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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

















Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Ham in Meatballs or Meatloaf


Many "seasonal shoppers" may have stocked up on a ham or two because of the loss leader specials many stores feature around Easter. Or you may just have some of the leftovers from your own Easter ham tucked away in the freezer, waiting for some new ideas. You made sandwiches, maybe even a casserole or two, but now you have the bone and lonly small scraps of meat left.

If you haven't done so already, now is the time to use that ham bone for soup. Type "ham bone" into the search box above and you'll find a variety of soups, including this one for "stone soup" that even includes a link to the old folk tale, Stone Soup.

http://frugalfastfun.blogspot.com/2009/03/stone-soup.html

Those small pieces of meat, however, are a little harder to work with. The following recipe could be a great change of pace with the meatballs served in a vegetable soup or a standard marinara sauce bringing the smoky taste of ham to a standard meal. If you choose to form part of the mixture into a loaf, that will provide a second meal, served with the "usual" meatloaf sides, mashed potatoes and a steamed vegetable (broccoli, cauliflower, carrot slices) topped with a cheese or vinaigrette sauce.

This recipe is so good you don't have to wait for leftovers. Several local and regional grocers here in Minnesota's farm belt have great butcher sections where  ham is often available already ground so you can skip the first step if that is available. The ground pork at these stores is also among the leanest ground meat I can buy, and at a reasonable price, so I use it often. While you could use ground turkey or beef for part of the meat here, the pork seems to best allow the ham flavor to predominate.

These meatballs and loaf freeze well, and the recipe is large enough to make at least a couple of meals for most families, perfect for making on a weekend for a few meals through the week.

Seasoning hint:  There is a wide variation in the saltiness of hams, so you may want to test for seasoning. However, with the raw pork and eggs, just taking a bite before this is cooked is not wise. Instead, take a tablespoon or two of the mixture and flatten into a patty. Either saute it on the stove top or microwave it for about 2 to 3 minutes. Then taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.


  Ham Meatballs

1 1/2 lb ground ham and pork (see NOTE)
3 eggs
1 c rolled oats
1/3 c dry milk powder
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1/2 green bell pepper, finely diced
1 T brown mustard
2 T barbecue sauce or ketchup

NOTE:
While all ham can be used, the result is often almost too salty. I recommend a mix of about 1 pound of ground ham and 1 /2 pound ground pork, although the ham flavor will predominate if as little as 1/2 pound is used.

1.  If using ham that has not been ground, cut the meat into about 1 inch chunks and whirl in a food processor until the texture of coarse ground beef.

2.  Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix until evenly blended. While it may seem messy, the very best way to do this is to mix with your hands!

3a.  To bake (the preferred, and easiest method): Press the mixture into lightly oiled mini-muffin pans. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown, with darker brown edges. Remove from pans to cool and then add to your favorite marinara sauce, soup, etc.
 3b. To saute:  Roll into balls about the size of a ping pong ball (or smaller if desired). Heat a small amount of olive or canola oil in a large heavy skillet over medium high heat. Saute the meatballs, turning as needed, until they are well browned on all sides. Larger meatballs may need a little more time; if in doubt, cut into one and make sure the center is cooked.


Makes about 40 to 48.

Meatloaf Variation:

Press the mixture into two 5 X 7 loaf pans and bake at 350 degrees about 25 to 30 minutes, until the center is well-browned and the edges are darker brown. If desired, spread a light layer of ketchup or barbecue sauce over the top before putting in the oven.

OR

Make part of the mixture into meatballs and then form the remaining amount into a loaf to fit whatever size pan will work best and bake as above. 

Serving suggestions:

Use these in any meatball or meatloaf recipe. Here I added them to vegetable soup near the end of the cooking time. The picture above shows a favorite family meal, with meatballs (or meatloaf) along with steamed red potatoes (mashed potatoes are good too) and salad.



Friday, April 1, 2016

Spinach Avocado Dip



Some time ago, the New York Times published a guacamole recipe that included, horror of horrors, green peas!

The kerfuffle that arose from this deviation from the sacred guacamole text is something that I was aware of as I began working with ways to extend expensive avocados in my own version of guacamole. To avoid any similar concerns, I am calling this only "guacamole style" instead of the the "real" thing.

