Monday, October 29, 2012

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

I have always loved chocolate chip muffins.  I remember my mother making them from scratch many mornings, and I could just as easily enjoy those little treats for dessert as I could for breakfast.  My love affair with chocolate chip muffins has continued into adulthood.  

I had a difficult time imagining any muffin better than a chocolate chip one.  I mean, what could be better than the moist cakey inside studded with ooey gooey chocolate?  I'll tell you what...a pumpkin chocolate chip muffin.  That's what! 

When I stumbled upon this recipe, I was actually looking for a good muffin to make with my students at school.  One that they, as fourth graders, would enjoy mixing and eating.  This Nestle Toll House recipe from Very Best Baking fit the bill perfectly. 

Not only does this recipe contain pumpkin, chocolate, and whole wheat flour, it also makes plenty of muffins that keep well for several days and freeze beautifully.  I have been making this recipe both with my students each fall and at home ever since finding it several years ago. 

When I make them at home, I make the entire batch which is usually around 30 regular size muffins (even though the original recipe says 36), and I freeze the ones we don't eat in a day or so. 

To freeze, just pop them into freezer bags.  When you want to thaw one, remove it from the bag, wrap it in a paper towel, and microwave for around a minute until thawed and warm.  They make one of the best on-the-go breakfasts around. 

I have not changed this recipe at all except to use cinnamon instead of pumpkin pie spice (the original recipe calls for either).  As I said above, I do find that the quantities tend to be a little smaller, around 30 muffins instead of 36.  Even though this is not my recipe, I am reposting here to have on file for myself.  I give full credit to the original which you can find by visiting Very Best Baking

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins- makes approx. 30-36 standard muffins 

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups granulated sugar
1 can (15 oz.) pure pumpkin puree
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) semi-sweet chocolate chips

PREHEAT oven to 350° F. Grease thirty to thirty-six standard size muffin cups or line with paper bake cups.

COMBINE all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in medium bowl. Combine eggs and sugar in large bowl. Add pumpkin and oil; mix well. Stir in flour mixture until moistened. Stir in chocolate chips. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups.

BAKE for 20 to 25 minutes or until top springs back when lightly touched or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks for 5 minutes; remove from pans.

TO FREEZE, allow muffins to cool completely on wire racks.  Place muffins into zip top freezer bags (usually 4 will fit in a quart bag), and freeze.  Frozen muffins will keep 2-3 months and can be thawed in the microwave. 

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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Chicken with Brussels Sprouts and Mustard Cider Sauce

I have been doing a little more cooking and less canning lately, although I'm hoping to do more canning in the near future.  I have been slightly obsessed (as I get each fall) with cooking magazines and cookbooks, and I've been trying to add some new dishes to the weeknight line-up around here. 

This is a dish I had been meaning to try for awhile, but finally got around to several days ago.  It was perfect for a busy weeknight as it was quick to prepare, and it was so good it had me looking forward to the leftovers at lunch (which if you know anything about me and leftovers is really saying a lot). 

The chicken for this dish is browned in olive oil and finished in the oven. I roasted red potatoes in the oven with a little thyme and garlic which worked well because it allowed me to slide the potatoes over to make a little room for the chicken in the last 10 minutes of cooking.  This saved me one dirty dish which is always a major plus in my world.   

The Brussels sprouts were cooked until brown and tender in a separate pan while the sauce was being made where the chicken had been browned originally.  And let me tell you about this sauce.  It is amazing!  It's zesty and tangy from the whole grain mustard and slightly sweet from the cider.  I found it needed a tad more sweetness, so I added a little honey.  I also increased the quantity of sauce and thickened it with a cornstarch slurry.   

All in all, a very quick and satisfying fall meal that I will definitely be making again very soon!

Chicken with Brussels Sprouts and Mustard Cider Sauce- serves 4
Recipe adapted from Cooking Light 

2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1/2 tsp salt, divided
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 cups chicken broth, divided
1/2 unfiltered apple cider
2 Tbsp whole-grain Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp honey
1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp butter, divided
12 ounces Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet on high heat.  Season the chicken with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper.  Add the chicken to the skillet and cook 3 minutes per side until nicely browned.  Place the chicken in an oven-proof baking dish (or on the sheet pan where you are roasting the potatoes if you choose to do so) and bake 9 minutes or until done. 

In the meantime, add 1 cup broth and the cider to the pan where the chicken was browned.  Scrap any bits from the bottom of the pan, and bring the mixture to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium low and simmer 4 minutes.  Ladle several tablespoons of the broth mixture into a small bowl and add the cornstarch to the bowl to create a slurry.  Whisk this mixture until the slurry is smooth with no lumps of cornstarch remaining.  Slowly whisk a little of the slurry mixture (you may not need to use it all) into the broth mixture in the pan and boil to thicken.  Add more slurry as needed until the sauce it thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Add the mustard and honey to the sauce and whisk to combine.  Remove the pan from the heat and swirl in 1 tablespoon of butter until melted. 

