Cornbread Muffins

I’ve tried a few corn muffins or corn bread, but so often they turn out a little dry or too grainy.  These were absolutely perfect, so moist and delicious with the taste of the corn.  I found the recipe on “Once Upon a Chef” and for the first time, didn’t tweak a thing!

corn muffins 2

Light and fluffy, moist and delicious – what more could you want from a cornbread muffin?

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour, spooned into measuring cup and leveled-off
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 3/4 cup milk (preferably whole but low-fat works too)
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°Fdegrees. Line a muffin pan with paper liners or spray with non-stick cooking spray. (I prefer to use non-stick cooking spray so the muffins get nice and crisp on the edges.)
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.
  3. In a separate bowl, break up the eggs with a whisk. Whisk in the honey and then the milk. Add the milk mixture and melted butter to the dry ingredients. Stir until just blended. Do not overmix; it’s okay if there are a few lumps. Spoon the batter evenly into the prepared muffin pan, filling each cup almost full. Bake for 17-20 minutes, or until the tops are set and golden. Cool the muffins for a few minutes in the pan, then serve warm.
corn muffins 1

I served these with a slightly spicy chipotle beef stew, so I didn’t want any extra spice here, but next time I might try mixing in a little jalapeño and gouda cheese …… yum.

Apple Pie Cookie Bars

apple pie bars 5

Combine an apple pie with shortbread bars and you have this winner!  I found this recipe in my latest Food Network magazine, from Ina Garden, and I’ve already made it twice.  The first time without the nuts so that the kids can take it in school lunches.

  • For the Crust
  • 1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
apple pie bars 4

Make sure your little helper has fun!  Stella loves working in the kitchen with Nana…

  • For the Apple Filling
  • 1½ pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, quartered, cored, and sliced 1/8 inch thick (3 large)
  • 1½ pounds Golden Delicious apples, peeled, quartered, cored, and sliced 1/8 inch thick (3 large)
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter

Apple pie bars 1

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

For the crust, place the butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, until light and creamy. Sift the flour and salt together and, with the mixer on low, slowly add to the butter-sugar mixture, beating until combined. Scatter two-thirds of the dough in clumps in a 9 × 13-inch baking pan and press it lightly with floured hands on the bottom and ½ inch up the sides. Refrigerate for 20 minutes. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until the crust is golden brown, and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, put the mixing bowl with the remaining dough back on the mixer, add the walnuts and cinnamon, and mix on low speed to combine. Set aside.

Reduce the oven to 350 degrees.

For the filling, combine the Granny Smith and Golden Delicious apples and lemon juice in a very large bowl. Add the granulated sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg and mix well. Melt the butter in a large (10-inch-diameter) pot, add the apples, and simmer over medium to medium-low heat, stirring often, for 12 to 15 minutes, until the apples are tender and the liquid has mostly evaporated. Spread the apples evenly over the crust, leaving a ½-inch border.

apple pie bars 3

Pinch medium pieces of the remaining dough with your fingers and drop them evenly on top of the apples (they will not be covered).

apple pie bars 2

Make sure you taste …….. Stella already knows this, here she decided to add a few oats and more cinnamon to the topping mix ….. it was a hit!

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the topping is browned. Cool completely and cut into bars.

Puerto Escondido feels like home!

We’ve spent a lot of time in beach towns along the Pacific Coast of Mexico, and I think we’ve come to realize that Puerto Escondido provides everything we love about relaxing along the coast.  There is a bay to visit for whatever your activity; from calm waters to surfing the waves.  We’ve discovered Rinconada is our favourite area, quiet and calm, most residential and great restaurants.  Not only that, it is a great walk to Playa Bacocho.

playa-bacocho

Playa Bacocho, 2 km long and a fantastic morning walk.  These waves and undertow can be treacherous, so watch the waves for 10 minutes or so before getting in.  We enjoyed swimming and bobbing in the waves every day here.

dsc03599

Playa Carazalillo is perfect for playing in the water – safe and entertaining with snorkelling around the rocky areas, where turtles are often spotted.  This is also a great place for learning to surf or boogie boarding.  A popular spot with both locals and tourists, the entire bay is lined with palapa restaurants.

beach-party-3

It is difficult to figure out when it is going to be a “day off” in Mexico, but when it is the beaches are full of locals.  It is so much fun to watch the families arrive by the bus load, or truck bed, carting food and drink, swimming in clothes and generally having a fantastic time.  They laugh as they bob in the waves and their joy is contagious.  Who wouldn’t love to be hanging out on this beach?

dsc03470

La Punta ….. a great beach for watching surfers, boogie boarding or body surfing.  Not for the faint of heart or weak swimmers.  Find a nice shaded palapa and relax with some guacamole or tacos while you are scanning the horizon for dolphins or whales.  We were treated to quite an amazing dolphin show here, with them leaping out of the water and playing for an hour or so.  I so wish either my camera or my skills had been able to capture that!

fullsizeoutput_482d

Zicatela is the primary surf beach, and on a high surf day the waves will be packed with surfboards.

dsc03609

dsc03459Our home in Puerto Escondido was amazing.  We loved staying at this small 6 unit complex with truly magnificient ocean views.

