Pumpkin Oat Muffins

Getting back to basics for creating real pumpkin flavor in a breakfast staple

When I was a kid growing up in Michigan, going to the apple orchard was an annual fall tradition.  Among the obvious treats; cider, donuts and caramel apples, it was the warm, soft, pumpkin spice muffins that were always a favorite of mine. I remember the delicate hint of spices, the molasses aroma, and a steamy, sweet and moist interior with a toasted crust.  The problem I often find with pumpkin muffins or pumpkin baked goods alike is their actual lack of pumpkin flavor. It seems the idea of pumpkin flavor has been replaced with kicked up amount of sugar and spice to equate some seasonal desire of what pumpkin should taste like.  Pumpkin itself is not an overwhelming flavor; it is subtle, earthy, and slightly salty and sweet.  I typically find that muffins in general are usually too sweet for my tastes so I wanted to figure out a way to recreate my apple orchard food memory of the Pumpkin Oat Muffins I enjoyed as a kid but also get back to basics and stay away from the commercialized version of what we think Pumpkin flavor is.

I started first by testing pumpkin filling; both canned versions of high end brand names to low end brands, as well as roasting and pureeing a sugar pumpkin.  The results proved that using a good quality pumpkin canned puree was a better alternative to roasting and pureeing yourself.  The roasted sugar pumpkin version rendered similar results to canned puree however it was a bit more fibrous and bland plus it took me two hours to roast, then puree, so why bother with the hassle of pots and pans. Skip the homemade puree and go for a good quality canned puree.

Next I tested different flour options, during my first few tests using all purpose flour, the muffins were coming out consistent but the texture was more cake like than anything else. The muffin was moist but too dense; I opted to try using oat flour instead of all purpose flour. Grinding up oats in the food processor gave me more of a grainy flour that ended up helping solve my texture issue. The larger pieces of grain mixed with finer, flour like oat powder helped create a light and fluffy texture. Adding ½ cup of rolled oats to the flour mixture allowed this version to hold up better to the incredible moist pumpkin puree, making for a light and fluffy muffin full of nooks and crannies.

Having the basic muffin texture down, it was time to work on the flavor. Since Pumpkin is a very light flavor of earthy and nutty tones, adding just the right amount of spice can really draw out and enhance the pumpkin flavor.  Overload on the spice too much and you run the risk of muting the pumpkin flavor all together.  I needed to find just the right balance; I first used a store bought pumpkin pie spice blend, which is a combination of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice.  This manufactured combination wasn’t enough to hold up to the oat flour, it was too subtle and far too cinnamon tasting.  I was looking for spice and depth of flavor but Pumpkin Pie flavoring wasn’t what I was trying to achieve. Tasters agreed, even on varying levels of pumpkin pie spice that this was not hitting the right notes to balance the sugars or the pumpkin puree.  I opted to play around with other spices and create my own harmonious blend.  I used similar ingredients, but left out the allspice and replaced it for a hint of clove.  Ginger powder was helping me create a spice note without taking over the flavors of the rest of the muffin.  Cinnamon in a lesser intense amount added to the nutty sweetness of the pumpkin puree as well as brought out the oat flavor better. Using ¾ cup of light brown sugar as well as a tablespoon of molasses really gave this muffin the balance of sweetness it deserved.

For a finishing touch I added ½ cup of raisins to the muffin batter for a natural sweet burst, to my surprise it enhanced both the spices and pumpkin flavor separately as well as equally.

Pumpkin Oat Muffins- Makes 12 muffins

For best results use fresh ground oat flour from a food processor, pulverizing the oats yourself will give a better grainy texture the muffin needs to stand up, literally. Also, for a nice dome like muffin top, be sure to rest the batter for at least 20 minutes before scooping into the muffin tin cups.

2          cups whole rolled oats, reserve ½ cup
¾        cup light brown sugar
1          teaspoon baking soda
½        teaspoon baking powder
½        teaspoon salt
1          teaspoon cinnamon
½        teaspoon ginger
1/8      teaspoon ground cloves
1/8      teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
2          egg whites
1          15 oz can high quality pumpkin puree
½        cup buttermilk
2          tablespoons canola oil
1          teaspoon vanilla
1          tablespoon Molasses
½        cup of raisins
  1. In a food processor add 1 ½ cups of good quality oats, grind for about 10 seconds or until a gritty flour has formed.
  2. Whisk oat flour, oats, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, clove, and nutmeg in a medium bowl until well combined. In a separate bowl combine the wet ingredients; egg whites, pumpkin puree, buttermilk, canola oil, vanilla, and molasses, whisk together until combined. Add dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and whisk until the mixture is together. Add ½ cup of Raisins and recombine.  Let the muffin mixture rest for 20-30 minutes.
  3. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees.  Prepare muffin tin with paper muffin liners and spray the top of the muffin tin with baking spray. Gently spoon in batter just until it reaches the top of the liner, batter should be evenly distributed among all slots, do not leave any remaining batter in the bowl.
  4. Bake at 400 degrees 24-28 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Kitchen Tip! Using a tablespoon to measure out just the right amout of molasses can be tricky since so much of the molasses can stick and be left behind. To ensure you get exactly the amount of molasses the recipe calls for, measure out the canola oil first in this recipe and then measure out the molasses just following.  The molasses will slide right off your measuring spoon, ensuring you get the exact amount in the recipe.

