whole wheat pita bread

This is my kind of sandwich bread.

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Perfectly thin, crisp yet boasting a soft interior. Pita bread is the ideal sandwich vehicle, because let’s be real – you can stuff it with everything that you love, no mess or drips to worry about!

One of my girlfriends makes some of the best homemade pita that I’ve yet to experience, and after having them at one of our many get-togethers, I was finally inspired to try my own version at home. The process was made super simple because of my handy bread machine {y’all know how much I love this piece of kitchen equipment!}. Just a few quick ingredients, basic ones, actually, are added into the well and left to let the machine work its kneading and rising magic. The real beauty is what happens AFTER the machine has worked on it; a quick bit of handwork, rolling it out, followed by a quick secondary rise to ensure maximum puffiness while baking. The end result?…

Hands down the most gorgeous, fluffy pita I’ve ever seen! The hubs could not get over how much they ballooned while baking. I was pleasantly surprised myself : ) we’ve used this for everything – sandwiches, pita pizza, chips…the variety of uses is endless – and love them so much that they have become a freezer staple for quick meals!

I’m thinking that some dressed up variations {think: herbed pita, cheese infused, etc.} will be making an appearance sooner rather than later…I mean, how could that be a bad thing?!

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Whole Wheat Pita Bread {adapted, minimally, from The Bread Machine Cookbook}

Makes 10 pita 

Ingredients:

1-1/3 cups water

3 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. honey

2 cups bread flour

1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1 tsp. salt

1 heaping Tbsp. vital wheat gluten {optional, but encouraged}

2 tsp. yeast

To Prepare:

In the order mentioned above, add all ingredients into the well of your bread machine. For the yeast, I make a small hole in the center of the flour and add it in last, covering it slightly with flour once put in. Set the program to ‘dough cycle’ and let the machine work as programmed.

Once the dough has completed the cycle, divide the dough into 10 pieces and roll into balls.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Lightly dust two large baking sheets with cornmeal. Set aside.

Flatten each ball into a disk, and roll into a circle of about 6″. Place onto the prepared baking sheets, and let rise for about 20 minutes, covered loosely with a kitchen towel in a warm place.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the pita have puffed and the bottoms are golden brown.

Pita will keep at room temperature, tightly sealed, for 2-3 days. After that, place in the freezer and let thaw before using.

harvest pumpkin muffins

I’m sure y’all have noticed from this earlier recipe, but I am a total sucker for all things pumpkin.

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But we’re not talking sugary-sweet, over-the-top pumpkin creations here today. We’re keeping it short, simple and to the point. Because for me, it’s not about tasting pumpkin PIE. I just want to taste PUMPKIN.

And that is why I love this recipe. It is absolutely loaded with pumpkin. Minimal sugar does nothing to overwhelm its delicate flavor; rather, it helps to enhance it. A dash of cinnamon and nutmeg warms you up with each bite. The Greek yogurt provides the perfect body and balance, creating a moist and fluffy muffin.  Brimming with cranberries, these not only taste delicious, but look beautiful while doing so.

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These are easy enough to whip up at a moment’s notice,  and freeze beautifully if you’re feeling inclined as to prepare a double batch. Simply cool completely, wrap individually and store in plastic bags. You’ll be the perfect hostess when company drops by for coffee on a chilly morning!

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Harvest Pumpkin Muffins {recipe adapted from Spontaneous Tomato}

Perfect to whip up at a moment’s notice, and easily adaptable to whatever add-ins you have in your pantry, these muffins are a crowd pleaser! We’re keeping them healthy by using white-whole-wheat flour and minimal sugar, so they’ll be sure to fill you up and keep you powering on all morning long. 

Ingredients:

2-1/2 cups white-whole-wheat flour

1 cup sugar

2 tsp. baking soda

1 heaping tsp. ground cinnamon

dash nutmeg

2 eggs

2 cups pumpkin puree

6 ounces plain, non-fat Greek yogurt

3/4 cup dried cranberries

optional: cinnamon-sugar mixture, to sprinkle on top 

To Prepare:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and grease and line a muffin tin {I used a 12-spot tin, but feel free to adjust according to your culinary tools!}.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add in the eggs, pumpkin puree, and Greek yogurt.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir until the  dry ingredients have just been incorporated, sprinkling in the dried cranberries and you stir. Be careful not to overmix!

