Posted by: thedirtybaker | February 11, 2014

Oatmeal Banana WITH Bars

These can be made with Whatever’s In The House as extra add-ins.  I’ve used fresh blueberries, dried cranberries, raisins, almonds, walnuts, peanuts, peanut butter chips, chocolate chips…. This is a pretty flexible recipe.  It’s also gluten free, but without using weird substitutions.  It’s not healthy, though – don’t worry about that.  I’m told that they are fabulous for endurance exercise.  They are definitely a delicious use of over-ripe bananas.

Banana Oatmeal Bars
From 365 Great Cookies and Brownies

6 Tbsp. butter, softened
½ c. brown sugar
1 c. mashed ripe bananas (about 2 med.) (My suggestion – use a little more banana)
1 egg
¼ tsp salt
2 c. quick cooking or rolled oats (Quick cooking oats will blend in, and be more like cake.  Rolled oats are more granola-like, which I prefer)
¼ c. dark raisins
¼ c. golden raisins
½ c. toasted, slivered almonds
Whatever add-ins you have in the house.
Sugar and cinnamon, mixed

Preheat oven to 350º F. Grease 9-inch square pan.  Beat butter and brown sugar until creamy.  Add mashed bananas, egg, and salt, and beat until well-blended.  Stir in oatmeal, raisins, and almonds (and/ or chocolate chips, berries, wanuts, etc.).  Spread batter evenly in prepared pan and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon mixture.  Bake 25-30 minutes, or until a cake tester in the center comes out clean.  Let cool on rack completely before cutting into 12 bars.
Doubles well.

Posted by: thedirtybaker | December 21, 2013

Use Water, Milk, or Beer

Where do kids learn to cook?  Usually at home, though my middle school still offered home economics classes (cooking and sewing).  They used simple recipes to introduce kids to basic cooking techniques.  I don’t know how successful it was – my mother taught me to cook when I was about 7 – but I was happy to be cooking at school (and to be done with the sewing portion of the class).  Some of my classmates had never even boiled water or reheated food themselves.  

This drop biscuit recipe is not from my Home Ec class, however; it’s from my sister’s class 4 years earlier.  It’s one of my go-to options when I needed a last-minute potluck offering, and is also useful when I want bread in less than 3 hours and don’t want to go to a store.  Eat them right away – they’re merely okay the next day.

Sharon’s Baking Powder Biscuits

2 c. flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1 c. milk, water, or beer.  Maybe seltzer.*
2 ½ Tbsp. shortening or butter**
1 tsp. salt

Sift dry ingredients together.  Blend butter into flour.  Make a well in the center.  Into this, pour all the liquid at once.  Stir only until all the flour is moistened.  Drop by spoonfuls on a greased pan or in greased muffin pan and bake in a very hot oven, 450° F, 10-15 minutes.

*Beer was not given as an option for the 7th graders, but it works well.  If you make a batch and a half of this recipe, you can use up a full bottle or can of bad beer that someone left at your house.  If you want to try a gluten-free version, use gluten-free baking mix and seltzer/ soda water as the liquid.  I have no idea if it will work, but it’s worth a try.

**Use butter.  Always use butter.  The original recipe used shortening, but butter makes everything better.

Posted by: thedirtybaker | November 29, 2013

Torta de Quinoa (Quinoa Cake)

The title sounds healthy, doesn’t it?  It sounds like it’s going to be some kind of a gluten-free-crunchy-granola-hypo-allergenic-paleo-friendly-only-good-if-you-haven’t-eaten-the-real-thing-in-over-a-year-and-your-taste-buds-have-lost-their-memory cake.  Have you met me?  Have you read any of my other blog posts?  I would never lead you astray with such a monstrosity. In my opinion, if you want to eat healthy, don’t eat cake – but don’t ruin cake by trying to make it healthy.

This is the first (as yet only) recipe I tried from a South American food-history-cookbook, The South American Table.  And it’s good – I should really try some of her other recipes..  In addition to the super-healthy-high-protein-gluten-free grain substitute, it contains all the things that make cakes delicious: butter, sugar, flour, and egg.  Oh, and apples, raisins, nuts, and cinnamon.  Actually, it wasn’t supposed to contain apples, but I’d gone apple picking not long before making it, and I had a lot of apples to use up.

