How To: Homemade Pumpkin Puree

How To: Homemade Pumpkin Puree via Brittany's Pantry, is easier than you think!I know pumpkin has been on the radar for a month or so, but with Thanksgiving right around the corner, it seems that now, more than ever, it has the potential to be a star at your table.  Yes, I am talking about pumpkin pie and soon I will share with you my favorite recipe for it but for now, I wanted to give you a quick How To on baking your own pumpkins.  Making mashed pumpkin for baking is extremely easy and inexpensive.  If you have never tried it, welcome to your tutorial!  Doesn’t that bowl look awesome?!  I love the color of pumpkin!

Just to be clear, let me reiterate that using canned pumpkin for any recipe at any time is just fine.  I do it myself, especially during the off months when I can’t  get a fresh pumpkin and I want to make muffins or pancakes or something.  If you are reading this and thinking to yourself, “Yeah right.  I will never do this.  Bring on the canned stuff!” that is totally OK.  But if you ever really wanted to make something totally from scratch and you kept seeing these pumpkins at the farmer’s market/grocery/pumpkin patch and wondered how hard it would be to do, let me put your mind at ease.  It is ridiculously easy.  Check it out!How To: Homemade Pumpkin Puree via Brittany's Pantry, is easier than you think! So this is a sugar pumpkin.  Or pie pumpkin or baking pumpkin.  It depends on how they are labeled where you pick it up but they are usually a little darker in color than your regular carving pumpkin a bit smaller than a volleyball.  These pumpkins are less stringy and the flesh has a sweeter flavor and smoother texture than your average garden pumpkin.  They are also much easier to manage than an enormous Jack-O-Lantern size pumpkin!How To: Homemade Pumpkin Puree via Brittany's Pantry, is easier than you think! I have two here and they have just been washed off.  Please please please rinse of your pumpkins, watermelons, cantaloupes, honey dew, etc before you  cut them up and eat them!  No, you don’t eat the outside, but that is the part that is now sitting on your clean counter and you have no idea who has handled it, where it has rolled around, what it was exposed to, or how far it has traveled!  I don’t want that unknown grime on my cutting board.  Eew Eew Eew.How To: Homemade Pumpkin Puree via Brittany's Pantry, is easier than you think! Cut them in half from top to bottom.  Over the years I have discovered this seems to be the easiest way to get the seeds out and scoop out the flesh.  Use a large sharp knife and be very careful!  Some varieties of pumpkins have a thicker shell or rind on them than others so this may be easy to do and it might be tough.  I usually have my husband cut them in half for me because his hands are bigger, he has better upper body strength to keep the knife steady, and also so I can give him smooches of thanks when he is done.  Ahem.

Anyway, scoop out the guts and save the seeds!  This is your opportunity to make Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, an extremely healthy snack!  Don’t let the opportunity pass you by to try these if you have never done it!  It always makes me feel all resourceful and stuff.How To: Homemade Pumpkin Puree via Brittany's Pantry, is easier than you think! Scrape the stingy membrane away with a spoon until the inside is smooth and clean.How To: Homemade Pumpkin Puree via Brittany's Pantry, is easier than you think! Finish cleaning all your pumpkin halves and then place them on a sheet pan lined with foil.How To: Homemade Pumpkin Puree via Brittany's Pantry, is easier than you think! Place them cut side down.  I have discovered that they steam nicely this way instead of actually roasting.  This is perfect since you want the flesh to be nice and smooth, not browned or crispy on the edges.  Bake the halves in the oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the flesh gives easily when pierced with a knife.  Some pumpkins have a harder shell on them than others so you may need to turn a half over to see if it is nice and soft.How To: Homemade Pumpkin Puree via Brittany's Pantry, is easier than you think! Scoop the flesh out of the shell and into a large bowl.How To: Homemade Pumpkin Puree via Brittany's Pantry, is easier than you think! Isn’t that a beautiful big bowl of pumpkin?  Mmmm.  Smells good.How To: Homemade Pumpkin Puree via Brittany's Pantry, is easier than you think! This is where people differ a bit.  Some people put the pumpkin in a food processor and whiz till it is baby food.  I prefer to just mash the heck out of it with a potato masher.  If you have cooked your pumpkin until it is good and soft, it will smooth out just fine.  See?How To: Homemade Pumpkin Puree via Brittany's Pantry, is easier than you think! Nice and smooth.  Now just cool it to room temperature and chill in a covered container in the fridge.  If your pumpkin collects a bit of moisture around the edges, just pour it off.  I like to do this while it cools in a bowl on the counter.  You don’t want it to be soupy so I don’t like to stir in any of the excess water that surfaces.  But it really doesn’t matter.  Unless your puree is really watery, it should be just fine as is.  Measure it out just like you would the stuff from the store in a can!  Mashed pumpkin will last at least a week in the fridge but feel free to freeze any you don’t use.  It is super easy to just thaw it out and bake with it at a later date.How To: Homemade Pumpkin Puree via Brittany's Pantry, is easier than you think!How To: Homemade Pumpkin Puree via Brittany's Pantry, is easier than you think! Lovely.  Now you can make Pumpkin Pie Muffins or Marshmallow Pumpkin Dip.  You could also make Sweet Potato Biscuits, but replace the potato with mashed pumpkin.  Scrumptious!

Stay tuned for more recipe ideas to use up your pumpkin puree!

Well, it is my own personal rule so I guess I can break it if I want to, right?

