Leslie’s Favorite Pumpkin Muffins

My friend Leslie is a rock star of healthful eating among many, many other things — a parent who has a true passion for eating well both in the flavor and nutritional sense. Whenever we stop by her house (even spur of the moment), there’s bound to be something homemade and yummy at hand. With the goal of making an even bigger impact, she recently got involved in her son’s school cafeteria program with the goal of getting healthier (but still kid-friendly) choices on the menu. Way to go Leslie!!!

Since I was a little girl and old enough to stand on a chair in the kitchen without falling, I have enjoyed baking with my Grandmother, Mother and Sister. Now that I am a Mom I found myself back in the kitchen this time with one or both of my boys standing on a chair next to me baking muffins and other delicious and healthy eats. I started making muffins for my first son.  I found it so easy to make muffins in a mini muffin pan and wrap for storage in the freezer.  It was very handy to reach into the freezer grab a muffin or two and toss them in my bag. By the time my son was ready for a snack the muffin had thawed!  I laugh now as those 24 mini muffins last maybe 3 days with two boys in the house!   I cannot remember the last time they actually made it into the freezer! One of my most popular muffins is made from pumpkin. These are a hit at school when I am in charge of bringing snacks!

I adapted this recipe from a Junior League Cookbook for Butterscotch Pumpkin muffins. I think what makes them so good is the combination of ginger, cinnamon, cloves and mace.  As you read the recipe you will see the Butterscotch, refined sugar and majority of flour is either removed or improved. Muffins pair nicely for breakfast with a delicious smoothie!

PUMPKIN MUFFINS

  • 1 ¾  Cup  Flour.  Use half whole wheat and half white flour or all whole wheat.  Use what your tastes like or are used to.
  • ½   Cup Maple Syrup  (Grade B ) (Increase by 1/8 cup if you prefer a sweeter muffin)
  • ½ Teaspoon Ginger
  • ½ Teaspoon Mace
  • 1 Teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
  • 1 Teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ Teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ Teaspoon Salt
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 1 Cup pumpkin (I have used canned and puree from a sugar pumpkin, both were great)
  • ½ Cup butter, melted.  [Variation to omit butter:  ½ cup milk, 2 tablespoons canola oil, 1/3 cup ricotta cheese.]

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  1. In a large bowl, mix flour, ginger, mace, cinnamon, cloves, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Create a well in the middle of the mixture.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together eggs, pumpkin and butter (or other), and maple.  Pour into well of dry ingredients.
  3. Fold together just until dry ingredients are moistened.  Do not over mix (tough one if you have helpers…)
  4. Spoon batter evenly into mini muffin tins (or regular).  Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean.  Place on a rack to cool.

=======

As I was making Leslie’s recipe, I took a minute to take a look at the nutritional facts on my can of pureed pumpkin. Pumpkin is very high in Vitamin A (a good source of the anti-oxidant beta carotene) and rich in fiber in case you needed another incentive to run out and make this recipe.

These muffins don’t last long around my house!

“Think Pink”! Luca’s Favorite Raspberry Milk

We’re smitten with “pink milk” at the moment. Our version is nothing more than 1 cup milk blended with 1/2 cup frozen (or fresh) raspberries, and a dash of honey. We love its cheerful color especially on gloomier mornings and its not too sweet taste. Luca likes to help measure the ingredients and I like the fact that I can pull it together even when I’m half asleep come breakfast time. The true measure of its appeal, however, is that Luca asked to bring it to his snack day at preschool. Pink milk, you are IN!

So in the words of one of my favorite movie musical numbers of all time (from 1957’s Funny Face):  “Banish the black, burn the blue, and bury the beige! From now on…. Think Pink!”

Snack Attack (or Anytime) Granola

The three members of my family fall into different camps when it comes food —  sauciness, spiciness, saltiness — but a real point of solidarity in our family eating is our shared love for granola, especially with greek yogurt, fresh fruit and a good drizzle of honey. Needless to say, granola gets made and eaten often around here.

There’s not much prep time difference whether you make a little or a lot, so granola is a great recipe to scale up. It keeps well in the freezer, so make some to eat right away and stash some so you’ll always have something tasty and nutritious at the ready. We’ve happily eaten granola for dinner when we just couldn’t get it together to make anything else.

Since all that’s required is a little measuring and mixing and throwing it all on a baking sheet, it’s a great cooking project to do with kids. It makes for a fun playdate, too. Divvy up the ingredient list and invite some of friends around to make a mega batch that everyone can share. After putting together the granola base you can have some fun mixing in all sorts of goodies. You can also make loose granola or bars. The variations are endless.

