Favorite Recipe Friday: Pumpkin Morning Glory Muffins

Morning Glory Muffins are one of my favorite muffins.  Loaded with fruit and nuts, they have great texture and are hardier than your average muffin.  But, like any standard muffin, they require a good amount of sugar and fat to keep that moist fluffy texture.

I really wanted to recreate Morning Glory muffins because my kids love muffins (who doesn’t) and they are great as a grab-and-go breakfast and/or snack. In order to feel good about filling them up with these babies, I wanted to cut some of the sugar and saturated fat and add some whole wheat flour. This isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Baking isn’t like savory cooking where you can add a pinch of this, a dash of that or use whatever you have on hand to craft the dish to your liking.  It’s complicated and each “base” ingredient (sugar, fat, flour, salt, leavening agents) is part of a carefully orchestrated baking equation.

Sugar keeps baked goods soft and moist, tender and fluffy. It also helps create that warm caramelized flavor and muffin top texture that makes baked goods so delicious.  Fat does a lot of the same plus adds it’s own flavor and structure. Whole wheat flour is denser and can make baked goods dry and negatively affect the flavor.  Needless to say, when you start messing around with the formula, you can really screw up your final product.

BUT, I was determined.  I’ve wanted to make my own version of the Morning Glory muffin for a while.  And my success just-so-happened to occur during the height of pumpkin season so I figured why the heck not make ’em pumpkin?!?! And pumpkin puree is win-win because it adds so much flavor and nutrition AND can be used to replace fat.

So, without further explanation, I present to you, Pumpkin Morning Glory muffins!

Pumpkin Morning Glory Muffins

Makes 18 muffins


Cooking spray

1 ½ cups (7 ½ ounces) all-purpose flour

¾ cups (3 ¾ ounces) white whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 cup canned pumpkin

3 eggs

1 cup (7 ounces) sugar

½ cup apple sauce

½ cup vegetable oil

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

½ cup (2 ounces) dried cranberries

½ cup (2 ounces) unsweetened shredded coconut

1 cup (3 ¾ ounces) chopped pecans or walnuts

2 cups (4 medium) grated carrots


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Line a standard 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners and spray with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.

In a medium bowl, add pumpkin, eggs, sugar, apple sauce, vegetable oil, and vanilla.  Whisk to combine.

Pour flour mixture into wet mixture.  Using a rubber spatula, fold wet ingredients into dry.

Add cranberries, coconut, nuts, and carrots and fold to combine.  (Don’t forget to scrape the sides and bottom and be careful not to overmix!)

Fill a standard ice cream scoop or 1/3 cup measuring cup, transfer batter to muffin tin.

Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with a few crumbs.  *Rotating halfway through baking will allow muffins to cook more evenly.

Let the muffins cool in the pan for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to allow them to cool completely. 

Serving size: (1 muffin)  Calories: 260  Total Fat: 13.5 g  Saturated Fat: 3 g  Cholesterol: 31 mg  Sodium: 226 mg  Carbohydrates: 31 g  Dietary Fiber: 3 g  Sugar: 15 g  Added Sugar: 12 g  Protein: 4 g

(Just for comparison sake, Starbucks Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffin has 350 calories, 4 grams of saturated fat and 34 grams of sugar)

Baking tips:

  • Prep your ingredients before you start (chop the nuts, grate the carrots, measure your add-ins and set them aside)

  • Use a food processor fitted with the grating plate to shred your carrots.  Freshly grated carrots have a lot more moisture than the pre-shredded bagged varieties.  Alternatively, you can use a box grater and grate them by hand.



Supermarket Saturday: The Sea of Starbucks Packaged Snacks, Part 1

Starbucks offers as many (or maybe more) food options today as they do coffee.  There’s the pastry case full of treats, the cold case full of bentos, sandwiches and salads, last minute entice-rs like biscotti and chocolate covered grahams and then the shelves and rounders of packaged snacks.  How in the wild world do you decide which to pick?

The food in the pastry and cold food case is pretty transparent (you generally know what you’re getting and if you want more info, you can get nutrition facts and ingredients on the Starbucks website HERE). BUT, if you’re on-the-go and/or prefer a packaged snack, you have to pick each of them up, check the labels, sort through the information and THEN decide what you want.  Who’s got time for THAT?

I’m on it!

I started with the salty, crunchy snacks and will work my way through the packaged sweet snacks/treats.  In order to make the review legit and unbiased, I did an informally formal blind taste test.

How it went down: There were 8 blind tasters (i.e. they didn’t know what they were tasting) plus me; 4 adults, 1 teenager and 4 young kids.

