Applesauce Oatmeal Muffins- Vegan

Applesauce Oatmeal Muffins

I had a request from a friend, for more vegan baking recipes. I came up with these muffins, and thought I would share it.

The muffins came out moist and light. Baking powder and baking soda gave them plenty of “lift”. They rose beautifully.

I also have a lot of applesauce that I canned, so I am  interested in recipes using applesauce. I was happy to use some of it in these muffins.

I added both raisins and walnuts for more texture and flavor. You could omit them, or add different dried fruit or nuts. You can also sprinkle a little cinnamon sugar on top of the muffins before baking, if you like.

I used olive oil in this recipe. I like the way olive oil tastes in baked goods. It almost tastes like I used butter. The secret is to use a mild flavored olive oil. A strong olive oil will over power the muffins. Sometimes I use avocado oil, which has a very neutral flavor.

I kept these fairly simple. Here is the recipe. Enjoy!!

Applesauce Oatmeal Muffins

2 c. applesauce- I used homemade with cinnamon in it

1/2 c. oil

1 c. sugar

1 t. vanilla

2 c. flour  Note: You can use all purpose, I used whole wheat pastry flour.

1 c. rolled oats

2 t. baking soda

2 t. cinnamon

1/2 t. baking powder

1 c. dried cranberries or raisins

1 c. chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners or grease lightly. Set aside. Combine applesauce with the oil and stir in sugar and vanilla. Add flour, oats, soda, cinnamon and baking powder. Stir to mix well. Stir in fruit and nuts. Spoon batter in to muffin cups, filling just over half-full. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown on top. Makes 24.

Mixed Berry Scones

Mixed Berry Scones

I had been cleaning out the freezer and found some berries from last summer. I decided to use some of them to make these scones.  Even when the weather is chilly- berry scones make me think of warm summer days.

I used a combination of blueberries and  blackberries, but raspberries would work nicely, too. I was so pleased with how they came out. They were a little crisp on the outside, but crumbly and tender on the inside.

These scones aren’t too sweet. With scones, I think you can always sweeten them up by serving them with jam, if you like. I had one for breakfast this morning, and it was wonderful. Still warm from the oven.

They could also be used as a dessert- as the base for a shortcake. Split the scones, add some sweetened berries, sweetened whipped cream or ice cream as a filling. Top with whipped cream or more berries. A simple, classic dessert.

The secret to a tender scone is to be gentle with the dough. Do not mix it too much. As soon as the dough holds together, you are good to go. I used an ice cream scoop to portion them out. If you are rolling out scones, try to cut as many out at one time as possible. Each time you re-roll scraps of dough- the scones become a little tougher.

Here is the recipe.

Mixed Berry Scones 

2 c. flour

1/4 c. sugar

1 T. baking powder

¾ t. salt

6 T. chilled butter

1 ½ c. berries, fresh or frozen- do not thaw berries – I used blackberries and blueberries

1 t. lemon or orange zest

2 large eggs

1/3 c. heavy cream

Mix dry ingredients together in bowl and cut in butter to resemble coarse crumbs. Toss in blueberries and zest. Beat together eggs and cream and stir into flour mixture. Mix very gently to avoid bruising berries. Use a small ice cream scoop to scoop out batter and place on baking sheet. Place scoops about an inch apart. Press down slightly. Brush with a little cream and sprinkle with a little extra sugar. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 20-22 minutes. Makes 15-18.

Corn, Ham and Bacon Chowder

Corn, Ham and Bacon Chowder

Part of my pantry challenge is using what I have on hand and not going to the store. I was defrosting my freezer and found local sweet corn I had frozen last summer. I wanted to make soup for lunch with friends, so I decided to use the frozen corn to make this chowder. I also had a pound of bacon, which gave the soup a wonderful smoky flavor. I cooked the bacon in the soup pot, allowing it to get pretty crisp. I removed as much of the fat as I could, but left the bacon in the pot. Then, when I cooked the onions and added the stock, all the little brown bits of bacon in the pot added even more flavor. I also had gotten a ham during the holidays, but hadn’t used it yet. I added some of the ham to the chowder, too. It came out great!! A perfect dish for a windy, rainy day.

Corn, Ham and Bacon Chowder

1 lb. bacon

1 onion, chopped

2 carrots, peeled and sliced

6 c. chicken stock

2 potatoes, peeled and cubed

6 c. corn – I used frozen corn

2 c. chopped ham

2 cups half and half or milk

¼ c. flour

Salt and pepper to taste

Hot sauce to taste

Fresh chopped parsley

Cut bacon in 1-inch pieces and fry in a Dutch oven until crisp. Tip pot and spoon out most of the fat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add carrots and stock. Cover and simmer 10 minutes, then add the potatoes, corn and ham. Cover and simmer 15-20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. In jar with a tight fitting lid, combine 1 cup of the half and half or milk with the flour. Put on the lid and shake until mixture is smooth.  Stir into the pot along with the remaining half and half or milk and cook, stirring often until mixture thickens up. Adjust seasoning to taste. Stir in parsley and serve.  Serves 6.

