Double Chocolate Pumpkin Cupcakes

Soooo. I know I just told you the other day how I’m over pumpkin, and it’s really not all that great to begin with, yady yady yada…

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1. I may not quite be over pumpkin if it’s in the form of these cupcakes. But they hardly count, because like I also mentioned the other day you can’t hardly taste it in the cake anyway. Chocolate is the dominant flavor here. The pumpkin does add an amazing element of moistness and warmth, but overall not a standout flavor.
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2. I also neglected to mention there is one more pumpkin item I’m not over yet. Pumpkin pie!! I can easily get caught up in allllllllll of the other choices on Thanksgiving, but when it comes down to it, old trusty pumpkin pie always satisfies. As long as it has a giant dollop of whipped cream on top. I CAN’T WAIT! Two days, two days, two days, two days, two days!
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Moral of the story, I have to retract my previous statements about pumpkin just a little bit. I do in fact still enjoy it. Sorry for the confusion. 
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Oh, and one other thing. Shortly after publishing the last post, I realized I already have a baked pumpkin donut recipe – Baked Pumpkin Spice Donuts made with pumpkin Greek yogurt. My latest version are much prettier. Either that or my photography is getting better (thank goodness), but probably a combination of both. 
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These cupcakes though! Have I mentioned yet that I baked them specifically for a bake-off at work last week? Out of the four voting categories, I won two of them – “Yummiest” and “Martha Stewart Would Be Proud.” I came in second place for “Best Looking.”
Not to brag, but… 
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Maybe you should make these. They are that good. Award winning! 
I can’t take credit though, because Jenny is the genius behind the rich, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth concoction. 
This is actually another second-timer recipe for me. The reason I made these cupcakes in the first place was because of the rave reviews my family gave it when I made it in a whole cake form two years ago for Thanksgiving. It was just as good as I remembered, if not better, because what’s not better in cupcake form? As with the pumpkin donuts, these pictures give the cake much more credibility than the original post. I am also sharing the recipe below exactly how I made them, since there are differences from Jenny’s version. 
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Go make ya some!
Double Chocolate Pumpkin Cupcakes with Pumpkin Cream Cheese Frosting

(Adapted from the Picky Palate)

Makes about 28 cupcakes

Ingredients:
For the cake-
1 box chocolate cake mix
1 small box instant chocolate pudding
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup almond milk
4 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
15 ounce can pumpkin (save two tablespoons for the frosting)
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

For the frosting-
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons of canned pumpkin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
5 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons almond milk

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tin with paper or silicone liners and set aside.
2. In a stand mixer, combine all cake ingredients except chocolate chips. Beat on medium speed until well blended, stopping to scrape down sides as needed. Fold in chocolate chips and stir until evenly distributed. Pour batter into pan by the 1/4 cup. Bake 18-20 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely before frosting.
3. For the frosting, add butter, cream cheese, pumpkin and cinnamon in a stand mixer. Beat on medium-high speed until light and creamy. Slowly add powdered sugar, about a cup at a time until you reach desired thickness. Add milk and mix until completely smooth. Frost and sprinkle as desired!

*Very important to wait until cupcakes are completely cooled to frost, otherwise the frosting will melt and slide right off.

Baked Pumpkin Donuts

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Confession: I think I’m over pumpkin. I realize that may not be the best way to introduce you to these Baked Pumpkin Donuts, but it’s the truth.

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As usual, I got really excited about pumpkin at the beginning of fall. Our culture builds so much hype for the big orange squash and all of the flavor it brings to everything from baked goods to savory sides to espresso drinks. I get sucked in and dream about all of the pumpkin things I will consume. Then I take a bite or a sip of the pumpkin _______ (fill in the blank) and it hits me. Pumpkin isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Don’t hate me :/
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And don’t get me wrong. Pumpkin is not bad, but I couldn’t eat it every day. I’ve always been a vanilla girl, but that doesn’t mean I don’t go coo-coo for cocoa puffs chocolate too. Those are flavors I go crazy about, as boring as that may be. 
I also recognize the value pumpkin brings to baked goods in order to make them super moist. I will be posting a cupcake recipe soon which uses pumpkin, but contributes more to the texture than the flavor. In that sense, I probably could eat it every day in some form or another.
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Now that I’ve vented a little about pumpkin, I have another bone to pick with you. (I don’t think I like that phrase, but what’s done is done…what’s said is said….what’s written is written). 
Issue #2 for the day: Baked donuts. Not the item itself, but the name. 
This isn’t the first baked donut recipe I’ve made, but I’m growing more and more dissatisfied with them. Again, I realize I’m not giving much credit to how tasty these really are. But calling them donuts is so misconceiving. 
Greg says they should be called “Baked Bread Circles.” He’s right. These are essentially a quick bread or muffin in a donut shape. 
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Sure, they have the shape of a donut, but they should not be mistaken for a real, true DOUGHNUT. I’m talking light, airy, yeasty, fried dough heaven. Even cake doughnuts (vs. yeast doughnuts) are on a different level than baked donuts. 
(Notice my intentional inconsistent spelling of the word. I’m using doughnut to refer to the real thing, while donut is the wanna be.) 
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Despite everything I’ve just said, I hope I’m not contradicting myself too much when I say these baked donuts are a perfect match to your hot cup of coffee on a crisp fall morning. They are slightly sweet, perfectly soft, and have the pumpkin flavor we all get worked up about. 
Just don’t expect a bakery style doughnut by any means. If you want one of those doughnuts, come with me to Krispy Kreme. 

