Sunday, October 24, 2010

PQ's Pumpkin Streusel Muffins

Now that it is truly beginning to feel like fall, it's time for pumpkin recipes. This year, I started pumpkin season with muffins; it was difficult to try to select a recipe, because there are so many out there. I finally decided on the Pastry Queen's pumpkin muffins (actually a bread recipe in her first cookbook, with alternative directions for muffins). The Pastry Queen (aka Rebecca Rather) has a bakery in Fredericksburg, Texas, called Rather Sweet. It is absolutely amazing, so I knew I couldn't go wrong with this recipe. The muffins were very moist and flavorful, and freeze and thaw well too. Enjoy!

Pumpkin Streusel Muffins
1/2 cup pecan pieces
1 cup canola oil
3 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin puree
1 cup water
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt

Streusel Topping
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 cup pecan pieces (above)

Preheat oven to 350. Arrange the pecans on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast them in the oven for 7-9 min., until golden and aromatic.

Line muffin tin with paper liners.

Whisk the oil and sugar in a large bowl. Add the eggs, pumpkin, and water and whisk until combined.
In another bowl whisk together flour, spices, and baking soda. Carefully mix the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture. Fill the muffin pans almost to the top with batter.

Stir together sugar, butter, cinnamon, and pecan pieces. Sprinkle liberally over tops of muffins before baking.Bake muffins 30-35 minutes.
Yield 36 muffins

Monday, October 04, 2010

Apple Cider & Maple Cream Tart

Anyone who knows me knows that I almost automatically think "chocolate" when dessert is mentioned. Cheesecake? No thanks, unless it has a chocolate crust, filling, and topping. Creme brulee? Chocolate please. Birthday dessert? Hmm . . . chocolate cake or chocolate cookies . . . tough call. There are, of course, a few exceptions - like the best ice cream ever, and this.

Apple cider and maple cream make a perfect fall combination, and the flavors of this tart are somewhat subtle - not overwhelmingly apple and not decidedly maple either. Before you start baking, a few notes:
1. Maple sugar is hard (impossible?) to find in small towns. Next time you're in a city or ordering online (Amazon and King Arthur both carry it), buy some. It is worth it. Just splurge a little - you'll be glad you did.
2. The tart is actually pretty simple to make, but it does require a little planning (mostly due to letting components chill/cool). Don't start working on it an hour (or two) before you want to serve it. Like buying maple sugar, it will be worth the effort!

Apple Cider & Maple Cream Tart
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, diced

1/2 gallon fresh apple cider or cold-pressed apple juice
1/2 cup maple sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3-4 drops maple extract (reduce to 2-3 drops if using imitation maple flavor)


Blend flour, powdered sugar, and coarse salt in processor 5 seconds. Add butter and blend until dough comes together in moist clumps. Gather dough into ball. Press dough evenly onto bottom and up sides of 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Cover and chill crust at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Bake chilled crust uncovered 10 minutes. Using back of fork, press bottom of crust to flatten (do not pierce). Continue to bake until crust is deep golden brown, pressing again if bottom of crust puffs, 16 to 18 minutes longer. Cool crust completely.

Bring apple cider or apple juice to rolling boil in large pot over high heat. Boil until bubbling thickly and reduced to generous 3/4 cup, stirring occasionally, 40 to 45 minutes. Transfer to small bowl and cool.
DO AHEAD - Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.

Grind maple sugar to powder in spice mill, blender, or mini processor. Transfer powdered maple sugar to 4-cup glass measuring cup; add cream, eggs, 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt, nutmeg, extract, and 3/4 cup cooled cider reduction and whisk to blend well.

Place tart pan with crust on baking sheet; set on rack in oven. Pour in filling. Bake tart until filling is puffed and cracked around edges and gently set in center, about 33 minutes. Transfer tart to rack and cool to room temperature, 1 to 2 hours.

