Use It or Lose It

Round about this time of year I start to get serious about using up what’s stored in the freezer. Summer’s coming, and with it new crops of fruits and veggies, new jars of basil pesto and scape hummus. I’d love to say I’m one of those super-organized people with a list of each and every thing we’ve got available, but no. The only running inventory of our stores is in my head, which means I take on the responsibility of being sure we’ve got what we need and use what we have.

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I made a reconnaissance mission recently and found piles and piles of frozen fruit and enough shredded zucchini to give a gardener flashbacks. The fruit I’m not too worried about – we’ll be downing smoothies regularly just as soon as the house warms up a bit – but for the zucchini we’ll have to make more of a conscious effort. (As I write I wonder if we couldn’t incorporate zucchini into our smoothies…) Effort number one, a recipe we enjoy with homemade ketchup or barbeque sauce, or with just a good sprinkle of salt.

Zucchini Pancakes

1 1/2 cups flour

2 1/2 cups cornmeal

5 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 Tablespoons sugar

2 eggs

2 cups milk

4 Tablespoons vegetable oil

2 cups grated zucchini

1 small onion, diced

Mix dry ingredients.

Add wet ingredients and stir til combined.

Fry in a drizzle of oil over medium high heat until golden and cooked through. (About 4 minutes a side.)

Stocking the Shelves

Today: granola, cheese crackers, chocolate cake with buttercream frosting, yogurt, granola bars, and tomato cashew cream pasta.

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The crackers are from The Homemade Pantry, by Alana Chernila. I don’t own a lot of cookbooks, but this one is worth having.

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It’s eminently readable, and every recipe I’ve made from the book and Alana’s blog has been eminently eatable as well.

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Milk It

Knowing we’d be entertaining vegan guests, Rowan and I spent some time tweaking and testing cupcake recipes before her birthday party. The one we settled on makes a rich, dense, chocolately cupcake that impressed even the vegan-skeptics among us.

rowan is 16 brownie cupcakes

Whether you prefer your milk come from cows, goats, almonds, soy, or rice, I’d recommend having a tall glass handy.

Vegan Brownie Cupcakes with Cacao Cookie Dough Frosting

2 cups sugar

1 cup brown sugar

Rounded cup cocoa powder

1 1/2 cups margarine, melted

4 Tablespoons ground flax seed

12 Tablespoons water

3 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 Tablespoons almond milk

2 1/2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

Before you begin mixing up the batter, you’ll need to prepare your flax egg-replacer. Mix flax with water and let sit in fridge for at least 30 minutes. An hour’s better.

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine sugar, brown sugar, and cocoa powder.

Add melted margarine.

Add flax mixture, vanilla, and almond milk.

Add dry ingredients.

Stir til just combined.

Fill cupcake cups completely. (Don’t fill three quarters of the way as you often do for muffins and cupcakes.)

Bake for 20 minutes.

Yield: 14 cupcakes

Vegan Cacao Nib Cookie Dough Frosting

10 Tablespoons margarine

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup flour

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1 teaspoon molasses

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 Tablespoons almond milk

Cacao nibs (We love Taza Chocolate’s nibs. We took a free tour on a cold winter day a few years ago, and have been hooked on their bars and their baking and chocolate-covered nibs ever since. Well-played, Taza.)

Cream margarine.

Add brown sugar.

Add flour.

Add powdered sugar.

Add molasses, vanilla, and almond milk.

Add cacao nibs.

Pipe or spread on cupcakes. If piping, use a very large tip to avoid clogging. If it does clog, insert a chopstick into the tip and wiggle it around a bit.

Sprinkle with cacao nibs.

(Photo by Dagny.)

Calm Before the Storm

My younger sister makes incredible oatmeal cookies. Each bite crunches and chews and melts all at once. Every few years I would try to bake them myself according to the recipe she gave me, but my cookies were always a disappointment – cakey and soft and wrong. I tried every variation of the recipe I could think of. Cold butter, warm butter, light brown sugar, dark brown, longer cooking times, shorter cooking times. Each variation left me with a pile of cookies I didn’t particularly want to eat.

