Pears + honey + fall spices = Honey Pear Spice Muffins! by Nikki

It's Autum... and time for muffins!

It’s Autum… and time for muffins!

It is officially Autumn. The seasons have changed from warm Summer sunshine to crisp, cool Fall mornings. It is the time of year when the pumpkins and other squash varieties show up in the grocery store. The farmer’s market is full of deep, rich colors as the end-of-summer growing season has been recently harvested and is now available for our purchasing! When the daylight hours grow shorter and the rain begins to fall, I crave time in my kitchen, and I crave muffins. I LOVE muffins!  Experimenting with my basic muffin recipe brings my taste buds (and my friends) a lot of joy! A little flour, a few spices, one egg and a variety of “fillings”, and you have got yourself a tasty baked treat.

Thanks for the pears friends...

Thanks for the pears friends…

I have a new teaching colleague on our Kindergarten team this year. I am really enjoying working with and getting to know T… as well as her husband and family! In the first few weeks of school, T showed up in my classroom with a handful of pears that her husband, D had stopped to pick while on a bike ride with their daughter. I always appreciate good, fresh fruit… and these pears were gladly accepted! Combined with honey, fall spices and my favorite baking ingredient- buttermilk, these pears turned my standby honey spice muffin recipe into a pear-y good experience. And with only a 1/2 cup of sugar (and a whole lot of honey), these muffins were sweet with a hint of spice… and the verdict was they were  oh, so, nice!

Pear-y delicious

Honey Pear Spice Muffins

dry ingredients: 2 cups spelt flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1 teaspoon cinnamon

wet ingredients: 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1 egg, 1/4 cup butter (melted), 1/4 cup honey, 1 cup buttermilk

fruit: 1 cup pears (peeled and diced)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C or 375 degrees F and line a muffin tin with muffin papers, set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients then set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients until well blended.

Pour over the dry ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon.

Gently fold in the pears.

Spoon batter into the muffin cups until each is 3/4 full.

Bake for 15-18 minutes or until the tops are golden brown or a knife comes out clean from the middle of the muffin.

Let cool for 5 minutes then serve warm with a pat of butter.

Store muffins in an air-tight tupperware for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 3 months!

ENJOY!

Molasses Goodness by Nikki

Black Strap Molasses

Black Strap Molasses

Ginger Molasses cookies are my favorite. They are chewy cookies that have a slightly spicy taste from the mixture of ground ginger, cloves, cinnamon and molasses. Many people think of Christmas when they eat these cookies- ginger cookies are a holiday favorite in my family home! I love them year round. I visited a friend over the weekend and as a gift for hosting, I made fresh cookies! Of course I made the all-American favorite- chocolate chip cookies, but I decided also to make my favorite cookie to share. Both were a hit… but let’s face it, often, ginger molasses cookies have a hard time living up to the good ol’ chocolate chip cookie! But this recipe is so good…

… and it makes a double batch. I threw half of the dough in the freezer to use later. These cookies are also easy to bake and store in your freezer for later use. Just take them out 30 minutes before serving and they will thaw to room temperature- and the chewy goodness will be enjoyed by all!

Ginger Molasses cookies

Ginger Molasses Cookies

ingredients: 2 cups sugar, 1/2 cup molasses, 1 1/2 cups butter (melted and cooled), 2 eggs, 4 1/2 cups flour, 4 teaspoons baking soda, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 2 teaspoons ginger, 1/2 teaspoon cloves, 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions:

First, cream together butter and sugar in a mixer until mostly smooth. Add eggs and mix well. Add molasses and mix again until well combined.

Next, sift with a wire whisk: flour, spices, baking soda and salt.

Slowly add flour mixture to the wet ingredients to begin forming the dough.

Chill dough for 20-30 minutes before using.

Line a cookie sheet with baking paper!

Roll into ping pong size balls and bake for 8-10 minutes.

Cool and store in an air tight container for freshness or freeze them and thaw when ready to use…

ENJOY!

Spring’s Not Here, but the Farmers’ Markets Are! by L

Náplavka Farmers’ Market

Náplavka Farmers’ Market

The sun has been quite a tease around here in Prague. We’ve gotten a few warm days, but then the temperatures suddenly go down and we’re back to winter all over again. The coldest of seasons continues to linger on, but I know spring is coming because the farmers’ markets are back! A favorite of mine is the Náplavka Farmers’ Market, located on the Vltava River in Prague 2. There are a variety of stalls selling food and homemade goods by local artisans and farmers. On a good day, you can find a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits. Unfortunately, the day I visited, it wasn’t a good day for fresh produce. However, if you were looking for smoked meats, dairy products, fresh eggs, bread, chicken, fish or pop-up restaurants serving pasta, Balkan food, a cup of Belgian hot chocolate or a plate of fish and chips, then this would have been a good day for you.

