pumpkinpalooza

As far as seasonal food trends go the pumpkin-spice craze has got to be the biggest one around. Each Fall the world seems to be overrun with all things pumpkin: pumpkin spice pasta, pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin spice marshmallows, pumpkin spice beer and vodka, pumpkin spice potato chips, pumpkin spice body lotion, pumpkin spice bagels to go with pumpkin spice cream cheese and of course pumpkin spice room freshener (a must for every seasonally appropriate home). Whew— thats quite a list, but it doesn’t stop there. We’re so off our rockers over this spicy combination that even the beloved M&M isn’t safe from it. Thats right folks, Pumpkin Spice M&M’s available exclusively at Target and completely sold out when I recently looked for them. It would appear that we’re treading dangerously close to a world-wide state of pumpkin spice hysteria.

Not wanting to be left out, I too decided to make friends with pumpkin. It is after all high in fiber, a cup of puree contains a day’s worth of vitamin A and more potassium than a banana, it’s rich in beta-carotene which is good for your eyesight and lowers the risk of developing cancer or heart disease and the seeds contain chemicals called “phytosterols” which help reduce LDL. So really whats not to love about it, right? If you recall I already use it for my devil dogs Pumpkin-oatmeal dog biscuits and in the past I’ve substituted it for butternut squash in soup, but the weather was cool and I felt like baking…

Last Fall I gave you my coveted Cranberry-Orange Muffin recipe and while I still maintain it’s muffin perfection, I decided to play around with the recipe just the same. A few spices, some pumpkin puree, a little yogurt and one crumble topping later a new Greco family seasonal favorite was born.

Pumpkin-Cranberry Crumble Muffins
These muffins are the perfect way to enjoy the flavors of the season.

pumpkin-cranberry muffin4

Crumble:
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. butter, melted

Batter:
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
a pinch of nutmeg
12 oz. bag fresh cranberries
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. Angostura bitters
3/4 cup canned unsweetened pumpkin
1/4 cup plain Russian kefir yogurt (or Greek)

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners and spray with cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, ginger, salt and melted butter. Use a fork (or your fingers) to blend the mixture until it’s crumbly, breaking up any large clumps. Set aside.
  3. Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl, gently stir in the cranberries.
  4. In a medium bowl combine all the wet ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until well blended (the batter will be thick). Spoon evenly into the lined muffin cups, top with a generous amount of crumble and bake for 30 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Remove from the oven and allow muffins to cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then place on a wire rack for remainder of cooling

*recipe makes 12-16 muffins

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make you a convert cookies

It’s that time of year again. The time of year that parents of school aged children dream about for nine months. The time of year when memories of endless school projects, fundraisers and homework are slowly being shed like winter coats. Yes that’s right, it’s finally, thankfully and just-in-the-nick-of-time-or-I-really-might-have-lost-it… the end of the school year!

But just as I’m getting ready to heave a giant sigh of relief along come the notices about end of the year parties, plays, picnics etc. All of which would be very happy to accept my donation of a baked good (“peanut-free and at least a dozen please.”) Of course I’ll send something along, how could I not, but I feel as though I’ve managed to paint myself into a bit of a corner. I’ve shown up to enough events and class birthday’s with something yummy in hand that now at the end of year when I’m just plumb tired, I have to “bring it” one final time. Sigh. Me and my big mouth and weekly blog.

I considered making cupcakes but I figured the dessert table would be awash in them. Then I thought about some lemons bars; but the recipe literally only makes a dozen. What if they turned out so delicious that there was a stampede trying to get to the dessert table. And what if several little people were injured in the may lay and never able to look at a lemon bar again without having flashbacks— I’d feel terrible! So I settled on cookies, ya can’t go wrong with a cookie (that’s my motto anyway) and I knew just which recipe to make.

As you may recall I collect cookie jars and while most of them hold bric-a-brac and dust bunnies, one is usually filled with something freshly baked. A wide variety of cookies come and go through that jar, but some that never hang around long enough to get stale are my Cherry & Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies. I know what some of you are thinking, “I don’t like oatmeal cookies.” I’m with you, I usually don’t either. I don’t like their grainy texture or how overly spiced and sweet they usually are. And I can’t stand raisins in my cookies (don’t even get me started on walnuts in my brownies!) Anyway, the oatmeal cookies you’re thinking of and writing off as not for you, are not these cookies. These are without a doubt the oatmeal cookies that will covert you.

