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.

French Chocolate Macarons

I have wanted to make french macarons since I began culinary school. It just seems cliché, perfect, a responsibility of sorts for being in french cooking school.  But did we learn how to in Baking and Pastry?  Nope.  

It was time to take matters into my own hands.  I’ve got 5 weeks left of school and I have to work my remaining class time in Technique, the schools restaurant. So, I approached one of the chef’s about my macaron dilemma and he suggested I find a good recipe and test it out. Free rein and all the products at my finger tips?  OK!

Thank you David Lebovitz, this recipe is pretty darn amazing! (adapted with my own minor tweak from The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz)

Macaron Batter
1 cup powdered sugar
½ cup almond flour, needs to be really fine
3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
5 tablespoons,  granulated sugar

Chocolate Filling
½ cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces

**Special ingredient, optional. Get Ready….  Fleur de sel.  SEA SALT MACARONS.. I know, crazy. AND TDF (to die for)

Macaron Cookies

Preheat oven to 350*F

Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper or silpats.

In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients;  powdered sugar, almond flour, and unsweetened cocoa powder, set aside. *If mix is clumpy, pulse in a food processor to get a smooth flour like mixture.

Whip egg whites in a mixer until white peaks begin to form, add granulated sugar and whip until peaks are firm.

Carefully fold the dry ingredients, in two batches, into the beaten egg whites with a flexible rubber spatula. When the mixture is just smooth and there are no streaks of egg white, stop folding and scrape the batter into the pastry bag (standing the bag in a tall glass helps if you’re alone).

Pipe the batter on the parchment-lined/silpat baking sheets in 1-inch (3 cm) circles (about 1 tablespoon each of batter), evenly spaced one-inch (3 cm) apart.

Bake for 9-11 minutes.  *Oven temps will vary so please test out a cookie or two before you bake.  The book recipe calls for 15-18 minutes, but I found in my commercial oven that 11 minutes dried them out completely, 10 minutes was ok, and 9 minutes was perfect for a crunchy outside and chewy inside.  It all depends on what texture you are looking for.

Dark Chocolate Ganache Filling

Heat the cream in a small saucepan with the corn syrup. When the cream just begins to boil at the edges, remove from heat and add the chopped chocolate. Let sit one minute, then stir until smooth. Stir in the pieces of butter. Let cool completely before using. The chocolate will turn into a spreadable paste, but should not be runny.

Spread or pipe a bit of ganache on the inside of the macarons, sprinkle a pinch of coarse Fleur de sel, then sandwich them together. Let them stand at least one day before serving, to meld the flavors.

Since we perfected the recipe to our liking, I decided to make little drizzle cookies for my other classmates to try. All agreed David Lebovitz is the man.

Thanks for reading and have fun making these delicate treats! xo-G

Did I mention, I’ll be in PARIS IN THREE WEEKS!! Ever been? Please comment with suggestions to do/see/eat!!

Cocktail Time! Grapefruit Basil Martini’s

Over the years my Mom and I have had a few snow bird vacations to Longboat Key, Florida.  Last year was probably the most memorable and yet forgettable since we kept finding ourselves imbibing at cocktail hour like we were regulars after the twilight ladies golf league.  However, this was not the case, we were just boozy ladies on vacation.

One of my favorite cocktails was the Tommy Bahama Grapefruit Basil Martini.  With summer nearly here and Bar-b-q season around the corner, I thought I’d share this porch/deck/boat/grass/rooftop/picnic table libation with all of you!  It’s tart, herby, and slightly sweet.  You almost feel  healthy drinking it!

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz Premium Vodka
  • 2 oz Freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
  • 1-2 tsp simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water)
  • 2-3 Basil leaves

To get started:

  1. Muddle a few basil leaves with the simple syrup in the bottom of a glass or shaker.
  2. Add the vodka, grapefruit juice, and ice.
  3. Shake until very cold and strain into a martini glass.
  4. Garnish with a basil leave and serve.

Voila… Cocktail time!  Have a safe and happy memorial day weekend! xo-G

Homemade Pork Gyoza

I love dumplings.

They are little presents full of happiness for your mouth and almost every culture has their version; pork, fish, beef, vegetables or sweets can be baked, fried, steamed, or boiled. What a versatile food! But when I think of dumplings, I think of Asian pork dumplings, my favorite.  Savory, spicy, and a tad sweet all in the same bite.  I didn’t realize until I started making them the other day that I’ve never actually had homemade dumplings; I usually just order them at restaurants. And lets be honest, they probably pull them from a cardboard box in the freezer.

I have this great little Sushi place a few blocks up from my apartment called Zen, and until the other day they had my all time favorite pork dumplings. Well Zen, I’ve found you out and I have an even better recipe. My dumplings have the same flavors, but with actual chunky ingredients, not a solidified ball of meat, which makes them a slam dunk.