One of the nicest things about spinach in my experience is its willingness to stay in the background when other, stronger flavors are involved. The yogurt also refuses to fight with the avocado's flavor, even as it extends the smooth creaminess of the "alligator pear." As a result, the single avocado that would barely make enough guac to feed one or two people now becomes the basis for a party-sized bowl of dip.

Serving suggestion:  The photo above demonstrates what could be a light lunch. I have been experimenting with finding many different ways to serve beans, and this combination of refried, mixed, beans with the dip and home-baked tortillas is healthy and tasty. Give it a try for lunch or a light supper this weekend!




Guacamole Style Spinach Avocado Dip


1 large avocado
1 c plain yogurt, low-fat or full fat
4 c baby spinach leaves
4 to 6 large sprigs of cilantro, including stems
1/2 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, or to taste
1 to 2 cloves coarsely chopped garlic, to taste
1/2 t cumin (optional) 
salt to taste
1/4 to 1/3 c medium salsa (optional)

1.  Put all ingredients except salsa in processor bowl and blend until smooth. You will need to push the spinach down a few times for most even blending.

2. Stir in the salsa. Serve immediately or chill for half an hour.

Variations/Adjustments

If you want to more fully emphasize the avocado flavor, use two avocados.

10 to 12 oz of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well-drained, can be substituted for fresh.

While the yogurt (and possibly the spinach too) seems to keep this dip from browning, a tablespoon or so of lime or lemon juice will add a nice brightness to the flavor.





Chocolate Apple Cupcakes









Many years ago, I found a chocolate apple cake that was moist and a favorite dessert of my kids. Unfortunately, it was one of those recipes that I managed to lose track of. As I recall, it was from a little paperback cookbook of apple recipes, and I think I gave that away in one of my purges of cookbooks--something I have been doing for a lot of years now, especially as I rely more and more on the internet for sources and ideas.

Believe it or not, I have made almost an entire bushel of apples into apple crisps this fall. I have also canned more than 30 quarts of applesauce and still have a little apple butter from last year's crop, so it was time to find something a little different. 

Something like a chocolate apple cake. 

Unfortunately, a search through my recipe cards, my few remaining cookbooks, and my computer recipe file turned up nothing.

Nothing, that is, until I came across a recipe that I had pulled from a site almost six years ago. When I tried the URL, however, it came up with a broken link. (Here it is, just in fairness for the start of my adaptation:)

http://www.themenumom.com/chocolate-apple-cake/


As usual, I took the original and played with it a bit.  I have changed a few proportions and also changed the process just a bit. In the end, it came out pretty much as I remembered that earlier cake--moist and chocolate-y yet not too rich. And, if you have apples readily available from your own trees or a local orchard, pretty frugal as well.

Chocolate Apple Cupcakes

2 c flour
1 1/2 c sugar
1/3 c cocoa
1 t soda
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg
1/4 t allspice
1/4 t black pepper (optional)
3/4 c canola oil
2 eggs
3 c apples, diced and cored but not peeled
1/2 c chopped walnuts

1.  Sift the dry ingredients together into a large mixing bowl.

2.  Stir in the oil, eggs, and 1 cup of the apples. Begin beating with a mixer until mostly blended.

3.  Gradually stir in the remaining apples and beat at medium speed for about 3 minutes. The batter will be very thick, so it will be best to use a mixer for this rather than trying to beat by hand.

4.  Fold in the walnuts.

5.  Line muffin pans with cupcake liners and spoon the batter evenly into each one. Fill each liner about 3/4 full.  This recipe makes about 18 to 22 cupcakes; if you don't have enough muffin pans to bake all at once, it will be all right to leave the remaining batter standing at room temperature while the first pan bakes.

6.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the center of a cupcake springs back when lightly touched. Frost as desired when cool.



Variations:

Omit walnuts in batter. Mix 1/2 c brown sugar, 1/2 c chopped walnuts, and 1 c mini chocolate chips and sprinkle over each cupcake before baking.

This may be made into a cake by pouring the batter into a well-oiled 9 X 13 pan and baking for about 25 to 32 minutes.




Thursday, March 17, 2016

"Red Flannel Latkes" (aka Vegetable Pancakes)




I love to start a weekend off with a savory breakfast. Skip all those sweet breads and pastries; just give me a veggie-filled omelet or scrambled eggs, hash browns (the real kind, not those greasy patties), and salsa and I'm set for the day.