The Market Crowd

The Market Crowd

There were cartons of potatoes, carrots, parsips, cabbage and onions which were all signs that winter was still here. Despite the bleak variety of vegetables and lack of fruits, it was still great to enjoy a sunny Saturday stroll at the market.  I indulged in a fresh almond croissant, along with a cup of Belgian hot chocolate to warm me up. In the end, I bought a bag of carrots and decided to make some fresh carrot-ginger-miso salad dressing. It’s not exactly salad weather, it still feels like we need some hearty soups (or cake in my case) to get us through these chilly days. However, summer will be here sooner than we imagine and I need to get ready for those sleeveless tops and shorts!

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Carrot Ginger Miso Dressing

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2 tablespoons peanut, corn or vegetable oil
1/4 cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons white miso
2 medium carrots, grated
1 inch ginger root, diced into small pieces
1-2 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste
a few tablespoons of cold water

Put all the ingredients in your beloved blender, except the water.
After running it for a few minutes, slowly add a few tablespoons of water
until you get the right consistency.
I will leave that up to you, as some people prefer a creamier dressing and some a
thinner, liquid like type.
Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Mixed Greens with Fried Tofu Salad

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1 block firm tofu
Cornstarch to coat tofu
1 -2 tsp. salt
Your choice of mixed greens ( I used a bag of baby spinach leaves and some romaine lettuce)
1 tomato, sliced
1 scallion, diced
Neutral oil for frying

Drain and slice tofu into thin blocks.
Cover all sides in cornstarch and salt mixture.
Heat oil in shallow frying pan.
When ready, add the coated pieces of tofu.
It should take about 3-4 minutes for each side,
until it begins to turn golden.
Remove and drain excess oil.

Toss all the vegetables in a bowl.
Cut up the tofu into small square pieces.
Add to the salad.
Serve with carrot-ginger miso dressing.

Arroz Caldo Comfort by L

Last week, every family member’s immune system under our roof, was attacked by some terrible and nasty germs. Stomach virus, bronchitis and respiratory infection were the evil characters that crept into our systems and viciously brought us down. Fortunately, one member of our household was able to fight off all the naughty culprits and take extra special care of us. That was Lola (that’s Grandma in Filipino.)

Arroz Caldo (with Chicken on the left, with Tofu on the right) topped with fried pieces of garlic

One of the foods I crave when I’m sick is my mother’s Arroz Caldo. Yes, these are Spanish words that you are reading, but it’s also the name of a dish in the Philippines. A literal translation would be “rice broth.” For me, it’s the ultimate comfort food for all kinds of ailments and I begged my mom to cook it for us. It may look like an ordinary bowl of porridge, but it’s not. The heavy amounts of slivered ginger, finely minced garlic and homemade chicken broth will quickly nurse you back to your regular self. Ginger can soothe that sore throat, garlic helps boost your immune system and the chicken broth, well, we all know what a good bowl of chicken soup can do for the soul, right? (My dear vegetarian friends, don’t feel left out! There is also a veggie version of this, and a stock of fresh vegetable broth has all those healing properties and more!)

Lola choosing her bird

Lola D purchased a whole chicken from the Andel farmers market that takes place every Friday in the Prague 5 neighborhood. She also picked up some local garlic, but the sweet glutinous rice and ginger used in the recipe, were bought at specialty shops around town. My mom is a big believer in the magic of garlic, so she never holds back (remember that she didn’t fall ill, hmmm?) However, if you have no need to fend off vampires, feel free to decrease the amount.

Local Czech garlic

For my one year old daughters, Lola made a milder version (less gingery and peppery) to keep them nourished during their phase of discomfort. As the season continues to change with viruses and infections lurking through the air; searching to invade and disrupt our immune systems, I hope that you will be well protected. However, if you are in need of some extra armor or a remedy, a bowl of Arroz Caldo should do the trick!

“Gimme my porridge!”

Arroz Caldo  (feeds 6-8)

1 small chicken, cut into pieces

1/4 cup of thinly sliced ginger

1 head of garlic and then another 10 cloves, all minced

1 onion, chopped

3-4 tablespoons of vegetable oil

1 tablespoon of fish sauce (patis in Tagalog) OPTIONAL

1 cup of sweet glutinous rice

1 cup of jasmine rice

8-10 cups of water

1-2 strands of saffron

salt and pepper to taste

Cut the head of garlic in minced pieces.

Heat oil in a small frying pan.

Fry until golden brown.

Drain and set aside.

In a large pot, heat oil and add the 10 cloves of minced garlic and ginger.

Cook until slightly golden.

Add onion. When it is translucent, add the chicken.

Turn heat to low and continue to saute for about 15-20 minutes.

The chicken should “sweat” and begin to add some juices to the mixture.

Afterwards, add both types of rice, patis if you are using and then 8-10 cups of water.

If you want a thick porridge, stick with the lower number. If you want a more soupy porridge, use 10 cups of water.

Add saffron.

Let it boil and then lower the heat.

Cook until rice is thoroughly done, about 40 minutes.

Season to taste.

Serve with sprinkles of roasted garlic, extra fish sauce, or lemon or soy sauce or vinegar or a combination of any of these condiments.

(Note for Vegetarians: Use vegetable broth instead of chicken and cups of water. Take a block of tofu and chop into pieces. Fry in 2-3 tablespoons of oil. When porridge is ready to serve, top with fried tofu, ginger and any of the above mentioned condiments.)