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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Gingerbread Muffins for Breakfast

Foggy, misty mornings, not uncommon here in California’s central valley during winter,  are when I want to fill my kitchen with the aroma of homebaked spicy-smelling foods; like gingerbread muffins with golden raisins and chopped walnuts. Spicy-smells, like ginger and molasses weren’t really the only reason I chose to bake gingerbread muffins. The other reason was a little jar of Pumpkin Butter with Port that I had brought back from a trip to Washington (pictures from some of my travels can be viewed on my Flickr Photos – just click on a picture and you’ll be taken to the site) earlier this year. This wasn’t the first time I have purchased this butter, but it had been a while. So when I saw it I knew it was going home with me and sometime this winter it would be accompanying  some warm gingerbread.

As I started to write this I thought I should find a link to the company that sells the pumpkin butter, Aloha from Oregon, just in case you would like to try it too.  Having found the link I became curious as to the companies name since I hardly think of the word Aloha when I think of Oregon. Well it seems that the post office in Aloha, OR, just west of Beaverton, was established in 1912 and Robert Caples, a railroad man from the area, supposedly gave the the town it’s  name but the reason for its origin was unknown until 1983, when it was revealed by Joseph H. Buck of King City, that his uncle Julius Buck, was the first postmaster and that he named the office Aloah after a small resort on Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin, but that during the application process the last two letters were transposed by the Post Office Department, resulting the shift from a Midwestern Indian name to a Hawaiian word. Now, that’s a story I can believe.

For a recipe for the muffins I went to my James Beard’s American Cookery cookbook. Hopefully you can see the age and wear on this much loved book from my collection in the photograph.  This page contains not only the gingerbread recipe but the cornbread recipe I have used for the past forty some years.  I added the golden raisins and chopped walnuts to give the muffins more body and texture.  Another great combination might be dried cranberries and chopped pecans. They were served warm from the oven with the pumpkin butter and were deliciously satisfying.

Gingerbread

James Beard’s American Cookery (©1972)

1 cup light or dark molasses

½ cup boiling water

5 tablespoons butter

½ t salt

1 ½ to 2 t ginger

1 t baking soda

1 cups all-purpose flour

Put the molasses in a mixing bowl and add the boiling water and butter. Stir until well mixed. Add the salt, ginger, and soda, and stir lightly. Stir in the flour just enough to moisten and mix. Turn into a 9 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan Bake at 375 degrees 25 – 35 minutes, or until the top springs back when pressed lightly and the mixture is pulling away from the sides of the pan.

I added about ½ cup golden raisins and the same amount of chopped walnuts. Baking cupcakes or muffins takes less time, test for doneness by touching the muffin top to see if it springs back when lightly pressed.

Spring Musings

I follow a considerable number of blogs, many of them on food, others on nature; its mysteries and wonder. To me they are all related for they all have one thing in common, earth and all that it has to offer, nutritionally and visually. But the earth like anything else can throw me a curve now and then offering up trying scenarios.

This weekend has been rainy and windy, encouraging me to deny my urge to get outside and instead stay inside and finish my income taxes and some other chores I have been procrastinating about. Thankfully, I completed those yesterday.

Those chores done, I have one more glorious day to myself. This morning my itch to get outside hasn’t lessened. It is the first day of Spring but unfortunately it is still very wet and very windy, so to ease the itch I donned my raincoat and headed out to take myself to breakfast, then over to the Farmers’ Market, which considering the weather was surprisingly well attended by both vendors and customers although I noticed a considerable lack of “easy-ups” because of the wind. We are lucky that our market is situated under an elevated part of the freeway so there is some shelter from the elements. Not the most beautiful location but definitely functional. This morning I bought Brussels sprouts, yellow onions, a small sized acorn squash, shitake mushrooms, Fuji apples and Purple Haze carrots, the subject of today’s post.

If you have never seen Purple Haze carrots you are missing a truly beautiful vegetable. Their wine colored skins encase bright orange cores that retain their color when lightly cooked or used raw. They are not only beautiful to look at they are heavenly to eat having and earthy sweet taste and crisp texture.

When I researched them I found several interesting facts:

1. Purple carrot varieties are actually one of the first originally cultivated varieties among all carrot colors. They can trace their origins back to the 10th century in what is modern day Afghanistan.

2.  Carrots are the second most popular vegetable in the world, second only to the potato. In my book they are above the potato.

