dessert snacks zucchini

Chai-Spiced Zucchini Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting

Chai-Spiced Zucchini Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting
Another great reason to grow or even <gasp!> buy zucchini.  These cupcakes are fluffy and tender, redolent with the aromas of nutmeg, cinnamon, and cardamom and crowned with caramel frosting. Recipe can be made by hand or with an electric mixer and goes together easily.  If you don’t have all the spices listed in the recipe, it’s okay to just use cinnamon.  They will still be delish, I promise.
Zucchini Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting
And they’re not even chocolate!

breakfast cooking for 1 or 2 D.I.Y.convenience foods dessert freezing gifts gluten-free Journal mixes tutorial

DIY Convenience Foods

 Most convenience foods can be made at home – easily and cheaply

One of the most seductive myths of food product advertising is that the products being promoted will make our lives easier and better. Advertisers imply and sometimes shamelessly promise to give us more time, make us more attractive, promote family closeness, and create beautiful memories. In short advertisers promise to make us happy!  All we have to do is go to the store.  The shelves are neatly lined with thousands of attractive packages for our selection.  Remember these packages are designed by people who make a living by their ability to lure us to purchase.

My favorite store offers the best deal in town on pancake mixes and other convenience food items, but I can still save a substantial amount of money making them at home.

It is so easy to get in the habit of relying on convenience foods, after all they are convenient.  Open a box, bag or jar, add water or eggs or another can of something, stir, heat, and voila! dinner is served.  The truth is most of the convenience food items you currently buy at the grocery store can be made easily at home in just a few minutes and for very little money.   Added benefits:  ability to cater to specific dietary needs or allergies. You’ll never miss the preservatives, additives, dyes, and chemicals you won’t be ingesting.  And you may notice a reduction in the amount of kitchen waste going to the landfill because you aren’t bringing home so much packaging and can re-purpose food safe containers like glass jars.

I am happy to share a batch of my favorite DIY convenience foods with you from breakfast to dessert.  We’ll start with items to make and freeze and then learn the basics of crafting dry mixes. I made waffles a few days ago and there were several leftover.  I could have fed them to the chickens, and I sometimes do, but instead I froze them in a zipper-top freezer bag with small squares of parchment paper between.  You can individually wrap them in plastic, but parchment paper is compost-able and renewable, and plastic wrap is not.  On busy mornings a frozen waffle can be popped in the toaster for a super-quick yummy homemade breakfast.  The same can be done with leftover pancakes and French Toast.  

A little later  I will show you how I turned my favorite pancake recipe into a mix.

Let’s move on to dinner.  The freezer case at your local grocery store is brimming with quick skillet or stir-fry type meal ideas.  Stock your freezer inexpensively with Skillet Meals that are tailored to your family’s taste.  This recipe is easy to prepare in quantity and such a godsend when you’ve had a busy day and need to get dinner on the table NOW.  Recipe is taken from PNW 296 Freezing Convenience Foods, a great little booklet available through OSU Extension at  Use it as a template to create your own freezer meals.  Gluten-free pasta or cooked brown rice can be substituted for spiral pasta to make a gluten-free dinner.

Cooked beans – a great time-saver!

Canned beans are infinitely useful.  They are also inexpensive and easy to prepare from scratch in quantity.  I love having a variety of ready-to-use cooked beans in my freezer for recipes and you will, too.   Related recipes:  Mexican-style Pinto Beans, Un-refried Beans, Cuban-style Black Beans.  Tip:  Use your water bath canner to cook 4 pounds of beans at one time. 

Cookie dough – shaped & ready to freeze

You’ll find additional convenience foods to stock your freezer posted under DIY Convenience Foods   including Thrifty Stock, Pesto Now & Later, and Ready-to-bake Monster Cookies.

Thrifty Stock is a method of up-cycling veggie trimmings that might otherwise go to the compost pile, along with meat bones and dried herbs that perhaps you’ve grown yourself, into stock, the foundation for delicious soup.  

I’ll give you tips on how to package pesto in ways that match up with your recipes.  And Monster Cookies! Everything about these cookies is over-the-top.  They are big and bursting with goodies.  The dough can be formed into cookie discs, frozen in an unbaked state for up to a month, and baked a few at a time as desired for oven-fresh cookies on demand.