I am referring to my rule about not posting two dessert recipes in a row.  I like variety when I am in the kitchen and since baking and sweets only accounts for 50% of what I make, it would not be very representative of my…well…pantry 😉 if sugar and breads were all I posted about.  I love to cook as much as I love to bake and since we eat three meals a day that have nothing to do with dessert, real meals are more useful to us all.  This post obviously breaks that rule but I have a good excuse!  I had planned on posting a new recipe that I have been working on for beef teriyaki with peppers and noodles.  Actually, I had planned on posting that recipe several days ago, but the dish needed some tweaking.  Well, I messed with it again last night and unfortunately it was a major backwards step!  So now I am super frustrated and I have no teriyaki recipe for you.  To make up for it, I am posting this recipe for Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding.  And WOW!  What a recipe it is!Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding. As in bread pudding made with chocolate and croissants.  Yup. Its good. {Brittany's Pantry} Pictures don’t do this dish justice, so this is the only one I am going to post.  But rest assured, it tastes spectacular.  Unlike traditional bread puddings, this is made with croissants instead of bread, a stroke of genius that I wish I had thought of.  I don’t feel too bad about this though as the recipe is from one of this countries premiere pastry chefs, Gale Gand.  True to form, this recipe is simple with classic ingredients and minimal steps.  You can make it the night before and bake it the next day, making it a great choice for all the holiday company that may be in your near future.  I have actually been wanting to make this dessert for literally, the last ten years.  When I passed the bakery section at my local grocery store this week, they had a huge package of croissants on the leftover stale bread shelf.  Perfect.  There were so many, I froze half of them to make bread pudding in the future.  Like, next week.

Quick Disclaimer:  Due to the holiday season that is now upon us, I can pretty much guarantee that I will be breaking my ‘rule’ many times in the near future.  You don’t mind do you?

Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding
If possible, use croissants that are a day or two old.  Dry bread will absorb even more of the custard.  Yum!

5 croissants, the regular size, not the mini ones, cut into one inch cubes
3 c cream
1 c milk
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
pinch of salt
6 eggs
1 c sugar

Put the cubed bread into a medium sized baking dish and set it aside.  In a large sauce pan, heat the cream and milk until it is hot and just starts to steam. Do NOT let it boil!  Remove it from the heat and add the chocolate, whisking until it its melted and the mixture is smooth.  While that cools slightly, whisk the eggs and sugar and salt together in a separate bowl until smooth.  While continuing to whisk, slowly pour the hot milk and chocolate mixture into the eggs, being sure to keep whisking to keep the eggs from cooking.  When it is all combined, slowly pour over the bread.  Carefully press the bread cubes down to make sure that it is all submerged and soaking up the chocolate custard.  Let sit for about 15 minutes to let it continue to soak, gently moving the mixture if needed to make sure everything is even.  *Can be made up to this point one day ahead.  Just cover and chill.

Bake in a water bath (see below) at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes, or until the center is set and cooked.  Remove from water bath and cool a bit before serving.  This is wonderful slightly warm with a scoop of ice cream.  Also wonderful for breakfast!

Note: A water bath is simply when a delicate dish (usually a custard containing eggs) needs to be cooked evenly and gently.  The cooking vessel, in this case a casserole or baking dish, is placed in a larger dish or baking pan and hot water is poured around it until it reaches halfway up the sides of the dish.  This distributes heat more evenly around the food, allowing it to cook gently.  All I did for this recipe was take a large 9X13 ceramic dish that my baking dish fit easily in the bottom of.  I do recommend, from experience, that you place the baking dish in the bigger dish, put the whole thing in the oven and then carefully pour in the hot water, filling it up till it comes halfway up the side of the dish.  Carrying two dishes, one filled with food sitting in a pan filled with water and trying to get it all in the oven just invites disaster.  Just BE CAREFUL!  The water is hot and dishes are heavy!  It sounds complicated, but it really isn’t!  Good luck!

Ultimate Peanut Butter Cookies

These really are the Ultimate Peanut Butter Cookies! {Brittany's Pantry}Mmmm.  Peanut butter cookies.  Just saying the name makes me happy.  I really love peanut butter so the cookie version is just another way of feeding my addiction.  Although ultimately I am a purest and crunchy peanut butter on thick slices of homemade wheat bread with honey is nothing sort of stellar.

Speaking of peanut butter, when I lived in San Diego there was an open market that I would go to down by the beach.  I don’t know if you could call it a farmer’s market exactly, as the vendors sold a lot of prepared foods, fresh caught fish, watermelon lemonade, jewelry and the like, but there were several stands that had plenty of fresh fruit.  Local fruit and fresh caught fish and seafood is definitely one of the things I miss most about living on the ocean.  So anyway, there was this man that would sell homemade peanut, cashew, and almond butters.  I think he actually owned a health food kind of cafe and this was just something he did to promote is own products, but whatever brought him there, I was grateful!  He didn’t just have plain nut butters.  Instead he had every conceivable combination you could think of!  Honey peanut butter, honey cinnamon peanut butter, super extra crunchy peanut butter (you almost had to eat that one with a fork), dark chocolate chunk cashew butter, white chocolate chunky almond butter, carmel chocolate peanut swirl butter…way more than I could ever list.  He had big open jars of everything and you could taste as many as you wanted over and over.  It was peanut butter heaven!  Not only was it the perfect late night snack, right out of the jar with a spoon, but it brought me back to my childhood peanut butter days.  Fresh nut butters have a different texture  and flavor than those commercially made and not everyone likes the difference.  But as a kid, my Mom would get fresh peanut butter at the local co-op in huge half-gallon tubs.   Don’t forget, I have five siblings so we went through a ton of peanut butter.  The natural oils in it would rise to the top and we would have to stir it every time we got a spoonful.  College and the introduction to JIF by my roommates temporarily changed my tastes, but that market brought it all back.  Although my local grocery store here doesn’t carry it, most major chains have started to offer natural peanut butters, usually found in the refrigerated section due to the lack of preservatives used.  If you have never tried it, give natural peanut butter a go.  You just may be converted.

