Thursday, October 30, 2008

Apple -- Er, Acorn of My Eye Squash Pie

This month's Royal Foodie Joust challenge ingredients were right up this pumpkin fan's alley: acorn squash, orange, and sage. For the most part, anyway. I've never used sage in my cooking before and actually had to buy a little jar of the spice for the express purpose of this Joust. But still, as I enjoy pumpkin so much, I was excited to work with one of its close cousins in the kitchen. And I don't like only pumpkin; I'm an equal opportunity lover of squash.

Last fall, I made my first acorn squash, baked with the not uncommon (and for good reason!) toppings of diced apples, cinnamon, and brown sugar. So delicious, filling, and healthful! However, I wanted to do something a little more jazzy for this month's Joust, so a sweet stuffed acorn squash was out. I considered a savory stuffing, possibly with a lentil base. While I didn't explore that avenue further for the challenge, I still might try it in the future just for fun!

I finally found inspiration in Susan's Impossible Pumpkin Pie. A crustless, mostly savory squash pie? Yes, please! Here's my version, combining pureed pumpkin and mashed acorn squash, and gently flavored with spices like ginger and allspice in addition to the sage. I served the pie up with a sprinkle of roasted squash seeds, a dollop of Greek yogurt, and some orange maple syrup. This pie works as a side dish or a subtle yet satisfying dessert.

Harvest Spiced Squash Pie with Orange Maple Syrup

For the pie:
1.5 cup skim milk
1/2 cup egg replacers (or 2 eggs, beaten)
1/2 cup acorn squash, mashed

1.5 cup pureed pumpkin

1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 T cornstarch

1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp sage
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a 9 inch pie pan with cooking spray (I use a spray with a canola oil base).

To harvest the acorn squash, slice it in half. Scoop out the seeds with a large spoon. (I saved the seeds and roasted them while the pie baked -- simply sprinkle them with cinnamon and sage and leave them in the oven for about 15 minutes or until browned and crispy-dry. I let mine go for too long and burned them, but I like them that way!) Fill a slightly concave plate with water and place one half of the acron squash face down in it. Microwave until the skin is tender (at least 5 minutes, often closer to 10 depending on the squash's size). Let the squash sit until cool enough to handle, then scoop out the flesh (or, alternatively, peel the skin away if tender enough). Mash the flesh slightly. One half of a small acorn squash provides enough for this recipe, but feel free to experiment with different ratios of acorn squash to pumpkin puree (for which I used canned pumpkin).

In a blender, combine the milk, eggs, cornstarch, and vanilla. Add the acorn squash and pumpkin and continue to blend. A lovely froth will foam over the surface of the mixture. Add the rest of the spices and puree for at least two minutes. Scrape down the blender's sides with a spatula every so often. When fully integrated, pour the mixture into the pie pan.

Bake 50-60 minutes, or until browned at the edges and cooked through the center. The pie will not be completely solid, but should hold its form when sliced. The pie will rise substantially while baking, so you may want to either use a deep dish pie pan or place the regular sized pie pan on top of a baking sheet.

Allow the pie to cool before slicing and serving. Sprinkle with your choice of toppings, or try my orange maple syrup with a sprinkling of roasted acorn squash seeds and a dollop of rich Greek yogurt. This pie tastes great fresh or chilled!

For the syrup:
1 T orange juice concentrate
1/4 cup maple syrup (I used sugar-free)
1 generous shake of cinnamon

(Use as much or little cinnamon as you prefer. My "generous shake" came from a Costco-sized jar of the spice, so it probably amounted to at least 1 teaspoon, if not more. Trust your palate on this one!) Combine the concentrate, maple syrup, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Stir until blended. If you like your syrup warm, heat it in the microwave for 30 seconds.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I don't make cupcakes. They seem so complex -- not only do you have to perfect the cake portion of the confection, but you also have to contend with frosting. And the frosting itself is a two pronged challenge as it has to taste and look good. That's a lot for this muffin maker to think about.

