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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MOIST Chocolate Layer Cake with Buttery Mocha Frosting (& Story of My Daughter’s Unforgettable Birth)

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Today is my daughter’s 30th birthday!  Sadly, Rachel lives too far away to celebrate with in person  today (she is in Texas,  and I am in Colorado). So I’ve had to make do with texts, Facebook posts, emails,  phone calls, Twitter and now, a blog in her honor!

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I have great stories about each of my children’s entrances into the world, but Rachel’s birth story wins the Most Exciting Award, hands down.

She was born three days after Christmas.  From December 23 to December 28, I  was the proverbial pot waiting to boil, only in my case my visiting family  was waiting for me to give birth.  It was the coldest winter on record in Texas and ice had frozen inside the windows.  After enjoying my two sons who were age 3 and 5, I could not help dreaming of a baby girl.  Ultrasound pictures were rare in those days, so we did not know the sex ahead of time.

Because my previous home births had involved long painful labors, when I woke up with contractions this third time around, they weren’t terribly painful.  So I decided to just lie still, on my side,  in the peaceful darkness and labor quietly by the light of the Christmas tree.  I didn’t want to wake my husband, parents or sister who were visiting us over the holidays, until I was sure I needed help.  This plan went surprisingly well, until I felt something like the urge to push.

I decided to wake up my husband with this news.  His eyes grew large as he announced, “Becky, I see the baby’s head!”  This set off a Three Ring Circus with my Dad manning the wall phone in the kitchen talking to the midwife, then shouting directions to my mother who was standing in the living room, who relayed them to my then-husband standing at the end of my bed, like a baseball catcher. My college-aged, organized little sister, who is not fond of feeling out of control was, I believe, hiding in the guestroom taking notes in her journal under“Things I Must Never Ever Do.”

The ice on the highways was so thick, and I’d waited so long to sound the “Baby is Coming!” alarm, that the midwife could not possibly get there before the baby’s entrance.  Rachel slipped into the world and soon, into my arms, fairly easily.  However, she was not breathing on her own, so I reached into our “Home Birth Kit”,  grabbed a suctioning bulb and went to work.  It wasn’t long before she took her first beautiful breath. We looked in each other’s eyes and made friends immediately. I named her Rachel Praise, after my sister Rachel.  Interestingly, the two Rachels in our family both prefer less-crazy, less-messy lives than I’ve lived. Lives where they keep schedules, know what day it is, give birth in hospitals and don’t mind “bothering” other people when they go into labor.  However, all three of us love to laugh and ended up writing books of family humor.  (My sister’s latest is The Well-Lived Laugh –ebook download is just $1.00 this week,  and ours is We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook.)

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As soon as I could stand and walk, I scooped up my new daughter and headed to a store, with her big brothers dressed in cowboy boots and hats trailing behind. I walked in and bought 3 lacy bonnets. Before the days of hair bows on stretch lace, it was a frilly bonnet that would say to the world, “Baby GIRL here!” and I wanted the world to know my beautiful newborn was a SHE.

Besides remembering the story of Rachel’s birth (as I do every year on this day in some way),  I decided to have a piece of this incredibly moist and buttery, made-from-scratch homemade chocolate cake in her honor.  In fact, I had it for breakfast… because these are the kinds of sacrifices mothers make for their birthday girls.

This cake is a variation of the famous recipe on the back of Hershey’s Cocoa.  The frosting is extra rich, soft and fluffy – made with lots butter and melted chocolate.

 You are most welcome to join us in celebrating Rachel’s birthday today by whipping up this cake.  Then stand back and watch people swoon.  Seriously it is the kind of chocolate cake that provokes moans not unlike those of Meg Ryan’s in the movie,”When Harry Met Sally”.

Happy Birthday, Dear Rachel!  I am so glad you were born.  So proud of you as a wife and mother.  So thrilled that we got to write a blog and book together this year.  So many good things have happened in the world, because you were born.

