Ultimate pumpkin bread

After the usual ordeal of preparing for air travel I finally made it to LAX and sat down at my gate with my laptop expecting to be able to connect to wifi and update my webpage. Due to several factors yesterday was just too busy, and by the time I was able to think about blogging it was really late and I needed sleep a little before my flight today. However, when I got to the airport today my laptop wasn’t recognizing the LAX wifi connection for some reason. And then I discovered that internet access on my flight was $24! Needless to say, I didn’t pay that hefty price. So that brings me to the present, sitting in my Disney World hotel room for a few minutes to charge my phone before heading to Magic Kingdom for the Halloween party. After such a long day I’m taking advantage of this brief window of down time to publish this post.

All throughout October I knew how busy Halloween was going to be for me. Not only was it the day of the annual chili cook-off at work, but I figured I’d be scrambling to finish getting ready for my trip to Disney World. Add a 12-hour workday on top of that and I barely had time to eat dinner last night! I’ll write more about that tomorrow. The point of this little rant is to explain why I planned ahead of time to share this year’s pumpkin bread recipe on Halloween rather than writing a more extensive post. So here it is!

I mentioned this pumpkin bread last year, but didn’t deem it worthy of a formal recipe post at the time. This year I’ve used it twice and it’s absolutely the most delicious pumpkin bread I’ve ever made. The amount of spice is perfect and the combination of the pumpkin puree and pudding mix makes this bread incredibly moist. I took half a bundt cake to my Galloway running group’s end of the season breakfast a few weeks ago and they devoured every single crumb. Since I was doing Whole30(-ish) at the time I shared the rest with my co-workers and it disappeared in record time. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like pumpkin bread, and this recipe is so easy to make and perfect for fall and winter. Just remember to grease the bundt pan or, as I learned firsthand, your cake will be ruined!

INGREDIENTS:
5 large eggs
1 1/4 c canola oil or extra light olive oil
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp salt
2 packages (3 oz each) cook-and-serve vanilla pudding mix
1 tsp baking soda
2 c all-purpose flour
2 c granulated sugar (or half white sugar, half light brown sugar)

DIRECTIONS:
Beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer. Add the oil, pumpkin puree, and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, pumkin pie spice, cloves, ginger, allspice, cardamom, and salt and beat until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the vanilla pudding mix and baking soda and beat until combined. Lastly, add the flour and sugar and beat until combined. Pour the batter evenly into a 12 cup bundt cake pan with every nook and cranny coated with cooking spray. This is important because you don’t want the cake to stick! (This happened to me the last time so I speak from experience.) Bake at 325 deg F for about 70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes before inverting the cake onto a wire rack. Cool completely before slicing. Enjoy!

Based on Taste of Home’s Delicious Pumpkin Bread.

Day 30 – ‘Twas the night before Halloween

‘Twas the night before Halloween and the last day of Whole30(-ish)! And the people rejoiced! Actually, my current mood is pretty frazzled getting ready for the chili cook-off. I’m still looking forward to all of the excitement of tomorrow, but I would be even more enthusiastic if I didn’t have a sink full of dishes to wash, a to do list a mile long, and a suitcase I still need to pack for my pending vacation. And my house is a wreck too. So basically the typical state of things during the holiday season! I should just get used to my life being like this for the next two months. It’s certainly not a bad thing. I’ll gladly take a little disruption in my normal routine in exchange for experiencing my favorite time of the year. All I can do it try to enjoy the festive chaos to the fullest extent possible.

I celebrated both the arrival of Halloween and the departure of my month-long diet experiment by baking a pumpkin sheet cake when I got home from work (while watching the traditional October fare – “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and “Hocus Pocus”). I didn’t eat any of it because it’s for the chili cook-off, during which I will sample a wide array of desserts that have been off-limits to me for the last 30 days. For most potluck scenarios I would make an always crowd-pleasing chocolate sheet cake, but Halloween requires something more specialized. I know pumpkin spice has fallen out of favor recently, but it’s still a surefire winner when it comes to baked goods. I’ve made this pumpkin sheet cake before, specifically for the chili cook-off back in 2013, but that recipe included cream cheese frosting. This time I topped the cake with a white glaze (the frosting portion of my white Texas sheet cake) because I wouldn’t have to refrigerate the whole thing that way. Finding space in the fridge for such a huge pan would have been challenging. I also added some Halloween sprinkles (pumpkins and witch’s hats and brooms) for good measure. I’m sure it will be delicious, like so many other things at the chili cook-off. I’ll have a full report tomorrow.

