Saturday, September 29, 2012

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

I've seen variations of this recipe floating around the blogosphere lately - and I even saw some of these muffins at Starbucks the other day - so I decided they were just calling to me to give them a try. I started out with a base recipe from on of my favorite baking blogs, Annie's Eats, but I lightened them up by cutting the fat and sugar, so I felt like I was eating a breakfast muffin and not a cupcake. The result is a spicy, moist muffin with a creamy, sweet surprise in the center.

I thought they were a great breakfast treat. My hubby took some to work and said they were a big hit with his employees, too. So these is definitely going into the rotation for fall baking recipes! Here's my version:

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins
(Makes 12)

For the cream cheese filling:
4 oz. light cream cheese
1/3 c. confectioner's sugar

For the muffins:
1 1/2 c. white flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1 c. pumpkin puree
1/2 c. vegetable oil

For the cinnamon sugar topping (optional):
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp. white flour
2 Tbsp. cold butter, cut into small pieces

About 2-3 hours before you plan to bake, beat cream cheese and confectioner's sugar until smooth. Shape into a 6-8" log on plastic wrap. Fold up the wrap until completely covered, then place in the freezer.
Once the cream cheese mixture has firmed up, preheat oven to 350&F. Line muffin pan with paper liners.
In a large bowl, combine 1 1/2 c. flour, baking soda, 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger and salt. Add eggs, granulated sugar, pumpkin puree and oil. Beat on low speed just until combined.
Remove the cream cheese mixture from the freezer and cut into 12 small blocks.
Fill each of the muffin liners 1/3 of the way with the pumpkin mixture. Place 1 block of cream cheese mixture into the center of each muffin, then top with remaining pumpkin batter. The muffins tins will be very full - almost (but not quite) to the top of the liner.
In a separate small bowl, mix brown sugar, 1 tsp. cinnamon and 2 Tbsp. flour. Cut butter into mixture with a fork until the mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle evenly over the tops of the uncooked muffins.
Place the muffins in the preheated oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted (into the side - not the cream cheese center) comes out clean.
Cool completely before enjoying.
(If storing for more than few hours - keep these in the refrigerator. Pop them in the microwave for about 15-20 seconds each before eating - delish!!)

Linking up to:
Totally Tasty Tuesdays

Monday, September 24, 2012

Cold Asian Noodle Salad with Cucumbers and Chicken

Here's a very tasty recipe that I've adapted to be more reflux-friendly. It's a nice mix of salty and sweet, as well as crunch and soft. Enjoy it as a main meal or a side dish - either way, if you like Asian flavors - I don't think you'll be disappointed!

Cold Asian Noodle Salad with Cucumbers and Chicken
(Adapted from Cooking Light - Serves 3)

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 Tbsp. miso paste*
6 ounces buckwheat soba noodles (or regular udon noodles)
1/4 c. seasoned rice wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. sesame oil 2 Tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
1 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. freshly grated ginger
1 6" English cucumber, cut into quarters and sliced
3 Tbsp. salted cashews, chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F. Place boneless skinless chicken breasts on a foil-lined baking sheet. Spread 1 Tbsp. miso paste on top of each piece of chicken.
Bake at 350°F for 25 minutes or until fully cooked. Set aside to cool. (You can also make this a few hours or a day ahead of time and refrigerate until you need it.)
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook soba noodles as directed on the package. Once finished cooking, drain and rinse with cold water until noodles feel cold to the touch.
In a small bowl, whisk together rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, honey and ginger.
Once chicken has cooled, cut into bite-sized chunks.
Place chicken, noodles and cucumbers in a larger bowl. Pour vinegar/soy sauce mixture over the top and toss to coat. Sprinkle with cashews just before serving.

*A note about miso paste: You can usually find this at a natural food store or Asian market. Don't be put off by having to buy a larger tub - it's already fermented, lasts forever (well, at least several months...) in the fridge! Cast Party Wednesday

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Eating with Acid Reflux

I haven't mentioned it yet because I keep hoping it will go away - but I've been dealing with a pretty bad case of acid reflux since May. It all seemed to start because of a medication I was taking. And even though I stopped that medication, the reflux hasn't gone on its merry way (we're talking heartburn/sore throat/feeling like food gets "stuck" most of the day for most days of the week - ugh). So far, I've tried a few over-the-counter and prescription acid medications to get it under control. I've also started taking a teaspoon of wild honey 20 minutes before every meal. Those have helped some, but we're still not quite there.

