Ultimate, Everything Pumpkin Bread (with cherries, nuts, sunflower seeds and cream cheese)

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(Becky, the Mama.)

Yesterday, Colorado was cool, misty and alive with Fall color.  I snapped this picture out my upstairs bedroom window . Through the window pane and the mist, the photo came out looking like a painting, so beautiful it seemed almost unreal.
Room with an Autumn View

On a day like that, what else is there to do but curl up with a book and a blanket, take a long nap, then wake up, pad to the kitchen and bake pumpkin bread?

I searched for what I hoped would be the perfect recipe for pumpkin bread: I wanted it to be moist, spicy and full of tasty surprises.  I narrowed it down to six recipes.  In the end,  I threw elements from all six recipes into the bowl and pans, adding special tweaks of my own. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I’d doubled the spices, used both brown and white sugar plus a tad of maple syrup, folded chopped pecans and dried cherries into the batter.  Then I thought, “Why not?”  as I plopped dollops of whipped cream cheese in the middle of the batter. Then I wondered, “What could make a nice sweet n’ salty crunchy top crust?” I reached for brown sugar and roasted salted sunflower seed kernels.  Then I popped the loaves into the oven and waited.  I had created either a masterpiece, or disaster.  I worried I might  have tweaked this recipe to death.

Well, I am pleased to announce the results are in and they are a 10.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is the BEST pumpkin bread I have ever tasted, moist with deep flavor and so many treats-to-the-senses per bite: the sweet tartness of the cherries, the smooth bits of cream cheese and satisfying chew of baked-in-pecans.  The crunchy crust… with a hint of salt and sugar..oh. my.

But don’t just take my word for it. Try it yourself next time the baking mood hits you on one of these cool fall days that beckon you to the kitchen. And feel free to tweak away and make the recipe even more your own– switch out the dried cherries for any dried fruit you like, or use chocolate chips (hmmm… white chocolate chips? Butterscotch chips?).  Use nuts you prefer or have on hand.  I never let what’s not in my pantry keep me from making a recipe.  Go with what you’ve got,  what sounds good… and most of all,have fun.

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Becky’s Epic Pumpkin Bread

(Makes 2 loaves)

3 cups flour 

1 cup sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar

2 t. cinnamon

1/2 t. ginger

1/2 t. cloves

1 t. nutmeg

1 t. almond extract (optional)

1 1/2 t. salt 

3 t. baking powder

1 t. baking soda

4 eggs

2 T. maple syrup

2 cans (16 oz each) pumpkin 

2/3 cup light oil  (I used olive oil as it was all I had on hand.  Worked beautifully.) 

1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (can use up to 2/3 cup if you love nuts)

1/2 cup roughly dried cherries or cranberries  (can use up to 2/3 cup if you prefer more dried-fruit-per-bite)

whipped cream cheese ( I used a light variety that comes in a tub)…  about 1/2  to 2/3 cup

For Topping:  

1/4 to 1/3 cup brown or turbinado sugar 

1/3 to 1/2  cup roasted, salted sunflower seed kernels  (If you can find fresh roasted pumpkin seeds this are also delicious instead of the sunflower seed kernels,  as are sliced almonds.)

 

Directions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees

Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl with a whisk. Create a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add eggs, syrup, pumpkin, oil.  Whisk the wet ingredients together as you slowly incorporate the dry ingredients as well.  Finish stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula, slowly folding in pecans and dried cherries.  

Grease and flour two loaf pans.  Pour (or spoon) 1/4 of the batter into each pan, and spread evenly.  Then dollop heaping teaspoons of whipped cream cheese across the surface of the batter in both pans.  Pour the remaining batter over the top of the cream cheese, dividing it evenly between the two pans. Smooth with spatula.

Sprinkle the tops of the batter with brown or turbinado sugar and sunflower seeds.  

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until top is golden and a toothpick in the middle comes out clean. 

Cool thoroughly before serving.  I think the flavors of this bread get better as it sits and cools.   Freezes beautifully. 

Note: I made this at high altitude with no problem.  Many quick breads use more baking soda, but I just hate the after-taste of baking soda. This option rises perfectly, but without that funky  soda aftertaste…

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Oat Nut Fruit Gems

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(Becky, the Mama)

My mother, Ruthie, went from loving her sugary desserts (a la last week’s Honey Slice cookie recipe) to a diet almost completely without sugar a couple of decades ago.  A health crisis with her blood pressure and heart, meant major changes in her daily diet – all for the better.  Out went everything white: sugar, white flour and white rice… and in came the brown and fiber-filled replacements.  But, we are not the sort of women to suffer deprivation in our family.  Being the creative and resourceful cook, Mother found several ways to satisfy her sweet tooth while also getting healthier, sporting an adorably slim figure, and having more energy than women decades younger than she!

