Friday, October 31, 2008

Pumpkin Muffins

Here's another Halloween/pumpkin recipe I tried recently... Pumpkin Muffins. If I could, I would eat muffins all day long, everyday. Really.

Nothing stops me in my tracks while perusing a food blog or recipe book like muffins. While that may seem surprising, as I don't feature a lot of muffin recipes, I should tell you that I make the Morning Glory muffins once every 2 weeks. (sigh) I need to branch out, I know. I have a backlog of new recipes to try though, stay tuned!

This pumpkin recipe is courtesy of Muffin Top, a yummy blog devoted to more than just muffins, who nabbed it from Gourmet magazine.

Our critique: I really liked them, tim was not a fan. He didn't dislike them, but said the pumpkin pie flavor didn't seem right as a muffin. I think he would like them if I adjust the amount of pumpkin and add nuts or other flavor to make them a bit more complex. If you like pumpkin, you will like these. Another important note, they were best the first day. The slightly browned, crunch on top from the sugar became soft and a little moist over the following 1-2 days. I recommend bringing them to work, or a holiday party, where you know they'll all be eaten right away. Otherwise, dont sugar coat all the muffins, and they will keep better.

I will definitely give these little babies another shot, maybe mixing up the recipe a bit for Tim, maybe not. They look so tasty in the picture, it makes me want to reach through the screen and eat one now.

Pumpkin Muffins

originally from Gourmet, November 2006

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin (from a 15-oz can) *christine from Muffin Top said she accidentally put the entire 15 oz. can in, with no ill effects
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pumpkin-pie spice (a combo of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and allspice)
1 1/4 cups, plus 1 tablespoon sugar (kept separate)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350. Put liners in muffin cups.

Whisk together flour and baking powder in a small bowl.

In a large bowl, WHISK together pumpkin, oil, eggs, pumpkin-pie spice, 1 1/4 cups sugar, baking soda, and salt until smooth, then whisk in flour mixture until just combined.

Combine cinnamon and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in another bowl/ramekin.

Divide batter among muffin cups (each should be about 3/4 full), and sprinkle tops with cinnamon-sugar mixture. Bake until puffed and golden brown and a wooden pick inserted into center of a muffin comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.

Cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes, then transfer muffins from pan to rack. Best eaten same day! Great plain, or try them with a yogurt butter, mmmm.

More delicious pumpkin recipes:
- Cream Filled Pumpkin Cupcakes, from Tammy's Recipe
- Spicy Pumpkin Pecan Raisin Muffins, from Farmgirl Fare
- Pumpkin Spice Scones, from Pinch My Salt
- Brown Sugar and Spice Pumpkin Bars, from Karina's Kitchen (gluten free)

Guten appetit!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

As we approach Halloween, we need some festive recipes to get us in the mood. Whether it's creative, spooky, or just seasonally appropriate, share with us your favorite Halloween/October recipe in the comment section! We're all on the look-out for new, yummy recipes.

I don't remember if I've mentioned this yet or not, but lately, I am craving lots, and lots, and LOTS of sweets. I keep telling Tim that this baby is all him - Tim has always had a sweet tooth, whereas I prefer to eat more dinner and skip dessert. Right now though, I could eat a whole bag of snickers Halloween candy in one sitting. Not good.

My sweet cravings are your gain! This was a recipe that spoke to my pregnancy sweet tooth, fit the season, and reminded me a bit of carrot cake with the cream cheese frosting (oh, how I loooove carrot cake!).

Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting - mmmm, yum.

The cake turned out moist, light and a nice combination of pumpkin/savory and sweet. The frosting really did take the cake! Mmmm, good. All things combined, took me 30 minutes of active work in the kitchen to prepare, then another 30 minutes of baking. For the rewards, very easy and time well spent.

If you're having a family Halloween dinner, maybe a few friends over, or even a cozy twosome night at home handing out candy, this will only add delight to your night! (that little rhyme was unintentional, I swear)

Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
from Tammys Recipes

16 ounces (2 cups) canned solid-pack pumpkin (I used 1 - 15 oz. can, and worked great)
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cream Cheese Frosting:
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
5 tablespoons melted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 3/4 cups powdered confectioner's sugar
2-4 teaspoons milk
chopped nuts, for topping

Beat pumpkin, sugar, and oil. Add eggs, mixing well.