They each received a tasting sheet:

A numbered plate:

A cup of water and a pen:


They were instructed to keep comments and opinions to themselves, drink a sip of water in between each sample and to mark the face which best describes their opinion of the snack.  They could also (though not mandatory) write a comment or descriptor from the word bank describing the snack.  They were then asked to rank their top 1, 2 & 3 favorites.



Here are the details.  Snacks are listed from most to least favorite:

POP! lite Sunflower Oil & Sea Salt Popcorn

Ingredients: Popcorn, Sunflower Oil, Sea Salt.

Taste/Texture: This popcorn is very mildly flavored. It’s salty, crunchy and tastes similar to air-popped popcorn.

Nutrition notes: It’s 100% whole grain, low in calories and saturated fat.  Even though it didn’t taste overly salty, the sodium content (420 mg) is a bit high for a 100 calorie snack. Still, a good choice for a grab-and-go snack.

Tasters’ Ranking: 1 (tied with Starbucks Kettle Corn)

Starbucks Kettle Corn

Ingredients: Popcorn, sugar, sunflower oil, salt

Taste/Texture: Tastes like your typical pre-popped kettle corn.  It’s crunchy, sweet and salty.

Nutrition notes: It’s 100% whole grain (providing 3 g of fiber), low in calories (130), saturated fat (0 g) and sodium (130 mg).  It has 6 grams of added sugar, much lower than a pastry and most granola bars but enough to reconsider if you’re trying to limit your sugar intake.  All in all, if you’re craving something sweet, this is a good choice.

Tasters’ Ranking: 1 (tied with Pop! lite)

Starbucks Butter Popcorn

Ingredients: Popcorn, corn oil, seasoning (maltodextrin, salt, natural flavor, whey powder (milk), butter powder (milk), dextrose, annatto and turmeric extract).

Taste/Texture: Reminiscent of movie theater butter popcorn .  It’s super buttery (a couple tasters thought it was cheesy), crunchy, salty, and a little greasy.

Nutrition notes: It’s 100% whole grain (providing 3 g of fiber), low in calories (150), saturated fat (1 g) and moderately salty (240 mg sodium).  Great for a grab-and-go snack.

Tasters’ Ranking: 2

One Potato Two Potato Plain Jaynes Sweet Potato Chips

Ingredients: Sweet potatoes, expeller pressed sunflower oil, sea salt.

Taste/Texture: Crunchy and thick, sweet and salty.  They were a bit greasy but not beyond what you’d expect from a chip. 

Nutrition notes: Made from real sweet potatoes, they’re high in fiber (4 g) and vitamin A (180% DV) and low in sodium (140 mg). But be careful…each bag contains 2 servings.  So, while you think you’re getting a 150 calorie snack, you’re really getting 300 if you eat the whole bag.

Tasters’ Ranking: 3 (tied with Hippeas Sriracha Sunshine)

Hippeas Sriracha Sunshine Organic Chickpea Puffs

Ingredients: Organic chickpea flour, organic rice flour, organic sunflower oil, organic tapioca starch, organic seasoning [sugar, salt, red pepper, vinegar powder (maltodextrin, vinegar), garlic powder, jalapeno pepper, paprika extract (color), natural flavor, yeast extract], organic pea hull fiber

Taste/Texture:  Crunchy like Cheetos but bigger like a cheese puff.  A little spicy, salty and flavorful. Initially, they are sweet with a spicy chili aftertaste…reminiscent of a sweet and spicy BBQ.

Nutrition notes: 130 calories, 5 grams of fat and 0 grams of saturated fat.  You get 3 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein and only 170 mg of sodium…great for a grab-and-go snack.

Tasters’ Ranking: 3 (tied with One Potato Two Potato Sweet Potato Chips)

Moon Cheese Mozzarella

Ingredients: Mozzarella cheese (pasteurized part skim milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes)

Taste/Texture: Very crunchy and dense, the texture is like a cross between Pop’s cereal and Corn Nuts.  Initially, it’s mildly cheesy with a stronger cheese after taste.

Nutrition notes:  One serving (9-10 pieces) is roughly the same as eating 1 part-skim string cheese (100 calories, 7 g fat, 4 grams saturated fat). Buyer beware…each bag is 3 servings so, if you eat the entire bag, you get 3 times the calories and fat.  That’s pretty high for a snack.  But, if you stick to 1 serving, it’s an OK choice.

