Plum Crisp and Quetzal Birds

Plum Crisp.jpgIn Costa Rica the plum season and the quetzal bird season overlap- how lucky is that? If you’re not familiar with either the quetzal bird or Costa Rican plums, you’re missing out. The quetzal is an amazing creature and has been a fascination of mine since my parents used to frequent Guatemala back in the 1980s. We used to have plenty of handmade little quetzals on our Christmas tree because, as my mother told it, my father could not resist buying the little handmade birds from any kid who approached him on the street. Full disclosure, I have not yet seen a quetzal in the wild, although one of my fellow teachers posted a picture of one that was hanging out in our school parking lot. April and May are reportedly the best months to spot the quetzal- due to mating habits. To learn more about the Quetzal and its Costa Rican habitat, click here.  quetzal

Back to the plums and the crisp. The plums (las ciruelas) in Costa Rica are small, sweet, and delicious. PlumsTheir small size makes prepping them (peeling and de-pitting) a bit of a pain, but it was well worth it. I’ve made quite a few crisps, cobblers, buckles and the likes in my years of cooking, but what I like about this version is that it is firm and can be cut and served in a bar or square, which also means that it travels well (it would be great for a picnic dessert…maybe for when you are on a quetzal spotting hike), and it is made with coconut oil, so it’s vegan. You could substitute any stone fruit, as long as it’s not too juicy (if you use something really juicy, mix in a sprinkling of flour or corn starch to your fruit before layering it).

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 Cups Diced Stone Fruit (skin and pit removed)
  • 2 1/2 Cups Oats
  • 1/4 Cup Flour
  • 3/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. Salt
  • 3/4 Cup Coconut Oil (in solid form)

INSTRUCTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 Degrees F (190c). In a large bowl, combine oats, flour, brown sugar and salt- mix well. Add the solid coconut oil and work it into the dry mixture using a fork, pastry cutter, or your hands- mix until it resembles large crumbs. Crisp Topping Ingredients

Add half of the mixture to the bottom of a 9×9 pan and use your fingers to press it down so it forms a firm layer.

Bake for 15 minutes until lightly browned. In the meantime, prepare the fruit by removing the skins and the pits and cutting into small dice. If your fruit is very juicy, add a sprinkling of flour and mix through. Add fruit to top of bottom layer of crisp mixture and then top with remaining crisp mixture- gently pat down top layer to firm it up a bit.

Middle Fruit Layer

Bake for an additional 25 minutes (fruit should appear bubbly and top layer should be lightly browned). Allow to cool entirely if you want to cut into bars. Enjoy while birdwatching. 🙂

 

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Easy Multigrain Bread

Mulitgrain bread 5.jpgI love homemade bread, but I often don’t plan far enough in advance to allow for all of the multiple rises and the kneading in between; it can really be quite demanding, though almost always worth the effort. This recipe is easy, adaptable, and made with ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry. You can make it start to finish in 4 hours, but it’s even better if you give it extra rise time which will put you at 6 hours. My photos don’t do much justice to the finished product (poor lighting, using my iPhone as my camera, and I couldn’t wait for the bread to cool entirely before I had to cut off a hunk).

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 Packet (3/4 TBS.) Fast Acting Yeast (I think I used regular this time, and it came out fine)
  • 1.5 Cups of Warm (105-110 degrees) water
  • 1 TBS. Honey, (use Maple Syrup or Agave to make Vegan)
  • 1/2 TBS. Salt
  • 2 Cups Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1 3/4 Cups All Purpose Flour (plus up to 4 cups extra)
  • Vegetable Oil (for coating bowl and greasing pan)
  • 2 TBS. Rolled Oats
  • 2 TBS. Pumpkin or Sunflower Seeds (no shells)
  • 2 TBS. Flaxseed**You can use whatever type of seeds you have around. Flaxseed is high in Omega3, so I like it (note: it’s also called linseed- especially here in Latin America). You could use chia seeds, or you could skip the seeds all together, but I think they are what makes this bread have such a great texture.

