Saturday, October 22, 2011

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

Just a warning....these muffins are addictive! I found this recipe last fall and have made them quite often since then. Truthfully, I even made them in the middle of April because they sounded so good and I had some frozen pumpkin puree to use up. I whipped up a batch of these muffins a few weeks ago so that my husband could enjoy these before he left. 

On a personal note, blogging is going to be sporadic the next couple of weeks. I officially have seven days left with my husband before we are separated (military) for five months. We found out that he was leaving four weeks ago and since then, our time has been a blur of packing, preparing and squeezing in every moment together. The house is almost all packed up. About half of the Melt kitchen is going into the storage unit; the other half is traveling in the car with me as I venture to Wyoming to spend time with my grandparents and then drive across the country to live with my dear sister and be close to my parents. I will continue to blog from "guest kitchen's" as I will not be in my own. We will have to see how it all works out! I hope to be able to share my adventures and continue to produce quality pictures and interesting recipes.

In this time of transition and uncertainty, I cling to my faith in Jesus Christ and the love of my husband. My emotions are a mixture of excitement and sadness, hope and wistfulness, adventure and loneliness. I take many beautiful friendships with me from my time in Colorado; simultaneously looking forward to the new relationships and people around the next curve of my life path. My journey continues to evolve, adding more beauty to it with each passing moment. 

Now...back to amazing pumpkin muffins. If you get the chance to share these muffins with a friend or family member, slip your hand in theirs and tell them how much they mean you. 

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins
Source: Country Living
Prep: 20 minutes   Bake: 20-25 minutes   Oven: 375 degrees F

8        oz. cream cheese, softened 
3        large eggs
2 1/2  cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2  cups sugar
1/4     cup pecans, chopped
3         tablespoons butter, melted
2 1/2  teaspoons cinnamon
1/2     teaspoon salt
2        teaspoons baking powder
1/4     teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4  cup pumpkin puree
1/3     cup vegetable oil
1/2     teaspoon vanilla

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly coat a standard muffin tin with oil or papers and set aside.

Mix the cream cheese, 1 egg and 3 tablespoons sugar in a small bowl and set aside. Toss 5 tablespoons sugar, 1/2 cup flour, pecans, butter and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in a medium bowl and set aside.

Combine the remaining 2 cups sugar, flour, remaining cinnamon, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl. Lightly beat the remaining eggs, pumpkin, oil and vanilla together in a medium bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, pour the pumpkin mixture into the well and mix with a fork just until moistened. 

Evenly divide half the batter among the muffin cups. Place 2 teaspoonfuls of the cream cheese filling into the center of each cup and fill with the remaining batter. Sprinkle some of the pecan mixture over the top of each muffin and bake until golden brown or a tester comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

Harmony's Thoughts
Take extra care not to overfill the muffin cups. By the time you pour in 3 different layers, they can get very full and overflow.
I sometimes throw in a few more spices to make these taste even "warmer". Typically a grate or two of nutmeg and a dash of cloves.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Caramel Pecan Apple Pie

Apple pie is always warm and inviting. It's basic and perfect all at the same time. Now add a little caramel and pecans and you have an extraordinary pie. From its flaky crust to its warm, sweet center, it brings homey, sentimental feelings. A pie can be the perfect showing of love, whether you give it to welcome a neighbor or to celebrate a birthday! This apple pie was an instant hit in my kitchen. I was apprehensive about the caramel as many desserts with caramel are too sweet for me. The blend of warm cinnamon, toasty pecans, tart apples and sticky caramel was perfect. 

Enjoy making this pie; pour your love into it! Serve it to loved one's with a small touch and a smile. Something about it is therapeutic and giving. I hope you savor it like we do in our house! 

Caramel Pecan Apple Pie
Source: recipe from a family friend, Barb Norman
Prep: 25 minutes   Bake 55-65 minutes   Oven: 350 degrees F

7     cups peeled and sliced tart apples
1     teaspoon lemon juice
1     teaspoon vanilla
3/4  cup chopped pecans
1/3  cup brown sugar
3     tablespoons sugar
4     teaspoons cinnamon
1     tablespoon cornstarch
1/4  cup caramel ice cream topping
1     unbaked, 9-inch pie shell (your favorite recipe or use mine here)
3     tablespoons butter, melted
Crumb Topping:
3/4  cup flour
2/3  cup chopped pecans
1/4  cup sugar
6     tablespoons cold butter
1/4  cup caramel ice cream topping

In a large bowl, toss apples with lemon juice and vanilla. Combine pecans, sugars cinnamon and cornstarch. Add to apples - toss to coat.

Pour 1/4 cup caramel topping over the bottom of the pie crust.  Top with apple mixture. Drizzle with butter.

In a small bowl combine flour, pecans and sugar. Cut in butter to create coarse crumbs. Sprinkle over pie filling. Bake at 350 degrees F for 55-65 minutes or until filling is bubbly. Remove from oven and immediately drizzle with the remaining 1/4 cup caramel ice cream topping. Cool on wire rack.