In another bowl, combine dry cake ingredients and stir to mix. Add to pumpkin mixture and beat well.

Pour batter into greased 15 x 10 x 1-inch jelly roll pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until cake tests done with a toothpick. Cool on a wire rack (in the pan); cover with a towel after about 15 minutes of cooling.

To make frosting, beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in a mixing bowl until smooth. Gradually add sugar, mixing well. Add milk until frosting reaches desired thickness. Frost cooled cake and sprinkle with chopped nuts if desired.

More pumpkin cake recipes:
- Pumpkin Bundt Cake, from Whipped (this is on my 'must try' list for next year!)
- Pumpkin Cake Pops, from The Recipe Girl
- Pumpkin Cake Roll, from Taste & Tell
- Pumpkin-Orange Breakfast Cake With Fresh Orange Syrup, from Tea Spot

Guten appetit!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Halloween Party Ideas

Do you have fun Halloween plans? I love this time of year. Even us big kids get to dress up and act silly.

Since we'll be traveling over the holiday, I wont have the chance to make some of the recipes I had been looking forward to. But my loss could be your gain! I thought I would list some fun ideas for Halloween parties, or just fun weekend family treats, you could try. If you make any of them, be sure to let me know! I was going to make the spiders and witch cupcakes for Tim's work group, maybe next year.

On a side note, although the pictures look incredibly impressive, I chose and liked all of these recipes because they also seemed fairly easy and VERY do-able. No crazy ingredients, or cooking methods/terms I hadn't heard of. If anything, some required multi-steps, but that's just an issue of time commitment. Hey, if you're going to make something fun for halloween, no one has to know it was actually pretty easy! Get the biggest bang for your effort, right?!

Enjoy my fellow ghosts and goblins! And be safe.

Here is my personal favorite: Ladies Fingers

All I can say is, 'wow, martha!'. Click on the link to see recipe details (they're cookies with almond fingernails).

Great Spider Cupcakes

How cool are these?! And sooo easy.

Spider Cupcakes
from Family Fun Recipes

Chocolate cupcake (body)
Canned chocolate icing
Chocolate sprinkles (hair)
2 pieces of eye-type candy (we used Bassett's Liquorice Allsorts) *
Clean scissors
1 package of black string lace licorice (legs)

Frost the cupcake with chocolate icing and cover with sprinkles.

Press the eyes into place.

Use scissors to cut eight 4-inch pieces of licorice for the legs. Holding all of the legs together in a bunch, bend them in half and crease. Push the end of each leg into the cupcake as shown.

* I bet you could find a thick tube-like (rope?) licorice that has a black center/filling. Then you'd just need to cut horizontal slices for the eyes. Cut carefully, as the licorice is likely to 'squish' as you cut it. Use a serrated knife.

Wicked Witch Cupcakes

A very fun cupcake accompaniment to the spiders, or if you happen to have a couple little girls in the house wanting to be witches this Halloween.

Rachel Ray's Gigi Apple Cake

This one is thrown in as a delicious looking cake, more for the low-key adult party you might be throwing. Apples always feel like autumn to me.

And for drinks, the Melted Witch, from All Recipes:

1 (32 fluid ounce) bottle lemon-lime sports drink
1 (32 fluid ounce) bottle lemon-lime flavored carbonated beverage
Combine in a punch bowl and serve over ice.

Happy Halloween to you all.

Guten appetit!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Orange Ricotta Cheesecake with Orange Curd

I would love to have a go-to recipe for cheesecake. It's my sisters favorite dessert, and always seems so fancy (read: difficult and impressive). If I could find an easy, yummy cheesecake, my life might be complete. Ok, slight exaggeration. But it would be nice.

What drew me to this recipe was the simplicity. 5 ingredients for the cheesecake filling! Oh yeah.

Plus CJ raved about the results and said it was the only cheesecake her husband would eat. That sounded pretty darn good to me, to bake I go!

Orange Ricotta Cheesecake
from Cafe Johnsonia

Graham Cracker Crust:

9 full-size graham cracker sheets
6 Tbsp. butter, melted
3 Tbsp. sugar

Place graham cracker sheets in a large Ziploc bag and crush using a rolling pin. Pour the crumbs in to a small mixing bowl. Add the sugar and melted butter. Toss together with a fork until all the crumbs are moist.

