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Saturday, April 1, 2017

Maple-y Apple Bread Pudding

Sometimes, "leftovers" can become a wonderful base for a new dish. That is especially true of a really good bread pudding.

For the best bread pudding, you need really good bread. Sorry, soft and squishy "WonderBread" types won't work too well, at least for the bulk of your pudding.

No, instead you need some fairly firm, preferably whole or multi-grain bread that was a little chewy when fresh. And then you need to let it "age" a bit. This is a great place to use up that extra loaf of bread you ended up with when you got too exuberant in making a big batch of the real homemade stuff. Or maybe your family doesn't carry about the ends of the bread or the "artisan" loaf you bought for sandwiches had ends too small to make really adequate sandwiches. These are the ideal components for making today's dessert, a rich and creamy pudding that certainly doesn't seem at all related to stale bread.

So, while this is a pretty easy dessert, it does take a bit of preparation time, especially in the gathering of the bread that is the basic ingredient. For more on stale bread, see the notes below the recipe.

The other plan ahead part of this dish is that it should be prepared at least several hours before baking, to allow the flavors of the custard to thoroughly infuse the bread. That actually can be an advantage, since you can make this up to a day or two ahead, cover tightly, and keep refrigerated until an hour or so before planning to serve.

So now to the recipe.  Make this when you can get good apples at a seasonably reasonable price, and you'll have a fairly budget-friendly dessert you'll be proud to serve friends and family. It also is a little healthier than many desserts, with good amounts of protein and calcium from the eggs and milk.

This recipe makes enough to serve 10 to 12, so it is easily halved. For good measure, I've even included those amounts, along with some hints to make this even more of a budget-friendly dish.

Maple Flavored Apple Bread Pudding


6 c cubed firm bread--either slightly stale or dried (in the oven at 200 for about 20 to 30 minutes)
8 eggs
2/3 c brown sugar
1 t Mapleine or other maple flavoring
1 t vanilla
2 c milk--may need a bit more
2 t cinnamon


1/2 c butter
1/2 to 2/3 c sugar, depending on apples and your preference
4 c finely diced apples--no need to peel
3/4 t Mapleine or other maple flavoring
1 to 1 1/2 c coarsely chopped walnuts

1.  Prepare the apples. Melt the butter and brown sugar together in a heavy pan and add the apples. Cook over medium heat about 15 minutes. Stir in the walnuts and cook another 10 to 15 minutes until the apples are tender and the mixture is starting to caramelize. Remove from heat and stir in the Mapleine. Allow to cool a few minutes.

2.  While the apples are cooking, spread the bread cubes in a well-oiled 9 X 12 inch pan or baking dish.

3.  Beat the eggs, sugar, flavorings, cinnamon, and milk together.

Pour this mixture over the prepared bread, pressing the bread cubes firmly under the liquid. If they are not all covered, pour a little more milk over the top and stir in gently.

4.  Cover tightly with foil and refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight.

5.  Remove the pudding from the refrigerator. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes while covered. Remove the foil and return to the oven. Bake another 30 to 35 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out without any liquid clinging to it.

(If using a disposable pan as shown in the pictures, the pudding will cook more evenly if you use two pans, one inside the other, with a few tablespoons of water between. Set the pans on a large baking sheet. This will ensure that the edges will not get too brown before the middle is done.)

May be served warm (with a little ice cream melting over the top?) or cold. Serves 10 to 12.


About "Mapleine"

I don't do too many product placement comments, but my mother used Mapleine all through my childhood, and I have continued including it in my meals over the years. Sadly, it is harder and harder to find this in most grocery stores. Here in our city, the local Fareway store still stocks it--thank you Fareway!--and you can find it on the internet, on Amazon, Walmart and other suppliers.

In case you don't believe me when I say this is so much better than any other maple flavors, just check out the reviews here:

Of course, if you want to make this recipe with real maple syrup (NOT the Mrs. Butterworth type substitutes), just substitute maple syrup for the brown sugar and start with perhaps a quarter cup less milk.

About "Stale" Bread

A particularly good way to save money on food is to cut down on waste...well, duh.

However, it sometimes seems as though we can never quite finish a loaf of bread or bag of hot dog buns before they get too stale (or, worse yet, moldy) to use. Just a little proactive thinking can keep you from throwing out perfectly good food, with very little extra effort.

