The last time I cooked beet greens for my family was about three years ago.  I grew up eating them because I 'had to', and continued it because their nutrition content reads like a fantastic multi-vitamin:  protein, fiber, folic acid, phosphorus, zinc, calcium, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, Vitamins A, C, E, K, and three different B vitamins.
But I'll tell you what- after that last time cooking and eating those soggy, bitter greens (I might have burnt them a bit too) all by myself-- sort of plugging my nose as I did-- cuz, dang it, they're good for me!  I thought that'd be the last time I cooked them.

When I pulled the first beets out of the soil this year, though, the old "you oughtta" came back.  This time I was prepared with The Best Vegetable Recipes cookbook from the America's Test Kitchen people.  They had a recipe that could be completed in under ten minutes and sounded like it might not be as terrible as my last attempt.

It was so good I ate seconds.  My husband ate seconds.  My kids at least ate firsts.  And I shared this and Pink Potato Salad with a couple 'foodie' neighbors, who also loved them.  

Not that anyone'd choose this over chocolate; maybe it was just that the greens were much better than anyone's latest memory of them, especially with the crunchy, fragrant nuts and the bit of sweet from the currants.

The amounts and technique will work on any moderately thick green like kale or chard.  (The chard's up next in my yard.)  The original recipe called for cutting out the stems, but they're also good, just take a bit of extra cooking to tenderize.  They can be a little bitter, but the currants countered any of that.

The quantities I used were approximately
1-2 lbs. beet greens
1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic (or 1/2 tsp. garlic powder)
1/4 c. pine nuts, chopped  (or other nut you like)
2 Tbsp. currants (chopped raisins work too)

See the slide show for instructions.
 
 
Some friends and I are in a healthy-living team competition right now... and there are just some times that the 'normal' healthy food doesn't cut it.  This does!  (So does Bavarian Mousse and the Chocolate Truffle Pie...)

Once again, this isn't technically sugar-free.  It is, however, free of table sugar if you don't add the chocolate topping, as the filling is sweetened with a sauce made with pureed fruit. If you choose to include the chocolate on top, it adds only 3 grams of sugar per serving.

Sugarless No-Bake Cheesecake
Makes 6 servings
Crust
1 1/2 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted
1/2 c. whole wheat bread crumbs (or other crumbs, or fine shred coconut)
Pinch of stevia, or 1/2 tsp. honey, optional

Line a 7” round pan with foil, then spray with nonstick cooking spray.  (A bread pan is the right size too- use an 8x4 pan for a thicker filling, 9x5 pan for a little thinner.)  Stir together oil, crumbs, and stevia.   Press on bottom of pan, set in freezer to chill.

Filling:
1/2 c. date caramel sauce
8 oz. cream cheese, softened (may use Neufchatel)*
1/3 c. plain yogurt
Pinch salt
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 Tbsp. instant clear jel (Ultra Gel)

Beat together caramel sauce and cream cheese, until smooth.  Add yogurt, salt, vanilla, and clear jel; beat on high speed until light.  Spoon onto crust, smooth top and chill in fridge at least 30 minutes, but more firm after 2-3 hours.

Optional topping:
1/3 c. extra-dark chocolate chips
1/3 c. plain yogurt

Heat gently or microwave to melt; stir until smooth.  Spread on cheesecake after it has set.


*Since Neufchatel is softer, you'll need to increase Ultra Gel to 2 Tbsp.  Or serve the cheesecake frozen.
I've made this using cottage cheese instead of cream cheese, it still works.  Just plan on using a blender or food processor to mix the filling, and it'll take a couple minutes to get smooth.
 
 
Somehow I've ended up with more dried fruit than planned, and it's getting a little old and turning dark.  Here's a new way to use it: a sugar-free caramel sauce!  Well, "sugar free" doesn't actually mean really all-sugar-free, BUT... all the sugar in this is naturally occurring in the fruit.  So it's no-sugar-added caramel sauce.  Unless you're a sugar addict, in which case you could add as much more sugar as you like!   This is a sauce to spoon, not to pour.  If you'd like it pourable, add more milk or some liquid honey or maple syrup until it's the consistency you want.

Next post will be for a rich, creamy, healthy no-bake New York style cheesecake, using this caramel sauce in the filling as the sweetener.