My refrigerator had been filling up this week with small portions of various fresh vegetables, and I wanted to empty it out so I could justify going to the store for more. An old standby for this kind of day is my endlessly adjusted recipe for potato pancakes (latkes). Today I had some roasted beets that needed to be used up too, so I decided to do a variation on what my Mom often made as a supper dish, Red Flannel Hash. The result was a plate of very colorful patties with a very savory taste.

The very brightness of these patties could be a little off-putting for some, but they might just strike a fun chord for kids used to lots of artificially bright snack foods. As noted below, it is easy to vary the mix of vegetables so you could just cut back a little (or a lot) on the beet component. Or, if you are really ambitious, for a Christmas brunch, make these beet latkes and then make another batch with mostly spinach and/or broccoli, for both red and green options.

What I have included below is a photo of the vegetables I used today, with the recipe free-form enough to accommodate a large number of variations. Obviously, your choices will determine the overall nutritive value of the breakfast, but consider the kinds of nutrients found on this single plate of food:  antioxidants, Vitamins A, C, D (the dry milk powder), protein, "good" fat (olive oil), and fiber. And while there will be some bit of oil in the preparation, the overall calorie load is still quite low.



Another good thing about these patties is that you can often include vegetables that may not be "acceptable" on their own to one or more family members. Start slowly, with mostly potatoes, onions, and some carrots, but then slip in a little spinach or broccoli. (Or, if the kids like broccoli but not spinach, include some of each, so that the "green" will just seem to be their usual favorite.) Increase the amount of carrots or grated butternut squash gradually too. Serve these up with ketchup as you would French fries, and don't worry about making them very low salt, at least at first. That too will come gradually as the flavors of the vegetables become more familiar--and liked--over time.

This is really a time when a processor is a wonderful kitchen tool. However, if you don't have one, you could use an old-fashioned grater for most of the vegetables and finely dice things like peppers, onion, or celery. The key is to keep the pieces small enough that all the vegetables will blend their flavors well.

A note on the other ingredients:  The corn meal provides body for the mix and will absorb some of the liquids from the grated vegetables. The dried milk powder performs a similar function. If you don't keep this on hand, you could substitute half a cup of unbleached flour, though the nutrition (and flavor) will not be as good.

Now it's time to try this out. Check out the vegetable crisper and put together your own variation on these savory patties, whether for a weekend breakfast or a midweek supper. Either way, you may find this to be a new favorite go-to recipe for getting veggies into even the most intransigent eaters.




Red Flannel Latkes

4 c mixed shredded vegetables--be sure to include at least one potato (for body) and 1 medium onion
1/2 c yellow corn meal
1/2 c dried milk powder
1 t seasoning salt, or to taste
1 t each basil and oregano, or your own favorite herbs
4 eggs
olive oil

1.  Shred vegetables in a processor or grate and dice as needed. When measuring the four cups, press the vegetables lightly in the measuring cup.

2.  Stir the corn meal, dried milk powder, and seasonings into the vegetables, blending well. Set aside for about 15 minutes or so. This will allow the dry ingredients to absorb some of the juices from the processed vegetables.
3.  Add the eggs to the vegetable mixture and stir well.
4.  Pour about a teaspoon or so of olive oil into a cast iron or other heavy non-stick skillet and heat on medium high until the oil is just shimmering.

5.  Drop tablespoons of the batter into the pan and flatten with the back of a spatula. Cook until the bottom is well browned, about 3 to 4 minutes, and turn. Flatten again--you want to be sure the centers are cooked through before the outsides are too brown. If necessary, turn the heat down a bit.
6.  Remove the patties from the pan, placing on paper towels to drain if desired. Add another teaspoon or so of oil and add more batter. Repeat these steps until all the batter is used.

This serves two to four, depending on the number of side dishes being served with the patties.

