Saturday, September 27, 2008

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Struesel Muffins

Today is a beautiful one. The kind where there is just enough warmth to make you think summer might last a bit longer. But...taking another look out in my front yard, I can see the leaves on my trees are turning yellow. They are even starting to fall to the ground. Sigh....fall is here.

With fall comes the age old tradition of the annual trip to the Annapolis Valley for the Pumpkin Run. This year I am missing out and so wishing I was there to go with Wanda. We would get in the car and go, and amazingly enough with Wanda's stellar directional skills (note the sarcasm), we would make it to my grandmother's house. Yes, Wanda...you really DO have to turn off at exit 15. ;-)

No matter what vehicle we took, somehow at the end of the trip, we would always manage to have it crammed full of fall produce. We would drive all around the valley looking for the biggest, baddest pumpkin we could carry between the two of us. Short of Dill's giant pumpkins, we came up with some pretty good ones over the years. Pumpkins were the most precious of cargo...they had to fit in first, and all other stuff crammed in around it. That is the official law of the Pumpkin Run.

Road trips are always fun. Wanda and I never have a dull moment when we travel together. There are Tim Horton's stops, yard sales, music blaring, wrong turns (once again with Wanda's driving) and LOTS of picture taking.

There are the faithful walks back to the old house in the pasture behind my grandmother's house, too. No matter what the weather, we make that trek. We'd don the most dazzling rubber boots that we could find in the closet at Gram's and grab some doe skin jackets and off we'd go! I think we go every year just because we are scared that the next time we arrive there the old house may be gone.

Trips to the valley, walks in the woods, the spicy smell of the leaves on the ground..these are all the best part of fall. It is funny how in a world of constant change, there are some things that you just never want to change. This is one of them.

So, on that note, I whipped up some delicious muffins. These, too are a tradition. This is the 3rd variation of this recipe I have tried. The original came from Kim, the next one was one I found, then this one is compliments of Wanda. Bring. On. The. Muffins!!!

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Struesel Muffins
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1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons brown sugar

4 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons white sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons chopped pecans

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 1/3 cups canned pumpkin (I actually used pumpkin pie filling PLUS the spices)
1/3 cup olive or veg oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:
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1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease and flour 18 muffin cups, or use paper liners.
2. To make the filling: In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese until soft. Add egg, vanilla and brown sugar. Beat until smooth, then set aside.
3. For the streusel topping: In a medium bowl, mix flour, sugar, cinnamon and pecans. Add butter and cut it in with a fork until crumbly. Set aside.
4. For the muffin batter: In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Make a well in the center of flour mixture and add eggs, pumpkin, olive oil and vanilla. Beat together until smooth.
5. Place pumpkin mixture in muffin cups about 1/2 full. Then add one tablespoon of the cream cheese mixture right in the middle of the batter. (I made a little well in the center of the batter with a spoon then filled it with the cc mixture). Try to keep cream cheese from touching the paper cup. Sprinkle on the streusel topping.
6. Bake at 375 degrees F (195 degrees C) for 20 to 25 minutes.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Deely Bobs

This morning I was tucking away a few stragglers from Christmas decorating. Yes, I know it is long over with...but somehow a few decorations managed to not make it in the box. So as I packed these away, I found in the mix some little knitted stockings, about 4" long that I had made when I think I was around 10 or 11 years old. As I held these in my hands I was taken back in time, seeming just like it was yesterday, to when I made these.

I was at my Gram MacDonald's house (where we spent half our childhood), and she was doing her usual knitting and crocheting. She showed me these cute little stockings and how to make them. I was hell bent on them because I think I must have made around 40 of them over those next few days.

My grandmother had to be the least fussy person I know. She never wore make-up, never bought anything expensive for herself and was super frugal. But she had a passion for creating and always had some new craft supplies on hand. I think craft supplies and candy were her indulgences in life.

Gram would take me up the stairs to the landing where she had a buffet cupboard that held all the goods. There was yarn and glue, knitting needles, all different types of paper, fabrics and my MOST favorite of all, GLITTER!!! There were little vials in red, blue, green, silver and gold. The best part is the buffet cupboard now sits in my living room. It reminds me of how she would open that cupboard up and ALWAYS share its contents with me.

I still have 2 of the little vials with just a bit of glitter left in them. I refuse to throw them out. Not only do they hold the glitter, but they hold the memories of knitting with Gram, cutting out cookies on that White Tupperware baking sheet, playing school upstairs with my sisters and sewing for hours on the treadle sewing machine.

I was talking this morning with my sister Wanda about memories and the past. We cannot go back in time, but if I could magically for one day go back, I would choose to be with Gram. Her and I were kindred spirits. Most of my creative abilities I KNOW comes from her...right from the cooking, baking and crafting. She knew how to make something from nothing and was darn good at it. She had a strong will and was as stubborn as hell. That is why I loved her so much. I see her in me...I now know to be proud of that.
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These yummy treats are so simple to make and taste like the most gourmet of confections! My Gram MacDonald used to LOVE Macintosh toffee bars! She used them for a special recipe at Christmas time, called Cornflake Toffee Drops. If she were here today I know she would love this recipe as well.

