Note how many of the ingredients are approximate. That is something to expect of most powdered sugar frostings. It is hard to get just the right amount of liquid to powdered sugar, so add 

Quick Chocolate Frosting

2 T butter
¼ c cocoa
2-4 t
1 t vanilla
about a pound powdered sugar (3 3/4)
milk to reach desired consistency

1.  Mix the cocoa and about 2 teaspoons of water in a large, microwave-safe mixing bowl and stir until the cocoa is well moistened, adding more water as needed to moisten all the cocoa.
  

Add the butter and microwave on low power (level 3) for about a minute or two, until it is very bubbly.

2.  Add the vanilla to the butter and cocoa mixture and then stir about 2 cups of powdered sugar and a tablespoon or two of milk. Using an electric mixer at a very low speed, begin beating the mixture. Gradually add more powdered sugar and milk, a teaspoon or two at a time, until the frosting is creamy and of a spreadable consistency.

3.  For the easiest application, spread the frosting while it is still warm.

This amount should make enough for up to two dozen cupcakes or a 9 X 12 cake. 



Monday, May 2, 2016

Cranberry Bars




Soon enough my freezer will need to have room for this year's garden produce. As I explored the things still taking up space, I realized that I had several packages of frozen cranberries still lurking on the back shelves so I have been making a few "out of season" recipes to use them up.

I first found this cranberry "bar" recipe in a long ago newspaper food section. However, the recipe called for an 8 inch square pan, with the result much more like a cake than a bar cookie. While you can still make this as a cake, my preference has always been for the kinds of "bars" that result from using a larger 9 X 13 pan.

I also sub oil for butter and like sprinkling the walnuts over the top instead of mixing them in. This method gives the walnuts a slightly toasted flavor--and makes it easier to evenly spread the nuts over each part of the mixture. (The photo above shows the bars without nuts, as some of those who would be eating them have nut allergies.)

 Cranberry Bars (or Cake)

1/3 c oil
1/2 c brown sugar
2 eggs
3/4 c flour
3/4 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1 1/2 t pumpkin pie spice
1 c oatmeal
1 1/2 c whole cranberry sauce (15 to 16 oz can)
1/2 c coarsely chopped walnuts

1.  Beat the oil, brown sugar, and eggs together until smooth and light colored.

2.  Sift together and stir in the dry ingredients, blending just until well mixed.

2.  Fold in the oatmeal and cranberry sauce until evenly mixed.









 3.  For cake:
Pour the batter into a well-oiled 8 inch square pan. Sprinkle the nuts evenly over the top and press in lightly with the back of a spatula. Bake at 350 degrees for 32 to 35 minutes, until the center springs back when pressed lightly with a finger. This is the kind of cake that is best served directly from the pan.













For bar cookies:
Pour the batter into a  well-oiled 9 X 12 inch pan. Sprinkle the nuts evenly over the top and press in lightly with the back of a spatula. Bake at 350 degrees for 18 to 20 minutes, until the center springs back when pressed lightly with a finger. Do not try to cut into bars until they have completely cooled, unless you plan to serve them directly from the pan.

NOTE:  For this version, you may want to increase the amount of nuts sprinkled over the top.



Variation:

If using fresh or frozen cranberries, combine 12 oz cranberries, 1/2 c sugar and 3/4 c sugar in a heavy saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook until all the berries have "popped." Allow to cool before stirring into the other ingredients.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Barley with Vegetables--A Basic Method


If barley isn't one of the foods you are familiar with, now is a great time to begin using it in your menus. Pearl barley is the kind most available, and I have used it in many dishes where I want to  either extend the amount of ground meat or just eliminate the meat altogether. When used in something like chili, soups, or spaghetti sauce, the "mouth feel" of pearl barley is so similar to ground beef that most people aren't aware of the difference until it is pointed out.

We now have a co-op grocery in town that has hulled barley in bulk, so I decided to give that a try. Think of its relationship to pearl barley like the relationship between brown and white rice or whole wheat and white flour. It takes a little longer to cook than pearl barley but has more nutrients and fiber, along with a little nuttier flavor and chewier texture.

Barley in any form is a nutrition powerhouse at a very reasonable price, so it is a good place to go if you are looking at ways to stretch your food budget. Cooking it is really easy, and you can make a large batch to keep in the refrigerator for a variety of meals during the week. It also freezes extremely well.

Though I have never prepared barley in a slow cooker, that seems to be a popular prep method, at least judging from all the internet references. For me, I just put the barley and water in a large pot (3 cups water for every cup of barley), cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes for pearl barley and 40 to 45 minutes for hulled barley.

Some sites recommend pre-soaking hulled barley, but I haven't found that necessary. I did find some sites that call for cooking times at least twice as long as what I just suggested, so you may need to experiment a bit to come up with the right amount of time. To test, just take out a couple of grains, cool just enough to taste and then bite into them. When the consistency is what you want, you are done.

If there is any extra liquid, don't drain the barley right away, as it will continue to soak some of that up. On the other hand, if it starts to be quite dry and the barley is still hard, do stir in another half cup or so of water.



I don't salt the barley while cooking since I usually will be using it for several different recipes. The Far Eastern barley and vegetables, for example, gets more than enough salt from the soy sauce, and even the marinara and taco/enchilada sauces will often provide enough salt to season the entire recipe.

Basic Barley with Vegetables

Basic Vegetable Mix


2 T canola or olive oil
1 c chopped onion
1/2 c diced celery
1 1/2 to 2 c sliced carrots
1 mild chile pepper, diced (about 1/3 cup)
2 to 3 c finely shredded cabbage
2 to 3 c fresh spinach, chopped OR 10 oz frozen chopped spinach
garlic to taste--if using fresh, add it to the vegetables while sauteeing; for powder, add with the rest of the seasonings

Barley

1 to 2 c cooked hulled barley--if using as a side dish, go with a lower proportion of barley; if the main dish, increase the barley proportion

Seasonings and liquid of choice--see below

1.  Heat the oil in a large skillet and add all the vegetables except spinach and garlic. Saute over medium high heat, stirring until the carrots are just tender and the onions are beginning to turn golden.

2.  Stir in the spinach and garlic. Choose the seasonings/liquid mix as desired and add to the vegetables along with the barley. Turn the heat to medium, cover, and simmer the mixture for another 15 minutes or so, just enough to heat through and blend the flavors.

Seasoning Choices

For a Far East kind of mix:

1 c broth (or water and bouillon or broth seasoning powder)
1 to 2 c snap peas, green peas, bamboo sprouts, or water chestnuts, or any mixture of these vegetables
2 to 4 T sweet fruit juice or syrup--choices include pineapple or orange juice concentrate, raspberry or pomegranate or other fruit syrup, or molasses
1 t five spice seasoning (sometimes also sold as "far east seasoning," usually a blend of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and anise) or to taste
2 to 3 T soy sauce, to taste

For a Mexican mix:

1 1/2 c taco or enchilada sauce
1 to 2 t cumin, to taste
1 t oregano
12 to 15 oz canned or frozen corn
1 c diced fresh or canned tomatoes
chopped cilantro, grated cheese and plain yogurt for topping, as desired

For an Italian mix:

1 1/2 c spaghetti sauce
1 t dried oregano
1 t dried basil (or 1 T fresh, chopped)
1/2 t dried thyme
1/2 t black pepper
12 oz broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, or green beans or any combination
 mozzarella cheese for topping, as desired