Pumpkin Muffins

Pumpkin muffins are a pretty big deal in my family. My little sister once wrote a poem about herself that began, “I come from pumpkin muffins.” Yep, really. These ones are adapted from my family banana bread recipe, with some spices and flavors changed up, and a topping of pepitas for crunch.

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Ingredients
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons molasses
1/2 cup cold water
2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
Raw pepitas for topping

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Steps
Preheat your oven to 350º Fahrenheit and grease a muffin pan with butter, or line with muffins liners.

With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs until light and fluffy. Beat in pumpkin puree until mixed thoroughly, then add vanilla, molasses and water and mix again until thoroughly incorporated.

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In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Add to wet ingredients and mix until fully combined.

TIP: For perfectly portioned and neat muffin batter distribution, use an ice cream scoop with a trigger to portion and deposit the batter in each cup.

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Scoop into muffin tin and sprinkle the top of each muffin with a few to several pepitas. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Turn muffins out of tin and place it on a wire rack to cool, or just a cool surface.

Best served immediately, while still warm (with a little bit of extra butter) but will keep for a few days.

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Poached Salmon with Mango Salsa

This mango “salsa” is one of the first of my original recipes‎ that I began to share at the request of friends – one of the inspirations for this blog! It’s not very spicy, but you can up the ante with some fresh sliced jalapeño if desired. It makes a great accompaniment to salmon (including the very healthy, moist, flavorful poached version below), scallops, or shrimp. It’s colorful, summery, and incredibly simple to throw together.
TIP: Look for a mango that has a reddish peel and has some give when squeezed‎. 
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Ingredients
SALSA
1 mango
3 medium tomatoes on the vine
1/2 red onion
5 scallions
Handful cilantro
Handful basil
1 tablespoon lime juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
POACHED SALMON
Slices of onion‎
Splash of lemon juice
‎Pinch of salt
Sprinkle of peppercorns ‎
1 to 1 1/2 pounds salmon filet‎
Steps
‎Peel the mango and cut the soft fruit away from the pit. You’ll be able to feel the hard pit with your knife: don’t try to cut through it, just cut around it to remove the usable fruit. Dice the mango, tomatoes and red onion, and add to a medium sized bowl. Finely chop scallions, basil, and cilantro, and add to the salsa.
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 In a separate small bowl, whisk together lime juice and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. ‎Pour over salsa and stir to combine. Set aside to poach salmon.
In a large pot, combine sliced onion, lemon juice, salt, and peppercorns. You can add in carrots, celery, and other aromatics of citrus to flavor the salmon. ‎Add 3-4 inches of water (enough to cover the salmon once you add it) and heat on high. When the water boils, add the salmon and boil for approximately 6-8 minutes, depending on the thickness of the filets.
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TIP: If you don’t have a large enough pot, you can slice the salmon in half and poach one at a time. 
Serve salmon warm or chilled, topped with mango salsa. ‎The leftovers do great as the filling of a fish taco, or made into a dip for tortilla chips. ¡Buen provecho!
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Watermelon Gin Fizz

Over the winter I was obsessed with cookies, and this summer I’ve moved on to a topic that works in any season, but is especially wonderful in summer: cocktails! This Watermelon Gin Fizz is a tasty meld of summer flavors, and super flexible: substitute vodka or another clear liquor you prefer for the gin.

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Ingredients
6 fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons lime juice
1-2 teaspoons simple syrup
1/4 cup watermelon juice (strained watermelon puree)
2 tablespoons gin
Soda water to top off

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Steps
To make each drink, muddle mint with lime juice in a glass – use a short glass for a stronger drink, or a tall one for a more diluted end result. Add gin and watermelon and stir to mix. Top up with soda water and garnish with a sprig of mint or piece of watermelon.

To share this drink with a crowd, mix up a pitcher of the first five ingredients and have soda water on hand. Pour the mix into glasses (ice optional) and top each with soda water.

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Mint Juleps

CK’s official bartender-turned-educator is back! Nick mixes up a mean mint julep, just in time for the Derby this weekend. We’ll be serving these by the pitcher this weekend, but a handcrafted one is pretty hard to pass up. Cheers!

Ingredients
Fresh mint
1 tablespoon simple syrup
4 tablespoons bourbon
Crushed ice

Steps 
Add a few mint leaves to the bottom of the glass, then pour in simple syrup and muddle. You’re not trying to pulverize the mint, just intimidate it into releasing its scent and delicious flavor.