But back to cookies, this recipe is my new basic peanut butter cookie recipe.  I got rid of all my others after having made this a few times.  I added Reeses Pieces to give them a Halloween kind of look, but normally, I would leave them out.  There is no need to make the criss cross fork marks in these, but if you want to stick to tradition and need them on your peanut butter cookies, by all means go for it.These really are the Ultimate Peanut Butter Cookies! {Brittany's Pantry} One Year Ago:  Sweet Potato Biscuits

Ultimate Peanut Butter Cookies
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

1 c (2 sticks) softened butter
1 c brown sugar
1 c sugar
2 eggs
1 c peanut butter, crunchy or creamy, but not natural
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 c flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 c chopped peanuts
1 c Reeses Pieces, optional

Cream butter and sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Add the eggs, vanilla, and peanut butter and mix until all combined.  Add dry ingredients slowly and mix.  Fold in peanuts and candy.  Drop by rounded Tablespoonful onto a greased or parchment lined sheet pan.  Cross hatch with a fork if desired. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes.  Let cool for a few minutes on the pan to set up then remove to a wire rack.  Freezes well.

Caramel Apple Dip

This Caramel Apple Dip is sweet and creamy. Perfect for dipping crunchy apple slices! {Brittany's Pantry}OK.  So I know I just posted about dip, but this one is different.

And everyone likes a good dip, right?  Heh heh.

Several years ago, my mom and sisters came to visit and it happened to be just after an apple picking excursion to a local orchard.  In addition to using them like guinea pigs for a pumpkin latte recipe, I made three different kinds of apple dip, hoping that  I could narrow it down and just make one version from then on.  My plan worked and this was the result.  All were good, but the others couldn’t hold a candle to this fluffy, creamy, carmeley (is that a word?) dip.  Don’t get me wrong!  I love apples and straight up carmel dip.  But sometimes it is nice to do something a bit different for a change.  So now this is really the only one I make anymore.

This dip is great with apples or pears.  It also may or may not be insanely good right from the spoon.

I made Pumpkin Dip earlier this week so I didn’t even bother to measure out the marshmallow in this recipe.  I just used whatever was left in the jar.  My husband always complains that this dip is too crunchy (from the brown sugar) but if you leave it for a minute or two after you mix it up and then just give it another stir, the sugar melts and it becomes nice and smooth.  Of course, the kids and I just ate it right from the get-go!  Just scrumptious this time of year!  It is also great to bring to a party (maybe an outdoor picnic?) with a big bag of apples.  Just don’t forget the pairing knife!This Caramel Apple Dip is sweet and creamy. Perfect for dipping crunchy apple slices! {Brittany's Pantry} One Year Ago: Fried Noodles  I ate these yesterday for lunch!

Fluffy Carmel Apple Dip
Recipe from Taste Of Home

1-8 oz package cream cheese
1/2 c brown sugar
1/4 c carmel sauce (like from the ice cream isle)
1 tsp vanilla
1 c marshmallow creme
1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional)

Combine all ingredients using a hand mixer.  Beat until smooth.  Serve with apple and/or pear wedges.  It is good with ginger snaps too!

These Spice Muffins are loaded with pumpkin, chocolate chips, and topped with streusel! Plus, a spice cake mix make them quick and easy! {Brittany's PantryI had every intention of posting this yesterday.  Or even the day before that.  I don’t like it when this much time passes between posts.

But my Internet was down.  For yesterday and most of today actually.  And I was pretty sick yesterday.  And tired.  And kinda cold.  So I wasn’t that disappointed that my computer was toast.  It was a wonderful excuse to reheat leftovers for my family and curl up on the couch under a blanket, repeating over and over that the current state of my body was temporary and the result is soooo worth it.  In addition to the drama caused by this pregnancy, we are currently potty training our youngest.  Seriously, we are just a barrel of fun at our house these days.

All sarcasm aside, I have actually been working on developing a recipe for an apple snack cake.  Using up my over abundance of apples has become a top priority, but after numerous attempts, I just could not get the recipe quite where I wanted it.  I mean, it is good and passable, but not great.  So I kind of got tired of it and decided to do something entirely different.  It was about that time that my energy sort of fizzled out, what little food I had eaten that day threatened to make a second appearance, and the couch beckoned.  But I still wanted to whip something up.  A few days before this, I had been reading The Noble Pig blog and saw the following recipe.  It sounded really good.  Now, I am not the biggest fan of what I call ‘cheater’ recipes (recipes that are made based on some kind of convenience food), but I won’t deny they have their place.  I have a cookie recipe that I absolutely love that is made with a box of chocolate cake mix and Corn Casserole is based off of a corn muffin mix.  When it is a winner, it is a winner.  OK, fine.  I guess I should clarify that I don’t like to use ‘cheater’ recipes a LOT.  I prefer the old fashioned, from scratch, taste much better kind of method.  But like corn casserole and those killer chocolate cookies which I will share with you one of these days, this one is a winner.  It is fast and easy and tastes great.  No matter what kind of cook I am, I can always use a little help once in awhile.  And this past week, I needed the help.  Oh!  Did I tell you we have been continuing to remodel our house this week too?!

