My Not-So-Secret Recipes

By: Jeanne Reynolds

I love reading about food, restaurants and recipes. I have a thick white binder stuffed with recipes I’ve clipped from magazines and newspapers or begged from friends and family. Most of them I’ll probably never make, but there are a few I go back to time and again. You can tell them by the yellowed paper they’re printed or written on and the splatters of overly enthusiastic stirring.

If you flip through the pages of this notebook, you may notice a skew toward baking, and two types of treats in particular: brownies and muffins. Although I love these freshly baked goodies as much (or more) than the next person, the abundance of brownie and muffin recipes isn’t so much because they’re my favorites as it is because it seems so hard to find a really great, foolproof recipe for either.

“This one looks really good, and pretty easy,” I’ll say to myself as I clip out yet another recipe. “This one never fails,” a friend assures me as she emails me her version. And yet the results are never as roll-up-your-eyes-and-slap-your-momma wonderful as I hoped.

Until now.

I’m going to share with you two nearly perfect recipes, one for brownies and one for apple-cinnamon muffins. You can thank me later.

Oh-my-goodness brownies

OK, this one is more advice than a recipe: If you need to bring a dish to a potluck, tailgate or holiday meal that people will rave over, make brownies. And use a boxed mix. Yes, you read that right. I’ve made many scratch versions over the years and there isn’t enough difference to make it worth the trouble. The secret is to not stop there. First, substitute Kahlua or Amaretto for half the water called for. You won’t taste the liqueur but the flavor will be subtly rich and decadent.

Then, make your own frosting. This makes all the difference in the world. That travesty in a can is the frosting equivalent of spray cheese. Never, I repeat never, use it. Making enough chocolate frosting for a pan of brownies takes about 3 minutes and 4 ingredients: butter or margarine, cocoa powder, powdered (aka confectioner’s) sugar and a little liquid, which can be water, milk, vanilla, coffee or the liqueur you used in the brownies. I don’t measure and the proportions are to taste depending on how sweet or dark you prefer it, but it’s roughly equal parts butter and cocoa powder, about two to four times that much sugar, and liquid to spreading consistency. For example, ¼ cup butter, ¼ cocoa, ½ cup to 1 cup sugar and a teaspoon to a tablespoon of liquid. Combine the butter and cocoa first, then gradually add the sugar, tasting as you go and alternating with a little liquid at a time to loosen it up.

This might sound tricky but it’s really not. Do it once or twice and you’ll be able to whip it up in your sleep (and you might find yourself dreaming about it, too). Get ready for ooh and aahs.

Oh, two more tips: Line your pan with foil with enough overhang on either side so you can lift the whole thing out and put it on a board to frost and cut. No more brownies stuck in the pan. And don’t overbake, unless you prefer dry, crumble brownies (if you do, you stopped reading this long ago). Test for doneness before the minimum baking time is up and keep testing until they’re just barely done.

Best-ever apple-cinnamon muffins

This recipe is a combination of a few I clipped, with modifications to make them easier for what I typically have on hand. I like these because they actually rise up like they’re supposed to and they’re not too sweet. They’re great for breakfast or with a cup of hot tea on a cold afternoon.

Combine in a large bowl:

  • 2 cups unsifted flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix in just until dry ingredients are combined:

  • ¾ cup milk (skim or low-fat is fine, even lactose-free)
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil (original recipe calls for melted butter or margarine but this is easier and works fine)
  • 1 egg

Gently stir in as many of these as you want:

  • 1 cup chopped apples (any kind, and no need to peel them)
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

Line a 12-cup pan with paper liners and use an ice cream scoop sprayed with nonstick spray to fill each cup. Sprinkle a little sugar and cinnamon on top of each muffin. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

A Fall Treat

By: Azure Stilwell

pumpkin-muffins

This is my favorite month of the year! I love the cool weather, the festivals, the fair, and Halloween. It’s all about yummy foods and fun.

One of my favorite muffins to make during the Fall is so simple I didn’t think it would actually work when I found the recipe on Pinterest. All you need to make these pumpkin spice muffins is one can of pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling, but real pumpkin) and one box of spice cake mix. You mix both ingredients together, bake, and enjoy. They look like rustic muffins because they come out all lumpy on top, but they taste fantastic. My boys love it when I make cinnamon cream cheese icing to go on top but they taste great with or without the icing. If you want to dress them up then pipe on the icing and top with a candy corn pumpkin. So cute!

To make the muffins:

  • 1 can of Libby Pumpkin
  • 1 box of spice cake mix

Combine ingredients with a large wooden spoon. (Your mixer will thank you for not using it.) Spoon the mixture into greased muffin cups.Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

To make the icing (optional):

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Beat butter and cream cheese with a mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low. Add sugar, 1 cup at a time, and then cinnamon and vanilla; mix until smooth.