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Evenly distribute the batter between your muffin tins. Sprinkle the tops of each with a bit of the cinnamon-sugar mixture.

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Bake muffins for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from tins, and allow to cool completely before serving. Muffins will keep, tightly covered, on the counter top for up to 3 days.

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cranberry-studded pumpkin honey biscuits

If we were having breakfast together this morning, this is what I would make for you. Warm biscuits, studded with cranberries, fresh out of the oven. Hints of maple syrup and cinnamon are wafting throughout the kitchen, making it seem ever so inviting.

I’d pour you a cup of coffee {or tea!} and we would sit down at the table, lounging and talking. A plate of biscuits between use, that seems to keep refilling itself, keeps the conversation flowing and the mood light. A slight breeze is coming in through the kitchen window, but we’re not chilled because of these gems.

You might ask – where does the golden color come from? And I would tell you “pumpkin”! We’d laugh about how pumpkin is so overused during the fall, but who are we to complain? We’re enjoying and indulging in said biscuits, without a crumb to be left over.

Before you leave, and we begin our day in the real world, I would hand you the recipe, along with any leftovers. But if I’m being honest, I’m sure we polished them off, without a blink of an eye or a speck of regret. They’re that wonderful.

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Cranberry Honey Pumpkin Biscuits with a Caramelized Maple Glaze {recipe adapted from Food 52}

Warm, spiced, with cranberries studded throughout, these biscuits are the perfect start to any fall morning. A caramelized maple glaze, brushed on top just before the baking session is complete, is the best complement to the flavors within. Flaky and light, these won’t weigh you down – replacing the butter with our trusty Greek yogurt lets you indulge without feeling guilty. So go ahead! – smear on a little whipped honey butter and enjoy. 

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 Tbsp. baking powder

2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. ground ginger

5-6 ounces of plain 0% Greek yogurt, very cold {or, use 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter if preferred}

1/3 cup pumpkin puree

6 tbsp. honey

3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk

1/4 to 1/4 cup dried cranberries

For the Glaze:

2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup

1/4 cup of vanilla sugar {I keep a jar, on hand, of a mixture of cinnamon and sugar that I’ve stuck a vanilla bean in – the longer it sits, the better it gets!}

To Prepare:

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Flour a large wooden cutting board and rolling pin, and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, salt, baking powder, and spices.

In a smaller mixing bowl combine the pumpkin, honey, and buttermilk. Whisk with a fork to combine.

Cut the Greek yogurt into the flour mixture using your fingers, two knives, or a pasty cutter until no pieces larger than a pea remain.

Stir all but the last 1/4 cup of the buttermilk mixture in with a fork just to combine. If the mixture seems dry, add in the additional 1/4 cup {I ended up using the entire wet mixture}. It should be sticky! Fold in the cranberries.

Turn the dough onto your cutting board. Sprinkle top of dough with flour, and pat into a rectangle, fold in half, rotate clockwise, pat back out, and fold again. Repeat this once more, and then gently pat the dough out until about 1″ thick.

Great a baking sheet, and using a floured 2-1/2″ biscuit cutter, cut out the biscuits, being care to not twist the cutter. Place the biscuits on the baking sheet, touching.

Gently reroll the scraps as needed until all the biscuits are cut, and then bake for 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and turn on the broiler. Brush the tops of the biscuits with maple syrup, then sprinkle with vanilla sugar. Place the biscuits back in the oven, and don’t leave their sight! You want to pull them out just when the maple syrup starts to bubble, and the tops start to darken ever so slightly.

Place on a cooling rack to cool completely. Store, tightly covered, at room temperature. After a day or so, transfer to refrigerator {simply pop in the oven to reheat – perfection!}.

Let’s Discuss: do you have a favorite biscuit recipe? 

savory sausage roll

Y’all, today’s recipe is another classic bread machine recipe.

