Wednesday, February 20, 2013

carrot & apple cinnamon streusel muffins

I have to pass through the bakery in Wegmans every time I head to the deli to buy my favorite "Just Turkey" meat. The Just Turkey is used to create my favorite tortilla roll ups with slivers of sweet red peppers, cucumbers, sprouts and baby greens.  Just Turkey, the real name, is exactly what it implies...just turkey.  No additives, no salt, just like you shaved it off a turkey breast.  Since I buy it in small amounts every couple days to get it as fresh as possible, passing the bakery each time, I continued to spot a whole wheat carrot & apple muffin that was calling my name.

I usually don't buy baked goods, only because I obviously enjoy baking and creating my own, but I was so thankful I finally gave in.  This wasn't one of the huge bakery size muffins, it was a normal size, and the simple name just sounded appealing, and even healthy to me.  It had a streusel topping, but not a heavy, chunky, floury type.  It was a crumbly, light, cinnamon streusel.  The muffin was delightful!  On my following trip to Wegmans, I bought another one...this time to pull apart and examine!  :)  I had to figure out everything that went into this divine morning muffin, because I was now on a mission to make my own.  I did manage to eat my examination, it definitely did not go to waste!

My evaluation of the muffin revealed carrots, apples, currants, coconut and walnuts.  I already knew it was whole wheat flour from the name.  I stacked up my whole grains and muffin baking cookbooks, and began my search for something comparable that I could tweak with those ingredients.  I had a fabulous carrot cake recipe that I've been making for 30 years, so knew if all else failed, I could use that with modifications.

It didn't take me long to find an almost identical muffin from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook. The popular Morning Glory Muffin popped right off the pages at me, full of all the good, healthy ingredients I was looking for.  The one I loved so much from Wegmans had all the ingredients chopped and grated very small, so that's exactly what I did for mine.  Theirs incorporated currants rather than raisins, so I followed suit.  With a couple modifications, I had my muffin!

The finished product...incredible, surpassing the muffin I was trying to emulate!  Moist, delicate, full of fruit, nuts and veggies, lightly sweetened, and the addition of the cinnamon streusel topping was perfection!

I have to admit, these muffins did not go to any of my taste testers, and weren't given away either.  I individually bagged each one and froze them all for myself!  When ready to have one, I just take it out of the freezer a couple hours ahead of time, and it's like a fresh baked muffin each time.  A bit selfish,  I know, but my Carrot & Apple Cinnamon Streusel Muffins were just too good.  Next batch, I'll share...promise!  ;)

Until next time...mangia!  xox


Carrot & Apple Cinnamon Streusel Muffins
Yield:  1 dozen muffins


for the muffins:
1/2 cup zante currants
2 cups traditional whole wheat or white whole wheat flour
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups carrots, grated
1 large tart apple, peeled, cored, and grated (I used a Honey Crisp apple)
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/3 cup sunflower seeds or wheat germ (optional)
3 large eggs
2/3 cup canola oil
1/4 cup orange juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

for the cinnamon streusel topping:
1/2 cup flour
4 tablespoons sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons cinnamon
4 tablespoons butter

Create the Carrot & Apple Cinnamon Streusel Muffins

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin tin or line with cupcake papers and lightly coat the insides of the papers with nonstick spray. (See Carol's notes below.)

Put the currants in a small bowl and cover them with hot water; set aside to soak while you assemble the rest of the recipe.  Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, spices and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Stir in the carrots, apple, coconut and walnuts.  (Add sunflower seeds or wheat germ if using.  I did not use either.)  In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, oil, orange juice and vanilla.  Add to the flour mixture, and stir until evenly moistened.  Drain the currants and stir them in.

Add all the streusel topping ingredients in a food processor or mini-prep processor.  Pulse until crumbly.  You can also use a fork or your fingers and "smoosh" all the ingredients together in a bowl until crumbly.  I used a Cuisinart mini prep processor, which works perfectly for this small amount.

Scoop the batter evenly into the prepared muffin tin or cupcake papers, leaving enough room to add the streusel topping. They'll be almost full, that's ok. (See Carol's notes below.)  Add 1 tablespoon of streusel topping to each muffin.  Bake the muffins until nicely domed and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 28 minutes.  Don't overbake.  Remove from the oven and allow the muffins to cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove and finish cooling on a rack.

