Thursday, October 30, 2014

Pumpkin/Berry Muffins, Perfect Autumn Treat!

I think we'll start with a little upstate autumn first!!!!


How cute are they? Joslyn and Mary Ruth, playing in the leaves of my favorite tree, a big, sprawling Norway maple. All summer long this tree shades my little friends, giving them respite from heat and sun.... and then come fall, it glows gold with leaves until a brisk, cold wind chases them down...

And here they are, ready for kids to jump in, bury each other in, or make very cool recipes, just like we do here at Yankee Belle! Sweet!

We've been doing lots of autumn things: Cleaning the garage (a two-weekend job, weekend one is complete, weekend two awaits and it's supposed to SNOW this weekend. I will be dressing warmly!)

Bringing firewood to the side porch and the garage, because I'm grumpy if I'm cold. I'm grumpy if I'm hot. I'm fairly mean if I'm tired... I am a piece of work!!!!

But I cook for them all, so that buys me patience and points!

I had leftover pumpkin puree from a weekend project and I wanted something different... but delicious! So I found a recipe online for Blueberry Pumpkin muffins, but I decided to give it a Ruthy makeover.

And of course I made a double batch, so you can cut this recipe in half for twelve muffins, but around here, twelve muffins are just enough to start a brawl!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Grease and sugar 24 muffin cups (same as grease and flour, but sugar works better for muffins)



Ingredients and Directions:

Mix the following together in bowl:

3 1/3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg



In separate bowl:

Melt:

2/3 cup butter

Mix in:
 
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs (I had a jumbo and a small so it worked out just fine!!!)
2 cups sugar

Beat butter, oil, sugar and eggs together until smooth and well-blended.



In third bowl (Don't Get Nervous, this is the last bowl, I promise!!!)  :) mix:

2 cups pumpkin puree (homemade or canned)
1/2 cup milk



Add the milk/pumpkin mixture alternately with the flour/spice mixture to the mixing bowl filled with sugary, eggy, buttery goodness. Don't overmix.

Berries:

2 cups blueberries or triple berry mix
2 Tablespoons flour 

Mix those together and then blend into muffin batter. The reason you do this is to help the moist berries to hold their own in the muffin. The flour prevents them from sogging things up too much because the flour binds to the berry.

And this way they don't all sink to the bottom!!!

Fold berries into batter and fill twenty-four muffin pans about 2/3 - 3/4 full.



Bake at 350 degrees for about 20-25 minutes. 


These were beyond delicious, they have the best texture, they made no mess in the pan, they were virtually EASY PEASY (besides washing three bowls!!!!) and they melt in your mouth. 

You wouldn't even really know they're pumpkin because the essence of pumpkin is fairly mild in the finished product, but these are a crowd pleaser! Remember last year I did those muffins that STUCK IN THE PANS HORRIBLY??????

KITCHEN FAIL!!!!

These spilled right out leaving nothing but a glaze of sugar behind. Perfect!

And to help us get ready for fall/winter, Paul and Mandy (Mary Ruthy's parents) came over to build a DOOR for the chicken house..... We were using a gate across it, but the weather's getting colder and we want cozy, warm, egg-laying hens.... So here they are on what might have been the last warm day of 2014:

I fed them a turkey dinner, but Paul still said "This is the last stupid chicken thing I'm building."

Paul always says stuff like that, but then I feed him and he remembers that I introduced him to his beautiful wife.... and then he agrees to help me do anything because he really, really likes his wife.

:)  

The way to get helpful cooperation is clearly by MATCHMAKING. 


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Scary Food

This time of year, people seem set on scaring each other or themselves. Me? Not a horror fan ever since ManO and I went to see Halloween with a friend in college. The movie was bad enough. What we didn't know was there were other students hiding in the bushes across campus, ready to leap out and scare the dickens out of folks who were walking back from the theatre. Poor ManO was already deaf from the stereo screams during the movie. I think I about ripped his arm off on the way back to our dorms. Or maybe that was a bit intentional for other reasons. He's still my hero.

Now I have to admit, there are foods that scare me. Raw fish of any kind. Lamb chops (I'm afraid Lamb Chop the puppet will haunt my dreams.) Beets when I was a kid. ManO says brussel sprouts scare him.

This is how I look when I see calamari or ahi tuna - or rather I fear what I'll turn into if I eat it:



But there's something about scary food that also intrigues me. Not talking the veggie plate skeletons or the gummy worms coming out of Oreo dirt. I'm talking food that literally sends a shiver up my spine or is not what I'm used to or looks so different from what it tastes like that I have to think before plunging my fork in!