First, check out this site for some ideas on making bread crumbs:

If instead you want to make dried bread cubes, for use in a bread pudding, as croutons, or even for stuffing, here's a quick "tutorial" that may help.

Step one:  Pull the bread out of whatever wrapper it's in and cut or tear into pieces about an inch square. Don't worry if they aren't totally even, just approximately the same size.

Spread the bread cubes in single layers on a baking sheet. You could just set this aside (in an unused oven for example) for a couple of days until dried, but the flavor is usually better if you toast the cubes in a 180 degree oven for 20 minutes to half an hour, until each piece is well dried. Do be sure to dry thoroughly before putting into a tightly closed container. If they are not dry enough, they will get moldy! You can keep these on the shelf for a few weeks if you aren't ready to use them right away.

If you are planning to use all of the bread for stuffing or croutons, you could sprinkle with desired herbs before toasting. Just stir a few times while drying to be sure that the seasonings are well mixed. If you take this approach, you will probably want to use the bread cubes within a day or two, to preserve the flavors at their best.

Half a recipe

This makes a 9 X 9 square inch pan. Use these amounts, following the same method as in the recipe above.

3 c bread
4 eggs
1/3 c brown sugar
1/2 t Mapleine
1/2 t vanilla
1c milk
1 t cinnamon

3 T butter
1/3 c sugar
2 c finely diced apples
1/2 t Mapleine
1/2 to 3/4 c coarsely chopped walnuts

And, finally, some cost cutting changes, when the budget is really tight

Cut the butter back (in the larger recipe) to only a third of a cup--or even less, though the richness will be affected.

Reduce the amount of walnuts--or eliminate completely. This will change the flavor quite a bit, but it is also a possibility if anyone is allergic to tree nuts.

Make this when foods are seasonally well priced--apples in the fall, eggs at various times in the year when on sale--like right before Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter when stores are enticing home bakers to stock up.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Chocolate Butterscotch Chip Bar Cookies

All of us have had those times when we have volunteered to bring cookies for a potluck or snacks for some meeting, only to realize the night before the event that we really aren't in the mood or don't have the time to bake even the simplest drop cookies. So we shift our thoughts to a bar cookie recipe or reach for that box of brownie mix we keep for "emergencies."

That was where I found myself this week. Big plans for making a batch of a favorite butterscotch and chocolate chip oatmeal cookie. All the ingredients ready and even some promises made for what I'd be bringing. And, unfortunately, not a whole lot of time to make the size batch I'd need.

It didn't take much tweaking to alter that old recipe, turning it into a form that took less than 20 minutes to make, from getting out the bowl to putting the pan in the oven. The result was a bar cookie that was a little chewy yet with a bit of a crisp crust--a little unexpected, since most of these recipes tend toward the chewy or "cake-y" side.

This is yet another of the ways that I have found to use mayonnaise in baked goods. Compared to the cost of butter, this (especially when using a store brand of mayonnaise) reduces the cost of the cookies substantially. With the complexity of flavors of all the ingredients, there will be not a hint of this unusual ingredient in the final product.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Bar Cookies

1 1/2 c brown sugar, packed
1 c real mayonnaise
2 eggs
2 t vanilla
1 t almond flavoring
2 1/4 c flour
2 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 t ground ginger
2 t baking powder 
2 ½ c quick (not instant) or rolled oats
1 ½ c chocolate or butterscotch chips—or mixed half and half

1. Combine the mayonnaise and brown sugar and cream until well blended. Stir in the eggs, vanilla, and almond extract, and continue beating until light and fluffy.

2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and spices, and gradually add to the sugar and butter mixture.

3. When well blended, stir in the chips and mix thoroughly.

4.  Add the oatmeal, a cup at a time, making sure the batter is evenly mixed.

5.  Spray or oil well a jelly roll pan. Pat the dough evenly in the pan, making sure that the edges are at least as thick as the center.

6.  Bake at 325 degrees for about 25 to 30 minutes, until the center springs back when you press lightly on it.

This recipe makes about 48 to 60 squares, depending on your preferred size for cutting.

Special notes:

If you have a glass or insulated pan, use it instead of lighter pans, to be sure the edges don't bake before the center is done.

