Pumpkin Pecan Muffins

First of all, it’s been a little slow on The Fresh Formula because…I am now a mother of two! Oliver Ryan was born on Sunday at 36 weeks. Although he is healthy and happy and we are home from the hospital now, I wasn’t totally ready for an early arrival, and thus, unable to get to blogging for the past week. More to come on the newest love of my life…

Secondly, despite appearances, these muffins aren’t burnt. Their chocolatey color comes from the incorporation of dark molasses as a sweetener. After recently making a pumpkin spice cake that included molasses, I decided to try it out with my super food muffins. The rich flavor of molasses pairs nicely with pumpkin and its typical spice blend.

Since we’re on the subject, molasses is a super food, too. Despite being essentially a “waste” product of producing white granulated sugar, molasses maintains nutrients that the refined stuff does not. In addition to what you see on the product label below, molasses, like agave syrup, has a low glycemic index, which is important in reducing the risk for type 2 diabetes. Molasses is also high in antioxidants and has a subtler sweet flavor than other sweeteners. Personally, having followed a plant-based lifestyle for going on four years, I find super sweet food products too rich, so molasses is the perfect sweetener for me.

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So, again, I chose molasses because I am pairing it with pumpkin. Pumpkin puree—not pumpkin pie filling, ya’ll—is a powerhouse of vitamin A and also contains high levels of fiber and iron. ‘Tis the season to find these gourds everywhere, so if you’re up for the challenge, you can butcher and puree your own. Travis and I have done it and even made pumpkin milk from the seeds! Otherwise, you’re looking for canned pumpkin that contains nothing else (particularly sugar, fat, and salt).

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Anywho, just in time for Halloween, you can devour these pumpkin muffins for breakfast or bring them to Thanksgiving dinner if you’re in charge of dinner rolls. 🙂 Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: SUPER FOOD MUFFINS

Makes 12 muffins

  • 1 cup flour –> I’m using whole wheat.
  • 1 cup cooked small grains (e.g. quinoa, kaniwa, millet, etc.)
  • 1/2 cup uncooked rolled oats
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ cup sweetener –> I’m using molasses.
  • 1/8 cup oil –> I’m using coconut, melted.
  • 1 cup raw (fresh or frozen) fruit or veggie –> I’m using ¾ cup pumpkin puree + ¼ cup chopped, raw pecans.
  • 1-1 ¼ cups unsweetened plant milk –> I’m using ¾ almond, which is less than usual since the puree adds a bit of water to the batter.
  • 3 tbsps seeds (e.g. chia, hemp, poppy, flax, etc.)
  • ½-1 tsp extract (amount will depend on flavor intensity) –> I’m using 1 tsp homemade vanilla.
  • ½-1 tsp spices –> I’m using ½ tsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp nutmeg, and 1/8 tsp each cardamom and cloves. All spices are ground.
  • ½ tsp pink Himalayan sea salt (optional) –> I’m not using it.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Separately combine all of the dry ingredients and all of the wet ingredients. In this case, the wet ingredients include the pumpkin puree, too.

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Pour the wet into the dry and mix with a wooden spoon. The batter will be thick and lumpy, but you can always add more plant milk if it seems too dry or dough-like. Spoon the batter into a lined cupcake pan and bake for 25 minutes.

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Store in the fridge for up to two weeks.

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New Fresh Formula: Totally Vegan Chili

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A few days ago, a friend posted an inquiry on Facebook seeking crock pot recipes. I instantly thought of my totally vegan chili recipe, which I always simmer for hours in my crock pot. I thought about what I typically put in the chili and concluded that it’s the tomatoes and spices that make it chili; the beans and vegetables could really be anything. Thus, a new fresh formula—now housed under Square Meals—was born.

This formula is inspired by the spice blend in my mother’s meat chili, a dish I absolutely loved growing up. She now makes her chili vegan, too, often getting creative with her vegetables. She used sweet potatoes in her last batch, which I happened to be in Michigan to taste. Boy was it yummy!

Making this formula work for you will depend on how spicy or sweet (or both) you like your chili, so you’ll see some flexibility in how you prepare it. Consider beans and/or lentils that are on sale, that work well together, and of course, that you enjoy. Call on vegetables that are in season and whenever possible, organic.

A well-stocked spice cabinet should ensure that you’re ready to make this chili at any time. By “any time,” I mean just before you go to bed or leave for work, as it cooks slowly over many hours. It is quite often my go-to dinner when I’m craving something warm and filling and I’m low on veggies, since beans are really the star here.

A note about canned tomatoes: I recently read that canned tomatoes are among one of the most dangerous foods that one can purchase. The high acid level in the tomatoes causes them to eat away at the can’s interior, exposing them to dangerous BPA. As always, starting with fresh is a little more work, but better for you.

Canned beans, on the other hand, I’m okay with, so long as the can contains beans ONLY…no added sodium, spices, or fats.

