Pumpkin Butter Muffins

Fall may not technically start until tomorrow, but I’m calling it. My fall decorations are going up and I am ready to go Full Throttle Pumpkin. Are you?

I must say, however, that this year I am learning from previous pumpkin mistakes. Last fall, I made numerous batches of pumpkin butter and sold it to friends, family, and my husband’s co-workers. Major pumpkin love! When I circled back to see if anyone wanted to purchase a second round, though, the response was almost always the same: “We love it, but we haven’t used it up yet.”

That’s where these Pumpkin Butter Muffins come in. As far as I know, pumpkin butter is a beloved seasonal treat, but most people don’t eat enough toast to use up a whole jar of it as a spread. That means it’s time to get a little creative, because the last thing you want is for this pumpkin-y deliciousness to go to waste.

Swirling creamy pumpkin butter into tender muffins is a great way to use that extra bit of it hanging around in your fridge–and makes for a colorful breakfast that screams autumnal goodness. And hey, who’s to stop you from slathering more pumpkin butter on top of these after they come out of the oven? Not I!

 


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Pumpkin Butter Muffins
Who's ready for fall? These pumpkin butter muffins are a great way to use everyone's favorite seasonal spread!
Course breakfast
Servings
muffins
Ingredients
Course breakfast
Servings
muffins
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.
  3. In a smaller bowl or large measuring cup, combine egg, milk, and vegetable oil. Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir until just combined.
  4. Divide batter evenly between muffin cups. Dollop a bit of pumpkin butter into each and swirl into batter using a knife or toothpick.
  5. Bake 20 minutes or until a tester inserted in the middle of muffins comes out clean. Store in an airtight container.
Recipe Notes

A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe.

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Building a Mediterranean Diet-Friendly Pantry

As a nutritionist, if there’s one piece of eating advice I could give to the general public, it would be this:

As much as possible, follow a Mediterranean diet.

Maybe I should have this as a bumper sticker on my car, or printed on my business cards, or tattooed on my forehead. The Mediterranean diet, over and above any other diet or eating approach I know of, has been proven to have the most benefits for both physical and emotional health. Research has confirmed that it reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. And if you think what you put in your body doesn’t also affect your mind, think again: one long-term study showed that people who ate a Mediterranean diet were 50% less likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. Top that, Paleo.

But what actually IS the Mediterranean diet, and how do you follow it? Do you get to eat pizza and wine all the time? Or lots of exotic North African spices? Or since the Mediterranean is a sea, do you have to eat weird sea creatures, like octopus? Thankfully, no. Anyone who tells you you have to eat octopus is selling something (and it’s probably octopus).

At its most basic level, the Mediterranean diet is simply a common sense healthy approach to eating: lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, not a lot of meat, etc. But there are some key elements that differentiate the Mediterranean diet from, say, the generic advice your doctor might give you when they send you away with the less-than-helpful prompt to “eat healthier” and “lose a few pounds.” These include:

  • Plenty of fish and other seafood
  • Lots of beans, legumes, and nuts
  • Moderate amounts of dairy (especially yogurt)
  • Using herbs, spices, oils, and vinegars to flavor foods
  • Moderate wine drinking (especially red wine)
  • Liberal use of extra virgin olive oil

If you’re ready to make some positive changes to your diet in the direction of the Mediterranean, but aren’t sure how, a great way to start is to begin working on your pantry (and fridge, but for this post, let’s focus on all things shelf-stable). Of course, I also encourage you to try out recipes that are specifically geared toward the Mediterranean diet–like anything prominently featuring whole grains, vegetables, legumes, or fish–but before you get there, you can set yourself up for success by gradually filling your home with Mediterranean-friendly foods. Having an arsenal of healthy items on hand will increase the likelihood of your actually using them! Even if all you do is pick up a couple of the items listed below each grocery trip, those small changes can add up to a major difference in the meals you cook and eat.