Especially as I hardly even eat cupcakes. Not because I don't like them (I do). It's just hard to find a well-made cupcake that makes the nutrition splurge worthwhile. Grocery store bakeries tend to produce dime-a-dozen cupcakes that are often stale or soggy, and cupcakes in general tend to be over-sugared for my palate. However, if you can find me a well-crafted cupcake topped with a mound of swirling frosting (the more the better!), I'd enjoy it with all my sweet-toothed heart! Just ask my husband -- on our wedding day, he ate the cake part of our slice of wedding cake while I ate all the frosting, which he doesn't like at all. I guess we're a good match, huh?

This week, however, my era of inexperience in cupcakery came to a close. Why? Because this week's Tuesdays with Dorie challenged us to take on the chocolate-chocolate cupcakes recipe in Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours. I have to say, even with my complete lack of cupcake-creating knowledge, these cupcakes turned out well. The frosting could use a little assistance (I'm not sure I used the right amount of chocolate since I don't have a kitchen scale, and the cupcakes don't exactly look pretty), but they tasted rich and chocolaty. I don't normally go in for chocolate cake of any kind, so you know when a white cake lover says that a chocolate cupcake is good, then it's good!

I didn't play with the ingredients much on this recipe. I used a lower-fat yogurt spread instead of the butter, egg replacers instead of real eggs, and chocolate chips instead of chopped chocolate simply because that's what I had on hand. Also, I used reduced-fat buttermilk (which I tasted plain and really enjoyed -- it reminds me of cottage cheese). In the cake batter, I ened upusing 1/3 cup cocoa powder instead of 1/4 cup because I grabbed the wrong measuring cup. Oops. But I don't think too much chocolate can really be a bad thing, right?

The most challenging part of this venture was working with the chocolate and making the frosting. As I already mentioned, I may not have used enough chocolate because I don't have a kitchen scale. The Best Husband Ever lent his assistance and did a fantastic job melting the chocolate. First we tried melting it in the microwave but ended up burning it instead. Then we put the chocolate in a container which in turn we set in a pot of boiling water. That seemed to work better, although still did not seem ideal. The frosting turned out a bit slick and in rather short supply, but was also creamy and rich and deeelicious. Both the Best Husband Ever and I did some copious beater- and spatula-licking during our clean up.

After I frosted the cupcakes, I decorated them with sprinkles and other colorful jimmies that I bought a long while ago but never could find any use for. My favorite of such toppings are rainbox sprinkles, but I used every variety from the mutli-pack lurking in my spice cabinet. The Best Husband Ever and I both enjoyed a cupcake, and then I froze the rest. I plan to bring the remaining ten cupcakes to the school where I work for our Halloween festivities this coming Friday. If the cupcakes thaw well, then they're sure to be a success with the kids, I think.

So. Cupcakes. Chocolate cupcakes. Chocolate-chocolate cupcakes. Sure, my batch might not be as fancy-shmancy as Dorie Greenspan's, but they sure are tasty! Still, I think I'll stick to the simpler side of baking for the most part. Scones and muffins are much more trusty. If I need to bake a special treat in the future, though, you can count on the return of the cupcake.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Tasty Discoveries

One of my new favorite bento go-to's has made it's way into every meal -- breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even snack. I simply cannot get enough of it. What is this fabulous discovery? Pumpkin cottage cheese!

Here's how you whip this delicious combination up. Take two parts cottage cheese of your choice (I tend to like 1% fat, and typically use 1/2 cup). Add one part pumpkin puree (I use one heaping spoonful of canned pumpkin, which is conveniently available at Costco in bulk at a much thriftier price). Stir stir stir! Then get ready to smack your lips in amazement as you enjoy this autumn treat. Yum!

As I mentioned, pumpkin cottage cheese has evolved into an "any meal staple," but has especially become a bento box mainstay. For this particular lunch, I added the pumpkin cottage cheese to a salad of romaine, mushrooms, red grapes, broccoli, carrots, and ginger peanut dressing. Also featured is one half cup of fat-free instant vanilla pudding and a new cereal, Kashi's Honey Sunshine.

This cereal is another new discovery that I quite enjoy. It is similar in shape to Puffins, only smaller. Their texture lends the perfect crunch, and they are subtly sweet while remaining hearty and filling. My husband enjoys munching on Frosted Flakes, so one evening while I was preparing a snack of Honey Sunshine, I snuck a taste of a few Frosted Flakes before eating the Kashi. The difference between the two was quite startling, despite them having roughly the same calories per 1 cup serving. While the Frosted Flakes tasted good, it wasn't until I had the Kashin on my palate that I realized just how empty the prior felt. It was sweet and enjoyable, but not at all satisfying. With the Kashi, I felt very aware that not only was I enjoying the taste of my food, but that it was also very nourishing at the same time.

