Friday, 1 February 2019

Raspberry Valentine Cookies

Have you ever encountered a recipe that when you first read it you thought would be of little use to you, and yet somehow it turned out to be a staple, used year after year?  This cookie began with one of those recipes.

I was given some Rycraft cookie stamps for Christmas one year.  They were beautifully made, with intricate designs cast into fired red clay and a smooth glaze on the handles and tops.  Turned out, though, that I rarely used them. They failed to make the cut when I was packing up to move house a couple of years later but the recipe sheet that came with the cookie stamps stayed with me through the move, tucked into the back of my well-thumbed Fanny Farmer Baking book.  I still refer to it several times each year.

Cookie stamps and molds require cookie dough that doesn't rise or spread a lot - that holds the relief patterns without a lot of distortion - and the recipe sheet included several of them, mostly versions of cookies I already knew how to make.  There was just one that I hadn't encountered before: Fruit Jello Cookies.

Fruit Jello Cookies are basically a sugar cookie coloured and flavoured with Jello. Because they hold their shape very well, the dough is excellent for rolling out and cutting with cookie cutters, and that's how this particular cookie came to be.  

The first couple of years I just cut out simple heart shapes for my Valentine's Day cookies, then I decided to make them into sandwich cookies filled with butter cream icing.  A couple of years after that I cut a window in the center of half of the cookies, and added seedless raspberry jam to the sandwich cookie filling. That version stuck.  I've made my Valentine's Day sandwich cookies with buttercream icing and seedless raspberry jam ever since. They're so good!

To make Raspberry Valentine Cookies, you'll need:

3/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 x 4-serving-size package of raspberry flavoured Jello
2 eggs, beaten
2-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

You'll also need some vanilla-flavoured buttercream frosting and some seedless raspberry jam.  

I don't have a recipe for the frosting - I just soften some butter, add in icing sugar a bit at a time until it reaches the taste and consistency I'm looking for, and mix in some vanilla.  If the frosting gets too thick while I'm mixing it up, I add a little bit of milk.  If you're not a by-guess-and-by-golly cook and prefer a recipe, there are lots of excellent buttercream frosting recipes out there. Almost every old-school general purpose cookbook has at least one.

Anyway...Once you have all the ingredients on hand:

Begin by creaming the butter, sugar, and fruit jello together until well combined.  Add in the beaten eggs and mix again until they're completely incorporated.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt, then mix them into the batter.

Divide the dough into two halves and, working with one half at a time, roll the dough out between two sheets of waxed paper, to a thickness of between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick.  

Transfer the dough, still between the sheets of waxed paper, to a cookie sheet and place it in the freezer.  Leave it there for at least an hour.

Remove the frozen dough from the freezer, then line a second baking sheet with parchment paper.  As soon as the dough is soft enough to get a cookie cutter through it (this takes just a couple of minutes), cut out an even number of heart shapes and transfer them to the parchment lined pan. Use a smaller heart-shaped cutter to cut a window into every second cut out cookie.

Gather the left-over dough into a ball, roll it out between sheets of waxed paper, and return it to the freezer.  Use it to make another batch of cookies later.

Bake the cut-out cookies in a 400F oven for 6 to 8 minutes, then cool them on the pan, on a wire rack, to room temperature.

Spread the back of each of the not-window cookies with a layer of buttercream frosting.  Top the frosting with some seedless raspberry jam, but don't spread the jam right to the edges.  It'll spread out a bit when you put the lids on.  

Top each iced cookie with a lid - a cookie with a smaller heart shaped window cut out of it - and fill the window up with a little more jam.

Let the filled cookies sit for a while before serving so that the frosting and jam have a chance to set up.  

I like to enjoy Raspberry Valentine Cookies with a hot cup of tea.

Hint:  Put the small heart cut-outs onto a separate, parchment-lined cookie sheet, putting the sheet back into the freezer until you've made up a whole pan full of them. When you're ready to bake the little cookies, brush the tops of the small hearts with a little milk and sprinkle them generously with sugar.  Bake the small cookies just as you did the big cookies, and store them in an airtight container. They freeze well and make a fun garnish for a bowl of ice cream.

Monday, 17 September 2018

How I Make Applesauce

I eat applesauce almost every single day.  I'm not even kidding.  I really do.  I love it.  Most of the time, applesauce is part of my breakfast but I also incorporate it into baked goods and use it as a sauce in which to braise pork chops or poultry. 

At an average of a cup a day - sometimes more - I go through a lot of applesauce in the course of a year.  I don't care for store bought applesauce and I can't afford to buy out-of-season fruit so, whether I love the process or not (and if I'm honest, I really don't), I need to can a lot of applesauce when the orchard-run apples hit the stores in fall. 