3.  The hybrid variety, Purple Haze, was named after the 1967 song of the same name by Jimi Hendrix.

Now as far as facts go the last fact was definitely the most interesting fact that I dug up. If you, like me, are curious about what the connection might be you can read more about the song and its inspiration here. I’m still not sure I get the “why” of it but I definitely think it interesting.

I did several things with this bunch of carrots; I shredded some and mixed them with equal amounts of shredded Fuji apple, roasted walnuts and just a hint of mayonnaise for a salad and the balance of them I used in a recipe for a coconut carrot muffin another nice way to eat your veggies!

Coconut Carrot Muffin and a cup of hot ginger tea

Coconut Carrot Muffins with Mascarpone and Toasted Walnuts

1 cup chopped toasted walnuts (½ cup for muffins, ½ cup for topping)

1 cup oat flour (you can use whole wheat if you prefer)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon sea salt

½ cup canola oil

¼ cup buttermilk

¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 large eggs

¾ cup sugar

½ lb carrots, washed and shredded

½ cup shredded coconut

Preheat the oven to 325°. Oil muffin pan (I used a Texas sized pan that makes 6).

Roast walnuts on baking sheet until just browned. Set aside to cool. In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt together. In a small bowl, whisk the oil, buttermilk, and vanilla until mixed. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer beat the eggs and sugar at high speed until pale, 5 minutes. Beat in the liquid ingredients. Mix in the dry ingredients until just mixed. Stir in the carrots, walnuts and coconut. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 35 – 40 minutes or until springy and golden. Let cool for a few minutes before removing from pan.

After the muffins were cooled I just barely warmed some Mascarpone cheese, then liberally topped each muffin and sprinkled them with chopped toasted walnuts. It’s best to serve these immediately after adding the topping. The muffins, without topping, will store for several days if kept in an airtight container.

As I sit here typing I keep thinking about getting outside. There seems to be a storm inside as well as outside, one minute I’m ready to put on some rain garb and join mother nature and her blustery wet weather. I could fill the bird feeders and check on the section of fence that blew down last night, make sure there’s not more.  The next minute I decide to stay inside for a little longer, hoping for a break in the action, I enjoy my hot ginger tea and muffin.

Maybe they should be called “The Glory of Morning Oat Muffins”!

I was going through some recipes the other day looking for something new to try and I came across an oat muffin recipe I had copied off a blog I follow. I have one that I love and make all the time but wanted to try something new. This one looked intriguing; raisins, carrots, apple, coconut, applesauce and pecans. What’s not to like? The recipe is called Morning Glory Oat Muffins and comes from Honey & Jam, a visually beautiful site that has great recipes.  Anything that is beautiful and tastes good too is a winner in my eyes.

So last night I measured and grated, and grated and measured, then mixed and filled and baked; then I cleaned up. I really should have waited until daylight so I could take some decent photos but I didn’t. So if you want to see lovely photos of these luscious muffins look at Hanna’s her work is inspirational. Everything looks soooooooo good.

I have to tell you the smell of these baking was pretty hard to resist. But, resist I did. I didn’t eat any until this morning at breakfast and they were well worth the wait.  As Hanna said on her blog, “It’s basically cake for breakfast”. But even better than that, it’s healthy cake.

I have already thought of several ways I want to try these using different ingredients. I would like to try using oat or almond flour instead of the wheat; try different chopped dried fruit instead of the raisins and try walnuts or toasted almonds instead of the pecans. Sliced almonds sprinkled on top might be nice too. Definitely going to freeze what I have left over so I can enjoy then for the rest of the week.

Tonight I’m going to revisit the turnip gratin I posted last January. I got some beautiful turnips at the market this morning and have a couple of potatoes that need to be used. Some sautéed mushrooms and chard on the side and I’m going to be a happy camper. I may even open myself a bottle of wine to go with the feast. Have a great week everyone!

A California Gal Makes Hawaiian Muffins

Pineapple-Zucchini Muffins With Coconut and Macadamia Nuts

The other day I was thinking about a very old recipe I have for Spicy Pineapple-Zucchini Bread (Sunset Magazine, September 1974). I really like this recipe and thought it could be the basis for a modification I had been thinking about.

My idea was to make a Hawaiian style muffin, all be it a California version. To this end I dropped the cinnamon, nutmeg, currants and walnuts from the ingredients and added macadamia nuts and coconut. I also substituted pineapple juice for the vanilla. The final result was definitely one I’ll try again. They were very light, moist and delicious. If they don’t all get eaten the first day, they’ll keep well stored in an airtight container for several days. They also freeze well.