I have so much more to say, but it’s extremely late and I need to go to sleep ASAP. I hope everyone has a lovely Halloween!

Today’s meals:
Breakfast – Scrambled eggs with hot dog slices (cleaning out my fridge!)
Snack #1 – Apple, cashews
Lunch – Carnitas, roasted broccoli and carrots, and roasted diced sweet potato
Snack #2 – Banana with almond butter
Dinner – Tomato soup with Italian sausage

Day 13 – Pumpkin three ways

Over the years I’ve shared at least three different pumpkin bread recipes on my blog. (Maybe more, but I can only locate three.) Based on a brief search I found Spiced Pumpkin Bread from September 2014, Buttermilk Pumpkin Bread from October 2015, and the first pumpkin bread recipe I ever tried, Taste of Home’s Delicious Pumpkin Bread, that I finally posted in September 2016. It’s one of my favorite seasonal treats, and most years I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of September so I can crack open my first can of pumpkin of the fall. Of course, this year is a little different. Until today I hadn’t done any holiday baking due to being on whatever you want to call this diet, and with as much as I love the holidays it’s been a real struggle. But when I found out that my Galloway running group was having an end of the season breakfast tomorrow morning I saw a golden opportunity. I could have the enjoyable experience of baking pumpkin bread without eating it! Genius!

I took the day off from work today for a few reasons, one of which being that I didn’t want to stay up late tonight making the pumpkin bread for tomorrow. Even with almost the whole day to work with, the process still look twice as long as it should have due to an error on my part. I was watching a Mystery Science Theater 3000 movie while I was baking and I guess I got a little distracted because I completely forgot to grease the bundt pan before pouring in the pumpkin bread batter! I realized this omission when the cake didn’t easily release from the pan after it was done baking. I tried to salvage it, but the poor thing looked like it had exploded. Boy did I feel stupid. While the bundt pan was soaking in the sink to remove all of crumbs that were stuck to it like glue, I wallowed a little by cramming several small pieces of the destroyed cake into my mouth. Not a diet-approved snack, but it was so delicious. Luckily I had enough time and extra ingredients to make a second batch of pumpkin bread, this time liberally greasing the pan before baking. And as you can see in the above picture, the second time was the charm. My running group is going to eat well tomorrow!

Today’s meals:
Breakfast – Scrambled eggs with hot dog slices (again!)
Snack #1 – Apple, mixed nuts (almonds, cashews, pecans, and pistachios)
Lunch – Salad with shredded garlic chicken, red onion, yellow bell pepper, nuts, and balsamic vinaigrette dressing
Snack #2 – A little pumpkin bread, I admit it
Dinner – Pumpkin chili (a healthier pumpkin alternative), strawberries

New Year’s Eve preparations

After yesterday’s impassioned post you may have expected me to have a supremely productive day to make up for recent laziness. Unfortunately you’d be wrong, but I didn’t stay in bed all day either. As usual, the truth is somewhere in between. I intended to spend a few hours at Disneyland this morning, but I slept in (again) instead. I don’t consider it wasted time, though, since the holiday break is meant for catching up on sleep. After running a few errands I had an appointment at the DMV to renew my driver’s license. I had to do it in person this time around so that was annoying. Luckily with the appointment I was done in about ten minutes. After I left I realized that I might not get my new license before it expires (on my birthday), which could complicate my upcoming trip to Orlando. Having an expired driver’s license when I’m trying to fly back home to Los Angeles could cause a bit of a headache with TSA. Fortunately the solution is simply to bring my passport. Problem solved!

