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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Light, Airy, Crispy Bacon Waffles (Best. Waffles. Ever.)

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(Becky, the Mama.)

If there was one dish I loved more than any other as a child, it would be my mother’s homemade waffles.  Life was good when that enormous waffle iron was plugged in and heating up.    She used a recipe for “Oh Boy!” Waffles from her stained, yellowed, old copy of her  red and white checked Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.  I asked for them for my birthday and every special occasion I could find or make up.

I’ve tried dozens of other waffle recipes, and none compares to this very old standard.  Today I substituted almond milk for a little more than half of the diary milk and used a light olive oil in place of the vegetable oil in the original recipe.

Insert me high five-ing myself right here.  No kidding.  The BEST WAFFLES I’VE HAD IN MY LIFE.  Period.

Light as air, crispy…. Simply perfect.    To me there is nothing worse than a heavy waffle, the kind where,  if you take one bite you feel like you already ate the whole waffle and need to go lie down.  If you, like me, prefer an airy, tender waffle, brown and crisp on the outside, a waffle that leaves you perfectly, lightly satisfied instead of feeling like you swallowed a ball of dough,  prepare to fall in love.

We also love bacon with waffles, and I’ve found that cutting the bacon up before browning (I use kitchen shears) and then stacking the pieces atop the waffle to serve not only looks pretty, but allows you to easily get a little bite of bacon with each bite of waffle.  Plus you get a little syrup (we indulge in pure maple syrup and close our eyes at the price), on the bacon:  maple and bacon together make a very happy coupling in your mouth.

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Airy, Crispy, Bacon Waffles

Make 5-6 Round Belgian Waffles

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I always give the flour in my canister a little stir, then lightly put the flour into the measuring cup, leveling off)

4 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons  sugar

2 large eggs

1 1/4 cups almond milk (I used 30 calorie per cup brand)

1 c. dairy milk (I used 1 percent)

3/4 cup light olive oil  (plus oil for waffle iron)

8 slices bacon, cut in 1/3’s,  cooked crisp and drained

Directions: 

Heat waffle iron to your desired temperature, putting a little olive oil on the bottom iron, closing the lid to let it distribute well and let the oil get hot. (I always use the Dark setting to get them extra crisp)

 In a large mixing bowl, whisk the flour baking powder salt and sugar together.  Make an indention in the middle of the dry ingredients and put eggs, almond and dairy milks and olive oil in the indention. Whisk the wet ingredients in the middle of the bowl and graduation pull in the dry ingredients around the sides until thoroughly whisked.  Batter will be loose, and you make think it is a bit on the then side.  Also as it sits it will begin to rise a bit in the bowl.

Using a long-handled measuring cup, put about 3/4 cup batter into hot iron.  Cook to desired crispness.

Put waffle on a plate and pile up the bacon pieces in the middle, like a little bacon haystack.

Add butter and syrup and enjoy a little bite of bacon with every piece of waffle…  (I also like a little squeeze of fresh orange atop my waffle, for a bright citrus taste.)

Leftovers: Since this recipe makes quite a bit of batter you can use leftovers in two ways:  1) go ahead and make more waffles, on the light side, put them in ziploc bags and refridgerate or freeze.  When ready to heat,  put them on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees until re-crisped and golden.  2) Save leftover batter in Tupperware container in fridge.  Just before making waffles, add another 1/2 t. baking powder to batter to help revive the “lightness”  and cook as above.  This is my favorite method.

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Christmas Wreath Salad with Cranberry Orange Vinaigrette

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(Mama Becky)

I’ve been mulling over this year’s Christmas Dinner Menu for our big blended family.  My goal is always to use recipes that are delicious, tasty, and pretty — but are no-brainers to make and serve.

For the main dishes, I  decided on my never0fail, always juicy slices of Tri-Tip roast in au jus; and a nice center cut of grilled Norwegian salmon from Whole Foods, our favorite cut of fish.  This should please the beef eaters and the fish eaters alike.

I recently discovered some delicate, amazing-tasting fresh “pasta purses” stuffed with cheeses and truffles at, of all places, Sam’s Club.   After cooking them in boiling water, I gently ladled  them into a quick rich sauce made of cream, a little garlic, Parmesan cheese and basil. To. Die. For.  And silly easy.  I now have my perfect fancy-but-simple Christmas side dish to put on the menu.