This savory dish evokes memories of my childhood. Most Christmas Eve celebrations were spent with just the family at home. After attending Mass, my sisters/mom/myself would spend time together in the kitchen, putting together a veritable spread of tasty treats out for us to nosh on and enjoy for the rest of the evening. I can’t quite put my finger on the first year we had this, but after one bite of trying this dish, you’ll understand why it’s a frequent culinary visitor in our home.

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While I’ve veered ever so slightly from my mom’s original recipe, the foundation and flavors of this remain the same. The smoked turkey sausage holds up brilliantly to the flavors of the dried rosemary and Italian cheese we will be incorporating into the filling. Using some whole wheat flour in the dough adds a slightly warm and nutty flavor, which is perfect for this early autumn season. Its exterior is perfectly crisp and golden, making it the perfect vehicle for dipping a la fondue style, or for building an open-faced sandwich {if you’re feeling particularly adventurous!}.

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This is a great dish for entertaining with, too! It can be 100% prepared in advance, and after it has cooled, can be wrapped tightly in foil and either refrigerated or frozen until needed! Simply pop it in the oven until warm and crispy throughout, and you’ll be the hit of the party.

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Savory Sausage Roll {recipe adapted from The Bread Machine Cookbook III}

Easy to prepare and insanely delicious, this dish is great for easy meals and entertaining. The filling can be tailored to suit any taste – hot or sweet Italian sausage can be used, the type and amount of cheese can be adjusted, and other flavorings/spices can be added. This one is sure to win the stomachs over of whomever tries it! 

Ingredients: for a medium-sized roll

1 cup water {you can use apple juice, if you’d like}

1-1/2 tbsp. olive oil

1-1/2 tbsp. honey

1/3 tsp. salt

1 tsp. dried rosemary

1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1-1/2 cups bread flour

1-1/2 tsp. yeast

Ingredients: for the filling

1 package of smoked sausage {I like to use a smoked turkey sausage}, cut into slices

1 medium onion, finely diced

1 green pepper, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup of shredded Italian blend cheese

salt and pepper, to taste

To Prepare the Dough:

Add ingredients listed above into your bread machine, and cook on the prescribed manufacturer settings. As a point of reference, my dough cycle runs about 1 hour and 50 minutes, or I can opt for the quick cycle and have it done in 45 minutes.

To Prepare the Filling:

When the dough has about 40 minutes left, start to assemble the filling.

In a large non-stick skillet, drizzle in some olive oil and let it heat up to medium heat. Add in the sliced sausage, and cook until the edges begin to brown and the insides start to caramelize. Add in the diced onion, diced pepper, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper, and cook 7-10 minutes, until the onion is translucent and the peppers have softened slightly.

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Remove from heat, and transfer the mixture into the bowl of your food processor. Pulse several times, or until the sausage has been broken up slightly {you want it to look like ground meat, with the flecks of garlic and vegetables running throughout}.

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Allow to cool until the dough has run its course; we want it to be room temperature, ideally. Once cooled to room temperature, fold in the shredded cheese.

Assemble the Sausage Roll:

Preheat your over to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with either a Sil-Pat sheet or parchment paper {I like to give it a good spray, too, for good measure}.

Once the dough cycle is complete, flour a large surface where you will do your rolling. Turn the dough out onto the surface, and roll out into a large rectangle.

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Spread filling mixture evenly across the entire surface, leaving a small border around all four edges. Roll up, jelly-roll style, until completely encased in itself. Pinch all edges closed, and transfer to lined baking sheet.

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Rub the top with a little olive oil and sprinkle with additional rosemary to garnish, if desired. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped. IMG_3627

*if you find your roll taking longer than the prescribed 45 minutes, increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees and allow to finish off. It is also helpful to rotate the pan halfway through the baking process. 

Let’s Discuss: what are some other fun ingredients you could imagine putting into a dish such as this? I can totally see myself making a chicken florentine style roll….complete with shredded chicken, Itlain meats, spinach and spicy peppers!

 

whole wheat zucchini bread

It’s that time of year. Gardens are overflowing with zucchini, and those blessed with a green thumb are practically begging to give them away. Friends, strangers, and everyone in between hear the oh-so-familiar summer phrase – “Can I interest you in some produce from my garden?”