Moon Cheese Cheddar

Ingredients: Cheddar cheese [pasteurized milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes, annatto (vegetable color)]

Taste/Texture: Very crunchy and dense, the texture is like a cross between Pop’s cereal and Corn Nuts.  Very strong cheddar cheese flavor and even stronger after taste.

Nutrition notes: One serving (9-10 pieces) is roughly the same as eating 1 part-skim string cheese (100 calories, 7 g fat, 4.5 grams saturated fat). Buyer beware…each bag is 3 servings so, if you eat the entire bag, you get 3 times the calories and fat.  That’s pretty high for a snack. But, if you stick to 1 serving, it’s an OK choice.

Hippeas Far Out Fajita Organic Chickpea Puffs

Ingredients: Organic chickpea flour, organic rice flour, organic sunflower oil, organic tapioca starch, organic seasoning [salt, garlic powder, chili powder (spices, salt, garlic), sugar, dextrose, onion powder, spice, citric acid, paprika extract (color), yeast extract], organic pea hull fiber

Taste/Texture: Crunchy like Cheetos but bigger like a cheese puff.  Strong “spice” flavor and salty, a cross between BBQ and Mexican flavors.

Nutrition notes: 130 calories, 5 grams of fat and 0 grams of saturated fat.  You get 3 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein and only 150 mg of sodium…great for a grab-and-go snack.

Rhythm Superfoods Roasted Kale, Sea Salt

Ingredients: Lacinato Kale, High Oleic Sunflower Oil, Sea Salt, Vitamin E

Taste/Texture: Light, airy texture, mild crunch initially but then gets chewy.  Salty, earthy and bitter.  Looks like dried leaves and tastes like kale.

Nutrition notes:  The entire package is 100 calories, 9 grams of fat and 0 g saturated fat.  It’s another 2-servings-per-package snack so you have to double what’s on the label.  Sodium is high (500 mg) for a 100 calories snack but otherwise, it’s fine.  You get large dose of vitamin K, some calcium and iron because it’s a bunch of kale.

Rhythm Superfoods Naked Beet Chips

Ingredients: Beets

Taste/Texture: Earthy, bitter, and beet-y, particularly in the aftertaste.  Tastes like it’s freeze dried but it’s hard, thick and crunchy like a vegetable chip.

Nutrition notes: 100 calories, 0 g of fat and 5 grams of fiber.  Hard to beat (ha) a single ingredient packaged snack.

Hippeas Vegan White Cheddar Organic Chickpea Puffs

Ingredients: Organic chickpea flour, organic rice flour, organic sunflower oil, organic tapioca starch, organic seasoning [degermed corn flour, salt, sugar, onion powder, citric acid, garlic powder, lactic acid, canola oil, natural flavor], organic pea hull fiber

Taste/Texture: Crunchy like Cheetos but shaped bigger like a cheese puff.  Not a ton of flavor and was a bit chalky and bitter.

Nutrition notes: 130 calories, 5 grams of fat and 0 grams of saturated fat.  You get 3 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein and only 135 mg of sodium…great for a grab-and-go snack.

Starbucks is constantly shuffling their snack selections so these may not be EXACTLY what’s in your store.  Feel free to let me know if you’ve found a salty, crunchy snack at Starbucks that you love.  I’d love to hear from you.  Stay tuned for Part 2: Fruit snacks, nuts and more!

Also, if you’ve tried and like any of the snacks above, you can purchase them in multi-packs or larger bags on Amazon by clicking the product names above.


Cooking Tool Thursday: Spatulas

Wilton spatulaI LOVE my spatulas.  I use them almost everyday, whether I’m scrambling eggs, baking a cake, or scraping the last scoop from the peanut butter jar.  Silicone spatulas are a definite must-have kitchen tool.  And, having worked at a cooking store and in a commercial kitchen, I’ve tried many different brands, shapes and sizes.  Ultimately, these 2 spatulas (see above) are my favorite and will always hold a special place in my heart and utensil canister.

THIS Wilton Silicon Spatula is the BEST.  I absolutely love it because it’s super sturdy yet flexible and even more so, because it’s all one piece (as opposed to those that have a wooden or metal handle and silicone head attached, which tend to accumulate gunk in their hard-to-reach places and eventually fall apart).  It helps scrape a bowl like a champ and folds batter like nobody’s business.  Also, it’s heat safe up 400 degrees so it’s ideal for scrambling eggs, mixing a sauce or sautéing anything in a non-stick skillet.  You need one.  Get it on Amazon HERE.