 Now, let’s eat cake!

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MOIST, Chocolate Layer Cake with Buttery Mocha Frosting

Ingredients (Adjusted for High Altitude,  See “Normal Altitude*” measurement adjustments below)

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons sugar*

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup Hershey’s cocoa

1-1/4 teaspoons baking powder*

1-1/4 teaspoons baking soda*

1 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk*

1/2 cup light oil such as sunflower, canola or light olive oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup boiling water mixed with 1 T. instant coffee (or 1 cup strong hot coffee, brewed)

Directions

Heat oven to 350°F.

Grease two 9-inch round cake pans.  I use Pam spray.  Then cut a circle of wax or parchment paper to fit in the bottom of the pan.  Re-spray the top of parchment with Pam lightly.

Sift flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add sugar, eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Carefully, stir in hot coffee, with the mixer on low, or use a hand whisk.  The batter will be very thin. Pour batter evenly  into prepared cake pans.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost with fluffy mocha frosting.

  • Normal Altitude Measurements:  2 cups sugar, 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda, 1 cup milk
  • Vegans: substitute milk with soy or almond milk; use Earth Balance Butter Sticks in place of dairy butter, and Ener-G Egg replacer for eggs.

Buttery Mocha Frosting

6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips or morsels  (Vegans use dairy-free chocolate chips)
1 cup  (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature (really important this be at room temp)  (Vegans use Earth balance butter)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 – 5  Tablespoons Strong coffee, cooled

Carefully melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler or use the microwave but watch carefully, only nuking 10 seconds at a time, just until you can stir it smoothly.

Beat the butter until it is light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add vanilla. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, the melted chocolate,  and then add one tablespoon of coffee at a time until the frosting is smooth and creamy and will spread easily, but don’t whip it.  Spread immediately on the cooled cake.

This cake is best served at room temperature.    If I make it a day ahead, I put it in the fridge and then let the cake sit at room temperature for several hours so the frosting will soften up to serve the next day. My favorite way to handle leftovers (if there are any) is to cut slices and wrap them individually, very well,  in plastic wrap.  Then when I want a piece, I unwrap it and put it on a place, and microwave it about 15 seconds to soften.

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Marinated, MOIST, Grilled Turkey Tenderloins

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(Becky, the Mama.)

*Update: This is our MOST popular recipe on this site!  Thanks so much for making it so!  Be sure to also check out a new and awesome recipe for juicy,  marinated grilled Pineapple Teriyaki flank steak.  Also melt-in-your-mouth delicious.)

“What is Sue making for dinner?” I asked Greg on the way to our friend’s home for a patio supper.

“I think she said turkey tenderloins,” Greg answered.

I must admit, though I knew Sue Kennedy to be a fabulous cook, I prepared myself for the dry, tasteless poultry that turkey breast has always been in my previous experience. (Obviously, I’ve not yet perfected the art of a moist Thanksgiving bird yet!)

So when Sue and her husband Jason served us a beautiful piece of grilled, moist turkey tenderloin, loaded with flavor, I was in awe. Then I asked for seconds. And then I woke up thinking about it the next day – the sign of truly memorable meal.

“Okay, Sue, how did you turn turkey breast into meat butter?”

She sent me a recipe for marinade with lots of ingredients, but all of them were in my pantry. The tenderloins are best if you can marinate them for a few hours or overnight. Sue recommends using a digital meat thermometer to eliminate guesswork and avoid overcooking. (Eventually, I’m going to buy myself one of those gadgets.)

Turkey tenderloins typically come two to a package and are a little smaller than pork loins. In fact, they look a lot like chicken breasts, if the hen was named Dolly Parton. Two other benefits: this turkey is moist as can be, but has very little fat and is a great low-cal source of high quality protein. In addition, it is very affordable and the leftovers make fabulous sandwiches. (Try turkey, whipped cream cheese. green onions and cranberry sauce sandwiches!)