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I resigned myself to the fact that I would only have a truly good oatmeal cookie when Jeanne felt like making them for me. Then Dagny paid a visit to my older sister, Anna, and came home with a recipe Anna has apparently been using since high school that had somehow passed me by.  Finally, finally, I can make my own crunchy, chewy, melty oatmeal cookies.

If you’re on the east coast, you should have time to whip these up before the power goes out.

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Or am I the only one who equates storm prep with a marathon baking session?

Anna’s Oatmeal Cookies

Preheat oven to 350.

1 cup butter

1 cup sugar

1 cup light brown sugar

2 eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups flour

2 1/2 cups oats

6 oz chocolate chips

Cream butter.

Add sugars.

Add eggs and vanilla.

Add dry ingredients.

Fold in chocolate chips.

Anna’s instructions are to bake for 5-7 minutes. I think I make my cookies bigger than she does, but mine bake for 9-12 minutes. They’re ready when they’re golden and the edges are lightly browned.

Pie Pusher

In our family, pies are not just for holidays. Just about anything might inspire a pie craving, but by far the most reliable craving-inducer is to watch an episode (or two…) of Pushing Daisies. When the characters are not talking about pie they’re rolling dough or mixing pie filling or adding secret ingredients or making deliveries of pie in the most picturesque of wooden boxes. You might think the murder central to each episode would dull your appetite, but, no. The creators of the show managed to turn dead bodies into just one more layer of creativity and visual deliciousness that leaves you hungry for the next episode. It’s like pie for your eyes, and it’s guaranteed to make us want pie in our mouths.

Apple Pie

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

7 cups apples, peeled if you like, and sliced or chopped

2 Tablespoons lemon juice

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

2 Tablespoons butter

1 egg yolk

1 Tablespoon water

Grated sharp cheddar cheese

Pastry crust (We like this recipe.)

Combine apples, lemon juice, sugars, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Lay pastry in bottom of pie pan.

Fill with apple mixture.

Dot with pieces of butter.

Cover with top pastry, poke steam holes, and crimp edges.

Whisk egg and water, and brush on top crust.

Cover edges of crust with tin foil.

Bake at 425 for 15 minutes.

Reduce heat to 350 and bake for 20 minutes

Remove tin foil and sprinkle top of pie liberally with grated sharp cheddar cheese, then bake for a final 20 minutes.

Keeping Score

In the beginning we count weeks, “I’m 30 weeks pregnant.” Later we count months, “She’s 15 months old.” We ease into the idea of years, as if that will slow a score of them from suddenly passing by. The me who counted weeks and months made a decision and a promise. If time was going to pass as quickly as everyone said, if children grow in the blink of an eye, she was going to do her best to truly experience it. She would be with her kids. She would pay attention.

Dagny turned 20 years old this week. We started the day with pumpkin waffles, ended it with chocolate cake, and spent the day between together. I was there. I paid attention.

Pumpkin Waffles

1/2 cup brown sugar

6 Tablespoons cornstarch

2 1/2 cups flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

3 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

4 teaspoons ginger

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

4 eggs, separated

2 cups milk

2 cups pumpkin puree

8 Tablespoons melted butter

Break up cornstarch with a whisk.

Add dry ingredients.

Separate eggs.

Add pumpkin and milk to yolks and set aside.

Whip eggs whites til stiff peaks form. Set aside.

Pour melted butter into the pumpkin mixture and whisk together.

Mix wet and dry ingredients til just combined.

Fold in eggs whites.

This recipe makes 9 waffles, and can be cut in half.

(Cake photo stolen from Dagny’s instagram.)

Seed of an Idea

So you’ve got yourself a pumpkin and you’re going to make a pie. You scoop out all the goop, and then what? Throw it on the compost pile? Not a bad idea, but you can do better.

Why not rinse the seeds and lay them out to dry so you can plant your own pumpkins next year?

Maybe you’re more an instant gratification kind of person? Try this.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Preheat oven to 400.

Rinse seeds.

For every 1/2 cup of seeds, mix 2 cups water with 1 Tablespoon salt.