I mean, we can’t leave it looking like this, can we?Construction Granted, it looks better than this right now, but the work seems to be never ending.  Actually, shortly after this picture was taken, an extremely large television was mounted on the wall to the left of that door.  Aside from electronics, we have a lot to do.  Mike and I are hosting a cocktail party the beginning of December so Thanksgiving is kind of our unofficial try-to-have-as-much-done-as-we-can-with-the-exception-of-furniture cut off date.  Furniture-and we need a lot of it-is expensive.  That kind of stuff we are picking up bit by bit over time.  Everything else like trim, painting, a kitchen back splash, doors, hanging stuff on walls, painting, trim, and all that other finishing stuff is fair game.  *sigh*

So back to these cupcakes-er, muffins.  Yeah, so they are really good.  Honestly though, they are really cupcakes, they just have streusal instead of frosting, making them kinda muffin-like.  Whatever they are, in spite of the abundance of flavors going on (spice, pumpkin, chocolate) the flavors work.  The chocolate chips with the pale orange cake makes them almost festive.  Very easy to whip up and take to work or share with family.  No matter what you may have going on this week…These Spice Muffins are loaded with pumpkin, chocolate chips, and topped with streusel! Plus, a spice cake mix make them quick and easy! {Brittany's Pantry One Year Ago: Vegetables W/ Pasta

Spice Muffins W/ Pumpkin, Chocolate, & Streusal
Recipe from The Noble Pig

1 box Spiced Cake Mix
1 can pumpkin
1 c sour cream
1/4 c canola oil
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1-12 oz bag chocolate chips

Put all ingredients, minus the chocolate chips, in a mixer and combine.  Once mixed, turn up the speed and lightly beat for a minute, till color pales slightly and batter is light and fluffy.  Fold in the chocolate chips.  Divide among sprayed or paper lined muffins cups (it should make 18-24 muffins).

Top with streusal:
3 T softened butter
1/2 c sugar
1/4 c flour
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice, optional

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl and sprinkle over muffins.  Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack.

Maple Pecan Shortbread

This Maple Pecan Shortbread from Brittany's Pantry has only a handful of ingredients. SO EASY!I am particularly excited to share this recipe with you.  Why?  Because it is one of those treats that is super easy, super fast, and very, very, good.  All things that we all like in a recipe, right?

Shortbread, it seems to me, is one of those cookies that everyone likes.  It is basically a sugar cookie, but generally a little crisper and with less ingredients.  Remember my Brown Sugar Shortbread? Three ingredients.  Flour, sugar, butter.  That is pretty much all shortbread is.  This recipe has a few more ingredients but it needs them to keep the texture of the cookie when adding a liquid like maple syrup.This Maple Pecan Shortbread from Brittany's Pantry has only a handful of ingredients. SO EASY! I have been making this recipe for several years and one of the reasons it is so nice is the convenience.  Shortbread, made with softened butter, needs to be firm enough to slice into rounds.  Hence the overnight chill time.  This makes it and ideal recipe to make when expecting company.  I did this myself this past week.  I mixed up the dough the day before and keep it in the fridge for several days until ready to bake.  Then, you will not only have freshly made cookies for your guests, but it will make your house smell like a bakery.  Talk about a warm welcome!!

Also, I don’t mean to panic you, but the holidays are right around the corner.  Add this quick cookie to your Thanksgiving or Christmas cookie list and it will become an instant tradition.This Maple Pecan Shortbread from Brittany's Pantry has only a handful of ingredients. SO EASY!This Maple Pecan Shortbread from Brittany's Pantry has only a handful of ingredients. SO EASY! One Year Ago: Overnight Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal

Maple Pecan Shortbread
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Don’t forget this has to chill overnight, so plan ahead.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine:
1 c (2 sticks) room temperature butter
3/4 c sugar
1/4 c pure maple syrup
1 egg yolk
pinch of salt
When smooth and combined, add:
2 1/4 c flour
1/2 c cake flour

When thoroughly mixed, stir in 3/4 c pecan halves, chopped finely.  Scrape the dough onto a large sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper and shape into a log, about 2 inches in diameter.  Roll carefully until smooth and round and place in the fridge to chill overnight.  Sometimes, if I can’t get it perfectly round, I let it chill for a half hour and then roll it again to smooth it out.  Dough can be made to this point up to five days ahead of time.  When ready to bake, slice with a thin sharp knife in 1/4 inch thick slices and place on a parchment lined sheet pan.  This recipe seems to consistently give me two dozen cookies-or exactly 2 sheet pans full.  Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes, rotating 180 degrees, halfway through cooking.  The cookies should be just barely browned at the edges.  Let cool on the pan for at least 5 minutes before removing them to a cooling rack.  Cookies will continue to crisp as they cool.  Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Summer Berry Pudding

There is this recipe of Ina’s that I have been wanting to make for years.  Yes, I know I have been cooking from her books a lot lately, but this one really sticks out in my mind during the summer, for obvious reasons.  It is stunning to look at and uses very simple ingredients; just like most of her recipes.  When we had company over recently, I was thrilled to be able to finally give this a try.Summer Berry Pudding has minimal ingredients and maximum taste! {Brittany's Pantry} Ummm…yeah.  So it is fantastic.  It has to sit overnight so it is the perfect dessert to make ahead of time when you don’t want to be messing with stuff the day of an event.  So beautiful.

One Year Ago: Stuffed Shells

Summer Berry Pudding
This is a traditional English dessert and I will mention again-it needs to sit overnight, so plan ahead.  Absolutely serve it with fresh whipped cream.