Push up pan bottom, releasing tart. Cut tart into wedges and serve with maple whipped cream, if desired.

Optional topping
Maple whipped cream - add 3-4 drops of maple extract (and sugar, to taste) to whipping cream - whisk to desired consistency                                                                 - Adapted slightly from Bon Appetit

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Chickpea Sandwiches

If you're having trouble imagining a chickpea sandwich, don't worry - you're not alone. There was a recipe in Cooking Light for chickpea sliders (yes, I'm sure they had a more creative name for the recipe) - which I totally overlooked. Being a "beef" person, I really couldn't imagine a chickpea sandwich. I envisioned a bland, dry burger substitute wanna-be. Fortunately, my mom made the slider version when I was home during the holidays last winter; I'm now able to use chickpeas for more than hummus. Don't misunderstand - this is no substitute for a burger! If you're a stubborn meat and potatoes person . . . this recipe probably isn't for you. I think it is a nice change of pace from the ordinary sandwich. Try it and let me know what you think . . .

Chickpea Sandwiches
1  (8-ounce) red potato
3  tablespoons  olive oil, divided
1  teaspoon  minced garlic
1  (15.5-ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed, drained, and divided
1  tablespoon  chopped fresh parsley
1/2  teaspoon  salt
1/2  teaspoon  grated lemon rind
1/2  teaspoon  smoked paprika
1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
2  large egg whites, lightly beaten


1. Place potato in a saucepan; cover with water. Bring to a boil; cook 20 minutes or until very tender. Drain. Cool slightly. Coarsely chop, and place in medium bowl. Add 1 tablespoon oil and garlic to bowl; mash potato mixture with a potato masher until slightly chunky. Remove 3 tablespoons chickpeas; place in a small bowl. Add remaining chickpeas to potato mixture; mash until well blended. Stir in remaining 3 tablespoons whole chickpeas, parsley, and remaining ingredients. With moistened hands, divide mixture into 6 equal portions (about 1/3 cup mixture per portion), shaping each into a 3-inch patty.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 3 patties to pan; reduce heat to medium, and cook 4 minutes or until bottoms are golden. Carefully turn patties over; cook 3 minutes or until bottoms are golden and patties are set. Repeat procedure with remaining 1 tablespoon oil and 3 patties.

3. Assemble sandwiches. I have been loving the sandwich thin-type buns lately - the filling of the sandwich doesn't get overpowered by a huge amount of bread. Add mixed greens and sliced red bell pepper - a perfect compliment of flavor and texture. Cucumber and/or radish would probably be a nice addition as well. I also mixed up a spread made of Greek yogurt and Gourmet Garden Mediterranean Blend (you can find this in the refrigerated section of HyVee in Quincy - near the salad and fresh herbs). I think the spread is essential - but if you can't find the little Gourmet Garden tubes, any type of flavored mayonnaise would work, or you can create your own using Greek yogurt, sour cream, creme fraiche, mayo, etc. - blended with oregano, basil, garlic, and peppers.

This recipe can also be made into sliders to serve as an appetizer. Adapted from Cooking Light.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Strawberry muffins

The best thing about this time of year? It's not the weather or the longer days . . . it's the strawberries! We've had strawberry shortcake, strawberry smoothies, strawberries and ice cream, and of course, lots of strawberries eaten fresh with nothing added. I'm going to freeze some, but I also thought some muffins would be nice to have in the freezer for a quick breakfast. I also made strawberry shortcake cupcakes a couple of weeks ago, but I didn't get any pictures. I guess I'll have to make another batch - good thing I've got a gallon of fresh strawberries in the fridge!

Strawberry Muffins
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup applesauce
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
2 1/4 heaping cups spelt flour (or 2 cups all-purpose flour)
2 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups chopped strawberries

Cream butter and sugar in bowl of electric mixer or in large bowl with handheld mixer. Add applesauce; mix well. Add egg;  mix well.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture and milk alternately to butter mixture. Add vanilla. Gently stir in strawberries.