Press crumbs into a 9"springform pan. Bake for 10-15 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Prepare filling while crust bakes. Cool completely before using.

Cheesecake Filling:

1 cup sugar
finely grated zest of 1 orange
4 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
3 cups (22 ounces) whole milk ricotta (don't use skim, it won't be as good)

Have all ingredients at room temperature, 68 to 70 degrees.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place the sugar and zest in a large bowl. Rub the zest and sugar between your fingers until the sugar looks wet and sandy. Add the eggs and beat on high speed until thick and pale yellow, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the vanilla and mix well. Stir in the ricotta cheese.

Scrape the batter into the prepared crust and smooth the top. Bake for 30 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F, and bake until a knife inserted about 2 inches from the edge of the cake comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes more. The center will be softer and the cake will seem to jiggly, but it will set after it has cooled. Let cool completely in the pan on a rack before unmolding. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, preferably 24 hours, before serving.

Serve with Orange Curd (recipe below) drizzled over each slice. Cafe Johnsonia also recommends a bitter orange marmalade.

My Notes:
Next time, I will cook the cheesecake in a water bath. I read after the fact that it allows for cheesecake to stay creamy in the middle (ours was a little dry, although I did not try the larger cake), and supposedly prevents the top-center from caving. Overall, both Tim and I liked the cheesecake, we ate the little ramekins, but it wasn't a rave review. His coworker though, who I gave the larger cake to, raved about it and specially loved the orange curd drizzle. So maybe it was just the ramekin cakes that were a bit dry, I need to remake this recipe. We all enjoyed the orange curd, definitely a keeper!

For the ease of baking, I would definitely consider making it again, but I'm still on the hunt for a perfect go-to cheesecake.

Orange Curd
Juice and zest of 2 oranges
2/3 cup granulated white sugar (you can cut back a little on this if the orange is very sweet)
4 tablespoons butter
2 large whole eggs, lightly beaten
dash salt

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.

In separate bowl, grate orange peel and squeeze juice from oranges. Add sugar and egg. Whisk to combine. Add the melted butter to bowl, and pour everything back into the pan.

Over medium heat, whisk the orange curd constantly until it thickens--sort of like a thin pudding, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat.

Strain orange curd over a clean bowl with a fine mesh strainer (very important!). Enjoy warm or cold.

More cheesecake deliciousness:
- No Bake Cheesecake, from Closet Cooking
- Vanilla Bean Cheesecake Bars, from Baking Bites
- Cheesecake Marbled Brownies, from Rosa's Yummy Yums
- New York Style Cheesecake, from For the Love of Baking

Guten appetit!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Super Food, Sweet Potato Fries

Have you heard of the Super Foods? These are a combined list of foods naturally high in vitamins and nutrients our bodies need. You should try (no one is perfect!) to eat as many super foods, or concentrate your cooking with them, whenever possible. It's not too hard, since they're some of the tastiest foods around.

Although I find Sweet Potatoes on some SF lists and not others, I consider them a great eat! They're a nutritional all-star. Why are they so good? They're packed with carotenoids, vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. Important, important, important, and yep, important.

Here's a list of the top 5 'Super Foods' found in North America, and here's Wikipedia's list.

Sweet Potato Fries are healthy, but also easy (my cooking middle name!) and delicious! They make a great side dish for fish, Enchiladas, Chickpeas with Spinach, chili or Cauliflower Soup. Or use them as a finger food/appetizer. They're great plain, or you can make a yogurt dipping sauce for them.

Sweet Potato Fries
from Cooking Light

2 (8-ounce) peeled sweet potatoes
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 425.

Cut sweet potatoes in half lengthwise; cut each half lengthwise into 6 wedges (or more, I like mine a bit smaller, so they will brown/crisp a little more).

Combine sweet potatoes and remaining ingredients in a bowl; toss gently to coat.

Place wedges on a baking sheet (do not overlap); bake at 425 for 25 minutes or until very tender.

More sweet potato recipes:
- Sweet Potato Patties, from Exclusively Food
- Creamy Sweet Potato Soup, from Simply Recipes
- Sweet Potato Pot Pies, from 101 Cookbooks
- Roast Sweet Potato, Feta and Walnut Salad, from Exclusively Food

Guten appetit!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Olive, Thyme and Lemon Pasta

I almost considered re-making this recipe before posting, but I think I'll do a follow-up and edit after making it again later. For now, I'd still like to share it with you. The recipe is crazy (yep- cRaZy!) easy, and very tasty. Wonderful weeknight meal.

