Pumpkin Muffins/Cupcakes with Honey Walnut Cream Cheese Frosting

pumpkin cupcake

The cupcake versus muffin debate is as old as time.  Some say that frosting draws the line; cupcakes are frosted, muffins are not.  Others say it’s about the ratio of fat to flour. Still other folks claim it’s about using oil or melted butter (muffins) versus creamed sugar and butter (cupcakes).  I like this last one, I think, because fluffy creamed butter and sugar result in a more airy pastry. Which is why I’m having a hard time deciding if these pumpkin cuties are muffins or cupcakes. The frosting and soft crumb would indicate cupcakeness.  But the frosting could easily be served alongside as a spread, and the butter here is melted and moderate in amount, so I’m thinking it’s really more of a muffin.

In reality, it doesn’t matter.  They are delicious.  Whatever we call them, they are filled with fall flavor and pumpkin goodness, and I have no qualms about eating them any time of day.  They would be great for Halloween – for breakfast or dessert!

muffin with honey walnut cream cheese

While these Muffins/Cupcakes are lovely on their own, I think it’s the cream cheese icing that really makes them spectacular.  My mother-in-law and I share an obsesion for honey walnut cream cheese.  She came over for breakfast last week and I bought bagels and honey walnut cream cheese from our local bagel shop.  And then I ate up the rest of that cream cheese on graham crackers as a fabulous evening snack through the rest of the week.  And when I finished that tub of cream cheese, it occurred to me that I could easily make my own.  Just whip some cream cheese, a bit of honey, and a few toasted walnuts together and that’s it!  It’s fantastic on toast, on a banana, on waffles, and, of course, on pumpkin Muffins/Cupcakes.

pumpkin muffin with cream cheese

Pumpkin Muffins/Cupcakes With Honey Walnut Cream Cheese Frosting

makes 24

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup applesauce

1/2 cup melted butter, cooled

4 eggs, beaten

1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree

16 oz cream cheese, softened at room temperature

1/3 cup honey

1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease two 12-cup muffin tins. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pumpkin pie spice. In a separate bowl, wisk together the sugars, applesauce, butter, eggs, and pumpkin.  Add the dry ingredients and mix until well combined. Divide the batter among the muffin tins and bake 20-25 minutes until set.  Cool.

While the muffins/cupcakes cool, make the frosting. Beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer until fluffy.  Add in the honey to combine, and then the nuts.

Frost the cupcakes (or serve alongside the muffins!) and enjoy.

Published in: on October 28, 2011 at 6:25 pm  Comments (9)  
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Quinoa Banana Breakfast Porridge

hot breakfast cereal with quinoa and banana

I love fall for many reasons; bright orange leaves, crisp breezy weather, big Halloween pumpkins, and the amazing apple fritters sold at the cider mill down the road. Drool.  I have to limit myself to only a half-dozen per season or who knows what might happen.

This morning I remembered another (healthier) reason that I love fall – porridge.  Just the word porridge makes me feel all warm and cozy!  It conjures images of a roaring fires and fuzzy socks.  I rarely eat hot cereal in the summer months, but come fall, I start to crave a comforting bowl of chewy, nutty goodness. And quinoa makes for an extra nutty porridge, not to mention an extra nutritious breakfast.  Chock full of vitamins and protein, this is the real breakfast of champions.

If you haven’t jumped on the quinoa bandwagon yet, breakfast is a good time to do so.  The quinoa makes for a great texture here.  With oatmeal, grits and rice pudding I often feel the need for a bit of crunch, a few nuts or a sprinkle of granola.  But the quinoa provides such an interesting mouthfeel and so much robust flavor, that I find nuts unnecessary. Even so, some toasted almonds would be lovely sprinkled on top.  So would flaked coconut.  I went for a bit of extra sweetness with the chopped dates, but the possibilities are endless. And if two bananas for two servings sounds like a lot, well, it is.  But trust me.  Sweet silky bananas and fluffy, chewy quinoa are an alluring combination. 

hot breakfast cereal ingrediants

Quinoa Banana Breakfast Porridge

Serves 2

3/4 cup water

3/4 cup plain unsweetened almond milk

1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed

pinch of cardamom

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

2 medium ripe bananas, chopped

1/4 cup chopped dried dates (optional)

In a small saucepan, bring the water and almond milk to a simmer.  Stir in the rinsed quinoa and the spices and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring every so often, for about 15 minutes.  Add in the chopped bananas and cook, stirring, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the bananas chunks begin to break down.  Spoon into two bowls and top with the dates, if desired.  Serve hot.

Published in: on October 16, 2011 at 6:26 pm  Comments (12)  
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Healthy Crispy Chicken Tenders – Really!

healthy chicken tenders

Until I met Jeff, I probably hadn’t eaten chicken tenders since middle school.  Between burgeoning food snobbery, a period of vegetarianism, and an increasing awareness of the evils of all things fried, I spent my teen and young adult years choosing salads and ceviche instead of grilled cheese and corn dogs.

But Jeff adores kid food and has no qualms about ordering off the children’s menu. And let’s be honest… who doesn’t love grilled cheese? And corn dogs? And especially crispy chicken tenders.  I can devour a mountain of deep-fried crunchy, juice strips of chicken, especially with a side of creamy ranch dip.  Of course, I don’t usually allow myself to eat a mountain of them… generally just a bite or two stolen from Jeff’s plate.

I’d tried before to faux-fry chicken tenders in the oven, but never had much success.  Jeff and I were looking for that crisp crunch on all sides, and juicy, flavorful chicken. But my breaded and baked failures were soggy on the bottom, and when cooked until crisp on top, inevitably dried out.  They lacked juicy flavor and were a poor stand in for deep-fried goodness.

But when I saw this post on Kristy Rimkus’ wonderful healthy recipe site a while back, a little ray of faux-fried chicken tender hope entered my kitchen!  I’ve tweaked Kristy’s recipe, but the key point is cooking the chicken on a cooling rack, letting the air circulate and crisp up all sides on the tenders.

Arranging the tenders on a greased cooling rack over  a baking sheet results in much crispier chicken.  So does using panko instead of regular breadcrumbs. There is no need to cook the tenders until the panko browns completely, just a tinge of gold will do.  They will be crisp without overcooking, and the chicken will remain nice and juicy!  The trick is to slice the chicken into one-inch strips, so that they cook quickly and evenly.  And, for maximum flavor, I like to dip the chicken in honey mustard instead of an egg wash.  As an added bonus, swapping mustard for egg cuts calories too.

Serve these up with some oven fries and a side of reduced-fat ranch dressing and you’ll be in faux-fried heaven!

weight wtahcres chicken

Crispy Chicken Tenders

Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds chicken breast cutlet

1/2 cup honey mustard

2 cups panko crumbs

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Arrange a greased cooling rack over a baking tray. Slice the chicken into one-inch strips. Spread the honey mustard in a shallow dish.  In another dish, mix the panko, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Dip the chicken pieces in mustard, wiping of the excess, and then dredge in panko.  Arrange the chicken on the cooling rack.  Spray with cooking spray.  Bake 20-25 minutes until crisp and cooked through.

Published in: on October 9, 2011 at 7:49 pm  Comments (12)  
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