Don’t be too daunted by the list of ingredients: use what you have on hand and just substitute something similar if you are missing an ingredient or two. I have made a couple of tweaks to Sue’s recipe, and you can feel free to do the same and make it your own. Marinades are awfully forgiving. As long as you have something salty (salt, soy) something a little sweet (teriyaki, sweet chili sauce, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup),  something garlicky (fresh or powdered)  and acidic (wine, vinegar, citrus juice) in the mix, it is probably going to be yummy!

Most of us are ready to get our health and our waistlines back in shape after the holidays, and this is a great recipe (under 170 calories in 3 oz serving)to put in your New Year file!  I served these tenderloins pictured using the second grilling method in the recipe below.  I roasted chunks of zuchhini, yellow squash, mushrooms and garlic with a little olive oil, salt, and balsamic vinegar for a side dish. Lip-smacking good meal!

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Turkey Tenderloins

2 pound turkey breast tenderloins
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 1/4 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
• 1/4 cup teriyaki sauce
• 1 t. hot sauce such as Tabasco
• 1 T. maple syrup
• 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
• 2 T. Worchestershire sauce
• 1 tablespoon spicy brown or Dijon mustard
• 3 garlic cloves, minced
• ½ cup wine, beer or cola
• Grill or Steak Seasoning (enough to sprinkle both sides of tenderloins)
Directions
Sprinkle all sides of turkey will steak or grill seasoning.  (Or salt and pepper.) In a 2-cup measuring cup or bowl with pourable “spout” – whisk all the ingredients for marinade. Pour 2/3 cup into a Ziplock bag; add turkey. Seal bag and turn to coat; refrigerate for 4 hours to overnight, turning at least once more during that time. Cover and refrigerate remaining marinade.
When ready to cook, discard marinade that is in the bag with the tenderloins, then proceed to cook using one of the following methods.

Outdoor Grill: Using long-handled tongs, moisten a paper towel with cooking oil and lightly coat the grill rack. Grill, covered, over medium heat for about 7-9 minutes on each side or until a thermometer reads 170°, basting frequently with reserved marinade.

Alternative Indoor Method: Use a nonstick grill pan that has been generously coated with olive oil and grill tenderloins on both sides until dark golden brown grill marks appear.

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Put in a preheated 350 degree oven and cook about 10 more minutes or until internal temp reaches 170 degrees. Remove from oven, immediately cover with foil to let juices redistribute before slicing. Heat reserved marinade to boiling in a small sauce pan and drizzle over the tenderloins.

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The Title:Marinated, Moist, Grilled Turkey Tenderloins
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This was printed from: We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook


“Band of Brothers” MOIST Bourbon Brown Sugar Pork Loin

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My husband Greg (Right) with Buck Compton (center) and Don Malarkey (left) two WW2 heroes portrayed in Band of Brothers. This was taken in Bastogne.

For those of you who have seen the HBO miniseries, “Band of Brothers,” you may recall the choking-back-tears comment from Don Malarkey as he described his comrades of the 101st Airborne, many decades after WW2. “Brave, so brave… it was unbelievable.” Greg and I had the privilege of a lifetime 4 years ago, when we got to spend 2 weeks in Europe with Buck Compton and Don Malarkey, two of the paratroopers portrayed in Band of Brothers.

We stood at the sea of white crosses in Normandy as a friend played taps. Don, Irish and emotional, wept openly as Buck wiped away a tear and swallowed. We walked with these old soldiers through the Bastogne forest where they once nearly froze and starved in foxholes to protect our freedom in the Battle of the Bulge. They remember their dear friends whose legs were blown off in this lovely green forest, once white with snow and red with blood and lit up with terrible fire and noise of war. I gathered pine cones on that misty summer day, to give to my children and grandchildren. To help me remember the sacrifice so many made to secure our freedom.

