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Home Canning – Fruit Preserves and Scones

24 Feb

At some point during the day, no matter how crazy the day is, I realize how lucky I am to be able to teach what I love.  Not only am I lucky enough to teach cooking at a school with a wonderfully supported program, I am also surrounded by equally food obsessed colleagues that are talented chefs in their own right. Besides the several food competitions for charity and amazing luncheons with homemade items that co-workers run, there are people who bake and cook for no reason, often for the whole staff. Last week, two very talented cooks provided scones and homemade jams for the staff to sample.  It was such a beautiful spread of colorful fruits, it was hard to pick just one. I ate mine like a tasting flight, a little of each on a plate with a bite of scone.

The scones were provided by Patti, one of the most amazing bakers I have ever met. Every pay day, in addition to every holiday or teacher appreciation day, the 100 plus mailboxes are filled with some sort of amazing treat, everything from homemade caramel corn to giant cookies. I’ve heard she’s got a double oven and a pretty nice counter set-up at home but I cannot understand how she pulls it off. I do this professionally and I still can’t understand how she whips up hundreds of biscotti, muffins, cupcakes or brownies every other week in a home kitchen, by herself. Not to mention the time, money and care that goes into it. Ellen, another talented co-worker, was responsible for the preserves. Since the second I saw them I’ve had extreme jam envy! This stuff is seriously delicious and the way she packages them is so adorable and clever, they were just screaming out for a photo shoot. 


Of the strawberry, raspberry, plum, peach, blueberry and orange marmalade varieties I tried, I couldn’t tell you which was my favorite. They were all equally delicious with different textures and tartness. I got to take home a special jar of pear, which I can’t wait to try. Although I’ve had all the jars and supplies for canning for years now, I use them all to freeze my garden goodies instead of really canning them. Seeing Ellen’s gorgeous jams has given me the caning bug again and this summer, I think I’m going to give it a try. Between my u-pick obsession and my backyard container garden, it’s going to be a busy Spring. Here’s a recipe from Ellen to get you started, I will be posting Patti’s scones next week. The preserves are the perfect excuse to eat 3-4 scones in one sitting!

Ellen recommends following any canning recipe exactly and to be very careful to keep your cooking equipment and area sterile to ensure safety.

SURE.JELL Peach Jam – Kraft Foods

4 cups prepared fruit (about 3 lb. fully ripe peaches)
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. EVER-FRESH Fruit Protector (optional)
1 box SURE-JELL Fruit Pectin
1/2 tsp. butter or margarine (optional)
5-1/2 cups sugar, measured into separate bowl (See tip below.)
BRING boiling-water canner, half-full with water, to simmer. Wash jars and screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse with warm water. Pour boiling water over flat lids in saucepan off the heat. Let stand in hot water until ready to use. Drain well before filling.

PEEL and pit peaches. Finely chop fruit. Measure exactly 4 cups prepared fruit into 6- or 8-quart saucepot. Add lemon juice and fruit protector; stir until well blended. Stir in pectin. Add butter to reduce foaming, if desired. Bring to full rolling boil (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly.

STIR in sugar. Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with metal spoon.

LADLE immediately into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with 2-piece lids. Screw bands tightly. Place jars on elevated rack in canner. Lower rack into canner. (Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches. Add boiling water, if necessary.) Cover; bring water to gentle boil. Process 10 minutes. Remove jars and place upright on towel to cool completely. After jars cool, check seals by pressing middle of lid with finger. (If lid springs back, lid is not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.)

