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February 2012

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Cupcakes with Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Pumpkin Cupcakes Caramel Buttercream

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Cupcakes with Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream

When I asked what I could bring for dessert to a recent gathering, my friend told me that her husband loves “anything pumpkin” - particularly healthy recipes - but also a little decadent. Always up for a challenge, I consulted my well-worn copy of Whole Grain Baking from King Arthur. They have a wonderful recipe for Pumpkin Layer cake which uses both whole wheat and whole barley flour. It’s a quick and easy cake recipe and the barley and pumpkin keep it nice and moist. I opted for cupcakes which are easier to transport and decided to frost them with a Brown Sugar Swiss Meringue Buttercream. For a finishing touch, I made some candied pecans with pumpkin seeds and crystallized ginger. The result was an over-the-top cupcake with a very “healthy” vibe.

Download Whole Wheat Pumpkin Cupcakes with Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream recipe

Pumpkin Cupcakes

1 ½ cups (6 ounces) whole wheat flour

1 cup (4 ounces) whole barley flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon soda

¾ teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon allspice

1 ¾ cups (13 ¼ ounces) dark brown sugar

½ cup unsalted butter, softened

½ cup vegetable oil

4 large eggs

1 can (15-ounce) pumpkin puree

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line standard muffin/cupcake tin with paper liners and spray lightly with non stick cooking spray.  Set the pan aside.

2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices in a medium bowl; set aside.

3. Mix together the brown sugar, butter and oil in large bowl until thick and creamy. Whisk in eggs, one at a time, scraping sides of bowl with a rubber spatula to make sure everything is evenly combined. Whisk in pumpkin and mix until evenly combined.

4. Stir in dry ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon until combined.

5. Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups using 2-ounce ice cream scoop. Bake, rotating tin halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Let cupcakes cool 5 minutes in tin and then remove to cool completely.

Brown Sugar Swiss Meringue Buttercream

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

2 large egg whites

Pinch sea salt

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 1-tablespoon pieces

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Combine dark brown sugar, egg whites, and salt in bowl of stand mixer; place bowl over pan of simmering water. Whisking gently but constantly, heat mixture until slightly thickened, foamy, and registers 150 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 2 to 3 minutes.

2. Place bowl in stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Beat mixture on medium speed until consistency of shaving cream and slightly cooled, 1 to 2 minutes. Add butter, 1 piece at a time, until smooth and creamy. (Frosting may look curdled after half of butter has been added; it will smooth with additional butter.) Once all butter is added, add vanilla; mix until combined. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until light, fluffy, and thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds, scraping beater and sides of bowl with rubber spatula as necessary.

3. If final frosting seems too thick, warm mixer bowl briefly over pan of simmering water. Place bowl back on mixer and beat on medium-high speed until creamy.

Candied Pecans with Pumpkin Seeds and Crystallized Ginger

1-1/2 Tbs. unsalted butter

2/3 cup pecans

1/2 cup unsalted, raw, hulled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

2 Tbs. firmly packed light brown sugar

1/4 tsp. table salt

1-1/2 Tbs. chopped crystallized ginger

1. Melt the butter in a heavy-duty 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the pecans and pepitas and cook until the pecans brown slightly and the pepitas begin to pop, about 2-3 minutes.

2. Sprinkle in the brown sugar and salt and stir until the sugar melts and the nuts are glazed, about 2 minutes. Stir in the ginger. Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool in the skillet for 5 minutes and then transfer to bowl to cool completely.



1. Frost cooled cupcakes with buttercream and top with candied pecans.

Pumpkin Cupcakes Caramel Buttercream2

Best Whole Wheat Pumpkin Bread

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Bread

This is a delicious moist, dark, spicy pumpkin bread. The whole wheat flour not only makes it a healthier choice, but also lends great flavor to the spices. It’s perfect on its own, or you can make “sandwiches” with cream cheese and thinly sliced apples. The cornmeal gives the bread a great texture.

Download Best Whole Wheat Pumpkin Bread recipe

2 ¼ cups (10 ounces/300g) whole wheat flour

½ cup (2 ounces/60g) corn meal

1 ½ tsp. soda

½ tsp. baking powder

1 ½ tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. ground ginger

½ tsp. cloves

½ tsp. nutmeg

¾ tsp. salt

2/3 cup (5 ounces/155g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 cups (14 ounces/400g) sugar

2 cups ( 15 ounces/500g) mashed or canned pumpkin

4 eggs, at room temperature

2/3 (5 ounces/160mL) cup water

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup (5 ounces/155g) raisins (or currants, dried cranberries or dried cherries)

½ ( 2ounces/60g) cup pecans or walnuts, lightly toasted, cooled. and then chopped

Pepitas or sanding sugar for top garnish

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two medium sized load pans (8.5x4”)

2. In a medium bowl stir together flour, cornmeal, soda, powder, spices and salt; set aside.

3. In a large bowl, beat together butter and sugars until blended, by hand or with a hand held mixer.

4. With large spoon, beat in pumpkin, eggs, water, and vanilla. Add dry ingredients and mix together just until blended. Stir in raisins and walnuts.

5. Pour into the 2 prepared pans, sprinkle batter with pepitas or sanding sugar, and bake until wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about an hour. Cool in pan for 10 minutes and then turn out onto wire rack to cool completely.

