Inside-Out Pumpkin Muffins


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Not to sound too Pollyanna, but the changing of one season into another is just a special time.  The transition into fall is a great one, isn't it?  Days are still warm, but not sweltering while mornings and evenings are invigoratingly crisp.  Humidity decreases or disappears altogether.  Produce changes.  Food flavors change.  One of my absolute favorite fall treats is the pumpkin muffin from Starbucks.  Warm from spices, full of pumpkin flavor, and with a touch of cream cheese, it's something I look forward to all year.  The pumpkin seeds on top are also a nice touch. 

I was almost inconsolable last year because I didn't get to buy a muffin.  I did, however, find an at-home recipe that is as good as the Starbucks muffin, and probably healthier since it's smaller and homemade.  If you like pumpkin things, do try this.  It's also a lot more affordable, since the Starbucks muffins are $2.25 a piece, and I'd bet these are 50 cents or something each.

Inside-Out Pumpkin Muffins
from King Arthur Flour

1 cup pumpkin purée
2 eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup boiled cider (for best flavor), or dark corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice; or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon + 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves + 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup milk
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a standard 12-cup muffin pan with muffin papers or grease pan.

Whisk together the pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, oil, boiled cider or corn syrup, salt, spices, baking powder, baking soda, and milk. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the flour and mix until well combined.

To make the filling: Beat cream cheese and sugar together with a blender until well blended and fluffy.

Drop about 2 tablespoons of the batter into each muffin cup, spreading it to cover the bottom. Dollop on a heaping tablespoon of filling, then cover with another 2 tablespoons of batter.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out crumb-free. Remove the muffins from the oven. Let cool in pan approx. 5 minutes and remove to a cooling rack.

  • Being from the South, I had never heard of boiled cider, but it's the result of slowly reducing cider down until it resembles a thick syrup.  It's good.  It's worth making, but like so many good food products, time is your main ingredient.  Here's how:  Bring 1/2 gallon apple cider to a boil over medium-high heat in a large, non-reactive pot.  After it reaches a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, 4-5 hours.  The cider should reduce down to about 1 cup and be a thick, syrupy consistency.  Just do a Google search to find out how else to use boiled cider, aka apple molasses.
The boiled cider- I think I halved the recipe above since I wasn't sure how it would turn out.

  • I made the recipe as written, minus using all King Arthur Flour and related brand products.  
  • If you're feeling particularly lazy or want more of a Starbucks look, where the cream cheese is exposed, just fill the muffin tins 2/3 full with batter and then add the filling on top.  It will sink down some as it bakes.

For Fall- Honey Apple Cake


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Finished cake- I only lament I couldn't take a picture of the inside for you, but that's against family reunion rules.

This past weekend was a family reunion, which of course is a good opportunity to catch up with family, but a good opportunity to experiment with recipes.  I've got two new ones to share with you, and this is the first of the two.  It's a great introduction into fall recipes. 

While the pumpkin is currently enjoying a reign of fall produce homecoming queen, the apple shouldn't be overlooked.  I love apple recipes, from the sweet to the savory.  It's such a versatile fruit, eaten both raw and cooked.  One particular favorite is the apple cake, and I've probably made 3-4 different recipe variations.  I love it heartiness, moisture, and even that it's a bundt cake.  This year's version comes from a 2010 special periodical publication of Southern Living Recipes.  It's Honey Apple Cake, drizzled with a sauce made with honey, butter, and brown sugar, and it's delicious.  I wanted to share it with you as soon as possible.

The delicious honey-sugar mixture

It's easy to throw together, and not temperamental.  It has a relatively short ingredient list, and even after two days, it's moist and flavorful.  What's not to love?!

Honey Apple Cake
from Southern Living

1 cup chopped pecans, divided
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup clover honey
3 large eggs
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Golden Delicious apples, peeled and chopped
Honey Sauce (recipe to follow)

Preheat your oven to 350.  Grease and flour a 12 cup Bundt pan; sprinkle bottom of pan with 1/4 cup pecans. 

Beat the sugar, oil, and honey at medium speed with an electric mixer until well blended.  Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating until well blended.  Combine the flour and next 4 ingredients in a bowl .  Gradually add to sugar mixture, beating at low speed just until blended.  Stir in vanilla, remaining pecans, and chopped apples.  Spoon batter over pecans in pan. 