Ingredient Substitutions

Finished Aquafaba Pie

Did you ever find yourself in the middle of cooking, only to find you are missing an ingredient? Maybe its a baking ingredient that you don’t use that often, so you don’t keep on hand.

Cake flour is a good example. I don’t have that many recipes that call for cake flour, so I don’t keep it on hand. I don’t need to really. Did you know you can easily make your own cake flour? There are a couple of ways to “make” cake flour when needed.

Cake flour isn’t the only ingredient you can make at home. You might be surprised at some of the substitutes you have around already. There are lots of ways you can make what you need, or find something that will work just as well.  Here is a collection of some substitute solutions I have accumulated over time. Helpful for the next time you reach for something only to find you are out of it.

Cake Flour

Rather than keeping cake flour on hand, you can add lib in a pinch. There are 2 ways to substitute.
For each cup of cake flour you can measure 1 cup of regular all purpose flour and then just remove 2 table spoonfuls of the flour.

Some recipes also call to remove the 2 table spoons of regular flour and replace them with 2 tablespoon of cornstarch. I’ve tried both methods in baking and have had fine results either way. It is important that you measure the flour correctly to begin with. Flour should always be spooned into the measuring cup and then leveled off with a knife.
For a larger amount:
7 cups flour
1 c. cornstarch
Sift together and store until ready to use.

Self-Rising Flour

8 c. flour
5 T. Baking powder
2 T. sugar
1 T. salt
Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container. Keeps for several months.

Cornstarch

To replace 1 tablespoon of cornstarch you could use:

2 tablespoons flour or 1 tablespoon arrowroot or 4 teaspoons quick cooking tapioca or 1 tablespoon potato starch

Light Brown Sugar

Combine 1 cup white sugar with 2 tablespoons of molasses. Note: for dark brown sugar increase molasses to 3 tablespoons.

Sweetened Condensed Milk

1 c. dry non-fat milk
2/3 c. sugar
1/2 c. boiling water
3 T. butter or margarine melted and hot

Combine all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Can be stored in the fridge and used within 3 days. This is the same as 1 14 oz. can.

Baking Powder

To replace 1 teaspoon you could use  1/3 teaspoon baking soda plus 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Pie Crust Mix

5 1/3 c. flour
1 T. salt
2 1/3 c. shortening, butter or lard

Sift together flour and salt, and then cut in shortening to resemble coarse crumbs. Store in an airtight container until ready to use. To use lightly measure 1 1/3 c. mix into a small bowl. Begin adding cold water 1 tablespoon at a time, using about 4-5 table spoons all together. After each addition of water toss mixture with a fork and start to press it together. As soon as dough will hold together without being sticky, wrap in plastic wrap and chill about an hour. This will make 1 crust and an entire batch will make about 6 crusts.

Biscuit Mix (like Bisquick)

8 c. flour
1 c. powdered milk
1 c. powdered buttermilk
1/4 c. baking powder
1 T. salt
1 ½ c. shortening*

In large bowl combine dry ingredients and mix well. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Store in a tightly closed container and use in 1-2 months. Makes 10 cups.

* You can use butter or coconut oil in place of the shortening- but store mix in the fridge.

Biscuit Mix 2

10 c. flour
½ c. sugar
1/3 c. baking powder
1 T. salt
2 c. shortening

Mix dry ingredients well. Cut in shortening until it resembles coarse crumbs. Store in an airtight container and use within 3 months. Makes 13 cups.

Aquafaba 

Aquafaba is a meringue substitute, using the liquid from a can of garbanzo beans instead of egg whites. Handy for people allergic to eggs and for vegans, too. Not sure who figured this one out, but it is a fun and tasty substitute.

liquid from a can of garbanzo beans

2-3 t. cream of tartar

sugar to taste- granulated or powdered

1 t. vanilla  – or other flavoring- optional

In mixing bowl, place liquid and cream of tartar and beat until mixture looks foamy and thick. Sweeten with sugar, a few tablespoons at a time until desired sweetness is achieved. The longer you whip, the better this works. Whip for at least 10 minutes. Add flavoring, if using.  You can also add food coloring, if you like. Makes about 2 cups. Store in fridge. For best results, place finished aquafaba in a strainer and prop over a bowl until you are ready to use it. It seems to hold up better this way. Any liquid that forms, will drip off into the bowl below.

Taco Seasoning

4 t. onion powder
3 t. chili powder
1 t. cornstarch
1 t. garlic powder
1 t. cumin
½ t. oregano
1/8 t. cayenne pepper

Mix and store in a cool, dry place. This is the same as 1 packet of taco seasoning mix.

Homemade “Corn” Syrup

2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup Water
1/4 tsp. Cream of Tartar
dash of salt

Combine all in a large, heavy stainless steel pot. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover with lid for 3 to 4 minutes to get the sugar crystals off the sides of the pan.