Take for instance, the new black burger from Burger King in Japan. You can read the article here. Too scary to post pictures.   I thought it was pretty. The burger and cheese may be black but not charred. Other folks said it scared them silly.

And then there is the black spaghetti noodles I found at my local Fresh Market. The amazing thing about these wheat-free noodles is they are the OPPOSITE of pasta. They have twenty-one, yep 2-0, grams of protein and barely any carbs. So you can feel free to create a meatless sauce and still have the protein you need.



You have to admit they are a little scary looking, like I cooked hair or something.  






But it is also the perfect base for an autumn veggie based sauce. I roasted some butternut squash but kept it stringy to fake ManO into thinking there was some meaty heft in his sauce.

Let's pause for this true confession: Love our farmer's market squash but had to go with organic due to a pinched nerve in my shoulder. No heavy duty chopping for me. And TAH DAH, I discovered roasting radically improves sometimes disappointing frozen veggie flavor and texture. That knowledge is gold!

A cup and a half of my favorite sauce, add in the roasted squash or pumpkin and let simmer til warm. If you prefer a slightly more savory version, just add parmesan on top! And it is delish!


ManO was pretty game and I was pretty game at creating stories to go with it. Kinda wished I had boys who would eat anything in the house so I could tell them it was worms or snakes or something.

Have you ever had a food scare you but ended up being delicious? How brave are you at trying new food?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Fantastically Flavor-FULL Fauxtatoes

Tex here and yep, you read that right. Today we're talking fauxtatoes. 

As a part of THM healthier lifestyle, I've cut white potatoes out of my diet. Oh, I might sneak a french fry or two if I'm out, say at a writer's conference, but in my daily living, white potatoes are a thing of the past.

Why?

Basically, as soon as we ingest those potatoes, they turn to sugar. 
And since I've cut sugar out of my diet... You get the point.

However, sometimes you just gotta have mashed potatoes. So what's a girl to do?

Come up with an alternative that fits into her new lifestyle.

Enter the dreaded cauliflower.
(dum, dum, dum...)

Now, I have to admit that I've heard about mashed cauliflower and how it was "just like mashed potatoes" for years. Don't get me wrong. I like cauliflower. 
But there's no way it could possibly taste like potatoes.

Well, you know how the old adage goes. Don't knock it until you've tried it.
I've knocked it. Now I've tried it.

And you know what?

It's a pretty close substitute.

Yes, the texture is a little different, but the flavor is pretty darn good.

To start, you're going to need this.
Our old friend cauliflower, cut into uniform pieces.
Though, you could also use frozen cauliflower.

Next, I put about 1-2 inches of chicken or vegetable broth in a large sauce pan.

Bring to a boil, then add your cauliflower.
I like to add a little coarse sea salt at this point, but that's purely optional.

Cover and steam until all pieces are tender.

Next, you're going to need:
Butter, salt, pepper, garlic powder and whipping cream.

Drain the cooked cauliflower and put into blender or food processor.
Add about 3-4 tablespoons of butter and about 1 tablespoon of the cream and blend until smooth.


Scrape down sides and add 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (more, if you like) and salt and pepper to taste and blend again. You can also add a little more cream, if needed.

And here you  have it.
Creamy fauxtato goodness. 

And you won't believe it. My oldest son, the king of mashed potatoes, even likes them.
He says they taste different than potatoes, but they're still good. I was shocked when I came in one night to find the bowl empty. He'd polished them off!

A miracle, I tell ya.
And probably the first vegetable he's voluntarily eaten in almost 10 years. 

Like Jan, my Nov. 1 deadline is fast approaching. However, I think I'll actually turn my manuscript in early.

Whoo-hoo!!!

That means a few days to catch up on housework and cooking before I hit the next book.
My family will be so appreciative. 
And, since Saturday is November 1st, I'll be baking pumpkin bread.
I can hardly wait. And no, I will not be leaving out the sugar. Yes, I will eat some. 
But I will not feel guilty. I will enjoy every bite. :)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Pumpkin Sugar Cookies and the Best Burger Joint in the Black Hills

How is everyone doing on their deadlines?

For you non-writers, a deadline is the date you promised your editor, or your agent, or yourself, that you'd be at a certain point in your book.

Fall colors on Mt. Moriah - originally known as
"Boot Hill" - above Deadwood

In my case, revisions on my Deadwood story are due on Friday. Major revisions. Due Friday.

Uff da!*

*"Uff da" is a Norwegian expression meaning roughly the same thing as "Oy vey!" or "Oh Mylanta!" It's a multi-purpose expression, used extensively in the upper mid-west, mostly in Minnesota and the Dakotas.