This year, I made 120 pounds of apples into applesauce; enough to get me through about 2/3 of the year.  I'd can more but I can't store more.  It'll have to do and, when I factor in the other fruit I canned this summer - peaches, plums, and pear butter - I probably won't have to buy fruit until next summer's peaches are in season.

Before I start telling you how I process my apples, I should tell you that several people have told me that what I make isn't really applesauce.  I cook it down a lot and they say that makes it apple butter, not applesauce.  For me it's a matter of a rose by any other name:  It's made of apples and I use it in the same way other people use applesauce, so that's what I call it.  If you prefer to call it apple butter, it's all good with me.  I'm not a member of the label police.  😉

I can process about 25 pounds of apples into applesauce each day.  I have two 15-quart stainless steel stock pots and that's how many apples they'll hold.  If you prefer to make smaller batches, this method will still work just fine.

Begin by putting about an inch of water in the bottom of your pot.  This will help to keep the apples from sticking to the bottom until they've cooked enough to release their own juice.  You want just enough water to serve that function,  The more water you add, the longer your sauce will have to cook down later.

Wash your apples, core them, and cut them in quarters.  There's no need to peel them.  Fill the pot as full as you can, put on the lid, and cook the apples over medium-low heat until they've softened and released their juice.  At this point, they will have cooked down to about half their original volume. The apples will be tender but the skins still mostly intact.  You'll need to puree them to break down the skins but it's worth the extra effort.  The skins add valuable dietary fibre and are nutrient-rich.  

Working in small quantities at a time, ladle the apples into a blender or food processor (I prefer a blender for this) and puree them until smooth.  Remember not to fill the carafe or bowl of your machine more than half full and to cover the lid with a kitchen towel.  Hot liquids expand while being pureed so put your hand on top of the kitchen towel and hold the lid firmly in place while your machine is running.

 As I puree the contents of the first pot of apples, I empty the puree from the blender into a large bowl.  When the pot is empty I wash and dry it, and transfer the puree from the bowl back into the pot.  As I puree the second pot full of apples, I add the puree to the contents of the first pot.  

When the apples are pureed, cook them on low heat - just above a simmer- with the lid off, stirring now and then to keep the sauce at the bottom of the pot from scorching.  Let the sauce cook for a long time: at least long enough to reduce in volume equivalent to the water you added at the beginning, and more if you prefer. The applesauce will have darkened in colour quite a bit by this time.  Don't worry, it's all good: it's just that the natural sugars in the apples have caramelized. 

I usually let my puree reduce in volume by about a quarter. When the sauce has reduced to the consistency you prefer, you're ready to can it.

The canning book I use says to ladle the hot applesauce into sterilized jars, cap the jars with prepared two-piece sealer lids, and then -if canning in pint jars - to process it in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes (25 minutes for quart jars).  Your canning book may say something different.  Please check before you process your applesauce and follow the instructions in your reference book carefully.  Food safety is essential!

Because my applesauce is very thick, I process my jars for an extra 10 minutes.  I figure better safe than sorry, and applesauce has a consistency that isn't isn't going to be affected by the extra cooking time.  My canner holds 14 pint jars so I process two batches a day.  If there's a pint of two of applesauce left over at the end, I put it in the fridge and add it to the next day's batch.

Before I begin the next day's batch of applesauce, I check the seals on the previous day's jars and then remove the sealer lid rings, wash the jars in warm, soapy water, rinse them, towel them dry, label them, and move them into the pantry.  If there are any unsealed jars, I either store them in the fridge and use them within three or four days, or empty the jars into the next batch of applesauce and then process as usual.

So that's it.  It's really very simple, isn't it?  The key to applesauce is patience.  Let it cook low and slow, process it carefully, and enjoy your bounty through the winter months.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Tightening My Belt: The January No-Spend Challenge

I'm not of a fan of New Year's resolutions as a rule - I think we tend to be too ambitious in our plans and, as a consequence, set ourselves up to fail - but I do have one January practice that I follow almost every year:  January is a no-spend month for me.

Over the years, my January challenge has taken different forms.  Some years, it has simply been a resolve to avoid the temptation of January sales by staying away from malls, clothing stores, home improvement stores, etc.  Other years it's meant cutting back almost entirely on buying anything at all.

A month without spending serves several purposes for me.  It resets my thinking away from the "shopping as recreation" mindset I tend to fall into over the holidays, it gives my savings plan for the year a good start, and, if I choose not to buy groceries, it affords an opportunity to take good stock of what I have on hand in the pantry and freezer; to use up those items that might otherwise expire.  