Finally, to add some freshness and crunch to round out the meal,  I thought I’d make a salad.  But I didn’t want an old boring salad.  Then –  faster than a speeding reindeer it came to me! I’d make a Christmas Wreath Salad.  I’d arrange the greens on a plate like a wreath, dot it with red berries, both fresh and dried, sprinkle with nuts and top with  feta cheese “snow” and tuck a bow at the bottom of the plate.  Then, what could be more festive to drizzle on this pretty salad than a vinaigrette inspired by my favorite cranberry-orange relish?

As I write this, it seems the whole country is blanketed with snow and ice. Here in Denver  it is a balmly… 1 degree.  Our front yard proved to be the perfect place to chill the salad and snap some photos.  Let me assure, I didn’t dawdle with the camera outside for long. In fact this was probably the fastest — and coldest – food photography session I’ve ever done.  Greg and I sampled this trial-run salad as a one bowl supper tonight by topping it with some warm, sliced deli roast chicken.  Big, Holly Jolly win.

By the way, if you are looking for an uplifting, fun gift for teachers, girlfriends, moms, grandmas or cooks in your family … may we suggest copies of We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook?

We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook - Gift Wrapped

Our memoir is truly one of those perfect, generic, happy gifts that anyone on your list will enjoy.  The recipes at the end of each chapter add extra value.  The book is available online everywhere, and in most bookstores; but if you would like an autographed, wrapped copy check out Rachel’s last blog post with instructions on how to contact us.

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Christmas Wreath Salad with Cranberry Orange Vinaigrette

 Ingredients:

About 4 to 5 cups of salad greens (I used chopped romaine and arranged spinach leaves on top of the “wreath mounds)

½ cup of whole nuts (I used pecans and pistachios)

¼ cup of dried red berries – cherries or cranberries

½ cup of fresh red  berries – slice strawberries or pitted fresh cherries

1/3 cup crumbled feta or goat cheese (or if you prefer, grated white cheddar, parmesan, swiss or other white cheese)

Directions:

On a large round plate, put a small bowl for the salad dressing in the middle.  Arrange salad greens around the bowl to make a “wreath”, then dot the wreath with nuts, dried berries and fresh betters.  Finally sprinkle with feta “snow”.    Fill the bowl in the middle with the following vinaigrette and serve chilled.

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Cranberry Orange Vinaigrette

1 cup fresh  cranberries
1 medium navel orange or 2-3 clementines, peeled and broken apart
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup red wine or balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon mustard
1 teaspoon grated onion  or dried minced onion

½ t. garlic powder
2/3  cup olive oil

Directions:

Put all ingredients into a blender or food processor and process until smooth, and turns a gorgeous raspberry red.  Keep in fridge until ready to serve.

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Cheesy Garlic, Fresh Tomato Bread with Oil & Balsamic Drizzle

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Cheesy Hot Garlic Bread with Tomatoes, Drizzled with Olive OIl and Vinegar

(Becky, the Mama.)

What fun  Rachel and I are having hearing back from readers enjoying We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook. Here’s one I got a kick out of today from Linda: “Becky I’m only on page 18 and I’m laughing out loud like a nutcase. You really have made a career out of telling on yourself! OMG, too funny and you’re not exaggerating, not even a little? Starting with misplacing your car keys in Nashville, your suitcase exploding at the airport, you can’t find your car once you arrive in Fort Worth, then when you do, the battery is dead? I’m dying over here.”

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People often ask my daughter (now co-author), my friends, my husband, “Come on, tell the truth. Is Becky making this stuff up?” All they can say, with a slow head shake is, “We only wish she were.”

As I read the fun note above, I was in the middle of posting this episode on Facebook:
Leaving hotel room today. Close door, get 4 big suitcases in hall.
Me: “Uh I took my glasses off again.”
Greg: “Did you leave them in the room?”
Me: “I might have.”
All four  of our keys are behind locked doors so Greg goes to get new ones. Upon his return, I say, “I also can’t seem to find my cell phone.” He enters the room and turns it upside down. I look on the carpet, I’ve been sitting on the phone in the hall. I find my glasses, in the case where I put them in my suitcase. I don’t remember doing that AT ALL. We close the door pick up our things and go on. Greg never gets mad, not even testy. No matter how many times we exit a hotel room this way.

