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muffin of the month, november 2017: pumpkin cranberry white chocolate muffins

previous autumn monthly muffins

10/17, vegan apple cider muffins ||12/16, chocolate peppermint muffins || 11/16, vegan chocolate muffins || 12/15, gluten-free sweet potato ginger muffins || 11/15, pumpkin streusel muffins


I will shamelessly admit that I looooove pumpkin spice. I love spices, I love the holidays, and I love squash, so it’s like a triple whammy. I know that pumpkin spice things are really more spice than pumpkin and that most people don’t actually want a candle that smells like squash or a latte that tastes like it, but I couldn’t care less, because I love all of the spices (especially cardamom.)

My new favorite is cloves. Cloves are in…and cardamom is still in, always.

I was chatting with a customer once about the PSL craze and he mentioned (whether he was right or not, I don’t really care) that when PSL first became a thing, people were so obsessed that they resorted to petty theft and misdemeanors to get their pumpkin-flavored things. I kind of doubt it, but I also kind of don’t doubt it.



Don’t get me wrong, anything super hyped up is too hyped up, and I feel bad for the other autumn and winter flavors: maple, pecan, praline, peppermint, chocolate, gingerbread, etc. I love them all (though I am most looking forward to gingerbread lattes next month.)

I did a pumpkin muffin during the early days of the Monthly Muffin, and now I’ve added on a new one. This one is more sweet than spicy, and combines two different holiday favorites in one muffin: pumpkin spice with cranberries and white chocolate.

I’m also a little (really) into cranberries this year.

For those of you who love everything pumpkin, or even for those of you who are soooooo over pumpkin spice everything, but like autumn, sweets, and hearty things, these muffins are perfect.

Although, if you really don’t like pumpkin at all, then I can’t guarantee that you’ll enjoy them (but I also can’t promise that you won’t enjoy them.)



pumpkin cranberry white chocolate muffins

based on my pumpkin streusel muffins recipe

makes 1 dozen muffins


4.25 oz (120 g, 1 c) whole wheat flour

4.25 oz (120, 1 c) all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ginger

1 tsp cloves

1 tsp allspice

1 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp cardamom

1.75 oz (50 g, 1/4 c) canola oil

3.5 oz (100 g, ~1/2 c) milk or buttermilk

12 oz (340 g, 1.5 c) pumpkin puree

9 oz (260 g, 1 1/4 c) granulated sugar

4 oz (110 g, 1 c) cranberries, fresh or frozen, whole or coarsely chopped

4 oz (110 g, 2/3 c) white chocolate, coarsely chopped


Preheat oven to 350 F/175 C, and line muffin pan with paper liners.

In a small bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, salt, and spices.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together oil, milk or buttermilk, pumpkin puree, and sugar until consistent.

Quickly mix in dried mixture and fold in the chopped berries and chocolate.

Scoop the batter into the muffin pan, filling each cup about 2/3-3/4 of the way full, and bake for 25 – 30 minutes until springy when pressed lightly in the middle.

Allow the muffins to cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to finish cooling completely.


Squash ya later, applegator!

Nick P.

Categories: Breads, muffins, seasonal produce

thanksgiving side dish: caramelized shallot and chive mashed potatoes

Being of Irish descent, I have potatoes in my blood, and nearly every day this month so far, I’ve had them on my plate, as well. Roasted with garlic and rosemary, mashed with cream and chives, orange and sweet and roasted with maple syrup, you name it. Potatoes for me are the ultimate comfort food.



I have strange parameters for what foods I like and don’t like: I love bananas, but I don’t like any kind of artificial banana flavor or banana pudding. I love potatoes, but I don’t like baked potatoes. Ironically, baked potatoes (and roasted potatoes) are technically roasted, and mashed potatoes, if you put them in the oven, are technically baked. Woooo, words. I love cheese and sour cream, but I just can’t get into the whole baked potato thing, and I can’t explain why.