When I got home from the DMV I tackled some New Year’s Eve preparations. Specifically, cookie baking! I promised to bring treats to a New Year’s Eve party and I didn’t want to leave making them until the last minute. So this afternoon I whipped up two different kinds of cookies – peanut butter blondies (because I still had a jar and a half of peanut butter left over from my Christmas cookies) and chocolate chip snickerdoodle bars (a holiday favorite). For the peanut butter blondies I started with this recipe from Averie Cooks and simply replaced the original mix-ins with a combination of semisweet chocolate and milk chocolate chips. (I had to sort through quite a few ancient bags of chocolate chips in my cabinet before finding some that weren’t expired! That’s a testament to my attempt to eat healthier over the last couple of years.) The jury is still out on these blondies so I’ll give you the verdict in another post. For the chocolate chip snickerdoodles, I got the idea from Pinterest, but I based them on my own amazing snickerdoodle bar recipe. I simply added some mini chocolate chips to the dough before I baked them. I’ll have to ask my friends what they think about them because I’m not immediately a fan. I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I think the chocolate chips may have ruined the snickerdoodles! At this point I wish I hadn’t tampered with such a perfect recipe, but I’ll wait to pass final judgement until I get a few more opinions on New Year’s Eve. Only two more days left in 2016!

Famous peanut butter bars

I wish I had a video compilation of people’s reactions when they taste these peanut butter bars. In my experience their eyes get wide and they exclaim something like, “Oh my god!” Then they ask me for the recipe. These are seriously the most delicious and addictive treats I’ve ever had. Once I start eating them I have trouble stopping. One time back in high school I received a marriage proposal when a friend of mine tried one. I think I can safely say that if you like peanut butter, you’re going to love these peanut butter bars. I first wrote about them back in 2011, but I halved the recipe and it just wasn’t the same. But since I needed a boatload of goodies for holiday parties and other get-togethers this week I whipped up a full batch (a whole jelly roll pan’s worth) and served them on three different occasions. I ate more than my fair share too! Didn’t I say they’re addictive?

INGREDIENTS:
1 c (2 sticks) melted butter
16 oz (1 jar) chunky peanut butter
1 1/2 c graham cracker crumbs
1 lb powdered sugar
8 oz Hershey bar (I used two 4.4 oz bars)

DIRECTIONS:
The original recipe, which is handwritten on an index card in my mom’s recipe organizer, simply says “mix together all ingredients except Hershey bar.” But I’ve found that it works best if you stir together the melted butter, peanut butter, and graham cracker crumbs in a large bowl first. You can just use a wooden spoon for this. When those ingredients are thoroughly mixed add about half of the powdered sugar and stir to combine. At this point you’re going to wonder how in the heck you’ll ever be able to get the remaining powdered sugar to mix in, but it will work. Dump the rest of the powdered sugar into the bowl and stir in as much as possible with the wooden spoon. I always have to resort to using my hands near the end before the mixture gets so thick. I promise if you work at it long enough you can get all of the powdered sugar incorporated! Press the peanut butter mixture into the bottom of a large jelly roll pan (mine is 15x11x1″), using whatever you can find to smooth it out (a rolling pin or round glass works best, but I used the bottom of a measuring cup).

In a small microwave-safe bowl, melt the Hershey’s chocolate. This should take about 1-2 minutes on high. Spread the melted chocolate evenly over the peanut butter mixture with a spatula. Put the whole pan in the refrigerator to cool. Wait until the chocolate has solidified to slice into squares. Enjoy!

Based on Jane’s Peanut Butter Bars (written on an index card).

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Today was the first full day of my holiday break (I don’t have to go back to work until January 3rd) and I didn’t waste any time getting in the Christmas spirit. I got up and went to Disneyland first thing this morning and it was lovely. Granted, the sky was cloudy and gray after raining overnight so the crowds in the park were very light. What a wonderful gift! I wasn’t expecting that two days before Christmas, but I really enjoyed it. I went on all of the rides on my holiday to do list (Jingle Cruise, Haunted Mansion Holiday, and Small World Holiday) in a very short amount of time. After that I wandered around and did some shopping, found a pin I’d been looking for, bought one last Christmas present for a friend, and had a holiday turkey sandwich (turkey, stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce) at Earl of Sandwich for lunch. When I got home from Disneyland I got started on the task of making Christmas cookies. In an effort to eat healthier I haven’t done a lot of baking this year, but I figured the holiday season deserves a little splurge. Plus, I promised to bring some peanut butter and chocolate treats to a friend’s house on Monday. Usually I like to try new recipes when I get a chance to bake, but this time I fell back on a couple of tried-and-true favorites since I didn’t want to risk serving mediocre cookies to my friends! First I whipped up a huge batch of peanut butter blossoms, as seen in the above photo. I first wrote about these back in 2011. These cookies are a holiday tradition in my family and they never fail to disappoint. They’re incredibly easy to make and absolutely delicious. By the time the peanut butter blossoms were done it was time for my to go to boot camp at 4 PM. The class was particularly grueling today, probably payback for indulging in the turkey sandwich and a few cookies today, but I’m glad I went. Christmas is no excuse for my fitness regime to suffer! When I got home from the gym I used another famous family recipe to make a large batch of peanut butter bars. They’re in the fridge right now, but I’ll slice them up (and take the obligatory photo) tomorrow. I wrote a very unsatisfactory post about these incredibly addictive treats about five years ago, but I will revisit them later this week because the recipe absolutely deserves to be shared again. After today most of my Christmas baking is done. I still have one more batch of cookies I’m planning to make for Monday, but those will probably have to wait until Sunday.