The recipe calls them quinoa bars, but that makes them sound a lot sturdier than they are.  The texture is more like cake, and the quinoa becomes crunchy when baked into cake (after pre-cooking).  Flavor-wise, it resembles a not-too-intense spice cake.  They go well after a long mountain bike ride, and with beer, but so do most good foods.

Torta de Quinoa*

2 c. water
1 c. quinoa, rinsed
1 c. firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 c. rice flour, corn starch, or all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon (I’d use at least 2 tsp.)
½ tsp. ground cloves (I probably used more)
¼ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg (I probably used ½ tsp.)
1 tsp. anise seeds (I probably skipped these.)
½ c. seedless black or golden raisins
½ c. coarsely chopped dates or dried apricots (I used apricots)
½ c. chopped walnuts
2 apples, peeled, cored, and chopped (not in original recipe)
½ c. unsalted butter, melted
½ c. fresh orange juice
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract (I use double strength vanilla)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting (optional)

In a medium-sized saucepan, bring the water to a boil.  Add the quinoa and cook until all the water has been absorbed, about 12 minutes after it comes back to a boil. Remove from the heat and let cool.
Preheat the oven to 350º F. Butter and flour a 9×13-inch baking pan.
In a large mixing bowl, mix together the brown sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, anise, raisins, apricots, walnuts, and apples.  Add the cooled quinoa, the butter, orange juice, vanilla, and eggs, and mix well.  Transfer to the prepared baking pan and smooth the top.  Bake in the upper third of the oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes.
Let cool in pan, then cut into 24 bars.  Serve dusted with confectioners’ sugar if desired.

*Maria Baez Kijac, The South American Table, p. 360. Harvard Common Press, 2003.

Posted by: thedirtybaker | November 29, 2013

Lazy-ish Latkes

Latkes, or potato pancakes, are a traditional Hanukkah food for Ashkenazi Jews.  The Maccabees ate them when they re-dedicated the Temple in Jerusalem, and the miracle of Hanukkah was that they had potatoes more than 1600 years before Columbus first crossed the Atlantic. Okay, maybe not.  Traditional Hanukkah foods are fried (for the miracle of the oil lasting 8 days instead of one day*), and potatoes, eggs, and onions were available in eastern and central Europe in December – after the conquistadors brought potatoes to Europe from South America.

One of the great debates in the Jewish community is whether latkes should be eaten with sour cream or with applesauce.  The LeeVees even have a song about it:  Both options are delicious, especially if you have a good, cinnamon-y applesauce.  They’re not hash browns – don’t eat them with ketchup**.  Now that I think about it, they would probably be good with guacamole, chimichurri, or a chunky salsa***. Latkes can be made with a wide range of other vegetables, especially root vegetables, but these are the most traditional.

I make these once a year with first graders (this year: 1st, 2nd, and 7th graders), who love working in the kitchen and especially love that they get to use the food processor.  1st graders can use it because it won’t turn on unless the top is on and closed.  7th graders and adults do the frying.  Everyone eats.

True laziness would be buying frozen latkes, but they’re never good.  NEVER.   Traditionally, people hand-grated the ingredients; some people swear by that, but food processors were invented for good reasons****.  This recipe is based on my mother’s standby, though she uses the blender for the full recipe (also tasty).  If you like fully pulverized ingredients, go with that.  I changed the directions to have a more traditional shredded texture.

Given the variation in potato and onion size and in  onion flavor, they won’t turn out the same every time, but they’ll still be good!

Lazy-ish Latkes
3 eggs, beaten
5-6 medium potatoes
3 slices onion (I’d go with ¾-1 inch slices)
2 lg. sprigs parsley (optional – this makes pretty green flecks)
½ c. sifted flour (gluten free works fine if you are cooking for glutards)
¼ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp. salt

Cut potatoes into large chunks or slices and shred with onion slices and parsley (if using) in food processor on pulse.  Remove or re-process any remaining large chunks.  Mix with beaten eggs, flour, baking powder, and salt. Heat up oil (a few mm deep) and fry, using about ¼ c. batter for each latke. Don’t try to be healthy and skip using oil – latkes should be crisp (but not burnt).  Place on paper towel and blot top before serving.  If you have leftovers, wrap them in paper towels inside plastic bags and toast to reheat.