Fruit-sweetened Caramel Sauce

15 pitted dates (about 110g or 4 oz.)
1 to 1½ c. milk, any kind (I used coconut milk)
¼ c. melted browned butter or ghee, optional but helps give a caramel-y flavor
1/16 tsp. salt
1Tbsp vanilla

Blend until smooth, starting with the lower amount of milk; add more only if needed.  Makes about 1 1/2 - 2 cups.   If you don’t have a powerful blender, soak the dates overnight in the milk or simmer them together for 10 minutes, then puree.  If you prefer it sweeter, add a little honey, brown sugar, or stevia.

Try other dried fruits.  Peach is good.  Pear has naturally caramel undertones and would be delicious with a dash of cinnamon or coriander.  
 
 
Start with regular bread dough- and turn it into a treat!

I love the flavor combination here- the bright flavor of candied orange peel, the sweet-tartness of snipped dried apricots, and the hearty depth from pecans. This bread is at its best after a day so the orange has a chance to permeate the whole loafwhen toasted: great with butter, but heavenly with cream cheese.  Yum.  I like it for breakfast.

This batch was made using 100% whole wheat dough, but use whatever you're making anyway.

Mix up a batch of dough (like this one).  Set aside one loaf's worth of dough.  Stretch or roll it to about 8x16 inches.  Sprinkle evenly with 1/3 cup diced candied orange peel, 1/3 cup (2 oz) dried apricots, snipped, and 1/3 c. pecan pieces.  Roll up starting with the narrow end.  Place in a greased 8x4 loaf pan, seam side down.  Let rise and bake as usual, adding 1-2 extra minutes to the baking time.  Cool and slice.



 
 
Do you want something simple to give to friends and neighbors?  Here are some quickies; if you have more time you might like Candy Cane Bread, shaped and decorated like a candy cane.  
Recipes for the fudge and the gingerbread syrup are below.

For the jars to pour syrup in, I save jars through the year: spaghetti sauce jars, pickle jars, jelly jars,baby food jars, peanut butter containers (don't use those for anyone with peanut allergies!)...
After Christmas, anything that didn't get used gets put in the recycle bin, and I have cupboard space once again!
Cherry-Almond Fudge

2 c. sugar
1/2 c. milk
7 oz. marshmallow creme (may use 7 oz. marshmallows instead)
12 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
1 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. cherry flavor  (I used wild cherry, and it was amazing!)
1/4 c. dried cherries or cranberries, finely chopped
1/2 c. almonds, chopped

Line an 8x8 pan with parchment or foil; butter well if using foil.  Set aside.  Combine the sugar and milk in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil, stirring often, then boil for 3 minutes.  Pull off the heat, then add marshmallow creme, chocolate chips, almond and cherry extracts, and dried cherries.  Stir until smooth.  Pour into prepared pan, and sprinkle with chopped nuts.  
Refrigerate 1 hour or until firm, then cut into squares.  Store airtight at room temperature.

Makes just over 2 pounds.


Gingerbread Syrup 
(notice this recipe is basically the same as above, only without the marshmallow, and with extra milk to make it pourable)  If you don't have cinnamon chips, use white chocolate chips or butterscotch chips, then add 1-2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon, to taste.


2 c. sugar (can use brown sugar for deeper flavor, or add 1 Tbsp. molasses)
1 c. plus 2 Tbsp. milk
12 oz. cinnamon chips (I used Hershey's brand)
1 tsp. ground ginger OR 1 drop ginger essential oil
1/2 tsp. ground cloves OR 1 toothpick of clove oil
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 c. pecans, toasted and finely chopped

In a medium saucepan, bring the sugar and milk to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Boil for 1 minute, then remove from heat.  Stir in cinnamon chips, ginger, cloves, salt, and stir until smooth.  Stir in pecans, then pour syrup into jars.  Store in the refrigerator.  Warm before serving.  (If too thick, microwave briefly.)

Makes about 3 1/2 cups.