1-1 lb container of strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and cut into fourths
1 pint of raspberries
1 pint of blueberries
1 1/2 c sugar
1 loaf of brioche or sweet Italian bread

Combine fruit and sugar in a large saucepan with a splash of water and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Once the sugar is dissolved and the fruit starts to break down, remove from heat and set aside.  Slice the bread into 1/2 inch thick slices and, if desired, remove the crusts.  Spoon a ladle full of the berry sauce into the bottom of a  3-4 inch high, 6-7 inch round baking dish.  You want just enough to coat the bottom.  Cover with a layer of bread slices, cutting to fit so that it is completely covered in one layer.  Generously spoon another ladle of berries and sauce over the bread, covering it all.  Add another layer of bread and so on until you reach the top of the dish.  Soak the last layer good-don’t skimp!  Cover lightly with plastic wrap and set a plate on top that is slightly smaller than the baking dish.  Weight the top with a can of soup or something else that will stay.  Place the whole thing into the fridge and let set overnight.  When you are ready to serve it, run a small knife along the outside edge and invert onto a serving plate.  Cut into slices and serve with whipped cream.

Chocolate Zucchini Bread

Chocolate Zucchini Bread is as amazing as it looks and super easy! {Brittany's Pantry}Just a quick entry to pass this recipe along.  So here it is!  I promised you a recipe for Chocolate Zucchini bread, and this gal delivers.  Yes, this tastes a lot like cake, but because it is baked in a loaf pan and very much resembles the other zucchini bread recipes you have seen-but with chocolate-I am calling it a bread.  Feel free to use this excuse to justify eating it for breakfast…”But its bread!  Practically health food!”

In other news, I found my recipe for double dark chocolate tea bread.  This is a very good thing…

In case you are looking for other ways to use up your zucchini, some of these might help.  Try Earth BreadZucchini & Corn with Basil, Vegetables with Pasta, and Shepherd’s Pie.  And don’t forget to try the One Year Ago recipe.  So mouthwatering!Chocolate Zucchini Bread is as amazing as it looks and super easy! {Brittany's Pantry} One Year Ago: Tortellini W/Shrimp, Zucchini, and Tomato Cream Sauce

Chocolate Zucchini Bread
This bread tastes even better the next day.  It also freezes beautifully so go ahead and make a double batch to use up even more zucchini.  Cool the loaves completely and seal in a freezer bag.

1 c flour
1 c white whole wheat flour or whole wheat flour
1/3 c cocoa
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon (optional)
3 eggs
1 1/4 c sugar
3/4 c unsweetened applesauce
1/4 c canola oil
1 tsp vanilla
2 c grated zucchini (about 1 medium)
3/4 c chopped walnuts, toasted (optional)

Whisk dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  In a smaller bowl whisk together the eggs, sugar, applesauce, oil, and vanilla.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry and carefully combine with a wooden spoon or spatula.  Fold in zucchini and walnuts, if using.  Divide batter evenly among two, 8 inch loaf pans that have been sprayed.  Smooth out the tops and bake at 325 for 50-60 minutes, or until center is dry and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool in pan for 10 minutes then turn out onto a cooling rack.

Quick & Easy Cocoa Cake

Quick and Easy Cocoa Cake via Brittany's PantryOK.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  I don’t like to post two sweet recipes in a row.  Mainly because, while chocolate and sugar taste good, it isn’t what feeds us and our families.  Easy, healthy (uh…usually…) and balanced foods are what we all need the majority of the time.  If any of you stopping by this site are inspired to try something new or perhaps cook more from your pantry, fridge, and farmer’s market, and less from a box or take-out menu, then I have accomplished what I set out to do.

All right?  You got that?  You smell what I’m cookin’?  You pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down?  Now on to the cake!

So last week, I was searching for something new.  A new dessert recipe, to be specific.  I needed a dessert that I could transfer to a to-go container, didn’t need to be refrigerated, and was easy enough to just pick up and eat.  I didn’t feel like making something I already was familiar with so I did what I usually do when I don’t really have any idea what I am looking for, but would know it when I see it.  I opened the left side of my pantry, sat on the floor, and started pulling cookbooks.  And I have a cookbook or two…Quick and Easy Cocoa Cake via Brittany's PantryPlease excuse the fact that there are still exposed boards and missing trim in the picture.  Our house isn’t finished yet.  Instead of working on the house this summer, we have been at the pool, riding motorcycles (my husband, I just go along for the ride), gardening, blogging, picnicking, praying for rain, and generally trying to avoid the heat.  But I digress…

I was looking for a recipe.  I pulled out Gale Gand’s Short & Sweet figuring a cookbook written by a pastry chef wouldn’t let me down.  If you have never heard of her Gale Gand is the head pastry chef and partner of TRU, a restaurant in Chicago.  I discovered her in college, about the same time I was introduced to cable-gotta love dorm living!  She had a show on the Food Network that was kinda interesting.  Short & Sweet is a neat cookbook because it is divided into sections based on the time it takes you to make the recipe.  15 minute recipes, 30 minute recipes and so on.  I can’t say that I use the cookbook a lot, but every year when I go through my whole kitchen and purge that which I do not need, it makes the cut and stays in the cabinet.  And I am soooooooo glad!Quick and Easy Cocoa Cake via Brittany's Pantry This is BY FAR my new favorite cake recipe.  I actually ended up making this cake several times in a week and it turned out exactly the same every time.  I could not stop eating it.  It is moist, with a fine crumb, but not crumbly.  The flavor is not complicated or busy, just straight up chocolate.  It is very simple to mix up; no melting or tempering of chocolate to add to the batter.  Just cocoa to keep it light and airy.  This cake is very reminiscent of a boxed mix, but with easy ingredients that you can pronounce!  Now that I have mastered it in a bundt pan, per original recipe instructions, I am going to try adapt it to bake in two 8 inch rounds.  I really like layer cakes so I’ll keep you posted on further experimentation.

In the meantime, baking it in a bundt pan is faster and easier.  This cake is easy enough to bake for dessert on Sunday night, and then munch on for most of the week.  It lasts in an airtight container on the counter for at least four or five days so plan on packing a slice into those kids school lunches that will be upon us soon!  Yikes!Quick and Easy Cocoa Cake via Brittany's PantryCocoa Cake
Recipe from Gale Gand.  I didn’t change a thing!  This cake tastes even better the day after it is made!