    Multigrain bread 1.jpg

INSTRUCTIONS:

Dissolve yeast in water in a large mixing bowl or bowl of a stand mixer if using. Add honey (or sweetener of choice, salt, and measured flours to bowl. Mix until well combined, but it will still be very sticky. Add additional flour in batches (I add about 1/2 cup at a time) and knead it by hand (or with paddle attachment if using a mixer) until the dough no longer sticks to the side of the bowl. When the dough is elastic, no longer sticky, and can be formed into a nice ball, remove it from the bowl and set aside. Clean and dry the bowl and lightly coat with oil or non-stick spray. Return the dough to bowl, cover with a clean dish towel or loosely with plastic wrap (remember that the dough will rise and increase in size) and allow to rise in the refrigerator for 2 hours (or, if not pressed for time: allow to rise 2 hours at room temperature and another 2 hours in the refrigerator).

Multigrain bread 2.jpg After allowing dough to rise, add your oats and seeds to the bowl. Remove the dough from the bowl and turn out onto a floured work surface. Knead about 20-25 turns while working in the seeds/oats. Form the dough into a loaf shape and place in a lightly greased loaf pan (or just on a baking sheet if you’re not picky about the shape). Sprinkle a light sifting of flour on the top of the dough to keep the top from drying out and getting crusty. Cover loosely with plastic warp and let it rest at room temperature for 45-60 minutes (it will rise again). Multigrain bread 3.jpg  Toward the end of the resting time, preheat oven to 450 degrees and place a metal (do not use glass) pan (cake or extra bread pan) on the lowest rack in the oven.

When the oven is heated, remove the plastic wrap from the loaf and slash the bread (about 1/4 inch deep) a couple times on the top. When you are ready to put the bread in the oven, get 1 cup of hot water ready.  Place bread pan on middle rack of oven and quickly add the hot water to your empty heated pan on the lower rack (be prepared for bubbling and steam),  and quickly close the oven door. (The goal here is to create a luxurious sauna for the bread). Bake the bread for 28-38 minutes until it is light golden brown and has risen. Remove the bread from the oven and let rest in the pan for 5-10 minutes. After resting, carefully remove bread from pan and transfer to a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely before slicing. (If you’re impatient like me, and insist on cutting into it before it’s completely cooled, it will still be a bit doughy, but darn good anyway). Multigrain bread 4.jpg

Nutritional Information:

Nutrition Facts
Servings: 12
Amount per serving
Calories 167
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 1g 1%
Saturated Fat 0.2g 1%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 292mg 13%
Total Carbohydrate 33.9g 12%
Dietary Fiber 1.5g 5%
Total Sugars 1.6g
Protein 5g
Vitamin D 0mcg 0%
Calcium 8mg 1%
Iron 2mg 13%
Potassium 76mg 2%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet.2,000 calorie a day is used for general nutrition advice.

Pasta Primavera with Creamy Avocado Sauce

Pasta Primavera with Avocado SauceYes, the avocado tree continues to please me with a bounty. While I would probably never tire of avocado toast, guacamole, or just sliced avocado with lime and salt, I have been inspired to experiment. I don’t eat a lot of pasta, but every once in a while (like today after a run…or slow jog, if I’m being totally honest), I will indulge. This dish tastes incredibly rich, but is actually quite healthy. I used a spelt pasta, but any pasta would be great. For the vegetables I used zucchini, mushrooms, some kale and some cherry tomatoes, but absolutely any veggies would be great. This dish is vegan, but you could add chicken or shrimp if that suits you. Start to finish, this dish took about 25 minutes; it’s a great weeknight dish. (Serves 4).