Here are some ideas for what it looks like to build your Mediterranean-friendly pantry:

Whole Grains

America is in the midst of a Grain Renaissance. Never before have so many interesting grain options been so readily available in mainstream grocery stores. Here are some excellent choices:

Fruits & Vegetables

Canned fruits and vegetables have a come a long way since the days of the repellant green beans a lunch lady plopped on your plate in second grade. Even regular grocery stores are coming out with updated versions of canned and jarred fruits and veggies, like:

Beans, Legumes, and Nuts

Beans get a bad rap, but they’re my personal favorite category of the Mediterranean diet. They’re high in fiber and protein, low in fat, endlessly flexible, and easily included in so many dishes. Here are several bean/legume/nut suggestions for your pantry:

Protein

Many of the primary protein sources in the Mediterranean diet come from foods most people eat fresh, rather than preserved, and beans/legumes cover a lot of protein ground, leaving few other shelf-stable protein options. Still, canned seafood comes in handy in many recipes:

  • Canned tuna
  • Canned crab
  • Canned anchovies
  • Canned salmon

Seasonings: Oils, Vinegars, Herbs, & Spices

The possibilities for flavor combinations are endless when you have a well rounded collection of these items. Examples include:

  • Lots and lots of extra virgin olive oil
  • Vinegars: balsamic, red wine, white wine, rice vinegar
  • Dried herbs: basil, oregano, tarragon, rosemary, thyme
  • Spices: cumin, chili powder, black pepper, nutmeg
  • Honey for sweetness

To Drink

  • Water
  • Tea
  • Wine

And now that we’ve said “wine,” we’ll end there! But stay tuned for an upcoming review of a fabulous Mediterranean cookbook I highly recommend!

Roasted Chickpea Pitas

I think if I were a chickpea, I wouldn’t be very happy. Poor chickpeas. They’re always getting mashed, pounded, and ground up for things like hummus and falafel, or playing second fiddle as a side dish to meat. It’s rare that you eat anything in which chickpeas in their whole, unadulterated form take center stage. Can’t we give these little guys their time to shine?

Why yes, we can, in the form of Roasted Chickpea Pitas!

This tasty vegetarian Mediterranean meal features whole chickpeas roasted in a piquant blend of seasonings and paired with caramelized red onions. Finished off with some spinach, tomato, and creamy tzatziki sauce in a whole wheat pita, it’s a super healthy choice for dinner or a one-dish lunch. Every time I eat it, even without adding a side, it keeps me full for hours–probably because of all the “good carbs” found in the whole wheat and beans. Plus, chickpeas contain plenty of protein and even a little unsaturated fat. Can you really go wrong by adding more of them to your diet?

So if I were a chickpea, I’d like to think I’d approve of this recipe (even though I’d have to be roasted in a 400 degree oven). Worth it.


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Roasted Chickpea Pitas
Spiced roasted chickpeas and cool tzatziki sauce make a hearty filling in these pitas.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
For the roasted chickpeas:
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
For the roasted chickpeas:
Instructions
Make the chickpea filling:
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together chickpeas and sliced red onions. Pour olive oil and all spices over the mixture, stir to toss, and spread on the prepared baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through baking.
Make the tzatziki sauce:
  1. Meanwhile, make the tzatziki sauce by combining all ingredients in a small bowl.
Assemble the pitas:
  1. Assemble the pitas by filling them with the chickpea mixture, tzatziki sauce, spinach, tomato, and/or feta.
Recipe Notes

Inspired by Live Eat Learn.

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Stetson Chopped Salad

If you follow A Love Letter to Food on Facebook, you may have seen this picture before. (And if you haven’t liked my Facebook page yet, I’d be most honored if you would!) A few days ago was my birthday, and as an avid–or obsessive, depending on how you look at it–home cook, I typically would rather make something truly spectacular at home for my birthday dinner than go out. This Stetson Chopped Salad was THE ONE dinner I knew would be birthday-worthy this year.