Cherry & Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
These are my go to cookies when I have to show up somewhere with treats. The recipe makes about 2 1/2 dozen large cookies, plenty to take to school and enjoy a few at home as well!

oat-choc cookies3

1 1/4 cups white whole-wheat flour
1 cup quick cook oats
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
2 tbsp. 2% milk
1/2 cup dried cherries (or cranberries)
1 12 oz. bag dark chocolate morsels

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. Mix together the flour, oatmeal, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in small bowl.
  3. In large bowl beat together the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar and vanilla until creamy. Scrape down the bowl and add the egg and milk. Beat until well combined and a batter has formed.
  4. Add the flour/oat mixture to the batter mixture and gently stir to combine (it will seem dry but not to worry). Add the cherries and chocolate morsels and stir until blended. Drop by rounded tablespoon (or cookie scoop) onto the baking sheets. (The cookies will spread a bit so be sure to leave enough room between each one.)
  5. Bake for 17-20 minutes or until the tops are lightly browned but centers are still soft. Cool on wire racks, then try and eat just one.

lean, mean + super green

I believe in eating real, delicious and satisfying food. If you’re going to eat chocolate; eat the best you can find. If you’re going to buy bread; buy something that will do more than keep your sandwich ingredients out of your lap. And if you’re going to try to lose a few pounds; do it with healthy for you food. Not frozen, processed, microwaved, artificial everything substitutes. Blech!

In the quickly approaching year since my last birthday I’ve noticed that my pants are not as loose as they once were, and that my energy levels are not exactly olympic. I honestly don’t care about growing older (gracefully, not kicking and screaming is my plan) but I do care about feeling older. Right about the same time as I was deciding how exactly to handle this tight pants predicament of mine, my college friend and fellow blogger Lynda Layng Tama (www.healthyhobokengirl.com) posted a recipe for a Banana Almond Smoothie. Smoothies— I had a light bulb moment— smoothies could be the answer!

Her recipe was both easy and delicious. But, you know how I love to tinker with perfectly good recipes… I googled, researched and talked about smoothies with my health conscience friends. I tried multiple recipes, swapping and tweaking ingredients as I went until I found a combination that had enough protein in it to keep me from feeling hungry and enough good fruits and veggies to keep me feeling healthy. During my recipe research I discovered something called Spirulina powder. Spirulina is a simple blue-green algae that is apparently the ultimate superfood! It is reported to be: “a complete protein source; to contain 26 times more calcium than milk, to increase your immunity and metabolism; it is a natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, is loaded with vitamins and minerals; rich in essential fatty acids and claims to aid in the healing of allergies, ADD, hypoglycemia, diabetes, high cholesterol, fatigue, anemia and digestive disorders.” Even the ancient Aztecs used Spirulina and called it the ‘sacred power plant’. They believed it contained the energy of the sun and had amazing rejuvenating and vitalizing properties. Wow, that’s quite a resume! And who am I after all to question the Aztecs!?! So even if only half of it’s reported benefits are true, it seemed like a worthwhile addition to my smoothie.

Since I can’t start my day without some serious coffee, I decided to have my smoothie in place of lunch. (Lunch for me is usually a hurried affair anyhow so why not drink my smoothie while continuing to get stuff done?!?) Yes the spinach and Spirulina make this a frightening shade of green, even a green lover like me will admit that, but it’s really pretty tasty. Don’t get me wrong, my children have agreed to taste it but will never request a glass of their own, my husband calls it toxic waste and can barely stand to watch me drink it and it will never take the place of a lovely Niçoise salad, but it’s not so terrible either.

It’s still too soon for me to claim I’m down a pants size or that I’m able to run marathons because of my “Super Green Smoothie”. However I do feel both mentally and physically better prepared to handle whatever gets thrown my way, and for that I’m delighted.

Super Green Smoothie
You could use any type of berry in this or even some fresh mango, whatever fruit you like most. What I wouldn’t do is omit the banana (even if you’re not a banana lover) because it really helps to give it a little “non-green” flavor.

smoothieALT

1/2 cup plain almond-coconut milk
1/4 cup plain whole grain rolled oats
1/2 cup sliced strawberries (about 4 large)
1/2 ripe banana, frozen
1/2 cup non fat Greek yogurt
1/2 tsp. Spirulina powder*
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3 ice cubes
1 tbsp. almond butter
2-3 tsp. honey
1 handful fresh kale, spinach or dandelion greens

  1. Throw all the ingredients in the blender and give it a whirl.
  2. Sip, enjoy and feel like an Aztec warrior!

*You can purchase Spirulina powder at any health food store but before you do, I encourage you to do a little research of your own and discover what a superfood it claims to be.