While making the sauce, heat 1 tablespoon of oil and 1 tablespoon butter in another skillet on medium-high heat.  Add the Brussels sprouts and saute 2 minutes to brown.  Season with remaining salt.  Add 1/4 cup broth to the pan, cover, and cook 4 minutes until the sprouts are crisp tender.  Serve the chicken topped with the sprouts and a drizzle of sauce. 

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Apples with Honey Butter Glaze

This time of year sends me into nesting mode.  I want to stay at home, make everything cozy, and cook, and the foods of fall seem to go seamlessly with my desire to be in the kitchen.  Even though it may seem a little silly, going to the farmers market becomes something even more special as you search for perfect bouquets of winter greens, freshly dug sweet potatoes, and colorful winter squash.  Our bodies begin craving heartier fare like these Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Apples with Honey Butter Glaze. 

This layered dish is full of fall flavor and would make a welcome addition to the Thanksgiving table, although it is perfect any other day also.  It does take a little prep initially since you need to bake the sweet potatoes until they are almost tender, but after that, it goes together in a snap.  The sweet potatoes can also be baked a day or two ahead to make prep quicker on the day you want to serve this. 

The combination of creamy sweet potatoes, tender apples, crunchy nuts, and caramelized glaze is balanced perfectly by the addition of a little lemon juice and is a nice alternative to more traditional sweet potato dishes.  So, if you are testing recipes for the big Thanksgiving meal or just want something a little different for a cozy family dinner, this dish may just fit the bill. 

Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Apples with Honey Butter Glaze- serves 6
adapted from Southern Living Farmers Market Cookbook

This dish can easily be doubled to feed twelve. 

3 medium sweet potatoes (2.5 pounds)
2 large Honeycrisp apples (or other apples that will hold shape when baked)
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/3 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Wash the sweet potatoes and pierce each with a fork or sharp knife.  Place the potatoes on a baking sheet and roast for 1 hour until almost tender.  Remove from the oven and allow to sit until cool enough to handle.  Remove the skin from the potatoes.  Cut each potato in half lengthwise and then into 1/3 inch thick semi-circle slices.  Set aside.  (This step can be performed up to two days ahead).  

Squeeze the lemon juice into a bowl.  Core the apples and cut in half.  Cut the apples in semi-circle slices.  Toss the apple slices in the lemon juice to prevent browning.  

In a small bowl, mix the melted butter, brown sugar, honey, spices, and salt until combined.  Set aside. 

Spray an 8 inch baking dish with cooking spray.  Place the sweet potatoes and apples with rounded sides up alternately in the baking dish.  Pour the lemon juice from the apple bowl over everything in the dish.  Spoon the honey butter mixture over the potatoes and apples.  Bake 30 minutes. 

Remove dish from the oven.  Baste with the honey butter from the bottom of the dish.  Sprinkle with pecans, and continue baking 15 minutes more until everything is tender and the nuts are toasted and brown.  Baste with the glaze just before serving.  

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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Pear and Cranberry Conserve

Pears are a quintessential fall fruit.  Fragrant, sweet, and floral, they pair well with another favorite, the tart cranberry.  Combining the two makes perfect sense as they balance one another allowing us to create foods that travel from sweet to savory effortlessly. 

This conserve is the perfect example of this marriage.  Sweet from the pears with just the right bite from cranberries, you can serve this on biscuits or toast, with roasted pork or turkey, or as an alternative to traditional cranberry sauce.  It would make an absolutely fabulous spread on an after-Thanksgiving sandwich of turkey, dressing, and gravy, and it also makes a delicious addition to a vinaigrette for salad greens when mixed with a little vinegar and olive oil.  Better yet, it comes together fairly quickly and easily. 

I used a combination of half-pint jars and 4 oz jelly jars when making this to give myself options for how much to open at once.  If you want to use the smaller 4 oz jars, just process them for the same amount of time as the half-pints. 

Pear and Cranberry Conserve- makes 7 half-pints or 14- 4 oz jars
Recipe from Better Homes and Gardens Canning

6 large, ripe pears (3 pounds), peeled, cored, and chopped
16 oz fresh cranberries
4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups water
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp grated orange zest
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground allspice

Prepare your canner, jars, lids, and rings.

Combine all ingredients in a large non-reactive pot.  Bring the mixture to a boil on medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Boil gently, stirring frequently, for 20-25 minutes until the mixture reaches a thick jam-like consistency.  You can test this by dipping a spoon into the mixture.  If the conserve falls in sheets from the spoon, it is ready.  Alternately, you can chill a plate in the freezer, then place a small amount of conserve onto the cold plate.  It should form a mound and should hold a clean line if you run your finger through it. 

Ladle the hot mixture into hot, sterilized half-pint or 4 ounce jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Wipe the rims of the jars, and place a lid and ring on top of each. 

Process jars in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes.  Remove jars from the canner and allow to cool on a towel for 24 hours.  Check seals, label, and store.

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