Ginger Molasses Squash Whole-Wheat Muffins

Soooo excited to be back to baking for fun rather than the wedding cake marathon, which ended up amazing, by the way but more on that another time.  My first day back on the baking horse resulted in these muffins, which I highly recommend if you are craving a little taste of fall mixed in with the last days of summer!  I know, the “F” word is a horrifying notion that equates to school, backpacks, crisp days, gorgeous fall colors… and warm delicious fall flavors!!!  While I am not ready to go all pumpkin on you yet, I am not opposed to a little bit of molassy, gingery, cinnamony warmth this time of year.

I am not about to rush into fall any sooner than the next Seattlite, but you see, my aunt has a pea-patch with an out of this world yield.  The woman could feed a small army.  And, apparently when you become a gardening pro like her you also harvest your own seeds.  Last year, she harvested seeds that she assumed would produce zucchini.  This year as her crops grew she discovered that her seeds had cross germinated with crookneck squash yielding Crookini!!  Crookini is exactly what it sounds like!  A hybrid.  Slightly crook-necked zucchini with a yellow-green hue.    Imagine thick skin, zucchini-like flesh with a squash-like seedy middle.  In keeping with her “feed a small army” yield, she has been handing out Crookini like its going out of style.  While I am unsure it was ever in-style, I have been scooping out the seeds and using the flesh like a zucchini!  Compared to the mildness of zucchini, there is a slightly more squash-like taste – which to me is airing on the side of FALL!  I know, I know, there is that word again.

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Now, to the muffins!!! They don’t require any wonky incidental hybrids and can be made with any squash or zucchini you have on hand.  They are whole wheat, dairy free, and refined sugar-free!  A little molasses, ground ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg make these moist fall previews the perfect transition.  I am already thinking about making a version with pumpkin and butternut squash later in the year!  And the mix-in potential is pretty much endless!!  Walnuts, pecans, raisins, cranberries, dried coconut, diced apples, stone fruits, fresh berries,….So many options!!

I am so not a whole wheat baked goods kind of girl.  Bran muffins: bring it on.  But whole wheat sandwich bread only, please.  So believe me when I say that I am loving the flavor complexity that whole wheat adds here!  A little molassy warmth here is perfect!  So Coconut sugar with a little good old-fashioned molasses for good measure are just adding to the warm flavor party…

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If you can pull yourself away from your beach lounging, suntanning, and camping long enough to recognize the last days of summer are upon us, then these muffins are just what you need to ease you into fall!

Ginger Molasses Squash Whole-Wheat Muffins

  • 1 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. ginger powder
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1 cup coconut sugar
  • 2 tbl. molasses
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 3/4 cup grated squash (zucchini, “crookini,” summer squash, etc…)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Pre-heat oven to 350.  Prep a muffin tin with 12 muffin liners.

Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices together in a bowl.  Set aside.

In stand mixer, beat coconut oil, sugar, and molasses until combined.  Add eggs one at a time mixing just until combined.  Add zucchini and vanilla and mix to combine.

Add flour mixture to zucchini batter in two parts until combined.

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Using 1/4 cup measuring tool, scoop batter into muffin tins.  Muffin cups should be 3/4 of the way full.  If desired, sprinkle some turbinado on top or possibly some unsweetened coconut flakes, a nut, a slice of peach, or keep it as is.  Bake for approximately 15-18 minutes.

Delicious hot or cold.  Treat this as the whole wheat muffin base of your DREAMS!  No squash?  Unsweetened apple-sauce or grated apple will do the trick!!  OR try with a a carrot, zucchini, apple mixture for a carrot-cake like result!  Pretty sure this recipe has a long future ahead of itself in my house!!

The Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free Experience SMOOOOOTHIE Smoothie

Alright ya’ll, I did this whole clean eating binge with a friend. For the most part it was not that tough. No processed foods; check. Read labels to make sure there isn’t sugar hidden somewhere in there; already do this too.

The other rules included all of today’s popular food trends that end in “–free.” Gluten-Free. Sugar Free. Dairy Free. Until this week, I would have translated the combination of all three diets/lifestyles as “disgusting.” But ya’ll they really aren’t that scary. I made some awesome chili. Grilled Chicken with steamed green beans. Thai Larb (without the pinch of sugar). Just to name a few… And every morning for breakfast, I made SMOOOOTHIES! More on those later.

