Cranberry Pumpkin Muffins

It’s not even the end of September and I’m already plotting which Halloween decorations will go where. Halloween isn’t even my favorite holiday- it just signifies the beginning of the holiday season, and perhaps more importantly, loads of candy. Since I’m diving right into fall with my decorating, I figured I might as well jump right on the pumpkin recipe bandwagon.

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Since it’s still relatively warm out, I didn’t want to make anything that has to be served hot, so muffins seemed like a good choice. I found this recipe on VeryBestBaking.com. It’s wonderfully simple; I just tweaked it to include vanilla and dried cranberries, as well as a streusel-inspired topping. I love grabbing a soft, crumbly muffin on my way out the door in the morning, or even eating one for dessert with some cool whip. They’re also great for taking in the car if you have to drive somewhere and need an easily accessible, hands free snack (i.e. NOT sushi, which I had to eat while rolling through Times Square while working at New York Fashion Week).

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INGREDIENTS:

2 cups  all-purpose flour

2/3 cup  packed brown sugar, plus 1/4 cup for sprinkling

1/3 cup  granulated sugar

1 tablespoon  baking powder

1 teaspoon  salt

1 teaspoon  ground cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon  baking soda

1/4 teaspoon  ground ginger

1/2 cup  butter, melted

1/2 cup canned pumpkin

2 large  eggs, lightly beaten

1/3 cup  buttermilk

1 cup dried cranberries

1-2 tbsp cold butter, cut into small pieces

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DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400° F. Grease or paper-line 12 muffin cups.

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Combine flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, baking soda and ginger in large bowl. Combine butter, pumpkin, eggs, vanilla, and buttermilk in medium bowl. Add to flour mixture, stir just until moistened. Gently fold in cranberries. Spoon into prepared muffin cups, filling 3/4 full. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar, and dot with the cut up butter.

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Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack for 5 minutes; remove to wire rack to cool completely. I always take my muffins/cupcakes out of the oven a minute or two before they’re fully cooked, since they finish baking in the tin.

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Enjoy!

Leslie

Watermelon Caprese Salad

I think it’s safe to say that summer is finally winding down. Last week I thought it was, but she gave us the old fake out and now we’re still encountering 80 and above weather. Oh, well. That just means that fall will start and end later, if all goes according to plan- my plan being controlling the tri-state area weather. Obviously.

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Anyway, when I look back on all of my summers, they all have some things in common: they’ve all taken place on Long Island (for the most part), they’ve all involved at least one dip in a salty ocean and/or chlorinated pool, and they’ve all included caprese salad. Caprese salad is simply sliced tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil, drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper, and sometimes balsamic vinegar, depending on who’s making it. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that my grandma made this for us every time that we came over in the summer, or at least it felt like she did. She’s not Italian, but she lived in an Italian neighborhood for most of her life so she picked up some delicious traditions, this included. The house that she and my grandpa owned wasn’t on the water, but for some reason (probably their amazing amount of lighthouse themed paraphernalia), it felt oceanic. I think I sometimes pretended I was on a ship while I was there. They also had a pool, so maybe that contributed to the water vibe. Who really knows. But caprese salad encompasses all of those memories for me.

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Since I *tragically* cannot eat the traditional version, I decided to try mixing it up by replacing the tomatoes with watermelon. They’re relatively similar in texture; the biggest difference is that watermelon is tremendously sweet and bursts with liquid, whereas tomatoes straddle the vegetable-fruit border (though yes, they are really considered fruit).

This salad (you can call it an insalate if you’d like to stick with the Italian theme, or if you feel like being pretentious) is perfect for a barbecue, or an indoor appetizer on a hazy summer evening. I can’t say I’ll miss much about summer, but I will miss after dinner walks on the beach, sitting on my stoop eating ice cream sandwiches and drinking lemonade, and the refreshing smell of air conditioned air hitting my face after emerging from the swamp-like outdoors. But those sentiments aside, BRING ON DA AUTUMN.

