Scratch “from scratch” (sometimes)

I’ve used several different recipes to make blueberry muffins from scratch, and without fail there is at least one person living in my home who doesn’t like the results as much as the ones produced by the boxed mix. A few years ago I began having a hard time finding the variety of the brand that everyone likes–Duncan Hines “Simple Mornings” without the streusel topping–so I just bought the same brand with streusel and omitted the topping because, let’s face it, they’re sugary enough as it is and no one was going to miss what they didn’t know they might be missing. However, I had a hard time with the prospect of just throwing away the sealed plastic bag containing premixed streusel with enough preservatives to guarantee a substantial shelf life, so I put the packet in the pantry each time I made a batch of muffins. This “save everything” incentive is a bit of a compulsion, I admit, and I’m sure its roots are in one control issue or another, but I like to think it aligns with the pact I’ve made with the universe to preserve what could be useful, even if it isn’t in that moment. I’m sure you’re familiar with that good old “I’ll figure out something to do with it; I’m sure it’ll come in handy someday” line of thinking. My friend Ellen calls me resourceful. She’s kind.

The practice of this concept, though largely lost on some people (a group that may or may not include my husband, who is very patient with my “keep it because it might be useful later” philosophy towards a great many things), oftentimes does prove out, which only serves to reinforce its validity and therefore cause me to keep my “keep it” mentality. Please allow the following recipe to act as my defense in holding onto things that I’d guess most people would throw directly in the trash without a second’s thought:

Three-Ingredient Apple Crisp

3 lbs. Granny Smith apples (or another firm, tart variety)
Six packets of streusel topping from Duncan Hines Simple Truth muffin mix (one packet comes in each box) or another 12-muffin mix with crumb topping included
Six tbsp. good cinnamon

Peel, core, and thinly slice apples and place them in a buttered or oil-sprayed baking dish. Mix streusel topping with cinnamon and spread evenly over the apples, then place on the middle rack in a preheated 350 degree oven for 40-50 minutes, until bubbling and slightly browned on top. Serve (warm or cooled) with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or in a bowl with a pour of heavy cream.


Bonus kitchen-economy tip: Empty pickle jar? Before you dump out that piquant chartreuse brine, consider this: I did a second planting of green beans in late summer, and what came up were lackluster in both texture and flavor. Even the pet bunny wasn’t interested. But guess what? I stuck them all into a pickle jar with the leftover liquid and (two weeks of refrigeration later): voilà! Pickled green beans, great in a salad or alongside a sandwich. Sliced onions or a peck of any kind of peppers work well too, and they keep for a long time. I’d bet okra, beets, radishes, rhubarb, ginger, and green tomatoes would be interesting as “cheat pickles”. And before you recycle that glass jar, just think: you can use it to freeze things because it’s already tempered and won’t shatter all over the plastic sachets of frozen potsticker sauce from the bags of Ling-Lings that you save because, sooner or later, there will certainly be something to stir-fry.

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