Spoon batter into muffin pans.Bake at 400ยบ for 20-25 minutes. Yield: 12 muffins. 

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Dinner Salad

There is a dinner salad . . . and then there is Dinner Salad. Two completely different things. This salad (or some variation) has been on my dinner menu a lot lately; I add almost any fruit, nut, and/or vegetable I have in the kitchen. It's not exactly what I would call comfort food, but it is a salad I actually look forward to eating - and it is quick and easy:

1. Start with mixed greens (I like the Earthbound Farms or Organic Girl varieties)
2. Toss with your favorite dressing (if you don't want to take time to make dressing, the T. Marzetti Berry Balsamic - it's in a jar, refrigerated near the salad mixes in stores - is pretty good)
3. Add your favorite toppings - this salad included:
apple, chopped
bell peppers, chopped
sliced almonds (toasted and sugared)
dried cranberries
chicken, cooked and cubed
terra sticks

Monday, April 26, 2010

Orange Muffins

I purchased the Bob's Red Mill Baking Book a couple of years ago, during one of my "healthier" cooking kicks, but unfortunately convinced myself that the recipes were probably too healthful and not tasty. It sat in a box in my basement until Sunday night, when I was sorting through stuff to donate to garage sale fundraiser. I decided I should try at least one recipe before getting rid of the book . . . and I am so glad I did! These muffins are super easy to mix up and they bake very quickly as well. Don't be alarmed by the spelt flour - it is easy for me to find (in Quincy). However, if you can't find it easily, I think regular flour would work equally well - you might want to reduce the amount by one or two tablespoons. P.S.The muffins are delicious!

Orange Muffins
2 cups spelt flour (can substitute regular flour - might want to reduce it by 1-2 tbsp.)
1 3/4 tsp. baking powder
zest of 1 orange
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup applesauce
1/3 cup vegetable or canola oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
optional: 1/4 cup dried cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with liners (I like the If You Care brand baking cups).
2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, orange zest, allspice, and salt in a large bowl; set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, beat together orange juice, applesauce, oil, sugar, vanilla, and eggs until well combined. Stir into the flour mixture until just combined (batter will be lumpy). Stir in dried cranberries, if using.
4. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pan and bake 15 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the muffins rest 5 minutes, then transfer out of muffin pan onto a wire rack to cool.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Spring ham, asparagus, and potato soup

Do you have leftover ham from Easter? If so, and if you're already tired of ham sandwiches, consider this soup. Not only is is a great way to incorporate vegetables and fresh herbs into your diet, it is pretty tasty (even my husband, who "hates creamy soup" and eats vegetables sparingly, liked it). For me, the best part of this soup was using my immersion blender. It is one of the kitchen tools I love to use (maybe because it is destructive . . . but in a good way). Anyway, if you like asparagus and ham, you should give this a try!

Spring ham, asparagus and potato soup
1 tbsp. butter
1/3 cup onions, chopped
1 tbsp. flour
16 oz. vegetable broth (plus more, depending on desired consistency)
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp. minced fresh parsley
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. minced chives
1/4 tsp. celery seed
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
3/4 lb. fresh asparagus, ends trimmed
3 to 4 small red potatoes, peeled and cubed (1/2 inch)
3/4 cup cubed fully cooked lean ham
3/4 cup half-and-half (or 1/2 cup milk plus 1/4 cup cream)
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
optional: 3 tbsp. shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese
optional: fresh rosemary to garnish

1. In a medium saucepan, saute onions in butter until tender. Add flour, stir until blended. Gradually add broth, water, parsley, Italian seasoning, chives, celery seed, and nutmeg. Bring to a boil; cook 2-3 minutes or until slightly thickened.

2. Cut tips off asparagus and set aside. Cut stalks into 1/2 inch pieces; add to pan. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until asparagus is tender. Cool slightly.

