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Monday, September 22, 2014

Snickerdoodle Upgrades

Why mess with success? That was the initial comment from a friend when I shared my testing of some snickerdoodle variations. Then, she tasted the "experiments."

Ah, that's why. New taste sensations are always good for variety.

Yes, snickerdoodles may be a favorite cookie for just about any sweets lover, but how can you grow wrong if you update it with some fall flavors, including apple butter, or if you add in chocolate.

So today, here are two new ways to make these easy little cookies. And if you have hide-bound traditionalists who still want the old basics, you can split the chocolate variation recipe and just roll some of the cookie balls in sugar and cinnamon and flatten as always. Then you'll have two kinds of cookies to offer your family or guests!

I happened upon a great sale on a dark chocolate peanut butter blend at Costco, so that is what I used to top the chocolate version. Regular peanut butter or Nutela or a similar product would probably work just as well.

As I noted when I originally posted the basic mayonnaise snickerdoodle recipe, these don't have raw eggs (so the kids can nibble away at the dough with no worries) but there is egg in the mayo, so they aren't vegan. I have been doing some research on line, and it appears that vegan mayo can be substituted for regular mayo in most recipes. Frugal as I am, I have never bought the vegan version, but I would love to hear from anyone who wants to try one of these variations with vegan mayo.

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Snickerdoodles

1 c mayonnaise
1 c sugar
1 t vanilla
2 c flour
1 t baking soda
1 t cinnamon

chocolate drink mix powder (like Quik; NOT hot chocolate mix)
chocolate peanut butter

1.  Beat together the mayonnaise, sugar, and vanilla until smooth.
2.  Sift the dry ingredients together and stir into the mayonnaise mixture, mixing until well-blended. The dough will have the consistency of play dough.
3.  Place about 2 tablespoons of the dry chocolate drink mix powder into a small bowl. Shape the dough into ping pong or golf ball-sized balls, and roll each in the powder until well coated. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet.

4.  Using the handle of a wood spoon or other utensil with a large round end, make an indentation in each cookie. Place a small dollop of the chocolate peanut butter into the cavity in each cookie. (I used about 1/4 teaspoon but don't try to measure! That will be just too messy and not worth the effort.)

5.  Bake in a 350 degree oven about 7 to 10 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies. Allow to sit for a minute or two on the pan before moving to a cooling rack, as they are very easily broken fresh out of the oven.

Autumn Snickerdoodles Variation

1.  Follow the recipe above, but substitute 2 t pumpkin pie spice for the cinnamon.
2.  Roll the cookies in a mixture of sugar and cinnamon--about 1 t cinnamon to 1/2 c sugar.
3.  Place a small amount of apple butter in the indentations instead of peanut butter.

Friday, September 19, 2014

"Northern Style" Greens

If you are a gardener, you probably know that most greens grow best in cool weather. Why, then, does it seem as though these wonderful vegetables have long been most prevalent on the tables of Southerners? Growing up in the upper Midwest, we mostly knew of spinach from Popeye --and it would take more than the power of a cartoon hero to get us to really eat the slimy olive green things that came out of cans.

My parents did love beet greens, and the first beets from the garden were always tiny, picked more for the greens than the roots. Even though she sauteed them only lightly, my mother's best efforts to get us kids to take more than the mandatory bite were usually futile.

When we moved to central Appalachia many years ago, I was introduced to greens as a regular part of menus and learned to appreciate at least a little the slow simmered with ham hocks versions we were often served. But it wasn't until years later when I discovered how wonderful greens could really be if a few basic rules were followed:
  • Always use LOTS of onion and/or garlic
  • Use a small amount of oil (preferably olive)
  • Cut the stems from the leaves and cook them a bit longer than the leaves
  • Saute the leaves only until just wilted and slightly tenderized
...oh, and a splash of good vinegar is always a great addition--balsamic is best, but cider or red wine vinegars will also work.

