Spiced Pumpkin Coffee Cake

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My daughter Emerson happens to be the world’s WORST eater. She is super picky about every single thing that goes into mouth from fruit to meat to pasta. For whatever reason she takes issues with the way most every food tastes and feels in her mouth EXCEPT pumpkin. For some inexplicable reason this child actually loves baked pumpkin goods. So for her birthday, I decided to make her a delicious Spiced Pumpkin Coffee Cake. I am not a huge pumpkin person myself however, this cake was incredible. It was moist, flavorful and the perfect treat for a crisp, cozy fall day.

This recipe comes from none other than Ms. Paula Deen who happened to put out this amazing Fall baking magazine a few years back in 2014. It was a lovely publication filled with recipes featuring pears, apples, pumpkin and squash. If you happen to have this issue in your collection of recipes and cookbooks, it can be found on page 83. I followed the recipe as written except for one minor change which was to replace the 1/4 cup of sour cream with a 1/4 of low-fat vanilla yogurt. I also threw in an extra splash of pure vanilla extract because you can never go wrong with a little extra vanilla. Happy fall, y’all! Enjoy!

Ingredients

Topping

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp Kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 tsp Kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup canned 100% pure pumpkin
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup sour cream OR 1/4 cup vanilla yogurt

Instructions

Topping – In a small saucepan cook the butter, brown sugar, vanilla extract and salt over medium heat, stirring constantly, for about 6 minutes or until smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the flour until smooth. Turn mixture out onto a plate and allow to cool completely.

Cake – Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line an 8″ square pan with parchment or spray with nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl whisk together the pumpkin, brown sugar, vegetable oil, eggs and sour cream/yogurt until smooth. Add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture and whisk until just smooth.

Pour the batter into prepared pan. Break up the topping mixture into chunks and sprinkle all over the top.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Serve warm or allow to cool completely.

**Tip – Mashed cooked sweet potato or puréed cooked butternut squash can be substituted for the pumpkin.**

“How-To” Cooking – All About Onions

onions

Onions are one of the most popular and widely used ingredients in cooking and with so many varieties available at the supermarket it can be confusing to know which kind to choose. Yellow onions are generally the most commonly used in cooking but knowing what else is available will certainly elevate many dishes. Take note that garlic is actually considered part of the onion family even though it has a very different and distinct flavor.

When buying onions choose ones that have a dry, papery skin and are nice and firm. Avoid onions that have any soft spots or powdery surface mold. Always store onions and shallots at room temperature away from light, a dark pantry is a good place to keep them. Delicate scallions however, should be stored in the refrigerator. Place them standing up in a tall glass filled with 1″ of water and cover them loosely with a plastic bag. Lastly, store onions away from potatoes as they release gases which can hasten sprout growth in potatoes causing them to spoil more quickly.

  • Yellow Onions – Strong flavored and maintain their potency when cooked. Also labeled as “Spanish Onions“. Most common onion used in cooking.
  • White Onions – Pungent and strong much like a yellow onion however, their flavor is less complex. Most commonly used in Mexican or Latin American dishes.
  • Red Onions – Crisp onion with a sweet, peppery flavor. Perfect for use in dishes where raw onion is needed. Most commonly used in salads.
  • Sweet Onions – Sweet, mild flavor. Texture can become stringy when cooked so these are best to use raw. These don’t keep as well as other onions so use them up quickly. Most common varieties are Vidalia, Maui, Bermuda and Walla Walla. 
  • Pearl Onions – Crunchy and small with a sweet, delicate flavor. Most commonly used in soups and for roasting. Peeling these tiny onions can be arduous so it’s recommended to buy them pre-peeled in the frozen aisle.
  • Cipolline – Sweet, Italian onion with a flat top and squat shape. Similar to a pearl onion. Ideal for creaming and roasting. Can be served whole.
  • Shallots – Complex, subtly sweet flavor. When cooked they become very soft and almost melt away. Most commonly used in sauces.
  • Ramps – Eaten raw it has a strong, almost garlic like flavor. When cooked it has a mildly, sweet flavor. The entire onion from top to bottom is edible and is often presented in dishes intact.
  • Scallions – Earthy flavor with a delicate crunch. Used in dishes that involve little to no cooking. Can be used interchangeably with ramps. Most commonly used in Asian cooking.

Chef Grayden’s S’muffins

smuffin

S’mores are so delicious. Muffins are really delicious too. How do you make those two things even better? You turn them into a S’muffin of course! It’s the perfect marriage of ingredients and flavor! You end up with the moist, yummy texture of a muffin but with the sweet, gooey, graham flavor of a S’mores.

When my sweet little sous chef wanted to bake on a gloomy, rainy day I was all in but first we had to figure out something easy and yummy to bake. He wanted muffins but also wanted S’mores so he asked if we could mix them all together and make, what he smartly named, a S’muffin. It sounded like a great plan to me so we hopped online to do a little research and we came across this great recipe from the Taste of Home® website. We substituted vanilla low-fat yogurt for the sour cream, added a little splash of pure vanilla extract to the mix and very loosely measured the marshmallow creme. A little extra fluff never hurt anyone! If you have it on hand, feel free to use vanilla sugar instead of the granulated sugar that is called for in the recipe. It adds a nice little extra kick of vanilla flavor. Lastly, we used the leftover graham cracker crumbs that we had to top the muffins off. It added a nice texture to the top of the S’muffins and made them look extra cute.

Gray baking smuffins

The recipe as written only makes about 6-7 muffins so I recommend at least doubling the recipe. You can even triple or quadruple it and then freeze the extra muffins so you have delicious homemade muffins on hand whenever a craving hits. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 3 tbs unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 4 tsp granulated or vanilla sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup sour cream or vanilla low-fat yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons 2% milk
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs*
  • 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 6-7 tablespoons marshmallow creme

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400ºF. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg then add in the sour cream and milk and mix until combined.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, graham cracker crumbs, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and baking soda. Gently beat the dry mixture into the wet ingredients until just moistened. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Line six muffin cups with cupcake liners. Fill the cups up about halfway with batter then spoon roughly 1 tbs of marshmallow creme into each muffin cup. Top with remaining batter. Sprinkle the tops with leftover graham cracker crumbs.

Bake for 14-16 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack. Serve warm.

*Tip – To make your own graham cracker crumbs simply place a few sheets of graham crackers into a food processor or blender and pulse until coarse and crumbly.*

 

 

Quick and Easy Fried Rice

Fried Rice2

Who doesn’t love fried rice? Even my kids are a fan (after they pick out the veggies, lol) so I was interested in finding a quick and easy recipe that I could whip up at home. While Chinese take-out is delicious, it can be very calorie dense and laden with salt and sugar. I really love the idea of being able to control the ingredients myself and make a somewhat “lighter” version that is just as yummy as what I can get from a take-out place.

Enter this awesome recipe from the blog, Gimme Some Oven which is true to its name, “The Best Fried Rice“. It was really easy to make and it came out great! I made mine as the recipe specified leaving out the oyster sauce as I didn’t have any in the house. The resulting dish was still very good even without this ingredient. The most important step in this recipe is to use cold rice. Grab whatever leftover rice you have in the fridge or make the rice in the morning and chill until you’re ready to cook it up for dinner.

The nice thing about this recipe is that you can get creative if you so desire. Add in a variety of different veggies or toss in some chicken, pork or beef. It is so delicious no matter how you serve it. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 3 tbs unsalted butter, divided
  • 2 large eggs, whisked
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 small white onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 4 cups cooked and chilled rice (preferably short grain)
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 3-4 tbs low-sodium soy sauce, or more to taste
  • 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 2 tsp oyster sauce (optional)

Instructions

Heat 1/2 tablespoon of butter in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat until melted. Add the egg and cook until scrambled. Remove egg and transfer to a separate plate.

Add an additional 1 tablespoon butter to the pan and heat until melted. Add the carrots, onion, peas and garlic and season with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Sauté for about 5 minutes or until the onion and carrots are soft. Increase heat to high, add in the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter and stir until melted. Immediately add the rice, green onions, soy sauce and oyster sauce (if using) and stir until combined. Continue stirring for an additional 3 minutes to fry the rice. Then add in the eggs and stir to combine. Remove from heat and stir in the sesame oil until combined.

Serve immediately or refrigerate in a sealed container for up to 3 days.

Chef Emerson’s Brown Butter Blondie Bites

Blondie Bites Emme

If you love brownies you will love its vanilla forward cousin, the “blondie”. The texture and chewiness of a blondie resembles a traditional, fudgy brownie however, the cocoa is substituted for vanilla and brown sugar replaces the granulated sugar. Being a bonafide vanilla lover myself, I really enjoy the delicious flavor of a well executed blondie.

The wonderful thing about this recipe is that it’s super kid friendly so you can get your little chefs in the kitchen and let them have it! The recipe comes from a great, easy to follow cookbook for kids entitled, The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs by America’s Test Kitchen which in my opinion, is one of the BEST cookbook publishers out there. Their recipes are always easy to follow, delicious and fail proof.

My daughter made these beauties all on her own and except for a few very minor substitutions, she followed the recipe as written.

Emme Blondie Baker

The nice thing about this recipe is that because the blondies are baked in individual muffin cups they both bake and cool much more quickly. To enhance the flavor and give the blondies a more complex, nutty flavor she decided to first brown the butter which turned out to be an excellent idea. It really added to the richness and overall flavor. She also substituted the white chocolate chips that were called for and instead used Heath® Bit o’ Brickle pieces. Needless to say, these were a big hit in our home. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 cup packed (light or dark) brown sugar
  • 8 tbs unsalted butter, melted and cooled*
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tbs pure vanilla extract or paste
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips or Heath® Bit o’ Brickle pieces

Instructions

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line a 12 cup muffin tin with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar and cooled melted butter until nice and smooth. Add in the eggs and vanilla and whisk until smooth.

Add to the wet ingredients the flour mixture and use a rubber spatula to stir gently until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips or toffee pieces.

Using a spoon or cookie scoop, divide the batter evenly among the 12 muffin cups filling them up about halfway.

Bake for about 14-16 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove from oven, place the blondie bites on a wire rack and allow to cool for at least 10-15 minutes before serving.

*To brown butter – In a light colored pan*, melt the desired amount of butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally. After 4-5 minutes the butter will begin to foam and bubble, keep stirring and watching it closely at this point. As the foaming begins to subside watch the color of the butter, once it looks slightly golden brown remove it from the heat and pour it into a bowl to cool. You will know the butter is browned and ready by the aroma, it should smell nutty and fragrant at this point.*

Tuscan Panzanella Salad

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Let me start by saying that I absolutely LOOOOOOOVE Panzanella Salad. It’s light, crisp, refreshing and those garlic infused bread cubes are heavenly! It’s also a super easy salad to whip up and will make great use of all those wonderful tomatoes, cucumbers and basil in your summer garden.

Panazella is a Tuscan bread salad consisting of cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, a little basil and garlic infused toasted bread cubes. It is typically a very popular summer salad and goes great as a side to any BBQ you’re serving up. Some recipes will call for red wine vinegar however, I much prefer a really nice dark, thick balsamic as I feel it adds so much better flavor. My all time favorite balsamic vinegar is one called “25 Star Balsamic” that is available from The Amazing Olive in Port Jefferson, NY. You can readily purchase it in the store or online by clicking right here .

To save time, you can make the garlic infused bread cubes ahead of time and store in a sealed plastic bag until you’re ready to use them. Take note, the bread cubes will quickly begin to soak up all of the oil, vinegar and moisture from the vegetables so for maximum freshness and taste, toss the bread cubes with the salad only about 15 minutes before serving to avoid soggy, mushy bread. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1 loaf of good rustic bread, cut into cubes
  • 2 tbs good quality balsamic vinegar, more as needed
  • 1 tbs minced shallot
  • pinch of sugar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into chunks
  • 1 hothouse (English) cucumber, sliced in half lengthwise and cut into chunks
  • 1 small red onion, sliced
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves, cut into thin ribbons

Instructions

For the bread cubes – Preheat oven to 400ºF. In a small saucepan, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot remove from the heat and add the garlic cloves. Set aside and allow the garlic to infuse into the oil. Once the oil is cooled, discard the garlic cloves.

Toss the bread cubes with 2 tbs of the garlic infused oil. Place them in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast until lightly golden and crispy, about 7-10 minutes. Occasionally turn the cubes while baking.

For the vinaigrette – Combine the remaining garlic infused oil with the vinegar, shallot, sugar, salt and pepper and mix well.

