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Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

There’s nothing like pumpkin anything to kick off the fall season…  Pumpkin scones, pumpkin spice drinks, and of course pumpkin cream cheese muffins.  Starbucks really knows their pumpkin baked goods….

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(This photo is from a more successful pumpkin season…)  Unfortunately this year’s pumpkin crop in the backyard is pretty much non-existent because I was far too late getting the plants in the ground.  While there is no shortage of foliage to my plants, the actual pumpkins are maybe 2″ diameter and probably wont amount to anything.  Thankfully I still have perfectly good puree preserved from years’ past still in my freezer.  I was aiming for ‘as good as Starbucks’ with this muffin recipe, however I have to say I think these Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins are actually better!

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PREP TIME: COOK TIME: TOTAL TIME: 45 min    YIELD: 12
Ingredients:

Cream Cheese Centre:

  • 4 oz cream cheese (1/2 a package)
  • 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla

Pumpkin Seed Topping:

  • 1/3 cup pepitas
  • 2 1/2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Pumpkin Muffin Batter:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1/3 cup and 2 tbsp buttermilk
 Directions:
  1. For Cream Cheese Centres: combine cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla and mix until smooth.  Place in the fridge and chill until you’re ready to use; this makes it a bit easier to handle later.
  2. For Pumpkin Seed Topping (optional, but well worth it): Line a plate or baking tray with parchment paper and set to the side.  Heat large frying pan on medium-high heat, and add pepitas, stirring frequently.  When pepitas begin to pop after 3 to 5 minutes, add the sugar, cinnamon, and salt to the pan.  Stir continuously until the sugar begins to caramelize.  Carefully remove the seeds from the pan and place onto the parchment lined plate to cool.  Once cooled, break apart for sprinkling on top of muffins.
  3. For Pumpkin Muffins:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line muffin tray with paper cups.  Combine dry ingredients: flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice, salt, and sugars.  I had substituted coconut palm sugar instead of brown sugar.   Whisk together and set aside.
  4. In large mixing bowl, combine eggs, vanilla, pumpkin puree, canola oil, and buttermilk and mix with an electric mixer just to combine.  Add the dry ingredients to the bowl gradually and mix just until combined, 30-60 seconds.
  5. Fill the muffin cups about 3/4 of the way full with batter.  Add a dollop (about a level teaspoon) of the chilled cream cheese mixture to the centre of each muffin, then cover with remaining batter to fill the muffin cup.  Sprinkle candied pumpkin seed topping on top, then place in oven.
  6. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted (not through the cream cheese!) comes out clean.

 

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Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta

Bruschetta is one of those things; there seems to be so many variations and everyone has their own version.  Is it cooked and served warm?  Cold and raw?  Does it have garlic?  onions?  cheese?  vinegar or not?  About the only thing I know for certain, is that usually always involves tomatoes, basil and toast as an open-faced sandwich of sorts.  I guess the same could be said for almost any recipe, but it does surprise me that there seem to be infinite different versions something so simple– and all by the same name.

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And this is my style of bruschetta, and I’ve tried enough to be confident to say this is most definitely my favourite.

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This unseasonably warm weather lately has me getting excited for gardening season (and pining  for fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes!)

PREP TIME: COOK TIME: TOTAL TIME: 25 min YIELD: 4 servings

Ingredients:
  • 3-4 medium mixed variety heirloom tomatoes, diced (about 2 cups)
  • 1 small onion, diced small (about 2/3 cup)
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped, (or substitute 2 tsp dried)
  • 2 heaping tbsp parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • small pinch of salt/pepper to taste
  • French bread, sliced 1/2″ thick
  • olive oil
 Directions:
  1. Preheat broiler to 425F.
  2. Brush oil on sliced bread and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Broil toasts under high heat for ~5 minutes, or until tops just start to brown then remove from oven and set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, in small frying pan, fry diced onion in 1 tsp of olive oil just until softened and starting to brown (about 5-8 minutes).  Cooking the onions helps to mellow the strong flavour.
  4. Combine remaining ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and toss in the cooked onions then let the mixture sit for at least 30 min before enjoying.
  5. Don’t top the toasted bread with tomato mixture until you’re ready to serve, otherwise the toasts tend to get a bit soggy.  Garnish with some fresh basil leaves if you’re feeling particularly fancy.
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Mushroom Walnut Stuffing

Just in time for upcoming holiday feasts!  This one takes a little bit more effort to put it together, but it’s well worth it.