Skip the take out tonight, and whip up these little pockets of love, you will thank me.

INGREDIENTS:

Blanching the Bok Choy:

  • 8 oz Bok Choy
  • 2 qts water
  • 2 tsp salt

In a small pot bring water and salt to a boil. Once a boil is reached, add bok choy stems and blanch until tender (about a minute).  Shock in cold water.  Next, add the bok choy leaves to the pot and blanch until wilted, about 30 seconds. (this will happen quickly so keep a close eye) Shock the leaves in cold water.  Remove the bok choy and pat dry on paper towl, set aside.

Making the filling:

  • 1 lb Lean Ground Pork
  • 2 egg whites, whipped until frothy
  • 2 oz soy sauce
  • 1 oz sake (optional)
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1.5 oz sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup Scallions, diced
  • 8 oz bok choy, diced
  • 2 tbsp Ginger, minced
  • 2 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp, pepper
  • 2 tsp, red pepper flakes

In a mixing bowl, whip the egg whites until frothy. Combine the pork and mix in the soy sauce, sake, sugar, sesame oil, and mix well together with hands or a fork.  (*Having a box of disposable kitchen gloves nearby is good for a project like this).  After the liquids are mixed, add the ginger, scallions, garlic, pepper, red pepper, and bok choy. The filling is now ready.

Why make pot sticker wrappers when you can buy them! No brainer. A package of gyoza wrappers contains 40-50 wrappers and will cost around $3. Boomski!

To start making the dumplings, line your work space with a piece of parchment paper, this will minimalize the gyoza wrappers from sticking to the bare counter.  Also, place a piece of parchment paper in a sheet tray, this is where you will place your ready-to-be-cooked bundles of tastiness.

Lay out 5 or so wrappers to start on your parchment lined work space. In the center of each dumpling add about a 1/2 tablespoon of filling. This will be trial and error.  I started off with a full tablespoon and quickly found out that the wrapper could not encase that much, but 1/2 tbsp was too little.  You’ll figure it out. Using a finger, dab in a small cup of water and run it along the edge of 1/2 of the gyoza wrapper, fold in half and secure the seams with a few good pinches, pressing the dough together.  Try to make sure to get most of the air out. Reserve on the parchment lined sheet tray and begin the process again with the remaining wrappers and filling.

Cooking the Dumplings:

Flash steam/boil them 4 or 5 at a time in a saute pan filled with about 3/4″ boiling water. This will take about 1-2 minutes.  Pull them from the water and let sit on a parchment lined sheet tray. In a second saute pan add enough cooking oil to coat the pan, around 1/2 inch and heat just until the oil begins to smoke. Make sure the dumplings are fairly dry before tossing in the hot oil.  Scorching hot oil and water do not get along.  Pan fry until golden brown on both sides and serve with my dumpling dipping sauce.

For the sauce:

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbsp ginger, finely minced

Let me know how yours turn out! Thanks for reading- xo, G

Béchamel sauce; 3 ways for Chicken, Pasta, or Fish

My Brother is a 20-year-old college student at the University of Utah, who, get this, likes to cook! And likes to cook with his roommates!   Between, their pow pow sessions and snowy mountain camping trips, they break out the aprons, and get dirty in the kitchen. This blogs for you, Bo. Chicken, as requested; a few different ways.

Starting with a basic Béchamel sauce, many different flavors can be achieved.  This is not the healthiest of sauces, however it is NOT coming out of a can, you know what you are putting into it, and it does not contain insane amounts of sodium, preservatives, or ingredients you can’t pronounce, so… perfect! That’s already better than most of Cooking with Sandra Lee‘s recipes.

Béchamel, 3 ways

Basic Béchamel sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2-3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup heated milk
  • salt
  • white pepper
  • freshly ground nutmeg (optional)
Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and stir until mixture is well blended. Gradually stir in hot milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sauce begins to boil and thickens. Simmer, stirring frequently, over very low heat for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and add a little nutmeg, if desire. Makes about 1 cup of medium thick sauce.

Mustard Sauce
Combine 2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon of chopped tarragon or chive. This sauce is especially good with fish and chicken.

Herb Sauce
Add 2 teaspoon of freshly chopped herbs or 1 teaspoon of dried herbs to the Béchamel. Cook for a minute or two longer to get more flavor from the herbs. Best for Fish.

Mornay (cheese) Sauce
Add 1/2 cup grated cheese (any kind of cheese) to 1 cup hot  Béchamel. Stir over low heat until cheese is melted. Season with a little mustard or Worcestershire sauce to taste. Best for Chicken or Pasta.

Chicken with Mustard Cream Sauce

These sauces are incredible easy, and I bet you already have most of the ingredients at home.  Next time you’re trying to think of a new dinner idea, give this a shot. For best results, pair with a vegetable, such as asparagus or green beans and a buttery glass of chardonnay.

Happy Cooking, and thanks for reading, xo-G