Take a peek at those ladders between our pool and the beach view …… The “ladder rep” wandered the streets with this push cart selling ladders.  Seems unlikely, but we watched that ladder carrier go from maximum capacity to these few over 2 days!

dsc03610

Right across from our gate at Las Turquezas was a path winding down to the beach at Playa Bacocho, every day started with a trip down that path for a morning walk and bobbing in the waves.

fullsizeoutput_4830

dsc03458

Okay, well maybe we didn’t manage to get Vivi out of her hammock EVERY day …

dsc03601

Going local …. we had use of a wash machine so instead of taking our clothes to the lavanderia we washed them and hung them on the rooftop clothes line.  Now, that is my idea of laundry heaven.

fullsizeoutput_4832

Sunsets were amazing here, so colourful and while the colours lasted for a while, it is always surprising how quickly that sun goes from just above the ocean to dropping off out of sight.

sunset-pto

sunset

dsc03605

Puerto Escondido is a prime growing area for sesame seeds, peanuts and mango to name of few of the crops.  I’ve never seen how sesame seeds grow before so that was fun!

dsc03555

Gina, the “information goddess” has a tourist information booth in Puerto Escondido, and she can organize pretty much any tour you’d like to take.  We did go on an agricultural tour with her, and while it was informative and entertaining, it was probably a bit overpriced at 600 pesos per person.

Loved the plants here, such vivid colour everywhere you look.

fullsizeoutput_4847

One of the people we met on our tour is Gallo …. He runs a sanctuary for critters, everything from iguanas to turtles, to crocodiles and birds.  It was amazingly clean and well organized.  For years he did this on his own, from his own pocketbook, but is now partially subsidized.  Here he is, explaining that the reason he looks like Zapata is because that was his great uncle … or great great great uncle …. some things get lost in translation!

Once you leave the interior of Mexico, often the best food is also left behind, but not here!  We had some amazing meals here and can hardly wait to go back.  We usually mix things up quite a bit when we are away, cooking at home with local ingredients and eating out as well.  This time, I’ll admit, we ate out more than not, but it was an easy decision with such good restaurants within walking distance.

almora-duz

Almoraduz Cocina Mexicana de Autor – OMG …… we ate here twice it was so good.  last year I also had back ribs here that I still dream about.

sesame-crusted-tuna

Turtle Bay Cafe was also a real winner, this sesame crusted tuna was out of this world, and so were the prawns with saffron aioli.

popsicles

After day at the beach you just know you want a popsicle ….. we tried the lime, the strawberry with slices of kiwi and mango, and the fresh grated coconut popsicle, all were simply refreshingly perfect!

beach-in-pto

I know, I know, the crowds are quite bothersome …..

playa

Thinking of this moment at home …. remembering the feel of the sun and the sound of the waves ….

dsc03597

The nightly crib match kept Grant and Wilson competitive right to the trip home.

dsc03614

Need a pick me up?  Juice water …. I love them all, from this pineapple water, to my all time favourite, green juice.

jugo-verde-2

Normally we eat at Mexican places ….. but the aromas drifting out of El Sultan finally dragged us in, and we had their chicken schawarma pita twice!  They make their own pitas fresh daily (about 4 times a day!) and it was fantastic.

The ultimate moment of the time spent in Puerto Escondido, of many fabulous moments, was the trip out to swim with bioluminescent plankton.  This is a spot you should visit after dark, preferably really dark, or raining.  Anything to avoid a bright moon.  A short drive from Puerto Escondido and you reach Laguna de Manialtepec, where boats are waiting.  Originally  the plankton was thought to be a curse by the fisherman when their nets were illuminated enough by the bioluminescence that the fish avoided them.  Only a short ten years later they no longer think of it as a curse as 20% of their income is derived from tourists to see this phenomenon.  If you are brave enough, you jump off the boat in darkness …. I wasn’t, but Grant, Vivian and Wilson sure did.  Once in the water the movement is totally illuminated by the plankton, and it is like your body is covered in sparkly jewels.  A few nibbling fish too …..   Another moment where I wish I could have taken a photo.