Life has been so busy lately with the book’s release and travel and finding things I have lost,  that when I do cook I want it to be fast and easy and delicious. One of the things I enjoy the most at some of the great Italian restaurants we’ve visited on our trip to Oregon this week, is fresh homemade bread dipped in a little plate of olive oil, good aged balsamic vinegar and a little garlic. Heaven.

Recently I found a way to turn Heaven into a quick snacky meal or a wonderfully easy appetizer for a bunch. Cutting a nice fresh loaf of French bread lengthwise, I sprinkled it with cheese, then layered sliced fresh garden tomatoes, followed  tiny pinches of salt, pepper, basil or oregano (fresh or dried, whatever you have on hand), a little fresh grated garlic. Pop this in the oven until the cheese melts and tomatoes are sizzling. Then, here’s the fun part: drizzle it all with good olive oil and balsamic, cut in slices and serve with plenty of napkins.

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Cheesy, Garlic, Fresh Tomato Bread with Oil & Balsamic

1 French baguette, sliced in half lengthwise

1 cup grated cheese (I used mozzarella, some white cheddar and feta. Use any combination you like.)

2-3 tomatoes (my baguette was small so Roma tomatoes were perfect size), sliced

Pinch fresh salt

Several turns of fresh pepper

1 t. dried oregano, or 2 t. minced fresh basil

1 clove fresh garlic, grated

¼ cup olive oil, approximate

2 T. good aged balsamic vinegar

Directions:

Preheat Oven to  400 degrees

Put both baguette halves on a baking sheet, cut side up.  Sprinkle about ½ cup grated cheese on each side.  Slice tomatoes and place atop both pieces of bread, overlapping slightly as shown.  Sprinkle each half with a little fresh salt, some turns of fresh pepper, the herbs and garlic.

Place in oven for about 5 minutes or until baguettes are hot, cheese is melted and tomatoes are sizzling.

Drizzle the baguettes with oil and vinegar, slice in 3 inch pieces and serve hot.  (With plenty of napkins.)

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Kale “Popcorn” (or Leprechaun Food)

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(Becky the Mama)

As Kermit the Frog would say, “It’s not easy being green.” Only around here, the saying goes, “It is not easy to get my family to eat green things.” If, God forbid, a stray piece of “green stuff” – from chopped basil to green onions or kale – should land on my husband’s plate, he looks at me as though I’ve betrayed him…. with malice and forethought.

Thankfully children are more easily tricked… er… uh… persuaded. I told my grandson George that, together, we were going to make Green Popcorn. He was all in, as he loves to participate in any kind of “cooking with Nonny.” I had him tear the leaves off a bunch of kale into bite-sized pieces, then we rinsed them lightly and I let him spin the salad spinner, which one of his favorite kitchen tools. We then tossed the leaves in a bowl of olive oil and melted butter (butter helps give it the popcorn-taste) spread them on cookie sheets, sprinklee them with just a tiny bit of sea salt and baked until they were light as a feather. In fact, kale will almost fly off the cookie sheet after baking.

For extra fun I put them in popcorn bags, and sure enough, George LOVED them and asked for more. He ate almost a whole bunch of kale in one sitting. With this success behind me, I went after my husband in Sam-I-Am style. “You know that a lie I cannot tell, you will SO love green popcorn kale… “ He was willing to sample them and before he knew it he’d eaten the whole bowl.

“What do you think?”

“It really does taste like popcorn. I could eat this as a snack now and again quite happily.”

Eureka! Dr. Furhman, author of many books and PBS health guru, lists kale as the #1 food to help boost immunity and fight cancer.  It’s got more iron than beef, lots of Vitamin C and K, is high in fiber and full of antioxidants.  I’m posting this blog on St. Patty’s day, so you could tell you children that you are going to make some Leprechaun treats! Hey, whatever it takes to get your family to eat their greens and come back to report that they were “magically delicious”.
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P.S.  As long as we are nourishing our body with green things,  here’s another lovely green thing you can acquire to nourish your heart, mind and soul! 