Kraft Kitchens Tips

How to Measure Precisely
To get exact level cup measures of sugar, spoon sugar into dry metal or plastic measuring cups, then level by scraping excess sugar from top of cup with a straight-edged knife.
Altitude Chart
At altitudes above 1,000 feet, increase processing time as indicated: 1,001 to 3,000 feet – increase processing time by 5 minutes; 3,001 to 6,000 feet –

Spiced Pumpkin Mousse Pie with Graham Cracker Crust

20 Nov

I have been known to take things very literally and therefore sometimes I am misled and disappointed. For example, the first time I went wine tasting. Descriptions of red wines poetically describing sweet blackberries with hints of cocoa and white wines as crisp peaches with notes of bright citrus.  I thought I would be receiving an alcoholic fruit punch of sorts and what I got was wine. I don’t like wine.  Then there was the Big Cippolini Let Down of 2009.  I had excitedly made reservations at a new Italian restaurant named “Cippolini” because of my love for the squat, sweet little Italian onions, and was seriously bummed when I arrived and they were nowhere to be found on the menu. If the name of your restaurant is Taco Joe’s, do you not carry tacos? Anyway, I was duped again last week when I bought a Long Island cheese pumpkin at the farmer’s market. I clumsily carried the giant pumpkin back to my car with visions of cheesy pumpkin creations that would soon be bubbling away in my kitchen. After a quick google search for cheese pumpkin recipes, I found out they are called cheese pumpkins because of their shape, not because they taste like cheese. What do they taste like? They taste like pumpkins. Just like wine tastes like wine.   The good thing is, this pumpkin can still be used in those delicious, savory, cheesy applications as well as sweet ones, which is good because I have 10 mason jars of fresh pumpkin puree in my freezer. Who doesn’t love a plate of pumpkin ravioli followed by some delicious pumpkin pie?

Back on the Fourth of July, after I posted a recipe for strawberry mousse pie. In that post I promised you this, ” I also tried it with pumpkin and added some spices but I’ll save that one for you until October.” October came and went. I apologize. I know you have all been waiting by the computer counting down the days. I know all too well how it feels to be misled. I may have missed Halloween but I am in time for Thanksgiving. Enjoy. You can take the title literally. It tastes like pumpkin, spices and graham crackers.

Barely Adapted from:


  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 7 graham crackers, plus 2 or 3 for crumbling garnish
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons powdered gelatin (from one 1/4-ounce packet)
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 cups cold heavy cream


  1.  Coat a 9-inch square metal baking pan ( alternately an 18 inch for a double batch which is pictured below) with cooking spray and line with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on all sides.
  2. Arrange graham crackers in 1 layer in pan, breaking them to fit if necessary.

3. Place water in a small bowl and sprinkle with gelatin on top. Let  gelatin to soften for 3 minutes.

4. In a saucepan, simmer pumpkin puree, spice mixture and 1/2 cup sugar over medium heat until bubbles form at edge. Add gelatin mixture and stir until gelatin dissolves, about 1 minute.  Let cool to room temperature completely otherwise it with melt the whip cream.

5. Beat cream and 2 tablespoons sugar until firm stiff peaks form.

6. With a rubber spatula, gently fold whipped cream into cooled pumpkin mixture.

Do you know how to fold?  Folding is the process of gently incorporating something light and airy, like whipped egg whites or cream, into something heavier without deflating it. Start by placing about a 1/3 of the lighter product on top of the heavier product.
Mix that in to lighten it before folding the rest in.
Then place the rest of the lighter product on top. With a rubber spatula, cut down the center of the bowl and come around the side, turning the bowl one half turn.
Bring the heavier product from the bottom and side on top of the lighter product in the middle as you come around with the spatula. Place it on top.
Repeat the process by cutting down the center, coming around the side and down the center again, while turning the bowl  until only a few streaks of the lighter product can be seen.
  The finished mixture should be fairly homogenous.
7. Pour over graham crackers. Smooth top, cover and  refrigerate until set, about 2 hours (or up to overnight).
8. Using parchment, gently lift pie out of pan and cut into pieces with a sharp knife, cleaning it in between cuts. Top each piece with crumbled graham crackers, transfer to a serving platter.

3 Pumpkin recipes to share this Fall: Pumpkin Bread, Pumpkin Snickerdoodles and Pumpkin Chai Latte

2 Nov

Food and cooking is about sharing…

It’s why tea cups come in sets of 4.