Harmony's Thoughts
I don't change anything about this is fabulous!
Feel free to make changes as your creativity allows...and post a comment with them so we all benefit from it!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Harmony's Pie Crust

Over the next few weeks (and forever after that) I will be posting pie recipes. Many pie recipes call for a baked, partially baked, or unbaked pie shell. Some call for a double pie crust. Whatever the case may be, I have created a pie crust recipe that works for me. 

In my childhood years baking with my mother was frequent and normal. I was not scared to work in the kitchen and my love of food developed through my mom asking me to work alongside her as she baked pies, breads and cookies. I helped with pancakes for breakfast, soup for lunch and casseroles for dinner. 

My mom makes such a tasty pie crust. It is flaky and light in every way. What it is not - is pretty. Not that it is particularly ugly; it just never seems to be easy to work with, which leaves creating the perfect edge out of reach. I grew up using her recipe, struggling with my crust ripping, and generally frustrated with the concept of pie crust making.

After I became a stay at home wife, I purchased a cookbook called Great Pies and Tarts by Carole Walter. Her cookbook is an excellent resource and has about 20 pie crust recipes for all different occasions. I was sure that one of her basic recipes would work for me. Five or six pie crust recipes later, the perfect crust continued to elude me. I shook my head each time I read that the crust had to be refrigerated for 30 minutes, let sit to rest, or rolled on a pastry cloth, pastry mat or marble surface.

"It should not be this difficult or complicated," I complained to my husband one evening. He listened to me rant and then quietly asked, "Why not create your own pie crust recipe?" Shaking my head I remember mumbling some comment about not being any more profound than all the pastry chef's and their recipes. If they could make their pie crust recipes turn out perfectly, it must be my inadequacy.

But the seed had been planted. I change every other recipe I come across and create recipes all the time. I cut extra steps out of Martha Stewart recipes because I secretly believe that she adds them to make her recipes seem more prestigious! I shout at cookbooks when they call for 4 tablespoons of sugar when it should just say 1/4 cup. Could I really simplify a pie crust?

I fussed for a few days in the kitchen, threw out all the rules I had read, and came up with a recipe and method that works for me. Not to say that my recipe replaces any other out there. If you have success with a pie crust recipe, then stick with it! But if you have ever been in my shoes, looking down with aggravation as your crust rips or cracks, maybe my method will work for you!

Harmony's Pie Crust
Source: original recipe 
Prep: 10 minutes   Bake: see below for options
Yield: Single pie crust (double recipe for a double crust)

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2    teaspoon salt
1/4    cup cold butter, cubed
1/4    cup Crisco shortening
3       tablespoons cold water

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar and salt. Cut in shortening and butter with a pastry blender until fat is well blended (your mixture should look like pea-sized crumbs) Add cold water and stir with fork until mixture forms a ball (add a few drops more if it is too dry). Once it forms a loose ball, gather the dough up with your hands and transfer it to a surface covered with floured plastic wrap. Flatten the ball into a disk, and begin to roll out, rotating the plastic wrap to keep the shape circular. If it starts to stick to your rolling pin, sprinkle the crust with a little more flour or cover with plastic wrap and roll out between the two layers. 

Once you think your pie crust is a large enough circle, gently place your pie plate on top in the center and check to see if you have about 1 to 1 1/2 inch of the pie crust on all sides. If not, roll it bigger until you have an overlap on all sides. Peal off the top layer of plastic wrap (if you placed some on top) and transfer the pie crust to the pie plate by sliding your hand under the plastic wrap and turning it into the pie plate. Make sure it is centered and adjusted before you peel the plastic wrap from the crust. Press gently into the pie plate and tuck the overlap under on all sides. Form your pie edge by placing your index finger on the inside of the crust and your thumb and index finger (other hand) on the outside of the crust and squeezing gently. Repeat this method around entire crust.

If you are filling your crust (i.e. apple pie, pumpkin, peach, etc.) follow the temperature settings and bake time the recipe calls for.

If you are blind baking (empty pie shell) your crust (i.e. banana cream pie, coconut cream pie, etc.) line the crust with foil, fill with pie weights, dry beans or rice and bake at 425 degrees F for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown. 

If you are partially baking your crust (some recipes call for this, I typically find it unnecessary) line the crust with foil, fill with pie weights, dry beans or rice and bake at 400 degrees F for 10- 13 minutes, until set but pale.

If you would like to make your pie crust ahead of time, wrap in plastic and refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 1 month. Return to a cool room temperature before rolling out. You can also roll it out, form the crust and freeze for up to a month. Just be sure to cover it well while in the freezer.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sriracha Glazed Chicken Wings

Some people claim that marriage is all about compromise. I agree that you do have to compromise in some situations, but in my opinion, it has more to do with liking each other and respecting the commitment you make to your other half. That being said, in our house, these wings are made with a compromise. My husband has agreed to cut the wing tips off and separate the drumettes from the wings. I don't want to mess with cutting the chicken joints. I have agreed that if he does this, I will make the sauce and bake them. We live in perfect harmony. 