The only reason I considered waiting, was to make sure I could recommend the right measurements, but I'm pretty confident in my adjustments. The original recipe calls for waaayyyyyy too much parsley. It's like you're eating parsley, with a bit of olive and noodles. So the below measurements are adjusted according to my preferences.

I was especially excited to make this pasta because I was told by my Doctor that squeezing a slice of fresh lemon food will allow my body to ingest more iron naturally from the food. I hadn't known that, thanks Doc! Making sure you get enough Iron is something very important for veggies, especially the vegetarian ladies out there. So, if you're not making this pasta tonight, and have a salad, chili, or whatever planned, be sure to give it just a little kick with a squeeze of lemon wedge. I love lemons, so this was an easy 'prescription' for me to follow.

(Sorry about the dark photo!)

Olive, Thyme and Lemon Pasta
adapted from Martha Stewart

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more for water
8 ounces dried pappardelle (I used linguine and loved it)
16 Kalamata olives, pitted (I used 8 Kalamata olives + 8-10 green olives, pitted)
2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (I didn't have fresh, and used dried - 1 teaspoon)
Zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon juice from the lemon
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/4 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes (more, to taste, if you prefer a spicy bite!)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and pappardelle, and cook until pasta is al dente, following label directions. Drain in a colander, reserving 1 cup cooking water.

While pasta is cooking, combine olives, parsley, olive oil, thyme, lemon zest, orange zest, and red-pepper flakes in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse until a chunky puree forms. Transfer to a warm serving bowl large enough to accommodate cooked pasta.

Add pasta, and toss to combine. Add 1/4 cup cooking water, and toss to combine. Add more water if necessary; pappardelle has a tendency to absorb liquid quickly, so more water may be needed. The sauce should cling to ribbons of pasta but should not be dry. Serve immediately.

Serves 2, or 4 to 6 as an appetizer

Guten appetit!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Split Pea Soup with Rosemary, a veggie twist for an old favorite

Not usually a fan of split pea soups? This recipe will give you the chance to experiment beyond your typical boundaries (yes, it's that good). Or maybe you love split pea, and you're looking for a new variation to try. For a twist on ol' split pea, definitely give this a shot!

Surprisingly, it didn't even turn out green in color. It's more reddish/brown. And the flavor is not a typical split pea (sweet, maybe some savory due to salty meat added, etc). This one has the most delicious flavors blended - rosemary, carrot, onion, garlic, and oh yeah, peas. Filled the house with a delicious smell, I love that.

For a twist on old split pea, definitely try this recipe. Was easy enough for a weeknight meal, but if the 1 hour simmer-time puts you off, make it for a cold weekend lunch and enjoy the leftovers the next day. Makes enough for 4 people, when paired with bread (go for whole wheat, crusty bread).

Split Pea Soup with Rosemary
adapted from CookingLight

1 1/2 cups green split peas
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
1 cup diced carrot
1 bay leaf
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
4 cups water
2 cups vegetable stock, or 1 (14 1/2-ounce) can vegetable broth
1 teaspoon salt (see note below)
1/4 cup low-fat sour cream

Sort and wash peas; cover with water to 2 inches above peas, and set aside.

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrot, and bay leaf; saute 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic, rosemary, paprika, and pepper; cook 3 minutes. Add tomato paste and soy sauce; cook until liquid evaporates, scraping pan to loosen browned bits.

Drain peas. Add peas, 4 cups water, vegetable stock, and salt to onion mixture; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 1 hour, stirring often.

Discard bay leaf. Place half of soup in blender or food processor; process until smooth. Pour pureed soup into a bowl. Repeat procedure with remaining soup. (I have a hand mixer and blended the soup directly in my pot)

Spoon soup into bowls; top each with sour cream.

Note: If you use canned broth instead of Vegetable Stock, omit the added salt.

Other split pea soup recipes:
- Kicked Up Coconut Split Pea Soup, from Karina's Kitchen
- Southwestern Yellow Split-Pea Soup, from FatFree Vegan Kitchen
- Yellow Split Pea Soup, from 101 Cookbooks
- Traditional Organic Split Pea Soup, from Organic To Be

Guten appetit!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Guests in Town, Menu Planned

We have guests in town for 10 days, although they may skip over to Prague for a couple days. I love it and am soooo excited!! Naturally they're here for Oktoberfest, but there's many other things to do and see and we'll be busy!