For the salad – In a large bowl, toss the toasted bread cubes, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion and basil with the vinaigrette. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper. Set aside for about 10-15 minutes before serving so that the flavors have time to blend. Sprinkle with additional basil and serve.

 

Warm and Cozy Cinnamon Baked Apples

baked cinnamon apples

The only thing better than biting into a crisp fresh apple is digging into warm, spiced baked apples which are not only delicious but relatively healthy. Baked apples make a great stand alone treat as well as a fantastic topping for ice cream, french toast, pancakes, waffles, toast or even chicken! They are also incredibly yummy stirred into vanilla yogurt, it makes for the perfect filling breakfast. I like to make a big batch of these apples and then keep them in the fridge so I have them on hand all week for my breakfast and snacks.

This recipe is great because nothing really needs to be exact. Feel free to add a little more cinnamon and spice or if you like your apples more “syrupy“, add a little more liquid or even a dash of maple syrup for flavor and stickiness. There really is no way to mess this recipe up so get comfortable playing around with the ingredients and flavor profile.

One quick trick to speed up the prep time is to use an Apple Corer and Slicer which makes the job so much easier. I feel that the apple slices are a little on the thick side so I like to halve them however, you can bake them “as is” just be sure to increase the cooking time. Serve the apples warm right out of the oven, at room temperature or even cold. They will keep for a few day if placed in a tightly sealed container in the fridge. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2 tbs unsalted butter, divided
  • 2-3 tbs dark brown sugar
  • 3 tsp vanilla sugar or granulated sugar
  • 3 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (optional)
  • 5 large baking apples peeled, cored and sliced to medium thickness (Honeycrisp, Granny Smith, etc)
  • 3-4 tbs water or apple cider

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease a large baking dish with 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter. Set aside.

Mix together the brown sugar, vanilla (or granulated) sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Toss the apples slices in the mixture and coat evenly.

Place the apples into the baking dish and add the water or cider to the baking dish. Dot the apples with the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until apples are tender but not mushy.

S’mores Cookie Bars

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There is nothing quite like S’mores, they are a warm, gooey, scrumptious bite of heaven. They are without a doubt one of my most favorite desserts and they are always a crowd pleaser as well. I love this particular recipe because it makes it easy to serve them up to a bunch of people without having to make them one by one. In fact, they are so easy to make that even your kids will be able to whip these up, it’s the perfect recipe for those little budding chefs to try their hand at!

These amazing S’mores Cookie Bars comes from one of my favorite baking sites, Sally’s Baking Addiction , you can click right here to link to the original recipe. These are absolutely perfect as written, the only minor change that I made was to use bittersweet chocolate chips instead of semi-sweet because I really love dark chocolate.

Take note, when the bars are done baking, it is very important that you allow them to cool completely otherwise they will be a warm, gooey mess and very difficult to cut. However, if you don’t care about appearances, attack that pan and go crazy! I always love a nice warm S’mores so even if they have cooled and been cut, you can give them a quick zap in the microwave to warm back up. Any leftover bars will keep for about a week in a tightly covered container. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (115g) salted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (150g) packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 cup (125g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (100g) graham cracker crumbs (about 9-10 graham crackers)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 and 1/4 cup (225g) semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 heaping cup marshmallow creme

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Line an 8×8 or 9×9 square baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving enough overhang on the sides to easily remove the bars when they have cooled. Set aside.

In a large bowl using handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and brown sugar together on medium-high speed. Beat for about 2 minutes until smooth and combined, then add the vanilla extract and egg, beating until combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl down as needed. Set aside.

Toss the flour, graham cracker crumbs, and baking powder together until combined. With the mixer running on low, slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Mix until combined.

Press 2/3 of the graham cookie dough into prepared pan. Spread the marshmallow creme on top. Sprinkle the marshmallow creme with chocolate chips. Mold the remaining cookie dough into flat pieces and layer on top of the chocolate chips. (There will not be enough dough to make one single layer so some chocolate chips will be exposed.)

Bake the bars for 25 minutes, or until the top is lightly golden brown. Allow to cool completely with the pan set on a wire rack before cutting into squares. Bars stay fresh covered tightly at room temperature for up to 1 week.