Greek Style Turkey Meatloaf

My body can’t handle two nights of weekend partying anymore.  So this past Friday night, I decided to stay in and experiment with meatloaf.  I know what your thinking, exhilarating!  Well. let. me. tell. you. It certainly was. This recipe test will now be a part of future ‘easy’ dinner nights! Give it a whirl.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1lb ground white meat turkey
  • 1/2 lb ground dark meat turkey
  • 1/3 c. chopped dill
  • 1 c. crumbled feta
  • 1/2 c. chopped onion, small dice
  • 1/2 c. chopped celery, small dice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 c. stuffing mix** optional,or add 2 slices of bread
  • 1 slice of sandwich bread, small cubed
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 350*F

To start, sweat the onions and celery in 1 tbsp of olive oil until tender, but not browned. Add garlic for the last 60 seconds and stir around.  Remove the pan from the heat and reserve while you prep the meatloaf.  In a large bowl combine the turkey meat, dill, eggs, bread, stuffing mix, salt, pepper, and celery/onion/garlic mix.  Mix together with hands, once incorporated add the feta and mix again. Bake in a loaf pan for45-55 minutes.

OR do one extra step and make a roulade with spinach. Turning this into a roulade makes for an extra special presentation and also adds some extra nutrients! Not to mention, color! Spread a large piece of plastic wrap on your counter, add the meatloaf and pat down to about 3/4″. Once you have a flat surface that’s roughly in the shape of a rectangle, start sprinkling a layer of drained, chopped spinach over the meat (buy a block of frozen spinach, drain, ring out the water and use).

Using the leverage of the plastic wrap, begin to tug the plastic on one side and roll up the meat end to end.  DO NOT Roll up with the plastic wrap inside:) Bake for 45-55 minutes uncovered, let rest for 5-10 minutes and serve with Tzatziki sauce for an extra Greek kick! (click for Tzatziki recipe).

** I had left over stuffing mix from thanksgiving laying around, so I added this instead for a hint of flavor not offered by the boring binder of sandwich bread. I combined it with one piece of sandwich bread to make sure the moisture stayed in the meatloaf. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, so I did both to be safe. Next time I will add just stuffing mix if I have it laying around still.

I hope you enjoy this healthy spin on meatloaf, thanks for reading, xo-G

Lemon Parmesan Chicken

Parmesan chicken

A very good friend of mine recently asked for easy recipes involving chicken.  Because we were at a party and not seriously getting into jotting down ingredients and measurements, I told her I’d blog a few ideas for her. My friend, a recent newlywed, and over worked teacher, would like to come home and cook something healthy and quick… Does this sound familiar? I think most of us can relate. This dish is perfect for two, easy to make, and with a few simple ingredients you might just have in your kitchen anyway.

"How easy is that?"

Recipe adapted from one of my favorite chefs, Ina Garten

You need:

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup AP flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 extra-large eggs + 1 tbsp of water
  • 1 cups seasoned dry bread crumbs
  • 1/4 tsp lemon zest, minced
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan, plus extra for serving

    I prefer arugula for the peppery crispness. It balances out the lemon vinaigrette and the salt from the chicken.

  • unsalted butter
  • Good olive oil
  • Arugula (enough for 2), washed dry
  • 1 recipe Lemon Vinaigrette, recipe follows
    • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
    • 1/2 cup good olive oil
    • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Pound the chicken breasts until they are 1/4-inch thick.

