Wednesday, January 25, 2012


I love those big, fluffy muffins from Starbucks. The ones that are like little personal cakes. They cost a fortune, though, and the nearest Starbucks is 100 miles. So I've been working on making my own.

Most muffin recipes from cookbooks have the texture and taste of cornbread. They were written before the cake-muffin trend got going. I have an excellent cookbook, though, called The Cake Mix Doctor, which takes standard, grocery store cake mixes and makes them into something special.

Why not try to get one of those yummy cake muffins from a cake mix? I also found a pumpkin-cranberry bread recipe which had excellent flavor, but not the correct texture and was very fussy to make. The following recipe is not exactly what I was aiming for, it's a little heavier and denser, but it turned out very well, so I thought I'd share it.

Pumpkin Raisin Muffins (or cake)

1 box yellow cake mix
1 small can (16 oz) pumpkin (or 1 C fresh, roasted pumpkin puree)
1C vanilla low fat yogurt
1 egg
1 cup raisins (or dried cranberry, or a mix)
1C chopped pecans

350 degree oven

Mix all ingredients until fairly well blended, put into greased muffin tins of the size you want, or a cake pan. Bake until a tester comes out clean-- about 25 - 30 minutes for a cake, a little less for small muffins.

Note that these are low fat-- no oil or butter -- and yet they turn out pretty moist and tasty. The pumpkin adds a little nutritional value, too. If you want to make them a little fancier, save 1/2 the pecans and sprinkle them on top before baking. You might also try roasting the pecans slightly before adding them to add more flavor.

I'm working on an Orange-Cranberry recipe at the moment. If I ever get that perfected, I'll be in heaven :)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

So easy a 3 year old could do it!

My goal is to make dinner, every night, for around $10 for 4 people. Sometimes I miss, but most nights I'm pretty darned close.
Tonight's dinner was pretty darned close (and the reason we missed was really good) -- we had steak, potatoes, corn, and blueberry pie. The steak was on sale at the local market-- $2 each ($8.10 for a pack of 4), 5 lbs of potatoes for a buck, corn from the food pantry, Blueberries 2 pints for $4.98 and I had Pillsbury pie crusts frozen from when they were on sale at Christmas ($2).

Broiled the steaks, baked the potatoes, microwaved the corn... cost, $2.10 per person (or so, I didn't count how many potatoes were in the bag). The pie put me over a little, because berries are so expensive this time of year, but it was really really good... here's the story.

My 3 year old granddaughter LOVES The Backyardigans (a show on Nick Jr.). Her favorite episode, which she has on DVD, is "Making Pie like a Samurai." A couple of weeks ago, she was dancing and singing in the kitchen while I was doing dishes, and she stopped and said "Gramma, can we make some pie?"

Well... we have frozen blueberries, and frozen pie crusts, I'm sure we can put something together. We didn't have any corn starch, though... pie thickened with flour is not nearly as bright as that thickened with tapioca or corn starch. I thought I had some tapioca in the pantry, but while searching for it I found the bag of powdered sugar.... which gets its texture from corn starch...hummm... we can try that. The pie was perfect! Beautiful, thickened just right and really tasty.

Today, knowing my granddaughter was coming over, I bought fresh blueberries (which were expensive this time of year, but were on sale)... and really, fruit pies are a pretty wonderful winter treat. This time I used the powdered sugar by choice. Again, it turned out wonderfully... so here is the recipe for the pie... so easy to make, a 3 year old can (mostly) do it.

Jax Blueberry Samurai Pie

1 box Pillsbury ready made pie crusts
2 pints blueberries (or 2 cups frozen, rinsed)
1/4 C powdered sugar

pre-heat oven to 350 degrees (F)

Mix sugar into blueberries, try and coat them very well (GENTLY, Jax says, don't break the berries)
Spread one crust into a pie pan
Pour blueberry/sugar mixture into crust and try to make it even
Cover with the other crust
Crimp the edges with a fork, trim off any excess (and give to the 3 year old to play with).
Slice a steam vent into the crust

Back for 40 - 50 minutes (until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly).

LET COOL COMPLETELY! (Really, otherwise it'll run all over the place. I know it's hard because it smells so good, but trust me on this, hot blueberry pie is more like blueberry soup).

Makes 8 slices for about $6.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Take out pizza no more

We only do take-out pizza for very special treats. It's expensive and has, in these economic times, become "an unnecessary". Instead, we make home made pizza. Especially for birthday parties. My 11 year old's friends are very happy when they come up and we make it because we make individual pizzas and they can put their own favorite toppings on.

I used to make a yeast dough and that made "pizza" very time intensive. The last few times, though, I've made a biscuit crust and it's fast and easy and I like it better because it's nice and crispy. You can use Bisquick biscuits or canned refrigerator biscuits if you want, but this recipe is cheaper, should be able to be done out of basic pantry items and works very well for crust

Sour Milk Biscuits
2C Flour
1/4t Salt
1/2 t Baking Soda
1T shortening (or butter or margarine)
1C sour milk (or plain yogurt or sour cream or butter milk or canned milk or even fresh milk-- all add different flavors but nothing outrageous.)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Mix the dry ingredients, work the shortening in with your fingers until very small pieces are formed, add the milk (or substitute) and mix GENTLY! just until all the dry ingredients are just barely incorporated.

For pizza crust, roll or gently push the dough out to cover the bottom of the pizza pan or cookie sheet or whatever you're cooking on-- you want the dough to be about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick all over.

You can cover this with pizza sauce from a jar (or make your own, recipe to follow) and add your favorite toppings and cheeses and bake for about 20 -25 minutes, depending on the toppings and how thick you make the crust and how much cheese you put on it.

Home Made Pizza Sauce

1 can of tomatoes -- diced, whole, or pureed.
dried basil
dried oregano

dump tomatoes in a sauce pan, add garlic, basil and oregano to taste, simmer until it smells good, then puree in the blender. It will be a little thinner than your jarred sauce, but it has a fresher flavor.

If you're going to put sausage or hamburger on the pizza, you should cook it first. Pepperoni is easy to find in the little packs. Shredding the cheese yourself is cheaper than buying it already shredded. Slice vegetables thin to lessen cooking time.

By the way, the biscuit dough works very well for drop biscuits, for rolled biscuits, and if you add 1/4 sugar, for shortcake for fruit shortcakes.