I plan to be out sightseeing and visiting with my friends, and not in the kitchen the whole time. 10 days makes for a lot of breakfasts, lunches and dinners. I expect we'll be out for many of the meals (especially lunch), but other times relaxing at home after touring all day and wanting a yummy dinner. So, in lieu of a recipe today, I'm giving you my guest menu with lots of yummy recipes previously posted.

I did as much prep work as I could and froze some foods to make life a bit easier. Do you have any great make-ahead guest recipes, or easy go-to recipes when entertaining house guests? Do share!

Here's what I pre-made/froze:
- Morning Glory Muffins
- Pasta Casserole
- Enchiladas
- Four Cheese Stuffed Shells

And here are some of the foods I'm making fresh:
- Pumpkin Muffins (recipe coming at the end of the month)
- Chickpeas with Spinach and Rice
- Garlicky Peppers with Shrimp

I also keep a handy supply of snacks around:
- Hummus
- Yogurt
- Fruit
- Bread and cheeses

Guten appetit!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Four-Cheese Stuffed Shells

This is perfect rainy day supper food. Fall is here and we want carbs. We want warm dishes. The cheese will give you lots of good protein, and fills you up.

I made this for a 'girls lunch' at my friend Emma's house. I thought about doubling the recipe, and freezing the extra... I'm soooo glad I didn't. The original recipe makes a TON. The recipe made enough for 5 people to stuff themselves silly at lunch, plus 2 extra 2-person pans of shells to freeze for later. I brought one of the extra's to Emma as well, since she's due with a baby anytime and it will be perfect for those hectic days, learning to deal with a toddler AND infant. Good golly, let the rein of terror begin!

Overall, the recipe was very easy. Other than making the smokey marinara sauce (which really is easy), and cooking the pasta shells, the rest is just assembly. You can use jarred marinara (try to find a smokey flavor, it was tasty!), to make this even easier. I really liked the smokey marinara though, and have since made it twice - for the shells, and on a lasagne. Wunderbar (wonderful)!

Definitely a worthy fall dinner. I hope you have the chance to make this one.

Four-Cheese Stuffed Shells
from CookingLight

1 pound jumbo shell pasta (40 shells)
Cooking spray
1 (12-ounce) carton 1% low-fat cottage cheese
1 (15-ounce) carton ricotta cheese
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Asiago cheese (I used Romano)
3/4 cup (3 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
6 cups Smokey Marinara Sauce
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 375. Coat 2 (13 x 9-inch) baking dishes with cooking spray; set aside.

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain and set aside. (toss with 1-2 teaspoons olive oil to keep from sticking)

Place cottage cheese and ricotta cheese in a food processor; process until smooth. Combine cottage cheese mixture, Asiago, and next 6 ingredients (Asiago through spinach).

Spoon or pipe 1 tablespoon cheese mixture into each shell. Arrange half of stuffed shells, seam sides up, in one prepared dish. Pour 3 cups Smoky Marinara over stuffed shells. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup mozzarella. Repeat procedure with remaining stuffed shells, Smoky Marinara, and mozzarella in remaining prepared dish.

Cover with foil. Bake at 375° for 30 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Serve warm with crusty bread and a salad.

To freeze unbaked casserole: Prepare through Step 5 (Since I couldn't figure out what 'step 5' was, I prepared the entire dish, through sprinkling the cheese on top - which I do think is correct). Cover with plastic wrap, pressing to remove as much air as possible. Wrap with heavy-duty foil. Store in freezer for up to 2 months.

To prepare frozen unbaked casserole: Preheat oven to 375. Remove foil; reserve foil. Remove plastic wrap; discard wrap. Cover frozen casserole with reserved foil; bake at 375ยบ for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until the shells are thoroughly heated.

Additional stuffed pasta recipes:
- Kale and Ricotta Stuffed Shells, from Gluten-Free Bay
- Enchilada Stuffed Shells, from Allrecipes
- Broccoli and Four-Cheese Stuffed Shells, from Sugar Rush
- Crab Stuffed Baked Shells, from Gortons. (YUM, these are on my to-make list!)

Guten appetit!