It’s why a sheet cake feeds 20.

It’s why coffee urns can brew for up to 40.

It’s why a pie is meant for more than 1.

Great recipes are also just as important to share. The way I figure it, the more people who know how to make it, the more there is to eat of it.

This simple, moist, perfectly spiced Pumpkin Bread was given to me by my amazing co-operating teacher, Vanessa, when I was student teaching with her. The first time I made it with her class, it was a disaster. The over zealous new teacher in me had decided to re-type the recipe in a new program and in the process, switched the baking soda amount with the cinnamon. Kind of funny now, not so funny then. The second time we made it, with the correct measurements, it became one of my favorite recipes of all time. I make it each October with my students and it never fails, the kids love it and it has become the number one recipe other teachers come knocking on my classroom door for.



•    1¾ cups sifted flour
•    1¼ cups sugar
•    1 teaspoon baking soda
•    ¾ teaspoon salt
•    1½ teaspoon nutmeg
•    1½ teaspoon cinnamon

•    ½ cup oil
•    2 eggs
•    1 cup pumpkin


1.    Pre-heat oven to 350 F degrees.
2.    Prepare a large loaf pan by spraying it with non-stick cooking spray.
3.    Cut a piece of parchment paper to fix the bottom of the pan.
4.    Line pan with parchment and spray again.
5.    Sift all dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
6.    In a separate bowl, whisk pumpkin, eggs and oil together.
7.    Make a hole in dry ingredients and pour in the pumpkin mixture.
8.    Mix just until smooth.
9.    Pour batter into the prepared loaf pan.
10.    Bake loaf 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.

This recipe was something Annie, from, shared on her beautiful blog. They are my new favorite cookie, a must try.

For the cookies:
3¾ cups all-purpose flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
¾ cup pumpkin puree
1 large egg
2 tsp. vanilla extract
For the coating:
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground ginger


1.    In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
2.    In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.
3.    Beat in the pumpkin puree, egg and vanilla until incorporated.
4.    Add in the dry ingredients and beat just until incorporated.
5.    Cover and chill the dough for at least 1 hour.
6.    Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.
7.    Spray baking sheets with cooking spray.
8.    Combine the sugar and spices for the coating in a bowl.
9.    Remove dough from the refrigerator and scoop 2 tablespoons of dough and roll into a ball.
10.    Coat the dough ball in the sugar-spice mixture and place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough to fill the sheets, spacing the dough balls 2-3 inches apart.
11.    Flatten the balls of dough slightly with your hand or the back of a glass.
12.    Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes.
13.    Let cool on the baking sheets about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
In my big crazy family, when its time to see who wants coffee, the hostess asks, “who’s playing grown – up?” I don’t drink coffee, but I like to play grown- up. This is my version of the Chai Tea Latte with Pumpkin Spice Syrup from Starbucks.

•    1 gallon  milk
•    2 1/2 cups sugar
•    5 chai tea bags
•    1 cup pumpkin puree
Combine the milk, pumpkin puree and sugar in a heavy bottom pot.
2.    Whisk over medium-high heat, stirring often, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the mixture begins to simmer.
3.    Wrap tea bags in cheesecloth and place into simmering mixture.
4.    Shut the heat and let steep for 30 minutes.
5.    Remove tea bags and whisk to bring up any pumpkin from the bottom of the pan.
6.    Serve with sweetened whipped cream.