 
 
When you buy dried fruit, what do YOU do with it?  For a long time we mostly just ate it straight, as a snack.  The exception was raisins, which occasionally got thrown into oatmeal cookies, cinnamon rolls, or hot cereal.   So how do I use dried fruit now?  We still love to snack on it, but I use it several other ways, too-

·
        
as part of trail mix- any dried fruit is great
·         granola- think beyond raisins- cherries, figs, dates, papaya, apricots.
·         cooked with hot cereal, especially with a nuts and a little spice- often you won't need any extra sweetener
·         stirred into yogurt (unsweetened or flavored)
·         as a ‘fruit compote’-  reconstituted and served in the soaking liquid, especially with a little cardamom or cinnamon added
·         sprinkled into salad- try dried cranberries, strawberries, cherries, diced dried pear or apple. For an extra kick, soak the fruit in balsamic vinegar or any kind of citrus juice
·         throw into a smoothie
·         soaked and put in yeast bread- my favorite sweet bread  adds snipped apricots, pecans, and diced candied orange peel .
·         fruit cake.  Homemade.  This is entirely a different animal than those artificially-colored and –flavored ones from the store.  Use a rich butter, egg, and brown sugar base.  My favorite combo is dried apricots, pecans, and diced (homemade) candied orange peel.  Sometimes with raisins.
·         soaked (or not) and snipped into quickbreads or muffins.  Maple-fig-walnut is really good.
·         Reconstituted and baked into pie, cobbler, or crisp. 
·         soaked and run through the blender as a puree- use in cakes, muffins, breads to increase moisture and sweetness.  You can usually reduce the fat in the recipe by the same amount as you added of puree.
·         pureed (as above); use as a fruit sauce on pancakes, waffles, cake, or icecream.     You can even make this puree into jam. 
·         mixed into cookies.  Favorite-ever recipe is at the bottom of this post.

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When should you soak the fruit?    Do this when you are adding it to anything that depends on moisture- if you add it unsoaked to breads or anything else baked, the fruit will soak itself while the food cooks- taking liquid away from the dough or batter.  This leads to tougher baked goods.  For this reason,  I prefer to soak raisins before swirling them inside cinnamon rolls or raisin bread.   You can also soak it anytime you want the fruit softer and less chewy, as in salads.  Don’t add soaked fruit to granola (unless you’re going to eat it immediately); moisture in granola can cause mold.

When you’re reconstituting dried fruit, don’t expect it to look and feel just like fresh.  Drying breaks down cell walls some, so the reconstituted fruit will more closely resemble the cooked version.  (In other words, reconstituted apples will NOT be crunchy.)

How do you reconstitute the fruit?  Soak it:  boiling water works fastest, but will kill any enzymes remaining in the fruit.  Cold water works, but takes about three times as long.  Warm water is a happy medium.  Plan on 5-30 minutes when using hot water, 10-60 minutes for warm, or 30 minutes plus for cold water.  Times will vary depending on the hardness of your water (soft water works faster), how old the fruit is, how dried-out it is, if it’s sweetened (sweeter=longer), and how big the pieces are.   Use only enough water to barely cover the fruit; using more will rob the fruit of more of its sweetness.  Save the soaking liquid; use it in the recipe if you can.  I love to drink it… this can also be used as a pancake syrup.   If you find you’re sensitive to the sulfur dioxide that some fruits are treated with (to improve  color and shelf life), draining and discarding the liquid can remove some of this preservative.   

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If dried until crisp, the fruit can be turned into a powder, using a blender, food processor, or coffee grinder. Use in any recipe you want fruit flavor- baking, hot cereal, smoothies, and more. What about shelf life?- it's best within 1 year; quite a bit longer if oxygen-free, cool and dark.  When not at its best, it's still food!

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Here’s the recipe for one of my favorite cookies.  Ever.  A friend of mine who DOESN’T LIKE COOKIES loves these!   They’re  good without the glaze, but adding that last little kick of flavor (and eye appeal) elevates them to fantastic.   You could substitute dried chopped tart cherries for the apricots.  (If you add chocolate chips to that variation, leave off the glaze; it’d be overkill.  Unless maybe you’re drizzling melted chocolate!)