These chicken wings are not for the faint of heart (I do not eat them). They are spicy and have enough heat to please those who eat the Original Hot at most wing joints. I'm a mild kind of girl so this recipe gets made for others. My husband doesn't mind that he gets them all to himself!

Sriracha Glazed Chicken Wings
Source: adapted from Martha Stewart - Everyday Food Magazine
 Prep: 10 minutes   Marinate: 30 minutes   Bake: 30 minutes   Oven: 475 degrees F

1/3    cup soy sauce
2       tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon white vinegar
3       tablespoon Sriracha sauce
1       tablespoon Frank's hot sauce
1       tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 1/2 pounds chicken wings, cut in half at joint (wing tips removed), or drumsticks

In a glass baking dish, whisk together soy sauce, vinegar, Sriracha sauce, sugar, ginger, and sesame oil. Add chicken and toss to coat. Marinate 30 minutes, tossing halfway through. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Bake until chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes, flipping chicken halfway through.

Harmony's Thoughts
Sriracha sauce can be found in the Asian section of the grocery store.
If you don't have sesame oil, substitute vegetable oil.
These are perfect for a football crowd!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Gingersnap Cookies

Fall is one of my favorite times of year for baking. The beauty of the last fruit at the farmer's market, the enchantment of spices, and the cooler temperatures coax me into the kitchen to experiment with an idea or revisit a recipe from last fall.

Classic cookies have to be perfect. They do not need to be reinvented, just comforting in the same way each time. That is my view for a gingersnap. I have seen many recipes that call for unusual spices or chocolate. They don't even tempt me. I pull out the recipe my Mom used when I was a kid and begin my batch. 

Gingersnap Cookies
Source: Mom's recipe and very similar to the recipe on the back of a Grandma's molasses jar
Prep: 10 minutes   Bake: 8-10 minutes  Oven: 375 degrees F

3/4     cup shortening
1        cup brown sugar
1/4     cup molasses
1        egg
2 1/4  cup flour
2        teaspoons baking soda
1/2     teaspoon salt
1        teaspoon ginger
1        teaspoon cinnamon
1/2     teaspoon cloves
1/4     cup sugar

Cream shortening with brown sugar. Add molasses and egg; beat until fluffy. Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Mix with creamed mixture.
Form into small balls and roll in sugar. Place on greased cookie sheet (or lined with parchment) and bake at 375 degrees F for 8-10 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

Harmony's Thoughts
I tend to under bake these about a minute, in order to keep them soft.
When making cookies, I rarely combine my ingredients in a separate bowl. I just ensure that I mix them thoroughly. I do suggest that novice bakers do this step. Feel free to do what you please!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Pumpkin Pancakes with Spiced Maple Pecan Sauce

Pancakes are so versatile and fun to make! I created this recipe last fall, after seeing it in a magazine somewhere and not writing it down (I do that too many times to count). This morning, my husband asked for something pumpkin for breakfast and I dusted off this recipe and we enjoyed it once again. 

These pancakes are perfect for a fall brunch or lazy Saturday morning!

Pumpkin Pancakes with Spiced Maple Pecan Sauce
Source: original recipe
Prep: 10 minutes   Cooking: 5 minutes

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
3        tablespoons packed brown sugar 
2        teaspoons baking powder 
1        teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1        teaspoon salt 
2        eggs 
1 1/2  cups milk 
3/4     cup canned pumpkin  
4        ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4     cup butter
1/2     cup maple syrup 
1/2     teaspoon cinnamon 
1/4     teaspoon nutmeg 
1/3     cup chopped pecans, toasted

In a small bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice and salt. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, beat eggs, milk, pumpkin and cream cheese until combined. Add dry ingredients and mix until incorporated. 
Meanwhile, combine all ingredients for sauce in a small saucepan and cook on medium-low heat until butter is melted and sauce is heated through. Keep warm.
Heat griddle on medium high heat (325-350 degrees F).  Pour 1/4 cupfulls of batter onto griddle and cook until bubbles start to surface (about 2 min). Flip pancakes and cook until bottoms are lightly browned. Serve with warm sauce.

Harmony's Thoughts
You can substitute the cream cheese for ricotta or even sour cream if you have that on hand instead.
I feel that roasted pumpkin puree (from a pie pumpkin) is best, but wrote the recipe with canned pumpkin as most people use canned. Feel free to do what you prefer.
If you don't have pumpkin pie spice, omit or substitute with cinnamon.
To toast pecans, toss in a small pan over high heat until toasted. Watch carefully; it should only take about 2 minutes!