Guest Post from Sixteen Beans – Homemade Vanilla Bean Coconut Peanut Butter

24 Oct

I often read on other food blogs how people attend conferences and workshops and meet new people and develop friendships with fellow bloggers. As much as I would love to meet and attend classes with some of the incredibly talented people I read about so often, I have not yet had the opportunity or time for it. Whenever I receive a comment posted on my blog, I take the time to check out that persons website if they have one. It has been a great way for me to find more wonderful blogs to read and follow. A few weeks back, I received a comment from Kyleen, the author of the Sixteen Beans. Upon visiting the site, I immediately fell in the love with the beautiful photography and chuckled at the “baking bucket list“. As I read on, I was totally stunned to read that Kyleen is only sixteen years old! As a teacher of students who are that exact age, I was incredibly impressed with the writing, photography and professionalism of the site, not to mention the level at which this girl can cook! I can’t imagine how she has the time to try all these challenging recipes, go to school and keep up a food blog.  I immediately wrote to her and asked her for two things. 1 – Can you please move to my school district so I can have someone as amazing as you as a student? And 2 – Will you please guest post on my blog so I can share your work with my readers? Unfortunately she won’t be moving anytime soon but she was able to give us a great post for this delicious Vanilla Bean Coconut Peanut Butter. One of the most amazing things about being a teacher is realizing how much the students can teach you. This sixteen year old can teach me any day.

Hi, I’m Kyleen, the girl behind Sixteen Beans and today I’m guest posting on Lauren’s amazing blog, Lessons in Food.

*          *          *
Last Christmas, my parents bought me a food processor. To other high-school juniors, this might sound like a kitchen appliance masquerading as a gift (how often have you seen your parents buying each other toasters), but I was ecstatic because the acquisition of a food processor meant that I could forgo the box-graters and knives when I baked or cooked.  Enthusiastically, I used the processor to grate carrots for Carrot Cake and to process butter for Thyme, Cheddar, Ham Biscuits.
Besides the odd carrot cake or lasagne, I haven’t used my food processor much, mostly because it’s stored in the bottom of my baking cupboard (yes, there is a whole cupboard devoted exclusively to the storage of baking supplies) and I hate bending down to lug the various parts out. Also, I’ve found that making a pie crust or grating cheese with the processor might require less physical effort up front, but washing the container, lid, push-stick, and blade kind of negates the convenience. I guess I’m a minimalist.
Whether I used to swear by my food processor or not, this Homemade Vanilla Bean Coconut Peanut Butter won me over. I love, love, love peanut butter—I’m the kind of girl who eats peanut butter by the spoonful—so I’ve always wanted to try making my own, long before I owned a processor.
This peanut butter includes coconut oil, which adds even more richness and an undertone of coconut that compliments the nuttiness perfectly. Beautiful specks of black vanilla are suspended throughout the creamy, thick, rich nut butter. What can I say? I’m a convert; homemade peanut butter puts store-bought to shame.

Homemade Vanilla Bean Coconut Peanut Butter
I found this recipe on Healthy Food For Living. (The other) Lauren isn’t exaggerating when she says that it’s hard to resist eating this peanut butter straight from jar. Heck, I haven’t even tried this on bread yet because it’s been going straight into my mouth.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine peanuts, salt, and sugar. Process for three to five minutes until the peanuts turn into a smooth butter, scraping down the sides as needed. I was pretty worried that process peanuts into peanut butter would hurt the food processor (because I vaguely remember that that was how our old one broke), but peanuts contain so much oil that it will turn into a paste with ease. Add the coconut oil and vanilla bean seeds to the food processor and process until combined.
This nut butter can be stored in the fridge or at room temperature. Some oil separation may occur; just give it a stir before eating.

Cinnamon Buns

30 Sep

It’s an amazing thing how smells are so deeply connected to memories. Sweet potatoes roasting in the oven bring back a memory of climbing the steps to my grandparents apartment for dinner, the smell of Polo cologne sets the stage for Christmas Eve at my childhood house on a snowy winter night and charcoal burning transports me to our beach cabana in such a real way I can feel sand in my shoes. And then there’s cinnamon buns. The amazingly sweet, spice smell of warm, gooey yeast dough baking up fresh from the ovens of…Ikea. Yep. That’s my memory connected to cinnamon buns. I’ve tried to reset the memory by baking cinnamon buns on special occasions but time and time again it’s still Ikea. I guess I can live with that. Ikea is a pretty cool place and where else can you get  furniture plus swedish meatballs, lingonberry jam and a cinnamon bun for only a $1?  

