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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Ultimate Lemon Drop Martini with Fresh Raspberries

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(Becky, the Mama.)

There’s something so right about snow in the winter.  Chestnuts roasting, Jack Frost nipping, sleigh bells ringing… Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

But when it is mid-April and barely a daffodil has bloomed in my yard, there’s not a speck of green or a bud on the tree, and you look outside expecting to hear birds singing and instead you see snow blowing… it is just plain WRONG.

I adore Colorado ¾ of the year,  but I’ve got to find a way to get outta here in Spring when my native Texas eyes long to behold green, my skin aches for the warmth of the sun, and the cook in me is ready to  fire up the grill on the patio, and mix a refreshing cocktail as Greg and I visit on the porch swing.

Yesterday,  while we were experiencing this out the patio door…

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….I decided it was time to take the weather into our own hands.  We’d simply  have to make our own sunshine. Out came a bag of fragrant lemons and my handy juicer. Then, vodka and bottle of Italian lemoncello- a gift from my thoughtful friend Lucille, upon her return from Europe. Finally, just to show off, I pulled a fresh basket of raspberries out of the fridge and plopped them on the counter too.

Now then, wasn’t it pretty? Things were looking brighter already.

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I do not like to boast, but may I just say, I make the best Lemon Drop Cocktails around?  Not too sweet, not too tart.  Plenty of real lemon flavor.  And when you float a few brilliant red raspberries in this refreshing drink, and add a lovely twist of lemon peel, really, who cares if it’s April and there’s still stubborn case of  Winter lingering outside your window?

Inside, we stayed happy and cuddled by the hearth, toasting the (eventual) coming of Spring.

Cheers!

 In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer ~ Albert Camus

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Ultimate Lemon Drop Martini with Fresh Raspberries

1 part fresh squeezed lemon juice

1 part lemoncello liqueure (It is found in most liquor stores on the liqueur aisle. It is made from vodka, sugar and the zest of lemon)

1 part vodka

twist of lemon peel slice,  and 3 fresh raspberries per glass

Ice for shaker

Sugar for rim, if desired

Pour first 3 ingredients over ice into a martini shaker.  (For a generous martini, I use about a 1/4 cup of each “part” per person.  For less Spring-deprived people, living in balmy southern climates, this will probably make  enough for two people. But if you are still living in places where you are  shoveling your driveway in mid-April, go for the generous pour.) Shake, shake, shake your winter blues out.  Rub a bit of fresh lemon juice  around the rim of a martini glass, then dip in a shallow plate of sugar to line the rim. Drop in 3 fresh raspberries and a twist of lemon peel.

* If you prefer a sweeter cocktail, add a little agave nectar or simple syrup.

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