Pineapple-Zucchini Muffins with Coconut and Macadamia Nuts

Makes 2 dozen

3 eggs

1 cup Canola oil

2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons pineapple juice

Beat eggs to blend. Add oil, sugar and pineapple juice; continue beating mixture until thick and foamy.

2 cups grated zucchini

2/3 cup well drained crushed pineapple.

With a spoon stir the zucchini and pineapple into the egg and sugar mixture

3 cups all-purpose flour (unsifted)

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking powder

¾ to 1 cup chopped unsalted roasted macadamia nuts

1 cup shredded coconut

Combine the dry ingredients, nuts and coconut and gently stir into zucchini mixture just until blended.

Fill greased (or use paper liners) muffin tins 2/3 full and bake in a 350° oven for 25 – 35 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes; turn out on wire racks to cool thoroughly. Makes two-dozen medium sized muffins. If you would prefer to try this as bread, you can divide the batter equally between two greased and flour-dusted 5 by 9-inch loaf pans. Bake for 1 hour or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.

Next time you have some zucchini that needs to be used and you know the family won’t put up with yet another dinner including it, try this. I’ll guarantee they’ll look at zucchini in a whole different way.

A tangelo and zucchini met one morning and formed a beautiful partnership.

Like most mornings I awoke bright and early Sunday and ambled into the kitchen to make my morning tea. It was beautiful outside, not too cool, which it has been for the last few days, you could feel that summer just might be really going to come. Teacup in hand I found myself in my garden puttering around as I am apt to do. Often puttering involves watering the many potted plants that line the patio and that’s where I was when I found myself thinking about the many errands that I needed to run after I finished my weekly trip to the Farmers Market. But, it was so nice out. Was I really going to drive to the Farmers Market then continuing driving around doing errands? NOPE! Not this Sunday. As soon as I finished my puttering, I was off to the garage, to check the air in my bike tires and attach my

The ride was really beautiful. I decided to check out the new section of the Sacramento Riverfront bikeway which runs parallel to the river and then cross over the freeway on the newly opened pedestrian/bike way. The new section of trail is really great.  I wish I had taken some pictures so I could show you. From the Riverfront trail and freeway overcrossing it is just a few blocks, through urban streets lined with beautiful mature trees, until I arrive at the market where my focus would be to see if I could pick up a few tangelos and for a muffin recipe I would make upon my return. Oh, and get some fruit and veggies for the week, which I did; a couple ears of corn, assorted summer squash, some green and yellow wax beans, two red onions, eight white nectarines and peaches, and three tangelos.

Today is the first day of summer and with its heat comes the real beginning of the summer squash season. In about another month the newness of summer squash will have started to wear off and those of us with squash plants will be getting more than we need much less want. We’ll be eating it often and giving the excess away. And then, there will come that day when we and even our friends and neighbors have had enough squash. Before it comes to that and while we’re all excited about summer squash I wanted to give you idea for another way you can use it. Bake up a nice batch of Tangelo-Zucchini Muffins. Bake them in the morning like I did and serve them warm, preferably on the patio or in the garden. A beautiful, and I might add tasty, way to celebrate a summer morning.

Tangelo-Zucchini Muffins

makes 12 muffins

1 cup shredded summer squash (I used zucchini but any summer squash will do. If the squash is really large discard the seedy part before shredding.)

2 eggs

½ cup safflower or other high-quality vegetable oil (I used canola and a little olive oil since I didn’t have enough of the canola.)

2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed juice (I used tangelo. You could use orange if you’d prefer.)

1 ½ teaspoons grated zest (I used the zest from one tangelo.)

1-teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ¼ cups unbleached flour

½ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ cup chopped pecans (you could use walnuts instead)

½ cup dried cranberries (you could use golden raisins instead)

Preheat oven to 35o° F. Grease 12 regular-sized muffin tin or I used paper cupcake liners

Beat the egg in a mixing bowl until lemon colored. Add the sugar, oil, juice, zest and vanilla. Beat until thick and smooth.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, pecans and cranberries. Fold the dry mixture into the egg mixture, stirring just until well blended. Spoon batter into the prepared muffin-tin, filling each hole about three-fourths full. Bake until a wooden skewer inserted in the center of a muffin tests clean, about 20 – 25 minutes. Cool in the muffin tins for about 3 minutes before turning out. Serve warm.

Variation: To bake as a loaf, pour the batter into a greased 9 by 5-inch loaf pan and bake for about 1 hour. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out.