*ask me in person and I might give you historically better information, but let’s not allow historicity to ruin a perfectly delicious excuse for fried food.

**Eat them however you like.

***Somewhere, a Jewish grandmother just felt a pang in her heart.  (It’s a shanda!) Sorry, ladies, globalization is delicious!

**** I’ve been told that scraped, bloody fingers from the grater are a standard part of this process.  Open wounds are a bad combination with cooking…. and with onion juice.

Posted by: thedirtybaker | November 27, 2013

Southern Pie Meets Mexican Spices. Magic Results.

“Hey, Baker Girl, have you ever made chess pie?”  A grad school friend kept hearing about it from a southerner.  No, I’d never heard of it.  So I looked it up in my most southern cookbook: The William and Mary Cookbook.  Sure enough, there were three versions: Great-Grandmother’s Chess Pie, Housemother’s Lemon Chess Pie, and Chocolate Chess Pie.

Lemon Chess Pie was delicious – custardy, with a crispy top and a  pate brisee bottom crust.  Unlike cream pies, the custard bakes in the oven and the bottom crust doesn’t need to be blind baked.  The filling creates its own top crust – it’s brittle, crisp, and very thin and light. It’s even better with homemade whipped cream, but aren’t all desserts?

Then I tried the chocolate chess pie because it’s chocolate. And pie. And chocolate. Unfortunately, cutting into it revealed a top crust, a lot of air, and chocolate sauce on the bottom.  While the chocolate sauce tasted good, it wasn’t a successful pie.  So I tried it again, but baked it with the instructions for the lemon chess pie.  SCOOOOOOOOORE!

Las spring, K and J hosted a carne asada (bbq)  to celebrate K finishing her MSW.  K’s a reliable fan of homemade baked goods, but J used to say that he didn’t like sweets.  (Challenge accepted!) Then he said that he only liked my cinnamon brownies*.  The he liked the Chile Brownies (see previous blog post). So I decided to see if I could mix the Chocolate Chess Pie with the chile brownie spices.

The results:  K was temporarily mute (rare!) with food-bliss. K’s moms were extremely happy.  J found another dessert that he really liked.  And D proposed to me.  When I pointed out that we’re both straight women, she said that we could both have boyfriends, she “just wants the fucking baked goods.”  So, gentlemen, the way to D’s heart is through her stomach.  Too bad I’m not giving her full name, right?

I apparently didn’t write down what I did, so I hope this is right. I’m figuring that since this has ¼ the chocolate, half the sugar, half the eggs, and much less than half the butter that’s in the brownies, I’d max it out at ¼ the spices. I’ll change it later if this isn’t good:

Chocolate Chile Chess Pie

1 square unsweetened chocolate (1 oz.)
½ c. butter
2 eggs, beaten
1 c. sugar
½-1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp – 1 Tbsp ground ancho chile
⅛ tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. vanilla (I use double-strength)
1 9-inch unbaked pie crust

Preheat oven to 300 Fahrenheit.  Melt chocolate with butter and set aside.  Beat the eggs and add the cooled chocolate mixture, sugar, cinnamon, ancho, cayenne, and vanilla. Pour into unbaked pie crust and bake for 60 minutes.
Serve with homemade whipped cream, preferably spiked with a little liqueur.

*My cinnamon brownies are really just Marc Bittman’s Minimalist Brownies with cinnamon added.

Posted by: thedirtybaker | November 4, 2013

Onça’s Chile Brownies!

I thought I’d posted this recipe a while ago, but I guess not. This might not be kid-friendly, if your kids don’t like spices. One guy at a bbq last spring told me that they were very good, but he thought he might be developing an allergy to chocolate, because his tongue was burning a little. Once I stopped laughing, I told him that there was chile in it.

And because some people assume that I’m the genius who figured this out, I have to give credit where it’s due.  I got this recipe from Onça (Brian Adams-Thiess).


4 oz baking chocolate

1 1/3 cup butter

4 eggs

2 tsp vanilla

2 cups sugar

1 cup flour

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

2 tsp cinnamon (to taste)

1/4 tsp cayenne (to taste – maybe start with less) I’ve been using almost 1/2 tsp instead.