There are  gradations in how strongly flavored (or bitter) different greens are, so you may want to start out with the milder varieties. Kale and spinach are now much more likely to be used in recipes, but they are still not often sauteed on their own. Mustard greens and collards are more of an acquired taste, but there is a wonderful kind of greens that I heartily suggest everyone become familiar with:


There are red, yellow, and green variations of chard, each of them beautiful to look at and wonderfully mild and even just a bit sweet. As with all greens, a touch of frost mellows the flavor, so the best time of year to buy these is right now, in fall and early winter. The preparation method I give below for chard will also work with just about any greens, but why not start out with these beautiful chard leaves if you are new to cooking with greens? I think you will be very glad you did.

As usual, this is more method than recipe. Amounts can vary according to your taste, so decrease or increase the onion and garlic as desired. Many people will want a dash of a favorite hot sauce and that is a good choice too. After you have tried this with chard (or beet greens--almost interchangeable), try moving on to one of the other kinds of greens so prevalent in the farmers markets and produce aisles right now.

Chard, Northern Style

olive or canola oil
onion, coarsely chopped
garlic, minced
1 bunch of chard, washed
salt to taste
hot sauce (optional)
balsamic or other vinegar

1. Prepare the chard by separating the coarsest parts of the stems from the leaves. Chop the stems coarsely. Roll the leaves into tight curls and then, using scissors (the easiest way) or a knife,  cut the leaves into coarse pieces. Set the leaves aside.

2. Measure the stems and use about the same amount of onions as stems.
3. Saute the onions and chard stems in a small amount of oil over medium high heat, stirring occasionally. Make sure the pan you use will be large enough for all the leaves you will be adding.

4. When the onions are soft and translucent, stir in the garlic and then add the leaves.

Lower the heat to medium, cover the pan, and cook just until the greens are wilted and slightly tender. For most greens, this will be only 5 minutes or so. If needed, a bit of water can be added to the pan to avoid over-browning.
5.  Remove from heat and salt to taste. Serve with vinegar and hot sauce as desired.


Thanks to one of my loyal followers (who seems to be having a problem making comments here), I have been reminded that greens love, love, love, the addition of some cubes of feta cheese when served. You might also try a dollop of plain yogurt (Greek or regular), especially if you are drizzling the greens with hot sauce.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"Roasted" Green Beans

The green beans in my garden got off to a late start, but now that September has arrived, they are producing beautifully. One of our family's favorite ways to eat green beans is roasting in the oven, but the same results can easily be obtained by grilling and, I have discovered, by using my old standby cast iron skillet. One of the nice things about this method is that it works well for beans of all sizes, from the sweet and tender little pencil-sized ones up to the fat, lumpy ones that get missed under the leaves of the vines. (A friend of mine confided that she only plants the purple beans now, as they are so much easier to find when picking them in the garden.)

Whenever you have fresh green beans available, do try this variation from the steamed or (yikes) boiled kind that many people have come to expect from "string beans." Note that the "recipe" below is once again more method than measurement, scalable to whatever amount of beans you have. Just don't be surprised if your family eats far larger servings of these than you might be accustomed to serving.

I have included the variations for roasting or grilling the beans as well, but I wouldn't start the oven or grill just for the beans; it's just too easy to do these on the stovetop without needing to start another heat source.

Stove Top Roasted Green Beans

cast iron skillet, sized to allow beans to cook in a single layer (if you have a lot of beans, just do them in batches)
olive oil
green beans

1.  Put a small amount of olive oil in the skillet, enough to just put a thin coat of oil across the entire surface. Heat the pan with the oil over medium high to high heat until it begins to "shimmer." (If you are not familiar with this term, just watch the oil and you will see it start to have tiny ripple-like movements across the surface, indicating the oil has reached a good cooking temperature.)

2.  While the oil is heating, rinse and dry the beans and remove the stem ends. No need to take off the pointy "tails" of the beans. If some of the beans are quite large, you may wish to cut them lengthwise into two or three pieces.
3.  When the oil has begun to shimmer, spread the beans in a single layer in the skillet. Do not turn down the heat! Sprinkle the beans lightly with salt and allow them to cook for a few minutes before turning.
4.  Continue cooking until the beans are lightly browned and a little crispy and wrinkled on both sides.


