Monday, September 30, 2013

Haters gonna hate...

...but to those who really love pumpkiny things, I've got a great muffin recipe for you! The coolest part is? It's completely original. I didn't take someone else's recipe and butcher it until it was "my own". I didn't look at a recipe online and tweak it just to make it suit my taste. This is all mine, from start to finish. I didn't even copy someone else's measurements. Now, this is a pumpkin crumb muffin. The idea has likely crossed many a mind and I don't take any credit for the general idea of a pumpkin muffin. Duh. But I will forever cherish this successful recipe as my very own. And I'm going to be brave and share it with the world because I would like others to try it out and tell me if it really is as successful as think it is.

Now that you know how much this recipe means to me (oh my goodness be nice, please)...

Pumpkin Crumb Muffins (makes 1 doz.)
for the muffins:
1 stick of unsalted butter at room temperature -OR- 1/2 C. coconut oil at room temperature
3/4 C. packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 C. pumpkin puree
2 C. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 tsp. ground clove
1 tsp. vanilla extract
crumb topping**

Set a rack to the center of  the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Next, mix in the egg and vanilla extract until the mixture is smooth. Then add the pumpkin puree. Now it's time to blend in the sifted flour mixture. Mix until all the ingredients are incorporated, but try not to over mix. The batter will be quite thick and that's totally okay. Evenly divide the batter between 12 lined muffin cups. Spraying the paper liners with a little cooking spray before spooning in the batter is a good idea. Sprinkle the crumb mixture on top of the batter. Gently press the crumbs into the batter to ensure they stick while the muffins bake and rise. Bake for approximately 25 minutes. The crumb should be a light, golden brown and the tops of the muffins should spring back when pressed gently. These can over bake VERY quickly, so around the 22 minute mark, watch them like a hawk. Allow the muffins to cool (preferably on a wire rack) for about 10 to 15 minutes. I think these are best served warm, but you can certainly store them in an air-tight baggie or container for about a week.

**for the crumb topping:
5 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
3/4 C. all purpose flour
1/2 C. granulated sugar OR 1/4 C. each brown sugar and granulated sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients for the crumb topping and mix well; set aside to cool completely.

A few notes:
I know it seems like there is a lot of spice in this recipe. But the pumpkin is a fairly strong flavor so I find that these are actually well-balanced.

These are not overly sweet, which is great. They lend themselves well to adding a drizzle of confectioner's glaze or a spread of cream cheese.

I found that the muffins were nice and moist, as long as they didn't over-bake. If you have hot spots in your oven, be sure to rotate the pan about halfway through cooking.

I have absolutely no clue how these freeze. I'm hoping they don't last long enough to find out. But if anyone makes them and freezes them, please let me know how well they fare.

If you do try this recipe, I would greatly appreciate your [constructive] comments and feed back. If you don't like them or have a problem, I welcome that discussion as long as it's polite. You may leave comments here on this post or you are welcome to email me at

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Happy National Coffee Day!

A few minutes ago, I got a call from my mom. She was at our local grocery store and wanted to know if I needed anything (because she's wonderfully thoughtful). This particular grocery store happens to have a Starbucks right inside the front door. It's truly dangerous for those of us who enjoy over-priced lattes and organic teas with ridiculous names. But back to the point... As we were talking on the phone, she exclaimed that they were handing out free samples of coffee. I heard the barista in the background tell her that it's national coffee day. So that explains it! We sure have a lot of national day of somethin's in the US. Well, even though I made my own coffee this morning, I will probably go to Starbucks sometime today to indulge in this national day of celebration of the popular brewed beverage. Because let's face it, I have a hard time turning down a frilled up espresso drink. Oh! And don't forget- on days like today, there are often freebies or discounts to be found. Check out your local Krispy Kreme, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, or independent *coughhipstercough* coffee shop to see what they are offering today.