INGREDIENTS:

  • Pasta of choice (about 200 grams)
  • 1 Medium size Ripe Avocado- peeled and pit removed
  • 1/4 Cup Basil
  • 3-5 Cloves Garlic
  • 1 Lime
  • About 2 Cups Chopped Vegetables of your choice (broccoli, zucchini, mushrooms, onions, spinach or other greens, red peppers, tomato or any combination)
  • Olive Oil
  • Water
  • Salt and Pepper

INSTRUCTIONS:

Bring a pot of lightly salted water to boil, and cook pasta according to package direction. In the meantime, in a large saucepan, saute the vegetables and 1-2 cloves of garlic in about 1 TBS. of olive oil. Pasta primavera with avocado saute veg.jpg

Note: saute vegetables in stages starting with the garlic and and vegetables that take the longest to cook (broccoli, coarse greens); finish with with more tender vegetables like mushrooms and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. As the vegetables cook, prepare the sauce. Add 1-2 cloves of garlic, the basil, and a drizzle of olive oil to a food processor and process until smooth. Add the avocado, lime juice, and a pinch of salt. Process again until smooth- add water a little bit at a time until the sauce reaches your desired consistency ( I like it a little thick). Taste and add more salt if needed.Creamy Avocado sauce for pasta primavera.jpg

When pasta is cooked, drain and add to saucepan with cooked vegetables, add avocado sauce and mix to combine. Pasta Primavera avocado combine all.jpg

Pasta Primavera with Avocado Sauce 2

Alternatively, you could just plate the pasta and top it with the vegetables and sauce, but I like everything well combined.

Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 320
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 14.9g 19%
Saturated Fat 2.8g 14%
Cholesterol 37mg 12%
Sodium 30mg 1%
Total Carbohydrate 41.1g 15%
Dietary Fiber 6g 22%
Total Sugars 5.6g
Protein 8.9g
Vitamin D 0mcg 0%
Calcium 49mg 4%
Iron 3mg 15%
Potassium 882mg 19%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet.2,000 calorie a day is used for general nutrition advice.

 

Avocado Season= Avocado Toast

IMG_6616 2.JPGI still haven’t quite figured out the produce “seasons” here in Costa Rica. Most produce is available year round, but the price might vary a little bit. Costa Rica is know for it’s microclimates, and I’ve experienced them first hand. I have dressed in long pants and a long sleeve tee because it’s been chilly (“chilly”might be a bit of an exaggeration – or so it would seem if I were still living in Michigan, but it’s amazing how quickly one acclimates) and I’ve travelled forty five minutes and I’m sweltering. The country is very small, but has many different climatic regions. So, while avocados have been readily available in the markets, the tree outside my cabin now has mature fruit; and that means it’s going to be “all things avocado” around here for a while! That is by no means a complaint; I love avocados and they’re so healthy.

When I was in NYC recently, I had killer avocado toast. How can something so simple be so good? My daughter makes amazing avocado egg toast, but today I was in the mood for something simple. My NYC avocado toast was topped with some pickled radish, onion and some sprouts and, let me tell you…that was transformational. Below is my version which just includes pickled radish and some cilantro (because that’s what I had around). I’m sure there are thousands of great toppings and recipes, but here is my super easy, super delicious version. And don’t be scared off by the “pickled”- it was just a matter of soaking the radishes (red or even white onion would work great too) in lime juice (or lemon or vinegar) and salt. I didn’t let it marinate for very long at all, the longer the better, but I was impatient and didn’t plan ahead, so mine only pickled for about 30 minutes. Pickling really takes some of the intensity of the heat out and just mellows the ingredients. The star of this dish was the avocado (and some good multi-grain bread), and the toppings simply served as a nice contrast. (Serves 2)IMG_6615.JPG

Ingredients:

  • Multi-grain bread (sourdough would be great too)
  • 1 Large Ripe (soft) Avocado
  • Lime/Lemon
  • Pickled Radish or Onion (see pickling instructions below)
  • Cilantro/Basil/Sprouts
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Cayenne Pepper (optional)

Instructions:

Prepare your pickled vegetables in advance– slice radish or onion very thin and cover with lime or lemon juice, sprinkle with a pinch or two of salt and let sit for at least 30 minutes. (If you’re marinating for much longer, do so in the refrigerator).

To make the avocado spread: peel and de-pit your avocado and remove any parts that are bruised or brown. Add avocado to a bowl and gently mash with a fork (I like a bit of a chunky texture). Squeeze the juice of 1 lime (if using lemon, maybe 1/2 depending on size) and sprinkle with salt and pepper (freshly ground is always best). Mix and taste for seasoning- add more lime or salt and pepper as needed. If you like a little heat, add some cayenne pepper (a little bit goes a long way).