This is a fantastic recipe from Cooking Light magazine.(There are only 234 calories per roll)  The first time I made it I wrote on top ” AMAAAAZING, but  takes forever”. I decided to give it another try and re-wrote the recipe into easier to understand steps so the process didn’t seem so daunting to me. I hate when recipes call for ingredients to be “divided” throughout the recipe. I like to do the math ahead of time so there is no possibility for misreading during the process. Here is my version of the recipe which I now find just as amazing and much less confusing.

Combine and let stand for 5 minutes:

  • 1 cup fat free milk at 105 degrees
  • 3 TBL melted butter
  • 1 TBL sugar
  • 1 package of quick rise yeast

Add ; let stand 1o minutes:

  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 cup flour


Add; Stir until a soft dough forms, knead 6 minutes, adding up to 1/4 cup of additional flour 1 TBL at a time if dough is too sticky:

  • 2  1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Place dough in bowl coated with oil, cover and let rise in warm ( 80 degrees) for 35 minutes and doubled in size.

Punch dough down, re-cover and let rise for 35 minutes and doubled in size.

Punch down and let rest 5 minutes. Meanwhile combine in a small bowl:

  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 TBL ground cinnamon
  • 3 TBL melted butter

Roll dough into a large rectangle, about 18 x 11 inches.

Brush on cinnamon sugar butter mixture and press into dough gently with fingers.

Roll dough up tightly from one long end to the other long end, pinch to seal.

Slice into approx 18 slices.

Arrange slices into 2, 8- inch baking dishes coated with oil or 1, 16- inch pan.

Cover and let rise 35 minutes until doubled in size.

Pre-heat oven to 350. Bake cinnamon buns for 22-25 minutes and let cool for 10 minutes in the pan.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl throughly combine:  

  • 3 TBL soft butter
  • 2 TBL cream ( I used milk )
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Gradually whisk in 1 cup SIFTED powdered sugar.

Drizzle over warm cinnamon buns before serving.

Peach, Nectarine and Plum Cake

11 Sep



Back to school time… the start of exciting things but the end of summer. I will do anything I can to try to hold onto a few more weeks of sun. I naively thought to myself this week, “why can’t I still go to the beach after work? 3 o’clock is early!” That plan didn’t work out…not even close. Routine is back in full swing and there is no sight of  lazy, hazy days anywhere. Flip flops are in the back of the closet and in their place are the foot torture devices and band-aids of September.  

In a desperate attempt to keep summer around, I’ve been baking with the last delicious bits of peaches, nectarine, plums and berries I can get my hands on. I just can’t commit to apples and pumpkins yet. I’m glad to report that the mall does not have Christmas decorations up yet, although drug stores are pumping up Halloween like it’s nobody’s business. Why must they rush us??? 

Peach, Nectarine and Plum Cake – adapted from Martha Stewart’s Plum Cake

This cake lacked a little moisture at the bottom the first time I made it. I used dark brown sugar the second time and added a lot more fruit which helped extend the delcious top part of the cake more towards the center. I used yogurt in place of sour cream as well. Some times fruit is too perfect as is to bake with, but I can assure you there is something magical that happens to this fruit when it bakes. The flavor morphs into something totally new and wonderful.  



  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup greek yogurt
  • 3 plums, 2 nectarines and 2 peaches, halved, pitted, and cut into eighths


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Butter an  9-inch cake pan and line bottom with parchment paper.
  3. In a large bowl combine flour, baking soda, and salt.
  4.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Slowly beat in eggs, one at a time, until incorporated. Then add vanilla and lemon zest. Beat in 1/2 the flour mixture and then the yogurt. Add remaining flour mixture and mix just until combined.
  5. Spread batter into pan and smooth top with a knife. Arrange the fruit over the batter in a decorative fashion, creating two layers, one on top of the other makes for a more moist cake.

6. Bake until cake is golden brown. After 30 minutes, loosely tent with foil and bake 30-35 more minutes until cake pulls away from side of pan and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cake cool completely before removing from pan.