3. With an immersion blender (or transfer to regular blender when slightly cooled), process soup until smooth (return to pan if regular blender was used). Stir in potatoes. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat; simmer 10-15 minutes. Stir in asparagus tips and ham and simmer an additional 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in half-and-half; heat through. Sprinkle with cheese and serve immediately. Yield: 3-4 servings.
- Adapted from Taste of Home

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Quinoa Salad with Avocado, etc.


There are several reasons I try new recipes . . . but there was no major inspiration for this one - I simply had all the ingredients on hand (and needed to use up the avocado and scallions). I'm glad I came across the recipe, because I have been trying to use quinoa more regularly and I really liked this dish. If you're thinking avocados and raisins seem like a strange combination, I understand where you're coming from. However, both ingredients - and the almonds and scallions as well - are important for texture and flavor. And above all, don't forget to rinse the quinoa before cooking it - if you forget, you'll end up with gritty pieces, which are not a good contribution to the dish. Trust me!

Quinoa salad with avocado, almonds and raisins
3 tbsp. raisins (mix of dark and golden)
1 cup quinoa, RINSED WELL (important!)
sea salt
1 large lemon
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. paprika
2 medium firm-ripe avocados, pitted, peeled and chopped
2 medium scallions, thinly sliced
2 to 3 tbsp. chopped or slivered toasted almonds
optional: freshly ground black pepper

In a medium bowl, soak raisins in hot water for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a 2-qt. saucepan, bring 2 cups quinoa, water, and salt to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until water is absorbed and quinoa is tender (about 15 minutes). Fluff quinoa with a fork and allow it to cool.

Finely grate the zest of the lemon and then squeeze 1 tbsp. lemon juice - whisk both together with olive oil, coriander, cumin, paprika and 1/4 tsp. salt. In a large bowl, toss the vinaigrette with quinoa, raisins, avocado, scallions and almonds. Season with salt and pepper and serve.  - Recipe from Fine Cooking

Monday, January 04, 2010

Beef Estofado with Polenta

For Christmas, I received a copy of the Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook . . . ironically, from my mother! She makes awesome short ribs served with polenta - she found both recipes in that book. Initially, when I thawed the stew meat, I did not intend to create a dish so similar to her short ribs and polenta, but as the beef estofado (southwest or Spanish beef stew) cooked, I realized polenta would be a perfect accompaniment. Since it was a last minute decision, I made a quick stovetop variation of the polenta she serves with short ribs. For the minimal effort involved, this was a pretty good dinner. It wasn't quite as good as Mom's short ribs, but then again . . . it's not my mother's slow cooker cookbook!

Beef Estofado with Polenta
2 lbs. beef stew meat, cut in to 1-inch pieces
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tbsp. flour
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 pint salsa
3 tbsp. red wine vinegar
pinch of dried oregano or marjoram
pinch of cumin
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup dry red wine (I used red zinfandel)
2 tbsp. chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

1. In a ziplock bag, toss beef with salt, pepper, and flour.

2. In a skillet over medium-high heat, warm olive oil to very hot. Add onion and cook,
stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer onion to slow cooker. Add beef to the
skillet and brown on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes (may need to brown beef in two batches,
depending on skillet size). Transfer beef to slow cooker. Add salsa, vinegar, oregano,
cumin, and water to the slow cooker and stir.

3. Pour wine into skillet over medium heat; stir constantly to remove browned bits from
skillet. Wine may reduce a bit. Pour wine and browned bits into slow cooker and stir.
Cover and cook on low 8 hours, or until beef is very tender.

4. Immediately prior to serving, add salt and pepper to taste.

5. Serve over cheesy polenta*. Garnish with chopped parsley.

*To make cheesy polenta, follow instructions on polenta (also known as corn grits) package, stirring in a pat of butter and shredded parmesan to taste immediately prior to serving. The Bob's Red Mill brand is typically easy to find and works well for this recipe.
- Beef estofado adapted from Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook