Friday, March 29, 2013

Cut back on sugar week--Almond Crunch Candy

Honey is such a tricky sweetener.  It is a liquid and a humectant, meaning it helps to attract and maintain moisture, so it gives a different, not always so desirable quality, to baked goods.  It browns faster and darker and cookies made with honey are soft instead of crispy.  But in candy it's a different tale.  I should have called it "honey week" because as I look over the posts, honey's been the only sweetener I've used.

I found this recipe for Almond Crunch Candy several years ago in my 1978 Rodale's Naturally Delicious Desserts and Snacks cookbook.  It's one of my favorites from the book.

Melt 1/3 c. butter and 1/4 c. honey in a skillet.

Chop 3/4 c. almonds and add to the mixture in the pan. 
Cook over medium heat and keep stirring for about 7-9 minutes, or until mixture turns golden brown.  The picture above was taken early in the process--it's fairly pale colored.  When it begins to brown, pour it quickly into an 8x8 pan and cut right away into 36 itty-bitty pieces (cut 6 by 6).  They may seem small, but you'll find that it's a good size.  If you cooked it to just the right temperature, it'll cool to a crunchy, toffee-like texture, if it was slightly underdone, they'll be more of a caramel texture.  It will be hard to be disappointed, either way.

Lunch is served!









or the snack size serving...





Almond Crunch Candy

1/3 c. butter
1/4 c. honey
3/4 c. slivered almonds

Butter an 8x8 square pan. 

Melt butter in heavy frying pan; stir in honey.  Add almonds.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture turns golden brown (about 7 minutes--judge by the color more than the time).

Spread mixture in prepared pan, working quickly, while still very hot.  With buttered, sharp knife, cut into squares immediately.  Cool. 

Chill in refrigerator and store in covered container. 

Yields 36 pieces. 

So there you go. Five ways to eat sweets without touching that bag of white sugar.  I'll have to do another series of these sometime!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cut back on sugar week--Applesauce leather

This treat is a new for me; actually it was a successful experiment just this week.  I'm sure I'm not the first person to think of it, though.

I've made fruit roll-ups (fruit leather) before, but only with fresh grape puree.  As you can imagine, those are long gone and have been since, oh, 12 hours after I made them last fall.  Last week I happened to look at the jar of home-canned applesauce in the refrigerator and wondered if I could dehydrate it like my grape "sauce."  I'm not suffering from a shortage of applesauce so I thought I'd give it a try.

I don't have any of those dehydrator trays made just for drippy sauces and since I hadn't thought ahead to borrow them, I thought I'd try parchment paper instead and cut them to roughly fit the tray.


I mixed applesauce with some cinnamon using the dump-til-it-looks-good method:

I spread about 3/4 of a cup of applesauce on the paper.  I wasn't sure if the applesauce might become permanently stuck to the paper, so I sprayed one piece of parchment paper with olive oil. 

A few hours later it was dry to the touch.  It didn't take nearly as long as I thought it would. 

The apple leather on the ungreased parchment paper peeled easily from the paper and the leather on the greased paper separated from the paper as it dried, so it's not necessary to add the olive oil.  That was really good news.  I'm so glad that I don't have to buy those plastic dehydrator trays now!


Talk about simple.  Unsweetened applesauce with a little cinnamon.  And it's so easy--cutting parchment paper into circles is the longest part of the process.  But it makes applesauce a little more interesting and conveniently packable--nice for traveling!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Cut back on sugar week--Granola Bars

These are Captain Awesome's favorite--yummy and portable.  We packed them hiking to Acadia National Park a few years ago and snacked on them all week. 

I like them best with chocolate or carob chips, but....refer to the title of this post.  Sigh...

2/3 c. butter
2/3 c. honey
4 1/2 c. rolled oats
1 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. vanilla
up to 2 c. chocolate chips, raisins, nuts, and/or dried fruit

Combine all in a big mixing bowl.  The main trick with these is to press the mixture firmly into the pan.  (If you don't get it pressed in firmly, save the crumbles for topping for pudding or something like that.) Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden in a greased 13x9 pan.  Makes 36.

Mixing it up can get a little messy....

My peanut/raisin version.  They're pretty good, even without chocolate.

Shared on Simple Lives Thursday.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Cut back on sugar week--Fudge Stars

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I adapted this recipe from a post on the Passionate Homemaking blog.  Oh, do I love these little candies, if you want to call them that.  Pure cocoa and raw honey with all their nutrients and coconut oil with the saturated fat we need--eat it for medicinal purposes, if nothing else.  Sweets made with honey are more satisfying than those made with sugar, so even just a few of these make a nice dessert.  Who needs sugar with these around?!