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Fill remainder of glass with crushed ice, then pour in bourbon. Stir to mix ingredients and chill bourbon until the outside of the glass is frosty. You can also place the drink in the freezer for a few minutes to really chill it.

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Garnish with more mint, put on your floppy hat, and enjoy!

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Curry Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Cauliflower

If you’re on the hunt for an easy, healthy, and above all, TASTY recipe for veggies, you’ve come to the right place. These fresh Brussels sprouts and cauliflower get their punch from a flavorful dressing and oven-roasted goodness. You can adjust the spice to your liking by tweaking the amount of paprika, or throwing some cayenne pepper in the mix.
This recipe is also great because you can prep it and put it in the oven, then cook up the rest of your meal while it roasts.
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Ingredients
1 pound Brussels sprouts
1 head of cauliflower
1 medium yellow or red onion
4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon hot paprika
Steps
Preheat oven to 425 Fahrenheit. Trim the stems off the sprouts and remove any soiled outer leaves. Slice each sprout in half lengthwise and place in a 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish. Cut cauliflower florets away from the stalk, and slice them into nearly-bite-sized pieces. Add to baking dish.
Trim ends off onion and score the outer skin from end to end so that it peels off easily. Set down so that it rests on one end and slice in half, then lay each half flat side down and slice into 1/4 inch half moons. Separate slices and layers and scatter over baking dish.
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In a small bowl, combine oil, salt, curry, and paprika, and whisk to mix thoroughly. Pour the mixture over the vegetables in the baking dish and stir to coat thoroughly. If you want to tone down the spice, try sweet paprika instead of hot, and if you want to pump up the spice try sprinkling in some cayenne pepper.
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Roast for 25-30 minutes, stirring at 5-10 minute intervals, until vegetables and tender enough to be easily speared by a fork. Remove from oven and serve hot. Enjoy!
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Watermelon Feta Salad

This is one of my favorite summer dishes, for the obvious reasons – it’s light and refreshing, combines sweet and savory flavors beautifully, and is a cinch to make! It may seem like an odd combo if you haven’t encountered it before, but try it once and it will become a staple of your barbecues, picnics, and cookouts.

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Ingredients
2 pounds watermelon

8 ounces feta cheese (not pre-crumbled)
1/2 medium-sized red onion
Handful mint
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Steps‎
Cube watermelon into roughly 1″ chunks, and cube feta into roughly 1/2″ chunks. Slice red onion thinly, then slice each disc into quarters and separate pieces. Chop mint roughly. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and stir gently.
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In a small bowl, whisk together oil and lemon, then use it to dress the salad, stirring gently again. Some feta chunks may break up, which is fine, but you don’t want to pulverize them! Serve chilled, within four hours from assembling, for optimum freshness.
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If you’ll be in a rush before serving, you can do the chopping and slicing in advance and assemble the ingredients at the last minute. Enjoy!‎
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Green Caprese Salad with Oversized Garlic Croutons

This week I’m celebrating “Fri-yay” with a delicious, flavorful, indulgent salad (yes, an indulgent salad, it’s a thing). It’s essentially a classic Caprese salad reorganized as a side or dinner salad, with baby greens, a basil-infused balsamic vinaigrette, and giant garlic croutons. If you’re thinking “that sounds more like garlic bread,” well, you caught me.

This is a great choice for when you’re taking the easy way out and ordering pizza for dinner, but want something fresh and healthy on the side.

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Ingredients
DRESSING
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup chopped basil
Pinch of salt
Freshly ground black pepper

CROUTONS
Baguette slices
Olive oil
Garlic clove, peeled and sliced in half

SALAD
4 cups baby romaine lettuce
4 boccocini mozzarella
8 campari tomatoes

Steps
Preheat oven to 400ºF. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Season to taste with a small pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add basil and set aside.
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Spread at least six (up to however many people you are planning on serving) 1 inch thick slices of baguette on a baking sheet. Drizzle generously with olive oil, and toast in oven for 3-4 minutes. Remove from oven and, using a glove to protect your hand, rub the open side of garlic clove. The oil and little bits of garlic will scrape off across the bread, flavoring it without leaving chunks of garlic behind.
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Slice tomatoes and mozzarella into bite sized pieces‎. In a large bowl, drizzle the vinaigrette over the baby romaine and toss to coat evenly. Add tomatoes and mozzarella, tossing a bit more to mix in. Top salad with croutons and serve as a side salad, or add a protein such as scallops or chicken to make an entree salad.
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Spinach and Cheese Arancini

One of my favorite things about risotto (other than how delicious it is, obvi) is that the leftovers can be recycled into something perhaps even more craving-worthy: arancini! These rice balls are stuffed with cheese and spinach, breaded, and pan-fried for golden brown perfection. I had extra mushroom Parmesan risotto from dinner Thursday night, and turned the leftovers into a platter of arancini for a gathering of friends on Saturday night. Using leftovers also splits up the cooking, so you don’t feel like you’ve spent all day slaving over the stove, and you can use practically any kind of risotto to make these.