Since challenges like this are often useful to other people too, and because they're often best accomplished by having a supportive group of other participants around us, I thought it would be fun to ask you to join in on this no-spend month too.

If you take up this challenge along with me, you'll set your own goals, be that skipping your take out coffee in the mornings this month. going full on and cutting back on everything, or choosing something in between.

I've formed a January No-Spend Challenge Group on my Facebook page. I'll be posting my goals there and sharing some helpful links on budgeting, re-purposing, and frugal living. Join in the conversation by posting you challenge goals and sharing any questions or tips you may have.  I'll look forward to seeing you there!

Friday, 4 August 2017

My All -Purpose Use-What-You-Have Muffin and Tea Cake Recipe

We classify what we eat, those who cook what we eat, and the way our food is prepared in so many different ways: Fruitatarian, Vegan, Vegetarian, Pescatarian, Locavore, Omnivore, Wholesome Food, Organic Food, Health Food, Peasant Food, Local Food, Junk Food,  Plain Cook, Bush Cook, Home Cook, Traditional Cook, Professional Cook, Chef, Regional Cuisine, Peasant Cuisine, Nouvelle Cuisine, and Haute Cuisine. to name but a few! 

Here's another way to classify cooks that perhaps occurs to us less often:  Those who choose a recipe they like, shop for the ingredients, then prepare the dish, and those who look at the ingredients they have on hand, figure out what they can make with them, then cook a meal.  

If you're on a tight food budget, I'm willing to wager that you find yourself in the use-what-you-have group most of the time, and that's a good thing.  Using what you have on hand promotes creativity and it reduces food waste: it's kinder to both your budget and the planet.

This simple recipe is a great way to treat yourself to a little something sweet while making use of what you have on hand.  I came across it when I was a college student - so far back in the mists of time that I can't remember where I found it  ;) - and over time I've adapted it to best suit my baking habits.  

To make this recipe, you'll need:

  • 1-1/2 cups flour  (If you want to, you can substitute up to 1/2 cup of finely ground nuts for an equivalent amount of the flour )
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder (If you're using citrus juice or tea for you liquid in this recipe, use 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda instead)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • spices if you want them
  • up to 1 cup of other stuff:  Fresh or dried fruit, chopped nuts, coconut, or seeds (optional)
  • 1/3 cup oil or melted butter or melted margarine (You can substitute applesauce or other fruit puree here but doing so will your finished product a little less tender.)
  • 1/2 cup liquid (Milk, almond milk, rice milk, soy milk, buttermilk, fruit juice, coffee, or tea will work. Use the baking powder/baking soda amounts listed in parentheses above when using buttermilk, fruit juice or tea.)
  • 1/2 cup white sugar, brown sugar, or maple syrup. (You can substitute up to 1/4 cup of sugar with mild molasses but, if you do, be sure to use the baking powder/baking soda amounts listed in parentheses above.)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract (optional)
  • Grated citrus zest (optional)

To make the batter:
  • In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda (if you're using it), salt, and spices (if you're using them) and stir them together with a fork until well combined.
  • If you're adding fresh or dried fruit, chopped nuts, coconut, or seeds, add them to the flour mixture and stir to distribute them evenly. 
  • In a separate bowl, combine the liquid, sugar, beaten egg, and grated zest (if you're using it) and whisk them together until well combined.
  • Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients.  Stir the two together until just combined.  Everything should be moistened, but lumpy batter is okay.
  • Portion the batter into greased muffin cups, 2 small loaf pans, or a bundt pan.
  • For muffins, bake at 375F for about 25 minutes or until the center of one of the muffins in the middle of the pan springs back lightly when touched.
  • If baking loaves or using a bundt pan, bake at 350F until a skewer inserted in the centre of the loaf or cake comes out clean.* 

The muffins pictured above were made with a combination of fresh blueberries, frozen cranberries, the zest and juice of one orange and enough milk added to the orange juice to make up the quantity of liquid required.  Today I'm baking loaves with grapefruit zest and juice, brown sugar, and poppy seeds.

Have fun with this recipe and be creative.  I've made countless versions of it over the years and they've turned out well every time.

*Because of the sugar in the batter and longer baking times required, loaves and bundt cakes may get quite brown on the outside.  If they're getting darker than you'd like them to be, you can cover the pans loosely with aluminum foil for the last part of the bake or - if they're nearly done - turn the oven off and let them finish in the residual heat.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Pterodactyl Legs

I eat a lot differently now that I live alone.  There are many reasons for the change but I'd have to say that the top two are that I have considerably less money to spend on food now, and that it takes one person a long time to make their way through a full recipe of anything.  Both of those things have, of course, also affected how I shop for food.  