Sometimes, a standard size spatula just won’t do.  That’s where my second favorite, THIS Tovolo Scoop and Spread spatula comes in.  It is made of nylon and is not necessarily useful for cooking hot foods BUT it’s exceptionally useful for scraping sides of small spaces like the inside of my Nutribullet and/or an almost-empty jar, or to mix color into or spread a small batch of frosting.  Plus, one side is flexible (for scooping) and one side is more rigid (for spreading) so it’s multi-purposeful (is that even a word?.?) and can be used for 2 different things at the same time.  You also need this one.  You can get it on Amazon HERE.


Cooking Tip Tuesday: Secrets to perfect pasta

Young. Old. Single. Married.  We’re a population who loves our pasta.  And while boiling pasta is an easy task, it’s not void of controversy.  Here are a couple pasta water add-ins and a post-cooking procedure that spark some uncertainty:

Salt.  Should you salt your pasta water?  The answer is YES.  Why?  It seasons your noodles from the inside out.  How much?  At least a couple tablespoons but don’t be shy.  Don’t worry too much about the salt that gets absorbed into the pasta (unless, of course, you are under doctor’s orders).  Most of it gets tossed with the water and if you start with seasoned pasta, you’re likely to need less salt in your finished dish.

Oil. Should you add oil to your pasta water?  The answer is NO.  Think about what happens when you put oil in water.  They repel each other, right?  So if you think about adding oil to water, logically, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  The oil ends up congregating at the top of the water, serving no purpose except to lube up your pasta on the way out.  Which, in the end, actually inhibits the noodles from absorbing the sauce.

Worried your noodles will stick to each other?  I don’t blame you. It’s the worst when you get a clump of hard noodles mixed in with the rest of your silky beautiful bunch.  The best way to avoid this is to stir your pasta within the first minute or 2 of cooking.

The last controversy arises once your pasta is cooked…

Rinsing. Should you, could you, rinse your noodles?  You should not, could not, rinse your noodles.  I mean…NO. If you rinse your noodles, you rinse the delightful flavor you just worked so hard to get.  Not to mention you cool down the pasta, eliminating that hot-from-the-pot window, which is the prime time for pasta sauce absorption. PLUS, you rinse away the starch on the surface of your noodles, which is useful in thickening your sauce. 

In short,

  1. Salt your water
  2. Don’t add oil to your pasta water
  3. Don’t rinse your cooked pasta.

The End.



Sundays with Samantha: Coconut & Almond Bars

These amazingly delicious bars are a cross between a granola bar and dessert.  I wanted to create a kid-friendly snack or mid-afternoon treat as an alternative to packaged granola bars or cookies.  These bars would be great as a pre-sports-practice-snack, play date treat or dessert with friends.  They’re loaded with good-for-you ingredients like oats, nuts, and dried fruit and because no treat is complete without chocolate, I added some cocoa powder to give it a chocolatey kick. They’re sweetened with raw honey (and dates) instead of sugar or corn syrup, which keeps them almost completely unprocessed.

Try them out and let me know what you think!  I think you’ll love them as much as we do ;).

Almond & Coconut Oat Bars

Makes about 16


2 cups old-fashioned oats (not quick-cooking)

¾ cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1 cup sliced almonds

1/3 cup raw honey

1/3 cup almond butter

1 tablespoon unsalted butter (plus a smidge for greasing baking pan)

1 tablespoon coconut oil

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

20 dried pitted dates

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease an 8” x 12” baking dish.

Combine oats, coconut and almonds on a sheet pan.  Mix.  Roast for 8-10 minutes, tossing halfway through.  Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl.

Meanwhile, put honey, almond butter, butter, coconut oil, salt, and vanilla extract in a small sauce pot over medium-low heat.  When butter melts, mix and simmer an additional 30 seconds.  Remove from heat and pour into the large bowl with the oat mixture.

In a small blender or food processor (I use my Nutribullet), add the dates and cocoa powder.  Process until dates form a cohesive sticky ball.  Add the dates to the large bowl.

With a spatula, mix everything together.  Firmly press the dates into the mixture so they become evenly distributed and final mixture is sticky.  Transfer to prepared baking dish, gently pressing into an even layer.

Freeze for 30 minutes.  Slice and serve.  Store remaining bars in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Serving size: (1 bar)  Calories: 290  Total Fat: 13 g  Saturated Fat: 5 g  Cholesterol: 2 mg  Sodium: 40 mg  Carbohydrates: 45 g  Dietary Fiber: 6 g  Sugars: 31 g  Added Sugar: 6 g  Protein: 5 g

Note: If you are feeling extra generous, drizzle them with dark chocolate.  Uh huh. It’s good.