Deely Bobs
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4 MacIntosh Toffee bars, whacked hard on counter several times to break up
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
whole large marshmallows, one bag should do
Rice Krispies to roll the goods in (I used Vanilla Rice Krispies this time and they ROCK in this recipe)

Over low heat, melt Toffee bars, butter and sweetened condensed milk until bars are thoroughly blended. Dip marshmallows in toffee mixture, then in Rice Krispies. Let cool on parchment lined cookie sheets.

***Just a note...I prefer to keep mine in the freezer. I like them better frozen..they are super chewy and crispy!!!***

Otherwise, refrigerate after cooled.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Double Chocolate Macadamia Nut Caramel Bars

My sister says I am high maintenance. She even went as far as to warn my husband before he married me that I was trouble. What exactly did that mean?? Crikey...

I think as a person I am pretty self sufficient. I have come to the point in my life that if I decide I need to have something, that I had better come up with an ingenious way of getting it. On my own. **cue in Pussycat Dolls, "I don't Need a Man".

Yes, I like the indulgences life has to offer...who doesn't?? Like that leather couch I had to wait almost 20 years of marriage for because we couldn't afford anything more than second hand?? Or the Kitchen Aid Convection dream oven that also was 20 years in the making. ***Fond memories of my avocado green double oven**. Good things come to those who persevere.

Also topping my "List" are gourmet food stores, kitchen gadgetries, shoes (insert heavy sighing here), clothes, skincare, hair products and purses (more sighing, only heavier). **Pausing to think of a few more**. Oh yes...Ikea is now on the "List". Man...that place is LETHAL!

But, through all of this love of life's GOOD THINGS comes one basic, simple and unadorned favorite. Where cosmetics and perfumes and Christian Louboutin's never existed. A place where the only good smells that you will find are when you walk out the door. This wonderful place is the GYM!!

I have always enjoyed the weight training part of working out. Yes, the running and walking and elliptical stuff is good, but what sets my heart on fire are the weights.

This all started about 13 years ago, when my neighbor, a power lifter, convinced myself and a few friends to come work out at his gym. Since then, I have had my on and offs with the weights, but now I am feeling the love once again.

It is a feeling of empowerment, not just for your body but for your mind. I never...even back in high school, wanted to be thought of as one of those weak, simpering, helpless types. I always wanted to feel strong and sure that I could do anything. I have decided that life has so much to offer...why not go out and get it??? !! That is how I roll!

I have also decided that the next time my sister comes to visit (love you, N), she ISN'T getting any of that stuff she calls high maintenance. Nope...not one oooey, gooey square will touch her lips....not one bite of the meal that cost a weeks worth of groceries (not often, but is does happen). Zero....ZIP!!! I will snatch it from her faster than the Grinch does the Who's decoration's. OKkkkkkkkkkkk...so only in my mind will this happen, but it was a nice dream while it lasted.

What REALLY will happen is I will cut her some of my Double Chocolate Macadamia Nut Caramel Bars, make her some hot chocolate and I will listen to her tell me yet one more time how she warned Scott about me.

To quote the wise rapper, Kanye, "N-n-now th-th-that don't kill me,
Can only make me stronger".


Double Chocolate Macadamia Nut Caramel Bars
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Crust Layer:
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1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold butter, cut into pieces

Macadamia Caramel Layer:
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1 cup (2 sticks) butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
2 cups whole macadamia nuts, toasted*
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate layer:
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1 1/2 bags of Special Dark Chocolate chips, melted

DIRECTIONS:
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Make the crust:
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1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. Place flour, cocoa, brown sugar and butter in food processor bowl. Cover and pulse until fine crumbs form. Press firmly into bottom of 13x9x2-inch baking pan.

3. Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool in pan on wire rack.

Make the macadamia nut layer:
Combine butter, sugar, corn syrup and sweetened condensed milk in medium saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is smooth. Simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until mixture turns golden. Remove from heat and stir in macadamia nuts and vanilla. Pour over crust.

Make the chocolate layer:
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1. Place chocolate in microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on medium (50% power) for 1 minute. Stir. Microwave 30 seconds more or until chocolate is softened. Stir until smooth.
2. Spread melted chocolate evenly over macadamia nut layer. Refrigerate until chocolate sets. Cut into bars.

*To toast macadamia nuts, spread on baking sheet. Bake at 350°F. for 8 to 10 minutes or until toasted.
**I used President's Choice Bag on Macadamias, which I might add are the size of footballs, so I snapped those bad boys in two on the seam. If you use smaller ones, keep them whole.

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