Pumpkin Bread batter
Pumpkin Bread Baked

Louisiana Style Shrimp and Cheesy Grits

Shrimp grits

Celebrate Mardi Gras with this quick and easy dinner for two, inspired by traditional Louisiana cooking. Uglesich's Restaurant in New Orleans (Uglesich website) serves one of the best shrimp and grits that I ever tasted, although, just about everything there was incredible. This recipe, which follows a method from America’s Test kitchen, is pretty easy to throw together and makes a great quick dinner for two.

 Download Southern Style Shrimp and Grits for Two recipe

8 ounces shrimp (large size 31-40 per pound), peeled and deveined

1 tablespoon Olive Oil

1 minced garlic clove

pinch of Cayenne pepper

¼ - ½ tsp. Cajun Seafood seasoning

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 small onion minced (about ½ cup)

1 1/2 cups water

1/2 cup Heavy Cream

1/2 teaspoon hot sauce, like Tabanero or Frank's RedHot

½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1/2 cup Quick Grits (Quick not instant grits is key)

4 oz extra-sharp shredded cheddar cheese, shredded

1 green onion sliced thin


 1.  Adjust oven rack to the middle and heat oven to 375 degrees

2.  Toss the shrimp with the oil, garlic, cayenne, Cajun seasoning and season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate will making the grits. 

3.  Melt butter in a 10 inch skillet over medium heat.  Add onion and cook until soften stirring frequently, 4- 5 minutes.

4.  Stir in water, cream, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper and bring to a boil.

5.  Slowly whisk in grits, reduce heat to low and cook, stirring often until grits are thick and creamy, 5-7 minutes.

6.  Remove from heat and whisk in cheddar until combined.

7.  Lay shrimp on their sides in a pinwheel (circle the skillet with tails in middle) over the grits then press on them slightly to submerge about halfway down.

8.  Transfer skillet to oven and bake until shrimp are cooked through, about 5 – 7 minutes. Sprinkle with scallions and serve.

Shrimp grits pan

Seared Scallops with Fresh Cilantro Pesto

Seared scallops 1

Seared Scallops with Fresh Cilantro Pesto

 These scallops make a great first course, but you can easily serve it as main course by mixing the pesto with pasta. I use cilantro  because it grows so well in the garden, but you can easily substitute your favorite pesto – basil or sun dried tomato would work well.

Download Seared Scallops with Fresh Cilantro Pesto

 1 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves 

¼ cup fresh parsley or baby spinach leaves

1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts 

1-2 medium cloves garlic, chopped coarse

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Pinch of coarse kosher salt 

Pinch of ground black pepper 

1/4 cup olive oil 

 3/4 pound sea scallops, about 16, small side muscles removed

1 tablespoon olive oil 

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1.    Pulse cilantro, pine nuts, garlic, zest, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in bowl of food processor until minced. With processor running, slowly add oil. Process until smooth; set aside.

2.    Sprinkle scallops on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat large (11-inch) sauté pan over medium-high heat until hot, about 1 minute. Add half the oil; swirl to coat bottom. Add butter and continue to heat pan until butter begins to turn golden brown. Add half the scallops, one at a time, flat side down; cook, adjusting heat as necessary to prevent fat from burning, until scallops are well browned, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.

3.Using tongs, turn scallops, one at a time; cook 1 to 1 1/2 minutes longer, depending on size. Repeat cooking process using remaining half of oil and scallops.

4.    Serve 2-3 scallops on a small dollop of pesto. 

Seared scallops pan


Jam Thumbprint Almond Cookies

Jam thumbrints box 1 


Jam Thumbprint Almond Cookies


You usually see these cookies during Christmas, but they’re great to give on Valentine’s Day in a festive box. A family friend, the "sweet little old lady" kind, named Ginny Fitzsimmons, shared her recipe with me when I was about 11 years old. I found it the other day, typed neatly (by her) on an index card, and decided I should make them. They’re just as I remember – a rich buttery shortbread-like cookie with a sweet jam center and slightly crunchy outer coating. Bake up a batch for the Valentine in your life.


Download Jam Thumbprint Almond Cookies Recipe


1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1 large egg, separated, each part lightly beaten

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon coarse salt

1/2 cup blanched almonds, finely ground (or skinned hazelnuts)

Strawberry or raspberry jam, for filling




1.    Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment  paper.


2.    Mix flour and salt together in a small bowl and set aside.


3.    Mix butter and 1/2 cup sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.


4.    Add egg yolk and vanilla, and mix well. Reduce speed to low. Add flour and salt, and mix until just combined.


5.    Stir together ground nuts and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar  on a plate. Beat egg white with fork in a small bowl until frothy.


6.    Roll dough into 1-inch balls; dip balls in egg white, then in nut-sugar mixture. Space 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Press down center of each ball with the rounded end of a wooden spoon (or your thumb) . Bake for 5 minutes. Remove from oven; press down centers again with the end of a wooden spoon. Rotate sheets and return to oven. Bake cookies until light golden brown, about 10 minutes more.Fill each center with about ½ teaspoon of jam and return to oven for 2 minutes. Let cool slightly on sheets on wire racks. Cookies can be stored in a single layer in airtight containers at room temperature up to 2 days. 


Jam thumbprints baking

Jam thumbprints 

Ginny's Original Recipe Card

Ginny jam thumbprints recipe1