These days, before anything goes in my grocery cart, I ask myself can I afford it, and can the leftovers be frozen, canned, or re-purposed into a new dish.  Since I dislike eating the same dish over and over again for days in order to use it up, that second question is every bit as important as the first.

One way I get more bang for my meat-shopping buck is to head for the grocery store early in the morning.  Meat and poultry that are getting near to the "best by" date marked on their packaging are marked down by the department manager, usually by a factor of about thirty percent.  Provided it's used, frozen, or canned on the day it's purchased, the contents of those discounted packages are perfectly safe to eat, and the price reduction can make a significant difference to my budget.  

I found a package of discounted turkey drumsticks on an early morning foray to the store this weekend.  I like turkey but a whole bird is really a lot of meat for me to get through and, unfortunately, turkey parts are usually a lot more pricey pound-for-pound than a whole, frozen bird.  These drumsticks were a case in point:  although not subject to the same kind of mark-up as turkey breast meat, they are regularly priced at about $3.25/lb compared with the $0.95/lb price of a seasonally priced whole turkey.  The package of two drumsticks I was looking at was regularly priced at $6.77 and marked down by 30%.  That's still not as inexpensive as a whole frozen turkey but, with the reduced price falling below $5.00 for the package, it fell within my budget.  First criterion met.

Turkey's infinitely adaptable. I knew I'd have no problem finding a way to cook it so that it could be frozen and/or re-purposed so I bought it.

The drumsticks were huge (they made me think of peterodactyl legs, which made me grin) so I decided to cook them in my slow cooker, remove the meat from the bones, freeze some of it, and use some of it for my main meal the next day.  The question then became what flavours to use with them.  I decided to go for a taste of fall and pulled together the following ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup onion, cut in a 1/2 inch dice
  • 1 pint jar (approximately 2 cups) applesauce.*  
  • 2 large turkey drumsticks
  • poultry seasoning
  • salt
  • pepper

I seasoned the drumsticks all over with salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning, then put them in the slow cooker, sprinkled the diced onion over them, and poured the applesauce evenly over the top.  After putting the lid on the cooker, I left them to cook on the high heat setting for about 4-1/2 hours.  When they were cooked through and falling-apart tender, I removed the drumsticks from the pot to a platter and let them cool to room temperature.

I removed the sauce from the slow cooker too, transferring it to a glass bowl and letting it cool to room temperature as well.

When everything was cooled, I put a lid on the bowl of sauce and put it in the fridge, then pulled the meat off of the drumsticks. (I found my fingers worked best for breaking up the turkey. I was able to more easily find all the cartilage pieces and remove them.) I divided the meat into a sufficient quantity for my meal the next night and two packages for the freezer. I stored it in the fridge overnight.

The following day I skimmed the fat layer from the top of the sauce bowl and discarded it.  I then put the turkey I'd portioned for my supper that day into an oven proof dish and covered it generously with sauce.  I reheated it in a 350F oven for about 20 minutes, until heated through and bubbly.  It was delicious!

I added some sauce to the freezer packages, labeled them, froze them, and - because I had some left over - also froze a jar of sauce by itself.  

I can think of several ways to use my frozen portions of turkey and sauce:  I could make an open faced sandwich, mix the meat and sauce with rice and veggies to make a casserole, or use the meat and sauce together with some cubed, roasted root vegetables as the filling in a meat pie.

All in all, the drumsticks and the ingredients I cooked them with turned out to be a good value. I'll get at least two more tasty meals from that package of turkey; a fine thing for both my meal planning and my budget.  :)

*I make my applesauce with unpeeled apples and cook it down for a long time, until it's quite thick and dark.  If your applesauce is thinner or you're using a commercial product, you may want to opt for apple butter instead.

Monday, 11 July 2016

What's for Supper: July 11 - 15

Every Monday my Facebook friend Meal Planning Maven invites people to share their meal plans for the week on her page.  I've been participating in this conversation for a long time both because I love her page and the recipes she shares and because I find great inspiration from the other folks who post there.  This post was written with that conversation in mind.  I hope you'll share your plans and recipes on her page too.

Here's what I've planned for supper this week:

Monday, July 11 - Yesterday I made palak paratha (an Indian flatbread) using plantain instead of spinach.  I have some left over so tonight I'm going to use one to make a wee pizza with diced fresh tomato, finely diced red onion, diced zucchini, and shredded mozzarella and edam cheese as my toppings.

The recipe I used for the palak paratha came from Veg Recipes of India.  You can find it here.

If you'd like to learn more about plantain, check out this excellent post from Prairieland Herbs.