Boil the seeds in the salt water.

Remove from water, spread on cookie sheets, and bake for 10-20 minutes, til crunchy.

Sprinkle with salt, cayenne, cinnamon and sugar, whatever you like.

In a Jam

Rowan had a sudden craving for these the other night. I may or may not have eaten them for dinner.

Jammy Biscuits

Preheat oven to 400.

4 cups flour

8 teaspoons baking powder

4 Tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup shortening

3 cups milk

Jam

Mix dry ingredients.

Cut shortening in with a knife/pastry cutter/your hands until the mixture is a coarse meal.

Add milk.

Knead 10-12 times.

Roll out – say 1/2″ thick – then cut into circles with the lip of a cup.

Make as deep and wide a well as you can in the center of each circle with your finger and fill with jam.

Bake 11 minutes.

These are perfect when the jam is still a bit too hot for your tongue, but if you don’t manage to eat them all they’ll keep for a few days in an airtight container. The recipe yields about 36 biscuits. If you’re not feeding five hungry people you may want to cut it in half.

Mommy and Me

Right before I bought the last of the tomatoes, my mom gave me a recipe for tomato pie.  I think she would say I was pretty good about following directions when I was a kid. Not so much now.

Tomato Pie

Biscuit dough *

2 very large tomatoes, sliced **

1 large onion, sliced

1 bell pepper, chopped

1 1/2 cups grated mozarella

2/3 cup mayonnaise

Oregano & Basil ***

Saute onion and pepper in butter. Set aside.

Stretch biscuit dough to cover bottom of a greased pie pan.

Cover dough with two or three layers of sliced tomatoes.

Cover tomatoes with onion and pepper.

Sprinkle with oregano and basil.

Mix mozarella and mayo together and spread on top.

Bake for 40-45 minutes.

Let stand at least 15 minutes before cutting.

*Mom’s recipe calls for a can of biscuits. I pulled out her old recipe for baking soda biscuits instead. Recipe below.

**Mom peels hers. I couldn’t come up with any good reason to do so, so I didn’t.

***Mom used dill as well. I didn’t have any. She uses 1/8 of a teaspoon of each. I say apply liberally.

Baking Soda  Biscuits

2 cups flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

3 Tablespoons butter

1 1/4 cups milk

Mix dry ingredients.

Work butter in with a knife.

Add milk and stir to combine.

I didn’t need the whole recipe for the pie, so I dropped the extra dough in four bits onto a baking sheet and cooked at 450 for 12 minutes.

Staple Food

I lean towards recipes that don’t require any special trips to the grocery store, but rather call for ingredients we regularly have on hand. When such a recipe is adaptable to the seasons, allowing me to choose the final ingredient based on what’s growing outside, it’s sure to earn a spot in the recipe box.

Savory Scones

3 cups flour (I use 2 cups all-purpose, 1 cup wheat)

1 Tablespoon baking powder

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional)

2 cups cheddar cheese + a bit for sprinkling

1 1/2-2 cups milk

Flavor boost – onion, scallions, jalapenos, chives, garlic scapes, whatever you like – diced

Preheat oven to 425.

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, cayenne, and cheese.

Add whatever flavor boost you’ve chosen. How much? Enough so that you’ll get a bit in every bite. Let’s say a palm full.

Add 1 1/2 cups of milk.

Stir.

Is all the flour moistened? If not, add a bit more milk. You’re aiming for just-moistened, not soup.

Take half the dough out of the bowl and knead it a couple of times on a floured surface. (If you are someone who hears ‘knead’ and thinks – aggghh, making bread?! I can’t make bread! – breathe. By knead I mean mush. Mush it a couple of times.)

Pat it into a fairly thick circle, approximately 6″ around.

Cut into 8 triangles. (Cut in half, cut the halves in half, cut those in half.)

Repeat with the second half of the dough.

Lay your triangles on a parchment or Silpat lined baking sheet, leaving a bit of room around each one.

Sprinkle with cheddar cheese, then pour a tiny bit of milk over each triangle.

Top with extra flavor boost, if you’d like.

Bake for 20 minutes.

Serve hot.