While technically the rules were to only consume whole grains (which for the most part, I do anyways), I was curious to go whole-hog and cut out gluten all together. Aside from feeling crippled baking-wise (because we all know GF baked goods are rarely good), since I’m not a sandwich fan, this wasn’t that tough.

Sugar free was a bit harder, not because I am a huge fan of refined or added sugar, but we chose to interpret sugar free as free from sweeteners of any kind. Sweets aside, a lot of my go-to sauces for dinner often include a tiny bit of honey or brown sugar. Ugh!

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But the hardest, by far, I expected to be cutting out dairy. No yogurt in the morning. No cheese. No half-n-half in my coffee?! While I lost track how many times I reached for my plain Greek yogurt in the morning, this week was the week that I discovered Almond Milk. Yes, it makes your coffee a bit waterier than I prefer, but on its own and in coffee it is infinitely better than any other dairy-free alternative.

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But you guys, do you know how good almond milk tastes in smoothies? Because the answer is SO GOOD! I will never go back to regular non-fat milk or adding a little Greek yogurt. Why? Because almond milk + fresh strawberries + frozen banana + kale + nut butter = delicious.

Don’t let kale scare you away! If you aren’t a fan, this smoothie is designed to mask the taste and texture entirely. Adding it to the almond milk and blending those two ingredients alone helps to get a smooth undetectable texture – even if the bright green color is a dead give-away.

I would make this every morning if I could! Sooo delicious! I experimented with a number of variations. Threw in a bit of ground flax meal instead of nut butter a couple of days. Tried it with less banana, less kale, more kale, different fresh fruits, etc.   I’ll be honest, all were delicious but the winning combo was the classic strawberry and banana.

Strawberry Banana Kale Smoothie

  • 1 cup plain almond milk (not the vanilla variety!)
  • 1 very large leaf of kale, de-ribbed
  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1 cup fresh strawberries, tops removed
  • 1 ½ tbl. nut butter

In blender, blend almond milk and kale until kale is completely blended and mixture is a bright green liquid.

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Blend in a little nut butter (I like almond and peanut butter best). In lieu of nut-butter, sometimes I like to substitute (or even add) flax seed meal, chia seeds, or hemp hearts.

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Add frozen banana. This is a perfect use for too-ripe bananas: peel and freeze in airtight container until you are ready to use in your smoothies! I found blending the bananas into the smoothie easier if the banana is chopped into halves or quarters. Once the banana is combined into the green mixture, add the strawberries. In case you don’t love drinking visibly green smoothies, these should punch up the color.

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Almond milk makes this smoothie. I promise you! Coming from a staunch dairy milk fan, I have made this smoothie a million times before with traditional non-fat milk and the almond milk version is so much better!!

A big thank you to the people who figured out how to milk an almond;) Just kidding! But seriously, I need to figure out how to make this stuff myself. Smoothies and almond milk, ya’ll.

Whats Cooking

Ok, so baking cakes for my cousin’s wedding has taken over my life.  Bake.  Freeze.  Bake. Freeze.  Repeat infinitely.

Currently, my kitchen looks a little like I am either a cocaine dealer or a baker.  But alas, I can’t claim either professionally.  Nonetheless, flour (not cocaine) is EVERYWHERE.  Multiple batches of cake a day make cleaning just to make another mess, really unappealing.  So I am resolved to the fact that messy it will be.

So, amidst the mess, posting has been pushed to the back seat, but don’t think I haven’t been cooking!  My family still has to eat!

Here are a few of the recipes that we have been loving this summer…..

We have been loving this Thai Larb recipe.  Nicknamed Thai Tacos in our house because the name “larb” didn’t go over well to our American ears.  I have made it with ground pork and beef.  Both are great, and I love experimenting with various veggie mix-ins.  All fast and delish!  We even used kale, instead of lettuce, as the wrapper.

I know I have mentioned these before, but these Zucchini “Meat” Balls are amazing.  These could convert me to vegetarianism.

We have been on a bit of a non-dairy, gluten free, sugar free diet the past couple of weeks and this amazing Chili with black beans (dried not canned), sweet potatoes, and quinoa is the BOMB!  One of my fave chilis ever.  Top it with cilantro and avocado!  Side note: Loving this gal’s whole site!