Tuesday, July 12 - Breaded, oven roasted chicken thighs, new potatoes boiled with a little fresh mint (both the potatoes and the mint were a gift from my friend Donna's garden), steamed carrots and sugar snap peas.

Wednesday, July 13 - A slice of cheddar, broccoli, and tomato quiche (from the freezer), brown rice cooked in vegetable stock, and a salad of romaine, chickweed, cooked sugar snap peas (leftover from Tuesday), diced pickled beet, and calendula petals, dressed with blushing beet salad dressing.

Thursday, July 14 - A chicken, rice, and vegetable salad.  Look for the recipe later this week.

Friday, July 15 - A portabella burger, and some carrot sticks, celery, and sliced cucumber.

Friday, 24 June 2016

How Living on a Limited Income Helped Me Go Green(ish)

When my husband died my household income declined sharply. Although I did receive the survivor's benefits from his Canada Pension Plan and superannuation, that amount was 50 percent of what he had been receiving. His full pension amounts were low enough that he had been entitled to an Old Age Security benefit but, being under the age of 65, I wasn't entitled to receive that top up. The harsh financial reality is that the total amount of pension coming into this household was reduced by about sixty percent.

Anyone who has lived alone can tell you that a household of one is not sixty percent less expensive to run than a household of two. My mortgage payment and condo fees remained the same, my home insurance went up, my car insurance and car maintenance costs were largely unchanged, and - because I'm not eligible for the senior's home owner grant - my property taxes more than doubled.  

I'd left work to care for my husband during the last months of his life and did receive a small unemployment insurance cheque for a while. but that ended four months after he died.  I found a new job but because of some on-going health issues of my own I chose to leave it, stay at home, and try to get by on solely on pension income. 

Tight does not begin to describe my budget.  

Just to be clear, I'm not complaining here. I'm doing okay. I have all of life's essentials, I'm surrounded by loving friends and family, and I'm gradually making a new life alone.  I did experience some big changes though, and I learned some good things along the way. 

These days I'm very clear about want versus need. I don't ignore every want - life is no fun without a few little treats - but I consider very carefully before I spend my money and I economize where I can. This is where the green(ish) part comes in.  It turns out that much of what I do to keep my budget in check is also good for the environment.

I don't buy stuff I don't need (or at least not very much of it), and it's amazing how many tchotchkes, shoes, clothing items, and dishes I don't  need.  If I don't buy it, I don't need to pay to maintain it, or store it, and I end up throwing far less away.

I source most of my craft materials and the fabric for my sewing projects from thrift stores.  It's far more affordable than shopping retail and it extends the useful life of items others have discarded.

I walk for most of my errands around town, only taking my car out if I'm going to be carrying something very large or heavy.  I'm not such a purist that I don't drive at all, but walking when I can reduces my fuel bills and car maintenance costs. It also reduces my carbon footprint.  

I buy plain, unprocessed food because it's less expensive.  It also usually comes with less packaging.  I do end up with some plastic, cardboard and tin to recycle, but much less than I used to.

Being vigilant about waste is the most important thing I do for both my budget and my impact on the environment. I can't afford to buy things and then not use them up. 

Unless I'm putting it by for future use, I don't buy more food than I can eat.  I try to use every edible bit of the food I do buy, including peels, cores, tops, leaves, skin, bones, shells, and fish heads.  It saves me money, makes respectful use of the energy required to grow/catch, transport, and package what I eat, and it produces some wonderfully flavourful stocks and sauces.

Whenever I can, I use rags made from worn out flannel sheets instead of paper towels, cloth napkins instead of paper, and glass jars and covered bowls instead of plastic wrap.  Freezer bags do have a place in my kitchen but I reuse them as many times as I can.  I also reuse the heavy zip closure bags that dry fruit and frozen goods come packaged in, and the liners from cereal boxes (awesome sandwich wrap!).

I use envelopes and any blank paper that comes in the mail for drawing, art projects, and making lists.  I cover both sides of the paper before I send it to recycling.  

I don't buy clothes unless I absolutely need them and when I do buy them, I usually buy second hand.  I mend my clothing and wear it until it's worn out, then use the salvageable fabric, buttons, and zippers to make new things.

All of these things are kind to the environment.

My new, very simple life works well for me. I can take quiet days, and rest when I need to.  I spend time outdoors every day.  I know exactly what I can afford and what I can't, and I can plan for that. My stress levels are greatly reduced.

Isn't it nice that many of those changes benefit the environment too? That's a win/win.

Do you have any frugal green living tips you'd like to share? Please feel free to comment here, on my Facebook page, or on Google+.  I'd love to hear from you.