Friday, October 30, 2015

Apple Bundt Cake

Kicked off our Halloween weekend with this autumn treat, an easy recipe shared by a fellow cult survivor on an online forum years ago, back when we were busy moms of babies and before we had Facebook!

This fruit-studded cake makes a fantastic quick breakfast. We eat it plain, but a simple glaze could dress it up for dessert. And I used tart apples. If your apples are sweet, you can reduce the sugar by 1/3 cup.

Bake this recipe in either a 9 x 13" pan or a bundt pan. Instead of the standard "grease & flour", I spray the pan well, then generously sprinkle cinnamon over the baking spray. This gives the cake a darker presentation as well as an extra boost of flavor.

Apple Bundt Cake

4 cups diced peeled apples

3/4 cup oil
1/4 cup milk
1 1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs

2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cinnamon

Combine all ingredients and pour into prepared pan.

For bundt pan:
Bake 55 minutes at 350 F.

Cool 10 minutes in pan. Turn out onto wire rack and cool two more hours before serving.

For rectangular pan:
Bake 25-30 minutes at 350 F.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Cold Strawberry Soup

While uncommon here in the States, fruit soups have a place in other traditional cuisines. Like their savory cousin, gazpacho, soups made with seasonal fruits can be served refreshingly cold. This creamy and flavorful recipe is inspired by Scandinavian and Eastern European dishes and is equally delicious as an appetizer or a dessert.

Notes from the kitchen:

  • This week, I had sour cream and half-and-half in my fridge, but you could use any creamy combination you please: milk, cream, yogurt, crème fraiche... 
  • You can reserve all or part of the whipped/sour cream and use a dollop as a garnish in each bowl, swirling it through the soup to marbleize. 
  • Adjust the sugar according to the sweetness of your berries, and the tanginess of your yogurt. If you only use plain yogurt, use up to 2 T. more sugar. If your soup lacks zing, add a splash of lemon juice.
  • My daughter was helping me make this, and she objected to the seeds (yes, strawberry seeds!). So we removed some of them by putting our soup through a sieve. :-)
  • Someday, I want to try this recipe with raspberries, or pitted tart cherries. 

Cold Strawberry Soup

1 1/4 lbs. fresh strawberries, washed and hulled
2 T. granulated sugar
1 (6 oz.) container strawberry flavored yogurt
1/4 cup plain or vanilla yogurt, or sour cream
1/2 - 3/4 cup milk, cream, or half-and-half
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. almond extract, optional
2 T. wine (red, white, whatever), optional 

I put everything in the blender and process till smooth. Serve immediately in chilled bowls, or refrigerate in tightly-sealed container. Soup can be made up to one day ahead.

Garnish with fresh mint leaves and/or dollops of more cream.

Yield: about 1 quart

Friday, November 7, 2014

Honey Baked Beans with Apples

I wanted leftovers for our long weekend, so I made a big dish of these golden, sweet and savory beans tonight. Boston brown bread sounded good, but I was feeling lazy so I just made cornbread this time. 

I don't score any points with the kids when I serve this, but sometimes Mommy needs cozy comfort food, too!

 You can prepare the beans a day ahead, and add the apple slices right before baking.

Honey Baked Beans with Apples

  • 1 cup dry navy beans
Bring to a boil with about 2 cups water. Let sit for an hour, drain. Simmer in fresh water till soft, drain again. 

Stir into cooked beans:
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 T. butter
  • 2 T. oil
  • 2-3 T. honey
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 lb. bacon, chopped and fried

Butter a 2 qt. casserole. Pour in beans. Top with

  • 2 cored and pared apples, thickly sliced
If beans seem dry, add 1/2 c. water.

Bake, covered, at 300 F for one hour or two, adding water as needed. Dish is ready when apples are puffy and onions are soft. 

Serves 6.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Mock Lasagna

This casserole has always been a hit with my family. I usually double the recipe so we'll have leftovers.

Pasta: Mom always made mock lasagna with elbow macaroni, but medium shells work really well, too. And they are easier for small hands to stab with a fork.

Meat: You can substitute ground beef or turkey for part or all of the sausage, though sausage makes a more flavorful dish. My favorite version is half sausage/half beef. 

Cheese: The original recipe called for Velveeta. I have used combinations of cheddar and Velveeta, or cheddar and mozzarella. Follow your instincts. ;)

This is a convenient make-ahead or crockpot dish. Just allow for extra heating time if it's been in the refrigerator.

Mock Lasagna

  • 7-8 oz. dry pasta
  • 1 roll (12-16 oz.) bulk sausage (or ground meat) 
  • 1 (15 oz.) can tomato sauce
  • 1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes, optional
  • 1/2 c. water
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. basil
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 1/2 c. cottage cheese
  • 1 1/2 c. (6 oz.) cubed cheese 

While the pasta water comes to a boil, brown and drain the meat. Add the tomato sauce and seasonings. Simmer 10-15 minutes. Boil the pasta; drain. 

My mom's recipe says to layer some meat sauce, half the pasta, and half the cheeses in a baking dish. Repeat, ending with more sauce. This makes for a pretty presentation, especially in a glass casserole, but it tastes just as good stirred all together. Try it both ways and see which you prefer!

Bake, uncovered, 20-30 minutes at 350 F, till edges are bubbly. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Chocolate-Cream Cheese Cake Roll

I first made this amazing cake for my son's fourth birthday. This year, he requested chocolate-mint cake for his home birthday party, but Chocolate Cake Roll to share with his classmates.