I turned my favorite pancake recipe into a time-saving mix and discovered it makes great waffles, too!  Pancake & Waffle Mix. The basic principles of creating dry mixes from your own recipes are simple:  measure out the dry ingredients for one batch of     (you fill in the blank)   , whisk them together, and measure the resulting volume or weight.  This lets you know how much mix is needed to combine with the remaining ingredients to make one batch of a finished recipe.  My favorite pancake recipe calls for 1 1/4 cups flour.  I make half of that whole wheat pastry flour and quadrupled the recipe.

Following the same principles I just outlined you can create mixes for some of the most popular convenience foods. Ranch Plus Dressing Mix, actually my sister Marti’s recipe, can be used to make Ranch Dressing, Ranch Dip, Thousand Island Dressing, and Cucumber Dressing ~ all delicious.  Layered Bean Soup Mix comes from my friend Margaret.  Taco & Fajita Seasoning Mix made from bulk dried herbs.  Secret Fudge Brownie Mix  only requires 3 stir-in ingredients.  Whole grain Gingerbread comes together quickly with this mix. Real Hot Cocoa Mix – you won’t believe how simple and delicious this recipe is.  

Exercise your creativity in how you package your mixes.  A little fabric and ribbon or raffia along with a creative label makes it prettier than anything on the shelf at the store, and it goes without saying mixes make welcome gifts.    Investing a little time on a week-end or evening or just a few minutes here and there can pay meaningful dividends on busy days. You will have a freezer or cupboard stocked with your own homemade mixes for foods your family likes to eat.  Thank you for joining me in the kitchen today as we stirred,cooked, and crafted to create our own convenience foods.  Please come back next week for more Kitchen Wisdom.  See you then!

D.I.Y.convenience foods dessert freezing

Monster Cookies

Big cookies are chock-full of goodies
Cookie dough is shaped and closely spaced for freezing.

Everything about these cookies is over-the-top.  They are big and bursting with goodies.  Hubby Sam loves over-sized cookies, so these are a favorite of his, but the kids like them just as well.  I sometimes bake a few smaller cookies using just a tablespoon of dough for me.  The dough can be formed into discs, frozen in an unbaked state for up to a month, and baked a few at a time as desired for oven-fresh cookies on demand.  This technique works well with many types of cookie dough.

1 1/4 cups brown sugar 3/4 cup sugar 1 cup creamy peanut butter 1/2 cup butter, softened 2 tsp baking soda 1 tsp salt 1 Tbs vanilla 3 eggs 4 cups quick oats 1/2 cup whole wheat flour 1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour 1 cup m&m candies 1 cup chocolate, white chocolate, or butterscotch chips 1/2 cup salted peanuts Lightly grease a large baking sheet, or line it with parchment paper if you plan to freeze some cookies to bake later. Cream sugars, peanut butter, butter, baking soda, salt, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add oats, whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour. Stir in m&ms, chocolate chips and peanuts; mix gently and thoroughly.  Let dough rest 10 minutes to allow the grains to soften.   Dough will be crumbly.  Using a quarter-cup measuring spoon or muffin scoop, shape dough into quarter cup mounds and place on prepared cookie sheet about 4 inches apart.  (Up to eight cookies fit on a large baking sheet if you stagger them.)  Gently flatten them with the palm of your hand and garnish with a few extra m&ms and chocolate chips. Yield: 24 big cookies

Baked Monster Cookies, photo by Miriam Surgeon

Bake Now: Bake 15 – 18 minutes in a preheated 325 degree F oven.  Cookies are done when edges are lightly browned and centers are golden and puffy.  Cool 5 minutes on cookie sheet, then remove to a wire rack to finish cooling. Freeze Now & Bake Later: Place tray of shaped, unbaked cookies (they may be placed quite close together) in the freezer and freeze, uncovered, until solid.  When solid, roll the parchment paper up with the unbaked cookies inside and place it in a zipper-top freezer bag.  Alternatively, you may layer the unbaked cookies in a freezer container with sheets of parchment separating the layers.   To use, decide how many cookies you “need” and place the desired number of unbaked cookies on a greased cookie sheet.  Allow 20 – 60 minutes to thaw, depending on the temperature in your home.  Bake as directed above.

D.I.Y.convenience foods dessert freezing gifts mixes

Gingerbread Mix

Add the convenience of a mix to the attributes of gingerbread


Gingerbread is a wonderful, old-time dessert – fragrant while baking, and delicious still warm from the oven with lemon sauce (recipe follows) and a dollop of whipped cream on top.  Leftovers are wonderful sliced, split, and toasted under the broiler for breakfast  alongside scrambled eggs.

