Recipe of the Week: Harvest Banana-pumpkin Cupcakes with Honey-cream Cheese Frosting

If you're looking for a fun activity to do with your family for Halloween or Thanksgiving, try these healthy-yummy cupcakes and decorate them together. Serve them up for a boo-tiful addition to your harvest party. This recipe also makes great mini loaves that you can wrap in foil and tie with a ribbon for a holiday Housewarming gift or serve at your Thanksgiving brunch.

Halloween Banana-Pumpkin Cupcakes
with Honey-Cream Cheese Frosting

3 cups flour (I use 1 cup unbleached white and 2 cups whole wheat or spelt)
4 teaspoons baking powder
4 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon flaxseed (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 15-oz. can pumpkin (100% pure)*
4 large eggs
1 cup honey or 1 1/4 cup organic brown sugar
2 medium mashed bananas
3/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 bag chocolate chips (optional)
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

1 8-oz package cream cheese
1/4 cup honey (or until consistency you like)

1/2 bag chocolate chips
chocolate-covered sunflower seeds (They sell them at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's and they're a great alternative to M&Ms with no harmful dyes!)
mint leaves for the green pumpkin stem

Makes 24 muffins + 3 mini loaves or 2 large loaves (cook 1 hour).

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 muffin tins or use paper cups.
2. Mix eggs, butter, honey/sugar, pumpkin and banana.
3. Mix in dry ingredients.
4. Add chocolate chips & nuts. Do not overmix.
5. Pour into loaf pans and bake 25-30 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.
6. Cool completely on rack. Meanwhile, add softened cream cheese to mixer. Blend until smooth. Add a bit of honey to the consistency you want for your frosting - not too runny.
7. Frost with cream cheese frosting. Garnish with chocolate-covered sunflower seeds or remaining chocolate chips used to make jack-o-lantern faces. Mint leaves make fun all-natural pumpkin stems. (We skip the frosting for the mini loaves so they keep longer.)

*If you'd like to use real pumpkin, check out this technique.

Recipe of the Week: Squash & Corn Chowder

I was perusing some of my old Bon Appetit magazines the other day and I came across this recipe. I like to save my mags according to the seasons and return to them for ideas when new produce comes into our local farmer's market. This chowder recipe showcases butternut squash and corn so I thought I'd try it with a few of my own twists.

Adapted from Bon Appetit, October 2003 issue

Fall Squash & Corn Chowder

10 slices turkey bacon, chopped
2 tablespoons organic butter
3 medium onions, chopped (I used 2 yelllow & 1 red)
2 chopped bell peppers (red, yellow or green work)
1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
9 cups chicken broth
4 cups 1/2-inch cubed, peeled, seeded butternut squash (You can use a whole squash measuring about 1 3/4 pounds or get the prepeeled, seeded & cubed packages of squash in the refrigerator section of Trader Joe's)
4 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/2 tablespoons oregano (original recipe calls for thyme)
2 16-oz. bags frozen corn or 4 cups fresh corn kernels
1 cup whipping cream or plain yogurt
2 chicken breasts, boiled/heated in crockpot & cubed (or you can save time and buy a rotiserrie chicken & shred)
1 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1. Cook bacon pieces in large pot until crisp. (If using regular bacon, pour out some of drippings.) Set aside.
2. Add butter to pot and melt.
3. Add onions and 1 of chopped bell peppers. Saute until onions and peppers are soft.
4. Add flour; stir 2 minutes.
5. Mix in broth, squash potatoes and oregano; bring to a boil.
6. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer uncovered until veggies are tender (approx. 12 minutes).
7. Add corn, cream/plain yogurt, remaining bell peppers and simmer additional 10 minutes.
8. Add chicken, turkey bacon, green onions, 1/2 cup cilantro; Simmer 5 minutes.
9. Add salt & pepper.
10. Ladle chowder into bowls and garnish with extra green onions.

Serves 10-12

Side suggestions: Honey Cornbread Muffins

Here's another Fall squash recipe with that comfort food feel...
My friend Allison served this one at a recent dinner and it was a hit. Here's a great way to get your family to eat a hearty vegetarian meal. None of us missed the meat and you can substitute in whatever vegetables you have on hand.


October Menus

Balsamic-marinated tomato salad with basil
Flat bread pizzas with turkey pepperoni, green peppers & black olives

Eggplant Parmesan
Tomato Meat Sauce

Organic tortilla chips & salsa
Taco Salad with ground turkey, cheddar, cilantro

Sesame Chicken Wings
Brown Rice
Sauteed Bok Choy

Lemon-herb Salmon
Baked Maple Acorn Squash

fri - Happy Halloween!
Green salad with green apples, pecans & goat cheese
Pumpkin Penne Pasta
Chicken sausage

Luscious Leftovers

This week's fall menus include some of the new harvest vegetables from our local farmer's market, including eggplant, pomegranates, fuyu persimmons and a fat butternut squash I found. I love the color of fall vegetables and fruits mixed with the rich food aromas produced by braised lamb and curry dishes.