Favorite at home Pad Thai!  This vegetarian version is kind of amazing.  Little bit of noodles, lotta-bit of veggies;)  And, have you tried a spiralizer for making your veggies look like this yet?!  Its my favorite new kitchen toy!

Grilling and peaches.  Could anything say summer more than these Grilled Pork Chops with Peaches?  I think not.

What have you been eating this summer?!  I have a ton of things on my “must make” list.  Excited to be done with the baking frenzy.  Only nine more days of baking mayhem.  Must press on!

Gooey Salted Caramel Sauce

I have embarked on an adventure that has forced me to bring my own sanity into question.  It didn’t seem this crazy when I did it for my own wedding.  Nor did it feel that way when I did the same for a small handful of friends’ weddings.  I have agreed to make the cakes for my cousin’s wedding this month.

I can do this.  I can manage my time.  Write out a plan for what to do each day leading up to the wedding and stick to it.  Not a problem.  Been there, done that.  Well, not exactly…. You see, I agreed to this when there was an estimated 100 guests.  Still larger than any wedding I have baked for before but not by much.   But, now there are roughly “200, plus or minus 25,” according to my cousin.  Oh boy…  

The bride and groom are without a plan B.  While my plan B is to hit up costco if this whole plan goes to hell and a hand basket, I am plan A.  YIKES!

So, I have begun the adventure of baking for 200 (give or take).  We  –  meaning the bride, groom and I  –  have a plan.  We have flavors selected, and colors, flowers, cake toppers, and stands coordinated.  And I am ready!  Well, semi-sorta, non-professionally ready…….  Ok, totally unprepared and feeling more panicked by the minute.

But like I said I am plan A, so I have begun round 1 of baking, vacuum sealing and freezing baked cake.  Thank goodness for family with industrial sized freezers and vacuum sealers!  This week I got a jump on the chocolate cakes.  And because my cousin hadn’t tasted this flavor yet, I made a semi-mini batch of the filling and frosting as well.

Her filling is gooey salted caramel.  Homemade, soft, gooey, salted caramel.  In case you were wondering, the last sentence can also be read: “The Best Cake Filling of All Time!”

Now the 2nd best part about this filling is that it is also a sauce… And gooey salted caramel sauce is great on ice-cream, apple slices, brownies EVERYTHING!! So I gave my cousin and her fiancé a bit to taste with the mini-cakes and then I may or may not have kept the rest for myself.  😉

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As such we have been enjoying dunking apple slices, drizzling on ice-cream sundays, over brownies and french toast and coffee, etc.  Shoot, who am I kidding!?  We have been eating caramel like it is going out of style.

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So if you are a fan of rich, sweet, gooey, slightly salty caramel then prepare for caramel nirvana.  This caramel is super easy and quick!  No candy thermometer required (although having one handy wouldn’t hurt)!

Gooey Salted Caramel Sauce

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 1/2 tbl. heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 1/2 tsp. sea salt (or more to taste)

Chill a small metal spoon in the freezer.  In a saucepan, bring butter, corn syrup, brown sugar, and condensed milk to a boil while stirring constantly.  Slowly stir in heavy cream.  Allow to boil for a couple minutes longer while stirring. Remove spoon from freezer and dip back of spoon in caramel.  If the caramel coats the spoon and cools to a soft, gooey texture, then it is done.  Also known as softball stage (238 degrees if you are using a candy thermometer)!  For this recipe, you do not want cook it long enough that the caramel turns chewy.  Once it reaches the softball stage quickly stir in the vanilla and salt.  Pour caramel sauce into a heat proof bowl to cool.  If you left it in the sauce pan, it will continue to cook!

If you are making this as a cake filling, allow caramel to cool completely.  Then simply create a dam with whatever frosting you are planning to use around the edge before adding the caramel to the layer.  This way it will stay in place.

This recipe makes over 2 cups of sauce!  Plenty of caramel to go ’round;)  Apple slice anyone? Or how about a brownie sunday?

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Also, how cute caramel sauce be as a hostess or Christmas gift in a mason jar?!  (No need to refrigerate!)  Gift me some of that, please! Gooey and delicious!!