Raspberry Almond Crumb Tart

2 Sep

Things I miss most when summer ends:

  • The smell of rain on hot cement streets 
  • Fireflies
  • Daylight that lasts until 9pm
  • When cole slaw and baked beans become one on your paper plate
  • Sleeping with just a sheet
  • Peaches so juicy you have to eat them over the sink
  • Coconut scented sunscreen
  • The smell of burning charcoal at all hours of the day
  • A pocketbook full of sand
  • Reaching my head deep into a jungle of string bean plants to search for camouflaged beans
  • Tan lines
  • Corn on the cob
  • Cotton dresses
  • Chlorine bleached hair
  • Baskets of berries
  • Waking up to the sound of cicadas and going to sleep with the sound of crickets

There are 20 days of summer left. Soak them up. Eat and cook as much as you can.

The good news is this recipe is on the healthy side. The crust is made with almonds and the filling is pretty much pure raspberries in all their glory with just a touch of sugar. This recipe is not hard, but it has a few steps so read it carefully.

Raspberry-Almond Crumb Tart

Taken From EatingWell Magazine:  July/August 2007

  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, (skins on)
  • 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 4 1/2 cups fresh or frozen (not thawed) raspberries
  • 1 teaspoon confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly coat a 9-inch removable-bottom tart pan with cooking spray.

  1. Combine almonds and sugar in a food processor; pulse until the almonds are finely ground and incorporated with the sugar. Set aside 1/2 cup of the mixture.
  2. Add 1 1/3 cups flour and salt to the remaining sugar mixture and pulse briefly to blend. With the motor running, add butter a few pieces at a time until well incorporated.
  3. Stir egg yolk, vanilla and almond extracts together in a small bowl until blended. With the motor running, add to the processor and pulse until the mixture begins to clump and form a dough, about 1 minute (the mixture will look like crumbly sand). Set aside 1/3 cup of the mixture for the topping.
  4. Transfer the remaining dough to the prepared tart pan; spread evenly and press firmly into the bottom and up the sides to form a crust.
  5. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons flour to the reserved almond mixture; stir to blend. Gently toss raspberries with 2 tablespoons of this mixture in a medium bowl until coated. Spread the berries evenly in the tart pan. Sprinkle the remaining almond mixture over the berries. Pinch the reserved dough into small clumps to make crumbs and sprinkle the crumbs on top of the berries.
  6. Bake the tart for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350° and bake until the crust and crumbs are golden brown, about 45 minutes more. Let cool on a wire rack for about 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. Remove the pan sides; place confectioners’ sugar in a fine sieve and dust the tart just before serving.

Nutrition Per serving: 276 calories; 12 g fat ( 6 g sat , 2 g mono ); 48 mg cholesterol; 37 g carbohydrates; 5 g protein; 6 g fiber; 148 mg sodium; 168 mg potassium.

Tuscan Lemon Muffins with Olive Oil and Ricotta Cheese

23 Aug

I have a thing for writing lists. My weapon of choice is the large, yellow, lined Post-it pads and a new mechanical pencil. Nothing beats the feeling of crossing things off a list. But today I have a little “to do list” guilt going on. I started an exercise routine that has only happened 2 out of 5 planned days and usually started with a handful of chocolate covered raisins to get me motivated and a cup of Italian ices to reward myself for working so hard.

I also planned to get some serious paperwork finished this afternoon.  That was 6 snacks, 4 episodes of Food Network Star, 1 nap and 5 hours ago. Not a single thing has been crossed off the list and I’m already in pajamas at 5pm. Things arent looking good. To procrastinate more,  I have decided that I need to share these really great muffins with you.