“How-To” Cooking – Chicken Cutlets

When done well, there are few foods that are quite as delicious as a crispy, golden, fried chicken cutlet. While seemingly simple to make, a few small mistakes can result in a cutlet that is soggy, lacking breading and bland tasting. Use these tips to ensure a crispy, flavorful, delicious chicken cutlet every time you make them.

The first step to great chicken cutlets is to properly prepare the meat. Ready made, thin cutlets are available in the supermarket however, they generally charge a premium for them. You can also buy chicken right from your butcher and ask them to pound it thin for you but since most people have boneless, skinless chicken breasts readily available at home, it is helpful to know how to prepare them yourself.

  • Trim the chicken – It is important to remove all of the fat, sinew and silver skin from the meat as this will allow the chicken to expand and become nice and flat.
  • Thinner is better – Pounding the chicken into thin cutlets allows the protein fibers in the meat to break down which makes the chicken more tender. For really thick pieces of chicken, it may be necessary to first slice the chicken in half horizontally before pounding. Place the chicken into a sealed plastic bag or between a piece of plastic wrap as this will keep any fragments of chicken or juice to be contained while pounding out the chicken. Aim to pound the chicken down to about a 1/4″ thick.
  • Season the meat – Unseasoned meat is bland and boring so be sure to add some seasoning before breading the cutlets. Kosher salt and ground black pepper are two great basics to use but any number of other spices (garlic salt, paprika, etc.) will all add delicious flavor to the finished cutlet.

Once the chicken is pounded thin the next step is to prepare it for frying. Proper dredging and breading are an essential component in making great chicken cutlets. If improperly executed the chicken will not hold onto to its breading, it will lack flavor and it will be greasy and soggy. The basic rule of thumb is: flour, egg, breadcrumbs in that order. The flour gives the egg something to adhere to and the egg gives something for the breadcrumbs to adhere to. They all work together to create a crispy, golden chicken cutlet.

  • Start with flour – Plain, all-purpose flour is fine to use in this step however, it can be a little bland. Add a little Kosher salt and ground black pepper to it for an extra flavor kick. Also, try cutting some of the flour with cornstarch which helps to make a crispier, crunchier cutlet. Dredge the cutlets through the flour to coat both sides.
  • Thin the egg – You don’t want to dip the cutlets into thick, gelatinous egg so thin it out first with a little water. Use about 1 tbs of water per egg and whisk until the eggs are nice and smooth. You can add more seasonings in this step as well, I like to add parsley to my egg mixture.
  • Coat with breadcrumbs – You can be creative with this step, plain breadcrumbs are a fine coating however, seasoned breadcrumbs are even better as is a mix of breadcrumbs and panko breadcrumbs which make the chicken cutlets super crunchy. Add some grated Parmesan cheese to the breadcrumbs for a little extra flavor. Other things to try as a coating are crushed salted pretzels, saltine crackers or even chips such as Doritos®. I prefer a nice panko and seasoned breadcrumbs mix for my coating but you can get as creative as you like with this step.

chicken cutlet prep.jpg

The last step in making chicken cutlets it to fry them up. You can bake them as well but they won’t be quite as crispy and flavorful as when they take a quick dip in some hot oil. I generally use vegetable oil when frying but any neutral oil with a high smoke point (peanut, corn etc.) will work fine too.

  • Flavor your oil – While the oil is heating up throw in a few smashed garlic cloves or some fresh herbs. This will impart delicious flavor to your cutlets as they fry up. Remove the garlic and/or herbs as soon as they start to bubble up and brown so they don’t burn and ruin the cooking oil.
  • Don’t overcrowd the pan – Add the cutlets one a time to the frying oil leaving space between each one. Overcrowding the pan decreases the cooking temperature and allows too much moisture to be released which prevents browning. Fry the cutlets a few at a time allowing the oil to come back up to heat in between batches.
  • Season one last time – As soon as you remove the cutlets from the oil season them with a little Kosher salt. The heat from the cutlets will allow the salt to melt and be pulled into the meat.
  • Serve – You can serve chicken cutlets hot right out of the fryer or at room temperature. They are even really delicious the next day, cold, right from the fridge.

**NOTE** – I love to fry in my Presto® Electric Skillet. Because it is lidded it contains the splatter from frying, it frees up space on my stovetop for other things that I am cooking and cleanup is a breeze. For more information on this skillet, click here .**