I suppose that it all goes to show that our bodies are speaking their needs to us, if only we take the time to listen. And with this cereal test, my body was certainly saying "thank you!" for the more nutritious choice. Also, it was very encouraging for me to know that I can trust myself and my body to guide my food choices without relying solely on calorie calculations. I guess my tummy knows what's best!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Saturday's Sweet Scrabble

For our Saturday sweet treat, the Best Husband Ever and I headed to Break Espresso for some sugar and a Scrabble match. I ordered some form of non-swampy Danish (I really dislike the ones that are all sticky and gooey, but instead prefer something with a tiny bit of crispness to it) and he nibbled on a cinnamon roll while handily defeating me in our game.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Autumn Breakfast

Here's another simple yet satisfying breakfast: 1/2 cup Greek yogurt mixed with 1 T peanut butter (yum!); about 1/3 cup Kashi Honey Puffs cereal; 1 Rudy's whole wheat organic English muffin spread with pumpkin butter (double yum!); a banana; and Green tea. Mmm.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mosaic Meme

Nabbed from Sarah at What Smells So Good?, a meme for Wordless Wednesday!

The rules . . .
  1. Type your answer to each of the questions below into Flickr Search.
  2. Using only the first page, pick an image.
  3. Copy and paste each of the URLs for the images into FD's Mosaic Maker
  4. Post your mosaic for the world to see!
The questions . . .
  1. What is your first name? [Elizabeth]
  2. What is your favorite food? [Mexican]
  3. What high school did you go to? [Mount Saint Dominic Academy]
  4. What is your favorite color? [hot pink]
  5. Who is your celebrity crush? [Paul Bettany?]
  6. Favorite drink? [cappuccino]
  7. Dream vacation? [New Zealand]
  8. Favorite dessert? [pavlova]
  9. What you want to be when you grow up? [whole]
  10. What do you love most in life? [Jesus]
  11. One word to describe you. [perfectionist]
  12. Your flickr name. [betherann]
The results . . .

1. Elizabeth, 2. Mexican Style Feast, 3. Virgin Mary, Mount Saint Dominic Academy, Caldwell ,NJ, 4. Hot pink on black, 5. Da Vinci Code Ad, 6. Homemade Cappuccino, 7. Black storm over Piha. West Coast. New Zealand, 8. Red and Orange Pavlova, 9. very berry health muffins whole 1469.jpg, 10. Church of the Holy Sepuchre - Tomb of Jesus - Jerusalem, Old City - 360°, 11. the perfectionists, 12. Album Cover

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie, Take One

I have seen the tasty results of the blog-stravaganza that is Tuesdays with Dorie all across the internet. A network of bloggers dedicated to expanding their baking repertoires, Tuesdays with Dorie is quite the web phenomenon. Each week one member selects a recipe from Dorie Greenspan's cookbook, Baking: From My Home to Yours. Everyone then conquers said recipe and blogs about it on Tuesday.

The idea of joining has been percolating in my brain for some time, but I just didn't feel I could commit to a new baking project each week. I recently learned, however, that the group is closing its membership at the end of this month. Not wanting to miss out on the opportunity to learn more about baking, chat with some fabulous like-minded individuals, and eat some tasty new treats in the process, I joined up.

And so I present you with the very first Muffin Love contribution to Tuesdays with Dorie: pumpkin muffins! What better way to start off a baking endeavor than with a muffin, and a pumpkin one to boot. Filled with pumpkin puree, walnuts, and golden raisins, the photo of these puppies in Dorie's cookbook was delectable. My favorite characteristic of the muffins was the sprinkling of seeded sunflower seeds over the tops, lending a satisfying crunch.

I did finagle the recipe a little, though. Wanting to use what I had on hand instead of purchasing new ingredients, I worked a few switcheroos. Instead of all-purpose flour I used whole wheat, and I substituted applesauce for the white sugar. Not being a fan of buttermilk, I tried skim, and I used 1/3 cup of 2% cottage cheese and 2 Tablespoons of Earth Balance instead of the stick of butter that Dorie's original recipe calls for.

The muffins turned out a little . . . brown. A lot brown, actually. A friend of mine came over to help bake (thanks, Patty!), and I had just picked up my in-laws' dogs for a quick round of dog-sitting. As a result, I was more than a little distracted by both chaos and conversation. This led to the production of twelve over-done muffins, even though I baked them for the exact time that the recipe dictates. (Those black bulbs on the muffins are not blueberries, they're blackened golden raisins!) I'm still getting used to this apartment's oven, I guess! However, not all was in vain -- despite the slight charring, this muffins were still quite good. Over time, they grew hard, though. I've since frozen the remaining muffins, and they even defrost a little rock-like. Ah, well.

Although these were not the plump pumpkin muffins that I had hoped for, I still had a fun time with my first round of participation in Tuesdays with Dorie. I just read November's recipes, and there are some good ones in there! I'm especially excited for the recipe for November 4. What is it? You'll just have to wait and see!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Wanna-Be Curry Girl

In exactly one month from yesterday, I'm leaving town in a big way. I'm not just leaving the state, or even the country -- I'm leaving this hemisphere. In mid-November, I will be ditching my snow-covered home and traveling across the Pacific to hang out in equatorial Malaysia for two weeks. I'm traveling with a group of ten other women from the church I attend here. We hope to assist American missionaries already living in Malaysia, as well as volunteer at orphanages, work with the poor, cook an "authentic" Thanksgiving dinner (as much as we are able to, given what ingredients are available!), present the Christmas story, and simply love and serve the people we meet.

I feel so excited, but also a bit nervous. I spent a semester studying in New Zealand during college, which is very far away in terms of geography, but I've never been immersed in a completely different culture where I will be in the minority ethnically, racially, culturally, and spiritually. This trip will be both rewarding and challenging!

At this point, I think my greatest challenge will lie in giving over all of my control, especially in the areas of nutrition and fitness. I don't know if I'll have any opportunities to exercise, which will be extremely hard for me. I start to feel gross, antsy, and itchy when I find myself unable to work out to my preference. Also, I will have little choice of what I eat -- I will have to eat what's available, and the options might very well be extremely unhealthy. Check out this quote from Lonely Planet's guide, World Food: Malaysia and Singapore:
It's terribly difficult to eat healthily when dining out in Malaysia . . . as most foods are fried (some in pork lard). There are a lot of hidden sugars and fat in many dishes and coconut milk tends to feature strongly in many curries and desserts (237).
Hmm. Tricky, eh? This, of course, refers only to eating out, so I'm not sure what the team's food provisions will actually be when we are in-country. But, for a recovering anorectic, the food situation will be a real and possibly ever-present challenge.

But -- and this is a big "but" -- I'm not going to Malaysia for the food (although I'm also very excited to taste the Malay, Indian, and Chinese cuisine!). I'm not going there to stay thin, or loose weight, or be on a diet. (In fact, as I'm meant to be gaining weight right now, none of this should even be a concern, right?) The reason I'm traveling to the other side of the world is not me. It's God. God, and whatever His plans are for the people we'll meet in Malaysia, His plans for us -- for me! -- as individuals, and His plans for all the world's people. Do I hope to get something out of this trip? Of course. But it's not all about getting -- it's about giving. Part of that giving is going to require taking big steps out of my circle of comfort, including in the area of food. And in the end, I will be all the better, all the stronger for it.

So what am I excited about regarding my Malaysia-bound meanderings? So many things! Meeting people, exchanging stories and meals with them . . . experiencing a new nation and three new people groups (Malay, Indian, Chinese) . . . seeing how real missionaries live and work . . . growing closer to God . . . lending a hand however it's needed . . . hugging orphans . . . describing the story of Christmas to adults and children alike who have never, ever heard it . . . eating new spicy foods . . . gaining confidence in God, and in myself . . . learning more about the world and its people . . . seeing how different I am from the Malaysians, and how similar . . . growing closer to my teammates . . . experiencing more of "the big picture" . . . getting outside of me . . . .

*Photo from here.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Simply Satisfying

Sometimes simple can be better than the most exquisitely crafted gourmet meal. Take yesterday's breakfast: 1/2 cup cottage cheese with a spoonful of pumpkin puree (a newly discovered combination that is delicious!); 1/2 cup maple yogurt with pumpkin flax granola and half a banana, sliced; the other half of said banana, with cranberry supplements; and loose vanilla green tea. It hit the spot.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

To Market, One Last Time

Today was a special Saturday. The Best Husband Ever and I visited the very last farmer's market of the season. How sad! No more locally grown beet purchases, no more visiting the bean sprouts ladies, no more cheese sampling, no more market baked treats until next summer. I will miss it! However, it is getting a bit nippy outside, and the weather over the past few weekends inspired many vendors and patrons alike to forgo the market in favor of indoor activities. In fact, today the hubby and I enjoyed our treats -- a Break cinnamon roll for him, and a Black Cat Bake Shop brioche cinnamon roll for me -- nestled inside Break Espresso, reading the paper and chatting about politics and the economy. It was quite cozy!

I don't know that we'll alter our sweet Saturday indulgence, though, as I have my eye on more indoors-y baked conquests, such as the new branch of Le Petite Outre that just opened this week, or Posh Chocolat, a chocolate shop that not only specializes in artisan truffles but also serves up crepes, sandwiches, and salads. Who knows what culinary adventures await as fall and winter spin through the city! One thing I know for certain, though. I will miss the farmer's market, and look forward to its return with the warm weather next year. Thanks for another tasty season, Farmer's Market!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Hob Nob Snob

One of my all-time favorite food haunts here in Missoula is the Hob Nob Cafe. A little bistro that features delicious breakfast and lunch menus crafted from local and organic ingredients, the Hob Nob serves up some of the best lunch in town. I am a big fan of their Tex-Mex black bean and lentil burger, with a side of the most amazing sweet potato fries this side of the Mississippi. Today, however, when meeting a friend for a Hob Nob lunch, I decided to switch things up a bit. Instead of my usual bean burger, I opted for the grilled brie and chutney sandwich. This sandwich absolutely hit the spot! The sweetness of the apricot chutney combined perfectly with the savory creaminess of the brie. The sweet potato fries were, of course, delectable, especially with some "secret sauce" for dipping. What else can I say but yum!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Adventures in Roasting

The Best Husband Ever and I purchase as much of our groceries in bulk from Costco as possible. It's cheaper, of course, so if you can get your mitts on a lot of non-perishables or you are able to freeze what you can't eat in a reasonable time period, it can save you quite a bit of money. Before shopping at Costco regularly, I thought that surely their products must be low-grade if they were low-priced. This, however, is not the case. Costco products are just as good, if not better, than standard grocery store fare. They also offer a variety of healthy choices and don't just stock up on super-processed foods that carry long shelf lives. For example, you can find organic granola side-by-side with unhealthier cereals like Cinnamon Toast Crunch, healthy dog food without any miscellaneous animal by-products, and part-skim cheese mozzarella.

Bulk items that make a frequent appearance in our pantry include: black beans; refried beans; canned olives; mango-peach salsa (my favorite salsa, incidentally!); cereals like Cheerios, Chex, Kashi Go Lean Crunch!, and pumpkin granola; balsamic vinegar; just about all of our fruit and vegetable haul, including bananas, romaine lettuce, mushrooms, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, grapes, apples, pears, peaches, sweet potatoes, or cucumbers, depending on what's in season and what we feel like; bagels; eggs; 2% cottage cheese; pumpkin puree; frozen berries; applesauce; tortilla chips; calcium supplements and multi-vitamins; toilet paper and paper towels; dog food; and beef jerky. Whew!

A few weeks ago, I saw that Costco is beginning to phase in its fall/winter seasonal items, including bulk packages of canned pumpkin puree (another favorite!) as well as pre-cut fresh butternut squash and brussels sprouts. I had never tried the sprouts before, and I wanted to try my hand at the squash as well, so I bought a package of each. The package of brussels sprouts came with a quick roasting recipe, which I immediately put to the test. I used the last of my farmer's market purple potatoes as well as some mushrooms. My verdict? Simple, fast, healthy, and, above all, tasty! Besides, it's super colorful, which just tickles me more than I can say. I tossed the roasted vegetables into salads as well as enjoyed them by themselves in a few bento lunches (pictured here with salad, Wasa crackers, a wedge of Laughing Cow garlic & herb swiss, Fiber One cereal, and egg replacers with pumpkin that I later microwaved at work). The last batch of this I tried adding a little garlic powder, but in the future will leave that off. Don't mess with simple success, right?