Basic Granola Mix

1. Combine dry ingredients – 5 cups total assorted oats, seeds, nuts, grains (some ideas below). For a classic granola, we prefer at least half of the mixture to be oats.

2. Combine wet ingredients in a sauce pan over the stove, until sugar is fully dissolved and the mixture is syrupy.

  • 3/4 cup apple sauce
  • 2 TBL butter or vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup brown rice syrup (or corn syrup)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Spices (a basic mix would be: 2 tsp cinnamon, 2 tsp ground ginger)

3. Mix the wet and dry ingredients together, making sure dry ingredients are well coated.

4. Spread into a thin layer (no more than about 1/2″) on cookie sheets. I line my cookie sheets with silicon baking mats which makes the clean up super easy. Alternatively you can spray your cookie sheets with a little cooking spray just to make sure nothing sticks. Bake at 375 degrees until the mix starts to turn golden (about 30 minutes), tossing with a wooden spoon and turning your pan once or twice to ensure even baking.

5. When the granola is approaching your desired golden-ness, turn the heat down to 200 degrees and continue drying out the granola so that it will be nice and crispy without too much more browning. I usually give it another 20-25 minutes, checking and tossing every 10 minutes or so. Granola will crisp as it cools, so at this point you’re just gauging moistness. You want it to be reasonably dry to the touch. Luckily if you take it out too early and you find it’s not as crisp as you like, you can always throw it back into a low oven to continue to dry and crisp.

6. When your granola is golden and crisp to your liking add your final mix-ins including chopped dried fruit, coconut or chocolate chips. When cool, store in an air tight container or freeze granola you wont be eating right away.

Mix-Ins, a few of our favorites:

  • Nuts: Sliced Almonds; Chopped Pistachios, Hazelnuts, Pecans or Walnuts
  • Dried Fruit: Raisins, Cranberries, Blueberries, Dates, Flaked Coconut, Apricots, Mangoes, Apples, Cherries, Banana Chips
  • Seeds/Grains: Oats, Sesame Seeds, Golden Flax Seed, Sunflower Seeds, Amaranth, Wheat Germ, Oat Bran
  • Spices: Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Ginger
  • Other stuff:  chocolate chips!

Notes:

  • Mix in chocolate chips, flaked coconut and dried fruit after baking. [If you like toasted coconut like me, I think it’s easier to control the brown-ness by toasting it separately in a pan vs baking it along with the base.]
  • If you want to keep the base nut free, toast the nuts separately over the stove and mix in after baking.

Granola Bar Variation

With our new lunchbox routine we decided to try a more portable granola. To make bars, reduce the dry ingredients by about a cup, so that the wet ingredients coat everything a bit more.

  1. Toast the dry ingredients (350 for 30 minutes or until lightly golden) before mixing with the wet ingredients.
  2. Combine wet ingredients in a pan over the stove until the sugar is dissolved and mixture is syrupy.
  3. Combine the pre-toasted dry ingredients with the wet ingredients. Add mix-ins including dried fruit, coconut or chocolate chips.
  4. Spread on cookie sheet and press lightly to compact the granola mixture. Make sure you have a nice even layer. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.
  5. Turn down the oven to 200 degrees and let crisp for another 25-30 minutes. When cool cut into bars. If bars aren’t crisp when you start cutting them, you can return them to a low oven for a another 10-15 minutes.

The Yummiest Raw Apple Muffins

It’s been an eventful week for us. My little one started preschool which — beyond the obvious “heartstrings” aspect of it all — means thinking about packing a lunchbox on a regular basis. So begins a new chapter in food for our family.

As I was packing up my first lunch, I got to thinking about what would put a smile on my son’s face when he opened up his brand spanking new lunchbox. Something super yummy. A muffin perhaps? Problem was, we were just back from vacation and our refrigerator was really, really bare. Luckily we happened to have a few apples, so I decided to take that as my starting point.

I reached for my “go to” kitchen reference the Gourmet Cookbook and it came through once again with the recipe for “Marion Cunningham’s Raw Apple Muffins” (originally published in Marion Cunningham’s “Breakfast Book“). This is a simple recipe, which requires just a few ingredients and turns out not-to-sweet and very moist muffins. It’s timely, too, with apple season upon us.