Fudge Stars

1/2 c. cocoa powder (I substitute 1 T. or so of carob powder for even more nutrition)
1/2 c. coconut oil (the unrefined kind, that tastes like coconut)
1/4-1//3 c. raw honey

Mix together (I recommend a food processor or blender to make it smooth).  It's not necessary to melt the coconut oil.

When blended, it has the consistency of frosting.  Spoon it into a piping bag or decorating tube.  Lick the spoon and processor bowl thoroughly.  Don't get your tongue caught in the blade.

Use a tip with a jagged top like this one, that makes stars.

Pipe stars onto parchment paper and set them in the freezer to harden.  And that's it!  Keep them in the freezer since coconut oil melts at 76 degrees.  This recipe makes 60+ stars.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Cut back on sugar week- Fruit Tapioca

Good ol' sugar--we all love it.  I just read over the weekend that it's nearly as addictive as cocaine.  Before you scoff at that, think of the last day you went without any.  Or the last meal that contained no sugar, for that matter.  It makes me wonder if it's a little more addictive than we'd like to think. 

For awhile there, I was doing pretty well.  I was cooking with minimal white sugar and instead, using unrefined sugar cane, honey, and molasses and eating fewer sweets, period.  I found that I felt SO much better with less sugar.  But somehow I fell off the wagon without realizing it--a birthday, a sale on ice cream, and some dessert experiments in the kitchen didn't help.

And then a few days ago, a friend of mine and I were talking about sugar and she asked how I managed to cut back.  "Easy," I said between mouthfuls of an ice cream sandwich, "it's just a matter of pacing yourself."  (No, really, I wasn't eating an ice cream sandwich while I was on the phone.  It's important to focus on one thing at a time.)  But Captain Awesome and I decided that starting Monday, we were going to renew our efforts to cut back on the sugar.

Just cutting out sweets altogether is not the way to go.  At least, not for a cheery home.  So for the next five days I'll be sharing some of the non-white sugar recipes that I'll be making this week and in the future to get us back on track.  I realize that fruit and honey are both sugars, but we must start somewhere, however small.

Today's recipe is Fruit Tapioca, adapted from my 1950 Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book.  I make this regularly and it's a nice simple dessert.  I freeze fruit like raspberries, cherries, and strawberries in 1 pint boxes during the summer. 

When I thaw it, I let the juice drain into a measuring cup.  Here is a pint of thawed cherries draining.  I only had about 1/2 c. of cherry juice, so I added grape juice to make up the 2 1/2 cups of liquid.  

To the juice I added tapioca.  NOTE:  Check carefully to ensure that you grabbed the bag labeled "tapioca" and not the bag labeled "pretzel salt."  They may look amazingly similar, but as you stir it, you'll notice the "tapioca" disappearing and you'll become so confused that you'll taste it.  Then you'll wish you hadn't.

Then the honey...

Bring the mixture to a boil, add the chopped fruit and chill.


Fruit Tapioca

Mix in a saucepan:

2 1/2 c. fruit juice, with tea or water added as needed to make the full amount
1/3 c. honey
1/4 c. quick cooking tapioca
1/8 t. salt

Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until mixture boils.  Remove from heat.  Cool and fold in

1 c. drained, cut-up fruit.

Mix and match the fruit and juice--I've never had a disaster!

Linked to Natural Living Monday, Traditional Tuesday, Simple Lives Thursday, and Old Fashioned Friday.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Cuisine a la can

In my perusal of mid-20th century cookbooks, I've noticed the recipes contain a stunning array of canned foods.  It is my guess that when the modern convenience craze began rolling in a big way and homes were being filled with "labor-saving devices," food manufacturers jumped at the occasion with a little too much enthusiasm.  (The very fact that food could be considered "manufactured" should have given someone a glaring clue...)

I suppose housewives, enthralled by the idea of spending an extra hour at Mildred's bridge party, thought they could come home, open a few cans and ta-da!  Dinner!  This sort of cuisine delighted no one ever and thankfully, some of these tinned wonders died along the way as manufacturers stopped canning everything they could squeeze into a cylinder.


If you had been cooking in the 1950s, take a look at these oh, so convenient canned wonders you could have chosen for your main dish (and all these are really found in the "Jiffy Cooking" section of the 1958 Mary Margaret McBride Encyclopedia of Cooking):

lamb stew
beef and kidneys
tongue and tongue loaf
chicken fricassee
chicken a la king
codfish cakes
Welsh rabbit

For side dishes, there were
canned cooked rice
canned tomato aspic
canned dandelion greens

And for dessert, how about some canned fig pudding?

