Monthly Archives: October 2013

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

With fall here, as we all know, Starbucks is making a killing – again.  Their current seasonal ad is “A Decade of Pumpkin Devotion”, celebrating of course the 10th anniversary of the Pumpkin Spice Latte.  Of course, in addition to the siren call of that beverage, there are also the array of delicious seasonal drinks and baked goods, the pumpkin cream cheese muffin, the pumpkin scone, and the pumpkin loaf.  I’m not big on loaf style baked items, but the other two are delicious tastes of fall goodness.  The downside, though, is the hefty price in both money and calories.

Luckily, my girl Hungry Girl came to the rescue!  I made a batch of these delicious pumpkin cream cheese muffins, and they are pumpkin perfection!  Moist, flavourful, just the right amount of spicy, and the cream cheese is sweet, decadent, and heavenly.  They also pack a punch with 3 grams of fibre and 5 grams of protein per muffin.  Best of all, these only clock in at 120 calories, less than half of the coffee shop version, not to mention the money savings!  And I love baking, so these babies are definitely going in my repertoire.  Whip out your mixing bowls and wooden spoons, folks!

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins (original recipe here)  

Ingredients

  • Filling
  • 4 oz (113g) light cream cheese
  • 2 ½ tbsp Splenda
  • 1 tbsp liquid egg substitute
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract
  • Muffins
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ⅛ tsp salt
  • 15 oz (425g) canned pure pumpkin
  • ½ cup liquid egg substitute
  • ⅓ cup Splenda
  • ⅓ cup brown sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with baking cups.
  2. For filling, mix cream cheese with Splenda in a bowl.  Add egg substitute and vanilla, mix well.
  3. For muffins, in a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, and salt.
  4. In a medium bowl, mix remaining muffin ingredients (pumpkin, egg substitute, Splenda, brown sugar).  Whisk until uniform, and then add to flour mixture.  Stir until smooth.
  5. Evenly distribute half the batter between the 12 muffin cups.  Smooth tops, and then use a spoon to make a small well in each muffin.
  6. Evenly distribute the filling among the 12 muffins, there will be about 2 tsp filling for each muffin.
  7. Top with the remaining half of the muffin batter, and smooth out tops.
  8. Bake for 16-18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Yum!!!  Anyone else doing seasonal baking, coffee shop hacks?  Share your pumpkin recipes here!

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The Grapes of Good Times

Any oenophiles up in the house?  That’s basically just a fancy word for wine lovers, but I think it’s a funny word so I wanted to use it.  Wine is one of the simplest, least fussy types of alcohol out there, and also lends an air of elegance, which may also be due to the fact that wine is never chugged 🙂

I like wine, and it’s been a part of my heritage and history for as long as I can remember.  Growing up in Europe, a glass of wine with dinner is a staple, not just for special occasions.  My father likes to make wine as a hobby, carefully and lovingly monitoring the juices as they ferment in the basement of their home, ensuring alcohol levels and sugar levels, until it’s just they way he and my mother like it.  Then there is wine country right here, found in the Niagara region, with plentiful vineyards opportunities for tours and tastings, as well as the exquisite icewine, which is basically liquid candy for grownups.

So for me, wine was always a nice drink to be enjoyed with friends, loved ones, and to relax at the end of the day.  When I was still living with my parents, they drank almost exclusively my father’s house wine. It was much cheaper than store bought, and had far fewer chemicals and preservatives added to it.  As a result, I was spoiled, and found it a bit hit-and-miss at first with store bought wines, since with many I could taste the chemicals – ick.  Well, wouldn’t you know it, an online coupon came to my rescue.

I subscribe to a lot of these Groupon-esque sites, so I get deals sent to me all the time, and one was for winemaking.  Nick and I decided to take the plunge, and we loved it!  These places are a decidedly less hands-on approach than what I saw my father do, since the wine ferments at the winemaking place.  You simply pick out your varietal, come in to drop in the yeast, and then you just come in at the very end for bottling, corking, and labelling.  I really like that part, since Nick and I get to work together to make something that we can enjoy long after, it’s a nice bonding experience.