What is a Stetson Chopped Salad? (And who in their right mind chooses a salad for their birthday dinner?) Well, in the Phoenix area, the Stetson is a local food celebrity. It’s pretty impressive for any salad to attain celebrity status, but somehow, sometimes, it happens. After all, you’ve heard of Cobb, Waldorf, and Wedge. These famous salads are like the old Hollywood starlets of healthy American cuisine. Classic, standard, glam. The Stetson Chopped Salad, on the other hand, is like the up-and-coming Western girl hitting the big time. Its humble origin lies with Cowboy Ciao, a restaurant located, appropriately, on Stetson Drive in Scottsdale.

A few years ago, some friends had us over for dinner and served a homemade version of the Stetson. It was an edible work of art, with a taste no less extraordinary than the presentation. But we definitely found ourselves in “why-do-these-flavors-go-together-this-makes-no-sense” territory. Who the heck thought of putting sweet (dried currants) with savory (corn and tomatoes) with smoked salmon and a creamy basil dressing?

IT MAKES NO LOGICAL SENSE.

But trust me, there’s a reason this salad is famous. You just have to go with it. And when you do, you’re gonna be like…

Even when my husband and I eventually ate at Cowboy Ciao and of course ordered the “real” restaurant version, it didn’t quite compare to the one our friend had made. (She is a trained chef, so that probably helped.) With this memory in mind, I made my own birthday version, and it was indeed an awesome mix of flavors, textures, and visual appeal. Definitely a salad worth choosing for a special occasion.

Oh, and the other reason I chose salad for my birthday? Cause I knew this was coming afterward!

Raspberry Almond Layer Cake for dessert definitely rounded out the birthday meal experience. 🙂


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Stetson Chopped Salad
You'll be amazed at how this unusual combination of flavors makes for a totally crave-worthy salad!
Instructions
Assemble the salad:
  1. Spread arugula leaves evenly on a large, flat platter. Cover with layered rows of couscous, salmon, pepitas, sweet corn, cranberries, and tomatoes.
Make the dressing:
  1. Combine all dressing ingredients in a measuring cup and mix with an immersion blender until smooth.
  2. Mix salad tableside, if desired, and serve with dressing on the side.
Recipe Notes

Based on this recipe from Key Ingredient.

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Vanilla Chai Granola

A friend of mine recently posted a bit of a rant on Facebook about food blogs that make you scroll through 6,000 pictures and an 800 word banal anecdote before you can actually get to the recipe. I get it. Certainly, recipes are the main reason people visit food blogs…at least, I assume so. That’s the reason I visit food blogs, anyway. We’re not here for the story of how your dog is so adorable and that somehow relates to this casserole, or how you spilled all your Worcestershire and were forced to make this sauce with soy sauce instead. (“But it turned out AMAZING!”)

The truth is, though, as a food blogger, sometimes it’s a bit of a stretch to come up with anything meaningful to say about, say, a salad that just came together on a weeknight and was good enough to share. Cause that’s kind of the whole story. And people end up trying way too hard, when maybe the recipe can speak for itself.

Sorta the case with this Vanilla Chai Granola. All I’ve really got to say is: it’s tasty, easy, and goes great with some Siggi’s vanilla yogurt and some strawberries in a breakfast parfait. Other than that, I could see it as a unique topping for a fruit crumble or a simple start to the day with a splash of milk.

So since I’m not talking your ear off about the recipe…can you forgive a couple extra pictures? 😉

 


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Vanilla Chai Granola
A mixture of warmth and sweetness make this Vanilla Chai Granola a special breakfast treat!
Course breakfast
Servings
Ingredients
Course breakfast
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees and spray a baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray. In a large bowl, stir together oats, pecans, and almonds.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine canola oil, maple syrup, brown sugar, and vanilla.
  3. In a small bowl, combine cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, coriander, and salt.
  4. Pour oil mixture over oat mixture and stir to coat, then do the same with the spice mixture over all.
  5. Spread in a layer on the baking sheet and bake about 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.
Recipe Notes

A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe.

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