PREP TIME: COOK TIME: TOTAL TIME: 70 min    YIELD: 8 servings
Ingredients:
  • 2 tbsp canola or olive oil
  • 2 onions, diced small
  • 3 celery stalks (about 2 cups), diced medium
  • salt and pepper
  • 10 oz of cremini mushrooms, diced small
  • 2 tbsp fresh sage leaves, chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1 loaf crusty/stale bread (around 8 cups), cut into 3/4″ pieces
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups chicken or turkey broth
  • 1 egg
 Directions:
  1. If your bread isn’t sufficiently stale, turn the oven on low and toast the bread cubes for 15-20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onions, celery and season with salt and pepper.  Cook until onions and celery soften, stirring occasionally for 5-7 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl and set aside for now.
  3. Add another tbsp of oil to the pan still over medium-high heat, as well as mushrooms and finely chopped sage.  Season with salt and pepper.  Brown the mushrooms, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes.
  4. Add wine to the mushrooms, stirring to scrape up any brown bits from the pan.  Cook until wine is nearly evaporated.
  5. Remove from heat and transfer to bowl with onion and celery mixture.  Add cubed bread and walnuts.
  6. Mix in enough broth just to moisten.  The mixture should be moist but not excessively soggy.  Beat the egg, and add to the mixture.  Toss well to combine.
  7. Now, stuff the turkey!  And/or spoon into a lightly greased baking dish to cook separately.  When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees and bake uncovered until top begins to brown– 30 minutes.
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Pizza Sauce

Why buy pre-made pizza sauce when it’s so easy to make yourself with pantry-friendly ingredients?  Who knows.  Well, ok, I do know: because it’s very convenient to go to a store and buy a bottle and of course I’m guilty of his too on the occasion.  HOWEVER, with a little planning ahead, I prefer to make my own.  Simply put, I believe it just tastes nicer, and (like everything that a person makes for themselves) I know what’s in it.

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Make this sauce while you’re waiting for pizza dough to proof.

PREP TIME: COOK TIME: TOTAL TIME: 15 min    YIELD: 2 pizzas
Ingredients:
  • 1 can of plain tomato paste (156 mL)
  • 4 tbsp water
  • 3 tsp finely grated parmesan cheese
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced (or substitute 1 tsp of dried garlic powder)
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried marjoram
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (or to taste)
 Directions:
  1. In small bowl, combine all ingredients and allow to sit for at least ~15 minutes before using.  Use right away on pizza or as desired, keep refrigerated for 2-3 days, or (what I like to do) make a bigger batch of it then portion it out and freeze it for future use.
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Quick and Easy Pizza Dough

As far as bread recipes go, I consider this one relatively quick and easy.  Though (*disclaimer*) the dough still requires some time to rise, so it’s not going to be a magical solution a serious time crunch for a quick dinner, unfortunately.  That is, unless you make this ahead and have it ready in advance.  This makes recipe makes too much for a dinner with just me and my husband, so more often than not I’ll freeze half the dough for another time.  Just defrost in advance, and pick up from Step 4 below.

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PREP TIME: COOK TIME: TOTAL TIME: 1 hour    YIELD: 2 crusts
Ingredients:
  • 2 and 1/4 tsp of active dry yeast (or 1 package)
  • 1 warm water (~110F)
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 and 1/4 cups white flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp white sugar
 Directions:
  1. Dissolve yeast in 1 cup of warm water (Note: if the water is too hot, it can kill the yeast and the dough will end up flat and hard as a rock… trust me I learned this sadly from experience).  Let stand around 10 minutes, until the yeast is creamy-looking.  Add 2 tbsp of olive oil to the cup of yeast and water.  (Also make sure your yeast hasn’t expired, as it won’t rise properly… yes I learned that lesson as well)
  2. In medium-large bowl combine flour, salt and sugar.  Stir in the yeast mixture and mix until a ball of dough forms.  (Just an aside, this is both quicker and easier if you use a stand mixer with a dough hook… it requires much less elbow grease).
  3. Splash the dough-ball in a bit more olive oil just to coat and make it a bit less sticky and help the ball from drying out, then set aside in a covered bowl in a warm place to proof until about doubled in size, or 30 minutes.  I like to turn the oven on such that it’s just slightly warm, then put my bowl in there while the dough rises.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 F.  Turn out the dough on a well-floured surface.  Split dough into halves for making 2- 12″ diameter crusts; quarters for 4- 8″ diameter crusts; or leave as whole for one rectangular 16″ x 10″ pizza pie on a cookie sheet.  Roll dough to about 1/4″ thick.  Prep pans by coating with olive oil and adding a light sprinkling of cornmeal– this provides a fantastic crisp crust and helps the dough from baking to the pan as well.
  5. Once in the pan(s), add sauce and favourite toppings then bake in a preheated oven for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.  OR if making ahead, portion out dough after it has proofed and freeze for future use.

Is it hot outside and/or looking for pizza that’s a little different?  Consider trying it on the BBQ.  Instead of Step 4 above, roll the dough quite thin ~1/8″, and (this is absolutely important) make sure to have all your toppings prepared and ready to go.  This all happens really fast, so preparation is key.  Make sure the grill is quite hot (550F), brush one side of the dough lightly with olive oil and place the dough carefully directly on the grill for 4 to 5 min just until the it firms up and has some light grill marks.  Brush the other side of the crust with a little olive oil and turn over.  Now, put sauce and desired toppings on the crust and grill for another 5-6 minutes until bottom is browned.  The crust is amazingly crispy when cooked this way.  Enjoy!