So my doctor says it's time to get serious about cutting "trigger foods" out of my diet. Over the past 2-3 months, I had already stopped eating some things that very obviously bothered me:
-tomato sauce
-red wine
-fizzy water/seltzer
-spicy food
-most salad dressing.

Now, that seems like a lot to cut out to me. But, apparently, there's a whole lot more to the "avoid" list. In the past week, I've also stopped eating/drinking:
-all alcohol
-all full-fat dairy (ice cream, cheese, etc.)
-fried foods (not that I ate a lot of these... but I do like a good french fry!)
-bananas (this isn't on any official list, but it seems to be a trigger for me).

So what the heck is left to eat?!? Some days, it feels like not much - especially when it comes to dinner. I used to cook with tomatoes and garlic a lot. And spicy foods are a favorite. Dinners have, almost needless to say, been pretty bland around here - especially because foods have to be on the softer side to feel OK on my throat. Chicken & rice and turkey burgers with sweet potatoes have been on the menu far too much.

So I call on you readers - got any good ideas for reflux-friendly recipes that are still healthy & delicious? Or any other ideas for calming the burn?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Easy Homemade Heath Bar Ice Cream Cake (with pictorial!)

The 100+ temps today have me reminiscing fondly of this ice cream cake I recently made for a friend's BBQ. With creamy vanilla ice cream & decadent chocolate-caramel fillings, it is both delicious - and surprisingly simple. The secret? Ice cream sandwiches! Yup, that's what makes up the ice cream & "cake" layers in this delicious dessert. Here's the full recipe - with photos on putting it together.

Easy Homemade Heath Bar Crunch Ice Cream Cake
(Serves 12)

12 classic ice cream sandwiches (vanilla ice cream & chocolate cake)
8 oz. tub whipped topping, divided
1 small box (3.4 oz) instant chocolate pudding
1 cup caramel topping, divided
2 Heath® toffee candy bars

Remove all wrappers from ice cream sandwiches, then put back in the freezer for 30 minutes to firm back up.
Meanwhile, unwrap the candy bars and put them in a plastic bag. Crush them with a rolling pin (or other heavy object). In a medium-sized bowl, mix 1 cup of the whipped topping, 1/2 cup of the caramel topping and the package of instant chocolate pudding until smooth. Stir in the candy bar pieces.
Lay out a large sheet of foil (approx. 24 x 12).
Take your unwrapped ice cream sandwiches out of the freezer and lay 4 of them side-by-side on the foil to form a rectangle:
Spread 1/2 of the pudding/candy topping mixture on top:

Drizzle about 1/3 of the remaining caramel topping on top:
Place another 4 ice cream sandwiches side-by-side on top of the caramel layer:
Spread remaining pudding/candy mixture on top:
Drizzle with another 1/3 of the caramel topping (I had a little bit of a heavy hand here.... oops!):
Top with remaining ice cream sandwiches:
Cover with remaining whipped topping:
Carefully fold up the sides of the foil to create a "pan" for your ice cream cake. Place on a level surface in the freezer for at least 3 hours. Just before serving, unwrap and drizzle with remaining caramel topping. Then slice & enjoy!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Nacho Showdown! #SFTasteTest + a Chance to Win!

My friends over at Smart & Final asked me to try out another one of their First Street products and do a comparison with the brand name version. I've always found first Street products to be of great quality - and they have a money back guarantee if you don't like them - so I was in. And when I found out I'd be trying out chili with beans - I got even more excited. Instantly, I decided we had to make nachos. I don't have nachos that often, but boy do I crave them like crazy sometimes.

To make this even more fun, my hubby and I decided that we'd each make a pan of nachos - one with First Street ingredients and one with brand name - and have our friends judge them in the now infamous Nacho Showdown of 2012.

First, we headed off to Smart & Final to do our shopping. They were all set up for Labor Day party shopping - which was exactly what we were doing.