Assemble:

Toast bread and spread avocado on top. Add your toppings and serve. This is definitely not something you want to prepare in advance (avocado becomes brown as it oxidizes- or is exposed to air, and the toast will be come soggy). If you do want to prepare your avocado spread a little in advance, store it in a bowl with plastic wrap (push the plastic down so it touches the avocado- preventing the air from reaching it).

Nutrition Facts
Servings: 2
Amount per serving
Calories 256
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 19.9g 25%
Saturated Fat 4.1g 21%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 170mg 7%
Total Carbohydrate 18.1g 7%
Dietary Fiber 7.9g 28%
Total Sugars 1.9g
Protein 4.5g
Vitamin D 0mcg 0%
Calcium 16mg 1%
Iron 1mg 6%
Potassium 518mg 11%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet.2,000 calorie a day is used for general nutrition advice.

Eating Fresh in Costa Rica

IMG_6038I posted this picture to Instagram a while ago with the caption “pinch me…it’s January and this is what I bought at the Feria Verde (Farmer’s Market).” One of the greatest things about living in Costa Rica is the access to incredibly fresh and delicious produce. It’s rare for a fruit or vegetable to not be “in season,” and there’s not much that doesn’t grow here. In my yard alone we have four mango trees (different varieties), and avocado tree, a fig tree, two lime trees (one with mandarin limes  which are typical here and one with what I would call “regular” green limes), an orange tree, and a star fruit tree. I have two of my very own pineapple plants (all you do is plant the top of a pineapple, and you can grow a new one). Surprisingly, we don’t have a banana or plantain tree; they seem to be in everyone else’s yards. When I moved in, the mangoes were in season; I made mango everything because it was heartbreaking to see them wasting away on the ground. If my freezer were bigger, I would have stocked up. As the mango trees in this area stopped producing, the price of mangoes increased a little, but they remained available throughout the year. One of the amazing things about Costa Rica is the different “microclimates.” Where I live in the Central Valley it tends to be cooler, but travel an hour or less toward either coast, and the temperature rises significantly. To make it easier to embrace the local offerings, I bought a little fold out guidebook with pictures and descriptions of native tropical fruits and have enjoyed sampling some of the more unusual varieties.

I’ve gotten to know quite a few of the vendors/farmers at the market and I often buy from the same people each week. Marta is my banana lady; she doesn’t speak any English, and despite my limited Spanish, we always manage a friendly conversation; she always asks about my kids whom she met when they were in town. Her bananas aren’t always the prettiest, but they are incredibly tasty, and I love supporting her. She has invited me to visit her farm in Cartago, and I look forward to doing so some day. My herb and greens guy is Geraldo (I only learned his name last week because he, too, invited me to visit his farm). He always has Lacinto kale as well as regular kale, bok choy (the Costa Rican version), arugula, spinach, lettuce, and amazing fresh herbs. He usually brings one of his two daughters to help him at the market. Interestingly, I’ve only seen one stand that advertises as “organic”- it’s just not really a thing here. Very few of the farmers are mass producers (although I think some of the vendors buy from other sources, but even the largest producers would still be considered relatively small), and because pesticides are not as readily available, and are expensive, most farmers avoid using them. Often times my kale has been “tested” by some critter. It actually makes me feel better when the produce I buy has some munched on spots, is smaller than what you might find in the US, or looks less than perfect. To me, this suggests that it has not been treated with pesticides. In addition to the fruit and veggie farmers, there are always individual vendors who sell eggs, chicken, fish, cheese, honey and jams, dry goods, fresh juices (I buy a glass of fresh carrot juice every time I go) and amazing coffee.