Plus, since you’re a part of the manufacturing process, you get steep discounts – usually on an online coupon, it comes out to about $3 a bottle of wine, and about $5 or $6 a bottle at regular price.  Once it’s done, you have a nice sophisticated-looking batch of wine bottles, with pretty labels and decorative shrinks on the cork, which makes for a lovely and charming hostess gift and conversation starter.

We love deep, aromatic, but not overly dry reds with a hint of tannins, so one of our go-tos is Barolo, especially since it can be tough to find at the LCBO.  There’s a pic of our last batch of Barolo at the top of this post.  In warmer weather, or for a lighter drink, we like rose (blush), since we’re not too big on whites.  A nice rose is light, sweet, and maybe a tiny bit citrusy – and of course pink!  Here we are with the batch of blush we made this summer, a nice White Zinfandel.  We’ve also just finished our latest batch, our darling Barolo for the colder weather.

Have you ever made your own wine, or something like it?  Let me know of your experiences!

Slow Cooker Pumpkin Oatmeal

Well, here we are, deep into autumn.  To me, September rarely feels like the seasons have changed, since it’s usually still quite warm, and the trees are still green and lush.  But come October, gold and red tinged leaves overtake the landscape, and grey skies start to become more commonplace as the weather cools down, and the leather jackets and scarves begin to emerge again.  I decided to take inspiration from the change of seasons, and explore more fall flavours in our menu here at Casa Raats.  Needless to say, this definitely included pumpkin.  After all, this is what happens once September hits:

I’ll be bringing you more fall goodies as time goes, but today’s recipe is for Overnight Slow Cooker Pumpkin Oatmeal.  This is a great breakfast to prepare ahead of time, and is pretty easy to throw together.  In addition, it is a great and healthy start to the day.  It’s filling, high in fibre, low in calories, and perfect for when you want a nice warm bowl when it’s cold outside.  The original recipe is found here.  Let’s get cooking!

Overnight Slow Cooker Pumpkin Oatmeal

Ingredients

  • 1 cup steel cut oats
  • 3-1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Combine all ingredients, cook in slow cooker on Low for 8 hours.  Enjoy!

I left out all sweeteners from the recipe, since I preferred to sweeten it to taste at the time of eating.  I found a drizzle of honey, or a spoon of Splenda sprinkled on top and mixed in provided the perfect touch of sweetness.

Have you guys been making pumpkin goodies at home?  Any other hearty fall breakfasts?

(Game of Thrones meme from MakeAMeme.org at http://makeameme.org/meme/Brace-yourselves-Pumpkin

Regressing to the Cord

Alright kids, jump into your DeLoreans, we are going back in time!

Okay, not really.  We did, however, get an old-school technological addition (I can’t quite bring myself to call it an upgrade) to our little home.  See, my dear husband has a thing with phones.  He works in inside sales, which means he’s on the phone pretty much all day.  He also has a love/hate relationship with cell phones (yay for convenience, except when trying to fish it out of his pockets while it’s ringing), and smartphones (yes, apps are cool, but can we get one that works well for, you know, making phone calls?)  not to mention the ever-annoying phone battery dying.  Not cool, smartphone, not cool at all.

Sooo, he finally talked me into getting a home phone.  Oh yes siree, we’ve got ourselves a land line!  Why?  Because it’s easier to make calls with, and it never dies or pocket dials.  These were all valid points.  He also pulled out the “but if we have a home phone, we can be a real family” while giving me the adorable puppy eyes.  To which I replied that getting a cat would be more likely to add a family feel.  But he eventually convinced me, with logic (as always).  And the phone itself?  This guy!