Roasted Green Beans
1.  Heat the oven to 400 to 450 degrees (depending on what else you might have in the oven at the time).
2.  Cover a cookie sheet with foil (for easier clean up but not absolutely necessary). Spread the prepared beans (see step 2 above) in a single layer in the pan and drizzle with a little olive oil.
3.  Using a silicon spatula or your fingers (which is really the best way), toss the beans so that they are well-coated with the oil. Sprinkle salt over the top.
4.  Roast the beans in the oven about 5 to 8 minutes, until they are beginning to brown in spots. Remove from oven and turn. Return to oven and cook a few minutes more, until the beans are nicely browned, wrinkly and maybe even a little crisp.

Grilled Green Beans
1.  Prepare the beans as in step 2 for Stove Top Beans. Spread on heavy aluminum foil and put on the grill.
2.  Roast on the grill, turning as needed so that the beans are evenly browned.

Stove Top Green Beans and Other Vegetables

Cook the beans as directed above. When completely cooked, remove the beans to a plate. Add a bit more oil to the pan as necessary and then saute onions and peppers, matchstick sized zucchini or yellow squash, and carrot slices as desired. Return the green beans to the pan to warm before serving.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Garden Fresh Salsa

After a slow start, my little garden is producing a good crop of tomatoes each day. I planted 6 varieties, including an heirloom plum type tomato (currently sprawling across a large part of the raspberries, even though I continuously tie these back to their stakes), a single grape tomato plant, and both yellow and red medium to large sized tomatoes.

Very conveniently, HyVee, a regional grocery chain here in the upper Midwest, is featuring their annual Hatch chili pepper sale, with these big beautiful peppers only 99 cents a pound. Cilantro and great big onions are available at a good price at the farmers' markets as well as in most of the grocery stores. So...

Definitely time for salsa.

Start out with the basic mixture and then consider some of the add-ins noted at the end of the recipe.  Use the salsa as a classic dip with tortilla chips or serve it with grilled fish or chicken. Bake a potato in the microwave or on the grill and top with plain yogurt and a generous dollop of this salsa, and you have a pretty balanced meal all in one dish.

If you make this an hour or two before serving, the flavors will blend a bit more, but you may find it impossible to wait so long before trying it out.

Garden Fresh Salsa

3 c coarsely chopped tomatoes--no need to peel
1 c diced white or sweet onion
1 c diced green chilies--remove the inner ribs and seeds for mild salsa; leave some of the ribs if you want more heat
2 cloves garlic, minced, or to taste
1/2 t salt
1 T lemon juice
1 t cumin, or to taste


Combine all ingredients, stir, and chill for an
hour or so to allow flavors to blend. However, if you can't wait, can be served immediately.


1.  Add one or more of the following to the basic salsa:
1 c corn--these can be uncooked or cooked kernels cut off the cob or even frozen or well-drained canned corn
1 to 2 c black beans, drained--if using beans that were cooked without salt, taste for seasoning after adding
1 c diced avocado--if using this, the salsa should be served the same day

2.. Stir 1 to 2 cups of salsa into 2 cups of yogurt or light sour cream. Taste for seasoning and serve as a dip with chips or fresh vegetables.

3.  The chilies can be combined or replaced  with other varieties of peppers to increase the heat. For a very mild salsa, use bell peppers instead of the chiles. This is especially colorful (and relatively sweet) using red bell peppers and yellow tomatoes or yellow bell peppers and red tomatoes.

...and a special bonus:  Gazpacho for one 

Garden tomatoes are notorious for being extra sweet and juicy, so you could end with a lot of juice in the bottom of the dish after serving this as a dip. A wonderful use for this flavorful leftover is to add about an equal amount of peeled and diced cucumber to the juice in the blender, throw in an ice cube or two, and blend until smooth. Add in a bit more salt and hot sauce to taste.

...and an even easier way to use up those juices: Chill and drink just as you would tomato juice or a V-8. Just, whatever you do, don't throw that delightful liquid away!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Raspberry Swirl Coffeecake

I have been making "quick" coffeecakes for decades, starting with two basic recipes from the 1962 Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. One was titled simply "Coffeecake" while the other was "Blueberry Buckle." Over the years I have layered these with many kinds of fruit, have changed the toppings, have upped the nutrition with the use of whole grains and added ingredients like extra dry milk powder, various seeds and nuts, etc.