So it's an entire week of "uff da" as I hit the last three chapters of the story, and then go back for a quick polish before sending it off to New York City.

Meanwhile, like I said last week, the family is suffering. They remember the "good old days" when I used to make fresh bread everyday (I never did), and we had a homemade dessert for every meal (never happened), and a soup pot simmered on the back of the stove from October to March (again, this only happened in their imaginations).

Uff da!

But once in a while, I do have to do something cookingly creative to keep them happy. A church get-together is always a good excuse, too.

So Sunday afternoon I ventured into cookie baking.

Pumpkin Sugar Cookies

This recipe makes a soft sugar cookie with pumpkin spice overtones. BeeTeeDubs*: These received rave reviews at the church fellowship time!



Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups butter (3 sticks), softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin, or homemade pumpkin puree
4 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
4 1/2 cups flour

Super simple directions: Preheat your oven to 375°. Cream the butter until fluffy (30 seconds or so). Add the sugars, pumpkin and vanilla and beat well. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, salt, baking powder and flour and mix well. (Be sure to start your mixer on low so the flour doesn't fly all over the place!)

Make the dough into balls about the size of a small walnut, then roll in sugar.


Flatten each ball with the back of a spoon, and decorate with sprinkles or a candy corn if you wish. Of course, after I did this I realized the candy corn would melt in the oven. They were good - but next time I'll put the candy corn on as the cookies come out of the oven.

Bake for about 10 minutes at 375°, or until lightly browned on the edges. Since this dough doesn't have any eggs, you can make them as soft and gooey in the center as you want without worrying about undercooked dough.


When they're done, pack them up and take them somewhere to share. Believe me, you won't want a batch of these babies hanging around the house with nothing to do! Uff da!


Meanwhile, my husband and I have been on a quest for the perfect burger. We love burgers in our family (as you can tell in this post from a few weeks ago), and there's just something about finding the perfect burger joint.

We have a Five Guys restaurant that recently opened, and we do enjoy their burgers. And then there's this place up in the Hills called the Sugar Shack. An excellent burger, too.

But then we tried this place. Uff da!!!


The sign says it all. Not only the best burgers we've had (well, maybe except for homemade), but also the best bun. Absolutely delicious.

Sorry - I had to try this great burger before I remembered
to take a picture!
My burger was called "The Fat Smitty" (don't laugh - I don't care what it's called when it tastes this good!). The 1/3 pound beef patty was topped with American cheese, lettuce, bacon, a fried egg and garlic aioli. That garlic aioli made this burger.

By the way, I could have gotten a nice tomato slice on it, too. But fresh tomatoes are one of the few things I've never learned to like.

I could also have gotten it as a buffalo burger. But I love buffalo - if I'm going to eat it, I'm not going to put a lot of toppings on it.

Oh, and the side of sweet potato fries was heavenly, too.

You can read more about the restaurant and the menu here: http://blackhillsburgerandbun.com/home

The mural on the side of the Black Hills Burger and Bun
building.

One of the great things about this burger place is the location. Uff da :)



The only place you'll find a burger like this is in Custer, South Dakota. A little town smack dab in the middle of the Black Hills - and the very place where Custer's expedition first discovered gold in French Creek in 1875.

Definitely a Wild West town. 

After dinner we drove into Custer State Park to do some star gazing (the Milky Way was beautiful that night), and we were serenaded by a coyote not more than fifty yards from us.


This video from YouTube was taken in the daylight, but our coyote sounded just like this. And the sound echoed off the Hills around us. Eerie and beautiful. And a memorable end to our evening. Uff da!


So make yourself a batch of Pumpkin Sugar Cookies, dream about your favorite local restaurant, and get to work on that book! Either writing or reading, you must be working on a book :)


*BeeTeeDubs = a short hand way of saying "by the way." As in B T W's. BeeTeeDubs. Get it?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Upside Down Pecan-Apple Pie, A Cane River Region Recipe!

 
Hello, everybody! The Fresh Pioneer is back and I have a very tasty recipe to celebrate book releases! (Yes, PLURAL.) First, I had a Love Inspired book release earlier this month.
And then there's The Pepper in the Gumbo which is up for preorder now! I really LOVED writing this book. Sort of You've Got Mail and 84, Charring Cross Road- with lots of Southern cooking and romance!
 Then this box showed up at my door and I got to hold my latest Austen Takes the South book in my hands!  Isn't she pretty!!!??? Releasing Nov. 11th!
So, when I was researching my new series set in Natchitoches, Louisiana, I needed a good cookbook. I asked my facebook friends and apparently this is THE cookbook for Louisiana. It's like the JOY OF COOKING down there. Everybody's got one, usually handed down. It was originally published in the 1950's and now you can buy it on Amazon. Love that!
                                                     
Poor me, I had SO MUCH RESEARCH to do. And by research I meant cooking and eating. I decided not to include this recipe in the back of the first book in the series, but it caught my eye and I wanted to try it out. Upside down apple-pecan pie sounds interesting, doesn't it??