I was in charge of First Street ingredients and he was in charge of brand name. So we went around gathering our ingredients:

First Street roundup - $5.27 for chili, sour cream & shredded cheese
Brand name equivalents - $6.27 (would've been $7.27 if the sour cream hadn't been on sale)

You can check out our full shopping trip - including a picture of hubby actually smiling while shopping (a rare sight!) - HERE.

Before we did the taste test & Nacho Showdown, I moved all of the branded ingredients to separate containers and labeled them with just numbers, so no one would know which was which:
(We both used the same chips & salsa, as we couldn't find First Street versions.)

Then hubby & I did a taste test comparison of just the chili itself so we would know what we were working with for ingredients. (Well, I didn't tell him which brand was which - hee hee). First, the First Street Version:
We agreed it was nice & meaty and the beans were firm, not mushy, which made it seem "fresh." It was pretty mild, though, in terms of spices. My only minor gripe is that I had to use a can opener to open it up, whereas the Hormel had a pop-top. Yup, sometimes I'm lazy ;-D

Next up the Hormel:
The sauce here was thicker and there was more kick to the flavor - but there wasn't as much meat and the beans were on the mushy side. Hubby was able to guess this was the brand name due to the spices.
However, we both agreed the First Street Version was a better base to start with because of the quality of beans and the "meatiness." Plus, when serving a crowd, it's sometimes better to go on the milder side. You can always add more spice (like yummy jalapenos) but you can't take it away!

So that was the chili all by itself. But how would they stack up in the nacho showdown? We packed up all the ingredients and headed over to the party at our friend's house. While a bunch of our friends gabbed & hung out on the patio, we took over the kitchen and set to creating our masterpieces.
 We layered chips, chili, salsa, cheese & jalapenos
First Street on the left, brand name on the right (I numbered the pans to keep track of them - otherwise it would've been a disaster!)

Into the oven for 10 minutes and voila! Nachos are served:
First Street still on the left, brand name on the right

The comments started rolling in... #1 had a little kick, #2 had a richer flavor, you could taste all the ingredients in #1, "they're both good" and so on... Finally, we called for the final vote to see whose nachos would reign supreme. And the winner is...

It's a TIE!
So there you have - the First Street chili easily held its own against the brand name - as did the other First Street ingredients. Yet more evidence that you don't have to compromise taste & quality when you save money with store brands.
But Smart & Final doesn't just want to save you money - they want to give you money! That's right, they've have a Pinterest Party going on right now where you could win a $100, $300 or even $500 Smart & Final SmartCash gift card!
Check out all the details at

Find out more about Smart & Final and all of their great deals by following them on Twitter and Facebook.

This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias. #CBias All opinions expressed are my own.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Chickpea Salad with Feta & Oven-Dried Tomatoes

I don't know about you, but sometimes I get stuck in a rut when it comes to side dishes. Lately it seems like it's been zucchini, rice, quinoa, green salad, repeat. After having grilled chicken with a garden salad one too many times in the last few weeks, I decided I absolutely had to change it up. And so this chickpea salad was born.

It's very flavorful - and very garlicky (not a date-night food!) - and makes a nice alternative to traditional BBQ sides. To date, I've served it with grilled chicken & grilled pork tenderloin, and I've also eaten it over baby greens for lunch. Though it doesn't make a giant bowl-full, with the flavor it packs, a little goes a long way. If you're looking for an easy salad to bring to a Labor Day BBQ - look no further!

Chickpea Salad with Feta & Oven-Dried Tomatoes
(makes about 2 cups)

1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (about 1 15 oz. can, rinsed and drained)
1/2 cup homemade oven-dried cherry tomatoes, roughly chopped (or prepared sun-dried tomatoes)
1/2 cup fat-free feta cheese, crumbled
2 small cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
2 tsp. chopped fresh mint
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt (or to taste)

Combine chickpeas, tomatoes, feta cheese, garlic, cilantro, basil and mint in a medium-sized bowl.
In a separate small bowl, whisk olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar and salt until blended.
Pour the oil-herb mixture over the chickpea mixture and toss to coat.
Refrigerate at least 12 hours before serving to allow flavors to develop.

Adapted from