When people complain to me about how expensive food is in Costa Rica, I often question what they are buying and/or eating. There are what we call “Gringo grocery stores” (one is owned by Walmart, and the other is similar to a high end grocery store you might find in the US) and we have a version of Costco. So, if I really crave Honeycrisp apples (I haven’t yet), Brussel sprouts, asparagus, or lemons, I can find them- at a premium cost. I think lemons cost about $8 a kg. Boxed, bagged, or packaged foods tend to be fairly expensive here, but those are all of the foods that we should avoid. Dry goods and grains which are grown here (rice and beans) are incredibly inexpensive. So, I guess the point is that if you eat like a Tico (or Tica in my case), food is not expensive, but if you come to Costa Rica and only seek out imported or uncommon foods, your paycheck won’t last very long. I can’t remember exactly what I spent on all of the produce in the photo, but that’s a pretty typical Saturday morning haul, and I usually spend less than $35 US. I don’t buy much at the grocery store (I try to support my local neighborhood grocery), but I do occasionally  buy pasta, rice, dried beans, canned tomatoes and soda water- none of which are very expensive. While it can be challenging to find some ingredients (believe it or not, chili powder is nearly impossible to find here), it is definitely easy to eat fresh, healthy and local food on a limited budget.

Super Easy Super Creamy Hummus

img_6460-2.jpgHummus could probably be considered a “luxury item” here in Costa Rica. It is very expensive and can be challenging to find. For this reason, I started making my own.  I’ve only made two varieties, plain and roasted red pepper. To be honest, I’m not sure the roasted red pepper is that much different and might not be worth the extra steps, but often I roast peppers for a variety of uses, so when I do, I throw one into the batch of hummus.

I can’t remember where I stumbled across this particular hummus recipe, but I do remember my skepticism when I first encountered it. The trick to this hummus, and its creamy texture, is that you don’t drain the chickpea/ garbanzo bean liquid, and you microwave the the chickpeas with garlic, infusing them with the garlic flavor. I love a lot of garlic flavor to my hummus, but it can add a bitterness; this method eliminates that bitterness. One thing to keep in mind with this recipe, however, is to make it in advance so that it has a chance to cool before serving.

For reasons I have not yet discovered, (it seems like all types of citrus fruits grow spectacularly here) lemons are also a luxury item here. Limes (called “limons”) are the standard and the most common variety is the mandarin variety which has an orange fruit but a green peel. If you prefer lemons and have easy access to them, by all means substitute lemon juice for the lime juice (maybe decrease the amount a little at first since lemons tend to be more sour than limes- you can always adjust accordingly).

hummus 1.JPGINGREDIENTS:

1 Can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans) undrained

1/2 Cup Tahini

4-5 Cloves whole, peeled, fresh garlic

Juice of 1 lime

1/2-1 tsp. salt (to taste)

1 TBS. Olive Oil * (I’ve discovered this to be an optional ingredient because the time I forgot to add it, the hummus was just as good; so my thinking is, why add the extra fat?)

 

hummus-2.jpg

INSTRUCTIONS:

Pour chickpeas (with liquid) into a microwave safe bowl. Add garlic cloves. Microwave for about 5 minutes.

Add chickpea and garlic mixture, tahini, lime juice and salt  and olive oil (if using) to blender or food processor. Blend on high (scraping down sides as needed) until hummus is smooth and creamy. Taste and season with additional salt or lime juice as desired. The hummus will seem a bit thin, but it will thicken as it cools. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

*If you would like to make roasted red pepper hummus, simply add a roasted red pepper  (skin removed) to the blender with the other ingredients. There are tons of other add-in (cilantro is one I will likely try); get creative and just throw it in the blender.

I’m Back…after a Life Hack

waterfall picTo my faithful followers and occasional visitors, you may have noticed that my blog has been stagnant for quite some time…years, in fact. The reasons for this are numerous and varied, but best summarized by the phrase “life hack.”

Several years ago, I made a commitment to change my diet and lifestyle; as with most things in life, this was a process. I started by cleaning up my diet and being conscious of what I was putting in my body- this included eating leaner meats and introducing more fruits and vegetables. In addition, I cut out alcohol entirely…yes, I eliminated alcohol entirely. For most people, that seems like a very drastic choice, but it was actually easier than I thought, and I have no regrets. In addition, I started exercising (mostly doing yoga) on a regular (at least five days a week). The results: in a period of about eight months, I lost nearly thirty pounds, was able to get off blood pressure medication, and my overall mood and energy level improved drastically.

