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Friday, November 28, 2014

Zucchini Chocolate Cake

As I was wandering about my local grocery store the other day I came across fresh zucchini.  As it's now out of season, it was a bit pricy but I had a hankering for a Zucchini Chocolate Cake, so I bought a couple.  There are two grocery stores in my town and usually only one regularly carries zucchini, so you can imagine my surprise when  I visited the second store and they had a special on zucchini at $1.99 a pound.  Now, in my opinion, that's not special enough to have a store bragging about such a (non) bargain.  But, as they were actually in the store, I bought a couple more and went home and made a Zucchini Chocolate Cake and put the extra squash in soup.  

Chocolate cake is not a favourite of mine but I really like this Zucchini Chocolate Cake.  It might even be my favourite chocolate cake.  I think it's because it isn't a deep, dark chocolatey cake and  I like the taste of cinnamon in every moist and delicious bite.  Just the fact that there's zucchini in a cake makes it quite likable in my opinion.  

This is a great cake for family gatherings and potluck dinners as it makes a large 9x13-inch cake and can be toted in and served right from the pan.  It can be served as is or a smear of chocolate frosting can be spread over the top for a fancier presentation.  I've even made it into a layer cake with great success.  The chocolate chips between the layers makes for an interesting contrast of textures in the cake.

For those of you who have never tasted a Zucchini Chocolate Cake don't be put off because of the zucchini.  This is a delicious and moist cake with a hint of cinnamon making it reminiscent of Mexican chocolate.  The zucchini keeps this cake moist and there is no hint of "healthy" when eating the vegetable in a cake.

Zucchini Chocolate Cake
½ cup soft butter
½ cup oil
1¾ cups sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup sour milk
2½ cups flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups shredded zucchini, about 2 medium
½ cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease a 9x13-inch pan.  If you plan on removing the cake from the pan, line it with parchment paper as well, for easy removal.

In a large bowl, cream margarine and add sugar, oil and beat until fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, vanilla, and sour milk.  The mixture may curdle but it will come together when the flour is added.  

Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.   It is important to sift the cocoa to remove any small lumps.  Add the sifted dry ingredients to the creamed mixture.  Mix to combine.
Stir in zucchini and combine well.  

Spoon into the prepared pan.  Sprinkle with ½ cup chocolate chips.  Bake 40-50 minutes at 3250 F.  

Cool and serve as is or frost with your favourite chocolate icing if you wish. 

Scrub the zucchini and shred leaving on the skin.  I used about 2 medium zucchini to yield 2 cups of grated.  Gently press the shredded zucchini in the cup when measuring. 

Cream the butter, oil and sugar together.

When creamed add the eggs, vanilla and eggs.  Beat to combine.  It may curdle but will come together when you add the dry ingredients.

Make sure you sift the cocoa with the flour.  Cocoa is notorious for lumps that will not beat out in a batter.  There's nothing worse than biting into a piece of cake that contains dry lumps of bitter cocoa.  Not nice at all!

Once the cocoa and flour are mixed in with the butter/sugar mixture add the shredded zucchini and mix well. 

Spread in prepared pan and sprinkle with the chocolate chips.  I lined my pan with parchment because I wanted to freeze half the cake and wanted to remove it easily from the pan.

See the specks of green zucchini peeking through the batter.
I like the cake without frosting but please yourself and put on as much frosting as you like.

Moist and Delicious!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Here's a simple Chocolate Buttercream Frosting perfect for cakes and brownies or anything you need to frost with a chocolate icing.  Make sure you sift the cocoa powder because if you don't you'll be left with tiny lumps of bitter cocoa throughout your frosting.  This will not be nice.  You can make this by hand or use your mixer.

 Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
4 cup icing sugar
½ cup cocoa
⅛ teaspoon salt
½ cup soft butter
3-4 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Sift the icing sugar, cocoa and salt together.  In a small bowl, cream the butter with the icing sugar and cocoa adding enough milk to make a spreadable icing.  Add the vanilla.   Spread over the cooled cake.  Makes enough to generously fill and frost a 9-inch cake.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Raisin Oatmeal Steamed Pudding

When I was a child of ten or twelve years I developed a habit of getting up early on Sunday mornings to bake one of the recipes that had been published in the local newspaper.  There was a weekend edition that carried a full colour magazine that contained a section of recipes.  While Mom and Dad were still in bed I'd make my way down to the kitchen, magazine in hand, little sister trailing behind and start baking.  There are two recipes I remember making from those faraway-days-- a marble spice cake and a raisin oatmeal pudding.  Both recipes have vanished since that time but I remember the taste of both the cake and pudding very distinctly to this day.  