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And trust me to be the girl jumping up and down, waving hands frantically – “I’ll take as many as you’d like! Lay ’em on me, good sir!”

…then I get home and, in my haze of veggie-loving excitement, realize that I have little means of storing said vegetables properly for the long-term, and carving out time in our insanely busy summer schedule is proving hard to get a lot of canning and other food-prep done.

So I’ve had to get creative, yall. Said zucchinis have found their way into many facets of our eating habits lately: diced up and stirred into marinara sauces, spiralized for “zoodles” at least 3 times, cut into sticks and eaten raw with dip, and probably the biggest stretch – I’ve put them in my juicer with apples and carrots. Sounds weird…yes. Delicious? You better believe it.

However, my favorite way by far to use up this tasty vegetable is to sneak it into treats! That’s where this bread comes in.

Slightly sweet with the additional of vanilla Greek yogurt and dried cranberries, this is breakfast bread you can really get into and not feel guilty about! The majority of the oil is replaced with said yogurt and unsweetened applesauce, and whole-wheat flour gives you a nutty, earthy taste. Cinnamon takes the flavor to a well-balanced place. The small amount of sugar helps highlight the natural sweetness of the zucchini, and the bread itself is so wonderfully moist. Sliced fresh from the oven, it’s tantalizing aroma will beg you to be enjoyed immediately!

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Whole Wheat Zucchini Bread {adapted from Whole Foods Market}

Ingredients:

cooking spray

1-1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 egg

1/8 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

2 tbsp. vanilla Greek yogurt

1/2 cup sugar

2 tsp. vanilla extract {I used my homemade version!}

1 cup grated zucchini

1/2 cup dried cranberries, optional

To Prepare:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray an 8″ loaf pan with cooking spray, and set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon.

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In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, oil, applesauce, yogurt, sugar and vanilla. Add flour mixture and stir until well combined. Fold in zucchini and cranberries, then transfer batter to prepared pan.

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Bake until risen, and the color is a deep golden brown, about 60 minutes. A toothpick should come out clean when inserted.

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Cool in pan on rack for 30 minutes, and the remove bread from pan. Leave it to finish cooling completely.

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To store, wrap tightly in seran wrap. Bread can be left on the counter, tightly wrapped, for up to 2 days. After that, store in the refrigerator to preserve freshness. 

 

Let’s Discuss: How do you and your family feel about adding vegetables to baked goods? 

buttermilk biscuits

The perfect biscuit, in my oh-so-humble opinion, should be perfectly flaky yet still fluffy, light, and moist with no heaviness.

Seems like a pretty tall order, eh?

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I’ve always been a fan of the perfect biscuit – a match made in heaven for the classic breakfast sandwich, a reliable vehicle for butter and jam, or kept simple and drizzled with just a touch of honey. But it’s been a tried and true search, dears. Copious amounts of research and many trial-and-error batches have resulted in my putting a halt on this quest for some time now. You see, I’m picky when it comes to this particular bread – I’ve never been fond of using lard in cooking, or shortening, and have found that it’s easy to over {or under} estimate the amount of butter needed to create those perfect layers.

When we had company a few weeks back, I decided to give this infamous recipe, this culinary enemy of mine, another go. Rather than re-exploring previous recipes, I opted for a fresh start. That being said, and having spoken with my previous experiences of different bases, I settled on exploring the buttermilk route. I knew that its creamy texture and tangy bite would be a good base for my dough, but didn’t want to travel down the {errenous} method of baking sans recipe. When I stumbled upon this one, I knew I had found a winner. A perfect balance of tangy buttermilk and rich butter {neither too much nor too little of each!} ensured me that I would come up with the perfect biscuit.

Do try and make these yourselves! Once set in the oven and baking, the aroma will tantalize you terribly. I promise, these won’t last more than a day or so.

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Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits

{recipe adapted from Cooking Light}

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour*

2-1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

5 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces

3/4 C. low-fat or fat-free buttermilk {because it’s summer, hot and humid, I probably used close to 1 C. total in this recipe}

3 Tbsp. honey

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl.