Autumn Roast Medley

Chopped butternut squash
Brussels sprouts, halved
Chopped mushrooms of your choice
Potatoes, scrubbed and chopped

cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a baking tray or pan with cooking oil. Arrange the vegetables on the pan so they don't touch each other. Cover the vegetables in a coat of cooking spray. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste. Roast for 20 minutes, stirring the vegetables once. Remove from the oven and enjoy the vegetables piping hot, or store them for later.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Body Love

Today is Love Your Body Day. How will you respect your body today? I am loving mine by eating right (i.e., the proper amount, and not restricting needlessly while overexercising).

Monday, October 13, 2008

Foodbuzz Publisher Community Launches!

Muffin Love is affiliated with a couple of online networks. I am the biggest fan of one in particular, however: Foodbuzz. A virtual community of more than 1,000 bloggers, it connects food writers, eaters, conoisseurs, and experts via web journals, recipe swaps, restaurant reviews, videos, and, most recently, product reviews. I am happy to be counted among those 1,000 featured publishers!

The biggest buzz on Foodbuzz at the moment, though, is its official Foodbuzz Publisher Community. Members can exchange recipes, rehash kitchen successes and failures, vote on their favorite Foodbuzz content, and chat with foodies all across the globe. It truly is a wonderful community to be a part of. Foodbuzz even has a presence on Facebook, so now it's official that the community is a social force to be reckoned with.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Saturday's Sweet Treat

The results are in! You voted in Muffin Love's poll to decide what baked treat I would try at this weekend's farmer's market. Well, one of you voted, anyway. But instead of bowing out of my agreement due to lack of voter participation, or use my lateness in posting the poll in the first place as an excuse, I stuck to my guns and ate what you asked -- a cinnamon or caramel roll! And let me tell you, it was not so easy to track one down! This Saturday saw the penultimate weekend of the local market, and possibly as a combination of that and the fact that it was a cold and windy day with snow showers in the offing, the market was rather sparse. Not just of patrons, but of vendors as well. The representative stand from Bernice's Bakery did not make an appearance, and a number of the other bakers were no-shows also. Black Cat Bake Shop did not give in so easily, but since I have already tried their rolls, I wanted to go for something new and different.

After combing the two separate downtown markets (with a very patient husband in tow, I might add!) I ended up at Le Petite Outre, a locally owned French bakery. I've eaten their scones in the past, and one of my favorite baked treats in town is their brioche. This time around, however, I tried something new that is also cinnamon roll-ish. I selected a panino dolce, which is cinnamon roll in shape and texture, although it has a much less sweet taste and a very real lack of cinnamon. Instead, this roll is topped with slivered almonds, almond paste, and powdered sugar for a much more subtle sweetness that I found very satisfying. Potatoes are also added to the dough to enhance the pastry's softness. The Best Husband Ever thought at first glance that the roll would be dry and tasteless, but it ended up being moist and savory. Perfect for a chilly Saturday morning, especially when washed down with a cup of steaming black coffee.

Thanks for the recommendation, lone voter! I might never have tried the panino dolce if not for this poll's results. Watch for next week's sweet treat poll. I promise that I will try to get it posted sooner! In the meantime, why not comment with suggestions for poll categories?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Guinea Pig

Saturday's farmer's market is fast approaching. I can't believe that it's nearly the weekend already! That means that treat day is almost upon us once more. As promised, this week I'm willing to try something from the farmer's market that you choose. I've had my eye on a couple of things from Bernice's Bakery that I'd like to try, such as a fruit cream cheese-filled croissant or pocket, as well as their maple pecan danish. (Check out more of Bernice's goodies on their pastries page.) If you'd like to hear my thoughts on a different sort of pastry than the ones listed in the poll, post them in the comments section below. Your suggestions can be as specific or general as you'd like! With that said . . . vote!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Living La Vida Local, Finally

So. Remember, way back in the day, when I issued a challenge? A food challenge, more specifically -- Living La Vida Local. I encouraged you to travel by plane, train, or automobile to your nearest farmer's market and dish up a meal incorporating locally grown ingredients. A fun challenge, to be sure.

