Pre-fall Inspiration – Pear-Ginger Muffins for Breakfast

Cottonwood leaves

Inspired by this morning’s cool breezy weather, falling yellow leaves and the abundance of fresh pears at my local Farmers Market I made Pear-Ginger Muffins for breakfast. In addition to fresh pear you add dried pears, which add rich texture, intense flavor and moist tenderness. The use of wheat pastry flour and chopped pecans added the nuttiness I so love in breads.

The smell of them baking was intoxicating. I heated water for tea, Good Earth Original Sweet & Spicy Herbal, the perfect accompaniment for my pre-fall celebration and waited.

Pear-Ginger MuffinsThe timer rang, they tested ready, now another small wait before taking them from the pan. They looked fantastic but as always the truth would be in the tasting. Finally, it was time. I carefully slipped the knife down alongside the muffin and worked it slowly around the edge until the muffin popped out. The moment of truth was here, I gently broke the muffin open, I was taught that you never cut hot bread, placed a pat of sweet butter on a piece and popped it into my mouth. The celebration I had anticipated was perfect.

Has your weather started showing signs that fall is on the way? Are you ready for the change? We have had a nice summer, not too much hot weather, but I think I’m ready for some nice cool mornings and milder days.

Pear-Ginger Muffins

Yields 12 muffins

4 oz dried pears

1 Bosc, Bartlett or Anjou pear

2 cups all-purpose flour (I used wheat pastry flour)

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon nutmeg

2 eggs

2/3 cup granulated sugar

½ cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup unsalted butter-melted

1/3 cup finely chopped candied ginger

½ cup chopped nuts (I used pecans)

In a small bowl, cover the dried pears with boiling water and let stand 15 minutes. Preheat an oven to 400°F and butter standard muffin tins (I like using my Texas muffin pan yields 6 large muffins).

Drain the pears well and pat them dry with paper towels. With scissors or a sharp knife, cut the pears into ½” pieces. Peel, core and finely dice the ripe pear. In a medium bowl, stir and toss together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, milk, vanilla, butter, ginger and fresh and dried pears. Add to the dry ingredients and stir just until the batter is blended.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins, filling each cup about two-thirds full. Bake until a wood toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, 15-18 minutes (another 5 mins for the larger size). Cool for 5 minutes, then remove from pan.

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Carrot Zucchini Cupcake Tailgate Snack

Mexican Free-tail bat flyout at Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area

Recently two grandmas and five grandchildren headed west looking for adventure. We had reserved spaces at Yolo Basin Foundation’s Bat Walk & Talk, a presentation by Corky Quirk, the renowned “Bat Lady” of Northern California, followed by a trip out to the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area to watch thousands of Mexican Free-tailed bats emerge from their daytime sleeping space under the Yolo Causeway and fly into sunset tinted skies.

Corky’s presentation was about 45 minutes long it’s content great for both adults and kids. It’s informative and fun and towards the shared up close projected images of three different live bats showing us their differences. She even fed one mealworms and we watched it munch them down.

Now it was time to load into our cars and caravan out to the Wildlife Area to see the bats fly into the night sky where they would spend their time hunting moths. We followed the line of cars, led by Corky, to a spot far on the eastern side of the property. There we parked and gathered at a place not too far from where the bats would emerge from under the causeway. We stood and waited and then they appeared, thousands of little Mexican Free-tailed bats flying in a long ribbon like formation into the evening sky. It was a beautiful sight.

muffin tail gate party

Carrot Zucchini cupcake tailgate snack

Since there are literally thousands (estimated to be around 250,000 at last count) of bats that need to emerge, the flights come in waves and there can be some time in between where no bats are visible. Just the perfect amount of time for boys of 8 & 9 and girls aged 6 to become totally distracted and start looking for something to do. During one of these breaks I had the kids follow me back to our car for a little tailgate snack; homemade Cream Cheese frosted Carrot Zucchini cupcakes and a glass of pineapple/mango/passion fruit juice. Since I had a few finicky eaters, when asked what kind of cupcakes they were, I just said carrot cake; no sense complicating the veggie issue by mentioning that there was also grated summer squash in them. Two of the kids decided they loved the icing, which they licked completely off of the cupcake before returning it to me to say they didn’t like the cake part even though they didn’t even try it. The other three grandkids and the grandmas ate theirs without complaint and in fact, we found them to be delicious.  After our snack it was back down to watch more bats and a peregrine falcon that had come to see if it could catch a few snacks of its own. It was pretty exciting to watch it cut through the ribbon of bats and snatch one.  The excitement of the evening over we caravanned back through the wildlife area listening to the sounds of the frogs and seeing lots of Black-crowned Night herons flying around, also out hunting. It was deemed a good adventure by all and one we would recommend to all that have not had a chance to see this amazing spectacular.