 

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Kale “Popcorn” (or “Leprechaun Food”)

1 bunch fresh kale, leaves torn off of stem into chip-sized pieces
1 T. olive oil
1 t. butter, melted
Sea Salt

Preheat Oven to 350 Degrees
Rinse the torn up kale leaves then dry them very well in a salad spinner or blotting them on with clean tea towel. Toss them with clean hands in a bowl with the olive oil and butter. Spread the leaves out on a big flat cookie sheet, so they are just barely touching. Use two cookie sheets if needed.

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Sprinkle VERY LIGHTLY with sea salt. (Just a pinch for the whole pan. Because the kale shrinks up it is easy to over-salt them.) Bake about 8 -10 minutes. Stay near the oven and check them often. When they are light as a feather and starting to brown and get crispy, remove them and let them cool to the touch. We like them still warm and fragrant, served in popcorn bowls or bags as a snack. They also make nice crispy toppings for soups or pasta dishes.

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The Title: Kale “Popcorn”
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Golden Parmesan Chickpeas & Garlic Slices

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(Becky, the Mama.)

So, this is the story of how I ended up eating an ENTIRE CAN of garbanzo beans (chickpeas) in one sitting yesterday.

My daughter’s slow and steady vegan influence upon me seems to have caught fire of late.  Either that or I had some really awful meat-based meals last week.   We went away to a hotel for fives days so that I could finish up my part of some detailed edits on our upcoming memoir, We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook.   

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During my self-imposed confinement I ordered an “Asian Salad” from the hotel café –which turned out to be tasteless squares of chicken tossed in wilty Iceberg lettuce with a thick flavorless mayo-based dressing. Later, hope still afloat, I ordered a gyro, which was made from salt-less pre-cooked dry roast beef chips smothered a sauce that tasted of thickened water. I arrived home a few days later with a sudden and strange aversion to anything cut from cow or fowl.  I almost kissed my fridge and pantry, so happy was I not to be at the mercy of  restaurant cooks who are lacking in taste buds.  

Searching for a quick meatless meal, I remembered that Rachel roasts chick peas in the oven with a little olive oil and seasoning.  They are yummy and easy. “I’ll make some roasted chickpeas!” I said to myself.  “I’ll get loads of protein and fiber and I won’t have to eat meat today.” (There are 7 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber in ½ cup of garbanzos, and a scant 125 calories.)

Well, one idea led to another and by the time I finished, I created a snack that I could not stop eating until every single bean (or pea) was gone.  It began when I  decided to try sautéing the garbanzos in olive oil in my trusty iron skillet. Then I threw in some sliced fresh garlic near the end of the cooking time so they could turn a golden brown (but not burn) and add extra flavor and crunch. After draining them on a paper towel, I squiggled a touch of  agave nectar over them to give the beans and garlic a light sweet, sticky surface then sprinkled them with sea salt and Parmesan cheese. 

These little snacks have it all going on: some crunch, some chewiness, some garlic, some salty and savory, and just a hint of sweet.  They can be eaten out of hand or tossed on a salad or atop a pasta for a quick vegan or vegetarian treat.

They would go fantastic with an ice cold beer at a Super Bowl party this weekend for vegans, vegetarians and omnivores alike.  (Although vegans will need to use Vegan Parmesan Cheese, found at most health food stores.  I keep this on hand for Rachel and Jared and it’s quite tasty.)

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Golden  Parmesan Chickpeas & Garlic Slices

Ingredients

 1 16 oz can chick peas (or garbanzo beans), drained (I do this on a paper towel to get them as dry as possible)

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¼ cup olive oil

3 to 5 garlic cloves (depending on how garlicky you like your food) peeled and sliced thin

2 t. agave nectar

Sea Salt to taste

Parmesan Cheese to taste (start with 1 Tablespoon and add more if you like)

Directions

Pour oil into a skillet and heat until very hot.  Put chickpeas in skillet and let them get brown on most sides.  Just before the chickpeas are ready to take out of the skillet, add the garlic slices and sauté until brown.  (If the pain is dry, you can add more oil at any time.) 

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Drain the chick peas and garlic on a paper towel.  Put into a bowl and gently toss with agave nectar.  Add sea salt and Parmesan cheese to taste.    Serve warm or at room temperature.   Excellent source of protein and fiber atop salads, sandwiches or pasta.

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The Title:Golden Parmesan Chick Peas & Garlic Slices

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


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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