These do need to chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour, so leave yourself time. You can make them the night before or morning of an event, and fry them up just before.

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Recipe note: makes about 30 rice balls.

Ingredients
4 cups cooked risotto
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup shredded fontina
4 ounces baby spinach
2 tablespoons parsley
Pinch of salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Panko style breadcrumbs
Canola or vegetable oil for frying
Marinara sauce for dipping

Steps
In a large bowl, combine cooked risotto with eggs and stir until completely mixed. Set aside.

Heat a pan over the stove on medium high heat. Drizzle lightly with oil and add spinach. Cook until wilted, then remove from heat and pour into a strainer. Using a wooden spoon, press the spinach against the strainer to extract excess moisture. When the spinach cools, you can wring it between your hands to squeeze out extra moisture. Chop it into smaller pieces.

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In a medium bowl, stir together the spinach with the mozzarella, fontina, and parsley. Season with a pinch of salt and black pepper to taste. To get set up to form the balls, pour breadcrumbs into a bowl and line a baking sheet (or platter) that will fit in your refrigerator with parchment paper.

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To form each rice ball, scoop 2 tablespoons of rice mixture into your non-dominant hand and flatten into a circle on your palm. Pinch together 1-2 teaspoons of the spinach and cheese mixture and deposit it into the middle of the circle. Close your palm and use your free hand to pinch together the rice around the cheese, forming a ball. Roll the ball in breadcrumbs and place on the baking sheet. Refrigerate for at least one hour, but not more than 24 hours.

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When you’re ready, line another baking sheet with a few layers of paper towel to absorb oil from the cooked rice balls. Heat 3/4-1” of oil on medium to medium-high in a pot or a pan with high sides to minimize splatter. If you have a kitchen thermometer, aim for 350ºF.

If you don’t have a thermometer, it’s a bit of trial and error. Let the oil heat for 10 minutes and add a test rice ball: the oil should sizzle and bubble, and the rice ball should gradually turn a rich golden brown on the outside in about 3-4 minutes. If it browns very quickly after you place it in the oil, turn down the heat. If it doesn’t sizzle when you add it, turn it up.

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I like to cook them in small batches of about six, allowing me to roll and rotate each rice ball so that the exterior cooks evenly. Use a slotted spoon or rubber-tipped tongs to avoid cracking the exterior of the rice balls. When finished, place each ball on the paper towel lined sheet to drain excess oil.

Transfer to a platter and serve with heated marinara sauce for dipping – I prefer a spicy arrabbiata sauce. Enjoy!

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Coconut Dark Chocolate Squares

Blondies, bars, squares: however you call them, they’re one of my favorite endlessly tweak-able recipes. Being in possession of some shredded coconut leftover from the holidays, I decided to acquire some dark chocolate chips to go along with them. When making blondies I always obsess over whether to use light or dark brown sugar, and I went with dark on this one. If you want to add a nutty crunch, I’d suggest adding some toasted slivered almonds to the mix.

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Ingredients
8 tablespoons butter, melted or browned
1 cup brown sugar – dark if you have it
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup flour
Pinch salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup plus 2-3 tablespoons dark chocolate chips

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Steps
Preheat oven to 350º F. Melt or brown the butter, and let it cool slightly.

TIP: Browning the butter instead of simply melting it is a quick maneuver with a huge ROI in the flavor department. If you’re melting it over the stove, you’re already halfway there…

Mix melted butter with brown sugar and stir until any lumps are smoothed out. Beat in egg and then vanilla and mix thoroughly.

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In a separate bowl combine flour, salt, and baking powder. Add to wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Stir in coconut and 1/2 cup of the chocolate chips.

Spread dough in an even layer in an 8-by-8 inch square pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until set in the middle. Cool on rack before slicing into squares and removing from pan and reassembling on a flat surface like a cutting board.

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Microwave the remaining 2-3 tablespoons of chocolate chips in 20-second increments until melted, stirring in between. When melted, spoon into one corner of a plastic Ziplock bag. Cut a tiny piece off one corner of the plastic, and squeeze the chocolate out slowly and evenly over the blondies. I went with a pretty simple diagonal pattern, but you can get creative as you like!

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