Mashed potatoes are a whole other story: I can’t get enough of them. I remember making craters in my mashed potatoes and filling them with turkey gravy, smothering the mashed potatoes all over roasted chicken, and scraping the mashed potatoes off of shepherd’s pie because I discovered I don’t really like lamb (I’ll make shepherd’s pie with beef instead and call it cowboy’s pie.)



I’ve made mashed potatoes myself plenty of times and I’ve had fun experimenting with extra things to add in, but it took a while for me to learn how to make them perfectly rich, creamy, and fluffy. The answer: cream. And also using a potato ricer (not required but strongly encouraged.) Really whipping up the potatoes so they aren’t coarse or grainy, then filling them up with cream and butter for smoothness, is the best way to make them. If you want, you can top them with cheese and bake the whole thing for a few minutes (in fact, I’ll probably end up doing that on Thursday.)

These mashed potatoes are flavored with caramelized shallots and fresh chives, but you can swap out the fresh chives for any other fresh herb (oregano is a good one), and shallots for roasted garlic cloves or caramelized onions.



caramelized shallot and chive mashed potatoes

serves 6-8 people


2 shallots

a splash of olive oil for cooking the shallots

2 lbs white, red, or gold potatoes

4 Tbsp unsalted butter

1.5 c heavy cream

1/2 c fresh chives, chopped coarsely

hefty dash of coarse salt

freshly ground black pepper, to taste


Cook the shallots

You can either caramelize the shallots on the stove or roast them in the oven. You won’t be using the oven for anything else in this recipe (unless you want to quickly bake the mashed potatoes after you combine everything), so unless you have a small countertop oven, the stove is the easiest way to cook the shallots.

Heat a medium or small skillet (8″-10″) on the stove on medium heat. When hot, add the olive oil for cooking.

Meanwhile, peel and slice the shallots thinly.

When the oil is hot, add the shallots and cook for 10 – 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are noticeably bronzed but not burnt. Remove from heat and set the shallots aside on a plate or in a bowl.


Assemble the mashed potatoes

Coarsely peel the potatoes. You can peel them completely or partially, or even not at all, depending on how you like them. It’s easier to rice the potatoes with less skin but not entirely impossible to rice unpeeled potatoes. Cut the largest potatoes in half so they cook more quickly and fit into the ricer, if you’re using it*.

*Ricing isn’t required for mashed potatoes, though it does wonders for the texture. You can also use an electric hand mixer instead to whip up the potatoes. If you do use a ricer, though, with adjustable settings, you can use any but the widest setting. The widest setting will mean coarser potatoes and you may have to whip them with something else after ricing the potatoes.

Add potatoes to a large stockpot (6~8 quarts), and cover with water to an inch above the potatoes. Set the stockpot on the stove and turn the heat to high.

While waiting for the potatoes to cook, microwave the cream and butter together or heat them gently on the stove, just so that the butter is melted and the cream isn’t cold.

Once the water is boiling, start checking the potatoes with a fork every couple of minutes. You should be able to stick the fork all the way through the potato without much trouble. When the potatoes are tender, drain them in a colander in the sink.

Use a potato ricer, electric handheld mixer, or potato masher to mash the cooked potatoes in a large bowl. Whisk in the melted butter, warm cream, chopped chives, and caramelized shallots, and season to taste with salt and black pepper. The cream and butter make the mashed potatoes more smooth, and they should be plenty salty.

The mashed potatoes keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for about a week or so, and can be reheated in the microwave. If they start to dry out, reheat them with additional cream or butter.


I always give thanks for good potatoes,

Nick P.

Categories: potatoes, savory, side dishes

thanksgiving pie, 2017: double-crust cranberry pear pie

Y’all, I won’t lie: I’ve been preparing for Thanksgiving 2017 for the last two months. Really. I started trying out some new autumn pie recipes in early September…well, I tried one recipe and fell so deeply in love with it, I decided to commit myself entirely to this recipe and no one else.

last thanksgiving: sweet potato molasses pie

last last thanksgiving: boozy pecan pie, spiced black tea apple pie with streusel crust

I’ve already begun drafting a list of Thanksgiving sides I want to make, and expanding on my list of desserts so I can start trying out some new recipes in preparation for Thanksgiving 2018 (of course.)