1/8 cup ancho red chile (NOT chili powder)


Melt the chocolate and butter together in a double boiler and set aside to cool. Beat the

eggs until they are light yellow and then add the rest of the dry ingredients. When the butter chocolate mixture is lukewarm add it to the egg mixture, mix well.

Put brownie mix into a buttered 9×13 pan (I like to break up a bar of dark chocolate and sprinkle it over the top before baking) and bake at 350 for 30 mins or until a knife or toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center of the pan.

Posted by: thedirtybaker | January 1, 2013

New Year’s Fun with Cookie Cutters!

Here’s wishing you a badass 2013!

Enjoy some natural beauty and wildlife – maybe in Arizona,


or maybe in Madagascar.


Hopefully it won’t cost you an arm


or a leg,


and no one will bite your head off.


Eat delicious treats, play for fun, train for mastery,


and get dirty!  (No picture for that.  Use your imagination.)

(Wow – I saw that!  Your imagination is really dirty!)

Stay on the good side of ninjas, if you want to stay alive and intact.


And have as much fun as a lemur on a bicycle.


Lemurs LOVE riding bicycles!

Now go forth: bake, bike, kick, climb, dig, travel, read, learn, and have a fantastic, badass, FUN year!



(Cruiser bike drawn by Cat, lemur cookie cutter custom-made by Tom , javelina provided by Mandy, ninjabread men and abc cookie cutters from  amazon.  Poor photography by me.)

Posted by: thedirtybaker | November 12, 2012

Baking Against Alaska

I have nothing against Alaska.  It sounds like a gorgeous place in the summer, with glaciers, amazing wildlife, and quirky people. As a thin-blooded wimp, I don’t want to live there, though, and when it sends us its weather before my landlord has had my furnace checked out for the winter, I have to take action.  That happened this weekend. I considered showing up at a hospital and informing a surgeon that B (the handyman) can’t have knee surgery until after he comes and checks the furnace, but I suspected that they’d find a space for me in a different ward of the hospital. You know, the one with the padded walls.  So I went for option B:  Dig out the winter clothes, test out my new coat, ride my bike in the afternoon (!) and BAKE!!!  Winter’s visit definitely improved.

The key to warming up the house is longer baking times: quick breads (50-70 minutes) and puddings (at least an hour and a half) are better than brownies, for example.  I often turn to rice pudding to warm things up, but I recently noticed a recipe for Butternut Squash Indian Pudding.  I read about Indian Pudding in the Little House on the Prairie books in grade school, but my mother dismissed it as not good. I hadn’t thought about it in years. Now, it was in my head, and had a red kuri squash that came with my last produce delivery.  According to some web sites, it was supposed to taste a little like chestnuts – that sounds good for dessert.  And even better: the squash needs to roast for an hour, and then the pudding bakes for another hour and a half (or more).  That’s an hour longer than the rice pudding, and it has the added bonus of the healthy squash!

Butternut Squash Indian Pudding

Changes:  I used a red kuri squash, not a butternut squash, and I doubled the recipe. It needed to cook for a lot longer than an hour and a half – maybe try baking it at 300F, or raising it to 300F after an hour or more.  I didn’t have black strap molasses – I used mostly regular molasses and a bit of  maple syrup.  And, of course, I used much more cinnamon than it called for.

Clarification: The recipe is unclear about the top-of-the-stove part. You need to whisk it continuously while it cooks. Otherwise, the cornmeal will clump instead of mixing and thickening the milk and spices.

Simplification:  You could also make this with canned pumpkin, but I don’t know how much pumpkin puree – I think the double batch used more squash puree than one 15-oz. can, but maybe not two cans.  If you give it a try, please post the quantities in the comments – I’d love to hear!

Posted by: thedirtybaker | November 5, 2012

Thin Blood, Lightweight Wardrobe

Most places experience a season called “winter.”  In Tucson, that means that the highs are in the 60s or 70s, and the lows are probably in the 30s-40s.  Every winter, it freezes a few nights, and there are usually a few days with highs only in the 50s.  We pay for it with long, hot summers, but our “winters” are beautiful and fantastic, especially for those of us who like to play out in the dirt.  I used to live in places with winter, but it’s been a long time, and I have lost my tolerance for cold.  I only experience real winter when I travel – 3-4 days in Tahoe a couple of years ago, for example (but skiing makes everything better!). In short, I’m a thin-blooded wimp.