Browned Butter Butterscotch Cookies

By: Brady Evans

One of my pet peeves about my lovely husband is that while we are shopping, he occasionally neglects to put back an unwanted purchase in its proper spot on the shelf. I often scurry behind him, filing books exactly where they came from on the shelf in the bookstore, replacing shirts that don’t fit just so on the rack, and tucking loaves of bread exactly where they belong on the shelf. Recently, I fell victim to a shopper much like husband. Apparently someone had put back a bag of butterscotch chips in the chocolate chip section of the shelf at the grocery store.

I was highly disappointed when I got home to see that I had purchased the wrong embellishments for my to-be-made cookies. But, hey, it turned into a good reason to experiment with a new recipe. These cookies were a nice change from the norm, but so rich and sweet that it is hard to eat more than one.

Browned Butter Butterscotch Cookies

Browned Butter Butterscotch Cookies (adapted from Pioneer Woman)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 whole large eggs
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 rounded tablespoons (additional) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 cups butterscotch chips

Instructions:

  1. Add one stick of butter to a medium skillet over medium heat. Melt butter and allow it to bubble and brown for 3 to 4 minutes, swirling the pan to keep the butter moving around.
  2. When the butter is a medium golden brown, remove the pan from the heat and into a heatproof bowl and allow it to cool completely, about 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, allow the other stick of butter to soften.
  4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  5. Cream the softened stick butter together with the brown sugar and regular sugar until combined in a mixer.
  6. Add the eggs and vanilla, and beat until smooth, scraping the bowl if necessary.
  7. With the mixer on medium-low, drizzle in the cooled melted butter.
  8. Scrape the bowl and mix again for 20-30 seconds, until everything is combined.
  9. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt.
  10. Add it in by thirds, mixing on low, until it’s totally incorporated. Scrape the bowl and beat for a few more seconds.
  11. Stir in the butterscotch chips.
  12. In batches, scoop heaping tablespoons onto a baking sheet lined with a baking mat.
  13. Bake for 7 to 8 minutes, or until deep golden brown. Wait a minute or two, then transfer cookies to a cooling rack.

Cranberry Pecan Shortbread Cookies

By: Brady Evans

I’ve got a cookie monster of a husband. For a while I gladly made him cookies. I made him chocolate chip cookies, snickerdoodles, nut-filled cookies. He requested chocolate chip cookies most often, though. It didn’t take long before I was tired of using my precious cooking time to make the same boring recipe over and over again.

So I began purchasing him cookies at the grocery store and generally only bought whatever was on sale. One week shortbread cookies were on sale and he fell in love with the sweet, slightly salty, crumbly texture. I began to brainstorm about making these cookies here at home. I could add a variety of mix-ins and no eggs were required, making them really easy to whip up regardless of the grocery situation!

I added a total of 1 cup of mix-ins to Ina Garten’s shortbread recipe so I encourage you to either make my recipe adaptation or come up with a new concoction of your own!

Cranberry Pecan Shortbread Cookies

Cranberry Pecan Shortbread Cookies (adapted from Ina Garten)

Ingredients

  • 3/4 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the butter and 1 cup of sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together.  Add in nuts and dried cranberries and mix on low until thoroughly combined.
  3. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into 2 cookie logs, 2 inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic and chill for 1 hour.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  5. Cut 1/2 inch cookies with a sharp knife.
  6. Place the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Halloween Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie

By: Brady Evans

There are not many things I miss about living in suburbia.  Yes, farm life is definitely for me.  However, we were pretty disappointed last year on our first Halloween on the farm.  We didn’t get any trick-or-treaters! Not even one. That’s definitely one thing I miss about city living: celebrating the wackiest ‘holiday’ of the year.

Just because we don’t have strangers knocking at our door asking for food, doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate with the best of them. Halloween definitely has the most potential for making awesome treats that go along with a theme.

One example: this spider-web-themed pumpkin cheesecake pie. Not only is it festive, but its flavor combination is out of this world (and slightly reminiscent of those muffins at Starbucks)! Now, I’m not a pro baker, so if I can make it, so can you! Just do yourself a favor and top the pie with a plastic spider, to really go the extra mile!

Halloween Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie (adapted and inspired from these recipes)

Ingredients:

For the pumpkin filling:

  • 1 15-oz can packed pumpkin puree
  • ½ cup evaporated milk
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs

For the cheesecake:

  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • 1 9-inch chocolate cookie crust

To make the pumpkin filling: Beat eggs with sugar.  Add spices, pureed pumpkin, and evaporated milk.  Whisk to combine.

To make the cheesecake filling: Beat cream cheese until softened.  Add sugar and incorporate beaten egg.  Add vanilla.  Whisk until smooth.

To assemble pie: Pour pumpkin filling into cookie crust.  Pour cheesecake filling into a zip top bag and snip off end.  To make spider web design, lightly pipe concentric circles of cheesecake into the pumpkin filling.  Using a clean knife, drag the blade of a knife from the outside of the pie towards the center, wiping the knife between drags. Bake in a 300 degree oven for 60 minutes.