This is one of my all-time favorite sweet, healthy, satisfying treats that she baked. She served them in a pretty cloth-lined basket at a family supper and they disappeared in what seemed like minutes. Everyone from kids to adults raved about them.

The basic ingredients are so simple:  oats, mashed bananas and grated apples.  From there you can throw in the kitchen sink:  any nuts, seeds, flavorings or dried fruit that you like.   Another bonus is that you can serve this recipe to most of the people in your family (or friends) on special diets.  The recipe is naturally vegan, and if you use gluten-free oats, it is gluten-free and can easily be adapted to use less sugar or made sugar-free.  Kids not only love them, but as you can see from my little helper below, they also love to help make them.

My grandson Georgie, furiously mashing the bananas with a potato masher.

My grandson Georgie, furiously mashing the bananas with a potato masher.

If you want to create warm memories of baking with little ones this Christmas, but prefer not to send them into a Sugar Orbit in the process: this is the perfect mom and child, or grandma and grandchild project, to whip up together.

The texture is somewhere between a muffin, an oatmeal cookie, trail mix, and baked oatmeal.  Made with sugar they get a nice crunch on the outside but are moist and slighty chewy on the inside.  Perfect for quick breakfasts-to-go, they also make great snacks for school lunch boxes and any outdoor enthusiasts in your family.  Wrapped in foil they are wonderful sources of energy when hiking, camping or snow-boarding.

This recipe makes 2 dozen.   Best stored in fridge and then heated for a few seconds in microwave.

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 Oat Nut Fruit Gems

Preheat Oven to 350 degrees

Ingredients

2 large bananas, mashed (use 3 if bananas are small)

2 large peeled apples, grated (use 3 if apples are small)

3 cups oats (I like Old Fashioned Oats for the chewier texture)

½ t. sea salt

1/3 c. raw organic sugar (or use other sweeteners such as brown sugar or coconut sugar or even  Stevia, according to taste )

½ c. dried chopped fruit (I used dates and dried cranberries. Coconut also works well in this recipe.)

1/2 nuts and/or seeds (I used walnuts and pecans)

2 t. vanilla

 

Directions

Mix all of the above together in a large mixing  bowl.  Spray or oil muffin pans.  Fill them about 2/3 full and gently press down with back of spoon. if you want them to look more muffin-like you can mound them a bit in the middle, as they won’t rise. (No leavening or eggs.)

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Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until just golden brown around edges and top.

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When cool to touch, gently remove from pan.  If not eaten in a day, store in fridge in a sealed bag or plasticware and zap for a few seconds in microwave to warm.

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The Title: Oat Nut Fruit Gems
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Super Healthy Almond Kale Salad with Clementine-Maple Dressing

(Becky, the Mama. )

Greg and I just spent two days on a road trip, driving from snow-covered Denver to the blue skies, hot air balloons, rusty-red mountains, green grass, gorgeous flowers and warm sun of Arizona.  As soon as we pulled into the parking lot, I grabbed my bathing suit from the suitcase (still in the car) ran into the condo and threw it on, then dashed to the swimming pool. The sun was still in the sky, but sinking, so I arranged my lounge chair just so, where I could get the maximum rays, then sat down and basked and beamed with happiness. For as long as I can remember I’ve been a sun and a water baby. I wore my dark hair in two braids, as a little girl, and by summer’s end I always looked like Pocahontas, my skin as “brown as a berry,” my mother said.

To this day, I wonder if I am part Indian, as I disdain shoes and socks, preferring to be bare foot, even in the winter. I seek out sun like a lizard, anywhere I can find it. I do know that my grandmother Nonny and her family came to Sweetwater, Texas from New Mexico. Her eyes were a twinkling blue, her hair a stunning natural silver, and her skin turned a deep olive every summer.  She loved being outside in her garden, always in a flower print dress (I never saw her in slacks), and if we grandkids were lucky, she’d see and catch a baby horned toad, which us we loved to hold and play with more than any store-bought toy.

But I digress.  Back to the pool.  When I could see the sun dipping in the sky, I jumped out of the lounge chair, hurried back to the condo, grabbing this and that from boxes of food stuffs and ice chest we brought from home – kale, dried cherries, hemp seed,  sliced almonds, Clementine oranges – quickly creating the world’s fastest salad. Then photographing it while there was still natural light on the patio overlooking an emerald green golf course. After two days of road trip food burgers and fries, my body was craving something green and healthy.  This is truly a Super Salad, loaded with nutrition – and it was soo yummy, I know I’ll be making it again and again.  The nice thing about using kale in salads is that the salad still has lots of chew and crunch the next day, and in fact,  it seems to get even better as it has time to sit and soften a bit in the dressing.