This week I added the latest variation by turning the base recipes' streusel topping into a fruit swirl. From past experience I know that just mixing raspberries that have been frozen or cooked (as with the pulp in the recipe below) into a batter will result in the whole mixture being an unattractive grayish light purple. This swirling approach avoids that problem by concentrating the raspberry color in irregular bands. A few nuts and a drizzle of powdered sugar icing (really only a few tablespoons at most) replace the more typical streusel topping for a bread that will stand out at your next brunch or special family breakfast.

Raspberry Swirl Coffeecake

1/3 c softened butter--may also use half and half butter and canola oil
3/4 c sugar
1 egg
1/2 c milk
1 T lemon juice
2 c flour
2 1/2 t baking powder

Raspberry Swirl
1/4 c melted butter
1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 c flour
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t almond flavoring
1 c raspberry pulp (see NOTE)

1/2 c slivered or sliced almonds (optional)

1.  Beat together the butter, sugar, and egg until smooth. Add the lemon juice and milk and stir until well blended.
2.  Sift together the flour and baking powder and add gradually to  the butter mixture. Stir only until the batter is completely mixed.
3.  Spread the batter into a well oiled 7 X 11 inch pan.
4.  Prepare the Raspberry Swirl by mixing all but the raspberry pulp, beating until well-blended. Add the raspberries, stirring until well-blended.
5.  Drop spoonfuls of the raspberry mixture over the top of the batter. Using a table knife or fork, gently swirl the raspberries into the batter in an attractive pattern. Avoid swirling too much, as you want to keep the two mixtures distinctive.
6.  If desired, sprinkle the slivered almonds evenly over the top of the cake.

7.  Bake in a 350 degree pre-heated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
8.  If desired, drizzle a small amount of powdered sugar icing over the top when the cake has cooled.

This has been tested with the pulp remaining from making raspberry syrup. However, you can use frozen, thawed, raspberries. You will need to start with about 12 to 16 oz of frozen raspberries. Place in a colander or strainer and press lightly to remove most of the juices. This will keep the cake from being too soggy. The juices that are drained will be quite tart but are an excellent addition to smoothies, slushies, or gelatin dishes. For the latter, just substitute about 1/2 c raspberry juice for the same amount of cold water in raspberry or any other flavor of "red" Jello-type desserts. This heightens the fruit flavor and counteracts the excessive sweetness of many of these packaged gelatins.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Raspberry Almond Cupcakes--Frugal?

This is a recipe that uses a lot of raspberries, frugal enough if you have them free for the picking in the back yard or relatively inexpensively at a pick-your-own farm, but, yes I know, an extravagance for anyone having to buy them in the store. So you may need to decide if they will fit your budget. (And I am hoping to try this with strawberries at some point when those are at seasonally low prices, so that variation may be more reasonable for some.)

I can guarantee that, if you do decide to make these, the results will be spectacular. The flavor blending of raspberries and almonds is perfect, and the cake is tender and rich. By making these in the "regular" sized muffin pans (not the giant ones so often used for muffins and cupcakes lately), the recipe makes three and a half dozen rich dessert servings, each one just right to finish off a meal.

A few things to keep in mind:
  • You really do need to use butter in these rather than any substitutes. (Budget hint: Watch for sales on butter and put an extra pound or two in the freezer.)
  • While you can use frozen raspberries, you will need to drain them very well. If not, the juices will "leak" into the batter, making it a less appetizing grayish purple.
  • For that same color-of-batter reason, be very careful to fold the raspberries gently into the batter, only to get them evenly distributed but no more.
  • Ground almonds are something you might need to look for a bit. In places where ground nuts are sold, they are usually at a lower per pound price than whole or chopped nuts. I have not ground my own but you could try. (Upper Midwest readers: Fleet Farm and Farm Fleet stores regularly stock ground almonds, pecans, and walnuts.)
  • As noted in the recipe, don't under-bake. These little gems are very tender, so they need to be completely cooked. Look for the color to be similar to the photo below.
  • If you don't have unsweetened applesauce available, you can substitute a tightly packed cup of grated apple.

NOTE:  These are a little on the ugly side before frosting, as the tenderness of the cake and the weight of the berries will cause them to look like they have "fallen." However, if you let them bake until fully done, they will be wonderfully delicious, and the frosting will turn the Cinderella chamber maids into Cinderella princesses. 