The pudding in particular was a spicy mix of raisins and oats that formed a most delicious and moist steamed pudding.  Over the years I've tried several recipes that call for oats and raisins but never found anything that came close to the memory of that distant pudding made early one Sunday morning.

Then, oh joy, I came across a pudding with the name of "Raisin Oatmeal Steamed Pudding" and very happily went to the kitchen and mixed up it up and eagerly awaited it's removal from the pudding dish.  What a disappointment that pudding was!  As dry and rubbery as an old boot.  But the taste was there so I knew there was hope for this recipe.  After some adjusting of the ingredients (and eating of some rather unacceptable pudding by family members) I finally produced a pudding worthy of that Sunday morning memory from childhood. 

This is a great little pudding for people who don't want to go through the fuss of making a traditional Plum Pudding at Christmas time but would like to keep up appearances for the sake of  custom and convention.  The only fruit in this pudding is raisins so it's not an expensive dessert as a Plum Pudding would be.  (I suppose you could use chopped dates for those raisin haters).  

Serve the pudding warm with your favourite pudding sauce

Raisin Oatmeal Steamed Pudding
1 cup of oatmeal
1½  cups of sour milk (Make sour milk by adding 1½ tablespoons vinegar or lemon juice to cup before measuring milk.)
2 cups of flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup of butter
1 cup of brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot tap water
1 cup raisins

Prepare a 6-cup pudding mould, heat proof bowl or several 19-oz cans (or whatever size you would like to use) by greasing well and lining with parchment paper where possible. Have ready a large covered stock pot, with a trivet, filled with 3 or 4-inches of water.

In a medium bowl soak oatmeal in sour milk for ½ hour. 

Mix flour, salt, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon together and lay aside.

Beat butter and brown sugar together until creamed together.  Add the egg and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy.  Stir in the dissolved baking soda.

Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk and oatmeal to the creamed butter.  Stir in the raisins.

Spoon pudding batter in a well greased heat-proof bowl, cans or pudding mold.  Cover top with greased parchment or waxed paper.  If using a pudding mold press on the cover and tie securely.   If using a bowl, tie the paper down around the lip of the bowl.  I find a heavy elastic band works as well or better than string. Take a large sheet of foil wrap and place the bowl in the middle.  Bring the wrap up around the bowl covering the top loosely and secure by scrunching together. (If you have a proper pudding mould with a tight fitting cover you won't have to wrap it in foil.)

Place a trivet or 3 or 4 jar rings or jam jar covers in the bottom of a deep stock pot.  Pour 3 or 4-inches of hot water in the pot and place the pudding on top of the trivet. 

Bring the water to a boil and cover the pot.  Lower the heat so the water is gently boiling.  Steam the pudding 3 hours, checking occasionally to make sure the water has not evaporated.  When the pudding has finished steaming remove the pot from the heat and let it and the pudding cool down enough to remove.  This is so you won't scald your hands.  

Let the pudding rest at least 15 minutes before serving.  Slice and serve pudding with your favourite sauce.  To reheat left-over pudding, resteam or microwave until warm through.  

Sour milk can be easily made by adding vinegar or lemon juice to fresh milk. The milk should curdle in a few minutes.  Combine the oats and milk together and let soak for 30 minutes.

Beat the brown sugar and butter together until creamy.  Add the egg and vanilla and beat until fluffy.  To this mixture add the dissolved baking soda.  

To the creamed butter mixture alternately add the flour and oat mixtures.  Begin and end with the flour making 3 additions of flour and 2 of milky oats.  Stir in the raisins.   Spoon the pudding batter into prepared moulds.

You may use a pudding mould, a heat proof bowl or cans.

It's hard to line a pudding mould with parchment paper but if you use cans, place a round piece in the bottom of each can as that will aid removal when pudding is cooked.  Grease the cans or mould very well.  Cover with parchment paper and then with foil.

The steaming pot is ready using canning rings for a trivet. Place the foil covered puddings in the pot and let them steam for 3 hours.   Make sure you cover the pot. 

Let the pudding sit at least 15 minutes before cutting into slices.  Serve with your favourite pudding sauce sauce.  I've used a Brown Sugar Sauce with this slice.  

A enjoyable finish to your Christmas Dinner.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Banana Fruit Cake

I like banana bread and I like fruitcake so the marriage of the two makes for a very likable cake.  It is a simple mix of fruit compared to most fruitcake recipes as it contains only cherries, dates and nuts.  No yucky mixed peel in this cake!  (I really like mixed peel, but it seems a dislike of peel is the prevailing consensus among the rank and file.)