Chicken & Corn Chowder
Honey Corn Bread Muffins
Green Salad

Maple-Pecan Halibut
Mushroom Risotto
Green salad with fresh wax beans & cherry tomatoes

Pomegranate-Spiced Lamb
Israeli Couscous
Butternut Squash

Baby greens salad with fuyu persimmons & goat cheese
White Bean and Chicken Chili
Crusty Whole Wheat Bread

Eggplant Curry with Cilantro Yogurt
Basmati Rice
Multigrain Naan

Lombardi's Italian restaurant
in Paso Robles
on the road to the Central Coast

Brad's Seafood restaurant
Pismo Beach

One of my fave parts of fall are all the comfort foods like soups, chilis and baked entrees. This week we're bringing out a french fave - chicken cordon bleu, and an Italian standby - stuffed manicotti. Add Asian pears or apples to your salads or desserts now that they are appearing at the farmer's markets. Savor those crisp fall flavors!

Chicken Sausage Jambalaya
Brown Rice

Baby greens salad with Walnuts, Asian pears & Goat Cheese
Chicken Cordon Bleu
Sweet potato spoon bread

Salad with Cherry tomatoes, black olives & parmesan cheese
Spinach-stuffed manicotti
Whole wheat Italian bread

(Small Group)
Honey-Apple-Date Galette

Wheat Berry Salad
Vegetarian pizza with Zucchini, Red & Yellow Peppers, Feta

Pecan-crusted Chicken Dinner Salad
Maple Roasted Acorn Squash
Sliced Fruit

Luscious Leftovers

We're on the border of late summer sun and cooler fall temperatures. We still see an abundance of fresh produce at our farmer's market - plenty of plums, pluots, tomatoes, etc. - but some new "fall finds" are appearing as well like bok choy, apples and persimmons. This week our family has several outings where food is prepared for us. That means making smart choices. It's all about moderation when you're eating on the road. And the real dilemma...how to eat healthy and still have fun at the Fresno Fair...we'll skip the deep-fried twinkies.

(Ocktoberfest Picnic)

Chicken Fajitas on Whole Wheat Tortillas
Organic tortilla chips with Salsa
Rice & Beans

Caesar salad
Gnocchi with Tomato Meat Sauce
Crusty whole wheat bread

Green Salad with Cherry tomatoes & cucumbers
Chicken Cordon Bleu
Sweet potato spoon bread

Lemon-Herb Tilapia
Sauteed summer squash

(Big Fresno Fair)
Chicken Kebob
Cinnamon Roll

(Cooking Club: Whole grains & Beans Bonanza)
Sundried tomato & white bean crostini
Wheat berry salad
Crispy white beans with Spinach
Crockpot tri-tip
Dairyless Chocolate Mouse
Dorina's Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies


Recipe of the Week: Moist & Dark Zucchini Muffins

I grew up on Zucchini Bread. Zucchini was in abundance even in our small city garden in Chicago throughout the summer and fall. It's one of those yummy dessert-meets-breakfast or really anytime-of-the-day snacks. Over the last year, I've been experimenting with different kinds of natural sweeteners in an effort to avoid the overprocessed white sugar so often used in baking. I took my mom's classic Moist & Dark Zucchini Bread and put a healthy spin on it. Make it as a quick bread, 4 mini loaves (which make nice housewarming gifts) or 24 regular-sized muffins.

Moist & Dark Zucchini Muffins (or Bread)

3 eggs
1/2 plain yogurt
1/2 cup organic butter, softened
1 cup rapadura or coconut palm sugar (a natural sweetener like sugar that's unrefined & unbleached - Find it at Whole Foods or other stores or substitute in an additional 3/4 honey)
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups white whole wheat flour (King Arthur's or other brand)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 cups zucchini, grated

Garnishes: Chopped nuts, Chocolate chips, Dried cranberries, Chocolate-covered sunflower seeds (found at Trader Joe's), 1 cup ready-made granola, unsweetened coconut.

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Beat eggs.

2. Stir in yogurt, softened butter, rapadura, honey, and vanilla.

3. Blend in dry ingredients and spices.

4. Fold in zucchini.

5. Spoon in greased muffin tins (or use paper cups) or other loaf pans.

6. Sprinkle with garnish of choice.

7. Bake muffins approximately 25-30 minutes, mini loaves for approximately 35-45 minutes, full loaf (9x15) for 55 minutes -1 hour or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.


Recipe of the Week: Fall Butternut Squash Soup

Looking for something that showcases all those great fall flavors. Try this recipe for a vegetarian main dish or healthy side. It's our tradition for starting out our Thanksgiving meal. You could use it for a Pumpkin or Harvest party or your next Fall Soiree. Enjoy!