Carrot Zucchini Cupcake

Carrot Zucchini Cupcake with Cream Cheese Frosting

The recipe I used for the cupcakes was a modification of Carrot and Zucchini Bars with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting, published by Real Mom Kitchen, Aug, 2011 a recipe she adapted from a Better Homes & Gardens recipe. I omitted the ginger and instead added the zest of one lemon and the juice of half a lemon. I didn’t put any zest in the frosting only because I didn’t have any more lemons. This is a great little recipe that I’ll be using again and again.

You can find other cake-like recipes where I have used zucchini on the following links:

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

A California Gal Makes Hawaiian Muffins

A Tangelo and a Zucchini Met One Morning

Spaghetti With Grated Summer Squash and Classic Fresh Pesto Sauce

pasta final

I’ve had a printout of a recipe for Classic Fresh Pesto Sauce on my kitchen counter for over a week now. Every morning when I come in from the garden I think to myself, I should have cut basil so I could make pesto but, then I think about the weather forecast and how hot it will be and fixing pasta which was the whole reason I was going to make the pesto, doesn’t sound like a great idea anymore.

But finally, the weather has cooled down and we’re enjoying temps in the 50s overnight and into the mid 80s during the day. Beautiful weather. Weather that makes me feel like cooking pasta. So this morning I gathered pesto ingredients; fresh basil, parsley and oregano and took them to the kitchen along with some summer squash and cherry tomatoes that were ready to pick. Today I would make pasta with the Classic Fresh Pesto Sauce for lunch.

pasta, squash & pestoWith no real recipe in mind but the pesto sauce I decided that I would cook up some brown rice spaghetti and toss it with uncooked, shredded summer squash and the pesto. The final touches would be halved cherry tomatoes from my garden, shredded parmesan cheese and ground pepper.

I have to say I think the squash idea turned out great. If you didn’t see me put it in the dish you wouldn’t even know it was in there. The taste of the raw squash is very mild, so when you add the pesto and toss the mixture the squash just blends in.

roasted garlicThe pesto sauce recipe I used is from Renee’s Garden Blog, June-2013 and it’s one that will become a standard for me. I did change one thing from the original recipe, instead of adding fresh garlic as noted in the recipe, I added a whole head of roasted garlic. Roasted garlic is one of the staples I try to keep in the refrigerator. Its is easy to make, has a more mellow taste than the raw. To make roasted garlic you start with whole fresh heads. Cut the tops off of each head and place in foil, pour olive oil over the heads just so it seeps down amongst the cloves, you won’t need a lot, maybe a tablespoon or less per head depending on head size. Seal the packet tightly then roast in a 350° oven for about an hour or until the garlic is soft to the touch. Let the packet cool, then refrigerate. It’s that simple. To use just squeeze the cloves from the head if you’re using the whole thing.  If you want to extract just a few cloves, I find a fork or the tip of a knife works well for scooping them out.  If you’ve never tried roasted garlic in pesto or other sauces give it a try you just might find that you like it as much as I do.

Fresh Peach Cake

Edith's peachesA recent trip to my sisters netted me not only a great turkey roasting pan and rack at a charity garage sale for $1 but a nice bunch of fresh peaches.

We invited my sisters neighbor, Edith to dinner the second night I was there. We had picked lots of veggies from Judy and Edith’s large shared garden that morning and planned to roast them and serve them with fresh sliced tomatoes, also from the garden,  and a rack of lamb we would BBQ. For dessert,  Chocolate Zucchini Cake.

As the sun began to drop behind the Sierra Nevada mountains to the west and the air began to finally cool the warm afternoon temperatures, we enjoyed our garden fresh feast, outside on the patio.  Before Edith left she reminded Judy that her peach tree was loaded with fruit in need of picking and that we should come over in the morning to pick some before I headed home.

So early the next morning we walked over to Ediths’ and picked peaches. Edith was right the peaches were plentiful and ready for pickn. The turkey pan was just the right size for my share of peaches allowing them to ride home in the back of my car without becoming bruised.

DSCN4706Once home, I decided to use some of the peaches to make this Fresh Peach Cake. With grandchildren coming to stay, I knew I would have plenty of help eating it.

DSCN4723

Fresh Peach Cake – from Food Network Magazine, June 2011

1/4lb (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sour cream ( I used Greek yogurt) at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 large ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced (You could use nectarines, pulots, plumbs, or even berries. I think the peaches measured out to not quite 3 cups.)
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and 1 cup of the sugar for 3 to 5 minutes on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time, then the sour cream and vanilla, and mix until the batter is smooth. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the batter and mix just until combined. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon.

3. Spread half of the batter evenly in the pan. Top with half the peaches, then sprinkle with two-thirds of the sugar mixture. Spread the remaining batter on top, arrange the remaining peaches on top and sprinkle with the remaining sugar mixture and the pecans.

4. Bake the cake for 45 – 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Another cake-like recipe I especially like that uses fresh fruit is one I highlighted in June 2010 for Pudding Cake. You can find that recipe here. I don’t know why it wouldn’t work with peaches. Both of these cakes are good with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream if you’re serving them for dessert. In fact, the Peach Cake would taste just like shortcake if you spooned some fresh sliced, sugared peaches around it and topped it with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Why didn’t I think of that sooner. Next time.