Uncover and cook to softball stage, 238 to 240 degree’s F. or when a small amount is dropped into cold water and does not hold its shape; stir constantly. Cook for another minute.

Cool and store in covered jar at room temperature, will keep well for 2 months at room temperature.

For dark corn syrup add 1/4 cup molasses

Chocolate Substitutions

To substitute cocoa for unsweetened chocolate in a recipe combine 3 tablespoons of cocoa and 1 tablespoon of fat.

Unsweetened chocolate can be turned into semi sweet chocolate by adding 1 tablespoon of sugar to each melted ounce. Three ounces of unsweetened chocolate and 3 tablespoons of sugar will equal 4 ounces of semi sweet chocolate.

Challah Bread

Challah

I have wonderful memories of my mother making this bread. Whenever I make it, I think of her. It is a simple egg bread, in many ways, but the braiding makes it look so pretty. You can bake the bread in loaf pans, or on baking sheets. Both look great.

This is one of my favorite sandwich breads, but I also like it for French toast. Challah is a nice option for bread in your holiday stuffing (or dressing) and it makes great bread pudding.

Challah

2 c. hot water

1 T. each sugar, salt and oil

1 package active dry yeast

¼ c. warm water

About 8 cups flour

2 beaten eggs

Poppy or sesame seeds, optional

In large bowl combine hot water, salt, sugar and oil. Dissolve yeast in warm water in small bowl and add to oil/water mix. Stir in 1 cup of the flour and eggs, reserving 2 tablespoons of the eggs for later. Gradually stir in enough of the flour to make soft dough. When dough pulls away from sides of bowl remove to floured surface. Knead dough, adding flour as necessary about 8-10 minutes. Dough should be smooth and elastic. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, turning to grease top, cover with a towel and allow to rise in a warm, draft free place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll three of the pieces into 12- inch ropes. Place in a greased 9×5-inch loaf pan. Take one of the remaining pieces of dough and divide into thirds. Roll the pieces into 3-nine inch ropes and place on top of the braid already in the pan. Repeat with remaining dough and cover. Allow to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush loaves with reserved eggs and sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds, if desired. Bake 40-45 minutes. When done loaves will be nicely browned and sound hollow when tapped. Makes 2 loaves.

Note: Bread dough can also be placed on greased baking sheets instead of in loaf pans. The result will be longer and flatter loaves. I think they are very pretty.

Challah Bread, baked on a baking sheet, instead on in loaf pans
Challah baked on a baking sheet, instead of loaf pans

Cranberry Juice and Cranberry Roll ups

Cranberry Juice

I bought quite a few bags of cranberries right after Thanksgiving. I popped them in the freezer to enjoy later. As part of my pantry challenge, I am trying to use the ingredients I already have, rather than go to the grocery store. I also did an inventory of my freezer. I wanted to get these cranberries out of my freezer and use them for something. I decided to make and can cranberry juice. I even used the leftover pulp (after I strained the juice) for cranberry fruit roll ups.

The juice came out great. So much better than store-bought. It was pretty easy, too.

I started with about 5 quarts of berries, which I had sorted out for bad ones, and rinsed. I measured them out and added an equal amount of water. I brought this mixture to a boil and let it cook until the berries starting popping. I strained the juice twice. First time through a fine strainer. Then I put the juice in the fridge overnight. This allowed the solids to settle to the bottom. The second time, I strained the juice through a strainer lined with cheesecloth.

I returned the juice to the pot and brought it up barely to a simmer (190 degrees). To sweeten it, I added less than a cup of sugar, which comes out to less than a 1/4 cup per quart of juice. Once the juice was up to a simmer, I ladled it into clean, hot quart canning jars. I filled them to about 1/4 inch from the top, wiped the rims and closed the jars. I also used the last of it to fill a pint jar. Processed in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Once the time was up, I turned off the heat and left the jars in the canner for five minutes before placing them on the counter to cool. Ended up with 5 quarts and 1 pint for my efforts.

After making cranberry juice I was left with a lot of pulp. I didn’t want to toss it, so I decided to make cranberry fruit roll ups with it. I mashed the pulp with a fork, then sweetened just a little- less than half a cup of sugar. I  spread the mixture on plastic wrap placed on the trays of my dehydrator. I ended up with 8 of them. I dried them overnight. They should be pliable but not sticky to the touch when done. A  friend stopped over yesterday and got a chance to taste one. She said she liked that the roll ups were not too sweet- they had a nice tartness to them. Once finished, I rolled them up in the plastic wrap and will store them in the fridge. Honestly, they aren’t going to be around long.

Cranberry Roll-ups

Cooking with Oranges

Candied Orange Peels

Winter is citrus season. Oranges and other citrus fruits are abundant this time of year. I love them. I love the tiny Mandarins, the big navels and the seedy, but oh so juicy, Temples. I am content to just peel and eat any of them, any time.

You can do a lot more with oranges than just eating them fresh or juicing them. Oranges can be added to both sweet and savory dishes. We use lemons and limes in cooking all the time, why not cook with oranges?