Baked Cinnamon Pumpkin Donuts
(Adapted from Taste and Tell)

Makes 6 donuts

Ingredients:
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of baking soda
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup cinnamon for coating

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray donut pan with nonstick spray and set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, nutmeg and cinnamon.
3. In a large bowl, combine brown sugar, pumpkin and butter. Cream together then add the egg. Mix well to combine. Add milk and vanilla extract and mix thoroughly. Add dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
4. Pour batter into a ziplock bag. Cut off one tip of the bag and squeeze into donut pan. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for a couple of minutes before removing from pan. Let cool completely. Pour 1/4 cup cinnamon into a ziplock bag. Add one donut at a time to the bad and gently shake to coat in the cinnamon.

*Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week. 

What I’m Loving Wednesday 11-20-13

1. Dear Wedding Dress Hanging So Beautifully in My Closet,

Thanksgiving is just about a week away (what?!). Remember those things called vegetables and balanced eating?

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Those days are about to be over. 

If there was any question whether or not I could still fit into you, I’m about to answer that once and for all with a loud NO. But you know what, I’m perfectly okay with that, because Thanksgiving and the rest of the holiday season is worth it.

2. Speaking of worth it, these are the bestttttt. Greg and I bought this giant container of frosted animal cookies in August. We ate them all very quickly and have since not been able to replenish our supply, because they have been sold out every time we check. It’s for the best, especially in light of #1 above.

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3. Being healthy again! Okay, I know that sounds contradictory to my first two points, but I mean healthy, as in not sick. I came down with terrible cold last week that left me extremely drowsy and unable to breathe. I am finally now getting the last of the sniffles out of me. Praise the Lord.

4. Not being good enough. My friend Robbin recently posted a link to this article titled “You’re Not Good Enough to Be Disappointed.” I actually found it encouraging. Like the author writes, we don’t have the right to be disappointed in shortcomings or failures when doing something where we are not pros. I need to view “failures” as lessons learned and stepping stones towards reaching my goals. Go read it!!

5. Greg is home! He went on a cruise with some of his friends for a bachelor party from Thursday through Tuesday (yesterday). It was the longest amount of time we have been apart in years. For some of you who travel for work or whose significant others travel, I give you a lot of credit. I couldn’t do this every week or month. Zoey and I missed him SO much. I’m happy to have my little family reunited just in time for the craziness of the holiday season.

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Photo from Thanksgiving 2012. That little nugget!!!

What are you loving this week?

Blogger Chain Mail Survey

Happy, happy almost Friday! This Friday deserves two “happys” doesn’t it? It’s been a tough week.

You know, I was thinking…Do I ask too many rhetorical questions in this here blog space o’ mine?

Whoops, there I go again with the questions.

Let’s just get right into this. Christina tagged me in this fun little survey and I’m happy to oblige to my tagged duties. Please share your answer to one or two of these questions in the comments below!

Favorite flower: Until my wedding this past May, I wouldn’t have had an answer to this. I am not very knowledgeable about plants in general. After some Pinterest searches during my wedding planning days, I discovered every bouquet I was drawn to had peonies. They quickly became my favorite flower.

Obsession.

Most/least organized space in your home: This changes daily. One day I’ll go crazy cleaning dishes and putting them all away, only to let dirty dishes pile up for the next three days straight. One day I’ll go wild doing four loads of laundry, but let the clean piles of clothes sit on my bedroom floor for a week.

My mother would not be proud.