Somewhere in my travels I became the owner of a recipe box filled with those recipe cards you purchase monthly like a book club membership.  I can't remember where I got the box from, but probably at a thrift store of garage sale.  A few years ago, as the box was taking up space, I went through all the recipes and copied the ones I liked and threw away the rest.  Most of the recipes were either like ones I already had or were so strange they didn't interest me.  But there were a few that piqued my interest and this Banana Fruitcake is one of the ones I copied. 

You might think this cake is just a glorified banana bread but it isn't.  You make it like most other cakes by creaming butter, sugar and lots of eggs together and then adding the liquid (banana) alternately with the dry ingredients.  So it is not at all a banana bread.  

Surprisingly, the cake doesn't have a strong banana flavour like you would expect from the amount of bananas used.  Instead the flavour is more subtle when mixed with the other fruits and nuts.    

The cake can be made well in advance of Christmas and frozen until needed.

Banana Fruitcake
¾ cup butter, softened
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ½ cups + 1 tablespoon sifted all-purpose flour (divided)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups very ripe mashed bananas (4-6 bananas)
2-3 cups candied or maraschino cherries, well drained
1½ cups chopped pitted dates
1½ cups coarsely chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Fruitcakes need a slow oven.

Grease and flour or line a 10-inch tube pan or two 8½ x5-inch loaf pans.

Sift or mix together the 2 ½  cups flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and  nutmeg.  Lay aside.

In large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Beat in lemon peel, juice and vanilla . Alternately blend mashed bananas and dry ingredients into creamed mixture.

Mix the cherries and dates with remaining 1 tablespoon flour and add to batter with the chopped pecans.

Turn into prepared pans.   Bake 1 hour and 20 minutes for 10-inch pans or 50-60 minutes for loaves, or until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes. Turn out of pan and cool completely.

Decorate cake with a simple vanilla glaze or go all out and frost with a cream cheese frosting

Vanilla Glaze
1½ cups icing sugar
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
Enough milk to make a glaze to your liking

Mix all ingredients together, adding enough milk to make the glaze as thick or thin as you want.

Prepare the fruit and nuts.  Grate the lemon peel and mash and measure the bananas.  Cream the butter, sugar and eggs together with the vanilla and lemon peel and juice.  Mix the flour and mashed banana alternately in the creamed mixture.  Mix the dates, cherries and nuts into the batter. 

Prepare the tube pan by greasing it well and flouring.  This will keep the cake from sticking.  If using loaf pans, line with parchment or waxed paper.

 Scrape the Banana Fruitcake batter into the prepared pan.

Bake the cake in a slow oven for 1 hour 20 minutes or until baked through when tested with a tooth pick or cake tester.  300 degrees is perfect in my oven but if your oven is particularly hot turn it down to 275 degrees.

When the cake is baked, let it rest in the pan at least 10 minutes before turning out on a cake rack to cool.  Once cool you may decorate the cake or freeze it until needed.

When completely cool, decorate with a simple vanilla glaze or even a cream cheese icing.  A few cherries and pecans make a nice decorative touch. 

 A festive cake plate makes the cake look even more inviting.

Fruitcake slices need not be large.  
A small slice is sufficient because of the richness of the ingredients.

Deck the halls with Banana Fruitcake, 
Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la...

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Nutty Gumdrop Squares

Nutted Gumdrop Squares are a lovely colourful addition to your Christmas cookie tray.   Many people don't care for fruit cake or fruit cake squares but the humble little gumdrop is usually liked by everyone, young and old, and is a tasty ingredient in both cakes and cookies.

These Nutty Gumdrop Squares come from the Company's Coming 150 Delicious Squares by Jean ParĂ©.  The boys gave me the cookbook years ago as a Christmas gift (thank you David and Peter) and I've enjoyed every recipe I've ever made from the book.  And it's no difference with these squares.  I've been making them for a long time with not much change to the recipe.  I found them a little salty (which is strange for me as I like salty) so I cut back on the amount of salt in the recipe. 

I like the nuts in this square as I think they work well with the sweet gumdrops but if you don't like walnuts, use pecans or coconut or leave out the nuts altogether, but rename them to Gumdrop Squares.

If you can't find baking gumdrops you can use the candy gumdrops found in many stores.  Just sort out the black candies and give them to someone who likes them.  Black gumdrops will leave a nasty greyish black cast to your batter which doesn't look either appetizing nor festive. 

Make these cake-like squares early in the season, if you wish, and freeze them in airtight containers. 