These are easiest to cut while still quite warm.  A hint I learned a long time ago for cutting brownies, bar cookies, and sheet cakes is to use a plastic, disposable knife. These not only are safe for your nonstick pans; they also cut cleanly and often more easily than a sharp knife.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Cake in a Saucepan

Some of our old family recipes go back to generations of frugal Midwesterners and further to New England roots, but others have even more interesting back stories. The origins of this cake fit in that latter category.

Back before food stamps, "commodity foods" were distributed to clients of our county's Department of Social Services. With one of their social workers in the household, I had access to the recipe folders  prepared to help recipients use the fairly significant amounts of the basic foods distributed each month.  Peanut butter and oatmeal (along with processed cheese, dried egg powder, etc.) were very commonly included, so it was important to suggest ways to use up these otherwise bland foods.

It was in one of these recipe flyers that I first found a recipe for an oatmeal cake with a broiled peanut butter topping instead of frosting. The cake was moist, flavorful, and easy to prepare, so I made it often for our family. In the years since, I have worked out several variations of what we fondly came to call "welfare cake" but none of these had included chocolate.

One of the things I have always liked about this cake is the ease of making it--in a saucepan no less. Quick to make, quick to clean up, this was a natural for a mid-week dessert for a group of hungry kids.

While not at all a "health food," the somewhat reduced sugar and fat amounts along with the increased protein and fiber from the oatmeal and peanut butter help justify serving it at the end of a simple sandwich and salad meal. Probably the longest part of the prep is waiting for the oatmeal mixture to cool before adding the eggs, but you can use that time to mix together the peanut butter topping ingredients. Overall, a nice moist cake that is good warm or cold.

Chocolate Oatmeal Cake with Peanut Butter Topping

1 1/2 c water
1 c rolled or quick (not instant) oats
1/3 c butter
1 c semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 c sugar
3/4 c brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 1/2 c flour--either unbleached or whole wheat
1 t baking soda

1.  Combine water, oatmeal, and butter in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook about 1 to 2 minutes.

2.  Remove from heat and add chocolate chips, stirring until the chips are completely melted. Set the mixture aside to cool slightly. (Prepare the Topping while this is cooling.)

3.  When the oatmeal is cooled to lukewarm, stir in the sugars and eggs and beat well.

4.  Sift or mix the flour and soda together and add to the rest of the ingredients in the saucepan. Stir just enough to be sure the mixture is completely blended.

5.  Pour the batter into a well-oiled 9 X 13 pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes. (If using a glass pan, heat the oven to only 325 degrees.)

6.  When the cake is just done--a toothpick inserted in the center should come out without any liquid batter adhering to it--remove it from the oven and quickly pour the Topping over it, spreading it as evenly as possible. You will need to spread it back toward the middle, as the tendency will be for the very liquid topping to flow away from the higher center to the edges.

7.  Return the cake to the oven, on the highest rack, for about 5 to 10 minutes, until the topping is beginning to bubble around the edges.

Allow to cool well before cutting.

1/2 c sugar
1/4 c water
1/2 c peanut butter

1.  Combine the sugar and water in a large bowl or 2 cup measuring cup and microwave, covered, for about 3 minutes, until the sugar is totally dissolved and the mixture has come to a rolling boil.

2.  Remove the sugar mixture from the microwave and stir in the peanut butter. Stir carefully, as the syrup is very hot.  As you can see, it's really kind of ugly at this stage; that's okay!


Sprinkle with chopped peanuts while the topping is still warm.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Apple Cake with Raspberry Glaze

Over the years, I have compiled a large number of recipe cards, enough to fill four or five long card files like the kind you used to see in libraries. My primary source of recipe inspiration these days is via internet searches, but there are times when it is fun to review the old tried and true favorites. Mixed in with the recipes I used, there were others that "sounded good," but I have never tried, and then, one more category: those recipes I tried but found only mediocre--not inspiring but still not quite worth tossing.

One of those was actually a $25,000 Pillsbury Bake-off winner in the cookie/dessert category. The judges may have liked it, but our family was not impressed. My note when I first tried it on a hot Arizona day was, "Ok but no better made w/ plums 7/4/79.”