Chewy Apricot-Almond Oatmeal Cookies

1 c. butter, softened
¾ c. brown sugar
½ c. (granulated) sugar
1 egg
½ tsp. almond extract
1 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 ½ c. regular or quick-cooking oats
6 oz. (1 c.) dried apricots, snipped
½ c. finely chopped almonds (toast first for best flavor)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Beat butter until almost smooth.  Add sugars and beat until fluffy.  Mix in egg and almond extract,  beat well.  Add flour and baking soda and mix.  Fold in oats, apricots, and almonds.  Add 2 tsp. water if needed.

Scoop by heaping teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake about 8-10 minutes or until just brown around edges.  The centers should still look wet, they continue to cook internally for the next twenty minutes.  Let cookies cool on tray for one minute, then remove to a cooling rack. Drizzle almond glaze on them in a criss-cross pattern.  This is really fast when you put the cookies close together and drizzle them with long sweeping lines.

 Glaze:
2 c. powdered sugar
½ tsp. almond extract
2-3 Tbsp. water

Mix to get a good drizzling consistency.  Put glaze in a plastic baggie, poke or snip a small hole in it (how big depends on how thin your glaze is), and  drizzle this on the cookies.  Leftover glaze can be mixed into pancake or muffin batter, or used as a glaze on muffins. (Almond Poppyseed, anyone?)

 
 
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Dried tart cherries: my favorite cherry for recipes.

Photo from Nutty Guys

Next week’s post will have several ideas for using dried fruit.
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Why buy, or make, dehydrated fruits?  My favorite reasons are that it preserves fruit without needing electricity (as in freezing), and it stores in a smaller space when compared to canning.  It also intensifies the flavors, allowing me to use it as a sweetener.  


If you’re buying them, how do you know what a good price is?  The simplest way is to judge by serving size.  One ounce of dried fruit is a serving, about equal in size to one medium fresh apple or peach.  If a one-pound can of dried apples costs
$5.75/lb (which it does at the Home Storage Center), that means you’re paying about 35 cents per apple.   If you want to figure how that compares with price per pound fresh, 25 lbs of fresh apples reduce down to about 4 lbs.    4/25 of 1 lb @$5.75= .92/lb fresh apple price.    

For other fruits, a fairly good estimate is 1 lb very-dried fruit = 5 lbs fresh; most fruits are somewhere around 80% water to begin with.  1 lb moist-dried fruit = 3 lbs. fresh, figuring about 2/3 of the water has been evaporated away.   This isn’t exact, but is close, and is simple enough to remember and use.  Dried blueberries (moist) at $ 12.30/lb are like paying $ 4.04/lb for fresh, or about $ 1.53 for a 6-oz clamshell.  It costs around four dollars a pound to buy frozen blueberries, plus then I pay to run the freezer at home. Twelve bucks a pound sounds expensive, but it’s about half  the price of fresh around here.  They’re definitely worth having some on hand.  Just keep them out of reach of the kids, or you won’t have any left!

If you live anywhere around Salt Lake City, you can get ‘returns’ at Nutty Guys’ warehouse for $1.50 per one-pound bag (of anything they sell).  Returns are anything that didn’t sell within their 6-7-month “sell by” date; they get returned to the warehouse.  Returns are unpredictable, you never know what will be there on the shelf, but they make for incredible bargains.  Dried fruit is considered at its peak for one year.  You can extend this by keeping it sealed, dark, and cool.  This is something at its best when rotated regularly.
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Here’s one way to use dried tart cherries;  I always get them cheapest from Nutty Guys. (Returns shelf, hooray!)  I created this recipe for a bake-off at the state fair a few years ago.  The ingredients sound strange together, but, boy, are they good.  The balsamic vinegar accentuates the chocolate and adds brightness to the cherry.    (The recipe took 1st place.)  These are like a very dark, intense truffle, with bits of sweet-tart, chewy cherry.  They take only five minutes to mix.

CHERRY-CHOCOLATE BLISS BITES

1/4 cup dried tart cherries, coarsely chopped
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 (4 oz) bar Ghirardelli 60% cocoa bittersweet chocolate, broken*

Place dried cherries in a small microwavable bowl; pour in balsamic vinegar and almond extract. Microwave 30 seconds to help plump the cherries; set aside.

Microwave condensed milk 45 seconds or until hot but not boiling. Add chocolate and stir until mostly smooth. Add cherry mixture. Stir until well combined.

