Menu Plan: September 22-28

I had a much-needed slow and lazy weekend! It involved sleeping in, getting a massage, starting a new book, and watching six episodes of The Vampire Diaries. We've got some socializing planned for this week, but otherwise a nice, normal menu plan.

Sunday vegetable pot pie (I didn't make it last week as planned. I had a rough day at work and we got takeout one night, so I was left with an "extra" meal from last week's plan. I deviated from the recipe and used a frozen pie crust on the top because a) I was feeling lazy, b) I wasn't sure we had enough milk and c) I didn't know what else I was going to do with the pie crust. It was really tasty, but I think the fluffy biscuit would have made it even more delicious and filling!) kale-apple salad

Monday dinner out with friends - woo hoo!

Tuesday spicy sausage skillet (with bowtie pasta because that's what I have) frozen mixed vegetables

Wednesday Asian beef strips frozen dumplings frozen "Asian blend" steamfresh veggies

Thursday book club! I'm planning to make these "easy Thai-style green beans," if I can find some green beans that don't look bleh like the ones at Kroger did today. Andy will be home and can eat gumbo from the freezer over rice.

Friday mushroom grilled cheese potato-leek soup (storebought)

Saturday We're having some people over for what I've dubbed, "It's Fall, Y'all," which is really my excuse to break out the pumpkin and drink pumpkin beer!

On the menu - roasted pumpkin seeds; cheese and crackers; crockpot turkey white bean pumpkin chili; pumpkin cornbread; pumpkin ice cream from Whole Foods, and whatever our guests decide to bring! What's on your plate this week?

I'm linking up with Organizing Junkie's Monday Menu Plan!

In Pursuit of Pumpkin: Pumpkin Muffins

When fall comes around, I go pumpkin crazy. I've always loved the pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, but I'm not sure I ever thought about enjoying pumpkin outside of that one day a year until Starbucks pumpkin spice lattes came into my life. Now, I'm one of those people who gets excited when it's featured on their menu again every year (though one of my coworkers reminded me that you can get whatever flavor drink you want at Starbucks all year round). Even though we don't usually get much of a fall in the South, once the calendar hits September, I have pumpkin on the brain. When I realized I had a preposterous number of pumpkin recipes pinned, I decided to share them here. This is the second of 10 different pumpkin recipes for your gustatory pleasure!

You know I love pumpkin, but did you know that I love cream cheese, too? Really for me a bagel is just a conduit for the cream cheese, and cream cheese icing is far and away my favorite. So when I saw this recipe from Gourmade At Home for Pumpkin and Cream Cheese Muffins I knew they had to be my on my fall to-try list.

They're more complex than the 2-ingredient cookies I featured last week, but not so complicated as to be intimidating.

The cast of characters:

minus the oil and sugar because I spaced out about including them

1 cup all purpose flour 1 cup whole wheat flour 2 tsp. baking soda 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder 2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice, or to taste 1 tsp. ground cinnamon 1/4 tsp. salt 1 cup pumpkin puree 1/2 cup white sugar 1/4 cup canola oil 3/4 cup buttermilk 1 egg + 1 egg white 3/4 tsp. vanilla

1/2 cup whipped cream cheese 1 TB confectioners sugar

I didn't feel like paying the extra for a tub of whipped cream cheese, so I bought Neufchatel cheese, which is my go-to replacement for cream cheese. It comes in the same type of brick and supposedly has 1/3 of the fat. I used my hand mixer to whip that with the confectioner's sugar for the filling:

Then I mixed the dry ingredients together in one bowl and the wet ingredients together in another.

I didn't have pumpkin pie spice, but I knew I had most of the elements, so I mixed up a little on the fly. I used cinnamon, ground ginger, allspice, and nutmeg. I didn't have any ground cloves to add. The original recipe says to add the spice "to taste," but I never like tweaking recipes on my first go 'round, so I just used the listed amount.