Super Fruit & Almond Kale Salad with Clementine Maple Dressing

Ingredients for salad:

2 to 3 cups of chopped kale, leaves only – no stems (I was able to find it pre-chopped and mixed with some shredded carrots in the grocery produce aisle)

2 Clementine oranges, peeled and pulled apart in sections

2 T. dried cherries or cranberries

1 T. hemp, flax, or chia seeds

2 T. sliced or slivered almonds

1/4 cup sliced water chestnuts

Ingredients for Dressing:

¼ cup red wine or rice wine vinegar

Juice from 1 Clementine orange

1 T. pure maple syrup

1 t. soy sauce

2 t. good mustard

¼ cup olive oil

dash garlic powder or about 1/4 of a fresh garlic clove, grated

Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions:

Put kale in a large  bowl and knead and massage it with clean hands for a minute. This will break down the fibers and make the kale tender enough to eat raw.  (Sometimes I run hot water over it in a colander to soften the kale first, knead it, and then rinse again in cold water.)  Add all the rest of the ingredients for a salad and serve in a pretty flat platter.   Whisk all the ingredients for the dressing together and drizzle over the salad.  Serve and enjoy.

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The site URL: http://welaughwecrywecook.com
The Title: Fruit and Almond Kale Salad with Clementine-Maple Dressing
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© Copyright 2012 – All Rights Reserved


Gobble-Gobble Turkey Toast with Pumpkin Butter (Cooking with Kids)

Turkey Toast

(Becky, the Mama.)

Over twenty years ago now, I walked into a classroom in my debut as a first grade teacher.  

And then, I retired after 9 months of faithful service.

I was a great teacher, in that I loved my students, taught them well and had loads of fun.   On the other hand, you may have noticed that most teachers are gifted at organization and rather enjoy (or at least have a knack for) ordering small children to do their bidding immediately. Organization was never my strong suit: just counting the morning’s lunch money and turning it into the office could bring me to tears.   And I’m more of charmer and a cajoler than an “orderer.”

I slept-walked through much of that fuzzy year.  I do remember the day, however, when one of my students raised their hand and asked, “Teacher, why do you have one red shoe and one black shoe on?”   I looked at my feet and sure enough, the child was correct.  The only answer I had to offer was pure mental exhaustion.  

Now that I am a grandmother, however, I get the best of both worlds.  I get to play and create with the grandkids, and have all the time in the world to give them focused individual attention. 

This recipe is so simple and fun for Autumn, Halloween and Thanksgiving,  breakfast or snack-time,  that moms, grandmas and teachers can all let their little charges have a go at it.  And as treats go, this is a pretty healthy one, especially if you use a good whole grain bread.

The toast is slathered with a simple pumpkin spice peanut butter, then after you cut it into the desired shapes to create either a pumpkin or a turkey,  the kids can smear it with the pumpkin butter and decorate it with a variety of nuts, dried fruit, chocolate chips or marshmallows.

Turkey Toast with Pumpkin Butter

 Makes one toast turkey large enough to feed  two to three small children.

3 pieces of bread (I used Ezekiel Sesame Bread), buttered and toasted (Vegans can use Earth Balance butter)

2 heaping Tablespoons canned pumpkin puree

1 heaping Tablespoon peanut butter (or almond butter or any kind of butter you prefer)

1 t. brown sugar

1 T. pure maple syrup

Pinch salt

½ t. cinnamon

¼ t. ginger

 

Assorted toppings, about ¼ cup each in small bowls (or little piles on a big plate)  coconut, chopped nuts, edible seeds of any kind, chocolate chips, dried fruit such as cranberries, raisins or cherries.

Instructions:

Butter & toast the bread (preferably just toast the top by broiling it as it cuts a little easier).

Leave one piece of the bread whole, then cut one piece like this:

Cut the next piece like this:

 

Mix the next 7 ingredients until smooth with a fork in a small bowl.  Spread the pumpkin-spice peanut butter on the toast and assemble the turkey. (I used a large dried cherry for his wattle.)

Let the kids decorate the turkey’s toast “feathers” with the various toppings, then dive in and eat!

 

You can also make three pumpkins, by turning the toast upside down, then cutting the corners of the toast – rounding them a bit and leaving a fat stem, like so:  (Note: Most marshmallows are not vegan, you may just let the kids use raisins for mouth.)