I don’t mind it because the black phone at least looks good in our place.  The grey-green on the box pretty much reminded me of Office Space and Pentium 1 computers.  But clearly we are not even of the cordless phone variety.  Nope, we’ve decided to regress all the way to the 90s with our nice touch-tone, corded phone.  We’re not hipster-cool enough to go back to a rotary phone.  As a sidenote, the 90s were a pretty awesome time, and I do remember being maybe 4 years old when my parents got our first touch-tone phone (we had a rotary before), and I thought “this is the future!”

And technically, it is a VOIP phone, so it hooks up to our internet in some fancypants way that I don’t quite understand.  I just had to let you guys know because to me, this is hilarious.  Most people are getting rid of their home phones/landlines since they only use their cellphones.  So “of course” the yuppie couple would buck the trend and regress to expressly get a home phone.  We’ve got a voicemail greeting and everything.

Though I guess this isn’t really too surprising.  We were super late adopters onto the smartphone bizness since it was imperative that our smartphones actually worked well as, uhh, phones first and foremost, and also we didn’t want to pay more for a phone than a computer.  And we still don’t have any sort of tablets or e-readers in the house.  Call us old-fashioned.

What about you guys?  Techno-masters who have all the gadgets, or do you guys also wait around to join in?  Anyone getting a landline set up (holla!)?  Let us know 🙂

Artistry Mascaras – Product Review

Ahh, mascara.  Such a staple in our makeup bags, and at the same time, ladies, such a hassle if it falls short.  Is there any makeup product that we are as demanding of as mascara?  I’d guess not.  After all, we want it to fill in, lengthen, define, thicken, and volumize lashes.  We want it to make our eyes pop with drama, but still look fairly natural (usually).  We want it to be sweatproof, waterproof, non-streaky, basically permanent, except when we take off our makeup.  Then we want it to wash away as easily as soft powder, and without leaving dark streaks.  And if by (likely) chance we fall asleep with our mascara on, we want it to look good the second day, not give us serious raccoon eyes.

That’s a tall order, and though I’d usually find a decent mascara with a few of those requirements, the perfect one eluded me for quite a while – at least for what I’m willing to spend, since there’s no way I’m shelling out hefty sums of cash for a tiny tube of black war paint with a pipecleaner.  Plus, I already have long, dark, thick, lashes, so I needed something really good to even show up on me.  So imagine my surprise, and elation, when I found not only one, but TWO mascaras that perform super well!  Now, neither of these claim to be waterproof because they do wash off with water, but they don’t streak, instead when they come off, it’s in easy to wipe flakes, so your look is not ruined, nor do you need to scrub for an eternity at night.  Don’t know about you, but that’s even better than waterproof for me!

The first is Artistry’s Length & Definition Mascara.  I first tried this in a Limited Edition that was a Granite colour – so dark grey with a flecks of shimmer, and I loved it!  Now, I use the classic black colour and it’s perfect.  I definitely noticed my lashes looked longer, and more nicely separated.  Also, it stays put all day until I wash it off, and that is done just with my simple cleanser – yay!  I always hate the way you sometimes get an oily residue after makeup remover, so I love just using my cleanser.

Check out this super close-up of my eye before, and after Length & Definition Mascara:

The second one I want to talk about is Artistry Signature Eyes Volume Mascara.  This became an instant favourite and staple for me.  It adds the perfect amount of thickness and drama, giving an almost-falsies effect.  Gorgeous!  And again, stays put all day, and washes off easily with cleanser.

Check out the no-mascara versus Signature Eyes Volume Mascara:

These two products have pretty much become common favourites with a lot of my friends.  I love them both on their own.  And for a special event or really luxe look, they can be layered too – lengthen & define first, then add the volume one on top.  The Length & Definition Mascara can be found here, and the Volume Mascara is available here.  Both are a sizable tube, and only $26.50 before tax, so they’re not the cheapest thing out there, but they beat out all the “luxury” $50+ options.