I have put together some of my favorite recipes using oranges. I’ve even including recipes to use the peels!! Enjoy!!

Orange Broiled Salmon

2 large oranges

4 (4 ounce) fillets salmon

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

1/4 cup chopped green onions

1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven’s broiler. Slice, peel, and pith oranges; slice crosswise into 1/4 inch rounds. Season fillets with salt. Place salmon fillets on broiling pan. Place the pan of fillets 4 to 6 inches from heat. Cook for 15 minutes under the preheated broiler, or 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Remove from broiler just before they are cooked through. Sprinkle with vinegar. Arrange orange rounds on top. Sprinkle with green onions and cracked black pepper. Broil 1 minute longer. Serves 4.

Orange Kissed Chicken

1 (4 pound) chicken, cut into pieces

1 tablespoon oil

3 onions, thinly sliced

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/3 cup orange juice

salt and pepper to taste

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken pieces and sauté for 5 minutes, until lightly browned. Add onions and sauté for 2 minutes more. Add juice, broth, salt and pepper. Stir all together. Cover skillet and reduce heat to low. Let simmer for 45 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and juices run clear. Serves 4.

Orange Vinaigrette

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 orange, juiced

2 tablespoons orange zest

2 tablespoons coarse-grained mustard

In a medium bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, orange juice, orange zest and mustard. Use immediately, or store in the refrigerator for up to one week. Great on mixed greens or on chicken or seafood salad.

Hot Cranberry-Orange Punch

2 quarts cranberry juice cocktail

3 cups orange juice

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 pinch salt

2 (3 inch) cinnamon sticks

In a 4 quart or larger slow cooker, combine the cranberry juice, orange juice, white sugar, brown sugar, lemon juice, salt and cinnamon sticks. Stir to dissolve sugar. Cook on high for 4 to 6 hours. Turn heat to low and keep warm for serving. Or heat on stove in saucepan. Simmer, covered for 30 minutes before serving. Serves 10-12.

Orange Tea Bread

2 cups all-purpose flour

1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup non-fat plain yogurt

2/3 cup sugar

2 large eggs (egg substitute optional)

3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

1 tablespoon grated orange zest

SYRUP

1/2 cup orange juice

1/4 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-1/2″x4-1/2″x2-5/8″ loaf pan. Line pan with wax paper or parchment and set aside. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together yogurt, sugar, eggs, butter and orange zest. Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients, and stir mixture until well combined. Transfer batter to loaf pan, smoothing top, and bake in oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. While the bread is baking, combine orange juice and sugar in a saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil over moderate heat while stirring, and simmer for 1 minute. Keep syrup warm. Make holes in top of bread with a thin wooden skewer and drizzle with syrup. Let stand in pan until cool. Makes 1 loaf. 

Whole Orange Liqueur

3 oranges, unpeeled, cut into wedges

½ lemon

3 whole cloves

3 cups vodka

1 c. sugar syrup

Combine fruit, cloves and vodka in jar. Vodka should cover fruit. Steep 10 days. Strain and filter. Add sugar syrup and mature 3-4 weeks. Makes 4 cups. Note: Sugar syrup is made from 1 cup of sugar and ½ cup of water. Bring to a boil, then cool. You will have 1 cup of syrup.

Orange Peel Liqueur

Peels only from 4 large oranges, scraped and cut into chunks

3 cups vodka

1 c. sugar syrup, see note

Remove all traces of white from orange peels. Mix peels and vodka and steep 2-3 weeks. You can use more peels for stronger flavor. Strain and filter and add sugar syrup. Let mature a week. Makes 4 cups. Note: Sugar syrup is made from 1 cup of sugar and ½ cup of water. Bring to a boil, then cool. You will have 1 cup of syrup.

Orange Beef Sauce

1-1 ½ lbs. lean ground beef (turkey or chicken would also work)

1 T. olive oil

1-2 garlic cloves, minced

½ c. chopped onion

¼ c. grated carrot

½ c. orange juice

1 c. beef, chicken or vegetable stock

½ t. caraway seeds

½ t. orange peel

1 T. brown sugar

1 T. vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

¼ c. water

2 T. cornstarch

Brown meat in oil until no longer pink. Drain and place in Dutch oven with the vegetables Cook until onions are tender. Add remaining ingredients, except water and cornstarch and simmer, covered, 30-60 minutes. Five minutes before serving dissolve cornstarch in water and add to sauce to thicken. Cook until sauce is thickened and bubbly. Serve over pasta.

Citrus Sugar

1 c. sugar

1 T. orange, lemon, lime or tangerine peel

1/2 t. cinnamon

1/2 t. nutmeg

1/8 t. allspice

Mix all ingredients and place in pie pan. Place in a preheated 200 degree oven for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Cool sugar before storing in airtight jar or you can powder the sugar in a blender for 10 seconds or so before storing. Use in tea, on sugar cookies, on toast and bagels or with fresh fruit and yogurt.