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Cut in the butter with a pasty blender or 2 knives until the mixture resembles coarse meal {you don’t want to overmix! – this will result in a tough biscuit}. Chill for 10 minutes.

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Combine buttermilk and honey, stirring with a whisk until well blended. Add buttermilk mixtures to flour mixture; stir just until moist.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface, and knead lightly 4 times. Roll dough into a {1/2 inch thick} 9×5 rectangle; dust top of dough with flour. Fold dough crosswise into thirds {as if folding a piece of paper to fit into an envelope}. Re-roll dough into a {1/2 inch thick} 9 x 4 rectangle; dust top of dough with flour. Again, fold dough into thirds, gently roll or pat into a generous 1″ thickness. Cut dough with a biscuit cutter to your desired size. I got 9 out of this size and amount. 

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Place dough rounds about 1 inch apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 400 degrees for 12 minutes, or until golden. Remove from pan; cool 2 minutes on a wire rack.

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Serve with your desired toppings and spreads.

Biscuits will keep, covered at room temperature, for about 2 days. Any longer than that, I would transfer into the refrigerator. 

bourbon caramelized apple scones

There’s nothing quite as comforting on a lazy weekend morning than a platter piled high with freshly baked scones, no?

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Inspired by the flavor combination I seem to be in love with as of late {does anyone recall these doughnuts, or this batch of granola from earlier this year?}, I set out to recreate yet another sweet version featuring this wonderful flavor combination. Yes, it certainly is reminiscent of fall, but to me, it’s a flavor combination that pairs well with a freshly brewed cup of coffee or strong cup of tea year round.

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I think that, for me, what really sets this recipe over the top is the use of bourbon in the apples. It’s still one of those flavors that is intensely strong for me, but in the best sort of way. Smoky and nutty, with a hint of vanilla, it makes the perfect accent to the sweet flavors of the caramelized apples we haphazardly fold into the scone batter. Big chunks are what it’s all about, dears. If you’re going to go all out for breakfast, why keep anything small?

…and in case you’re feeling particularly adventurous when preparing this recipe, why not give Greek yogurt a try, in place of the butter? I promise you, there will be no difference – the end result is still light and flaky as if butter was used, but now, you can have two instead of one and not feel any remorse.

So pour yourself a beverage, tie on your apron, and let’s get to baking, shall we?

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Bourbon Caramelized Apple Scones {recipe adapted from Joy of Baking}

makes: 8 scones

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar {I use my favorite turbinado sugar}

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 cup Greek yogurt, very cold {feel free to swap out for an equal amount of very cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes}

2/3 to 3/4 cups buttermilk {if you’re out, check out this great tip we talked about not to long ago!}

For the bourbon caramelized apples:

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter

3 apples, finely diced

1.5 ounces bourbon {you can omit if you prefer to not cook with alcohol}

1/2 tsp. vanilla

pinch salt

 

To Prepare:

Make the Apples:  melt the butter over medium-low heat in a large skillet. Add in the apples then sprinkle with a dash of salt, stirring to coat evenly with the melted butter. Cook for 3-5 minutes, until the apples become slightly tender. Add in the bourbon and vanilla, then cook for several minutes {3 to 5} until the apples are soft and the alcohol has evaporated. Set aside to cool completely.

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Make the Scones:  preheat the oven to 400 degrees, placing the cooking rack in the center of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper {I like to give it a spritz with cooking spray, just to make sure nothing sticks}. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add in the Greek yogurt {or butter}, using either a pastry cutter or two knives, blending the fat into the flour mixture. It should look like coarse crumbs. Add in the buttermilk {I usually find myself using the full 3/4 cup} and stir gently, just until the dough comes together. Add in the cooled apple mixture, folding in until it just marries into the dough. Do not overmix!

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Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently; really, you’re just working in any large crumbles of dough. Pat the dough into a disc roughly 8″wide.

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Bake for 20-25 minutes {this is slightly longer than a typical scone recipe, because the addition of the cooked apples adds in more surface area and mass to cook}, or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, then cut into 8 equally-sized triangles. Can be stored, covered, at room temperature for several days*.