[Here’s my little tip: coring, peeling and dicing the apples is the only time consuming step of this recipe. We happen to have one of those apple peeling/coring/slicing contraptions — my husband likes to make pie and this is a fantastic tool for prepping a big pile of apples. I was able to break down my apples into a perfect little dice in no time with very little knife work. Yippee for that.]

Raw Apple Muffins

(adapted from the recipe for “Marion Cunningham’s Raw Apple Muffins” in the Gourmet Cookbook. This recipe was originally published in Marion Cunningham’s “Breakfast Book”)

  • 2 apples (peeled, cored and diced — 1/4″ dice is ideal)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup oil (I substituted my apple-pear butter, you could also use apple sauce)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon (I omitted this since my apple butter already has spices in it)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • muffin tin liners
  1. Toss the diced apples and sugar in a bowl and set aside.
  2. Mix egg, vanilla and oil (or apple butter) in a bowl set aside.
  3. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl (flour, salt, spices, baking soda)
  4. Add the egg mixture to the apples and mix well. Add the flour mixture and stir until just combined.
  5. Fill each muffin cup about 2/3 full and bake at 350 degrees. Start checking for done-ness at 25 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin should come out clean. Makes about 10 muffins.

I think next time I might experiment with substituting a third of the flour with whole wheat flour and stirring in a couple of tablespoons of oats and a couple teaspoons of flax seed just to add a little extra nutritional punch. After making these muffins, I think I’m definitely going to have to check out the “Breakfast Book”!


Slow Cooker Apple-Pear Butter

This apple-pear butter is tangy, spicy and sweet. It’s great on toast, in oatmeal, on pancakes or French toast. A nice change of pace from the usual breakfast spreads and so easy to make! Applesauce is a great substitute for vegetable oil in muffin recipes or pancake mixes (substitute one for one), which is another great reason to have this on hand.
ngignpega
We’ve made a similar apple butter on the stovetop in the past, but this slow cooker version, adapted from a recipe from Thomas Keller’s “Ad Hoc at Home”, is a nice twist. You can chuck everything into the slow cooker and let it go overnight, with just minimal hands-on time. No peeling or coring required. We tweaked things — adding pears to the mix as well as fresh ginger and adjusting the sugar and spices a bit to suit my son’s tastes. If your little ones are just so-so on spices, just add a little cinnamon or no spices at all. Here’s our version (this made about 2 pints):
  • 3 Pounds Mixed Apples and Pears (a mix of sweeter and more tart varieties is nice)
  • Fresh Ginger (a couple of inch-long pieces)
  • 1/2 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1.5 cups Brown Sugar (or to taste) — I’m sure you could substitute apple cider, agave syrup, maple syrup or other sweeteners you like.
  • 3/4 Tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 Tsp Ground Cloves
  • 1/2 Tsp Allspice
  • Zest & Juice from 1 Lemon
  1. Cut the fruit into big chunks (including  skins, cores and seeds).
  2. Toss the fruit into a slow cooker with the water, ginger and apple cider vinegar.
  3. Cover and cook on high for 3 hours stirring occasionally.
  4. Pass the fruit through a food mill to remove the skins, seeds and stems and return to the slow cooker.
  5. Add sugar, spices, lemon juice and zest. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your taste.
  6. Cook on low for 8 hours (or overnight). Taste and adjust again if you need to. If it’s not thick enough for your liking at this point, continue cooking uncovered.
  7. Whatever you aren’t going to use in the next couple of weeks, you can freeze or can.

We happened upon “Ad Hoc at Home” at the library. Thomas Keller’s idea of simple, home cooking might be more involved than the way most us cook in real life, but there are a lot of great techniques well explained throughout that you really can incorporate into everyday cooking like how to cut up a chicken (8 and 10 piece versions), stocking your pantry and a whole section on “Becoming a Better Cook”. Check it out, you’re sure to find some inspiration in this one.

Guest Recipe: Becky’s Carrot Zucchini Pineapple Muffins

My friend Becky is about as close to a “super mom” as you can get. A demanding full-time job, 3 kids, and manages to find the energy for fun adventures, running half marathons, lots of home-cooked goodness, and having a sense of humor about it all. If she wasn’t such an awesome person, I might just hate her a little.

Here’s what she says about these carrot-zucchini muffins: “We make them in mini muffin tins. Oliver (baby) loves them and the other two will eat them if they are starving, so I save them for the ride home from school. They travel well and are reasonably good for you. Nate (toddler) is a huge fan of cooking with me and he loves this because he gets to do the cuisinart and the mixer. He also likes putting the cupcake papers into the baking pans. Even though he helps me make these, it doesn’t stop him from looking at the muffins later and saying – what is this green stuff mommy? Oh well!”