It’s raining right now, a sign of a real winter finally returning to Los Angeles, and I’m perfectly content to be inside, warm and dry, on this December 23rd night. I’m watching an old “Doctor Who” Christmas Special right now (“A Christmas Carol” from 2010), but earlier I put on my DVD of “The Bishop’s Wife” while making the peanut butter bars. I intend to watch a bunch of classic Christmas movies over the next couple of days. There will also be some more “Doctor Who” Christmas episodes, including the new one on Sunday night. It was a lovely first day of my holiday break, and this weekend promises to be busy and delightful as well.

Pre-Thanksgiving cooking

I’m in Tallahassee for Thanksgiving and, as you can tell from the picture above, we’ve had a busy day of important preparations for the holiday tomorrow. With the mediocre results of the Maple, Pumpkin, and Sweet Potato Pie from last Christmas last year, we decided to try something a little different this time. But I’m still determined to make a good pumpkin pie at least once so I wanted something in the same family. I was leafing through a Food Network magazine at the airport earlier this month when I saw a recipe for Ginger-Coconut Pumpkin Pie that looked amazing. And not too complicated either. After reviewing it with my mom we deemed it worth of a Thanksgiving dessert. So today when we got back from some day-before-Thanksgiving shopping and errands we started preparing the pie. And as you can see in the photo, it came out of the oven looking really beautiful (whipped cream topping not shown as we haven’t made it yet). And if it tastes half as good as it smells then we’re in for a real treat to end our Thanksgiving dinner. Since I haven’t actually had a slice yet I can’t tell you how it tastes, but I will report back tomorrow with the verdict. I’m excited!

Halloween recipe variations

On Monday we had our 5th annual chili cook-off at work. It’s a Halloween tradition! It’s also one of my favorite days of the year (maybe second to the annual holiday potluck) and I’m happy to say that even though it was a lot of work it turned out really well. Due to being on the Nutrisystem diet since Labor Day I didn’t get a chance to make any test batches of chili before the cook-off. What a shame! So on Sunday night I simply combined a couple of my favorite old recipes, crossed my fingers, and hoped for a decent outcome. I figured mixing and matching successful recipes couldn’t go wrong! In order to please several non-carnivores at work I promised to make something that was vegetarian friendly. I started with my vegetarian chili recipe, but substituted the spices from my Cincinnati style chili that I made for last year’s cook-off. To my surprise it was absolutely delicious, and actually came in fourth place out of 16 chilis in the popular vote. So in the spirit of Halloween, making a Frankenstein’s monster-style unholy mashup using pieces from different chili recipes can result in something better than the sum of its parts!

Speaking of unholy mashups, the pumpkin bread I made for the chili cook-off got a similar treatment. I originally planned to make a sheet cake, and I even bought some new Halloween sprinkles to decorate it, but some of my co-workers requested pumpkin bread instead. On the plus side it’s easier to throw together, and I already had a can of pumpkin puree in my cupboard so that’s one less ingredient I had to purchase! But which of my favorite recipes to use? The one I posted in September was the best pumpkin bread I’ve ever tasted, but when I tried something different a couple of weeks later I got even better feedback from the taste testers. What a conundrum! In the end I used the recipe from September (mostly so I could avoid buying buttermilk which I never managed to use all of before it spoils), but with a couple of key changes. First of all, I substituted half of the white sugar for light brown sugar for a richer flavor. But more importantly I used a different spice combination:

2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp salt

The result was absolutely incredible! Not only did my co-workers gobble it up, but I loved it too. I’ll have to remember that for next year. The moral of today’s story is that experimental cooking can sometimes turn out even better than you could possibly imagine. So be brave and try something new! I am going to try and keep that in mind with the rest of my holiday baking. ‘Tis the season to be bold!