Have you tried these fantastic make-up products?  Let me know what you think, or if you have other go-tos.

Perfectly Folded

Today, I’ve got some organizing ideas for you guys!  Okay, one organizing idea.  But it’s a really good one – folding sideways.

Basically I saw this tip on Lifehacker.  The main idea is that you fold your clothes, and then place them in your dresser drawers sideways, as in on their edge.  The idea is that you can then see everything, and it should keep your dressers less messy.

So, I decided to give it a shot, because while my dressers tend to stay pretty tidy, they still get a bit messed up over time.  And as for Nick’s dresser?  Yeah, we just won’t even go there.

I’ll admit, I was skeptical.  I couldn’t really wrap my head around the physics, and feared that the clothes would sort of collapse in on themselves.  I usually fold our clothes into thirds vertically (so there isn’t a big crinkle in the front) and then in half.  Instead, I folded into vertical thirds, but then played around with the horizontal fold – some items just needed 2 horizontal folds, some needed three.  Sweaters and bulky items I tended to roll.

Now, ladies and gents, I present to you – our drawers.  Check these out.

You can see the pictures on the top, which are Nick’s dresser drawers.  On the bottom, we have mine.  I omitted pictures of the drawers that contain, well…. our drawers.  But anyways.  Aren’t these all so pretty?  And so nice and neat?  Believe me, I feel so put together and organized when I open these, they’re such a breeze!  And they stay like that!  I pretty much feel like we’re living in showroom home, and I love it!

What about you guys?  Any fun organizing ideas?

Mamaliga – Taste of Romania

As some of you may know, I was actually born across the ocean in Romania, and in Bucharest to be specific.  It’s a beautiful city, nestled in a breathtaking and enchanting country, and even though I left for Canada at a young age, I still have many vivid memories of Romania, and it’s definitely a part of my identity.  The city was beautiful, and within about 2 hours of driving we could either be on the beaches of the Black Sea or in the gorgeous Carpathian Mountains, I love that.  So, in little ways I like to keep that part alive and kicking, and feel more connected to my heritage.  One of these ways is the classic, simple meal of mamaliga. It’s basically soft polenta, and pretty much every Romanian goes gaga over it, especially if they’ve left the country.

Now there are many ways to enjoy mamaliga.  Some people cook it up into a firm loaf, which you can slice and basically use as cornbread, but I’ve always liked it soft.  That way you can layer it nicely with cheese, meats, even top it with a fried egg!  Or the simplest route of all, the way I had it most often growing up, plain, served with butter, grated feta, and sour cream on the side for mixing in.

Alright, enough chit-chat – let’s get cooking!

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups yellow cornmeal
  • 7 cups water (more for softer mamaliga, less for firmer)
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste

Directions:

  1. Using a saucepan, dissolve salt in water, and bring to a boil on stovetop.
  2. Pour in cornmeal slowly, while stirring/whisking quickly at the same time – this is really important to avoid lumps.
  3. Keep stirring, and once you notice the cornmeal sort of “lifting” itself off the sides of the pot, you are done.  It should have the consistency of porridge.
  4. Remove from heat, and serve using method of choice.
  5. (My serving method of choice) Pour half smoothly into a casserole or serving dish, top with grated feta cheese and crumbled bacon.  Pour the other half smoothly on, and top with grated feta cheese and more crumbled bacon.  Place in oven at around 300 for 5-7 minutes, until cheese starts to melt.  Let cool for several minutes, serve.

I love doing the layered version using meat and grated feta cheese, and it is fantastic for a big breakfast/brunch.  Usually, I’d fry up some sausage, or use crumbled bacon for a Canadian twist.  Yum!  For cute individual servings, I do the layering in a bowl.  And to really make it amazing, I like to top it with a fried egg, just for some extra joy and gooey deliciousness.

Check out a picture below *drool*.

Share your classic breakfast recipes with me, or like me, do you have a more unusual favourite breakfast?