Nutty Gumdrop Squares
¾ cup evaporated milk
1 cup gumdrops (no black candies), finely chopped
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter or margarine
½ cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and line a 9x9-inch square pan.

In small bowl combine milk and gumdrops.  Let stand while preparing the batter.

Sift or mix together the flour, baking powder and salt and lay aside. 

In another bowl beat together butter, sugar, egg and vanilla until well combined.  Add gumdrops and milk and combine well using a spoon.  (Don't worry if the mixture curdles.) Mix in the dry ingredients and nuts.  Stir well.  Spread mixture in the prepared pan.  Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Frost while still slightly warm.

Makes 25-36 squares

For the icing, you can make it plain with the first four ingredients or you can kick it up with one of the optional flavourings, grated citrus peel or food colouring.  

The three amigos--Orange, Almond and Lemon Extracts.
1½ cup icing sugar
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
5 tablespoons evaporated milk
½ teaspoon vanilla 

Optional add-ins:
½ teaspoon orange, lemon or almond flavouring
Grated orange or lemon peel
Few drops food colouring, pink, orange, etc.

Beat together until smooth. Spread on warm squares.

I find it easier to chop the gumdrop with a pair of kitchen scissors than with a knife.  I cut each gumdrop in 4 or 5 pieces.

Soak the gumdrop in the evaporated milk while measuring the flour and creaming the butter and sugar.

While the gumdrop are soaking in the evaporated milk, measure the dry ingredients and chop the nuts.

Cream the butter and sugar together.  Add the egg and mix well.  You don't need a stand mixer for these squares.  They mix up just as well with a hand mixer or with a spoon.

To the egg and butter mixture add the soaked gumdrops and evaporated milk.  The mixture will curdle.  Have no fear, it will go back together once the flour is added.

Add the flour mixture and nuts to the gumdrop mixture and mix well by hand.
 Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.

An offset spatula works very well when spreading batter.

When the Nutty Gumdrop Squares are baked and still slightly warm, ice them.  I used an orange flavoured icing adding a little grated orange peel and a dribble of orange extract to the icing recipe.

I made two varieties of Nutty Gumdrop Squares--coconutty and walnutty.  Both were equally good. The squares on the left with the pink frosting have the coconut and an almond flavoured icing.  The squares on the right are the original recipe with walnuts with an orange flavoured icing.

Nutty Gumdrop Squares are tasty, moist and cake-like with little jewels of candy in every bite.

Nutty Gumdrop Squares ready for your Christmas cookie tray.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Oat Crunch with Applesauce

Oat Crunch with Applesauce is a quick breakfast that can easily be put together the night before.  The toasted oats are similar to a simple granola and are nice and crunchy against the soft applesauce.  The oat mixture stores well in a covered jar or container for convenient use.

You may use any applesauce that you like--homemade or purchased, sweetened or unsweetened.  We always have applesauce on hand because Don's mother has a huge apple tree loaded with fruit and each year I make tons of applesauce. 

This not only makes a nice breakfast but makes a delicious and nutritious snack or light meal at other times of the day as well.
Although there were no spices in the original recipe, a few shakes of cinnamon, cloves or nutmeg wouldn't go astray.  To make this a vegan breakfast option, use a vegan margarine in place of the butter.

Oat Crunch withApplesauce
¼ cup butter (or vegan margarine)
3 cups uncooked quick rolled oats
2 tablespoons brown sugar
½ cup chopped nuts (almonds, pecans, walnuts, etc.)
Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, to taste, optional

Optional Toppings:

Melt butter in frying pan over medium low heat.  Add rolled oats.  Toast oats over medium heat, stirring constantly until golden brown.  This will take about 15 minutes.  Stir in brown sugar and chopped nuts, stirring until well combined.  Remove pan from heat.  When cold, store in covered container. 

Serve by placing 2 heaping tablespoons of Oat Crunch in each bowl.  Add the applesauce on top and finish with another layer of Oat Crunch. 

The Oat Crunch with Applesauce can be served with yogurt or a little cream dribbled over the top.  Makes about 6-8 servings.

Melt the butter over medium low heat.  Chop the nuts, measure the brown sugar and oats.  Stir the oats into the butter and keep stirring until lightly toasted and fragrant.  Have the brown sugar and nuts ready to stir in.

When the oats are toasted stir in the brown sugar and nuts.  Stir well to combine and remove from the heat.

 Golden and crunchy.

 Ready to be served for a delicious and nutritious breakfast.

I topped my Oat Crunch with a dribble of cream, mmmmm.....  
Yogurt or milk is equally as delicious.

Sweet with applesauce and crunchy with oats and nuts.