Since each recipe makes ten generous servings, we needed two cakes to feed the whole class. And since I have only one jellyroll pan, it was a good time to find out how this dessert held up to being frozen. I prepared one cake last week, froze it, baked another the next day, froze it, and thawed them both in the fridge yesterday. They came out beautifully!

The not-too-sweet chocolate cake recipe came from Diana's Desserts, but instead of just whipped cream, I use a cream cheese filling that makes people swoon. Another time you might try filling the cake with cooked custard cream, or softened ice cream.

If you've never attempted a cake roll before, has an excellent illustrated tutorial here. Note that the tutorial shows rolling from the short side of the cake, but this recipe rolls from the long side. My recipe is rich enough that you don't need a large spiral slice!

While the cake is beguilingly tender, the outside ends up with a crackled "crust" nearly resembling tree bark. In its unsliced form, this cake would not look out of place against a backdrop of evergreens, or autumn leaves.

Chocolate Cake Roll

  • 1/3 cup cake flour, sifted
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder 
  • 2 Tbsp. cornstarch 
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda 
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder 
  • 1/2 tsp. salt 
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • (about 1/4 cup powdered sugar)

Cream Cheese Filling:
  • 1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened
  • 2/3 cup powdered sugar 
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar 
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tub whipped topping, thawed

First, preheat the oven to 350 F and prepare a 15 x 10 jellyroll pan. Line the pan with parchment paper. Grease and flour the lined pan. 

Combine dry ingredients in a small bowl. Stir out any lumps. 

Separate eggs, placing whites and yolks into separate mixing bowls. 

Whip the egg whites at high speed till foam. Gradually add 1/2 cup sugar while continuing to beat till stiff peaks form. Set aside.

Add 1/2 sugar to egg yolks. Beat on medium speed till fluffy (you can use the same beaters you just used on the whites). 

Fold 1/3 beaten egg whites into egg yolk mixture. Alternately fold in the flour mixture and the remaining egg whites. Pour batter into floured pan and smooth surface to fill pan as evenly as possible. 

Bake (at 350 F) about 15 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 5-10 minutes.

Now comes the tricky part. :)

Rolling the Cake:

Spread a clean tea towel (thin, cotton) out on your counter. I like to spread it out on a cooling rack or a cutting board. Dust it evenly with powdered sugar in a rectangle the same size as the jellyroll pan. 

Loosen edges of cake from pan, if necessary. Carefully turn cake out onto dusted towel. Pull off the parchment paper. If cake is cool enough, this is a good time to trim any uneven edges. Now roll cake up with the towel, starting from a long side. 

Cool towel-wrapped cake on a wire rack for an hour or two.  Prepare filling.

For Filling:
Whip cream cheese and sugar till light. Beat in vanilla. Fold in whipped topping. Chill till ready to use.

Filling the Cake:

Gently unroll. Don't panic if the cake cracks! It doesn't have to be perfectly flat.

Spread filling over cake, leaving 1/2 inch margin along the sides. Roll cake up again, and place seam-side down on tray or platter. You can dust it with extra powdered sugar if you like. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate till serving time. 


Monday, November 3, 2014

Red Beans and Rice

Now that the leaves (and around here, hedge apples) are falling and the wind is blowing cold, it's time for those hearty dishes we've avoided for months. This meal is simple, inexpensive, full of protein, and served over rice, it's even gluten-free. And since I usually have the ingredients on hand in my pantry and freezer, it's good for those days when I haven't made it to the grocery store in a while.

I've used both andouille sausage and turkey sausage; either one is quite satisfactory. If you don't have fresh veggies, you can cheat with a bag of frozen Cajun mirepoix. I don't actually measure my spices, so the amounts given are approximate. Vary them according to your family's tastes. Some cooks substitute salsa for the Ro-Tel tomatoes.

Personally, I like the convenience of canned beans. But if you have the time and inclination, you can certainly cook your own from dried beans. 

Cajun-Style Red Beans

  • 2 T. oil 
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 large green pepper
  • 3-4 ribs celery
  • 1-2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 4 cans red beans 
  • 1 lb. smoked sausage, thinly sliced
  • 1 can Ro-Tel tomatoes 
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp. thyme
  • dash of cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. cumin

Saute the vegetables in oil till tender, adding garlic at the end. Add the beans, sausage, and seasonings.

Stir and cover. Bake at 300 F for 4-5 hours. The longer, the better! Check occasionally, adding water if necessary to keep the beans moist. (You can also throw this in the crockpot and cook it all day, or overnight.) 

Serve beans over fluffy rice with a side of hot cornbread. Or skip the rice and serve over the cornbread. Or use as a side with a Cajun meal. If you're in a true Louisiana mood, wash it down with sweet tea!

This makes a big batch, so you'll have enough for company, or to put in the freezer, or to save for a quick dinner over the weekend. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Lunch Magnets

Do you pack school lunches the night before?

I am not a morning person, so most of the time I get the kids' lunches ready right after cleaning up dinner. And because their nutrition is important to me, I do cater to their preferences. No assembly line for us. A lunch that gets eaten is better than a lunch that gets brought home after school!

One likes spicy mustard. Hold the mayo for another. Another wants bologna and American cheese. One prefers steamed broccoli to grapes and dislikes Gala apples. Two like shredded-carrot salad, or pineapple. One likes Greek yogurt, another only eats yogurt without fruity bits. One takes leftover pepperoni pizza, the others get plain cheese. But how in the world to keep them all straight?

This was my solution at the beginning of the school year, and it has worked beautifully!

Each child has their own magnet. When I make their lunch, I pull their magnet off the fridge and set it with the food. When they pack their lunch coolers, they know which stack of containers is theirs, and they stick their magnet back on the fridge.

What are your organization secrets?