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*After 2 days or so, I will transfer them into a zip-lock bag and store in the refrigerator. To warm, simply pop them in a microwave or toast up in the oven!

peanut butter & chocolate banana bread

Let me introduce my new best {bread} friend.

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Nothing is more beautiful, or heartwarming, on a dreary morning than a slice of warm banana bread. To me, at least, that is the ideal. Curled up on my couch under a cozy blanket, cup of coffee in one hand and book in the other. That is just perfection.

This bread ranks high atop my list for breakfast comfort foods. As mentioned, I’ve always had a love of banana bread…for as far back as I can remember, my sisters and I would get so excited when our mom would pull out the tattered blue cookbook from our private school to make the always sought after banana bread. As amazing as it was on its own, it would be sent over the top {for me, at least} when she would add in a handful or two of walnuts or pecans, and maybe…just maybe…we’d totally win and get the chocolate chips in there too.

This is somewhat of a more “adult” twist on the classic banana bread. I stumbled across this recipe a few weeks back, making sure to bookmark it because it {obviously} looked delicious and I needed an excuse to make banana bread. We loaded up on bananas during our weekly grocery trip and I let them sit out nice and long to ensure that I got the most flavor out of them; we all know that the more spotty and brown the banana is, the better the final loaf of bread, no?

One of the reasons that I enjoy this bread so much is because the flavors all balance each other out so well. This is definitely less sweet than the banana bread of years past – hence why I lean towards calling it more of an “adult” version. We let the natural sweetness of the overly ripe bananas take center stage, and only add in a scant amount of brown sugar, leaving out white sugar completely.

Rich cocoa powder adds a complex, warm note to the bread. It also lets it take on a gorgeous, espresso color – you won’t see this with your regular banana bread! I also think that on the next go around I may add in a dash or two of espresso powder, just to take the flavor overboard. That is a winning combination in my book; coffee + chocolate = LOVE. And because I’m crazy, I swapped out the chocolate chips in the original recipe for peanut butter. Because….come on…you know that peanut butter, banana, and chocolate is a match made in heaven.

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Peanut Butter & Chocolate Banana Bread

{recipe, adapted slightly, from Smitten Kitchen}

Ingredients:

3 medium-to-large very ripe bananas

1/2 C unsalted butter, melted

3/4 cup  brown sugar {light or dark brown will work just fine!}

1 large egg

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp table salt

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon {optional; I skip it}

1 C  all-purpose flour

1/2 C Dutch-process cocoa powder

1/2 to 1 C. natural, smooth or chunky, peanut butter – adjust to how “peanut buttery” you want your bread to taste {I find it helpful to have it warmed slightly, just so it’s easier to work with}

To Make:

Heat your oven to 350°F. Butter a 9×5-inch loaf pan, or spray it with a nonstick baking spray.

Mash bananas in the bottom of a large bowl. (You’ll have a little over 1 cup mashed banana total.) Whisk in melted butter, then brown sugar, egg, and vanilla. Place baking soda, salt, cinnamon (if using), flour and cocoa powder in a sifter or fine-mesh strainer and sift over wet ingredients {I couldn’t find my sifter, so I just made sure to incorporate very well}. Stir dry and wet ingredients with a spoon until just combined. Fold in the quantity and type of peanut butter you’d like to use.

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Pour into prepared pan and bake 55 to 65 minutes, until a tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out batter-free.

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Cool in pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then run a knife around the edge and invert it out onto a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The banana bread will keep for up to 4 days at room temperature. I keep mine wrapped in foil. If it lasts longer than that, which is highly doubtful, transfer to the refrigerator.

gruyere fondue

Fondue is one of those meals that is like feeding yourself a warm, ooey, gooey, delicious hug.

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This, and my and my husband’s love of all things cheesy, is one of the reasons (well, okay…probably the main reason) that I decided to make this as our Valentine’s Day dinner. Because what is more romantic that treating yourself and your loved one to a warm, delicious bite of all things good?