These muffins are great to eat while you are making to-do lists.  They are also suitable for motivating  or rewarding yourself for a workout because they have heart healthy olive oil and low-fat, protein rich ricotta cheese.  You can eat them while watching TV or mindlessly surfing the internet. You should not eat them while attempting a nap. You can even eat them when your working. They taste best when crossing things OFF your to-do list. Which is maybe what I will be doing soon… 

 Tuscan Lemon Muffins – adapted from Maureen Callahan, Cooking Light  MAY 2011

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 tablespoons  coarse sugar
  • 12 muffin cup liners


1. Preheat oven to 375°.

2.  Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl and make a well in the center. In a small bowl, whisk together ricotta, water, olive oil, lemon juice, zest, and egg. Add ricotta mixture to flour mixture and stir just long enough to moisten dry ingredinets. Do not overmix.

3. Line muffin tins with muffin liners and spray with cooking spray. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups.  Sprinkle muffins generously with coarse sugar. Bake at 375° for 14 minutes. Raise heat to 400 for a remaining 2-3 minutes to caramelize the sugar on top slightly. ( I have used my broiler which takes 1 minute but you must stay close by watching it or they will burn) Test with a wooden pick inserted in the center to see if it comes out clean. Let cool in pan on a wire rack.

Strawberry Filled Red Velvet Cupcakes

18 Aug

Like many women, I admit to turning into a complete mush around baby things. In my case, this applies to all baby things, including babies themselves but especially baby puppies or animals, which I hate to admit, I think I actually like better than babies.  Maybe it’s not as normal, but I also have a thing for baby fruits and vegetables. Is it possible for baby strawberries to be cute? When I pick them, I use the same high- pitched, ridiculous squeal to talk them as I do when I talk to my puppies, so somehow they have charmed me in the same way.  Maybe it’s just me, but look at these strawberries I grew! Tell me you don’t want to knit them an adorable summer dress?

So let’s talk Red Velvet cake. It’s a favorite in my house; it was our wedding cake and therefore will always be a special treat. The thing is, to get it really red, you need a tremendous amount of food coloring and I just can’t do it.  It wastes a whole bottle of coloring, not to mention I read a few articles that say  too much food coloring makes your kids all crazy. I don’t have kids but I’m a kid at heart who’s crazy enough, so I reduce the amount. To give it a boost of color, I add something naturally red, like berries or sugar beets. I also think it’s nice if a little bit of that naturally red something gets beaten into the delicious but not overly sweet cream cheese frosting so you end up with a beautiful, barely pink icing. And do you know what you get with subtle red cupcakes with light pink frosting topped with a baby strawberry? Cute. Really, really cute. I didn’t carry those strawberries for 9 months but I am just as proud of them.

Strawberry Filled Red Velvet Cupcakes: 

Adapted from Red Velvet Cupcakes by Nicolette Manescalchi, San Francisco, Cooking Light DEC. 2009



  • Cooking spray
  •  2 1/2 cups cake flour ( I have used AP flour and it turns out okay)
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups nonfat buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp red food coloring
  • 5 large strawberries, pureed

Preheat oven to 350°.

Line 30 muffin cups with paper liners and coat lightly with cooking spray.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups and level with a knife. Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Cream sugar and butter together with a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each egg. In small bowl mix buttermilk, white vinegar, vanilla, food coloring and pureed strawberries. Alternately add flour mixture to creamed butter and sugar and buttermilk mixture. Do not over mix.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely before icing.

Strawberry filling:

  • 1 1/2 cups strawberries
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp. cornstarch

Puree the strawberries in a blender or food processor and strain all the seeds out using a rubber spatula to push everything out. Pour strained puree into a saucepan and whisk in the sugar and cornstarch. Simmer over medium heat until thickened. Place in a bowl and chill before using.


  • 5 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 (8-ounce) block less fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 large strawberries, pureed
  • 2 teaspoons nonfat buttermilk
  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar (about 1 pound), SIFTED

To prepare frosting, beat butter and cream cheese together with a mixer at high speed until completely smooth. Beat in buttermilk, vanilla and pureed strawberries. Gradually add SIFTED powdered sugar and beat until fluffy.

To Fill and Frost Cupcakes.

