I have the HARDEST time finding bouillon that doesn't contain MSG.  Here's a solution:  no MSG, no fillers, no preservatives.  Only what you choose to put in it.

This recipe was adapted from Traci's Transformational Health Principles by Traci J. Sellers

Vegetable Broth Powder     (makes about 1 1/2 cups)
1 cup Nutritional Yeast (to make your own, see here)
1/4 cup RealSalt (or Himalayan salt; something with those trace minerals)
1 Tbsp. onion powder (see how to make your own, here)
1 1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 1/2 tsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. dried dill weed
1 tsp. marjoram or oregano, optional
1 tsp. dried lemon peel, optional
1/2 tsp. celery seed
1/2 tsp. dry basil
1/2 tsp. ground thyme 

 Put everything except parsley in a blender or food processor, in the order given.  Blend until
 powdered.  Add parsley, pulse just enough to chop it a little bit (you're aiming for small bits).  Store in an airtight container indefinitely.  

To use, add a heaping 1/2 tsp. per cup of water, or 1 Tbsp. of powder  for every quart of water.

 
 
Have you ever started a recipe only to discover that it called for "pumpkin pie spice"?  And there was no such thing in your cupboard?  

You can make your own very easily.  Mix a big batch and fill a jar, or just use the ratios below to put directly in your recipe.  For instance, if your recipe calls for 2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice, use double the amounts below.  No need to stir them together first, either, just drop them in.  If you have cinnamon but not all three of the others, you can leave one of them out and still be fine.  (Just don't leave out the cinnamon!)


Pumpkin Pie Spice Makes 1 teaspoon. 

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon 
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. ground cloves

Mix ingredients well. 

Bigger batch, for filling a spice jar:  
Makes 1/4 c (4 Tbsp or 12 tsp.)
2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp. ground nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp. ground cloves


 
 
This seasonal New York-style cheesecake is not exactly "lite", just light.  Not leaden.  But it is a little lower fat because I substituted one cup of cottage cheese in place of the original one cup of heavy cream.  :)  This gives it a higher protein content and reduces the fat.
This is an amazing pumpkin cheesecake, with just the right amount of tartness, sweetness, and spice.  I adapted it from an America's Test Kitchen recipe.  The whipped cream topping is optional but perfect.

The recipe- which is below- calls for a 9-inch springform pan.  I don't own one, but I do have a 9-inch round cake pan.  I use it instead by cutting out a circle of parchment paper and lining the bottom with it, spraying the inside edges with cooking spray, and going ahead with the baking.  When it's done, run a knife around the inside edge to help it pull away, cool and chill completely, and invert the pan over a plate.  Tap hard.  If it's being really stubborn, run hot water over the bottom of the pan (held at an angle so the plate doesn't fill with water) and try again.  
Pumpkin Cheesecake
Crust
1 sleeve (about 5 ounces) graham crackers- whack it a few times to break into chunks
6 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Put the cracker pieces in a blender or food processor; run until finely ground.  Put the butter in a 2-cup microwave-safe container and melt it, about 30 seconds in the microwave.  Dump in the crumbs, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. Mix well, then sprinkle over the bottom of a 9" springform pan.  Press down evenly using the bottom of a glass or something else flat.  Bake for about 15 minutes, until it starts smelling delicious.  Remove and let cool while you make the filling.

Filling
2 cups pumpkin puree (canned or your own- or, better yet, use pumpkin powder)*
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or use 2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice in place of these four spices)
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup cottage cheese
5 large eggs room temperature

Pour the pumpkin puree on a triple layer of paper towels, spread evenly, then top with another triple layer. Press firmly to absorb the extra moisture.  The Test Kitchen said that when they didn't do this, the cheesecake was always wet.   OR- best idea ever!- use your pumpkin powder, using only half the water you normally would.  That means you'd use 6 Tbsp. pumpkin powder-- barely over 1/3 cup-- plus enough warm water to equal one cup.  (Ta-da!  aren't you extra-glad now that you made some?!)

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil for a water bath later.  Put the pumpkin in a blender or food processor, and add the sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, salt, cream cheese, vanilla, lemon juice, cottage cheese, and eggs.  Blend until smooth. Pour over crust. Put this pan in a roasting pan or on a jelly roll pan if that's all you have.  Put it in the oven, then pour water in that larger pan, enough to come about halfway up the sides of the cheesecake pan.  Bake for about 1 1/2 hours, until the center wobbles like Jello instead of like water; a thermometer poked into the center should register 145-150 degrees F.  Run a knife around the inside edge of the cheesecake, then put the cheesecake pan on a wire rack to cool.  When cool, chill for at least 4 hours to let it firm up.  (I didn't have that much time; mine cooled on the counter for 30 minutes, then went in the fridge for 3 hours.  It was a little soft in the center, but sliced OK.  The leftovers sliced much more nicely the next day.)