I’ll be completely honest and say that I definitely reached out of my culinary comfort zone when I decided to make this meal. Before today, my experience with fondue had consisted of melting a block of Velveeta cheese with some spiced tomatoes, setting out in front of the TV during a football game, and calling it a day. Needless to say, I have come a long way since then, and have since developed a slight aversion to said cheese dip (probably one too many late night cheese dip treats, if you know what I’m saying).

Enter this recipe. When I was thumbing through my pinned and bookmarked recipes in preparation for this special meal, the lovely ladies of A Beautiful Mess caught my eye. Newcastle Fondue, you say? Not waiting another second, I bounced right over to that page and being surveying the post. A simple list of ingredients, to really let the cheeses shine, was a winner in my book. The use of beer?…a winner in my husband’s book. I knew that I had found the winner.

Don’t be worried if you are without a fondue pot. Unless you are close to your parents (and can probably dig out an out fondue pot from times past…the 70s…) you’re probably without one. I sure am. And while I am all about making good investments when it comes to my kitchen and cooking arsenal, I couldn’t justify going out and buying one. So I brainstormed for a bit, and then it finally came to me – the crockpot! But I wasn’t going to make it in the crockpot; I have the economy/boat-sized version, which could easily produce 5 pounds of fondue…I couldn’t burn the wallet, and tempt our waistlines, with a delicious pot of cheese that big. Instead, I decided that I would choose my final serving dish for the fondue (which ended up being a medium-sized clear glass mixing bowl), and resting it inside my crock. I weighed it down with a can, proceeded to fill it with water about 3″ from the top of the bowl, and turned it on high. Voila! Instant fondue “pot”. And I’m telling you, it worked beautifully. The cheese stayed perfectly stretchy, warm and delicious for the entire evening.

Lest I forget, choose whatever dippers you like to serve alongside your fondue! Wanting to balance out the richness of the gruyere, I opted for a variety of fresh and roasted vegetables…Brussels Sprouts, cauliflower, and tomatoes. A batch of my Italian Turkey Meatballs were also made (in a mini version, of course – I got about 30 or so from the recipe!). And because bread and cheese are a match made in heaven, I also made a fresh batch of Sourdough French Bread earlier that day, which I cubed up alongside the veggies. They all complemented each other, and the cheese, so well.

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So go on ahead, my dears – dive on into this one! It’s a wonderful treat to make for a special night, or one of those times where you just need good old fashioned comfort food, or any reason that you can think of. Enjoy!

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Newcastle Fondue {adapted minimally from A Beautiful Mess}

1 clove of garlic

8 oz. shredded Gruyere cheese

4 oz.cubed Parmesan cheese

3 tablespoons flour

1 cup beer

pepper to season

First shred the cheese and combine in a bowl with the flour. Mix it around so that every piece gets coated by flour.

Slice the garlic clove down the center and rub it all over the inside of your pot. Mince the garlic and add it to pot, cook over low heat for a minute or so.

Pour in the beer and turn up the heat. Cook just until the beer begins to boil. Now turn the heat down and begin adding the cheese. Do this slowly, giving the cheese time to melt and merry with the beer.

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Once completely combined, pour either into your fondue pot or, if you are like me, a rigged crockpot. However you serve, make sure you have a generous glass of a good,crisp white wine to enjoy alongside. Delicious!

pumpkin-apple doughnuts with maple & bourbon drizzle

Do I even dare to ask…who doesn’t love a warm, fresh-made doughnut? Anyone? ANYONE?

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That’s what I thought. For as long as my family has called Virginia our “home base” homemade doughnuts, from a local bakery up the street, were always considered a treat for my sisters and I. These were not a weekly recurrence, at all – it was more along the lines of “Your grandma is in town visiting so we have to get some!” or “Company’s coming for the weekend, we need some on hand.” or “It’s the holidays! Doughnut time!” These, to me, are what made this delicious puffs of dough so awesome.

I know it might sound crazy, but I can pretty much catalog my childhood and adolescence by doughnuts from this particular shop. As a little girl, I loved the classic ‘sprinkles’ doughnut…but honestly, what kid (and adult? Yes, I’m talking to you) doesn’t like this kind of doughnut? Flash forward a few years, and I had moved on to the cream-filled topped with thick chocolate buttercream. Sometimes I would mix it up and throw in a cinnamon-sugar coated doughnut, but I had my routine, and I knew better than to stray too far.