Raspberry Almond Cupcakes

1 c butter, slightly softened
2 c sugar
2 1/2 c flour
1 T baking powder
1 c ground almonds
1 c unsweetened applesauce
4 eggs
6 T milk
2 t almond extract
1/2 t pure vanilla extract
3 c raspberries

1. Beat the butter and sugar together until very smooth. Add the eggs, almond extract, and ground almonds and continue to beat until the mixture is very light and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes.

2.  Sift the flour and baking powder together and add to the beaten egg mixture alternately with the applesauce and milk.

3.  Gently fold in the raspberries (use a silicon scraper or wood spoon) just until mixed throughout the batter. 

4.  Spoon the batter into standard sized muffin pans lined with cupcake paper liners. Fill each about three quarters full.

5.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 22 minutes, until the tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Don't underbake, as these are very tender.

6. This recipe makes about 3 1/2 dozen cupcakes, so you will probably need to bake the cupcakes in batches. The batter will not be affected if it sits while waiting to put another pan or two in the oven.

7.  Frost with the Almond Butter Cream frosting. If desired, reserve a few whole raspberries to top each cupcake and add slivered or sliced raspberries.

 Almond Butter Cream Frosting

1 pound powdered sugar
3 to 4 T very soft butter (the amount depends on your preference for richness)
1 1/2 t pure almond flavoring
milk as needed

1.  Stir about 1 cup of powdered sugar into the butter and beat until smooth. 
2.  Add the almond flavoring and a tablespoon or so of milk. Gradually add more powdered sugar and then milk, continuing to beat the frosting until smooth. You will probably need about a quarter to a third of a cup of milk for this much powdered sugar. 
Store extra frosting in the refrigerator. This can be used with peanut butter on toast or French toast--honest, it isn't half bad!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Raspberry Banana Coffee Cake

It's raspberry season again, time for me to find new ways to use the ever abundant crop of backyard berries. This week I had some bananas to use up as well, so it was time to try  raspberry banana combination. This recipe stretches a couple of packages of raspberries into a lot of servings, in case you don't have quite the access to these expensive fruits as I do. (And have you noticed how the previous 8 oz packages have become only 6 ounces over the past few seasons!) And though it is labeled a "coffeecake," it can serve as a dessert as well as a breakfast or brunch bread.

If you like the almond flavor combination with the raspberries (and I do), you might want to add slivered almonds to the cake and then top it with almonds rather than pecans. However, since pecans were what I had in the house, that is what I used today.Substitute a teaspoon of almond extract for one teaspoon of the vanilla for even more almond flavor as well.

 Raspberry Banana Coffee Cake

12 oz raspberries, about 2 cups
2 T sugar
1 t lemon juice

1/2 c butter
1/4 c canola oil
2 c sugar
4 eggs
3 large bananas, mashed well (1 1/2 c) 
2 t vanilla
1 c plain nonfat yogurt (NOT Greek)
4 c flour
2 t baking powder
1 3/4 t baking soda
1 t cinnamon

1.  Combine raspberries, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and lemon juice and set aside. (If using frozen raspberries, drain the raspberries before adding other ingredients.)
2.  Beat together the butter, oil, and sugar until smooth. 
3.  Add the eggs, one at a time, and then the mashed bananas and vanilla. 
4.  Sift the dry ingredients together and add to the banana mixture alternately with the yogurt*.
5.  Generally grease and flour a 10 inch tube pan or Bundt pan. Pour about a third of the batter into the pan and then top with half the raspberries. Then layer another third of the batter, the rest of the berries, and the last of the batter. 
6.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 50 to 60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.
7.  Allow the cake to cool in the pan about 15 minutes before turning on to a cake plate.

8. Top with the Powdered Sugar Glaze while the cake is still warm, and add pecans if desired. Serve warm or cold. Makes about 16 to 20 slices.

Powdered Sugar Glaze 

1 1/2 T butter, softened
1 c powdered sugar
1 t almond extract
approximately 1 T milk

1.  Stir all ingredients together, adding more milk if needed, a few drops at a time. 
2.  Spread the glaze over the top of the cake, pushing to the edges so the glaze drizzles down the sides in an attractive pattern.
3.  If desired, add pecan halves or slivered almonds to the top.