Since my humble initiative, I have stepped up my game quite a bit. I so fell in love with yoga and meditation that I decided to become a certified instructor. My diet continued to evolve, and I eliminated meat entirely. I am technically a “pescatarian,” but I think the best description is that I enjoy a primarily plant based diet, but I eat fish/seafood, dairy and eggs on occasion. Also, initially I eliminated all white sugar and white flour foods, and still avoid them for the most part. I like to think of my diet as pretty “clean”- avoiding processed and packaged foods (not really anything new for me since I love to cook) and focusing on simple healthy foods. Does this mean I will always take a pass on a delicious dessert (even one made with white sugar and white flour)? Hell No! I allow myself indulgences on occasion, and because they are mostly occasional, I enjoy them all the more.

My exercise has evolved as well. Yoga is still my primary focus (I enjoy a fitness oriented style of yoga which incorporates traditional asanas with cardio based high intensity interval training), but I also added some strength training (two days a week) which is great for building bone density and staving off osteoporosis. Most recently, I’ve added hiking and surfing (not sure the surfing will last) as added forms of exercise.

What I learned along my yoga journey is that yoga is much more than just a physical practice; it is a mental practice. I took this to heart to the best of my ability. I made meditation and gratitude reflections a regular practice (I had learned meditation techniques years earlier, but never committed to practicing it daily). I also began to evaluate my life in terms of “attachments,” and tried to simplify my life.

So, that was phase one of my life hack. I rejuvinated my physical health and made great strides in rejuvinating my mental and spiritual health. But as I looked more closely at my lifestyle and my daily life, I came to the realization that, despite my anti-materialistic views, the reality was that I was living a very materialistic life. I also came to the realization that it would be hard for me to change my life if I remained in the United States. This led me to the life-altering, and daunting decision to move out of the US. With both of my kids in college, and the results of a presidential election that left me filled with sadness and uncertainty, I decided better now than later.

As a teacher, I have the advantage of portability- particularly because I have experience teaching ESL. Getting a job was genuinely the least of my worries; it was all of the other logistics and details that caused more than a few sleepless nights. My heart was somewhat set on Costa Rica, but I was willing to consider opportunities anywhere in Central America which seemed like a world away, but is geographically not that far. An opportunity in Costa Rica quickly presented itself, and in a matter of days I had a job offer. I accepted the offer and immediately (3 months is not a lot of time to sell, give away and pack a lifetime of “stuff”) got busy with preparations.  My days and nights were spent determining what to sell, give away, or throw out, and then pricing and photographing everything that I planned to sell. I became a regular lister on ebay, poshmark, and Craig’s list, and welcomed many strangers into my home- many of whom helped cart off my “prized possessions,” while helping to add to my bank account. It was exhausting but exhilarating! A guy would come by to check out my compound mitre saw and would leave with a new set of dishes he didn’t even know he needed. Everyone left with gift bags or a pack of pretty paper napkins (a former obsession of mine) whether they wanted them or not. There were a few things I couldn’t part with; a friend is enjoying a few large antique pieces and an oriental rug (and also agreed to store my Christmas ornaments), my sister-in-law graciously allotted me basement space for family photos and keepsakes, and my daughter has a very well decorated college apartment. The thorn in my side was paperwork! I hired a friend’s son to scan recipes and important documents and I was able to recycle countless boxes of paper. In the end, I transported eleven suitcases to Costa Rica, and probably could have survived with only ten. Not included in that count was my dog Humphrey who miraculously survived a very long journey (that is worthy of a whole post).

From the moment I shared my decision to expatriate, I learned that many other people consider doing the same (even if only for a few years). I hope to eventually compile a few posts with some advice.

So, what can you expect from this blog? I’m not quite sure, but as my tagline reads… a little bit of everything. I love my “new life,” and hope that you will enjoy me sharing it.

As we say in Costa Rica: Pura Vida!