Brown Sugar and Rum (flavor) Cream Topping
1 cup whipping cream, very cold
1/2 cup sour cream or 4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 tsp. rum flavor*

Whip the cream until it barely starts to thicken.  Add sour cream or cream cheese (I used cream cheese since I was out of sour cream), brown sugar, salt, and rum flavor. Beat about a minute, until thick; spread on top of cooled cheesecake.

*I have a whole bunch of Stephen's Gourmet Rum Sauce mix packets; each packet makes 2 cups of sauce; I used half of one dry mix in place of part of my sugar.  But I don't know if the company still makes the mix; I got them for ten cents apiece on a clearance deal. So you can use rum flavor.  Or use 2 tsp. rum if you happen to like it.  Or, if you live nearby, call me and you can have a packet.  :)
I also cooked a bit of the sauce and used that to drizzle a design on the top of the cheesecake.  Mini chocolate chips sprinkled on top would be great instead, as would some sugared pecans or hazelnuts.  Mmm.
 
 
This weekend I participated in a moms' retreat- our own little 'Education Week'end, you might say. (See here for one of the addresses we heard.)
We each brought food for either the dinner or brunch the next day.  Most of the ladies there try to eat very healthfully, and some of them have dietary issues like gluten intolerance, so I made a gluten-free, dairy-free (CF= 'casein free'- the protein in milk) cake. 

I actually used a cake mix- Pamela's Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake Mix- which uses evaporated cane juice for the sugar, and organic grains.  That way everyone could eat happy.  Everybody- regular wheat-eaters included thought the cake was absolutely delicious.

By the way, this brand of cake mix makes two 8" or 9" layers.  Not all of the GF cakes mixes do.  Some, like Betty Crocker, only make one 8" layer.  So take that into consideration if you're pricing them.

GF CF German Chocolate Cake

Bake and cool one chocolate cake, using a two-layer sized gluten-free mix, or from scratch.  One good recipe is at Living Without.(This recipe calls for 1 c. coffee, to intensify the flavor- if you don't prefer to use coffee, use hot water instead and 1 Tbsp. molasses.  Reduce sugar by 1 Tbsp.)

Lower-fat, Dairy-free Coconut-Pecan Frosting (also egg-free) 
3 Tbsp. potato starch or tapioca starch, OR 5 Tbsp. rice flour
3/4  evaporated cane juice or brown sugar
1 c. coconut or rice milk
¼ c. coconut oil
¼ tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. vanilla
½ c. pecans, toasted and chopped fine
1 c. shredded sweetened coconut, toasted

Stir together starch and sugar, then gradually mix in milk.  Add coconut oil and salt, then heat and stir over medium-high.  Cook and stir until thickened and bubbling.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla, pecans, and coconut, reserving 1 Tbsp each nuts and coconut for garnish.  Chill first if spreading on a tall cake, frost immediately if spreading on a sheet cake.
 
 
Have you noticed packages shrinking? 

One caught me by surprise the other day.  I had not noticed anything when buying some cake mixes, but once I was mixing one up, I happened to look at the net weight written on the front.  If you click on the picture above, you can see closer.  (The one on the right says 19.5 ounces.)  The mix shrunk by more than three ounces, or about 2/3 of a cup!  Same brand, same price, purchased about a year apart.  To make it even less noticeable, the instructions remain the same as before: you add the same amount of water, the same 3 eggs, and the same quantity of oil.  You end up with about 1/2 cup less cake batter, though, which means your cake will be a little less tall. 

I checked all the cake mix brands at the store after this, and found that nearly every one had shrunk the same amount.  The only exception there was the Western Family brand. 

The first shrinking package I remember seeing was for ice cream.  As early as I know, the regular carton size held 2 quarts, which is 64 ounces.  A few years ago they shrunk to 58 ounces, and now many of them are 48 ounces.  That's 3/4 of what it used to be.  That means IF the price per carton remained the same, prices actually increased 25%.  But prices have gone up, as well.

When expenses rise for the manufacterers, they have two choices:
*raise the price of what they're selling- which often discourages customers from buying as much- or
*reduce the amount of food in the package.  Most people don't notice.  To be fair, sometimes a smaller package is all the modern family wants.  However, when the price of a newly-smaller box is the same as the older bigger one was, you know something's happening.

Tuna fish cans used to hold 6 ounces, as recently as about 5 years ago.   Now they're 5 ounces, which is about 17% less food.

So when you're shopping, noticing the quantity in the package will help you understand the real inflation numbers!
 
 
For those days that you just don't have time to think what to cook for dinner, have this on hand.  (Thanks, Rebecca!)  You can make up several mixes at once.  Not only are these much less expensive than the boxed version, but you have complete control over what goes in it.  This is especially handy if you have allergies or have to eat gluten-free.

This mix is equivalent to about 2 ½ -3 boxes of Rice-A-Roni.

Homemade Rice & Roni
Serves about 8
(put half as much in the bags to make smaller mixes!)