To fill the cupcakes, assemble a piping bag with a small plain round tip. Fill with strawberry filling and insert tip into the center of the cupcake and pipe in filling. If some comes out the top wipe it clean.

Spread frosting evenly over filled cupcakes or pipe on using a large star tip and piping bag.

Top with small strawberries.

Finding the Best Banana Bread – A 3 recipe trial

16 Aug

Currently, you can not walk through my living room. There are approximately 50-60 piles of magazine recipes in the process of re-organization. My huge super-nerd binders of plastic, sheet protected clippings have gotten out of control. With no rhyme or reason to where things are placed, it can take me a half an hour to hunt through them for a recipe, which usually leaves me too tired to even cook. With a laundry list of way more important things to do, I decided to forgo daily duties and start an insane project by categorizing them by ingredient, which is the way I tend to cook. If I go to the farmers market and pick up some beautiful golden beets or baby artichokes, I want to take the opportunity to make recipes I had torn out at a time when I didn’t have those items on hand. At the top of my “banana pile” was a series of recipes from Cooking Light on banana bread. I have had them for a while and yet I never seem to make them because I already have a great family recipe for banana bread that I love. This week I just happened to have about 23 super ripe bananas on hand leftover from a recent camp class I did and it just seemed about time to challenge the classic and try a new healthy version out. Why not start two crazy projects at once? With all the piles around the house there isn’t much room anyplace else but the kitchen anyway.

Scroll down to see the results of trial!

Aunt Linda’s Original Banana Bread

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream together 1 stick of butter with 1 1/2 cups of sugar. Beat in 2 eggs and 1 tsp vanilla extract.

Mix in 4 mashed ripe bananas.

Combine 2 cups flour with 1 tsp of salt and 1 tsp baking soda in a separate bowl; then mix into creamed mixture until combined.

Bake as  2 large loaves for 45 mins to 1 hour or 25/35 mins for 24 muffins until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Substitutions and alterations:

add chopped nuts

sub 2 bananas for 2 chopped apples

sub 1/2 cup oil for butter

Basic Banana Bread – slightly adapted from Maureen Callahan, Cooking Light Magazine Oct 2010


  • 1 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana
  • 1/3 cup vanilla fat-free yogurt
  • 5 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 6 3/4 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup ground flaxseed
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Cooking spray


1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Combine banana, yogurt, butter and eggs  in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed. Add granulated and brown sugars; beat until combined.

3. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour,flaxseed,baking soda,salt, cinnamon and nutmeg . Add flour mixture to banana mixture; beat just until blended.

4. Pour batter into a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 55 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.

5.Remove from oven; cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Remove bread from pan; cool completely.

Peanut Butter Banana Bread – slightly adapted from Maureen Callahan, Cooking Light Magazine Oct 2010


1 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana

  • 1/3 cup vanilla fat-free yogurt
  • 1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 6 3/4 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup ground flaxseed
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons chopped dry-roasted peanuts
  • Cooking spray


1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. To prepare bread, combine banana, yogurt, peanut butter,butter and eggs in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed. Add granulated and brown sugars; beat until blended.

3. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, flaxseed,baking soda,salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a small bowl. Add flour mixture to banana mixture; beat just until blended. Stir in nuts.

4. Pour batter into a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 1 hour and 5 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven; cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Remove bread from pan; cool.

The original recipe is still the best, sweet, buttery and delicious with great banana flavor. It is also the easiest and quickest to put together. Unfortunately it is not low-calorie or low-fat. The Cooking Light basic banana bread was a close runner-up. It tasted the best when cool. It was slighter drier and tougher but for a low cal bread with heart healthy flaxseed and nutritious yogurt, I thought it was great and definitely company worthy. The peanut butter bread fell short on the peanut flavor for my husband, I don’t really like peanut butter to begin with so I let him be the judge. I would try this again with the peanut butter glaze Cooking Light posted( see the website ) and possibly add more peanuts.

Do you have a banana bread that you think might be better? Please share and I would love to do the trial again!


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