Note: you can also make a citrus mint variation by combining sugar with citrus peel and 1 tablespoon dried mint leaves, omitting other flavorings. This sugar is great in lemonades and iced teas.

Orange and Oatmeal Scones

2 1/2 cups flour

2 cups rolled oats

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup very cold, unsalted butter – cut into chunks

1 egg

1/2 cup orange juice

2 t. grated orange peel

1 cup raisins – plumped and well dried

Glaze

milk, sugar, orange zest

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper (double two sheets if you have them – one inside the other). Preheat oven to 425 F. In a large bowl, place flour, oatmeal, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda and mix together. Cut or rub in butter to make a mealy mixture. Stir in egg and orange juice. Add orange peel and raisins. Mix to make a soft dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead for a few minutes. Roll or pat out into a thickness of 1/2 inch. Using a serrated cookie cutter cut into disks or rounds. Brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar and orange zest. Bake until nicely browned – about 14 minutes. Makes about 24.

Chocolate-Orange Scones

1 1/2 c. baking mix, like Jiffy or Bisquick or homemade

1 T. grated orange peel

3/4 c. heavy cream

1/2 c. milk chocolate chips or 3 oz. milk chocolate, chopped

Combine baking mix and orange peel in medium bowl. Stir in cream to make a soft dough that forms into a ball in the bowl. On floured surface gently knead in chocolate and press or roll dough to 3/4- inch thickness. Cut into 2 1/4 -inch rounds, re-rolling scraps. You should get 8. Place on and ungreased cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 425-degree oven for 8-10 minutes.  

Double chocolate version: Knead 3 tablespoons of cocoa into dough with the chocolate chips.

Orange and Chocolate Mini Cheesecakes

 8 chocolate graham crackers

3 T. butter, melted

2 (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened

½ c. sugar

2 t. orange zest

2 t. vanilla

2 eggs

4 or 5 mandarin oranges

4 T. sugar

3 T. water

Line 12 muffin tins with paper liners. Set aside. Crush graham crackers into crumbs- you should end up with about a cup of crumbs, or a bit more. Place crumbs in small mixing bowl. Drizzle the melted butter over the crumbs, and toss to distribute the butter evenly. Spoon a rounded tablespoon of the crumb mixture into each of the paper lined muffin tins. Press firmly on the crumb mixture. I used the bottom of a small glass to press the crumb mixture down. Set aside. Beat together the cream cheese, sugar, zest and vanilla for 1 minute with electric mixer. Beat in the eggs until just mixed in. Divide this mixture in the muffin tins, filling each 3/4 full. Bake 25 minutes at 325 degrees. While cheesecakes are baking, prepare oranges. Peel oranges and break apart into segments (sections). You will need 36 segments in all. In small pan, boil together sugar and water for two minutes. Place orange segments in a small bowl and pour the sugar syrup over them, tossing gently to coat. Set aside to cool down. Place three orange segments on top of each cooled down cheesecake. Makes 12. Serves 6.

Candied Orange Peel

2 large oranges ( you can also use 1 grapefruit or 3 lemons)

¾ c. water

¾ c. sugar, plus extra for rolling

3 T. light corn syrup

Remove peel from fruit using a sharp knife. Try to get the peel off in 4 pieces. Cut the peel into ¼-inch wide strips. Place peel in a pot with cold water and bring to a boil. Boil 1 minute, drain and rinse under cold water. Repeat process 2 more times. Return to pan with fresh water and boil 15 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Bring ¾ c. water and ¾ c. sugar to boil in sauce pan with the corn syrup. Boil 2-3 minutes and then add the peel. Simmer, stirring occasionally until all but a spoonful of the syrup is left. This should take about 10 minutes. On a wax-paper lined baking sheet sprinkle 1 cup of sugar and arrange the peels on top of the sugar. Toss the peels around until cooled adding more sugar if needed.  Place peels on a drying rack for 24 hours before storing. Once dried you can also dip one end of the peels in dark chocolate. Makes ½ pound.   

Dried Orange Zest

I love to use orange zest in a lot of recipes, but I don’t always have fresh oranges around to zest. I dry my own, so I always have orange zest handy. It’s easy to do. You don’t need a dehydrator, but you can use one, if you have one. You can save the entire peel from thin-skinned oranges, like mandarins or temple oranges. For oranges with a thick, white pith, use a peeler to remove the peel in strips- leaving as little of the white portion on them as possible. Place in a single layer in a basket. Air circulation helps them to dry faster. If you pile them up, you risk them getting moldy before they dry. Leave room for air circulation. You can also leave them on a tray in a single layer. When the peels are brittle, break into smaller pieces and grind into a powder. A spice/coffee mill works well. A blender works fine, too. I have tried to powder them up in several types of food processors and the peels seem to get wedged between the blades and the sides of the work bowl. Once they are powdered up, I use a fine strainer to get out any larger pieces. To be safe, just in case they aren’t completely dry, I put my zest in a freezer container and store in the freezer. The freezer helps the zest to retain its flavor and color longer, too. Better to use organic oranges, if you can.   