Pour into a loaf pan or other 2 cup container, bottom lined with parchment. Chill in freezer for 15 minutes or in refrigerator for 45 minutes until set.

Cut into squares or roll into balls.    This recipe can be doubled or tripled.

*Any semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (bar or chips) can be substituted.  Try to get something around 60% cocoa solids.  I used Ghirardelli’s because that was who sponsored the contest.  If you quadruple the batch, you’ll use the whole can of sweetened condensed milk (1 1/3 c.) and one whole pound of chocolate.


 
 
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(Originally 9/2/10)

I love this time of year!  The temperatures have dropped enough that the roses are reblooming, the grass is having an easier time, and the mornings and  late evenings have the smell of earth and coolness.  The garden is in full swing, tomatoes are fragrant and sweet,  most of the lumps that come out of my garden are potatoes instead of rocks, and I get to be creative using squash again.  What a fulfilling time, enjoying the fruits of our labors (or others’ labors, if you prefer the farmers’ market or grocery store).  It brings to mind   D&C 59:18-19 “Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart;

   Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.”

I’m grateful for the beauties of the earth that the Lord has given us, for the wonderful things he’s put here for us to wisely enjoy.  The recipe at the end of the email uses nothing but some of these things that grow for us. Enjoy!


Here is a bit from Elder Maxwell, from a talk he called “Be Of Good Cheer”- both sobering and encouraging. 


“We are living in a time in which we shall see things both wonderful and awful. There is no way that we can be a part of the last days and have it otherwise. Even so, we are instructed by our Lord and Exemplar, Jesus Christ, to “be of good cheer.” (D&C 61:36; D&C 78:18.)

Jesus has given that same instruction to others before, when the stressful circumstances in which they found themselves were anything but cheerful.

“In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33; italics added.)

What precious perspective we obtain from the gospel of Jesus Christ concerning things that really matter—against which we measure the disappointments of the day!

Jesus calls upon us to have a deliberate trust in God’s unfolding purposes, not only for all humankind but for us individually. And we are to be of good cheer in the unfolding process. The Lord has made no secret of the fact that He intends to try the faith and the patience of His Saints. (See Mosiah 23:21.) We mortals are so quick to forget the Lord: “And thus we see that except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions … they will not remember him.” (Hel. 12:3.)

Given the aforementioned grand and overarching reasons to rejoice, can we not “be of good cheer” in spite of stress and circumstance?

President Brigham Young said of a geographical destination, “This is the place.” Of God’s plan of salvation, with its developmental destination, it can be said, “This is the process”!   

(from “Be of Good Cheer” by Neal A. Maxwell,  Oct. 1982 Conference) http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=1ca9c5e8b4b6b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD
If you can make the time, please read the whole thing, it’s wonderful!


Now for the recipe: these fruit/nut bars are basically the same as the old-old recipe for ‘fruit balls’ or ‘dried fruit candy’, if you’ve run across those before.  The dates are there both for sweetness and stickiness to hold the whole thing together.  

Just-Fruit-and-Nut Bars (the original 'energy bar') and naturally gluten-free!

1/3 cup chopped pecans - toasting the nuts will increase the flavor
1/3 cup chopped dates
1/3 cup chopped dried apples 

 Put the pecans in a food processor (or blender?) and chop until finely ground.  Remove and do the same with dates and apples.  Add the nuts back in, add a pinch of cinnamon, and process until it holds together.  Divide into 6 pieces, mold each one into a bar, and wrap tightly in plastic wrap, waxed paper, or parchment.  81 calories each, if you care.   (I’m thinking these things ought to be double-sized- plus I’ll make my batch with 1 cup of each ingredient.)

If you can’t have nuts: the nuts are there to give body and fat for shaping, digestibility and energy, so try a combination of chopped-up rolled oats and coconut oil (or butter)

Variations:

Apricot-Almond: use equal amounts dried apricots, dates, and almonds

Cherry Tart:  equal parts dried cherries, dates, and walnuts or almonds

Peanut Cookie: use peanuts and only dates (2/3 cup).  Add a pinch of salt and a bit of vanilla.

Cashew Cookie: same as Peanut Cookie, except use cashews.

How about using dates, dried pineapple, macadamias, then rolling in coconut?

Or use any nut and dried fruit you have, or whatever else sounds good…..