Chocolate Pumpkin Bark

Chocolate Pumpkin Bark

Chocolate Pumpkin Bark

Another day of student meetings, hence another day to experiment with pumpkin recipes. I love making “bark” around the holidays – it’s so easy and always well received. It occurred to me to try to create a pumpkin bark. I searched for recipes and there’s actually quite a bit of variety. Some recipes don’t use any pumpkin at all (just pumpkin pie spice), some use a candy base instead of chocolate, some look really healthy and hearty with nuts, seeds, and dried fruit, and some were very festive looking for Halloween. I encourage searching the many possibilities. As is typical, I morphed two recipes and adapted a bit for my liking and or what I had. I used semi-sweet chocolate (chips) because that’s what I had on hand, but I think I would prefer this made with milk chocolate. The semi-sweet (and also dark chocolate) has a more pronounced flavor which, in my opinion, distracted a little bit from the pumpkin flavor – and I was looking to have pumpkin be the star. Another option would be to do a layer of white chocolate on the bottom – this would be pretty and very festive for Halloween, but I’m not the biggest fan of the flavor of white chocolate. Whatever chocolate you use, choose a good quality. Anyway, here’s what I made:

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 Cups Milk or Semi-Sweet Chocolate (chips, chunks, or block broken into pieces)
  • 1 1/2 Cups White Chocolate (chips, chunks, or block broken into pieces)
  • 1/2 Cup Pumpkin Puree (unsweetened)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Pumpkin Pie Spice

INSTRUCTIONS:

Mix together pumpkin puree and spice mix in a small bowl – set aside.pumpkin and spice combined Line a baking sheet with wax or parchment paper. Melt your darker chocolate (either in a double boiler* or in the microwave). Melted chocolatePour the melted chocolate onto the baking tray and spread to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. The chocolate will not go all the way to the edges of the pan, and don’t worry about trying to make straight edges. Melt the white chocolate – if using the microwave, be careful not to overheat; white chocolate can be very sensitive. white chocolate chipsAdd the pumpkin mixture to the melted white chocolate. pumpkin and melted white chocolate combinedPour the white chocolate/pumpkin mixture over the spread chocolate on the baking sheet pour pumpkin white chocolate over bottom layerand use a knife or fork to swirl the top layer in with the bottom layer.swirled together Refrigerate until the chocolate is set. When hardened, break into pieces. break into piecesStore bark in the refrigerator to keep from melting.

*If you don’t have a double boiler, you can place a heat-proof bowl on top of a pot of water (water should just reach the bottom of the bowl).

Pumpkin Muffins (Revisited)

Frosted Pumpkin Muffin

Frosted Pumpkin Muffin

I decided to revisit my pumpkin muffin recipe-it’s not that I’ve run out of things to make with pumpkin, (gnocchi, fettucini, mousse, and many others are still on my list to try) but I had to make treats for my students today, and muffins are usually well received. I love my other pumpkin spice muffin recipe because it’s bold and has great flavor, but it yields a denser heartier muffin. Today I wanted a muffin that bordered on being a cupcake. I made a couple of adjustments (borrowing a bit from my pumpkin cake recipe) to achieve a lighter airier pumpkin muffin. (Despite achieving “lighter” muffins, I still felt it prudent to work a 5K “muffin run” into my day)!  Because pumpkin has a fairly high water content, I increased the amount of baking powder in the recipe, sifted the flour, and used baking (also called “superfine”) sugar. I did still use a fair amount of spice, but it was really the pumpkin flavor that shined through. And, of course, because these muffins were to be devoured by teenagers, I frosted them (I really frosted them!). It would be interesting to do a side-by-side taste test, but for now, I’m just happy that this batch was well received. (Makes 12-16).