In many areas of the Pacific coast this is the time of year turtles come ashore to lay their eggs in droves.  We’ve participated in helping at sanctuaries, when the baby turtles are ready to make their journey to the sea, but this is the first time we have been around when the turtles make their way onto shore to begin that process.  It is pure magic.  Just take a moment to sit and watch the waves, and a turtle will suddenly appear, then another, then another.

fullsizeoutput_484b

This entire beach is covered in mounds ….. how many turtle eggs are under those mounds is anybodies guess.  Each turtle lays between 80-150 eggs.

fullsizeoutput_4849

With a determined pace they make their way up the beach.

turtles-arriving

turtles

This same beach can see 2500 turtles appear on one night ….. and no, I didn’t take this particular photo, our driver had taken it on an earlier morning trip out there.  We went at dusk to watch them coming in.

dsc03632

These poor mama turtles work so hard to get  up the beach, dig the hole with their hind flippers, drop in their eggs, cover them back up with sand and tamp the sand down.  It was amazing for us to watch the whole process, and listen to the sound of the weight she uses to tamp it all down.

eggs-dropping

dsc03645

The eggs dropped out in singles and doubles until the hole was filled.  Once done, she makes her way back down the beach to return to the sea.

dsc03625

dsc03640

fullsizeoutput_483c

We are usually in Mexico for the Revolution day parades, and they are so entertaining!

dsc03548

fullsizeoutput_4837

Those dancers knew that Vivian and Wilson were tapping their feet, so they pulled them right into the street with them.

dsc03495

fullsizeoutput_482e

Ahh, Puerto Escondido ….. love these beaches, the sunshine, the amazing food and I just know we’ll be back.

hasta-la-vista-pto

Hasta la vista Puerto Escondido ……

Sloan’s apple pies

Sloan and I love to be baking in the kitchen together, and most days we would make our own pie dough, but for a little after school baking time, these individual frozen pie tart shells are fantastic. This amazing little granddaughter is only 6, but she did this totally on her own, with a little verbal guidance while I helped 3 year old Stella make biscuits, which believe me – takes all my attention!  Before I know it, this little one will be teaching Nana!

img_0229

For 12 tarts:

  • 1 1/2 cups apple, chopped up quite small
  • 1 TBSP white sugar
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp corn starch
  • 1 TBSP grated butter

Mix everything together really well, and divide into each tart shell.  Sprinkle a little crumble topping over, and bake at 400 for 20 minutes, until golden brown.

sloans-apple-pies

Pumpkins Pumpkins Pumpkins

 

pumpkins-anyone

Pumpkins, anyone?????  It’s October and pumpkin season in the Okanagan.  These adorable little pumpkins are super for decorating, and make the best pumpkin flesh.  Roast up a few, and freeze it for using in the middle of winter when pumpkin season is just a memory.

fullsizeoutput_45e6

I like oven roasting my pumpkins, seems to intensify the flavour and – not only that, super easy!

Cut pumpkins in half, scoop out seeds and turn upside down on roasting pan (I like to cover with parchment paper for easy clean up)

fullsizeoutput_46eb

Set those yummy pumpkin seeds aside for another day …. roasted with some seasoning they are a great snack or addition to salads!

fullsizeoutput_46ea

Once you scoop out the roasted pumpkin flesh, use an immersion blender to puree it all, then turn it into a heavy bottom pot and allow to reduce slightly …. (4 cups pumpkin flesh should reduce to 3).  Removing some of this water makes for more flavourful pumpkin flesh.

 

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Ginger Crust & Caramel Sauce

I will tell you right away, this isn’t quick.  However, it is worth every moment you spend …. and after all, isn’t making a special dessert like this worth it?  After all, it is a labour of love!

Ingredients

For the Crust

  • 7-1/2 ounces gingersnaps (or 1-1/2 cups finely ground gingersnap crumbs)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the Filling

  • 1 15-ounce can pumpkin (such as Libby’s)
  • 1-1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup heavy cream, cold
  • 1-1/2 pounds (three 8-ounce packages) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 5 large eggs, room temperature

For Caramel Sauce

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/8 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, plus more if necessary
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Instructions

For the Crust

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Wrap a 9-inch springform pan twice with aluminum foil (preferably heavy duty). Take care to pull the foil all the way up the sides so that water cannot seep in from the water bath. Spray the bottom and sides of the pan with nonstick cooking spray. Pulse the crackers (or crumbs) and sugar in a food processor fitted with the metal blade until finely ground. Add the butter and pulse a few times to combine. Dump the moistened crumbs into the prepared pan and, using a measuring cup or glass, press into an even layer. Bake until fragrant and set, about 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack while you prepare the filling.