Bake at 350 for 55-60 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool in pan on a wire rack 15 minutes.  Remove from pan, and place on a wire rack over wax paper.  Drizzle 1/2 cup Honey Sauce over warm cake.  Let cool 1 hour or until completely cool.  heat remaining Honey Sauce and serve cake with sauce, and if desire, ice cream. 

Honey Sauce
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup honey

Bring all ingredients to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly; boil, stirring constantly, for 5 mintues.

  • Know your oven.  My oven has four possible rack placements.  I started the cake out on the next to lowest rack (where the top of the cake pan is about middle of oven) and after 45 minutes, the cake wasn't done in the middle, but the top of the cake was very dark.  I moved it up a level and it finished baking on the next to highest rack position, which was a good place to finish.  Total baking time for my crazy oven: 55 minutes.
  • I used Granny Smith apples rather than Golden Delicious.  They were a better price and I like them better.

Grilled Salmon with Cucumber-Pineapple Salsa


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While our favorite salmon recipe is this one, I like a lighter, fresher take on salmon and other fish in the summer.  Can you identify with that?  The desire to have a simpler, fresher, lighter take on your food so that the freshness of the summer produce shines?

While summer might be fading into fall, hang onto that summer simplicity a little longer with this dish.  The cucumber pineapple salsa is also fine as a salsa/dip, or a topper for other meats.  I made as-written and have linked to the original recipe.

Salmon with Cucumber-Pineapple Salsa
originally from Everyday Food, June 2007 issue

1 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 1 lime)
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 Kirby cucumbers, finely diced
1/2 cup finely diced fresh pineapple (about of a whole pineapple)
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 jalapeno chile (ribs and seeds removed), minced
2 Tb cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
coarse salt and ground pepper
2 skin-on salmon fillets (6 to 8 ounces each), patted dry

In a medium bowl, whisk together lime juice, honey, and 1 tablespoon oil; add cucumbers, pineapple, scallions, jalapeno, and basil. Season with salt and pepper; toss gently to combine.

While the salsa melds together, generously season salmon on both sides with salt and pepper. In a large skillet, heat remaining tablespoon oil over medium-high; add salmon, skin side down. Cook until skin is crispy and salmon is opaque about 3/4 of the way through, 4 to 6 minutes. Turn salmon over, and continue to cook just until opaque throughout, 2 to 4 minutes. Serve salmon topped with salsa.

  • Since it's just two of us, I halved the recipe and still ended up with quite a bit of salsa.
  • I also pulled a Rachael Ray and eyeballed everything. I tried to have an even amt. of pineapple and cucumber.
  • As you can see from the picture, I did a pretty fine dice on the pineapple by cutting it into slabs, then sticks, and then little cubes.  I just like my pieces small.  

Meatless Monday- Kale and Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Tahini Dressing


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Just thinking about this salad makes me want to go make some right now.  If your definition of salad is pretty broad or you want to break out of your normal meal routine, try this soon.  It's hearty and chunky, which makes it much easier to spear on your fork.  It could be a nice light meal or a side salad, though for me it was a meal.  It's likely best when it's freshly made, but I ate on it for a few meals and didn't ever find it past its prime, and each bite continued to be a delight.  This salad has a nice variety of textures and flavors, the contrasts playing well against and yet with each other.

You start out roasting cauliflower, which gives the cauliflower this nice flavor that's full and subtle at the same time.  The roasting process gives it a nutty carmelization.  It's delightful.  Then you make the dressing, a substantial mixture of Middle Eastern flavors, and combine everything, tossing it to incorporate it well. 

I made the recipe as is, except that I forgot to include the pine nuts.  The salad was great without it, but forget the pine nuts?  Tragedy.

Kale and Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Tahini Dressing
from Real Simple

1/4 cup pine nuts
1 small head cauliflower (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut into florets
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper
1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
10 cups stemmed and chopped kale (about 1 bunch) or torn escarole
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup raisins

Heat oven to 350° F. Spread the pine nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast, tossing once, until golden, 6 to 8 minutes; transfer to a plate.

Increase heat to 450° F. On the rimmed baking sheet, toss the cauliflower with the cayenne, 2 tablespoons of the oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Roast, tossing once, until golden and tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, ⅓ cup water, and ¼ teaspoon each salt and black pepper (adding more water if necessary, to achieve the consistency of heavy cream). Add the kale, onion, raisins, pine nuts, and cauliflower and toss to combine.