Recipe for Mix:
2 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour 
      or 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
glass jar or food storage container with lid that will hold 2 1/2 cups

Whisk dry ingredients together in a medium bowl, then transfer the mixture to a jar or container with lid.  Label and use within 3 months.

To make Gingerbread:
Gingerbread Mix
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup water
1 large egg
1 cup buttermilk
    or 1 cup milk + 2 tsp apple cider vinegar

Empty Gingerbread Mix into a large mixing bowl.  Stir butter and molasses together in a 2 cup liquid measuring cup; add to dry ingredients, stir to moisten. Add water, egg, and buttermilk; stir well.  Pour into greased 9-inch square pan.  

Bake 30 – 35 minutes at 350 degrees F, until cake pulls away from sides of pan.  Test for doneness by inserting the tip of a knife in the center of the cake; it should crumb-free. Cool 15 minutes before slicing.  Serve with lemon sauce and whipped cream.  

Cover leftovers with plastic wrap and store at room temperature up to 5 days.  Squares of cake can also be individually wrapped and frozen up to 3 months for best quality.

Lemon Sauce:
1/3 cup sugar or 1/4 cup honey
1 1/2 Tbs gmo-free cornstarch
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest (lemon peel)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup water
1 egg
2 Tbs butter

Whisk sugar, cornstarch, and lemon zest together in small saucepan.   Add remaining ingredients and blend well.  Heat mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened.  Stir and boil 1 minute.  Serve warm.  Refrigerate leftovers up to 3 days.  Rewarm over low heat if desired.

D.I.Y.convenience foods dessert gifts mixes

Secret Fudge Brownie Mix

Does it really pay to make your own Brownie Mix?  You decide.


Our favorite brownie recipe comes from the King Arthur Flour website –  It was a bit over-the-top sweet for our taste-buds (and I am cooking for a diabetic!) so I reduced the sugar and chocolate chips and the brownies are still plenty sweet.  This is one of those places where it doesn’t “pay” to make your own.  Box brownie mixes (brand shall go unnamed, but there is a red spoon on the front) occasionally go on sale for $1.25 at my local grocery store and this mix costs me about $1.75 to prepare if I include the chocolate chips, and I do.  (Without chips the cost is only 50 cents.)  But there are no additives, preservatives, or unprounceable names in the list of ingredients, and that is important to me.  I bet it matters to you, also.  Fudge Brownie Mixes are quick to assemble (great task for children) and make nice gifts for chocolate-lovers, with or without fabric caps, raffia, and ribbons.

Tip:  Use a buttered knife to cut still-warm brownies neatly.

1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp espresso powder, optional “secret” ingredient gives depth to the chocolate flavor
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp non-aluminum baking powder, such as Rumford
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chocolate chips in a snack-size zippy bag, optional
a clean quart jar with lid (must be absolutely dry)

You can approach this two ways:  a Blended Mix or a Layered Mix.  The Blended Mix works well if you want to make a lot of Fudge Brownie Mixes quickly; the Layered Mix is particularly nice for gift-giving.  See Create Your Own Dry Mixes for additional tips and ideas on crafting mixes.

For Blended Mix: 
Decide how many batches you want to prepare.  Multiply that number times the list of ingredients.  Measure all the dry ingredients (everything except the chocolate chips) into a large mixing bowl.  Whisk everything together thoroughly for at least a minute or two to distribute the ingredients evenly.

Using a wide-mouth canning funnel, carefully and accurately measure 2 1/4 cups of the mixture into each prepared jar.  Move the jar around a bit to settle the ingredients evenly without compacting it.  Add the zipper-lock baggie of chocolate chips, if desired. (Yes, chocolate chips are definitely desired!!)  

Cap the jar and label as you wish.  I usually use a sharpie and write the instructions right on the jar. Or you can make up a pretty tag if you like, cover the lid with a piece of fabric and tie it on with yarn or raffia, attaching the tag.

Fudge Brownie Mix
1/2 cup melted butter (or oil)
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla

Mix well.  Bake in a greased 
square pan 20 minutes at 350 F

For Layered Mix:
Decide how many batches you want to prepare.  Line up prepared jars on the counter and begin filling them with ingredients in order listed.  First the sugar, then the cocoa, and so on.  Be sure to move the jar around a bit to settle each ingredient into an even layer before adding the next one.  This will give you a clean-cut delineation between colors.  Add the zipper-lock baggie of chocolate chips, if desired.  Cap and label the jar as you wish.