We visited with a family whose parents/grandparents were liberated from their own home by Easy Company soldiers. The family showed us a room with a red stain on the floor. It was were a Nazi was shot and killed. They looked at Don and Buck with such admiration and gratitude.

Everywhere we went these two vets were instantly surrounded when people heard that there were American paratroopers among us. They are rock stars in Europe where children grew up hearing of the “angels coming out of the sky” in parachutes to save them from the German soldiers.
They are rock stars to me.

Greg and I had lunch with Don this year as he was passing through town with a friend. He’s had to give up his beloved nightly nip of Johnny Walker for his health now that he is 90. His hearing is going, but he seemed awfully pleased when I kissed him on the cheek.

A kiss for a hero, Don Malarkey of “Easy Company” portrayed in the Band of Brothers.

Buck, dear Buck, that gentle brilliant kind soul passed away in January.  (Click here to read one of many tributes to this brave, humble man who eventually became a judge. )

I doubt there will ever be a Memorial Day when I don’t think of that trip and those heart-tugging experiences, and of these men.

Thank you to Don & Buck for sharing your stories (see information on their biographies below) and for risking your lives for our freedom.

Since Don can’t toast Memorial Day with a glass of scotch anymore,  I’m dedicating this Bourbon Pork Loin recipe to him and all the Easy Company men.  (The recipe is also “easy for company.”)  Since the alcohol burns off, it’s safe to serve to the whole family.  It is one of Greg’s absolute favorite meals, and every man I’ve served it to looks heavenward with joy after they take a bite.

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“Band of Brothers” Bourbon Pork Loin

Oven 350

Serves 3 to 4 (easily doubled for a bigger group)
1 small pork tenderloin
1 1/2  t. Cajun seasoning (I like Tony’s)
1 T. brown sugar
1 T.  olive oil
1 T. butter
1/4 c. Bourbon, Whiskey or Scotch

Brown Sugar, Bourbon, Tony’s, Butter — 4 ingredients to sublime pork loin

Directions:
Heat oven to 350.
Rub the pork tenderloin all over with Cajun seasoning and brown sugar.  Put oil and butter into an iron skillet (or other ovenproof skillet) over high heat. Once the oil is very hot, put the tenderloin into the pan, turning heat down a bit,  and brown until golden on all sides, turning with tongs.  Don’t worry about getting it done in the middle, just get it pretty and brown on the outside.  Remove pan from heat.  Pour bourbon over all and roll the tenderloin in the juices now  in the pan.  Cover lightly with foil and place in oven.  Cook for about 20 minutes or until just done in the middle.  Pork loin is often overcooked and this is what makes it tough.  If you have a meat thermometer cook until it registers 140  degrees.  Remove from oven.  Let it sit for at least 5 minutes, covered to let juices redistribute.

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Slice just before serving in thin slices, ladling a little of the pan juices over it.  Delicious with baked sweet potatoes and a green veggie or salad.
Note to Vegans or Vegetarians: This method can also be used to cook slices of tofu.  Just do not cover it when you put it in the oven and remove earlier, after about 10 minutes.
** If you’d like to read more about Buck and Don check out their books on amazon.com
Call of Duty by Buck Compton http://tinyurl.com/m6ld3t
http://www.marcusbrotherton.com/(Marcus is the collaborator and has fabulous video/pictures relating to Buck’s book)
Easy Company Soldier by Don Malarkey http://tinyurl.com/kvsxtz
Recently Marcus Brotherton interviewed and collected stories from the 101st airborne (Easy Company) into a book called: We Who Are Alive and Remain:Untold Stories from the Band of Brothers by Marcus Brotherton.
http://tinyurl.com/ox69nx
http://www.bandofbrothersbooks.com/(website with video)
This was printed from: We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook
The site URL: http://welaughwecrywecook.com
The Title:  Bourbon Brown Sugar Pork Loin
The URL: http://wp.me/p1UwM9-kL
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