12 T (1 1/2 sticks) softened butter
1 3/4 c sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 c cocoa powder
2 1/4 c cake flour, sifted
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt

In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter until light and fluffy.  Add the sugar and mix till combined.  Add the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix until smooth.  In a separate bowl, sift together all of the dry ingredients.  Fill a large measuring cup with 1 1/4 c of very cold water.  Slowly add a third of the dry ingredients to the mixer, mixing just until barely combined.  Then a third of the water and so on and so forth, mixing after each addition.  Mix the last few turns by hand if you need to.  Pour into a sprayed and floured bundt pan and bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until springy and dry in the center.  Cool completely in the pan before turning out onto a serving plate.  If desired, dust with powdered sugar just before serving.

Keebler Cracker Bars

There are two things I am most grateful for when it comes to my mother-in-law.  One is giving birth to, and raising, the best man I ever met.  The second?  These bars.Keebler Cracker Bars via Brittany's Pantry-Layers of chewiness and chocolate, all surrounded by crispy, buttery, crackers. If there ever was a recipe that she is known for, this is it.  This is no ordinary bar, my friend!  For whatever reason, the combination of flavors makes for a very addictive dessert.  They are my mother-in-laws default recipe and have become one of mine as well.  In fact, I bring over a pan every time a certain good friend of mine has a baby-she had number 3 last week!  Years ago, when she had just come home with her first child, I wanted to give her something extra special to look forward to during those midnight feedings and it kind of became a tradition.  You can bet I will be there with pan #4 if they have any more little munchkins!

So, as I was saying, these bars are good; I was a little shocked when I realized on my one year mark that I hadn’t told you about them!  Bring them to a potluck or the office and you will make friends.  Maybe even score a marriage proposal or two.  They don’t require any baking and the crust is made up of butter crackers.  How bad can that be?  An absolutely essential recipe to have in your culinary arsenal.  If you come visit me, I will make you a batch.  No baby required.Keebler Cracker Bars via Brittany's Pantry-Layers of chewiness and chocolate, all surrounded by crispy, buttery, crackers.Keebler Cracker Bars via Brittany's Pantry-Layers of chewiness and chocolate, all surrounded by crispy, buttery, crackers.Keebler Cracker Bars via Brittany's Pantry-Layers of chewiness and chocolate, all surrounded by crispy, buttery, crackers. Keebler Cracker Bars

1 stick (1/2 c) butter
1/4 c milk
1/2 c sugar
2/3 c brown sugar
1 c graham cracker crumbs

Place all ingredients in a medium sauce pan over medium heat.  Stir occasionally until the butter melts and starts to bubble.  While you wait for this, line a 9X13 pan with Keebler Club Crackers, breaking them to fit in necessary.  When the filling comes to a boil, immediately set a timer for 5 minutes and stir constantly.  You just want it to boil, not blow up.  Lower the heat a bit if you need to but keep it at a boil.  When five minutes is up, immediately pour over pan lined with crackers and spread evenly.  Top with another layer crackers and set pan aside to cool to room temp.  When it is cool, make the frosting.

2/3 c creamy peanut butter-for some reason, JIF tastes the best in this recipe
1/2 c chocolate chips
1/2 c butterscotch chips

Melt all ingredients in a glass bowl in the microwave, in 30 second intervals.  Stir in between.  If only a lump or two remain, don’t heat it again or it could scorch.  Just stir it until smooth.  Spread over cooled bars, cut, and serve.  These are best when kept in the fridge, but it isn’t mandatory.  They will last for several days.Keebler Cracker Bars via Brittany's Pantry-Layers of chewiness and chocolate, all surrounded by crispy, buttery, crackers.

Oatmeal Cherry Chocolate Chunk Cookies

The Very BEST Oatmeal Cherry Chocolate Chunk Cookies! Crispy on the edges and chewy on the inside! {Brittany's Pantry}OK.  So, I am having a bit of a hard time posting this recipe.  Actually, for several reasons.  Two.  Two reasons.

First off, there is a good chance that most of you out there already have a tried and true oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe.  It is a fairly common combo after all.  Do you really need another one?  Perhaps not.  The other reason is that there are so many other things I am cooking right now that I could post about.  Things that have to do with summer and fresh produce and these wonderful months of bounty!  For example, I can’t even begin to say how many times I have wanted to tell you about Salmon Nicoise, and instead of taking pictures and posting about it, I eat it.  I roll my eyes and groan and slap the table and shake my head in disbelief: it is that good.  I literally cannot bring myself to slow down enough to share it with you.  Hmm…that may be revealing more about my character than I would like…  And!  You can only eat it in the summer because it is all about fresh tomatoes, and string beans and-not a dish for January.  Now is the time!  If you were here you would yell, “Brittany!  Get it together!”  Actually, if you were here, you would probably tell me to fold the laundry on my couch… *Ahem*  Yet, here I am craving oatmeal cookies.   Making batches and batches of oatmeal cookies when it is a gazillion degrees outside.

But you know what?  I don’t care!  I made cookies and they were good!  And I would do it again!  I am guilt free!  Well, except for the whole salmon situation…The Very BEST Oatmeal Cherry Chocolate Chunk Cookies! Crispy on the edges and chewy on the inside! {Brittany's Pantry}The Very BEST Oatmeal Cherry Chocolate Chunk Cookies! Crispy on the edges and chewy on the inside! {Brittany's Pantry} One Year Ago: Margaritas, June Bug, Herbal Iced Tea

Oatmeal Cherry Chocolate Chunk Cookies
This recipe is a mix of so many different recipes.  Cookie recipes can be really similar but once I find the right combination that gives me the texture I like, I try to stick to that recipe.  Half cup (1 stick) butter to 1 c sugar to 2 c flour is a common formula to start cookies from.  That was where I started with mine and then branched out from there.  These are chewy and crispy, without being too sweet.  I should also mention that while the flavors are similar to this recipe, it is very different.  This one is NOT healthy.  And sometimes, that’s a good thing.