Carol's notes:

If interested - for the muffin cups I used Welcome Home Brands free standing pleated muffin cups.  They are a little larger than regular pan size muffins, so I made only 11 muffins, rather than 12 - and no pre-greasing or spray coating is necessary.  I filled them approximately 3/4 full, then added the streusel.  They are free standing, so I sat them on a rimmed cookie sheet in the oven to bake.  I purchased them at Wegmans, and also found them online at Amazon.  I love these things!  They have a great rustic, professional bakery look!  I also used the bread loaf pans in my Copycat Starbucks Gingerbread Loaf post found here.

If you don't like coconut, use drained crushed pineapple instead.

Bake a day ahead, they're even better the next day after all the good ingredients marry!

Recipe source:  King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Cookbook (with slight modifications)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

lentil and sausage soup

The weather recently in Northern Virginia has bestowed itself to beautiful late afternoon brisk walks.  There is nothing more invigorating than a walk in sunny, cool temperatures, bundled up with hat, scarf and gloves, only to shed them before returning home, knowing you got in a good heart-pumping walk.

When I walk back in to the house, there is nothing better than to have a wholesome and healthy dish waiting for me. Keeping with my promise in the mid-January post for my Pizza-fied Chicken, assuring to bring some of my favorite "good for you" recipes in between delectable sweets and savories, I'd like to introduce you to one of my favorite healthy, hearty soups.  Lentil and Sausage Soup is easy to prepare, totally delicious, and extremely satisfying...with a major dose of benefits from lentils!

Lentils, a cute little member of the legume family, are one of my favorite foods to add into soups, salads, or as a lovely bed for a piece of grilled chicken or salmon.  Besides these little gems being loaded with cholesterol-lowering fiber, they are high in protein and low in fat. Your heart will love you for the nutrients they provide...your digestive system will be thanking you daily, and to top it off - the soluble fiber in lentils also help stabilize blood sugar levels!  So who can argue with adding lentils to your diet?

The turkey kielbasa adds a wonderful spiciness and seasoning to this soup; however, if you want to keep it strictly vegetarian, you can easily omit the sausage, and add in a few of your favorite herbs or spices for a little kick of extra flavor.  I use half chicken and half vegetable broth, but you can keep it all vegetable broth, as well.

I've been creating this scrumptious soup for several years...and never tire of it.  I'm confident you will enjoy it too! If 8 - 10 servings are too many for you...freeze individual portions to take out for lunch or dinner on another day. This is exactly what I always do.  ...and by the way, you don't have to be eating healthy to love this soup!

Before I close, funny story for you herb connoisseurs who are wondering why I have mint leaves in my soup.  I like buying the little organic live herb plants in Wegmans when I need fresh herbs for cooking or garnish.  I reached in the group of parsley plants, for the prettiest one.  When I got it home, I put it up to my nose, and realized immediately it wasn't parsley! I didn't want it to go to waste, so it was used to garnish my soup anyway.  :)

Until next time...and some absolutely lovely Carrot and Apple Cinnamon Streusel Muffins...mangia!  xox


Lentil and Sausage Soup
Serves 8 - 10


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound of carrots, sliced
1 large onion, diced
4 large cloves garlic, minced
14 ounce package Jennie-O or Hillshire Farms Turkey Kielbasa, thinly sliced
2 1/2 cups brown lentils, picked over and rinsed or Trader Joe's Ready to Eat Steamed Lentils, 17.6 ounces, found in the refrigerated section, (which is what I use)
32 ounce box of low-sodium fat-free chicken broth
32 ounce box of low-sodium fat-free vegetable broth
2 - 14 1/2 ounce cans of diced tomatoes
salt and ground pepper to taste

Create the Lentil and Sausage Soup:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan (5 quart or larger) over medium heat.  Add the carrots, onion, and garlic.  Cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 8 minutes.

Add the kielbasa, lentils, and broth; bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer until the lentils* and carrots are tender, about 30 - 45 minutes.  *If using Trader Joe's Ready to Eat Lentils, add the lentils with the tomatoes in the following step.

Stir in the tomatoes, salt and ground pepper.  Simmer until heated through, about 10 minutes longer.  I personally like to let the soup simmer for a longer period, so all the flavors have time to meld together nicely, but this is not necessary.

Recipe adapted, with Carol's modifications, from Weight Watcher's Momentum Cookbook.

