Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Spiced Cashew Brittle & Pumpkin Cheesecake Muffins (Guest Post from Bonnie!)

Ahh, Autumn in Florida...the leaves remain summer green, it's a touch less humid, and my Cambodian hair is a little less out of control. But despite its lack of foliage, you really can't beat fall weather in the Dirty South. The mornings and evenings will be a perfect 68 degrees and afternoons will be reminiscent of the blazing summer that came before it (including the occasional five-minute intervals of rain). With the random weather comes ironic outfits. It becomes more acceptable for me to wear my trademark outfit: chunky sweaters and short shorts accompanied by my bare legs and combat boots. Although I'm a sucker for comfort over style most of the time, I still have not fallen victim to the Aeropostale hoodies with Uggs craze that still remains rampant in some parts of Jacksonville. Thank God. And yes, that sort of ensemble does exist beyond the Jersey Shore.

In addition to ironic couture, I love this season because it's when every coffee house and bakery smells of delicious pumpkin pie. The typical fall scent consists of the warm spices of nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves, but what if I sprinkled a little cayenne pepper into the mix? Sure, short shorts with boots with the fur... maybeee... but a party in your mouth, summer time, beach spice like cayenne pepper paired with a fuzzy, football season, ingredient like pumpkin? Shut UP.

Check out my following two recipes, and see how I pair unlikely ingredients with your favorite fall flavors.  Skeptical?  Trust me,  they will make you feel as cozy as a cashmere Cosby sweater or as snug as the insides of one of Snooki's downtrodden Ugg boots.  Ew. Maybe not.  

Spiced Cashew Brittle
(Adapted from Bryce Caron's recipe in Food & Wine Magazine)

1 1/2 cups cashews (I used roasted and lightly salted)
1 cup sugar
1 stick of unsalted butter
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

It's time to bring out your inner Wonka. It's a great beginner's candy. No soft-ball this, no hard-crack that, and no thermometer necessary. Easy and yummy! My favorite.

1.Prepare a baking sheet with buttered parchment paper. Put to the side.

2. Roast your cashews in a dry pan or 325 degree oven for a couple minutes. Stir every now and again. When you start smelling delicious hot nuts, then it's probably ready. Your nose knows! But if you suffer from indoor allergies like me, then....you're screwed because I almost burnt mine. Keep warm.

3. While your nuts are roasting, bring to a boil the sugar, butter, corn syrup, and water. Once at a boil, lower the heat a bit to medium/medium-high and keep stirring until it turns into a delicious amber color. It took about 15-20 minutes for me.

4. Remove from the heat and add the baking soda and cayenne pepper. Stir. Add the roasted cashews. Stir! Spread the mixture on the buttered parchment paper and spread as thinly as you can. Let cool completely and break into chunks (because I hate the word "shards"). 

5. Enjoy! the cayenne really brings an unexpected heat. Definitely a good alternative to regular brittle for people that lack a sweet tooth.

Not the prettiest, but definitely delicious.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Muffins
(makes 12 muffins)

8 oz softened cream cheese
1 egg
1 tbs flour
1 cup powdered sugar

1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 tablespoon + 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup pumpkin puree (I used canned)
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Crumble topping:
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons flour 
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons cold butter

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Prepare muffin tin (with liners or greased muffin tin).

1. To prepare the filling, mix cream cheese, egg, flour, and powdered sugar in small bowl until smooth. Set aside. 

2. To prepare the muffins, mix flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice, salt, and baking soda in medium bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, pumpkin puree, and vegetable oil until combined. 

3. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet, making sure not to over mix. 

4. To prepare the crumble topping, combine all ingredients with a fork until resembling a coarse, crumbly texture. 

5. Spoon batter into muffin tin or liner about 3/4 of the way. Smooth on cheesecake batter (hopefully you didn't eat all of it) on the muffins. If it tickles your fancy, do a fancy swirl thing with your knife or toothpick with the cheesecake and batter. Sprinkle on crumble topping. 

6. Bake for 20-25 minutes! Let cool (yeah, right!) and enjoy.

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