One of my friends from work hosts monthly themed supper clubs, and though I have evening class the night of her Thanksgiving Sides dinner, I promised I would bring two dishes and show up before the evening was over, and I will not be breaking those promises.

I already tested one of the recipes (gluten-free green bean casserole with browned butter cream of mushroom soup and fried shallots.)

I love autumn. Every season, I say “this is my favorite season,” but we all know the truth: autumn is my favoritest favorite. We don’t get a lot of autumn in this part of North Carolina, so I try to soak up as much of it as I can (and by that I mean I’ve been drinking pumpkin spice lattes nonstop for two months, and even making some of my own at home.)

There’s a lot that I want to do whenever the first leaves die…I mean, fall…but for the past two years, I haven’t been able to make time for any of the pumpkin- or apple-picking, hay rides, weekend trips into the mountains, and so on. The one thing that I do consistently, frequently, and obsessively, is go walking in the woods. I always coincidentally choose the rainy days for my forest-exploration days, but the gloom adds to the beauty. When I have a full day off from work and nothing else planned (except studying), I wake up early and drive out to Duke Forest or the Eno River for an hour of trailwalking and autumn photography. I end up taking the same photos every year but who cares ‘cuz they’re always magical.

The idea for this recipe started blooming a year ago. For a brief month, we got a new pie book at the store (literally, they discontinued the book within a month, so it’s a good thing I swept mine up as soon as it was on the shelf), and the first recipe from the book that I tried was a cranberry sage pie. I made that one for Thanksgiving last year and it was a hit. I’ve always been so-so about cranberries and cranberry sauce, but lately I’ve begun to like them more than I used to. I liked that pie a lot, but I wanted to like it more.

I was also only just starting to appreciate sage as a flavor and ingredient, so for now, sage will have to wait in the dugout.

ideas for next thanksgiving: lemon brulée tart, classic pumpkin pie, caramel apple tart

I’ve been playing around with apple recipes but I figured because I already have two apple tarts and an apple cider muffin, I wanted to do something different: pears. I swapped out the sage for pears (a common substitution), hyped up the spices, fiddled around with ratios, and created a filling that warms the heart, stomach, and guts.

The pear helps balance out the tartness from the cranberries, while the rosemary both blends into the sugars and stands out with a wintery, piny taste. The spices are an obvious addition, as they are for any autumn or winter dessert. You could even play around with the crust a bit and fold in some dried rosemary or spices, or sprinkle some on top after brushing on the egg wash.


double-crust spiced cranberry pear pie

adapted from cranberry sage pie, from Four and Twenty Blackbirds

makes one 7″ pie


Do ahead: The dough and the filling can be made advance. If you plan on using the dough within 24 hours, keep it wrapped and chilled in the refrigerator. Likewise with the filling. Otherwise, keep the dough and filling in the freezer. You can even assemble the entire pie and freeze it until ready to bake, but be sure to keep it in the freezer instead of the refrigerator so the dough doesn’t get soggy. The steps provided in the recipe below are a simple, efficient, and low-hassle way of prepping the pie all in one day, using dough that you’ve already made.


Note: Frozen fruits break down more than fresh fruit, and as a result, they release more liquid. If you’re using frozen fruit for your pie, add some more of your thickener (cornstarch, in this case), or else the filling will be too runny. Even if you buy fresh fruit and freeze it, it will break down more and release more liquid.


two 7″ pie discs, thawed or freshly made

2 Tbsp cornstarch (3 Tbsp if you’re using frozen berries)

1.75 oz (1/4 c) granulated sugar

1.75 oz (1/4 c) dark brown sugar

1 tsp sea salt

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp cloves

1/4 tsp allspice

8 oz (~2 c) cranberries, fresh or frozen, divided

leaves of 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, or about 2 tsp of chopped leaves

8 oz (~1.5 c) pear, chopped into large chunks (one large pear is close to 8 ounces)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg

1 tsp cream

1 Tbsp Demerara sugar for topping


Assemble the filling

Preheat the oven to 425 F/220 C.