It was not surprising that I had substituted plums for the apples. They would have been much more available--and better--at the time..  That "ok" assessment was faint praise, but I kept the recipe in my files with the hope of finding a way to improve upon it. After all, it had won a large prize in the Bake-off, so surely it must have some merit, right?

Now, pulling out the old card, I considered how to improve upon the basic recipe. I had plenty of yogurt in the refrigerator and some local orchard apples still in the fruit cellar, and there was a half empty jar of homemade jam that might be just what was needed to add a little more flavor. 

The result was a nice fruity dessert that, except for dicing the apples,was quick and easy to make, with slightly reduced sugar and fat from the usual cake of this size. The texture is more like a rich bar cookie than cake, thanks to the ground nuts, so this is a good place to use whole wheat flour for just a little more nod to "healthy" ingredients.

By the way, if you want to see the original recipe,  you can find it here: 

 Apple Cake with Raspberry Glaze

2 c flour (may use part or all whole wheat flour)
1 1/2 c brown sugar
1/3 c butter
1/4 c canola or other neutral oil
1 c finely chopped almonds, walnuts, or pecans (see NOTE)

2 t cinnamon
1 t soda
1 c yogurt
1 1/2 t vanilla
1 egg
2 c apples, cored and finely diced (not peeled--about 2 medium)

1/2 c raspberry jam
1 t lemon juice
1 to 2 T water

1.   Blend the flour, sugar, butter, oil, and nuts with a fork (or in a mixer) until evenly mixed. Pat 2 1/2 cups of this mixture into a 9 X 12 pan, pressing firmly. Set aside.

2.  Combine  the remaining crumbs with the cinnamon and soda and stir well. Make a well in the center of the mixture.

3.  Combine the yogurt, egg, and vanilla and add to the crumb mixture. Stir until thoroughly blended. Fold in the apples and then pour the filling over the prepared crust.

4.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, until the center is just set.

5.  Meanwhile, combine the jam and lemon juice along with just enough water to make the mixture spreadable.

6.  As soon as the bars come out of the oven, spread the jam evenly over the top. (If desired, you can also poke the jam mixture into the cake with a skewer or sharp knife blade.)

Allow to cool completely before cutting.

NOTE:  If ground nuts are available, I highly recommend them, both for the convenience and the slightly  smoother texture in this recipe. However, you can finely chop nuts yourself if the ground nuts are not available. I also prefer almonds to blend with the other flavors, but other nuts can easily be substituted.


This is the kind of recipe that can be tailored to fruits of the season. Other combinations of fruit and  jams can be substituted--chopped plums would be very good with orange marmalade, chopped peaches or nectarines with peach jam, etc. For the latter, I would add half a teaspoon of almond extract with the vanilla.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Happy New Year!

Hanging those new calendars, doing some planning and organizing for the year ahead, or maybe just kicking back to enjoy the last of the college football bowl games--all good ways to spend this last holiday vacation day before going back into the routine of work, school, and meetings.

This could also be a good opportunity to spend a little more time in the kitchen. As you look ahead to the new year, here is a look back on just four posts with recipes that could be just right for today's food ventures.


First, some ideas for snacks while watching those football games. Try them out today and you'll be ready to add them to next month's Super Bowl menu.

This one has some spreads that are wonderful for any special occasion snacking. If you love olives, the tapenade will be something you'll want to make often, with lots of possible uses.

Perhaps pesto is more in your plans. Who says this has to have expensive pine nuts or even the sometimes hard to get at this season basil? This one includes spinach and cilantro along with almonds--totally not traditional perhaps, but still really good and a lot more "frugal" than the original.

Resolution: Healthy, thrifty eating

Maybe your time in the kitchen will be spent taking concrete steps toward those healthful and/or thrifty food resolutions. Homemade soup could be a good place to start.

Potato soup and a lot of variations are all included here. What could be more warming than a pot of this bubbling on the stove after a day of playing in the snow?

Want to make something less creamy?  This soup can be made for vegetarians if you use vegetable bouillon cubes, and it focuses on vegetables easily available in the winter:

Whatever you decide to cook today, be sure to spend time to savor it, and where possible, to share it with family and friends with good conversation as the best accompaniment. Here's to a New Year full of hospitality and love!