This was printed from: We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook
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The Title: Gobble-Gobble Turkey Toast with Pumpkin Butter
The URL: http://wp.me/p1UwM9-JW
© Copyright 2012 – All Rights Reserved


Super Food Hemp Chocolate Treats (Candy & Mocha Frappuccino)

I have recently been singing the praises of hemp seeds (“the new flax”), and telling everyone about their health benefits. Of course, every time I mention the word “hemp” someone jokingly asks if I get high from eating hemp seeds.  I say, “No, the Getting High part of the plant is not in the Hemp Seed part.  Really, this is just the way I am normally, organically, without any psychotropic help.”

Which is true.  And probably why I’ve never understood the need or desire to smoke pot or even nibble on a THC-laced brownie. Life in my own natural born head is all the “high” I can handle, and certainly Life with “Normal Becky” is challenging enough for my family without any
“special enhancing.”

I spent a few days in a hotel room with my daughter Rachel last week at a food blogging convention. She was trying so hard to be patient but one morning, in exasperation, she said, “Mom, I know you are somehow trying to be organized, but there are six Ziploc bags on the bathroom counter and all of them are filled with miscellaneous stuff that doesn’t go together in any logical way. Here’s a bag with lipstick, a hair clip, a pen, and a bottle of aspirin. And even the aspirin bottle is filled with everything but aspirin!”

My mind is a place you probably would not want to go into alone, but somehow I’ve managed to get by in this world, probably through the kindness of strangers and an overworked, stressed-out team of angels.

So I don’t touch “recreational drugs,” but I am fascinated by Super Foods that may help  boost brain function.  When researchers found that dark chocolate was full of antioxidants and flavonoids — beneficial for the heart and brain –it was a happy day.  When creamy  coconut oil proved beneficial for digestion, healing and possibly even weight loss;  and crunchy almonds were touted for their anti-inflammatory properties, Vitamin E and minerals — things got even happier. And then, hemp seeds were found to be a Super Food. They taste like slightly green sesame seeds and are full of protein (11 grams in 3 Tablespoons) with 10 amino acids, chock full of Omega 3’s and 6’s in perfect balance. A vegan’s dream.

I offer you not just one, but two, recipes that make use of Super Foods and taste irresistibly indulgent.  The mocha hemp  frappuccino  makes mornings worth getting out of bed for.   And the Super Food Dark Chocolate Hemp Candy – let’s just say you are about to meet your new best recipe friend.  A couple of pieces of this sensuous dark chocolate treat  is especially delicious alongside a few fresh berries and a cup of  tea. (For health benefits it is hard to beat white tea.) The additional fiber in the candy makes it surprisingly filling, so as tasty as it is, I don’t find myself over-indulging.

Super Food Dark Chocolate Hemp Candy

Makes about 12 to 15 chocolate drops      

Ingredients

1 3.2 oz bar of 70% chocolate (My favorites are Newman’s Own and Chocolove brands, they are both rich and smooth without bitterness)

2 T. coconut oil

2/3 cup hemp seeds (found in any health store and most large grocery stores on “organic aisle”)

¼ chopped almonds (I love the roasted salted version in this recipe)

2 T. dried cranberries or other chopped dried fruit of your choice (coconut flakes would also be yummy)

Directions:

Slowly and carefully melt chocolate and coconut oil together in a microwave, stopping every 10 seconds to stir and stopping just as soon as chocolate has melted.  Stir in rest of the ingredients until well coated.  Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls on a parchment lined plate or cookie sheet.

Put in fridge (or freezer if you are in a hurry) until firm.  Keep leftover pieces in a tightly covered container in the fridge.

Hemp Mocha Frappuccino

Ingredients:

1 cup unsweetened almond milk

½ frozen banana

3 ice cubes

Instant Coffee granules (amount to your taste – I like an organic version that comes in individual sleeves)

1 T. organic corn-syrup free chocolate syrup (such as Ahlaska brand)

1 – 2 T. Hemp Seeds

Directions:

Blend until smooth, serve in a pretty glass cup and wake up happy!

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The Title: Super Food Hemp Chocolate Treats (Candy & Mocha Frappuccino)

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© Copyright 2012 – All Rights Reserved


Confetti Rice Pilaf Stuffed Avocados (with Feta, Cranberry, Walnuts)

One of my prized possessions is a postcard with a handwritten note from the late marvelous, hilarious, one-and-only Erma Bombeck.  I wrote her a fan letter, telling her I was praying for her health. To my shock and surprise she took time out of her day (and dialysis) to send this encouraging note to me right after I got my first book contract.