In a small bowl, whisk together the sugars, cornstarch, salt, and spices. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine half of the cranberries (4 oz) and all of the chopped pear (8 oz), and set aside.

In a small food processor, combine all of the fresh rosemary, the remaining half of the cranberries (4 oz), and the vanilla extract and pulse a few times just until the berries are broken down and a little chunky. The mixture should be like salsa.

Add the dry mixture of sugar and spices to the large bowl of fruit and toss to coat the fruit pieces completely. Add the cranberry-rosemary mixture and combine. Set aside, covered, on the counter or in the refrigerator while assembling the rest of the pie.


Prep the top and bottom crusts

I find it easiest to roll out the top crust first and let it chill in the refrigerator while you prepare the bottom crust.

Pull both discs of dough out of the refrigerator and let them rest on the counter for 10 – 15 minutes to warm up a little bit.

Roll out one disc on a lightly floured countertop or sandwiched between two sheets of parchment or plastic. If using two sheets of parchment or plastic, lightly flour both sides of the dough disc, place the disc in the middle of one sheet, lay the other sheet on top, lightly press down on the disc to flatten it a little bit, and press the plastic wrap together to seal. Roll the dough into a circle of about 8″ or 9″ in diameter*, pausing occasionally to loosen the plastic wrap so the dough doesn’t stick to it, and adding a little more flour if needed.

*The most consistent way to roll the dough into a circle, so that you don’t have to cut it, is to roll a few times from the middle up to the top, then rotate one eighth of a circle (45 degrees), and continue, eventually turning the dough disc all the way around. Every full rotation of the disc, pause and see if any part of the circle looks wider than the rest, and run your hands over the surface to see if it’s consistently thin all the way across. Adjust your rolling accordingly until you have a circle of dough large enough to drape over the top of the pie. It should be about 1/4-1/2 an inch thick. If you can tell that the dough isn’t spreading out enough, it’s probably sticking to the plastic, parchment, or countertop, and needs a little more flour.

Rest the top crust in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic or parchment, until the rest of the pie is assembled.

Roll out the bottom crust the same way, but roll it into a larger circle, about 10″-12″ in diameter.

Gently lower the bottom crust disc into the pie plate, lifting and lowering the edges so that the dough fills in the whole surface of the plate without leaving any air bubbles underneath. Important: Do not stretch dough to get rid of air bubbles or to cover any space. Lift and lower like you’re gluing something onto a piece of paper. Stretching causes the dough to shrink in the oven. Leave the edges of the dough hanging over the edges of the pie plate, and trim if desired.


Assemble and bake the pie

Scrape the filling into the empty pie shell and spread the filling around a bit to create an even dome.

Unwrap the top crust and place on top of the pie. Fold the edges of the bottom crust up over the top crust to seal them together and crimp/fold as desired. Using a sharp knife, poke a few holes through the top crust to let the pie vent in the oven.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and cream, and using a pastry or basting brush, wash/brush the top crust and edges with the egg wash. While the egg wash is still wet, sprinkle the Demerara sugar on top.

Bake the pie for 45 – 60 minutes, until the crust is nicely bronzed and you can tell the filling is bubbling. I suggest placing the pie plate on top of a cookie sheet, in case the egg wash or the filling drip out.

When the pie is done, remove it from the oven and let it cool on a wire rack until room temperature or ready to eat.


The pie can be wrapped in plastic and kept in the refrigerator for up to two days.


Brb, going to play in the leaves,

Nick P.


Categories: pies and tarts, seasonal produce