Idressing1

Italian Salad Dressing

I think of this recipe as akin to the house dressing at the Olive Garden.  With that in mind, it goes great in a lettuce, tomato, red onion (thinly sliced) salad complete with garlic croutons and topped with some grated parmesan cheese.

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Why eat out when you can mimic the best part of the Olive Garden experience (IMO) at home, using some freshly grown lettuce from the garden?

PREP TIME: COOK TIME: TOTAL TIME: 15 min    YIELD: 1 bottle
Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup white wine vinegar
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tbsp corn syrup
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 5 tsp grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp italian seasoning mix
  • 1/2 tsp dried parsley flakes
  • pinch black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp xanthan gum (optional)
 Directions:
  1. Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly.  Note the xanthan gum is optional, however it does help to make the thick consistency of the dressing.
  2. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for one to two weeks.
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Garlic Scape Basil Pesto

I’m still over the moon with my recent discovery of Garlic Scapes.  Craving some garlic’y pasta goodness, I decided to try  my hand at Garlic Scape Basil Pesto.  I adapted my regular go-to recipe for Basil Pesto for the substitution.

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PREP TIME: COOK TIME: TOTAL TIME: 15 min    YIELD: ~2 cups
Ingredients:
  • 7 to 8 large garlic scapes
  • 1  and 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
 Directions:
  1. Cut garlic scapes in approx 1/2 inch to 1 inch long pieces then add to food processor, along with fresh basil leaves, pine nuts, salt, and lemon juice.  Process, and gradually add olive oil and mix until mixture is a fine consistency.
  2. Add grated parmesan and mix to combine.
  3. Stir the pesto into your favourite cooked pasta, or portion and freeze for future use.
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Raspberry Chipotle Barbecue Sauce

This barbecue sauce-making adventure began with a salad dressing recipe, strangely enough. For the back-story read this previous post on my experiments with homemade raspberry vinegar.  A long story short, I ended up with some vinegar-soaked raspberries that I needed to find a use for.  After it was all said and done, I will admit I’m happier about the sauce than I was the vinegar.

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This sauce is great on steak, burgers, probably anything else you can think to slather it on.  The berry flavour was quite subtle, and the chipotles provide a nice hum of heat.  On my first go-around with this recipe, I was a bit too bold with the chipotles and added 5 or 6 of them (they looked so small)… next time I will stick with 2.

 

PREP TIME: COOK TIME: TOTAL TIME: YIELD: 1 L
Ingredients:
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium sized onion, diced
  • 1/2 green pepper, diced
  • 2 to 3 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 2 tsp garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups raspberries (and/or mix in some blackberries as well)
  • 1 can of plain tomato sauce (398 mL)
  • 1/3 cup tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 3 tbsp cooking molasses
  • 3/4 tsp paprika
  • 3 tbsp honey (or coconut palm sugar, or brown sugar)
  • salt/pepper to taste
 Directions:
  1. Heat olive oil in large saucepan.  Add onion and green pepper and cook until onion is soft and translucent.
  2. Add remaining ingredients, and puree  the mixture until a smooth consistency and there are no big pieces remaining.
  3. Over medium heat, simmer for ~30 min or until sauce thickens.
  4. Store the sauce in the fridge for up to a week and/or freeze in freezer safe containers for longer-term storage and future use.
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Raspberry Vinegar

This started out with me trying a new recipe for a raspberry vinaigrette, which was a bit less than successful because I substituted red wine vinegar for the called-for raspberry vinegar. Determined to make a mends to the vinaigrette recipe, I went looking for raspberry vinegar, but ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the exorbitant price at the grocery store, especially considering I couldn’t think of many uses for a whole bottle.

I guess I feeling particularly adventurous when I came across the idea of making home-made raspberry vinegar. Intriguing, and seemingly easy and more cost effective. I found this blog post from The Yummy Life on the subject.

I realize it’s not a true DIY vinegar, as there was no fermenting involved here.  I generally followed the recipe as directed and tweaked the type of vinegar used ever so slightly, and ended up with a beautifully red liquid, with subtle raspberry flavour.

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What about those leftover raspberries? Make Raspberry Chipotle Barbecue Sauce.

PREP TIME: COOK TIME: TOTAL TIME: YIELD: 1 jar
Ingredients:
  • 3/4 cup loose fresh raspberries (or frozen unsweetened)
  • 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • white wine vinegar to fill the jar
 Directions:
  1. Wash berries well, and add to 500 mL mason jar.
  2. Add vinegars, fill to top.
  3. Seal and refrigerate for 2 weeks.
  4. Strain mixture through cheesecloth, and transfer to a resealable container.
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Taco Seasoning

I prefer making my own taco seasoning as opposed to buying pre-packaged because then I know exactly what’s in it, and can limit the amount of salt added.

Not only is it a healthier alternative than the store bought alternative, but it’s also easy to make with seasonings I usually have handy in the pantry.  Try making a bigger batch to store in an air-tight container for future use.

PREP TIME: COOK TIME: TOTAL TIME: YIELD: 1
Ingredients:
  • 1 tbsp chilli powder
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp sea salt
 Directions:
  1. Combine all ingredients.  Use immediately or save in air tight container for future use.