Once the wet and dry ingredients came together, I had a beautiful orange batter:

The instructions say to fill the muffin tins and then "place a dollop of the cream cheese mixture in the center of each muffin." Well, I don't know if it was because I didn't use the whipped cream cheese, but I had a little bit of trouble with those dollops! I also had more batter than my 12 muffin cups could hold, so I improvised and put the extra into 2 oven-safe ramekins.

The muffins baked up and rose beautifully! However, the cream cheese didn't really integrate into the middle of the muffin to act as a filling. In fact, it puffed up and sort of looked like a toasted marshmallow on the top! I don't know exactly how the original chef got hers to come out so perfectly.

The consistency of the muffin was great! I probably could have mixed a bit less, as it was a tiny bit dense, but it was a pleasant muffin consistency. However, I thought they needed to be sweeter or more heavily spiced. Next time, I will take the advice of the original recipe and add more spice! I feel like the spices bring out the pumpkin flavor, and that was a bit lacking to me in the final product. However, for being only one of the few times I've made muffins from scratch, I was pleased with the outcome! This may not be my ultimate pumpkin go-to recipe, but it made for a pretty tasty muffin.

In Pursuit of Pumpkin: Two Ingredient Pumpkin Cookies

When fall comes around, I go pumpkin crazy. I've always loved the pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, but I'm not sure I ever thought about enjoying pumpkin outside of that one day a year until Starbucks pumpkin spice lattes came into my life. Now, I'm one of those people who gets excited when it's featured on their menu again every year (though one of my coworkers reminded me that you can get whatever flavor drink you want at Starbucks all year round). Even though we don't usually get much of a fall in the South, once the calendar hits September, I have pumpkin on the brain. When I realized I had a preposterous number of pumpkin recipes pinned, I decided to share them here. For the next 10 Fridays, I'll be sharing a different pumpkin recipe with you for your gustatory pleasure!

Up this week: Two ingredient pumpkin cookies. (Original recipe from Cookies and Cups here.) I am a sucker for cake mix cookies. They are the perfect texture for me, as I enjoy soft cookies, and I love all the different flavors you can create, as well as the pretty colors they produce. These pumpkin cookies could not be simpler: just mix 1 can of pumpkin puree with a box of spice cake mix and bake at 350 for 13-15 minutes.

This recipe was a great reminder that pumpkin itself is not necessarily the flavor we crave when the weather turns cool; it's more the spices that generally go along with pumpkin. I took a taste of the pumpkin puree by itself, and it was pretty weird. It had some flavor but honestly brought to mind baby food. It wasn't at all the warm and fuzzy flavor I associate with pumpkin baked goods. In this recipe, the spice cake substitutes for pumpkin pie spice (or a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves), as it has, in fact, every one of those ingredients (I checked). The pumpkin takes the place of eggs and oil. Pumpkin puree is a great addition to recipes because of its texture and moistness.

The dough was very, very thick:

In fact, the hardest part of this recipe was getting it onto the baking sheet in reasonably shaped lumps! The original instructions say to drop it in rounded teaspoonfuls. My usual trick is to spray the teaspoon with a little non-stick spray, but with this batter I found myself having to spray every 2 or 3 cookies! Needless to say, I had to taste-test the batter a few times during this arduous process...

The cookies bake on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

They didn't spread out much during baking, so they had a very fluffy, almost muffin-like consistency. I tried pressing one batch down a bit, but they still didn't flatten a lot.

All in all, I'd call these a success! They smelled great while baking, and, though simple, they definitely convey that fall comfort food aspect of pumpkin spice. I took them to work and got rave reviews, even though I was a little worried that the texture might turn people off. They sure felt weird once they cooled and I was transferring them to a plate! I'd recommend these if you want that cozy pumpkin flavor without expending much effort.

Do you have a favorite fall genre of foods? Are you pumpkin crazy like I am? Share your favorite recipe in the comments!