And don't forget potted meat, the particular "delicacy" which is still easily found in stores and, I confess, my cupboard.  Yes, really.  Not everyone has such a thoughtful sister-in-law who will clean out the potted meat shelf at the local scratch-n-dent store and present it to you for your birthday and dare you to find a way to prepare it.


As I walked past the freezer section at the grocery store today, I saw frozen single serve tubs of oatmeal, pre-made for breakfast (sure to entice you out of bed in the morning).  A few shelves away were packages of frozen mashed potatoes.  And then there's the pre-cooked, vacuum packed bacon, non-refrigerated dairy products and a vast number of other foods preserved and packaged for maximum storage time at the expense of taste and nutritional quality.

We've come a long way.

I can still hope that these technological wonders we have accepted as food will one day be as unappetizing as the early canned experiments as we re-learn the old ways of preparing and storing food.

photo source

This post linked to Simple Lives Thursday.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Saturday bath--shampoo bars

It's been ages since I used cold process shampoo bars and my hair has suffered for it.  There is nothing nicer than a good bar of shampoo soap. But finding that perfect soap is not easy; even the one that works great in one season becomes lousy when the weather changes.  It's been frustrating at times, which is why I fall back on the commercial, chemical stuff periodically.

I'd been putting off another round of formulating, but when I saw this post on the Oil & Butter blog I was inspired to give it a try.  The recipe was so radically different than any recipe I'd tried before that it intrigued me.  No coconut oil, no animal fats, and only a touch of castor oil?  I decided to make the batch according to recipe, with only water as the liquid and no added goodies, like egg yolk, clay or herbs.

I did, however, scent the batch using a combination of 5x orange and litsea cubeba essential oils--yum!  It's such a sweet fragrance.  And if that wasn't enough, just poured it looked like lemon curd, which upped its irresistability factor immensely.

As I guessed, I couldn't endure the full month for the batch to cure.  I decided to try out a bar after--ahem--one week.  I have never had my hair feel so nice after the first use with a new shampoo bar.  My hair felt a million times better than it had with the commercial junk products.  I have to say that I may have rushed things a bit.  The bar was accidentally set in a saucer with a little water in it and it melted pretty significantly into a goopy mess.  (I would say I learned my lesson about waiting, if I had, but I doubt I did.)


After a week of use I think I'll tweak the recipe a bit and maybe add a little coconut oil for some more cleansing.  It may be a bit too conditioning for my hair?  What I really need to do is sit down with all my shampoo bar recipes and have a little tete a tete with them and get these bars figured out once and for all. 

Oh, and maybe wait for this batch to actually cure first before passing judgment.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Consider the garden huckleberry

The problem with growing your own fruit is that you have to wait years after planting to get a decent-sized harvest.  Enter the garden huckleberry.  This isn't the sweet wild berry that resembles a blueberry that you are most likely thinking of.  Garden huckleberries are firm, shiny, black and grow in clusters on bushes approximately the size of a tomato plant.  (For my "way up north" readers, think of big crowberries.)  Planted in the spring, it will begin producing mid-summer and yield an abundance of berries until frost.


You may read (as I did) that this berry is a great substitute for blueberries and can be used the same way.  Not even close.  Make sure that the recipes are specifically meant for garden huckleberries.  Tossing a handful of these into a batch of pancakes would result in mutiny at the breakfast table and you'd find yourself leading the charge. 

It is absolutely essential that they be cooked--boiled, actually--and they need some added acidity, like lemon juice.  When properly prepared, however, it is great as an ice cream topping, layered into a coffee cake, and makes a beautiful purple-filled pie.  It has a unique "wild" taste that may not be liked by everyone.  But if you're adventurous, want to try something different, and have a little space in your garden, you should give them a try.

Here's the recipe that I use.

Garden Huckleberry Pie Filling:

7 c. garden huckleberries
4 c. sugar
2/3 c. Clear Jel
1 t. grated lemon zest, optional
4 T. lemon juice

In a large saucepan, cover huckleberries with water and boil under tender.  Drain water, and mash berries using a potato masher.  

In another large saucepan, combine sugar and Clear Jel.  Whisk in 2 c. water.  Bring to a boil and stir until mixture thickens and starts to bubble.  Stir in zest, if using, and lemon juice and cook for one minute, stirring constantly.  Fold in the berries.

Ladle into hot jars, leaving a 1" headspace.  Process in a boiling water bath canner for 30 minutes.  Yields approximately 4 pints.   



Want to order some garden huckleberries for this summer's garden?  Seed Savers carries them; you can find them here.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Late blast of winter


First round of shoveling

"If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome."
Anne Bradstreet