But . . . I'm also a rather lame host. I first pushed the entry deadline back from July to something more Septemberish. And then forgot to post the results. Well, here, at long last, they are! I've already chatted a bit about my own entry, a Tri-Color Summer Vegetable Roast that found its way into my bento lunches. The local ingredient in this concoction was yellow summer squash, roasted with bell peppers, mushrooms, and onions with some of my favorite flavorings, including garlic and balsamic vinegar. This squash also found its way into an amazing plagiarized shrimp burrito.

Despite the very extended deadline(s), only one other chef submitted an entry. It is, however, an incredible-looking (and, I'm sure, tasting!) creation. Lia of Swirling Notions brings us the wonderfulness that is her apricot-almond tartlet. Mini tarts? Can you get any more adorable with pastry? I'm tempted to give up my muffin love for these tartlets. Thanks, Lia, your baking looks amazing!

That about wraps up Muffin Love's first food challenge! Thanks for reading about, cooking, eating, and considering local food fun. I had a good time challenging myself as both a chef and a consumer. Besides, you can't go wrong for enjoyment with a good farmer's market.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Pumpkin Scramble

Autumn and spring are my favorite seasons. Moderate, gorgeous, and mostly sunny with just the right amount of rain, I can't get enough of these seasons. Here in Montana, these seemingly intermediary seasons never stick around long. This year's fall, however, is glorious (for the moment, anyway -- snow is predicted for later this week!).

Along with the amazing colors of tree leaves, the crisp air, and the ever-more pervasive scent of fall bonfires, autumn also brings with it the advent of another cool-weather personality. Enter the pumpkin. One of my all-time favorite foods is pumpkin, particularly in pureed form. Pumpkin muffins and cookies are a must during the autumn months, and pumpkin pie is of course ubiquitous around Thanksgiving.

I also enjoy using pumpkin (and its squash relatives like butternut and spaghetti varieties) in less conventional ways. A delectable burrito variation finds its way into my weekly menus as canned pumpkin becomes more available at lower prices (thank you, Costco!). In fact, I make pumpkin burritos so often that I don't think to blog about them much. I think I owe you an updated recipe, because my latest rendition is better than ever. In addition to burritos, I use pumpkin while baking, in smoothies, and for other breakfast treats.

My most recent adventure in the blissful goodness that is pumpkin pureed involves eggs. That's right. Eggs. Scrambled, to be more exact. I've been wondering for quite some time how pumpkin would taste mixed into some scrambled eggs. At first I was quite excited about this, but after a rather lackluster experiment mixing pumpkin into plain yogurt, I didn't know how successful this endeavor would be. Still, I thought it was worth a shot.

I started scrambling one cup of egg replacers in a small pan, then added one half-cup of pumpkin puree. I also added some grated zucchini, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stirring often, I let the mixture cook for a few minutes, then served it up in a bowl topped with a little ketchup.

The result? It tasted delicious, and the meal had a good "stick to your ribs" kind of feel to it. My only disappointment was that the whole thing was a little runny. Next time I will cook the eggs for slightly longer before adding the pumpkin. All in all, this healthy meal (lunch for me, although definitely good at any time of the day or night!) was pretty satisfying.

How do you like your pumpkin? Pumpkin scrambled eggs might not be your dish, but what about pumpkin bread? Pumpkin soup? Pumpkin ice cream? Or some crazy and amazing pumpkin invention that I've yet to discover? Do tell, please, from one pumpkin lover to another!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

And the Winner Is . . .

Yesterday saw the reappearance of Muffin Love's new now-weekly poll. I asked you, loverly readers, to cast your vote for what treat you thought I might indulge in at this weekend's farmer's market. I'm sad to confess, though, that I've somewhat deceived you. Not intentionally, I promise! But still, I hand my head in moderate shame at my unplanned deception.