What book have you read recently that really moved you: The Walk by Richard Paul Evans, along with the next two books in the series – Miles to Go and The Road to Grace. There is even a forth (and maybe fifth???) book in the series, but I haven’t been able to keep up recently.

The books are about a once very successful guy whose wife dies and shortly after loses his entire business. He feels compelled to walk from Seattle to Miami. His thoughts and conversations with others along the way are so moving. I don’t read a lot, but these books sucked me in and had me emotionally connected to the characters. He contemplates his purpose in life and has some serious thought-provoking conversations with others addressing faith and God.





What dish are you most looking forward to at Thanksgiving dinner: Stuffing! Sweet potatoes! Corn pudding!

PUMPKIN PIE! APPLE PIE! COCONUT CAKE! MORE PUMPKIN PIE!!!!!!!!!!!!

How is Thanksgiving in less than two weeks? I’m not complaining, but…HOW?!?

How do you take your coffee: This varies a bit, but my perfect cup of coffee has a dash of cream and one or two packets of Splenda, depending on how big this said cup of coffee is.


What do you miss most about high school: Ohhhhh the memories. I actually really enjoyed high school. I have a lot of fond memories, but mostly I miss my friends, going to my brother’s basketball games, dressing up in ridiculous outfits for swim meets, living with my family and summer break. Oh, and eating whatever the heck I wanted.


Most memorable concert: I am honestly not really into concerts most of the time, just not my cup of tea. But Greg got me tickets to Rascal Flatts for my birthday this past year. The concert was on Valentine’s Day and we really enjoyed it. Yes, WE, Greg included. Spice Girls, NSync and Nick Lachey (during his short-lived solo career) were pretty awesome too.


How do you unwind before bed: Nothing exciting here. I usually have some dark chocolate or fro yo while I watch TV to end my day on a high note. On a weeknight, I’ll head up to bed around 10pm, spend a few minutes looking at Instagram then nighty night I go!


Dots or stripes: Stripes! But only with loose, flowy tops, otherwise they make feel wiiiiide. I didn’t realize it was happening at the time, but somehow over the past several months I have bought lots and lots of stripes. I have tried to make a conscious effort to look for different patterns these days to switch it up, but most of my favorite tops in my closest right now are striped ones.


Favorite U.S. and international cities: Favorites here in the States are Charleston and Paia (a small town on Maui).


I haven’t been out of the country much, so I don’t have many options when it comes to my favorite international city. Therefore, even though it’s not a city, St. Kitts has been the most amazing country I’ve been to. No matter where else I have the privilege of going (hopefully Italy!), St. Kitts will always have a special place in my heart, because that’s where Greg and I got engaged.


Now, I’m tagging Diane, Emily, Nadine, and Julie!

No-Bake Protein Date Bars

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Sniff, sniff.
No, I’m not crying. I’m getting sick! Scratch that, I AM sick. Ugh. After waking up with a swollen and sore throat, I have gradually been getting worse all day. You never appreciate how wonderful normal breathing is until you find yourself sniffing every other second, trying to keep snot from running out of your nose. TMI? Sorry. I speak da truth!
It’s like that song, “Let Her Go” by Passenger, you know it right?
“Only know you’ve been high when you’re feeling low
Only hate the road when you’re missin’ home
Only know you lover her when you let her go…”
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Now that I’ve got you singing and thinking about runny noses, let’s just be thankful we can’t spread illness through the interwebs! So stick around for a few minutes longer, won’t you?
These bars. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh these bars. If I could summarize in one word: Addicting. 
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These bars were the first thing I have ever made with dates and I couldn’t have been more satisfied. They are the epitome of salty and sweet. The sweet, chewy date filling sits between a salty and crunchy almond oat crust. It’s a true party in your mouth, I promise you that. So. Much. TEXTURE!
This is one of those treats where you start with “just a bite,” then move on to “okay, maybe just half of the bar,” to “well, I might as well finish it now.”
…and maybe just one more. 
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Side note – Do you know how difficult it is to search for recipes using dates online? No, Google. I do not want recipes for my date. I want to make something with this box of dates. See the difference? It’s easy to search “pumpkin recipes” or “side dish recipes,” but when you search “date recipes” all that comes up are ideas for food to make for a date night. 

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Stay warm and healthy my friends. And eat date bars. Lots of date bars.