1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil or organic butter
2 medium butternut squash, peeled & cubed (or Trader Joe's does it for you if you don't have time - check out the fresh stuff in the refrigerated section!)
2 tart granny smith apples, grated
1 cup celery, chopped
3/4 cup white wine (sherry or chardonnay)
2 large boxes (organic) chicken broth (about 50 oz.)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon parsley, for garnish
1/4 cup cream, for garnish

1. Add olive oil or melt butter in large pot. Add butternut squash. Saute in pot for 15-20 min. until soft.
2. Meanwhile, prepare other vegetables and apples. Add to pot and allow to sweat until soft.
3. Add wine, broth and spices to pot. Bring to boil and cook 5 min. Lower heat and cook for additional 45 min.
4. Puree soup using immersion blender or food processor.
5. Serve with cornbread muffins, crescent rolls or other hearty bread.

*For fancy garnish, drip small amount of heavy cream on top of each bowl of soup. Use toothpick to drag cream around in curly designs. Top with fresh parsley.


Cooking Club: Whole Grains & Beans Bonanza

This month's Cooking Club ladies had fun trying out some new experimental "super natural" foods. In other words, we looked for yummy-looking recipes that included whole grains and beans of all varieties. Paula through a tri-tip in her crock pot and the main entree was taken care of while the rest of us worked on the sides and salad.


-White Bean-Sun dried Tomato Crostini
-Edamame Hummus and Pita Chips
-Wheat Berry Salad
-Crusty and Creamy White Beans with Greens
-Crock pot Tri-tip
-Chocolate Dairyless Mousse

Here are some of our faves from the Cooking Club experiment...

White Bean-Sun dried Tomato Crostini
Adapted from Holiday Theme Parties cookbook


1 15-oz. can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

3 tablespoons finely chopped sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 teaspoon oregano

18-20 slices whole wheat French baguette

Chopped fresh parsley

1. Combine beans, vinegar, oil and garlic in blender or food processor. Process until smooth and transfer to a small bowl.

2. Stir in tomatoes, salt, oregano, and pepper.

3. Cover bean spread and chill at least 1 hour to let flavors blend.

4. Toast French bread under broiler.

5. Spread bean spread on each slice of toast.

6. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley.

Makes 18-20 appetizers.

Wheat Berry Salad
from Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson

2 cups soft wheat berries, rinsed
6 cups water
2 teaspoons fine-grain sea salt, plus more as needed

Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 generous handfuls spinach, stemmed and well rinsed
1 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Salt & freshly-ground pepper

1. Combine the wheat berries, water, and 2 teaspoons salt in large saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, covered, until plump and chewy, about an hour or so. (The berries should stay at al dente, and the only way to be sure they're done is to taste a few.) Drain and season to taste with more salt.

2. Meanwhile, toast the pine nuts by placing them in a single layer over medium heat. Toss them around every few minutes until fragrant and toasty. Don't walk away or you will burn the batch.

3. Dressing: Combine the orange zest, juice, lemon juice, and shallot. Whisk the olive oil and season with a few pinches of salt and a few grinds of pepper.

4. Toss the hot wheat berries with the spinach and pine nuts, citrus dressing, then top with the feta. Taste for seasoning and sprinkle with a bit more salt if needed.

Serves 6.

Dairyless Chocolate Mousse
Adapted from Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson

1/2 cup chocolate soy milk
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
12 oz. silken soft tofu
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract, optional
Fine-grain sea salt

1. Pour the milk into a small saucepan and slowly bring to a simmer.
2. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
3. Slowly melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally, in a double boiler (or in a glass bowl over a small pot of boiling water).
4. Add the warm soy milk and silken tofu to the chocolate.
5. Puree with a hand blender or transfer to a food processor and process until silky smooth.
6. Stir in almond extract (if desired) and a generous pinch of sea salt.
7. Taste and adjust the flavoring as desired.
8. Chill in a large serving bowl or individual bowls for at least 1 1/2 hours.

Makes 6 servings.

Recipe of the Week: Pumpkin Pancakes

When the crisp temperatures of fall and the colored leaves appear, so do pumpkins and other kinds of squash. In addition to putting them in all different recipes, we love to use them for decoration and craft projects at our house. Pumpkin also happens to be one of those awesome power foods. Pumpkin is high in fiber and iron. It's a beta-carotene king which protects against cancer of the esophagus, lungs, stomach.


1/4 cup butter, melted
2 eggs
2 cups raw milk or buttermilk (even plain yogurt will work)
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup spelt flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups pumpkin pureed/ 1 15-oz. can pumpkin (organic)

maple syrup
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

1. Melt butter in the skillet you plan to use for your pancakes. Set aside to cool.
2. Meanwhile, beat eggs and milk.
3. Add flours (feel free to mix different flours as you desire), baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. *Note: If you are using whole wheat flour or spelt, you may want to add more liquid to the batter. Different flours thicken up this batter differently.
4. Blend well. Add pumpkin puree.
5. Pour or spoon batter onto griddle/skillet. Flip when little bubble form on top of pancakes (2-3 minutes).

6. Transfer to a plate and serve with maple syrup and chopped nuts sprinkled on top.

**I love experimenting with squash. Here are some other recipes I've created that use different types of squash. Do you have a favorite fall squash recipe? Please share about it in the comments section!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
Banana-pumpkin Mini Loaves or Cake
Thanksgiving Butternut Squash Soup
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