Welcoming fall with pumpkin bread

When September rolls around it means that it’s late enough in the year for me to bake with pumpkin again, but somehow I waited eighteen days to take advantage of that freedom in 2016. What a shame! But I think this pumpkin bread was worth the wait. I first tried this Taste of Home recipe over a decade ago with great success, but one of the ingredients was a tad problematic. Finding cook-and-serve vanilla pudding in 3 oz packages was impossible! I had to buy a larger box and just roughly guess at the right amount to pour into the batter. It was annoying so I found other recipes to try instead. But this year I was browsing the grocery aisles and found the little 3 oz pudding packages! It was a sign that this tried-and-true pumpkin bread recipe needed to make a comeback this fall.

As I was baking today I did make a couple of minor changes to the Taste of Home recipe. Actually, they were more like augmentations. The original recipe called for just 1 teaspoon of cinnamon as seasoning, but one of my other go-to pumpkin bread recipes (see my spiced pumpkin bread recipe here) calls for a host of other spices as well. So I also included nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and pumpkin pie spice in today’s baking endeavor. Similarly, I added 2 teaspoons of vanilla because it makes everything better. The result was absolutely fantastic. In spite of being on a diet I tried a piece this evening. This may be the best pumpkin bread I’ve ever tasted! The perfect fall treat to share with my co-workers tomorrow!

INGREDIENTS:
5 large eggs
1 1/4 c canola oil
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp salt
2 packages (3 oz each) cook-and-serve vanilla pudding mix
1 tsp baking soda
2 c all-purpose flour
2 c granulated sugar

DIRECTIONS:
Beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer. Make sure it’s a really big bowl because this recipe makes 2 loaves which means a lot of batter! Add the canola oil, pumpkin puree, and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, pumpkin pie spice, and salt and beat until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the vanilla pudding mix and baking soda and beat until combined. Lastly, add the flour and sugar and beat until combined. Pour the batter (it’s pretty thin and easily pourable) into two 8×4″ loaf pans coated with cooking spray. (I only have one loaf pan at the moment so I used a 12 cup bundt cake pan instead. If you go this route make sure that every nook and cranny of the pan is coated with spray because you don’t want the cake to stick!) Bake at 325 deg F for 70-75 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes before inverting the loaves (or cake) onto a wire rack. Cool completely before slicing. Enjoy!

Based on Taste of Home’s Delicious Pumpkin Bread.

Foodie Friday – Buttermilk pumpkin bread

Fall officially started over a week ago, but we’re still waiting for it to arrive here in Los Angeles. But luckily according to my self-imposed rules I can bake with pumpkin again since it’s after September 1st! Until it finally cools off (although this week has been slightly more comfortable) at least we can enjoy pumpkin-flavored treats! Like this delicious pumpkin bread. Last year I posted a great recipe for spiced pumpkin bread, but I’ve been wanting to try a slightly different version for a while. This new recipe contains buttermilk which is always a plus. It does amazing things for banana bread so why not pumpkin bread too? I’m really glad I tried this recipe because it is delicious. Everyone at work loved it, and I ate a few too many pieces of it myself. This pumpkin bread was the perfect way to welcome the fall and celebrate the approaching holiday season.

INGREDIENTS:
1 c canola oil
3 c sugar
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
4 eggs
2/3 c buttermilk
1 Tbsp vanilla
2 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice (I mixed a homemade version since I was out)
1/4 tsp cardamom
2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
3 1/2 c flour

DIRECTIONS:
In a large bowl, mix together the canola oil, sugar, pumpkin, eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla. I usually use an electric mixer for this to make sure the batter is smooth. Add the pumpkin pie spice (or homemade mix of spices like I made), cardamom, salt, and baking soda and beat until combined. Add the flour to the bowl and blend until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed. Divide the batter between a couple of greased loaf pans. The original recipe calls for three small loaf pans, but since I don’t have any of those I used one 9×5″ pan and one 8×4″ pan instead. (There was actually some batter leftover in this configuration so next time I’ll try three 8×4″ pans and make slightly smaller loaves.) Bake at 325 deg F for at least 1 hour (mine took a bit longer to set in the middle), or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Enjoy!

Based on The Mommy Mess’s Buttermilk Pumpkin Bread.