Flash forward to today. Whenever the hubs and I head home, my mom and dad are sure to put in an order for a dozen or so of the family staples. My new love is their whole-wheat cake doughnut….yes, I know it’s simple, but tasting the nuttiness of the whole wheat flour, and the slightly sweet after notes, I am in absolute heaven. I’ve made it a habit of dunking it into my coffee and it’s over the edge for me. I could die right then, and be totally happy.

And that’s my doughnut story. But, you ask, what does this have to do with today’s post? The answer is that I’ve always wanted to try making homemade doughnuts. And I’m not talking the deep fried kind…I’m talking a basic cake doughnut, with fresh, simple ingredients and clean flavors. I recently purchased a doughnut pan and set my sights on conquering this goal.

I’ve spoken before about my love of autumnal flavors (remember my autumn granola?), and yes, we’re taking a page out of that book and going in that same direction. But! We’re going to kick things up with a little bit of apple, and a little bit of booze. I know you’re not complaining about that! We’re going to split the difference of the all-purpose flour and swap in some oat flour, to add in that sweet nuttiness that we all know and love (I’m talking to you, classic oatmeal cookie!). What takes the doughnuts over the top is the Maple & Bourbon drizzle, done at the very end. If you plan on serving these to children or those who don’t drink, feel free to swap out the bourbon for apple juice, or even just plain milk. Regardless, one bite into this moist, flavorful beauties and you will fall in love, just like I did.

I suggest making these for the upcoming weekend and you will be set – a warm doughnut, a hot cup of coffee (or tea!) and a nice, relaxing morning. Enjoy!

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Pumpkin-Apple Doughnuts with Maple & Bourbon Drizzle {adapted from King Arthur Flour}

Makes 15 individual doughnuts

For the doughnuts:

1/2 C. pumpkin puree (can swap out for 1/2 C. of vegetable oil – I find that the additional pumpkin makes for a very moist doughnut)

3 large eggs, room temperature

1/4 to 1/2 C. maple syrup

1-1/2 C. pumpkin puree

1-1/2 tsp/ pumpkin pie spice (or 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon plus heaping quarter tsp. each ground nutmeg and ground ginger)

1-1/2 tsp. salt

1-1/2 tsp. baking powder

3/4 C. oat flour*

3/4 C. plus 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

For the caramelized apples:

2 apples (I used a Granny Smith and a Gala), finely diced

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 ounce of bourbon (you can use the same one as you’ll use in the drizzle) you can omit this if serving to children or non-drinkers

pinch salt

several dashes of cinnamon

1 Tbsp. butter

honey, as necessary, to sweeten

To make the doughnuts:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two standard doughnut pans. If you don’t have doughnut pans, you can use regular or mini-muffin sized pans, but they won’t be a true ‘doughnut’.

Saute the apples, vanilla extract, bourbon, salt, cinnamon, butter and honey on a medium-low stovetop until the apples are soft. Allow to cool slightly, as these will be folded into the batter.

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Beat together the oil (or additional pumpkin puree), eggs, maple syrup, pumpkin, spices, salt and baking powder until smooth. Add in the flour, stirring just until smooth. Fold in the cooled apple mixture, taking care to not overmix the batter.

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Fill the wells of the pans about 3/4 full – it should be a scant 1/4 C. of batter in each well.

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Bake the doughnuts for about 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Once removed from the oven, let them sit for about 5 minutes, then loosen the edges and take out of the molds. Place on a rack to cool.

Make the drizzle while the doughnuts bake:

Combine 1 C. of powdered sugar with 1 ounce of your favorite bourbon. I like to stir in a few dashes of vanilla extract for extra flavor. Whisk until free of lumps, then spoon onto the tops of each doughnut.

Coat with the drizzle; you’ll see how much each doughnut will absorb it!

Cool completely and store (not wrapped tightly) at room temperature for several days…that is, if they last that long!

*to make your own oat flour, simply process the required amount of quick oats in your food processor until finely ground. If you don’t have a food processor, simply swap out for an equal amount of all-purpose flour.