One of my favorite columns by Erma was called “The Leftover Food Syndrome.”  It began, “I have never known a woman who can look at a mound of leftover food….and throw it away –the first time around.”  Erma then describes the leftover ritual known (genetically) to all women. After you wrap the left over in a container of your choice (“no leftover is too small to occupy shelf space”), you put it in the fridge and then over the week, each member of the family takes turns opening up the container asking, “What IS this?”

The object of this game is to never throw away the leftover as long as you can still recognize it. “It is not thrown away until it recognizes you,” Erma quipped.

What I love about this recipe below is that it uses up all those little bits of leftovers before they recognize you!  The savory, sweet, nutty, colorful rice makes a great side dish, or with the addition of extra nuts and cheese or little bits of ham or chicken — a wonderful light lunch or dinner.

Confetti Rice Pilaf Stuffed Avocados

Confetti Rice Pilaf Stuffed Avocados

Serves Six

Ingredients:

1 Tablespoon Olive

1 Tablespoon Butter (or Earth Balance for vegans)

2 cups cooked rice, any combination you like or have leftover (I had brown, jasmine and wild rice on hand)

1/4 cup dried cranberries (raisins or other chopped dried fruit can work as well)

1/2 cup chopped cooked veggies, any combo, whatever you have leftover (I had carrots and edamame today)

1/4 cup toasted nuts (walnuts were on tap for this recipe)

2 T. crumbled feta or goat cheese  (skip this or use a vegan cheese substitute if you are vegan)

3 avocados, cut in half, seed removed

Directions:

In a large skillet, melt butter and oil. Toss in rest of the ingredients until warm and heated through.  Salt and pepper if needed.  Just before serving toss in cheese and stir.  Fill avocado halves with mixture, letting some of the rice fall around the avocado on the plate as well.  One avocado makes a nice side dish, two make a meal in itself!

Variation:  Use leftover grains instead of rice, such a quinoa or bulgur

This was printed from: We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook

The site URL: http://welaughwecrywecook.com

The Title: Confetti Rice Pilaf Stuffed Avocados

The URL: http://wp.me/p1UwM9-nA

© Copyright 2012 – All Rights Reserved


Cranberry Orange Kale Salad

The Condiment Queen, that’s what I call my mom. At any given moment she has no less than 100 condiments lining the door of her refrigerator. Growing up, we always had at least ten varieties of mustard, ample obscure relishes, and enough barbeque sauce to smother 50 pigs … yet (due to raising four teenagers & a revolving door of their hungry friends) we were almost always out of milk, bread, and other essentials.

She loves her condiments so much, she even travels with them. Last week I peeked into the back of my refrigerator to see a jar of orange marmalade. I didn’t buy that, I thought. My mom always has orange marmalade in her refrigerator though. She must have traveled all the way from Denver to Dallas with it the last time she visited, in fear, I’m sure, that there might be a shortage of condiments in my fridge.

In honor of my Condiment Queen mama and her beloved orange marmalade, I used the remainder of the jar to dress the salad at our Easter lunch. The sweet dressing went perfectly with the slightly bitter massaged kale greens, dried cranberries, and slivered almonds. It would be great on spinach or mixed greens too if we haven’t sold you on the delicious wonders of one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet yet (at least according to the Whole Foods Aggregate Nutrient Density Index.)

Cranberry Orange Kale Salad

Serves ~ 6

Ingredients

1 bunch of kale, washed & dried

2 T. orange marmalade

3 T. olive oil

1 T. apple cider vinegar (or white wine or regular vinegar)

2 T. orange juice (I used one clementine)

Salt & pepper to taste

A handful of slivered almonds

A handful of dried cranberries

Directions

First, take your clean and dry kale and massage it with your hands for a few minutes until it looks like it has been lightly sauteed. It will significantly reduce in size and soften up quite a bit. Think deep tissue massage. Kale is tough and can take a nice firm touch.

(As is, kale is very fiberous and takes a long time to chew, but massaging kale breaks down the fibers and makes it nice and soft like sauteed kale with all the benefits of eating raw greens.)

Next, mix the marmalade, olive oil, vinegar, orange juice, and salt and pepper together. Taste for seasoning. Toss the kale with the dressing. Top with slivered almonds and dried cranberries.

Make this a main dish for 2-3 people by serving it on a bed of quinoa, or topping with grilled tofu, chicken (or vegan chick’n strips).

This was printed from: We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook
The site URL: http://welaughwecrywecook.com
The Title: Cranberry Orange Kale Salad
The URL: https://welaughwecrywecook.com/2012/04/12/cranberry-orange-kale-salad