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INGREDIENTS:

1/4 medium sized watermelon, cubed into 1 inch chunks

6-8 large basil leaves, torn

8 oz. “cherry sized” mozzarella balls, drained and cut in half (get the ones that are packed in water, not olive oil)

2 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 cup good balsamic vinegar

1 pinch of table salt

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DIRECTIONS:

Put the cubed watermelon in a strainer. Place the strainer in a larger bowl. Toss the watermelon with the pinch of salt. Let sit for 30 minutes.

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In a small pan over medium-high heat, warm the balsamic vinegar. Add the reserved watermelon juice from the bowl underneath the strainer for sweetness. If it’s still not sweet enough for your taste, add a tsp of honey. Allow the vinegar-juice mixture to become syrupy, then remove from heat.

Take the watermelon cubes out of the strainer and put in a serving bowl. Add the mozzarella and basil, and toss with the olive oil. DO NOT add salt as you would with tomato caprese; the salt and the watermelon do not mix well. They are not friends. They should stay far apart. Drizzle with the reduced balsamic to your liking– take note that though sweeter than regular balsamic, this reduction is quite strong, so use very sparingly. Serve ASAP.

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Enjoy!

Leslie

Buffalo Chicken Blue Cheese Pizza

Right now, my best friend Lauren is lying on my sofa and “Modern Family” is playing on TV. Actually, at this precise moment a Purina commercial is playing on TV, but you get the picture. Lauren and I are in this quasi comatose state because of what we did this afternoon. Or, I should say, what we ate this afternoon. Not only did I make buffalo chicken pizza covered in nuggets of mouth watering blue cheese, but I also made my favorite chocolate chip cookies, which we ate while watching the Hillary Duff-Heather Locklear classic, “The Perfect Man”. (If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. It’s one of those perfect late 90’s meets early 2000’s romcoms).

It’s been a couple of hours since the credits rolled on that and our cookie eating, so we just ordered Chinese. But don’t be too worried for our health; we kept it light, only ordering wanton soup and egg rolls… That’s light for us.

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Buffalo chicken with blue cheese is one of my favorite flavor combinations, and I absolutely LOVE buff chick pizza, especially from the pizza parlor Rosa’s out in Huntington. Their sauce is tangy and spicy enough to make you cough and down a glass of water. Sadly, they’re not handing out the recipe, so I used Sweet Baby Ray’s, which is still tangy but not quite as tear inducing.

Update: Lauren is now fully asleep on my sofa. She’s probably enduring some horrible heartburn. I’m sure the wanton soup will fix that…

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Makes 1, 12-14 inch pie. Serves 2 people.

INGREDIENTS:

1 bag Trader Joe’s pizza dough

1/2 cup Sweet Baby Ray’s buffalo sauce, plus 2 tbsp.

Scant 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese

1/4 cup chopped red onions

1/4 cup sliced celery

1-2 cooked chicken breasts, chopped in 1/2 inch cubes

1/4 blue cheese dressing, if desired

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DIRECTIONS:

Let the pizza dough sit on the counter for 20 minutes in the bag.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Lightly grease a baking sheet, or cover it in parchment paper. On a separate, floured work surface, roll out the dough using a rolling pin. It wouldn’t stretch as far as I wanted it to, so I picked it up and rotated it through my hands in order to help the process along. Once it’s the size and shape you want it to be, relocate it to the baking sheet.

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Toss the chicken in the 2 tbsp of buffalo sauce. Set aside.

Pour the buffalo sauce on the center of the dough and spread around, leaving about an inch of the circumference bare for the crust. Sprinkle the mozzarella on the sauce covered portion. Pour the chicken on top and spread evenly. Cover with onion, celery, and blue cheese chunks.

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Bake for 10-14 minutes, depending on the strength of your oven. Make sure that the cheese is melted fully before taking it out. The crust should spring back when you poke it. Drizzle blue cheese dressing on top if desired.

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Enjoy!

Leslie