Possible Vegetables to Choose

Here is a plate of latkes made with a mix of potatoes, zucchini, and carrots: 











Unless otherwise noted, the vegetables you choose should be raw rather than cooked

onions--a must!
potato--especially helpful in holding the finished product together; use raw potatoes or firm, boiled or baked potatoes
carrots--these can be raw or cooked but still firm
peppers--bell peppers, poblanos, green chilies, whatever you like and have on hand
celery--probably better to dice rather than put through the processor; at least with mine, the processor tends to leave long strings that don't soften on cooking
cabbage--may be a bit surprising, but this is a wonderful addition for both sweetness and depth
broccoli
cauliflower

zucchini or summer squash--you may need to drain these after shredding if they are a large part of your vegetable mix
raw winter squash, grated
greens of all kinds--spinach, kale, collards, etc.; just make sure they are well chopped or shredded
parsley or cilantro
garlic
roasted beets

Vegetables I haven't found especially workable, but you might have better success:
green beans
peas, either in the pod or not
corn
tomatoes--way too juicy to work well

I have never tried asparagus, cucumbers or eggplant and don't plan to, for a variety of reasons. Haven't tried kohlrabi either, but I would guess that would be fine. 





Happy St Patrick's Day Cabbage


 

I find it very interesting to see how we Americans take festive or historical days from other cultures and give them our own spin and importance, Cinco de Mayo for example.
Today we celebrate another of these adaptive holidays, St. Patrick's Day. While lots of people will be celebrating with sometimes raucous parades and lots of green beer, some of us frugal types will relish the opportunity to buy some of those "Irish staples"--cabbage, potatoes and corned beef--at their lowest annual prices.
Several years ago, the New York Times carried an article that praised the lowly cabbage and gave some suggestions for using this versatile vegetable. Before we get to the many options I have here on the blog, you might want to check that item out:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/12/dining/12vege.html?ref=dining
For now, I have once again stocked up, buying as many heads of cabbage that I could store in my refrigerator and garage "root cellar." Kept cold, cabbage will stay fresh and ready to eat for weeks, so I can be assured of a supply for salads, soups, and more.
Use the Search box above to find all the many entries for cabbage-containing dishes I have included over the years. Or just go to one or more of the few selected links below:
Cole Slaw
First, whas it probably the most frequent use for cabbage today, cole slaw. The following post includes the non-creamy kind of slaw with no mayo. It's a great piquant side for sandwiches or "casserole" main dishes. 
http://frugalfastfun.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-best-cole-slaw-ever.html
 
Maybe this year you could make corned beef sandwiches (on rye of course) with a side of cole slaw instead of the "traditional" corned beef and cabbage that many people really don't like.


Soup
Another old standby for cabbage is as an ingredient in vegetable soups. Here, the variations are endless, and you could start by just adding finely shredded cabbage to your favorite soup recipe, along with the vegetables that need up to an hour of cooking. Use a little if you are trying to introduce your family to this "new" addition and more as you begin to find out how much added good flavor the cabbage provides.
The soup found at the following link is a surprising one if you think of cabbage as only a smelly, slimy side your mother forced you to eat. Here, the combination of squash, cabbage, and onions results in a flavorful soup that will have everyone coming back for seconds. As a vegan option with lots of bright-colored vegetables, it's a nutritious power house as well.
http://frugalfastfun.blogspot.com/2015/03/sweet-and-simple-vegetable-soup.html

This Potato Soup post includes cabbage only down in the bottom list of variations; I think I would move it up to a more prominent place if I were to write the entry again. In fact, I just made the clam chowder variation this week with several cups of finely shredded cabbage included, and it was a winner.
http://frugalfastfun.blogspot.com/2015/02/basic-potato-soup-with-lots-of.html
And then there is this soup, made with lots of "leftover" vegetables and beans. While the recipe calls for just a cup of shredded cabbage, I almost always include at least double that amount. Again, as noted in the comments, this is just a starting guide for making wonderful soups using the foods you have in your kitchen at any given time.
http://frugalfastfun.blogspot.com/2014/05/rainy-day-soup-weather.html
No beans? Then let's try barley as an added, vegetarian, protein boost.
http://frugalfastfun.blogspot.com/2014/05/black-bean-and-barley-vegetable-soup.html


 Sides
Not ready for soup? How about this?
http://frugalfastfun.blogspot.com/2015/04/curried-cabbage-and-carrots.html



Well, you get the point. Cabbage is something that can be a great addition to your menus, now or any time of year.  So pick up a head or two and start shredding away!




 

Still to come:  Stuffed Cabbage! With all these wonderful outer leaves, I am ready to spend the weekend preparing several batches to pop in the freezer. Watch for it here on the blog soon.