2 sticks softened butter
1 c sugar
1 c brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
2 c flour
2 c rolled oats
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 c chocolate chunks or chocolate chips
2 c dried cherries or cranberries (I like to chop the cherries up a bit before I add them)

Cream together the butter and sugars until fluffy.  Add the eggs and vanilla.  Add the next five ingredients, mixing just until combined.  Fold in the chocolate and dried fruit by hand.  Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto a sheet pan covered in parchment and bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes.

Cherry Hand Pies

Cherry Hand Pies are so much easier than you think!  via Brittany's PantryYes.  These are good.

I am telling you this in response to the comment you undoubtedly made when you saw this picture.  Did you not just say to yourself (perhaps silently) “Wow!  Those look good!”?  I thought so.  So I am answering you, as I often do while writing, just as if you were sitting in my kitchen, across from me at lunch, or curled up on a couch while our children play nearby, having a conversation about food.  In fact, they are very good.  You should make them.

You should also know that these don’t taste anything like the fat and sugar laden kind from the gas station.  If you actually like those pies, don’t worry.  These are better.  If you never liked those pies, don’t worry.  These are better.
Why?  They are made with store-bought puff pastry; I don’t know anyone who has the time or desire to make it from scratch.  Using puff pastry, as opposed to a pie crust type of dough, means that the layered crust is buttery, flaky, crispy, and so delicately wonderful you will close you eyes and sigh.  It also makes this dessert/snack/breakfast come together quick and easy.  I would tell you that these would be fantastic to pack for a picnic, but I wouldn’t know if that is true.  Ours never make it that far.Cherry Hand Pies are so much easier than you think!  via Brittany's PantryCherry Hand Pies are so much easier than you think!  via Brittany's PantryCherry Hand Pies are so much easier than you think!  via Brittany's Pantry One Year Ago: Earth Bread

Cherry Hand Pies
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit
When I first made these, I didn’t have time to bake them.  I made the filling and put it in the fridge for a day or two until I had time to assemble and bake.

In a large saucepan, combine:
2 c fresh cherries, pitted or 12 oz of frozen cherries, unthawed
2/3 c dried cherries
1/2 c sugar
pinch of salt

Cook over medium heat until the cherries pop and release their juice.  In a small bowl, mix 1 1/2 T of cornstarch with 2 T of water.  Add to the fruit and continue cooking a minute more until thick.  Remove from heat and add 1 tsp of vanilla.  Cool to room temp or chill and hold for a day or two.

To Make The Pies:
1-14 oz pkg frozen puff pastry, thawed in the fridge overnight
flour, for dusting the counter
1 egg white
sugar, raw or granulated

On a clean counter, roll out 1 sheet (half the package) of pastry dough, just until it is a bit thinner and an inch or two bigger all the way around.  With a small sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut into 4 equal squares.  Spoon about 1/3 of a cup of filling in the center of each square-note that this should use up half your fruit.  Bring one side over to make a rectangle and press the edges with a fork to seal.  Repeat with remaining dough and filling making 8 pies total.  Beat the egg white with a splash of water and brush over pies.  Sprinkle with sugar.  Make 2 or 3 tiny slashes in the top of each pie for steam to vent.  Place pies on parchment lined baking sheet and chill for 30 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 375 and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown.  Cool on rack for 10 minutes, if you can wait that long.  Caution!  Filling is hot!  Store at room temp tightly sealed for up to 2 days.  They start to lose their crispness after the first 24 hours.

Chocolate Chip Cherry Snack Cake is so easy! {Brittany's Pantry}You may have noticed that the ingredients I have been using lately are all widely available at your local farmers market- i.e. in season.  There is a reason for that.  First of all, availability.  As with today’s recipe, you can’t get fresh cherries year round, so if you are going to bake with them, now is the time.  Yes, there are frozen cherries available any time (my own freezer has a few bags of them) but there is nothing like the flavor of fresh, homegrown produce.  Second, quality.  While my local super market proudly displays signs with the fruits and veggies grown right here in Illinois, and in some cases this very county, I always try to make sure I purchase the majority of my produce at the farmer’s market, rather than choosing items shipped from across the country sometime last week.  I have gotten to know the people that grow the food and am reassured that what I am feeding my family was grown with minimal spraying and chemicals.  Often times, small farms use organic practices but it isn’t worth the expense to be certified.  Third, it is better environmentally.  The fact that it was picked that morning, loaded in the back of a truck, and driven the few miles to town makes me breathe easier (literally) about the limited use of fossil fuels it took for me to have access to the peaches, vegetables, and grass-fed beef that I buy every week.  My local options are a bit limited; we only have a half dozen vendors that come to our little market every week because we live in the middle of nowhere.  But a 45 minute drive on a Saturday, and some parking and walking, gives me access a much bigger farmers market with dozens of local vendors, should I decide to expand my shopping experience.

The point is that no matter where you are geographically, nearly all of us live within a reasonable distance of a farmer’s market, a veritable treasure of freshness.  Bonus!  Bring the kids along and let them pick out something new!  They may be more likely to eat it if they are the ones that discovered it!