***

I gave them a test run recently and the kids I was with (ages 2-4) ate them right up. “Do these have vegetables in them?” asks the four year old, suspiciously.  Aren’t you amazed at the impressive power of observation that kids have when it comes to spotting that sliver of green or tiny speck of pepper? But despite the suspicion of vegetables lurking, the lure of these muffins was just too strong. Tiny nibble…. “Mmmmm these are THE BEST!”. Big bite…. “More please!”

This makes a large batch (~2 dozen standard-sized muffins), so unless you have 3 hungry kids, you might cut it in half, freeze some, or best yet share with a friend. For little hands (or messy cooks), you can scoop the batter into a large zip lock bag, snip the corner and “pipe” into the muffin tins about 2/3 full.

Shopping List: eggs; vegetable oil or unsweetened applesauce;  sugar; vanilla extract; 2 zucchini; 3 carrots; 1 can crushed pineapple in juice; salt; flour (all-purpose or can substitute 50% all purpose and 50% whole wheat); baking soda; baking powder; cinnamon; nutmeg; nut or dried fruit (optional)

  • Combine 3 eggs, 1 cup of oil (or use apple sauce or a combination), 2 cups sugar (I reduced this by about a third), 2 teaspoons vanilla. Beat together until thick and foamy
  • In the cuisinart shred about 2 zucchini and 3 carrots so that you pretty well fill up a 9 cup cuisnart. Squeeze well to remove excess moisture and then stir into the to the mixture above.
  • Add 1 can of well drained crushed pineapple (Crushed is much better than cubes as no one notices them if they are crushed.)
  • In a seperate bowl, combine the dry ingredients: 1 teaspoon salt, 3 cups flour (or substitute 1.5 cups white and 1.5 wheat flour), 2 teaspoons baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1.5 teaspoons cinnamon, 3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Mix dry ingredients into the wet mixture, but don’t stir too much because it will make the muffins too heavy. (I usually stop using the mixer at this point and mix by hand.)
  • If you like, add 1c nuts and 1 c. raisins (My kids aren’t fans of these at all.)
  • Bake at about 350 for 15 – 25 minutes until they spring back in the center and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Reduce the baking time for mini muffins.

Sunday Morning Lemony Buttermilk Cornmeal Pancakes

On Sundays if we don’t get up and out of the house right away, we lounge around and make a real breakfast. I like making pancakes or waffles and Tim likes to practice his Jacques Pepin omelet technique. While I like the idea of exotic pancakes, I find I always come back to the more straight-up variety. I guess I’m looking for that perfect in between pancake.

I was intrigued by the “Blueberry Orange Cornmeal Pancake” recipe I found on a blog called “Satisfied” and I’m giving it a thumbs up. The cornmeal adds just enough texture and the zest gives things a nice little zip. I made a few small alterations: lemon zest instead of orange zest and omitting the blueberries because I prefer fresh fruit on top vs. cooked fruit inside my pancakes. I also didn’t have buttermilk on hand, so I used the handy substitution of 1Tbl of lemon juice with enough milk added to make 1 cup (let it sit 5 minutes, don’t stir).

So if you like classic pancakes with just a little twist, give this one a try. You’ll like it. Luca did, but then again, I think he’s pretty much a fan of most pancakes he encounters. For those exotic pancake fans, check out Simran’s famous coconut-mango pancake recipe.

Simran’s Mango Coconut Pancakes

I had to try the mango coconut pancake recipe that Simran posted a few weeks back. What better motivation to host an impromptu pancake party over the weekend? They were a great change from the usual ones we usually make around here. These are moist and the mango really comes through. Sweet but not overly so. One of our guest pancake eaters said the flavor reminded him of a “lassi turned into a pancake” which should give you a good idea of the flavor. I think I’ll be using the leftover mango pulp to make some mango margaritas…  or maybe, just maybe, Simran will share her super yummy lassi recipe with me.

This recipe also gave us a good excuse to stop by Jai Ho, San Francisco’s newest Indian market (in the same mall as the Safeway on Webster Street). It was fun to browse around and the owner  Rakesh and his son gladly offer tips and advice to novices of indian cooking like Luca and me. Best yet, they have a blog where they have been posting weekly recipes.  I see some Aloo Gobi in my future.