Carol's note:

The baguette slices in the photos are from a whole grain baguette loaf.  I diagonally sliced it, brushed it with a slight swish of extra virgin olive oil, set it on a baking sheet placed in the center of the oven with broiler turned on, lightly toasting each side.  Perfect accompaniment to the Lentil and Sausage Soup!

Thursday, February 07, 2013

the pioneer woman's best chocolate sheet cake

Classics.  Is there anything better?  I worked with a woman during the 90's that would bring a Texas Sheet Cake to every single get together.  Not because that was all she knew how to bake, but because it was always requested...and every morsel on that huge sheet cake pan always disappeared!  I have never forgotten that cake, although over the years for some reason never created it - until a couple years ago.

Being obsessed with kitchen gadgets and cookbooks, I decided it would be nice to start collecting cookbooks for my daughter when she started grad school.  She loved watching the food network, and dabbling in her apartment kitchen during downtime, so thought it would be a gift she would enjoy, even more in years to come. For Christmas 2009, I bought her the newly released, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl.  While browsing through the beautiful book, so fascinated with Ree Drummond's story and the book's lovely photos, I knew immediately Kelly was going to love the easy, classic, comfort food recipes.  Then I turned the page to find Chocolate Sheet Cake, which is aptly named "The Best Chocolate Sheet Cake.  Ever." on her blog.  So excited thinking back to the Texas Sheet Cake we enjoyed at all those work parties so many years earlier, I immediately wrote down the recipe before wrapping the book and placing it under the tree for Kelly. Confession from a cookbookholic:  I eventually purchased the book for myself too! :)

The Pioneer Woman's Chocolate Sheet Cake recipe came to my mind immediately when the ingredient to be paired with chocolate was announced for the February Chocolate Party I'm involved in.  Chocolate with perfect is that for February!

This mouthwatering cake is very easy to create with basic ingredients that we all have on hand in our kitchens.  It's one of those incredibly rich and moist cakes, that you will pick up every last crumb with the back of your fork. Enhancing the top of this delicious cake is an irresistible, smooth and creamy layer of chocolate pecan frosting. The pecans can be omitted, if you wish.  Be sure to pour the frosting over the warm cake.  Very little, if any, spreading is needed, since the hot out of the oven cake will do most of the work for you.

Quoting Ree Drummond, "cut into squares, eat, and totally wig out over the fact that you've just made the best chocolate sheet cake.  Ever."  :)

Until next time...and a lovely, savory, healthy Lentil and Sausage Soup recipe...mangia!  xox


The Pioneer Woman's Best Chocolate Sheet Cake
Serves 24 {this recipe can easily be cut in half to serve 12}


for the cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter
4 heaping tablespoons cocoa (I used Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa)
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup buttermilk (see Carol's notes)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

for the frosting:
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans (optional)
13/4 sticks butter
4 heaping tablespoons cocoa (again I used Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa)
6 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound (minus 1/2 cup) powdered sugar

Create The Best Chocolate Sheet Cake

for the cake:
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly spray a 13" x 18" sheet cake pan and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, and salt.

In a saucepan, melt butter.  Add cocoa.  Stir together.  Add boiling water, allow mixture to boil for 30 seconds, then turn off heat.  Pour over flour mixture, and stir together for a moment to cool the chocolate.

In a bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, baking soda, and vanilla.  Stir buttermilk/egg mixture into flour/chocolate mixture and stir until smooth.  Pour into prepared sheet cake pan and bake for 20 minutes.

for the frosting:
While cake is baking, make the icing.  You will be pouring it over the warm cake.

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add cocoa powder, stir until smooth, then turn off heat.  Add the milk, vanilla, and powdered sugar.  Stir together.  Add the finely chopped pecans, stir until well combined.

Immediately after removing the cake from the oven pour the warm icing over the top.  You'll want to avoid doing much spreading, so try to distribute it evenly as you pour.

Carol's notes:
I cut the recipe in half, and used a 9-1/4" x 14" jelly roll pan, like this one.  I used 1/3 cup pecans, and baked it for 16 - 17 minutes.

If you don't have buttermilk, no can make your own.  Use 1 tablespoon of distilled white vinegar or lemon juice to just under 1 cup of low-fat milk.  Stir together and set aside for a few minutes.  For less than 1 cup buttermilk, adjust vinegar or lemon juice accordingly.  Simple as that!

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