Moreover, I’ve been a thin-blooded wimp without a good winter coat, and my annual conference this year is in Chicago.  In November (cold-cold-cold-cold-coooooold!!!).  Reassurances that “sometimes it’s nice in Chicago in November” weren’t very comforting, especially since I heard something similar when this conference was in Boston, and it was godawful cold and windy (people from Alberta were cold!) that time.

Last January, in a rare feat of not-procrastinating, I ordered a coat from J.Crew (black, stadium cloth pea coat) in their winter sale.  They said it was back-ordered, but I still had plenty of time.  When I didn’t hear anything more in a few months, I figured it got lost in their system: no charge, no worries.  Then, in September, I got an email asking me to call J.Crew about my backordered item.  Wow.  A 9-month backorder?  I called.

Did I still want it? (Yes.)

Is navy ok?  They aren’t making it in black anymore.  (Seriously?   Who doesn’t make such a basic coat in black?)

I got tan instead, and looked forward to it.

After more than the promised 7-10 business days, I checked the tracking number; the coat made it to Phoenix 2 weeks earlier.  I called UPS.  They couldn’t find it, but J.Crew had to initiate the search, not me.  Sigh.  I contacted J.Crew.  After a week, UPS called me to find out if I really, truly, genuinely, honestly, actually, sincerely, and pinky-swearing fer-totally-realz hadn’t gotten the package.  I confirmed that no such package for me reached me, my neighbors, my office, or the ice cream shop 2 blocks away, to my knowledge.  They promised to get on it.  A week later, I heard from J.Crew.  Did I really, truly, genuinely, honestly, actually, sincerely, and pinky-swearing fer-totally-realz still not get the coat?  I confirmed that I had not.  So they apologized, asked if I still wanted it, and offered to send me a new one.  Please note that there were several one-to-two week breaks in there?  Time was getting a bit tight.  I thought that wasn’t supposed to happen if you didn’t procrastinate?  They offered to send it 3-day express for free.

Good news:  After 11 months, I finally have a winter coat to wear to a conference next week!

Conclusions: UPS is on my “un-impressed” list, and J.Crew, while they should have told me how far back-ordered the coat was, had good customer service otherwise.  They will continue to get my patronage. (This is fortunate, since I like their clothes.)

And now, back to writing that paper to give at the conference.  Or maybe I should pretend that I sent it by UPS and it got lost?

Posted by: thedirtybaker | November 5, 2012

Nutella to the rescue!

Blogging has taken a far back seat to work, and somewhat to play, but I’ve still been doing some baking. Some of it has been old standby recipes: Chocolate peanut butter marble bars, banana oatmeal bars, oatmeal banana bread, chile brownies, and toll house cookies.  Some have been new: banana oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, gluten-free almond oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (not to my taste, but my gluten-free friend liked them), chocolate red wine cake, and probably some others.

The time-consuming part of writing this baking blog (without pictures) is usually typing in a recipe, so this is a concept entry – not a full recipe.  And now for the confession:

I don’t like chocolate chips..

Blasphemy?  Sorry.  The first time I went to a movie with a friend (no adult/ older sister) I was about 8 years old, and I ate two boxes of sno-caps during the movie.  I lost my taste for them afterwards.  I only like them in cookies now (including granola bars), or sometimes in trail mix.  But not in ice cream, cake, plain, etc.  It’s a texture issue, mostly, because I do love chocolate, but not chocolate chips.

When people want to add chocolate to recipes like banana bread or pumpkin bread, they usually go for chocolate chips.  Blech!! The texture is all wrong, in my opinion, but the idea of adding chocolate to banana or pumpkin – that’s so right!  The solution?  Nutella.

So, next time you want to add chocolate to a cake, consider this option: put dollops of nutella on or in the batter and run a knife through and around several times to marble it.  You’ll have a better texture, better distribution, and better taste than with chocolate chips, and it looks good, too!

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