In a quart size bag, add
2 cups of converted rice
1 cup of broken thin spaghetti  or fideo noodles

Place the following ingredients in snack-sized bags or in an envelope cut in half (cut the short way, fill, fold over, and glue or tape closed)

2 tsp bouillon granules (Optional, you can prepare the mix with stock instead of water.)
2 Tbsp dry onion
1T dry carrots or other dried or freeze-dried vegetable (optional)
1/8th tsp celery seed
1Tbsp. all-purpose seasoning
2 tsp dry parsley
1 tsp garlic powder

*Be sure to write the name of the flavoring mix on the bag along with how much liquid to add to the mix to prepare it. To prepare you will need
2 T butter or oil
5 cups water (or stock if you omit the bullion in your seasoning)
In a 2 quart pan with a tight fitting lid, brown the rice and noodles in the butter or oil until noodles are a nice deep brown, but not burned. Add the water and the contents of the seasoning mix.  Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to low for 20-25 minutes, until tender.

Other flavor ideas:
Mexican:
Use onion and carrot but for seasoning, use 1T taco seasoning, Or 1 tsp each: garlic, cumin, oregano and chile powder.
Oriental: Use onion carrot and celery seed, but also 1 tsp curry and 1 tsp Chinese 5 spice, 1/2 tsp ginger and 1T garlic powder.
Curry Chicken: Use chicken bullion, all the original seasoning plus 1tsp saffron 2tsp curry powder.

For more flavor ideas, browse the boxed pasta section at the grocery store.  You'll be sure to see something that sounds good.  Then make your own!


Instruction label for the bags of mix: 
 
 
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These make great little gifts.  I gave these out during the holidays, when most people are short on time and have had enough 'goodie plates'.  If you want to give them something extra, also include a bottle of syrup (homemade or storebought) or a couple different mixes in a basket.

 Back on 10/27/2010  I wrote a post on making vegetable powders.  Here's one kind you can make- pumpkin powder! The recipe below uses it to make some fragrant, fresh pancakes.   You can also adapt any recipe that calls for pumpkin puree.  I've made pumpkin pie with the powder, and it turns out great.  1/3 cup pumpkin powder plus enough water to give you one cup is all it takes to make a cup of pumpkin puree.  Most recipes won't require rehydrating the pumpkin first, either.  Just mix everything together, and the powder will rehydrate while it cooks. 

This mix is just a really large batch of "Foolproof Pancakes" (also from the 10/27/2010 post), made so you only need to add eggs and water.

Pumpkin Pancake Mix


½ cup coconut oil (shortening works too, but I don't use it)
1 ¼ c. brown sugar or raw cane sugar
¼ c. cinnamon
1 ½ c. pumpkin powder
3 c. powdered milk
1/4 c. baking soda
¼ c. salt
13 c. flour ( ½  wheat, ½ white)

Mix together the coconut oil, brown sugar, and cinnamon.  Stir in everything else.  Store in a container with a tight-fitting lid.  Makes about 20 cups.

To use it,  combine  1 1/3 c. mix, 1 egg, 1 cup water.  You'll get about 15 batches this size from the whole mix.

I made up a smaller bag with 2 2/3 c. mix, which is 12 ounces if you like to weigh things.  The instructions to use the whole bag is to add  2 eggs and 2 cups of water.

My bigger bag has 4 cups mix, about 17 ounces, and mixes with 3 eggs and 3 cups water.  For a ready-made label, click here.


* * * * *
The amount of pumpkin is based on using roughly 1/2 cup of pumpkin puree for a 1-cup-of-flour batch of pancakes.  So if you don't have pumpkin powder, omit that ingredient, use just under 1 1/4 cups of mix, 1 egg, 1/2 cup fresh pumpkin puree, and reduce water. 


 
Picture
To make pumpkin powder, first wash (but don't peel) the outside of a pumpkin.  Scoop out the seeds.

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The seeds are great themselves.  I find them easiest to separate from the stringy fibers by putting them in a bowl of water.  Pinch the seeds off into the water.  Dry them for a couple weeks and save them for planting in next year's garden, or roast them with a little oil and salt.

Picture
Trim off the stem and the blossom end.  Slice the pumpkin lengthwise into pieces about 2" wide.  If you steam them now, the pumpkin will dehydrate in about half the time, and have a mellower, sweeter flavor.  Let cool enough to handle, then cut them about 1/4- 3/8" thick crosswise. 

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Lay the thin pieces in a single layer on a dehydrator try, or on a windowscreen laid down in a hot car, or on a cookie sheet with the oven on lowest setting... whatever you have.  When crispy-dry, put the pieces in a blender and puree until powdered.

This 5-lb pumpkin dehydrated down to just under 7 ounces, which measured 1 1/2 cups.  Not a bad space saver!  It takes just 3 Tbsp of this powder to equal 1 cup of puree, after adding water.

Use it in anything that calls for pumpkin; you don't even need to rehydrate it first: just add the right amount of water and powder.  Try Pumpkin Shake!  Or how about a gluten-free, dairy-free Pumpkin Cheesecake? Pumpkin Pie?

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A rainbow of dehydrated vegetables: from left to right:  tomato powder, pumpkin powder, yellow squash powder, and dried & crumbled greens.