Finally, rather than cheese or sour cream, I sometimes top this chili with crumbled homemade vegan cornbread, broken tortilla chips, cilantro, green onions, or a squeeze of lime juice… or, I just eat it plain – it’s that good. It also makes for a delicious addition to a burrito or other Latin or southwestern dish. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: CHILI

Serves 6

  • 6 cups cooked beans and/or lentils –>  I’m using 2 cups each of black, kidney, and pinto beans.
  • 1-1 ¼ lbs tomatoes  –>  I’m using 6 roma tomatoes.
  • Approximately 4-4 ½ cups vegetables  –>  I’m using one green bell pepper, one yellow onion, and ½ cup frozen corn.
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tbsp dried minced onions
  • 1 tbsp oregano
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp dried cilantro
  • Pink Himalayan sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste  –>  I’m using ½ tsp salt and no ground pepper.
  • Sweetener to taste (optional)  –>  I’m using 2 tbsp agave syrup. I like a little sweetness to balance out the spices and acidity of the tomatoes.
  • Cayenne pepper to taste (optional) –>  Not for me – I’m a wimp.  🙂

Set your crock pot to low. Coarsely chunk your tomatoes and place in a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth and pour into crock pot. It will look orange/pinkish and frothy right now, but will cook down and deepen in color with time and spices.

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Dice and add all veggies. Mince and add garlic.

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Add all spices, seasonings, and sweeteners, if using.

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Drain and rinse beans/lentils (if necessary) and add to the crock pot.

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Fill any remaining space in the crock pot with water to your thickness preference*. I fill my crock pot almost to the top, knowing that it will reduce a bit.

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I keep the crock pot lid slightly ajar to allow for slow evaporation and ultimately, a thicker chili, but keep the crock pot completely covered for a soupier dish. Simmer for 8-10 hours, depending on the power of your crock pot.

*ALTERNATIVE IDEA: Add only enough additional water to cook your veggies through and create a super thick warm bean dip rather than a chili. A new party favorite with tortilla chips!

What’s in YOUR Kitchen?

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Welcome back! As plant-based living may be new for you – or perhaps you just need new ideas – I thought it would be helpful to give you a tour of my kitchen so that you can see the types of produce I buy and some of the nonperishables that I regularly keep on hand.

The photo that you see at the top of this post is a shot of my countertop, which is often overflowing with produce that does not require refrigeration. I maintain a plentiful stock of bananas, as I use them in many of my recipes and they are among my son, Nolan’s, favorite fruits for snacking. This time of year, I also have an array of citrus, much of which I obtain from neighbors for free. Citrus fruits are ripe for the picking during Arizona’s winter.

You’ll also see in this photo that I have fresh vanilla beans on hand to use in various recipes and to make homemade extract. The basic formula for an extract is the flavor agent plus vodka and involves a long soaking period (another post, another day). Moral of the story? If you have the opportunity to make your own extracts, you’ll find that they are purer and higher in quality than many of the store-bought, imitation varieties. I digress…

Next, we move into my fridge, where you can spy everything from a batch of homemade veggie stock (located under Basic Formulas), to black-eyed peas that have been soaked and are ready for further cooking, a bowl of triple berry togurt (located under Breakfast Formulas), and of course, more produce. We always have a ton of it and get the biggest bang for our buck with a local food co-op called Bountiful Baskets. Through this organization, weekly, we have the opportunity to pay a flat rate of $25 to obtain approximately $50 worth of organic produce. The offerings are seasonal and often local and the contents of the basket are always a surprise. Check out the bountifulbaskets.org or conduct a web search to see if your state offers a similar program.

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On to my spice cabinet, which is my husband, Travis’s, pride and joy in our kitchen! Although the spices and herbs sometimes get misplaced during quick cooking, my hubby generally has them organized by ethnic application (e.g. Italian, Mexican, etc.) or other similarities. For example, mace is located on the exterior of the nutmeg shell; although different spices, they are part of the same fruit and often used together in cooking/baking, so they are grouped together. Yea, I know – our cabinet organization is a bit over-the-top, but with over 60 spices and herbs to choose from, it does well to have them arranged in a way that allows for easy selection.

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When we travel we stock up on herbs and spices that are native to the area and end up saving a ton, as those in jars in the supermarket can be pricey. We are still using, for instance, cinnamon sticks that we purchased during our honeymoon on the British Virgin Island, Tortola, in July of 2011, and turmeric that we bought the following summer when touring a spice farm in Zanzibar, an island off of the coast of Tanzania in East Africa.

Finally, here’s a look into my pantry. First, you can see a variety of oils, vinegars, and sweeteners. It is amazing what these products can do in the way of flavor, even in very small amounts. On the two shelves below those you’ll find staples like beans (dried and canned, no sodium added), seeds, and grains. While I always have quinoa and oats, for example, regardless of price, more expensive items like nuts, dried fruits, and dark chocolate I purchase and stock up on when they are on sale. The flexibility of my formulas and my willingness to experiment with new combinations allow me to create a delicious bite out of whatever I obtain. The very top shelf (not pictured) includes standard baking supplies like cornstarch and baking powder.

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If your kitchen needs a plant-based makeover, consider starting with one or two target areas and make changes slowly, especially if you’re trying to get a meat-and-potatoes spouse or some picky little ones on board. When Travis and I decided to start eating more healthily, the first item we did away with was cow’s milk, which we replaced with almond. Travis, who was a diehard whole milk drinker for years, now swears by almond and I, being lactose intolerant, couldn’t have found a better milk match. Nolan is even more adventurous, drinking coconut and oat milks on a regular basis. If those do not appeal to you, you could try soy, flax, rice, grain, cashew, sunflower, etc. There are lots of options that don’t include added sugar, hormones, or cholesterol and are often higher in calcium than the dairy variety. Plus, you can easily make your own plant milk (we’ll cover that another day, too)!

I hope that a private tour of my humble cooking headquarters has given you some ideas and inspiration so that you are prepared to tackle my formulas (and plant-based living in general) head on. Happy shopping and stocking!