2. On a plate, combine the flour, , salt, and pepper. On a second plate, beat the eggs with 1 tablespoon of water. On a third plate, combine the bread crumbs, lemon zest, and 1/2 of the grated Parmesan. Coat the chicken breasts on both sides with the flour mixture, then dip both sides into the egg mixture and dredge both sides in the bread-crumb mixture, pressing lightly. Cooks Tip: Try to stick to using just one hand for the dipping and dredging, it is less messy, and your clean other hand is free in case the guy you’ve been swooning over calls.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large saute pan and cook 2 or 3 chicken breasts on medium-low heat for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until cooked through. Cooks Tip:Use a real saute pan for a crunchy crust. If you use a Teflon pan, your seared crust will be less developed.  However, either will produce a a similar taste result.

Add Julienne radishes for a pop of color.

4. Toss the arugula with lemon vinaigrette. Place a mound of salad on each hot chicken breast. Cooks Tip: garnish with a few thin slices of good Parmesan and a some Julienne radishes for a pop of color.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoy!  xo-G

Brussels Sprout Salad with Candied Hazelnuts and Lemon Vinaigrette

This is a very simple salad but the flavor combination is out-of -this-world, delicious.  If you haven’t had something like this before you will be very surprised at how well these few ingredients go together.

Salad

Benefits of Brussels sprouts: they extremely good for you; filling, moderately high in fiber, low in fat and cholesterol and they are also a good source of Riboflavin, Iron, Magnesium and Phosphorus, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Thiamin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Potassium and Manganese.

  • 8 oz  raw Brussels sprouts, shredded

Candied Hazelnuts

  • 3/4 cup hazelnuts, peeled, shelled
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1/4 cup of water

Vinaigrette

  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 3 tbsp sugar

Brussels Sprouts

1. Wash the brussels sprouts and cut the stems off, remove any loose or dirty leaves.

2. Using the slicing blade of your food processor, carefully shred the brussels sprouts.  If you do not have a food processor, this can also be done by by hand. Getting the ribbon effect is key, so however you prefer to do it!  Be sure to remove any white cores you find.

4. Set aside in a bowl in the refrigerator.

Candied Hazelnuts

1. On low-med heat, roast hazelnuts in a medium saute pan.  Toss them around periodically, their paper like shells will begin to come off. After about 15 minutes of roasting, let cool.  The remaining shells should flake off. Set aside. America’s Test Kitchen @TestKitchen suggests, transferring hazelnuts to a dish towel. Wrap them completely, twist the towel to seal. Then rub together to scrape off skin.

2. Cook sugar and 1/4 cup water in a medium, heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar has dissolved. Continue to cook, without stirring, until syrup comes to a boil, washing down sides with a wet brush to prevent crystals from forming. Let boil until syrup turns light amber, about 5 minutes; remove from heat.

3. Place a large sheet of parchment paper on your counter. When the sugar is amber in color, toss the hazelnuts in the sauce pan, swirl around for 3 seconds and pour the extremely HOT mixture onto the parchment paper.

4. Let cool for 5 minutes.

5. Break apart into large piece and toss into a sturdy ziplock bag.  Knock around the bag on the counter top, this will separate the candied nuts.

Vinaigrette

1. Whisk ingredients in a medium size bowl, adjust salt/pepper/sugar to taste.  Should be on the tart side.

To assemble:

Mix in a large bowl, toss brussels sprouts with vinaigrette, top with candied hazelnuts and serve! You will be surprised at the flavor combination, tart, sweet, crunchy…yum!

Brussels sprouts salad with Thai beef and spicy peanut noodles

I hope you enjoy! Thanks for reading…x-G

Smoked Salmon Crisps

Photo © Quentin Bacon

Need a great, no bake, party app idea?  Take one from me and Thomas Keller, this will be a hit.  I often have people tell me they “hate cooking” “don’t know how” or  “f*%k it up every time”  well then, this ones for you.   Follow these steps to an easy, frustration free, party hors d’oeuvre.

Go the store and buy:

  • 4 oz  sliced smoked salmon
  • 1 large shallot
  • Sesame and seaweed crackers
  • 1 lemon
  • chives
  • 4 oz of crème fraîche or if you can’t find it, sour cream will do just fine.

To assemble:

1. Dice the smoked salmon and place in a medium-sized bowl.

2. Mince the shallot,  add to the bowl.

3. Mince 1 tbsp of chives, add to the bowl

4. Add 1 tbsp of lemon juice.

5. Add a few pinches of white pepper, if you have it (no need to buy, just to add)

6. Give it a quick toss.

7. Lay out the sesame-seaweed crackers on a platter, top each cracker with a tablespoon of the salmon. Dollop with a small amount of crème fraîche and garnish with a 1″ piece of chive.  Serve right away.

My finished product; a bit rushed on presentation, but the flavor was all there!

Let me know how it turns out! I hope you enjoy…

Adapted from Thomas Keller’s, The French Laundry Cookbook

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