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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Pumpkin Ricotta Muffins + Mandarins with Almonds and Amaretto

 Hello friends!
I woke up this morning, the last day with my dear husband before I take off for a 10 day mother-daughter vacation to Hawaii, and wanted to make a Really Good Breakfast.  Balanced. Delicious. Unique.  Not the same eggs and bacon, or weekend waffles we're used to.  Something really yummy and different.  Something I could make LOTS of so Tyler wouldn't starve while I was gone (I refuse to come home to bagel dog wrappers when we've made so much progress).  So while he was still sleeping, I got up, brought the computer into the kitchen, opened the fridge, and did some investigating.....mmmm ricotta?  I really should use some of this up before I leave.....but what to make?

In the spirit of spring cleaning, I decided to take a gander of what really is living in the depths of my freezer.  If you are like me and you haven't looked past the first layer of your freezer for a while, this can be a very scary/exciting/enlightening time.  And that's when I saw it- underneath the bag of 3-cheese ravioli and various frozen fruits and cheeses, lay a frosty-coated tupperware filled with about 8 cups of pumpkin puree....

.....from thanksgiving.....

....two years ago.

But it's frozen!  Which means it's still good. (And it was.)

While the tupperware sat under a steady stream of luke-warm water, I remembered a few recipes from I'd been wanting to try- specifically, one for pumpkin muffins.  Hallelujah.

However, I reeeally wanted to jazz them up a bit, and what better way than adding a beautifully fluffy ricotta filling inside, sort of a lighter, breakfasty tip 'o the hat to pumpkin cheesecake.....


This was a little haphazard experiment, I'll admit.  I accidentally substituted olive oil for the vegetable oil the original recipe called for, (I grabbed the wrong jug) and I have to say, despite what Deb says about the olive oil making them too heavy, these muffins came out wonderfully light and had an amazingly soft and delicate consistency. So try it with both if you like- to each his own, right?
I also dumped in an extra tsp of cinnamon, not reading far enough into the directions that the extra should be SET ASIDE FOR TOPPING and not dumped into the mix....but I left it that way because it was delicious- not overpowering at all.  You can add or subtract that amount of spices how you see fit- you can also substitute a tsp of pumpkin pie seasoning for them all- I just didn't have any at the time, so I made up my own.  Play with the spices....I'm sure a little pinch of clove would be good in there too!

The filling is something I sort of threw together- ideally I would have used lemon juice, but all I had was lime (it worked just fine).

I paired the muffins with some italian sausage patties, scrambled eggs, and mandarin wedges with chopped almonds and Amaretto (see recipe below- VERY easy and very scrumptious).

Pumkin Ricotta Muffins

1 1/2 c unbleached flour
1 c pumpkin puree
1/2 c olive oil
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 c sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp vanilla 

2 oz cream cheese, softened
3 oz part skim ricotta cheese
1 tsp vanilla
sprinkle of lime juice
2 Tbsp sugar

Preheat oven to 350.

In a large mixing bowl, add pumpkin puree, eggs, sugar, baking soda, salt, spices, oil and vanilla and wisk until combined.  Slowly mix in the flour, only until incorporated.

In a small bowl, mix together filling ingredients (cream cheese, ricotta, vanilla, lime juice, and sugar).  I found using a silicon spatula worked really well.

Line muffin tins with liners and spoon about a tablespoon of the pumpkin batter into the bottom of each.  With another spoon, plop a large dollop of the ricotta filling on top, then cover with more batter, filling about 3/4 full (or a little more if you like a large muffin top, like I do).

(For extra yummy factor, I sprinkled a cinnamon/sugar/chopped walnut mixture over the top before popping them in the oven, which gave them a nice and sweet, crispy crust on top.  I highly recommend it.)

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until you spear a muffin with a butter knife and it comes out clean.  However, you'll have to test it along the side, since spearing it in the middle will only result in a gooey, cheesey filling-covered knife.  Let cool for a few minutes and enjoy!

A note on storage:  I would suggest storing extras (if you have any leftover, and you may not) in the fridge or freezer, since they do contain cheese.  I actually have no idea if the fridge factor changes once it's cooked or for now, until someone tells me otherwise, I'd rather be safe than sorry.

Mandarins with Almonds and Amaretto
4 mandarins
small handful of almonds
a couple tsps of Amaretto liquor

In a small bowl, peel mandarins (I used 4 for two servings) and separate into wedges.  Chop almonds  and sprinkle over wedges.  Then drizzle Amaretto over the top, toss, and serve. Delicious!

(Yeah, so I burned the sausage a little....I'm not perfect.)

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