YUM!  Brownies without preservatives and additives are easy from a home-made mix.

cooking for 1 or 2 dessert

Chocolate Pudding Sundaes

You’ll fall in love with real chocolate pudding

I grew up on chocolate pudding.  It was my Dad’s favorite dessert.  He would always offer my sister and me a nickel (later inflation raised the price to a dime, then a quarter) for our serving.  I don’t believe I ever took him up on that offer, but Marti often did!  Mom used Jell-o brand Cook & Serve Chocolate Pudding and I always hovered near the stove, hoping to lick the spoon (and the pan.)  Mom would spoon the hot pudding into long-stemmed glasses and serve them with a bit of whipped cream and graham crackers.  These days pudding is available both in instant form and in pre-made cups.  It tastes like plastic to me.  Please, please, please make your own chocolate pudding – at least once. I bet you’ll make it again.  This is a very straightforward recipe and tastes so good, you’ll fall in love with the real thing.  

(Serves 2)
1/3 cup sugar
2 Tbs cup organic cornstarch
1 1/2 Tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder
pinch sea salt
1 1/4 cups  + 2 Tbs milk
1 Tbs unsalted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup whipping cream
1 Tbs powdered sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

2 whole strawberries
1 graham cracker sheet, broken along the lines into 4 rectangles

In a 4 cup saucepan, whisk together sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder, and salt.  Stir in milk and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.  Boil 1 minute, remove from heat.  Stir in butter and vanilla.  

Cool slightly before spooning into 2 sundae glasses or individual serving bowls.  Cover and chill 30 minutes.

Before serving, whip the cream with powdered sugar and vanilla in the blender until fluffy. (Watch carefully, or you’ll have butter!)  Spoon a dollop on each serving, top with a berry and 2 graham cracker rectangles.  Enjoy!  Refrigerate leftovers, covered, up to 3 days.

(Serves 4)
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup organic cornstarch
3 Tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 tsp sea salt
2 3/4 cups milk
2 Tbs unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup whipping cream
2 Tbs powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

4 whole strawberries
2 graham cracker sheets, broken along the lines into 8 rectangles

In a medium saucepan, whisk together sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder, and salt.  Stir in milk and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.  Boil 1 minute, remove from heat.  Stir in butter and vanilla.  Cool slightly before spooning into 4 sundae glasses or individual serving bowls.  Cover and chill 30 minutes.

Before serving, whip the cream with powdered sugar and vanilla in the blender just until fluffy. (Watch carefully, or you’ll have butter!)  Spoon a dollop on each serving, top with a berry and 2 graham cracker rectangles.  Enjoy!  Refrigerate leftovers, covered, up to 3 days.

cooking for 1 or 2 dessert snacks

Custard Cups

Sometimes we all need the soft sweet comfort of custard

Scented with cinnamon and vanilla, rich in protein; as far as desserts go this one is a “good guy.”  Custard Cups “bake” in the microwave and are done is under 20 minutes from the time it takes you to pull the milk and eggs out of the refrigerator, to the time you dip your spoon into the bowl.  Mmmm… Can I let you in on a few secrets?  If you prefer a richer custard you may substitute half & half for part of the milk.  Custard made solely with 2% milk is usually a bit softer, more wobbly.  I am wild about the incredible flavor of Watkins clear vanilla and always use it in special recipes like this one.  You can order Watkins clear vanilla online, or check your phone book for a distributor near you.  And on a final note, this recipe does not divide in half well.

1 1/2 cups milk (2% or whole)
3 eggs
2 Tbs honey or 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Ground cinnamon

In a 1 quart microwave safe bowl, heat milk, uncovered, on high 3 minutes or until hot.  Do not boil.  

Meanwhile, in a 2 cup Pyrex measure, beat the eggs with the sugar, salt, and vanilla until smooth.  Whisk egg mixture vigorously back into hot milk.  Pour mixture back into Pyrex measure and divide evenly among 4 ungreased 6 oz. custard cups or ramekins.  

Microwave on high, uncovered, 6 1/2 to 7 minutes or until a knife inserted near center comes out clean.  Let custard cups stand in closed microwave for 5 minutes to finish setting up.  Serve warm or chilled with cinnamon sprinkled on top.  Refrigerate leftovers, covered, up to 3 days.

Yield:  4 half-cup servings

cooking for 1 or 2 dessert

Hot Milk Cake

Petite cake is just right for two
Soft, vanilla-scented Hot Milk Cake is wonderful plain or topped with fresh berries and cream for shortcake.

5 Tbs milk
2 1/2 Tbs unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing pan
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup + 1 Tbs unbleached all-purpose flour
1 rounded 1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
1 egg
1/2 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and butter a 5″ x 7″ baking dish.