For the Filling

  1. Bring about 4 quarts of water to a simmer in a tea kettle (this will be used for the water bath). In a small, heavy saucepan, stir together the pumpkin, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a sputter, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes, until thick, bronzed and shiny. Scrape the mixture into a large food processor fitted with the metal blade and process for 1 minute with the feed tube open.
  2. With the motor running, add the cold cream. Add the cream cheese (cut into chunks) and process for about 30 seconds, scraping the sides if necessary, or until smoothly incorporated. Add the eggs and process for about 5 seconds or just until incorporated (do not overmix!).
  3. Set the cake pan in a large roasting pan. Pour the batter into the cooled crust, and then pour enough boiling water into the large roasting pan to come about halfway up side of the cake pan. Bake until the cake is just set, about 1-1/2 hours. If it jiggles, it’s not done. CAREFULLY remove the roasting pan from the oven and set on a wire rack. Use a paring knife to loosen the cake from the sides of the pan. Cool until the water is just warm, about 45 minutes. Remove the springform pan from the water bath, discard the foil and set on a wire rack. Continue to cool at room temperature until barely warm, about 3 hours. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours or overnight.

For the Caramel Sauce

  1. Stir the sugar, corn syrup, water and lemon juice together in a 2-cup microwave-safe measuring cup or medium glass bowl. Microwave until the caramel is pale yellow, or just barely starting to take on some color, 4-8 minutes (depending on the strength of your microwave). It’s fine to stop and open the microwave to check often; just don’t let it get too dark or it will burn. Let the caramel sit for about 5 minutes — it will gradually turn a rich amber color. (If after five minutes, it’s not dark enough, place it back in the microwave for thirty seconds or so, then let it darken again. If it gets too dark, start over.)
  2. In the meantime, heat the cream in the microwave until hot. Once the caramel reaches the right color, add the hot cream a few tablespoons at a time. It will bubble up intensely, but won’t overflow. After you’ve added all the cream, stir to incorporate then add the butter. Add more cream if the mixture seems too thick. Once the caramel cools, you can store it in your fridge.

For Serving

  1. Remove the outer ring from the springform pan. Slide a thin metal spatula between the crust and pan bottom to loosen, then slide the cheesecake onto a serving platter. (Alternatively, you can keep it on the pan bottom.) If there is condensation on the top of the cheesecake, blot it gently with a flat paper towel. Let the cheesecake stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes, then cut it into wedges. Warm up the caramel sauce in the microwave (it stiffens in the fridge). If it’s too thick, add more heavy cream to thin it out. Drizzle the caramel sauce over each piece of cheesecake and top with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream if desired.
  2. Note: You’ll need a large food processor — preferably with a 12-cup capacity — to make the filling (you can also use an 11-cup, but you may have a bit of leakage). If you don’t have one, it’s fine to use a Kitchenaid Mixer or electric beaters for the filling and a small food processor for the crust.

Mini Pumpkin Cheesecake Bites

Delicious!  Not only do these look pretty darn cute on a serving platter, you will love how they taste.  A couple quick bites of pure pumpkin cheesecake heaven ….

pumpkin-cheesecake-minis

INGREDIENTS:

For the crust:
8 gingersnap cookies
1 graham cracker rectangle
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1 1/2 tsp brown sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 1/2 TBSP melted butter

For the cheesecakes:
1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 large egg
2 teaspoons heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ginger

For whipped cream topping:
1 cup heavy cream
1 TBSP powdered sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Arrange oven rack in the lower third of your oven. Lightly grease a 12-cup mini cheesecake pan or mini muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In the bowl of a food processor, grind all ingredients for crust (except for melted butter) until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add melted butter and process until crumbs resemble wet sand. Press mixture by the tablespoon (1/2 Tbsp. if using a mini muffin pan) into each cheesecake/muffin pan cup*. Bake for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare cheesecake. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar and pumpkin puree with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Mix in egg, heavy cream, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger until just combined. Evenly pour filling over each crust. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool in pan for 20 minutes. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before removing cheesecakes from pan.

Remove cheesecakes from pan by gently running a blunt knife around the edges of each cheesecake and popping out.

Before serving, prepare whipped cream. Beat heavy cream, sugar and vanilla in a medium bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed, until stiff peaks form. Refrigerate until ready to dollop on top of cheesecakes.

If these get past your original serving, refrigerate the rest until they disappear!