A few fun coffee facts:
  • According to some legends, coffee berries, which contain the bean that we roast and grind to brew our beloved beverage, were discovered by goats in the 9th century. It it said that an Ethiopian herdsman discovered these berries when he noticed his goats acting strangely after consuming them.
  • There are several other stories and legends that indicate where coffee may have originated. But, I believe it's safe to say that coffee was discovered somewhere in the middle east a really long time ago.
  • The darker the roast, the less caffeine the coffee contains.
  • The average caffeine content in an 8 ounce cup of generic, brewed coffee ranges from 95-200 mg depending on the roast and/or brewing process.
  • Coffee is the second most sold commodity in the world. Oil (petroleum; fuel) is the first. 
  • One of the most expensive types of coffee is Kopi Luwak. It is excreted by a particular species of wild cat in Sumatra. The going rate is around $100 for 4 ounces. That's right! Cat poop coffee can be yours for the low low price of $100! I bet that creepy Vince guy could sell it.
  • Coffee has been banned on several different occasions in various parts of the world. One of these occasions being in the 16th century by Muslim rulers because of it's stimulating effects. 
There you have it. Some random facts you already knew or didn't really need to know. Isn't learning fun?!

And now, onto the menu plan for the upcoming week! I'm sharing my meal plans because it has really held me accountable and helped me stay on track with our food budget and being prepared for the week. I don't assign a meal to a certain day, since I rarely know exactly what that day will bring about. I try to be sure there are some easier meals that I can whip up quickly if time has slipped away from me or if I'm feeling lazy. There might be one night we go out or order in. As for the rest of this week, we're having:

Bacon and cheddar chicken skillet 

Stuffed meatballs
pasta with homemade marinara 
cheesy bread
side salads

French toast -OR- Pumpkin Waffles
homemade applesauce

Loaded baked potatoes

Homemade calzones
pasta salad/side salad

Pork chops
sweet potato tots
squash/undetermined green vegetable
homemade applesauce

Other things that need to be made:
Canned tomatoes [A lady at the farmer's market offered me an amazing deal on her end-of-season tomatoes. We'll be canning those, then we will hopefully have enough tomatoes and soup base to last my whole family until spring.]
Rice krispies treats
Eggplant rollatini [to be frozen]

What are you making this week?

Sources and photo credits:

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Never let it be said...

...that I'm lazy while I'm grieving. I'm one of those people that handles bad news better by focusing my energy on busy work or a project. If I have too much time to think about it, I'm an absolute wreck. I think that's the case for a lot of people.

Back in August, my grandpa Joe (Pap) passed away. It was an especially difficult loss for the whole family. It wasn't a completely unexpected passing as he'd been progressively getting sick for a while, but it was rather sudden. Then early this morning, my Grandpa H lost his 2 year battle with cancer. While also very sad, I'm just so glad to know that he is reunited with my grandmother. Like my Daddy said, they're probably somewhere in the great beyond fishing. But only to make my grandma happy.

So today (and for the next few days), I'm grieving again. I've had a few good cries, then I sucked it up, and got moving. I broke down 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts, froze the chicken, and used the bones/scraps for stock. I made, strained, and froze 2 quarts of stock. I got a few errands run. I made dinner and fed my family. I made and packed Charlie's "lunch" for the night. I've folded laundry. I've done a load of dishes. I made dried apple rings. I'm working on apple muffins now. And I think I'll have to vacuum again tonight after Calvin is asleep.

During all of this I had some time to reflect on happy memories. I found that I'm ever grateful for something that I got to share with both of my grandfathers before they passed- my love of cooking. A few years ago, I made a big Italian dinner (spaghetti, sausage, homemade sauce, and homemade meatballs) for my mom's side of the family. I remember making sure not to use too much garlic, because Pap wasn't a fan of garlic. And last year, when Calvin and I went to visit him (and my aunts) in Texas, I cooked dinner for Grandpa H. I made him fried pork chops, corn, and broccoli. I was trying to use up some veggies my aunts had so when I asked him if he liked broccoli he said, "As long as you've got cheese sauce to put on it!". A little cream here, a little butter there, add lots of cheese and ta-da! Cheese sauce. Cooking is such a big part of my life so it helps heal my heart just a little knowing that I was able to cook for both of these special men.

I love them both and will miss them greatly.

Four Generations- Grandpa H, Daddy, me, and Calvin

Pap holding Calvin at 7 days old

Monday, September 23, 2013

It's Fall, Y'all!

Calvin at the pumpkin patch last fall!
It is officially fall! I've had my pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks to celebrate the occasion. I also have a menu plan fit for the season! We did quite well again this week, sticking with our menu options. I did end up making cheeseburgers, but that was when I realized that it was a very special day and they were quite appropriate.