Helpful Hints to Reduce Food Waste

Food waste is a growing problem. Estimates are that American families throw out $1,000-$3,000 of food every year. There are things you can do to reduce your food waste. Here are some tips to waste less and save money on food.

  • Buy less. I know, duh. The problem is stores they are designed to get us to buy more. There are some tips to help you buy less. Don’t go to the store when you are hungry, which does work. Make a list. That also helps. Perhaps shop with cash! I know- so many people do not carry cash, but at least set a budget. If you don’t buy too much, you will automatically toss out less. If there is a special sale, only buy it if you can use it, store it, or keep it for later use. If you see a great price on chicken- and your family eats a lot of chicken- get it. Just don’t get more than you have room for in the freezer.
  • Avoid stocking up on highly perishable foods. There is only so much you can do with leaf lettuce. I have a friend who said she stopped buying bags of potatoes because they go bad before she can use them. In the old days, we had root cellars for storing things like potatoes, onions, cabbages etc. Most people don’t have root cellars anymore, so buy what you can use before your food goes bad.
  • Inventory your pantry at least once a year. Same for the freezer. Pull everything out and see what you have. Check expiration dates. Keep in mind that expiration dates on canned goods don’t mean a lot. Properly stored, canned foods are good a long time after the dates. You can at least move older stuff to the front. Maybe pull out some things and keep them handy, so you will use them.
  • Use as much of what you buy as possible. Potato peels, broccoli stems, carrot tops, pickle juice can all be used in creative ways. My mom used to save garlic and onion skins. She would put them in the red mesh bags that the onions came in. My dad kept the bag hanging in the garage. When he grilled, he would sprinkle some of the garlic and onion skins on the hot coals. They imparted a lovely flavor on the food he was grilling.
  • Be a seasonal shopper. When produce is in season it costs less, but foods like turkey and ham tend to cost less during the fall and winter holidays.
  • Grow a garden. Even a few herbs in a pot on a sunny windowsill can save you money. If you have room for a vegetable garden, even better. Be creative. You can plant lettuces in between flowers for an attractive and edible landscape. Depending on what you grow a vegetable garden can produce $4-5 per square foot over a season.
  • Preserve it. I know, you never canned and are afraid, but you can freeze and dehydrate produce when you have too much. Sauce can be frozen instead. Canning info is available from your local extension office or from the USDA. When you have fresh herbs, freeze what you can’t use and have them on hand whenever you like.
  • Convenience comes at a price. I am not suggesting you grind your own wheat for bread, but try to use fewer convenience foods when you can. Bake bread once in a while or buy regular carrots and peel them rather than using the more expensive baby carrots. Buy a head of romaine or other lettuce and wash it yourself. It costs much less than bagged salads.
  • Buy off-brands. Store brands item such as canned or frozen vegetables and fruits cost less and you will never know the difference. Same for items like flour, oatmeal, sugar, saltines, oil, jelly, olives, mustard and many more. If you just must have a certain brand of peanut butter, that’s fine, but at least try other brands once in a while.
  • Shop at discount stores. You may have to bag your own at stores like Aldi and Sav-a Lot but you will save money. That goes for Marc’s and Big Lots, too. They have smaller selections, so you might not find everything you need, but the savings can really add up.
  •  Make a list. Impulse shopping and shopping hungry can add a lot of extras to your bill. Some people also find it helpful to use cash. If you only bring a certain amount with you, you are limited from going over budget.
  • Avoid frequent trips to the store. Stopping in can lead to impulse buying or overbuying. You’ll also save money on gas and time.
  • Be open to those unexpected bargains. Keeping in mind that it is no bargain if you can’t use it you can sometimes really save money on in-store specials.
  • Use the leftovers. Get creative with what’s in the fridge. Soups, stews and omelets can be a great way to use up bits of this and that. I often toss leftovers into a dinner salad. If you choose to freeze leftovers be sure to label and date them so it won’t turn into mystery food, shuffled around the freezer for a couple of years and then tossed.
  •  Make your own convenience foods. When I had a big garden I would often drop off bags of peppers at Mom’s. She would make a batch of stuffed peppers and mashed potatoes and freeze her own frozen dinners for later use.  I make my own chicken nuggets, cook and freeze them in smaller packages for later use. Not expensive and a lot better than anything you can buy.
  • Soup it up.  Soups can be a great way to make food go farther, and be good for you, too.  I sometimes think of the year as having 2 seasons-soup and salad. When it is cold I nearly always have a pot of soup going. In warmer weather I make many variations on salads.
  • Look in the cupboards.  Try making soups, stews, skillet dinners and salads using at least a few items from the cupboard. This can save a trip to the store and keeps stored foods from getting pitched eventually. 
  • Drink tap water: Bottled water costs a lot more than tap water and isn’t better for you. Try keeping a pitcher on ice in the fridge during the summer. I have had kids in cooking camps get confused when I tell them to get water from the sink.
  • Lose the soda: I know they taste good, but your family budget can get sipped up quickly. Try making lemonade, iced tea or even just water with a bit of lemon juice in it.
  • Mix it up: Use mix brownies or cake mix for family desserts rather than that stop at the bakery. It will save you a lot and makes the house smell good, too.