No-Bake Protein Date Bars
(Adapted from Oh She Glows)

Makes ~10 bars

Ingredients:
1 cup oats
1/2 cup whole almonds
1/4 cup vanilla protein powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
~20 dates, pitted and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/3 cup shredded coconut
1/3 cup water

Directions:
1. In a food processor, add oats, almonds, protein powder and salt. Pulse on high until a crumbly mixture forms. Add five of the dates and process again until crumbly.
2. Melt the coconut oil in the microwave and pour into food processor. Blend with the other ingredients until entire mixture is just barely moist. Add about 3/4 of this mixture to a medium loaf pan. Press down with spatula or your fingers. Set the rest of the mixture aside.
3. Add the remaining 15 chopped dates to your food processor with the shredded coconut and water. Blend until a paste forms, scraping down the sides as needed. Spread this mixture on top of the crust in the loaf pan. Top with the crust you had reserved earlier. Gently press down on top. Place in refrigerator to chill for at least one hour. Cut into bars and enjoy!

*Store in refrigerator for up to one week

Fall Bucket List Update

Now that we’re a good halfway into fall (totally just a guess, but that seems right, doesn’t it?) I wanted to highlight what I can cross off my Fall Bucket List.

#1. Go to the pumpkin patch, then buy and carve pumpkins. >>> This one is a little complicated. We went to the pumpkin patch, yes. 
…for all of about two minutes. After quickly realizing how much they were selling them for – $10-20 for a pretty average size pumpkin (!!!) – we said no thanks. Granted, it was a church fundraiser, but I still couldn’t justify that purchase. We took a few obligatory pictures to prove we were there and left. 
I ended up buying pumpkins at Publix, something I had originally laughed at the idea of, but humbled myself and was happy with them in the end. However, we never did get around to carving them. They are still sitting whole on our front porch. But you know what, I like them that way. 
#3. Bake an apple pie. >>> Greg can attest to this one. I baked the most delicious apple pie with an oatmeal crumble. Mmm, mmm. I might be doing that one again. 
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#6. Make (and eat) a lot of soup. >>> I have made white cheddar cauliflower soup and I have eaten more butternut squash soup than ever before. I also have several cans and cartons of soup in the kitchen cabinet waiting to be heated up for a quick lunch or dinner some day very soon. More to come!

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Okay, so I have crossed off three of the ten on the list. I’m looking forward to crossing off a couple more this week.
I LOVE FALL!

Skillet Black Bean & Veggie Nachos

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Hola! 
A fall Saturday is the perfect day to bring you a skillet full of cheesy nachos. Curl up on the couch with a blanket and watch a Lifetime drama while you crunch away. Or, if you feel like being a little more generous and social today, share the love with your friends and family when you gather to watch football all day. But if your team starts losing and you need to eat away your sadness, this is first and foremost for you.
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I don’t know why I’m talking about teams losing. My teams are on a roll! Ohio State, for example. 8-0 baby! No sadness here. 
Except now I just jinxed us. Uh-oh. Sorry, Ohioans. IF WE LOSE TODAY IT’S NOT MY FAULT. I should probably stop talking now. 
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But I won’t stop quite yet, because I need to tell you oneeee more thing. These nachos are totally healthy. Seriously! Okay, so maybe they’re not the healthiest thing in the world. And it’s probably not good to eat the whole skillet full yourself. But they make for a very well-rounded meal with quite the punch of nutrition. Pile on the guilt-free heaps of vegetables and beans (and maybe some extra cheese if you must indulge) and go for it.

Happy Saturday!

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Skillet Black Bean & Veggie Nachos
Serves 2-3
Ingredients:
4 large handfuls of corn tortilla chips (about 20-25 chips)
1 cup shredded cheese of choice (I used Mexican blend)
1/2 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 bell pepper of choice, sliced
1/2 cup canned or frozen corn (steam for about 2 minutes first if frozen)
10-12 grape tomatoes, quartered 
1 small zucchini, sliced
1/2 medium yellow onion, sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon red chili powder
Sprinkle of pepper
2-4 tablespoons vegetable broth if needed
1/3 cup salsa for topping

Directions:
1. Spray a large skillet with non-stick spray and place on stove over medium heat. Once heated, add pepper, corn, tomatoes, zucchini and onion. Cook for about 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add seasonings and vegetable broth if the vegetables have dried out. Continue to cook about one more minute then remove from heat.
2. Layer half of the chips on the bottom of a cast iron skillet. Top with half of the vegetable mixture, half of the beans, and half of the cheese. Add another layer of chips, followed by the remaining veggies, black beans, and cheese.
3. Broil on low for 2-4 minutes. Cheese will be bubbly! Remove from heat. Cut into wedges, top with salsa and serve. Or, just dig right in straight from the skillet.