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3  2/3 Cups Flour (sifted)
  • 1 Tbsp. and 1 tsp. Baking Powder
  • 1 tsp. Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. Ground Ginger (plus more for frosting – see below)
  • 1/2 tsp. Ground Nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. Salt
  • 1/2 Cup (1 stick) Unsalted Butter
  • 1 1/3 Cups Baker’s (superfine) Sugar (substitute regular if necessary)
  • 4 Eggs
  • 1  15-oz. Can Pumpkin Puree

For the Frosting:

  • 4 Oz. Cream Cheese (at room temperature)
  • 4 TBS. Unsalted Butter (at room temperature)
  • 1 tsp. Ground Ginger
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla
  • 1/2 Lb. (approx.) Confectioners (Powdered) Sugar

INSTRUCTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400 Degrees. Sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt in a medium bowl – set aside.sift flour

In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, add butter and sugar.cream together butter and sugar Cream together butter and sugar (if using stand mixer, use paddle attachment) until well combined.  Add eggs one at a timeAdd the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the pumpkin puree and beat again.Mix in pumpkin Add the flour mixture in 3 parts and mix until thoroughly combined.

Line a muffin tin(s) with paper liners. Fill each muffin cup at least 3/4 full (I filled nearly to the top). Ready for ovenPlace on center rack of preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes (check for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the center of a muffin – it should come out clean). out of the ovenRemove muffins from tin and set on a cooling rack. In the meantime, prepare the frosting.

Combine butter, cream cheese, vanilla and ground ginger in a bowl and beat until creamy. Add powdered sugar until desired consistency is achieved (I prefer a soft, creamy frosting, but if you want to pipe the frosting on, you’ll want to use more sugar).Frosting

Spread or pipe frosting onto cooled muffins (I don’t mind frosting when the muffins are still a little warm, but the frosting can be a bit drippy).

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Pumpkin Popovers with Maple Butter

Pumpkin Popovers

Pumpkin Popovers

Yes, the pumpkin obsession continues! Apparently, I am not alone in my reverie for all things pumpkin; I’ve received quite a bit of feedback from friends and readers who have expressed their love of pumpkin. I wonder if it’s the taste of the pumpkin alone, or possibly something more than that that makes me swoon for pumpkin anything. My childhood (and adult)  Halloween memories are quite magical, so maybe that’s an underlying factor. And there’s something about fall and the harvest season that brings out a thankfulness which maybe contributes to my reverie.

Well, enough of that – on to the popovers. As I mentioned in my regular popover post, these airy gems are a favorite in my family. They’re really quite easy to make and they are a fast alternative to traditional dinner rolls which require “rising time.” I altered my regular popover recipe to include pumpkin puree, traditional pumpkin spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves) and added just a touch of sugar for fun. These popovers are not really sweet – you could increase the sugar or add maple syrup or agave nectar if you’re looking for more sweetness, but I like them just the way they are. The addition of the pumpkin puree does change the texture of the batter, and the finished product is a little less light, but not doughy and still light enough to legitimately be a popover.

INGREDIENTS:

  • ¾ Cup plus 2 TBS Milk (not skim)
  • 2 TBS Pumpkin Puree
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 TBS Unsalted Butter (melted)
  • 1 Cup All Purpose Flour
  • 1 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice
  • ¼ tsp. Salt
  • 1 TBS. Sugar
  • Butter or Butter Spray to grease tins

INSTRUCTIONS:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Add milk, pumpkin, eggs and melted butter to the blender and blend until well combined and smooth. Add the flour, pumpkin pie spice, salt, and sugar and blend again until smooth and bubblyMix in blender 1. Place a muffin tin or popover pan in the preheated oven for 2-3 minutes until hot. Remove the tin from the oven and thoroughly grease each mold with butter or nonstick spray. Grease tinTurn the blender back on for 10 seconds to re-mix the batter. Pour batter into the tin filling each section 3/4 full. Place the tin inthe oven and bake for 15 minutes – DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DURING BAKING PROCESS. After 15 minutes, lower the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another 15 minutes. Remove from oven and remove popovers from tin when just cool enough to handle (I like to serve them hot, and I have very heat tolerant fingertips, so I do this almost immediately). Out of over)Serve warm. (You may want to poke a small hole in each popover or warn guests that steam will escape when broken open).individual popover

MAPLE BUTTER:

Combine 1/2 cup of softened butter and 1/4 cup of maple syrup (use a stand or handheld electric mixer for best results).Maple butter

popover with butter