Spelt Bread

Spelt Bread

There is just something about homemade bread. I love the way the house smells when bread is baking. I decided to bake some spelt bread last night. It is one of my favorites. Besides, since I have challenged myself not to go to the grocery store for a month, if I didn’t bake it, I wouldn’t have it.

I always have at least a few people who ask me what spelt is.

Spelt flour is a close relative to wheat. I love cooking with it because it is so easy to work with. It doesn’t require much, if any, kneading when you make yeast bread out of it.

Spelt has a texture much closer to white flour in baking other things, like muffins or biscuits. It does contain gluten, so it’s not an answer for people with gluten issues.

For those who do cook with wheat, spelt provides whole grain nutrition in a delicate, less heavy package. The bread I baked was so easy to make and gives me all the taste and fiber of whole wheat bread with less work.

Spelt flour is still tricky to find. Some larger grocery stores carry it, but you might have to go to specialty markets. Bob’s Red Mill is my usual source, so if your store carries their products, you should be able to locate it.

Spelt Bread

3 ¼ c. spelt flour
1 pkt. Active dry yeast
1 c. water
1/3 c. honey
¼ c. oil
1 t. salt
1 egg
Place 2 c. flour, yeast and salt in a medium bowl. Heat together water, honey and oil until warm (120-130 degrees) Add water mixture to spelt mixture and beat on low speed of electric mixer for 30 seconds, or until moistened. Add egg and beat on high 3 minutes. Stir in enough spelt to make a soft dough. Cover bowl with towel and allow to rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan and use a rubber scraper to transfer dough into prepared pan. Cover and let rise until doubled, another hour. Bake in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for 25-30 minutes. Cover top with foil during last 10 minutes of baking. Bread is done when it sounds hollow when lightly tapped. Remove from pan and cool on wire rack. Makes 1 loaf.

Foods You Might Not Know You Can Freeze

Waffles

There are several reasons we freeze foods. Safety is probably the biggest one. Frozen foods last a lot longer than most foods that aren’t frozen. Convenience is another reason. You can make a big batch of soup or chili, then freeze some to eat later. Freezing can also reduce food waste, by allowing you to keep something to use later, that might otherwise go bad before you can use it.

People always seem surprised at some of the foods that I freeze. I’ve been getting more questions lately, so I made a list of some things you can freeze- but maybe didn’t know you can freeze.

If you find something in the frozen food section at the store remember- if they can freeze it- you can freeze it. Part of my pantry challenge is to eat foods I already have, without going to the grocery store. My frozen foods are what really make this easier. Besides the typical meats and veggies, I have some fun ingredients to work with in my freezer. I can also extend the life of some of my foods by freezing them.

So here is a quick list that I came up with, in no particular order.

1. Eggs: While they keep for a pretty long time you can find yourself with more eggs than you can use. Crack the eggs and place them in ice cube trays or small containers- and freeze. No special instructions. Some people prefer to add a tablespoon of water to each egg. I have tried with and without water and both seemed fine. You can also freeze the yolks and whites separately. Add a little water to yolks when freezing them on their own. Don’t freeze eggs in their shells.

2. Avocados: This really prompted a lot of feedback. I posted a recipe for guacamole once and mentioned that you could freeze avocados. I got a lot of response to that. Most people said they never even considered freezing avocados. They freeze great. Frozen avocados work best used in dips and smoothies later. Don’t expect to slice them to top your salad after they were frozen, but they mash up great and would still work on toast. Just cut in half, remove the pit and scoop out the flesh. Dip in lemon juice and place in a freezer bag. Squeeze out any air and seal. You can also just mash them up before freezing. The lemon juice keeps their color better. You could use lime juice, if you like.

3. Pasta and Rice: Decided to lump these together since the information for both is about the same. Easiest way is to just freeze the pasta or rice in portion sized baggies. Thaw in fridge or microwave when ready to use. This is a great way to eat more brown rice, at least it works for me. Rice takes 15-20 minutes to cook. Brown rice takes double that amount of time, at least. I cook up a big batch of brown rice, portion it out and freeze it. Now I can grab a baggie whenever I want. Same for pasta. Not so much the time it takes to cook as getting out that water and getting it boiling. Or sometimes I just cook too much pasta. Freezing the extra means I can have pasta when ever I want.

4. Milk: There are some problems with freezing milk. It will separate so it won’t be quite like the fresh stuff you pour on your cereal, but milk that was frozen is perfect for baking and cooking. I don’t drink much milk. This way, rather than tossing milk, I can freeze the extra and use it for cooking later on. Also easier than me trying to keep milk on hand, when I rarely drink it.