Bake at 350F for an hour.
Ingredients:
4TBS butter
2/3 brown sugar
2/3 cup pecans
2 unbaked pie crusts
6 cups sliced apples
1 tbs lemon juice
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 TB flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

 There's Mr. Tin Pie Plate! We've missed you!!
 So combine the brown sugar and the butter and press into the bottom of the pan. This will melt and make a caramel under your pie.
 Press the pecans into the mix and you can make it fancy if you want.
Put the bottom crust over the mix, leaving a few inches over the sides.
 Like so.
 Put in the apple mixture. Mmmmmm....
By the way, these pies (I actually made two) come from the apples from our own trees. But these are special trees. We have a compost pile where we throw veggies and peels and such. My husband noticed a few seedlings had sprouted so he transplanted them into the corner of the yard. I didn't really pay attention to them. I think I noticed them a few times a year. Scrawny branches, tiny little stunted apples, the trees were no taller than my youngest child for years. And then this year, the apples grew BIGGER. I was so surprised! It took seven years for a little seed to give back another apple and even though I'd completely forgotten about those little trees, they were working hard the whole time. I imagine them saying to me now, "How you like THEM apples??" lol
 Put on the top layer an pinch closed the edge. This was a very juicy pie (and actually set off the fire alarm twice) so be sure to set something underneath to catch the drips.
 
 OK, here's the first pie and it smells AMAZING. But I'm not completely sold on it yet.
I'm going to attempt to turn over the pie into this deep dish. The entire family has crowded around to watch. (Mostly because I set off the fire alarm and they're huddled together for warmth while the smoke leaves the house.)
 Here's the second pie and although it doesn't look fantastically pretty, there's nothing like hot aple pie right from the oven.
 OK. It actually wasn't that hard to flip. I'm wondering if the caramel burned. I'm skeptical.
 Moment of truth, with lots of caramel sauce drizzled on it.
And some whipped topping. The verdict was..... *drum roll* The family declares this THE BEST PIE EVER.
And since I usually post a kid pic but they were all outside playing by the time I sat down to write this, I'll put this one here...
My oldest always reads to the younger kids every night and this photo really made me laugh. At first I thought of Cerberus, the three headed dog. And then someone said it looked like Huginn and Muninn, the Norse mythological crows that perched on Odin's shoulders. Lol.
 So there you go! I hope you're all having a wonderful and productive fall!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Butternut, Greens and… Bacon!

Missy Tippens, here. I know we've been talking a lot about pumpkin this month. (See, I've even got pumpkin all over my house in our hand soap!) But today I thought I'd share something else fallish: butternut squash.

I had a nice squash and decided I wanted to combine it with pasta. So, after digging, I found bacon (good with just about anything!). And I had greens. I decided that would be great all together!
I'm doing this the easy way. I don't cube raw butternut. Too difficult! I roast it, then cube it.


Cut it in half. Scoop out seeds. Put several pats of butter in the scooped out part. I also buttered the neck of the squash.



I wanted to use half for dinner. And to save the other half for lunch tomorrow. So for the savory side to go with pasta, I added salt and pepper. For the leftovers, I sprinkled on brown sugar.

Roast at 400 degrees until done. It took about 45 minutes for this large squash.

While it's roasting--

Wait, what's that on the counter?? How did that get there (she asks while chewing sweet baked goodness)?


Okay, back to the healthy squash. :) While it's roasting, get the pasta noodles boiling.

Also, cook the bacon.

** Tip: Chop raw bacon with kitchen scissors. It's much easier to cook. This was the first time I've tried bacon that's nitrate/nitrite free. It looked more like ham but cooked up DELISH, just like regular bacon. And I think it tasted even better!



When it was browned, I was going to drain it, but realized this type bacon made less grease. Since I needed some oil anyway to cook my greens, I left the bacon in the pan and tossed in some chopped garlic. Then added the greens.



I used the Power Greens (a mix of baby spinach, kale and swiss chard).


I sautéed until greens wilted.



When the squash is fork tender, remove from oven and let cool a bit. Then sliced criss-cross patterns through one half.


Once it's all sliced, you can scoop the cubes out. Add to the greens and bacon.

Serve on top of pasta. I also topped with fresh parmesan. This was so good! And nice and colorful.


Enjoy for a nice fall meal!