You see, my Saturday treat ended up falling into not just one, but several of the poll categories. When thinking of how to describe the treat I had in mind while creating the poll, I would have delineated it as "super-sweet." At the previous week's market, the vendor of this particular treat told me that it was both buttery and sugary. Hence my organization. Upon eating said delicacy, however, I discovered that it was not in fact "super-sweet," and that it was also slightly croissant-like (French!) as well as muffin-ish in shape. So my treat ended up falling into some combination of not one, not two, but three of the poll's selections!

So what was this mysterious and apparently shifty pastry? A morning bun from the Black Cat Bake Shop's stand. And it was deeeelicious. Crispy and sweet on the outside with a slightly crunchy sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar, with a light and fluffy interior that was not at all soggy and reminiscent of the texture of croissants, or perhaps brioche. One of my pet peeves is damp pastry -- I like my baked goods to be slightly crispy on the exterior while retaining only a very light moistness on the inside. Soggy Danish that ooze condensation really turn me off. I even like the caramel or frosting on cinnamon and caramel rolls to be more firm than sticky or, better yet, on the crunchy side. This morning bun achieved near-perfection in both taste and texture with my finicky predilections. The fact that it resembled a muffin shape was the icing on an already wonderful cake.

I think that for next weekend's treat poll, I will run things slightly differently. Instead of asking you to make a prediction, I offer myself as your guinea pig. You get to decide what I indulge in. A fruit cream cheese-filled croissant? A maple pecan Danish? A huckleberry scone? It's up to you, faithful readers, so get your thinking caps on. The new poll will go up around midweek. Be sure to leave a comment here with suggestions for next Saturday's treat options. Hurrah for treat day!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Practice Democracy! Vote . . . Sugar?

I had fun with last week's farmer's market poll, so I decided to bring it back! Some deal, everyone -- what fun treat am I going to load my stomach with this weekend? Here are a few factors to keep in mind that might factor into your vote:
  • It is rainy
  • The Best Husband Ever and I are going to a wedding this evening
  • I'm not feeling particularly hungry at the moment
  • I just ate [very yummy] chocolate pudding birthday pie last night
With that said, go nuts and vote! We all need to get some practice with casting ballots in before November, right?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Bento Bloggin'

It's about time that a bento lunch made a reappearance on this blog. Mr. Bento has been feeling a little crotchety at being ignored for so long, I think. So here he is! This is a typical lunch for me these days. Now that I'm working full-time in an intense elementary school job, this lunch is fast and easy to throw together. So even though I haven't eaten much in terms of variety these past few weeks, this lunch is tasty, satisfying, and time-efficient.

I start with a salad of some kind. It usually has a base of romaine, and then I throw in some other chopped fresh veggies, which can include cucumber, carrots, summer squash, onion, zucchini, beets, mushrooms, sprouts, and tomatoes. I might also add some fruit, as I did with the peaches in this lunch. The usual dressing is balsamic vinegar with some pepper, although sometimes I use random pre-made dressings that I have on hand, like maple fig or fat-free bleu cheese.

On to the main course. These days the heart of my lunches consists of a mixed half cup of black and refried beans. I then stir in some salsa (mango-peach!) and fat-free quark, and throw some guacamole on top if I have any. The guacamole is also a fabulous addition to my salad. I can heat the beans up at work in the microwave, or eat them cold.

I scoop of some of the bean mixture with Wasa crackers, but I also save a few crackers. Why? Because I want to spread them with my newest addiction, Laughing Cow's light swiss cheese wedges in garlic & herb flavor. (I've also had the French onion flavor, but the garlic remains my favorite.) This is incredibly delicious! A half cup of peanut butter Puffins cereal rounds off my lunchtime grains.

For a little extra calcium and protein, as well as to finish the meal on a sweet note, I have a half cup of fat-free yogurt topped with fruit. Sometimes the yogurt is Greek, sometimes regular plain, and often I choose vanilla. This lunch's fruit is obviously peaches, topped with cinnamon, nutmeg, and honey, but mixed frozen berries are another favorite of mine.

So there you have it -- my basic school lunch! I haven't gotten bored with it yet in terms of taste, and because it's so healthful and easy to make, I don't see the need to try anything new as yet. Soon, perhaps, and when I do, you can be sure it will make an appearance right here!