Archive for April, 2009

Semi-healthy dessert: two recipes

April 20, 2009

In our household we have this problem where we want to eat healthy food, but we really like dessert.  There are other options (like, say the heck with it and keep fudge brownies around all the time, or banish sweets from the kitchen entirely), but the best solution is to come up with desserts that aren’t really that bad for you.  Here are a couple of favorites:

Bread Pudding:

The first step is, never throw out any scrap of bread.  Ends off the old loaf that nobody wants to eat once a fresh batch comes out of the oven, hunks that get stale sitting on the counter, pita pockets that sit in the back of the fridge for a month, even slightly moldy bread can get the surface layer shaved off – hasn’t killed me yet.  So you cut rejected bread bits into cubes about half to 3/4″ square, and you accumulate them in a gallon ziploc in the freezer.  When the ziploc is pretty full but not yet bulging, you’re ready to go.

Split the contents of the bread crumb bag between two 1.5 quart glass baking dishes, the ones that are the size and shape of a small loaf pan, pressing it down to consolidate – might want to wait a bit until it thaws and press some more.  Tradition permits addition of copious raisins mixed with the bread at this point; I’ve also done frozen wild blueberries with good effect.  Meanwhile, mix up the following:

  • 5 eggs
  • 1c sugar
  • 2t vanilla
  • 2t cinnamon
  • 1t nutmeg
  • 5c milk, approximately, skim works fine though recipes call for whole or even half and half/cream
  • 1/4t salt (or more, depending on how salty you bake your bread)

whup that all up with a fork in a bowl, and pour it on the bread.  Try to judge how the quantity is working out when the pans are about half full, so you can add a splash of milk to the bowl and stir it in, if needed to get the volume right.  It doesn’t have to cover the bread (especially since the bread is probably sticking above the surface of the pan) but you want all the bread saturated – you can help by pushing it down with a fork. Let it sit for a few minutes if it seems to need time to soak.

Now, put the two pans in a big lasagna pan (glass is nice so it won’t ruin the seasoning or start to rust) and fill the lasagna pan up most of the way with water.  Then put it in a 350 oven for around 1.25h – the water bath helps regulate the temperature so the egg/milk solution solidifies without burning.  You know it’s done when it’s puffed up in the middle and brown, with no more goopy stuff oozing out from the center when you poke it with a fork.  Let it cool a bit to set up firmer, then eat it – it’s good warm or cold, with ice cream, cream, or nothing at all.  I don’t feel guilty at all about eating it as breakfast or any other meal; as Alexis points out it’s basically french toast.  If the bread is good sturdy whole wheat stuff like what we make, its tasty and downright virtuous.

Carrot Orange Cookies

These are a new addition, courtesy of Bill and Jessica, friends of Abby and Matt out in Madison.  They are somewhere between cookies and scones, leaning toward the scone side, but where eating scones that aren’t really fresh sometimes seems like doing penance, these stay moist and are cookie-like enough to qualify as dessert.

  • 1.5 sticks butter, softened
  • 3/4c sugar
  • 1t vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • rind of 1 orange
  • 1c carrot, cooked (I grate fresh carrot finely, then microwave it for 1 minute – seems to work well
  • 2c whole wheat flour (this is one recipe where 100% ww flour works really well – must be something about the carrots)
  • 2t baking powder
  • 1/4t salt

Cream butter and sugar, mix in vanilla, egg, orange rind, and carrot.  Add dry ingredients and mix.  Since I don’t measure the carrot very carefully, the dough often comes out goopy, so I add a bit more flour.  It ends up thicker than muffin batter but not as stiff as typical cookie dough.  Drop spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet; I don’t really form them, just sort of glump them on there, so as to end up with 20-24 cookies.  Bake 350 till done – I couldn’t tell you how long since I don’t generally time cookies.   They flatten out a bit in baking but still end up craggy and uneven.

These really are surprisingly good.  I think with a splash of milk to thin to batter consistency they would make fine muffins or quick bread as well.  It would be interesting as well to try using less butter and more carrot – I bet they’d still be pretty good.  Likewise wheat germ, sesame seeds, all kinds of hippie goodness.

pedal grinder design refinements

April 18, 2009

The pedal grinder worked pretty well last fall, to the point where it seemed worth going over the design in an effort to produce a more durable, corrosion resistant, and user friendly version implementing the same basic functions.  The main issues with the current implementation are:

  • Construction of plywood
  • Steel bearings exposed to apple pulp
  • Difficult to clean without tearing down the entire assembly
  • Chain assembly is a bit noisy
  • Some shaft-sprocket connections are insecure and tend to slip

I’ve taken a first pass, as indicated in the Solidworks snapshots below.  Key aspects are:

  • Frame of T slot extrusion, protected from apple pulp by side plates
  • Side plates and diagonal chute plates of polypropylene
  • Thin curved lower shrouds (of lexan or acrylic) contain flying pulp and give a view of the action
  • Side plates, cutter drum, and secondary crusher drums remain in place; diagonal chute plates and lower shrouds easily removed for cleaning
  • Key elements of drive train unchanged (and not shown yet) – I looked into switching to timing belt for the 3x speed increase between the jackshaft and the driven drums, but the sprockets for timing belt are quite expensive at McMaster compared to the amazingly economical 40 pitch roller chain sprockets that we have been using from Burden Surplus Center.  So the current plan is to get some spare sprockets and turn them down on the lathe to fit bike chain (pitch is the same, but standard 40 pitch chain is much wider than bike chain).  I suppose we could get bike sprockets and fit them to shaft collars, but that would probably be more expensive and more work.  We’ll still have the old chain as a fall back
  • Easier to tension drum drive chain by moving jackshaft bearings in T slot
  • (not figured out yet) Integrate a standard derailleur to tension the bike chain and allow shifting gears
  • (also not figured out yet) – cam or other reciprocating mechanism for operating an automatic feed wedge – this probably won’t be a high priority at least while there are friends around who are happy to force the apples in with a wooden plunger, but it might be nice to have the interface figured out in order to add features while machining the side plates.



Ridiculously veggie lasagna

April 13, 2009

Somebody recently asked for the recipe for the veggie lasagna that we make.  The problem is that there isn’t really a recipe, and the formulation has changed significantly over time.  But, here’s a reasonable approximation.  The basic idea is to make a lasagna using homemade sauce with a ridiculous amount of veggies, both because it tastes better that way and to stretch out the cheese, which is not as good for you or for the planet, and the pasta, which by my way of thinking is mostly there for organizational purposes.

So start by making sauce in a big pot.     Our big lasagna pan is about 10×15 inches, and for this you want to end up with at least two quarts of sauce for a pan that size.  Ostensibly this is a tomato-based sauce, but by volume it is something else entirely – what it is changes depending on what’s in the fridge.  It reliably starts with a couple of chopped onions and a healthy gout of olive oil, followed by the better part of a head of garlic, minced.  Then we add whatever veggies are around – last week it was a big sack of frozen broccoli from the garden, an even bigger sack of similarly frozen zucchini, a cup or so of frozen peas,  and several carrots.  Obviously fresh is the thing in the summer, or when foraging at the grocer’s.  The structural integrity of the finished lasagna will be better if the vegetables are cut up relatively fine, especially if they start fresh. When all that is simmering along OK we add some form of tomato product – might be commercial red sauce from a jar, semi-processed tomatoes in a can, or tomato sauce we put up in jars last summer (sadly just used the last of that up).  By this time it’s usually pretty soupy, so we add somewhere in the neighborhood of a cup of TVP, which consolidates things considerably.  Then probably a couple tablespoons of one of those Italian herb mixes that someone gave us, and salt to taste, quantity depending on whether there was any in the sauce you used.  You let that simmer for a while till it’s good and thick.

So now you have a massive quantity of vaguely tomato-ish vegetable sauce.  One variation that I especially favor is to throw in between 1 and 2 cups of frozen pesto to the sauce at the end – I typically grow a patch of basil about the size of a coffee table, and by harvesting regularly end up with close to a gallon of frozen pesto  by the end of the summer, all frozen in serving-size bricks.  Round about late winter I realize we’re never going to eat that much pesto under ordinary circumstances, and it starts going into lasagnas and things.  Obviously to make or buy that much pesto would be an exorbitant expense – one of the great luxuries of the garden.  The pesto makes the sauce look kind of drab, but it tastes great.

The rest is more or less as usual.  We grate a pound of part skim mozzarella and a good sized brick of Parmesan, leaving a bit out for the top, mix in a pint tub of ricotta, and boil a pound of regular lasagna noodles.  Then start assembly, in the following order: sauce, then [pasta, sauce, cheese] n times, where n is 3 I think.  The most annoying part is breaking up the cheese finely enough, since the ricotta makes it gloppy.   There’s probably some more sensible way to do it, but I haven’t experimented in that direction.  Anyway, the key is, after the first layer of sauce, which is maybe 1/8″ thick, since it’s just there to keep the noodles from sticking to the pan, you want the layers of sauce to be at least a quarter of an inch thick, basically so they completely obscure the pasta below.  That’s the only way you’ll ever use up as much sauce as you’ve made, and it’s also how to pack the most flavor in.

When you’re dangerously close to the top of the pan, add a final layer of pasta.  Out of deference to lasagna tradition we often use plain red sauce over the last layer of noodles for brighter color, then grate on the last bit of cheese.  It bakes at 350 for a good long while, probably close to an hour, till the cheese starts to brown and the whole business starts to lift out of the pan around the edges.    That’s pretty much all there is to it.  I suspect that as time goes on we will continue to increase the ratio of vegetable to other ingredients, until it is more properly some kind of strange casserole.