But back to the cake…

I should let you know that this cake is not all that bad for you.  Ergo, it is a little denser than a typical snack cake due to the addition of whole wheat flour.  What pulls you in here is the flavor.  It is basically the taste of chocolate covered cherries in a cake that is so moist, it won’t last longer than a day or two.  The first time I made it I took a bite and sorta shrugged.  Then I took another bite, and walked away.  Then I came back and ate the whole piece, snagged a second helping, and then scolded my daughter for sneaking a bite and possibly ruining her supper.  I may or may not have said this with my mouth full…Then I grinned conspiratedly and gave my daughter the fork, both of us finishing the second piece.  And you know what?  It didn’t ruin our dinner at all!  My mother was wrong!  This opens up a whole new world!  “Excuse me?!  Garcon!  A third piece, s’il vous plait!”Chocolate Chip Cherry Snack Cake is so easy! {Brittany's Pantry}Chocolate Chip Cherry Snack Cake is so easy! {Brittany's Pantry}Chocolate Chip Cherry Snack Cake is so easy! {Brittany's Pantry}One Year Ago: Turkey Meatballs

Chocolate Chip Cherry Snack Cake
Recipe adapted from Emily Malone
3/4 c all purpose flour
1/2 c white whole wheat flour or whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 c raw sugar or brown sugar
1 egg + 2 T water, lightly beaten together
1/2 c unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp vanilla
1 c cherries-not frozen-pitted and halved
1/2 c chocolate chipsOn a medium bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.  Add the rest of the ingredients and fold together gently with a spatula, just until combined.  Spread into a sprayed 8X8 or 9X9 pan and bake at 325 for 30-35 minutes or until evenly browned on top and a toothpick in the center comes out with only a few crumbs attached.  Cool in pan for several minutes before cutting.

Plum Crunch

Plum Crunch via Brittany's PantryThis is the first of what may be several plum recipes that I share with you.  My daughter LOVES plums and I always have a stock pile of them in my fridge whenever they are in season.  And I must say, this is my current favorite way to eat them!  I mean, really!  Top just about anything with crunchy, toasty, buttery, sugary, oatie goodness and you have your self a winner!

This is just fresh enough to taste like a lovely summer dish, not an autumn dessert.  Serve it with fresh cream or vanilla ice cream, and it becomes absolutely sublime.Plum Crunch via Brittany's PantryPlum Crunch via Brittany's PantryPlum Crunch via Brittany's PantryPlum Crunch via Brittany's Pantry Plum Crunch
Adapted from Ina Garten

1 1/2 lbs red or black plums (we like black because they are sweeter) pitted and quartered
3/4 c brown sugar
2-3 T flour, or more, if your plums are super juicy
3/4 c flour
1/2 c brown sugar
1/4 c sugar
pinch of salt
3/4 c oatmeal
1/2 c chopped walnuts
1 stick cold, unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

Toss the fruit, brown sugar, and flour together in a bowl.  Dump into a small, shallow casserole dish.  A glass 8X8 or 9X9 would be fine too.  Combine all topping ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer using a paddle attachment.  Mix on low until it starts to get crumbly and holds together when you squeeze it in your hand.  Sprinkle evenly over fruit.  Bake in a 375 degree oven for 30-40 minutes, or until bubbly and browned across the top.  Let cool slightly and serve warm or at room temperature.  Serve with fresh cream or ice cream.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

The BEST Red Velvet Cupcake Recipe EVER! {Brittany's Pantry} I mentioned a few days ago on facebook that I had leftover cream cheese frosting and that it needed a home.  Well, not so much a home as a reason to continue to keep it in my fridge and eat it with a spoon.  I could have froze it-leftover frosting keeps in the freezer for several months, tightly sealed-but I needed a special dessert for this holiday weekend anyway, so….red velvet cupcakes it is!  Decorated with blueberries to make them patriotic, of course!

Also, I can now state with absolute confidence that this is my only recipe for red velvet cupcakes.  Out of hundreds (thousands?) of cake recipes, I went through every single one and sorted out just the red velvet. I then compared and contrasted the ingredient lists to narrow it down to three.  I am going for a classic recipe here.  I baked them all and ate them all.  Let me tell you, it was rough!  Then my family ate some, a friend, some neighbors, and everyone picked a favorite based on flavor, texture, and overall level of yumminess.  It was unanimous!  All were great, but only one recipe had the moist, traditional flavor of true red velvet cake.  So, I threw away all my other recipes.  Now I don’t have to wonder if I have a better version stashed somewhere else!  This is the best one!  And just maybe, coming soon to a BBQ near you!The BEST Red Velvet Cupcake Recipe EVER! {Brittany's Pantry}
Red Velvet Cupcakes
Adapted from Better Homes & Gardens

In a large bowl, cream together:
1/2 c (1 stick) butter, softened
1 1/2 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Add 2 eggs, one at a time beating well after each addition
Add 1 tsp vinegar
Add 1 (1 oz) bottle of red food coloring (Yes!  The whole bottle!) and mix thoroughly.
In a separate bowl, whisk together:
2 1/4 c cake flour (or 2 c all purpose flour)
1/3 c cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
Add the dry ingredients in three installments, alternating with 1 c buttermilk, ending with buttermilk.  Mix just until combined.  Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and finish mixing by hand.  Bake in muffin tins sprayed, greased, or lined with paper liners.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached.  Frost with cream cheese frosting.
Note: This recipe can also be baked in a 9X13 pan or two 8 or 9 inch rounds.  Just adjust the baking time accordingly.

Cream Cheese Frosting
There are lots of recipes out there for cream cheese frosting.  Use any one you like, or give this a try!

1-8 oz block of cream cheese, softened
1/2 stick (1/4 c) softened butter
1 box (16 oz) powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla

In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter together until fluffy.  Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and beat together until smooth.