5. Whole Grains/ Whole Grain Flours: This isn’t so much about whether you can freeze them, but rather, why you should. All whole grains contain the germ and bran, which contain fat. Over time, they can become rancid. Don’t panic, doesn’t happen all that quickly, but if whole grains are stored in a hot kitchen they will develop an off taste. Also depends on how much you buy and how quickly you go through it. The last few bags of brown rice I brought suggested refrigerating after opening the package. If you don’t have the freezer space- store them as cool and dry as you can and don’t buy more that you can use in 6-9 months, or so.

6. Cheeses: Yes, you can freeze cheese. Harder cheeses seem to hold up better. There will be textural changes, more noticeable in soft cheeses. If you have more cheese than you can use, freezing will extend its shelf life.

7. Crackers: Some of you are wondering- why freeze crackers? The answer – to keep them fresh and crisp long past the expiration date. I was at a bakery outlet store one time and one of the employees shared that tip with me. There was a great sale on crackers but I was worried they would get stale. She told me to freeze them, in the package. She also said to leave them in the package until they came up to room temp, when I wanted to use them. I left one pack out and froze the rest. Several months later opened the pack I had left out of the freezer- the crackers were stale. All of the packs I had frozen stayed crisp.

8. Cheesecake:  Not sure why so many people ask me about cheesecake. Does Sara Lee sound familiar?  Yes, you can freeze cheesecake. I like to freeze slices on a baking sheet, then wrap in plastic wrap after they are frozen solid. Defrost with the wrapping loosened, but still on. Best defrosted in the fridge for a few hours.

9. Grapes : A lot of people don’t realize that grapes can be frozen. In fact, frozen grapes are one of my favorite hot weather snack foods. Grapes, like berries, can be frozen by just placing clean fruit on a baking sheet until they are solid. Then transfer to a freezer container or freezer bag. You can eat them right out of the freezer- or use them in cooking. I often make cobbler out of frozen grapes.

10. Baked Goods: Most baked goods freeze great. Cookies, cakes, pies. I prefer to freeze pies unbaked- then bake when ready to use. Again, think about some of the stuff you see in the freezer section at the store. I like to take my cookie dough and shape it into balls. Freeze the balls of dough on a baking sheet- then transfer to a freezer bag. When I need a few cookies I take them right out of the freezer- place on a baking sheet and bake- just add a few minutes to the baking time.

11. Soups, T.V.Dinners etc: Freezing meals is one of the best ways to use your freezer. For one thing, you can freeze stuff before you get sick of it. I know you LOVE your  chili- but do you really want to eat it all week? I bet not. By freezing it in portions that are practical for you and your family, you can have chili when you want, without having to make a fresh batch every time. Again, if Stouffer’s can freeze it, you can freeze it. Mac and cheese, stuffed peppers, sliced turkey with gravy and mashed potatoes. Have fun with it. A lot of people save take out containers and use those. You can also buy containers that are used over and over- so the cost  isn’t so much over time. I make big batches of vegetable soup- then puree it. I freeze it in both pint and quart containers. Great for a quick lunch or if friends stop by. It can be eaten as is, or you can add rice or pasta- you already have some in the freezer!! I will sometimes use this soup as a of pasta sauce.

12. Breakfast Foods: Really this is a continuation of number 11. You can freeze waffles, pancakes, breakfast sandwiches, smoothies etc. Makes breakfast time a little easier and you will probably like your waffles better than most of what you can buy at the store. Will save you a lot of money, too.

!3. Lemons and Limes: If you are like me, I prefer to have fresh lemons and limes on hand for drinks and cooking. However, they can go bad before I get to using them. I hate to find a fuzzy lemon at the bottom of the fridge. You can freeze them a couple of different ways, depending on how you want to use them later. For adding to drinks later, just cut the fruit in wedges or slices. Place on a small tray and pop in the freezer until solid. Once frozen, remove the fruit from the tray and place in a freezer bag or container. Now they are easy to grab right out of the freezer to add to your favorite beverage. For use in cooking, I zest the fruit and place the zest in a freezer container. Then I juice the fruit and pour the juice in ice cube trays. Once frozen, I can pop out the lemon or lime juice cubes and place in a freezer bag or container. Now, when I want lemon or lime juice for a recipe, I just grab a cube or two.

Some Extra Freezing Info

When it comes to vegetables a general rule is that if it is a vegetable that you cook- then it is a vegetable you can freeze. Works most of the time- we don’t normally cook lettuce and it doesn’t freeze well.   Most vegetable are blanched before freezing- that means placed in boiling water, then put in ice water, drained then frozen. This stops certain enzymes from working and keeps the veggies tasting fresher. Some veggies, like onions or peppers- don’t need blanching. You just cut them up- place on a baking sheet and place in freezer until solid, then transfer to a freezer container or bag.

Most fruits don’t get blanched- just washed, cut up if bigger fruits, and frozen. Some in syrup and some frozen “dry”.

High salt foods are not great for freezing. Think about it, we use  salt to melt ice. Salty foods, like cured meats, don’t freeze well and will get an off flavor if frozen too long. Freeze them if you must- but use as soon as you can, within a few months, for best flavor.