In a 1 cup metal measuring cup, heat milk and butter over low heat just until butter melts.  Remove from heat, add vanilla, and set aside.  In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

Everything you see here (+ oven) = Hot Milk Cake.

Crack egg into blender container and whir at high speed 1 minute.  Turn blender to medium speed and gradually add sugar through the hole in the lid, process 30 seconds.  Reduce blender to low speed and add flour mixture, 1 heaping tablespoon at a time.  Mix just until blended; do not over-process.

Scrape mixture into prepared pan, smoothing it into the corners and leveling the top with a spatula.  Bake about 27 minutes, until top is dark golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake shows no crumbs when withdrawn.

5″ x 7″ baking dish turns out petite cake, just right for 3 – 4 servings.

Cool 10 minutes before serving.  

Yield:  3-4 servings

Ps.  Leftovers are exceptionally nice sliced and toasted, either under the broiler or in your toaster.  

apple/pear dessert

Cranberry-Kissed Pears

A lovely, no fuss Christmas tradition

Cranberry-kissed pears were a Christmas Eve tradition in my family that had to be discontinued when there were so many grandchildren that the pears wouldn’t fit in the oven! The aroma of the baking pears takes me back to Christmases of long ago… I still make them (not often enough, according to Sam) and we both declare they are every bit as good as a slice of pie – but without all the fuss, mess, and extra calories.

4 firm ripe pears (D’Anjou or Bartlett)
1 1/2 C cranberry juice
2 Tbs sugar (or substitute equivalent of stevia)
8 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick, broken
Cut pears in half and remove cores with a melon baller or spoon.  Place cut side down in glass 9″ x 13″ baking pan. Pour juice mixture over them.
Bake uncovered 1 1/4 hours – 325 degrees, basting occasionally.

Test for doneness with the tip of a knife.  Pears should be barely tender.  

Cover with foil until cool enough to serve.  Serve cut side up with a mini scoop of Haagen Daz (or other premium quality) vanilla ice cream in center of each pear.  Drizzle juice on top.

It’s only a tiny scoop, so make it the best ice cream you can find. Be sure to drizzle each serving with some of the warm, spiced pan juices.  Mmmmm….


Leftovers can be stored, covered,  in the refrigerator for 2 days.

Yield:  4 – 8 servings, depending on whether you serve 1 or 2 pear halves per person.

apple/pear dessert gluten-free snacks

Lotus Apples

Cinnamon sticks plus a few well-placed cuts turn an ordinary baked apple into a sublime fruit creation
Ani Rioh Heigh joins me on the set of Kitchen Wisdom to share her beautiful Lotus Apples.

Credit for this recipe goes to a new friend of mine, Ani Rioh Heigh, who delighted the entire OSU Jackson County Master Food Preserver Class of 2013 with her 5 Minute Demo on the last day of class.  The apples turn out lovely in flavor and appearance; this is comfort food at its best. 

cinnamon sticks, 2-3 per apple

Supplies Needed
apple corer

paring knife
cookie sheet
parchment paper
jumbo size muffin pan

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Wash, dry, and core apples with coring tool.  

To make lotus, place the tip of the paring knife on the inside top of core opening at the top of the apple; from the inside of the core opening score a line down the top of the apple towards the bottom of the apple about 3/4 inch long and 1/4 inch deep.  Then, staring 1/2 inch away from the scored line on the top of the apple, begin a slice towards the scored line, shallow at beginning and ending at scored line to about 1/4 inch deep.  It will be about the size of a nickel; this is the first lotus petal.  Repeat around the top of the apple usually 5 times to complete the lotus.

It may take a few apples, but with just a little practice you can turn out apples like this, it really isn’t hard.

Insert 2-3 cinnamon sticks into the hollowed core.  Place apple in muffin tin.  Repeat with remaining apples.  Set muffin pan on prepared baking sheet.  Bake until you can place a toothpick into flesh inside the cored portion of the apple and it is soft.  Baking time will vary from 20 minutes for just one apple to 40 minutes if several are baked at once; check every 5 to 10 minutes.  Apples will release their juices when done and the cinnamon flavor will permeate the fruit.

Use a jumbo-size muffin pan; it catches all the delicious juices. The apples on the left and right are baked.  Top apple is cut into a lotus.  Apple at lower-middle of photo is simply cored.

Eat warm with cream or just plain; also good with ice cream or cold.

Ani Rioh Heigh