Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Scent of Pumpkin Nutty Muffins is Sweet & Spicy

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet
"Sugar and spice and all things nice. That's what little girls are made of!"-- Mother Goose

I like pumpkin. A lot. I love pumpkin bread, pumpkin ice cream, and pumpkin pie. Pumpkin is a popular tradition during the fall and pre-winter days especially for pre-winter days and through Christmas. The pumpkin—an orange fruit from the gourd family--is symbolic of autumn harvest. And it's a feel-good food, too. Last year, in the fall after swimming and hot tubbing at one of our Stateline resorts, I purchased a tasty and large pumpkin muffin at Starbucks. But now I know I can also bake my own and spike them with quality dark chocolate or nuts of my choice, control the size and ingredients, and keep a stash in the freezer. And that’s not all…
Pumpkin is low in cholesterol and sodium. It’s also a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin A plus other essential nutrients. This fall fruit is a good for you food. Teamed with heart-healthy extra virgin olive oil and dark chocolate, I’ve created a scrumptious pumpkin recipe that’ll warm you up on those chilly, winter days ahead.
All week long I've been preparing myself to bake up a batch of sweet and spicy pumpkin chocolatey chip muffins with a Mediterranean taste. But this time around I'm leaving out the chocolate (I can pair the muffin with a cup of hot cocoa) and using nuts, nuts, nuts. I'll use orange extra virgin olive oil, European Style butter, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a mix of nuts (almonds, hazelnuts and pecans)--a super food with mononunsaturated fats, like dark, chocolate that does your body, mind, and spirit good.

Pumpkin Nutty Mountain Muffins
* * *
3 cups all natural whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 cup golden brown sugar
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon (each) cinnamon, nutmeg
4 large brown eggs
1 cup European Style butter, melted
2 teaspoons orange extra virgin olive oil
2 cups canned pumpkin
1/2 cup hazelnuts
1/4 cup (each) pecans and almonds
Mediterranean sea salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a bowl, measure the flour, powder, and spices. In a separate bowl, whisk together until well blended the eggs, oil, pumpkin, and vanilla. Pour this mixture over the dry ingredients and mix. Stir in nuts. Spoon the batter evenly into a muffin tin. Use the rest of the batter in a small sized bread pan (unless you want larger-sized muffins) and lightly grease with orange olive oil. Yes, it works. Drop nuts on top of muffins (and bread). Bake for about 20 minutes (it takes a bit longer in higher altitude) till a firm golden brown (or until a knife inserted into the center of the muffin comes out clean). Sprinkle granulated sugar or sea salt on top of muffins. Makes 12 medium-sized muffins and one small-sized bread.

The scent in the kitchen, dining room and living room will smell like fresh baked spicy and sweet pumpkin. Last time I baked these muffins, the flavor of one of these warm and moist creations sweetened with the chunks of melted chocolatey chips was so good and something to write home about. But the crunch of the mixed nuts and saltiness of Mediterranean sea salt (like what is used on gourmet dark chocolate caramels) this time around is also a perfect Italian-style combo. If you don’t want to overindulge--put some muffins into the freezer.
So, while the past pumpkin chocolate baking experience was fun (I used gourmet dark chocolate chips) and a treat to taste the season of the pumpkin. It was the next best thing to whisking away to a town by the Mediterranean Sea. Ah, but to warm up one of these feel-good pumpkin nut muffins in the microwave tomorrow morning and savor a fresh brewed cup of bold java will be heaven amid the pine trees (hopefully without snow) at Tahoe.
Psst! The word is, there may be an upcoming shortage of canned pumpkin after Thanksgiving. Blame it on Midwest weather woes. But note, you still can find pumpkin delights: Cheesecake, Loaf Cake, Mini-Muffins, Pie (at major grocery stores); Bagels, Bread, Muffins, Specialty Drinks (at coffee shops); Canned Pumpkin, Cheesecake, Ice Cream, Pie (at major grocery stores). And today, yep, I'm going to stock up on plenty of canned pumpkin. It'll help get me through the winter storms ahead. OMG: I'm sensing a craving for homemade pumpkin fudge.

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