In this upcoming week, I will try to keep this habit going. I've not assigned days to any of my meals, because I'm not quite sure how the week is going to play out. I do know that we had homemade sub sandwiches last night and we will likely be going out for sushi tonight (possibly with my parents). As for the rest of the week? Here are our options:

Roasted pork tenderloin
apple and sage stuffing

sausage links
fruit or apple sauce

Taco bowls (think Chipotle)
tortilla chips
*this isn't Charlie's favorite thing, so I may make him a burger or something else yummy

Open-faced roast beef sandwiches
mashed potatoes
carrots/kale or spinach

Hotdogs (all natural and all beef)
baked beans
smiley fries/sweet potato tots

Roasted chicken
rice and gravy
delicata squash/something relatively healthy the boys will eat

Other things that will hopefully get made:
applesauce (from the 50 pounds of apples my Momma and I picked)
apple muffins
9-inch round cake (to freeze for cake balls later this month)
rice krispie treats
pierogi (to freeze)
biscuits (also to freeze)

Looks like I've got my work cut out for me this week! But a good portion of this is prep and stocking the freezer for the coming weeks. Calvin and I have yet to make it to that butcher shop that I've been wanting to check out, so that is on the agenda this week too!

What are y'all having this week?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Smaczny Pierozki!

[Because the phrase "Delicious pierogi!" looks way cooler in Polish.]

I love pierogi. I do I do I do! They are especially wonderful this time of year since they are hearty and filling. For those who need a clue, I'll fill you in. Many different cultures have some version of a dumpling. There are fried buns (Russian), pot stickers (Chinese), gyoza (Japanese), Fufu (Africa), Ravioli (Italy), and a whole bunch more that I can't think of at the moment. Dumplings are simply cooked balls of dough. They are typically starch based using flour, potato, or bread; they may or may not be filled. Pierogi are the glorious dumplings that come from Poland. Traditionally they are filled with potato, ground meat, sauerkraut, cheese, or fruit. Most often they are boiled, then fried or baked to give a slightly crisp texture. And dude, are they yummy!

In my area, what we consider "specialty foods" can be hard to find. The only pierogi I can find around here are Mrs. T's in the freezer section. And I almost picked some up the other day. Then I thought better of it. I said to myself, "Elle! You have culinary training. Like, good culinary training. You've made pot stickers and ravioli all by yourself like a big girl chef! Surely you can make pierogi." Oh! And when I got home, the first post in my news feed was from a lady that goes to my church who posted a recipe for- wait for it- homemade pierogi. IT WAS A SIGN! So I did it. And they were awesome. So here is the recipe, with my small adjustments:

Homemade Cheese and Potato Pierogi (adapted from 12 Tomatoes)
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 large egg, room temperature and lightly beaten
1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature
1/4 butter, softened (you could also use olive oil)

Mix together the flour and salt. Add in the egg and blend together with a fork. The dough will be very clumpy and crumbly which is totally ok at this point. Work in the sour cream and butter. I found that it was easiest to start blending these ingredients in with a fork, then switching to fingertips as the dough comes together more. Knead the dough for approximately 3 minutes folding it over a few times as you go. The end result should be a moist, relatively smooth ball of dough. Wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes. It will hold nicely for up to 48 hours.

1 cup mashed potato*
1 cup shredded cheese (I used sharp cheddar this time)
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp garlic powder or 1 small clove of fresh garlic, grated

*[I peeled and roughly chopped 1 large, russet potato. I boiled it in salted water for about 8 minutes until it was tender, drained it, and mashed it with a fork.]

While the potato is still warm, mix all ingredients together until the cheese has melted and is evenly incorporated. Allow mixture to cool completely.

2 to 3 Tbsp flour**
1 large pot of boiling salted water
rolling pin
2-inch round cutter or drinking glass

Break the dough into 2 pieces. Roll out half of the dough to about an 1/8 inch in thickness. **You will need to flour your rolling pin and cutting surface very well as this dough tends to be quite sticky. Cut as many dough circles as you can and gently set them aside. Repeat with the other half of the dough. You should get 20 to 24 circles if using a 2-inch cutter. Place about 2 tsp of the cooled filling in the center of each dough circle. Fold the dough over forming a pocket and pinch the edges together to make a seal. Press the tines of a fork around the edges to unsure the dumplings are sealed well. (I tried using a pastry wheel to make the edges pretty, but it didn't work so well. The dough is too sticky. I don't recommend it.)

