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

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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

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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

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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.

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.

 

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.

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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 .**

Easy Homemade Granola

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Granola can be part of a healthy diet plan however, most of the versions that you find in the supermarket are loaded with sugar and are often fat laden and high in calories. This version comes from the cookbook entitled, The Everyday DASH Diet Cookbook: Over 150 Fresh and Delicious Recipes to Speed Weight Loss, Lower Blood Pressure, and Prevent Diabetes (A DASH Diet Book). The DASH Diet® has long been touted as a great way to eat in order to lower your blood pressure, prevent diabetes and change your eating habits over to a more healthy way of living. It’s not so much a diet as it is a healthy lifestyle change which most of us could benefit from.

My husband was diagnosed with excessive hypertension in his early 20’s and has been on medication ever since. In his case it is genetic however, the DASH Diet® is still a great way for him to keep his blood pressure under control. For myself, having had gestational diabetes and now the start of Type 2 diabetes it is beneficial to me as well to follow a healthier eating plan. I’m looking forward to including healthier recipes such as this into our eating plan for 2019 as it will benefit both my husband and I and our two children.

This granola, while very yummy, is not like what you are used to from the store so it might take a little getting use to. It’s not overly sweet since with most of the sweetness coming from the dried fruit. That being said, if you do prefer a sweeter granola you can always add more sugar, honey or even maple syrup to get that added sweetness. Granola is a great topping for yogurt or served as a cold cereal with a little bit of lowfat milk added to it. The nice thing about this granola is that you can customize it however you wish. Try out different dried fruits such as apples, dates, or pineapples, play around with the spices as well and even add a handful of nuts or sunflower seeds to it. Find the flavor combination that is best for you. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbs water
  • 1 tbs vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp pure maple syrup or pure vanilla extract
  • 4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped apricots

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 300ºF.

In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, water, oil, cinnamon and flavoring until the sugar is dissolved. Add the oats and mix until lightly coated. Spread evenly on a large rimmed baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper.

Bake, stirring occasionally bringing the toasted oats towards the center of the pan, until the oats are evenly crisp, about 35-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and stir in the raisins and apricots. Let the granola cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Making Snack Time Fun

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(Pictured above –  A Crazy Taco, Chef Waffle and the Dabbing Apple)

My son is in Kindergarten and he’s required to bring his snack in a bag that is separate from his lunch. In the beginning of the year I would just toss his snack in a bag and write his name on the front but he complained that it was “so boring”. So then I started to draw quick, simple pictures on the front with a black marker or pen and for a while that was cool with him. But then one day I was in the mood to color and decided to start making his brown bags a little more fun and interesting and once I started, there was no going back!

I am by no means an artist or really even someone who can draw however, I consider myself to be a pretty decent “copycat“. I can look at most simple pictures and sketch them out but if you handed me a piece of paper and asked to come up with something on my own I’d really struggle. What I love about making these snack bags is that number one, it makes my little guy so happy but for myself, it’s just a nice relaxing activity. I enjoy the peaceful quiet and coloring when my kids are at school and I have some uninterrupted time to myself. Coloring makes you slow down, de-stress and relax which is why adult coloring books and apps have become so popular over the years. That being said, making the snack bags is also a fun activity to do with your kids as well. A lot of times they will be doing their own coloring or craft projects at the table and I’ll pull up a seat and work on the bags. They love sitting side-by-side while we all color, it’s great bonding time. We color, we chat, we giggle and we just have fun.

For some cute ideas on what to draw, think of the things your own kids like and do a Google® search but the add the word “cartoon” in front of whatever it is you’re searching for. For example, my son wanted me to draw him a waffle so I did a search for “cartoon waffle“. The images that come up are so much cuter and easier to draw than a standard image. You can find almost anything in a colorful cartoon version. My kids got a Nintendo® Switch for Christmas so right now I am working on characters from the Mario Brothers games and my most favorite character of all time, Yoshi. I can’t wait to see how those turn out! Check out the pics below to see some of the other snack bags that I made for my son over the last few weeks. Enjoy!

The Christmas Collection

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Kid’s Choice – The little blue guy is a character my son created named “Rock Boy”

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Mickey Mouse – I made this one the day before we were leaving for Disney World®

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Little Reindeer and his favorite squishie toy named, “Cubby”

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Squishie Toys and a Creepy Monster

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Mario Bros. Characters

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yoshi

mario