Basil Oil- and what to do with it


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If you don't grow basil, you probably look at recipes using fresh basil in large amounts and wonder what goldmine you'll need to rob to get enough money to pay for said basil.  I can't figure out why it's so expensive in the grocery store.  If you don't grow basil, I am sorry, but this post isn't likely for you.

If you DO grow basil, and want an idea other than pesto for your bumper crop, try this "recipe."  It uses a cup of basil leaves and, three ingredients.  It takes no time.  If you love the flavor of fresh basil, make this and forsake all other oils the rest of summer.  It also gives you way more culinary street cred to tell someone you make your own basil-infused olive oil.  

We drizzled it over grilled chicken and a caprese salad.  Delicious!  We also used it in this recipe, which pretty much changed our lives.  The Martha Stewart website shows it drizzled over ricotta cheese, slathered on a piece of bread.  I'd say the possibilities are endless and would bet it'd make a nice ingredient in a pasta sauce or a salad dressing.

That about used it up, and I haven't made more, but this weekend may be a good time to remedy that.  I used this particular recipe, which does not instruct you to heat the oil.  While that may make for a faster infusion, it also denatures some of the oil, which some people claim to take away some of the health benefits.  It also keeps your kitchen cooler, so bonus.

from Martha Stewart

1 cup basil leaves, washed
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
pinch salt

Blanch the basil leaves and add them to a food processor with 1/2 cup olive oil and a pinch of salt.  Process until well incorporated, then pour into an empty container through a fine mesh sieve lined with a coffee filter.  Refrigerate air tight for up to a week.  

Revisiting a couple old favorites



This week started out as one of those "I have no idea what to make" weeks.  Do you ever have those?  Everything sounds so tired and blah.  Despite trying to keep things fresh with a new recipe every week or so, I still have those weeks.  It's the clothing equivalent of looking into your closet full of clothes and despairing over nothing to wear.  Don't you hate when that happens?!

Anyway, I did settle on two old favorites, and we have enjoyed them.

First up is veggie fajitas.  They're healthy, colorful, delicious, easy, and are very forgiving, in terms of using vegetables you have on hand.

Just add salsa, guac, and/or sour cream and you're all set  

The second, and this one really reminded us just how fun and delicious it can be to eat at home, was grilled salmon with orange butter.

Oh my gosh!  This one was so good last night- we ate every bite and couldn't believe we hadn't made it earlier than now.  I would bet this same technique and recipe could be used for Mahi Mahi, Cod, Halibut, Haddock.  Any firm, thicker filleted white fish.  Oh it's so good!  Make it soon!

Granola Clusters


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I'm about to share a somewhat addictive snack.  It's tasty (aren't pretty much all the recipes I post on here?), easy and quick to prepare, and it's relatively healthy.  These little granola clusters bake up solid, so they're easily transported in say, a lunch box or back pack.  I bet they'd make a great after school snack, a good packable for people on the go, and I know they're good for camping.  I bet they'd even be good as a gift, packaged inside a nice container or Mason jar. 

I had the good fortune of running across these little gems at my family's house one day, and the even better fortune that my sister made them and put recipe notes down that were incredibly helpful.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

I am making the recipe with my sister's adjustments, but am glad that the newpaper insert, Relish, also has a website so that I can link to the original.  Feel free to choose you favorite version!

Granola Clusters
adapted from Relish

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup honey
1 Tb. maple syrup
1 tsp. oil
1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup dried fruit (cranberries, mixed berries, raisins)
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. Kosher salt

Preheat oven to 325.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. 

Combine peanut butter, honey, syrup, and oil together in a small sauce pan.  Heat over low until melted and the mixture can be easily stirred together.  Remove from heat and set aside. 

In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and spices, tossing or stirring to mix well.  Pour peanut butter mixture over oat mixture and stir to combine.  Drop by heaping tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheet.  Bake 20-25 minutes, until golden and crisp.  Set tray on wire rack and let cool completely.  Store in air tight container at room temperature.

  • Just one note- if my oven were a person, it'd likely have a psychiatric disorder because of its unpredictable nature.  I baked these 15-20 minutes and they were too done!  You may need to adjust time on yours.