This poor little guy in the front fell victim to my pastry wheel experiment.
Just stick with the fork. Ha! 
Place the finished dumplings- 6 to 10 at a time, depending on pot size- in a pot of boiling water for about 8 minutes. When they float to the top, give them about 5 minutes before you pull them out and they should be cooked. The original recipe says 10 minutes, but they didn't take that long at all for me. If you are not serving these immediately, you can skip the boiling stage and just freeze them until you're ready for them. To serve, saute the pierogi in a small amount olive oil or butter until golden on each side.


I served ours with kielbasa sausage, applesauce, and sour cream.
(The green stuff are snow peas I threw in for color.)

Now that I've made them successfully, I'll start playing around with the fillings and try to make them look prettier. If you try this recipe, let me know how you liked it!

Original Recipe
Pierogi research

Shared at: Frugal by Choice, Cheap by Necessity 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Happy National Cheeseburger Day!

Or perhaps, Happy Piss Off Your Cardiologist Day! Whichever works for you.

 I woke up this morning and checked my Twitter feed like a good little social media addict to discover that today, is in fact, National Cheeseburger Day here in the good ole US of A- land of freedom and indulgence. There are a few restaurants giving away cheeseburgers, or at least giving a discount, to celebrate the occasion. But since we're on a budget, we're going to enjoy homemade versions. [See! I told you last time that I'd end up making burgers this week!]

I've eaten and made all kinds of burgers. I've made them with buffalo, chicken, turkey, and beef. We've topped them with blue cheese, provolone, classic American, cheddar, chevre, Ementaler and feta. Sometimes the cheese is on the inside, sometimes on the outside.We sometimes add bacon or an egg. I like a lot of veggies on mine. Charlie will tolerate pickles, but enjoys avocado. The cool thing about burgers is that they really are fantastically versatile. You can be so creative with them. A creative burger I've eaten that comes to mind is lean beef patty with arugula, goat cheese, and meyer lemon honey mustard. I had it at Bobby Flay's Burger Palace in New Jersey a few years back. It was great! But personally, I will always love a classic burger- Toasted bun, beef patty, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and condiments (I like a light spread of mayo).

How do you like your burgers?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Meals and Sundries


Thank you for indulging me.
Calvin at Bryson's Apple Orchard. This is where we got
our apples for the applesauce we recently canned. 

Truly, though. I am pretty excited about the season changing. This summer was a weird one for our area. We had record rain fall, cooler temperatures, and our growing seasons were all kinds of whacked. Luckily, the apple orchards didn't suffer. We're getting a really decent late tomato crop as well. Momma and I are doing lots of canning because of it! We processed about 20 pints of tomatoes and 10 various sized jars of applesauce so far. More tomatoes and apples will be put up in the next two weeks. That should last us until spring...I hope. 

For the past few weeks, I've been making meal plans for my little household. It's helping me stay on track and on time, since we've started eating dinner a little earlier on the days that Charlie works. I'm going to start sharing my plans for each week in hopes that I'll keep this habit (and perhaps keep writing, too).

I don't have my meals organized by days, because dinner depends on how much time I have to prep/get it done, what else we've got going on that day, who feels like eating what, etc. So, in no particular order-

Meal ideas:
Elle's Chicken Franchaise
pasta with olive oil and garlic
side salads

Homemade pierogi**
sausage of some kind
applesauce (from the batch Momma and I just canned)

Tomato soup (from the tomatoes I just canned)
grilled cheese "croutons"

Turkey meatballs
roasted acorn squash and sweet potatoes
spinach for me, corn for the boys

Grilled chicken salads
garlic bread

There will more than likely be a night where I have veggies/leftovers and I'll make the boys a burger. It's a great back up plan because I know I always have the ingredients on hand and Charlie (my own, personal Hamburglar of a husband) won't complain.

Other things that must be made sometime this week:
A small batch of pickled carrots
Dijon mustard
Bread! Must. Make. Bread.
Fig bars**
Possibly a chocolate cake using a recipe a dear friend recently tried and loved

There is a local-ish butcher that I'm going to explore this week. I really hope it won't be a bust. We just don't have many farms and specialty stores around to buy local, fresh products. But I'm seeking them out! I'm tired of funding giant corporations and getting shafted in the process by poor quality and high prices. But I digress, as that topic could be a rant-fest on it's own. 

What are your culinary plans for the week?

**These are 2 new recipes I'm trying. If they work out well, I'll share them!