Autumn: A season of change and skinny pumpkin cheesecake brownies (gluten free)

It's been a while since I've last blogged. Life has thrown so many changes our way that my head spins thinking how different life was last spring. All exciting and positive changes, too. In a nutshell:

  • We bought a gorgeous but dilapidated home built in 1904 that we had gutted in the city of St. Louis in April (and moved in November)
  • Son Connor took his first professional position as the general manager of a small restaurant in Denver in August, running its charcuterie making operation, and is currently back in the kitchen as the sous chef
  • I took a new job, same employer, closer to sales and customers that involves some travel and getting dressed out of yoga pants in October
  • We sold our big suburban house in November
  • Hubby Craig retired from the corporate world after 34 years, also in November
  • We became grandparents to a beautiful baby girl in February

All the while, I cooked but just didn't write about it. We may have eaten soup, fish tacos, and homemade pizza week after week for a while, but these are tasty, brainless, and easy. Luckily, we're past that. 

Fast forward to my favorite time of the year, autumn, that officially started yesterday. Fall passed by in a blink of an eye last year, and I'm committed to fully enjoying every day of the season. This includes changing our menus and the foods we eat. Since everyone and everything is pumpkin crazy, I made these decently, rich, fudgey pumpkin brownies to jump start the season. The ingredient list is surprisingly easy on the waistline - gluten free too, no wheat - but the taste is rich and slightly spicy. 

Skinny Pumpkin Cheesecake Brownies
Modified from sally's baking addiction
24 servings

1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup fat free Greek yogurt
1/4 cup milk (I use almond milk)
2 egg whites - save yolks for cheesecake swirl
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Pumpkin Cheesecake Swirl
1/2 cup pumpkin puree  - not pumpkin pie filling
4 tablespoons reduced fat cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 egg yolks - reserved from the brownies
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with non-stick cooking spray or line with parchment. Set aside.

Grind the oats in a food processor or blender to produce a powdery flour.

Add the oat flour and the rest of the brownie ingredients into a blender. Depending on the power of  your blender, it may be easier to blend by placing the liquids in the blender first; I use a Vitamix and powdered the oats first and then added the rest of the ingredients. 

Blend until mixture is smooth, scraping down the sides a few times. Batter will be very thin. Pour batter into prepared baking dish.

Using a mixer, prepare the pumpkin swirl by beating the pumpkin puree and cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar, egg yolks, and the spices. Beat until combined and creamy. Drop pumpkin mixture by spoonfuls onto the batter, swirling gently with a knife to create a marbled effect.

Bake for 22-25 minutes or until brownies begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Brownies will be quite fudgy; wait until they are completely cooled before cutting.
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Chicken in Tomatillo Sauce

For March’s Secret Recipe Club, I was assigned Chelsey’s Mangia blog. Need a tangy-spicy dinner that comes together in minutes? While the color may be a bit Army-ish green, this is tasty enough to be served mid-week to company for a wonderful TexMex dinner. We love the tang of tomatillos, and I added a chipotle for a hint of smoky heat. Chelsey made it with fish, but it works nicely over chicken breasts like I prepared it.

My impression of Chelsey, a 20-something Italian-American Texan who loves cooking, baking, her family, and fitness, is one high energy young woman. She is an inspiration not only with the amount of wonderful recipes she’s amassed on her blog, some savory and lots of sweets, but I was touched reading her post about her struggles – and good news! – recovery – from an eating disorder. I’m not sure I could speak so outwardly about such, and I found it heartening that she now openly shares her love of food – and her enjoyment in eating healthy, delicious food.

The recipe below reflects the changes I made.
Chicken (or Fish) in Tomatillo Sauce
2 servings

1 cup (or so) coarsely chopped tomatillos
1/2 onion, coarsely chopped
1 large poblano chile, stemmed, seeded, and coarsely chopped
1 chipotle in adobe sauce
1/4 cup packed, coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 to 1/3 cup light sour cream
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 boneless chicken breasts (or mild fish filets)

Combine tomatillos, onion, peppers, chopped cilantro, and sour cream in a blender. Whirl until smoothly pureed. Pour green sauce into a sauté pan; add lime juice.

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Nestle chicken into the sauce, and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat, and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, 22 to 25 minutes.

With a wide spatula, transfer to plates and spoon sauce over portions, sprinkle with cilantro leaves.

Baked Zucchini Fries

This month for Secret Recipe Club I was assigned Jamie’s Cooking with Moxie. Secret Recipe Club is a gathering of food bloggers where bloggers are assigned another food blogger’s recipe site, selects and prepares a recipe, and on the designated day, shares the recipe made. It’s a great way to meet other bloggers and find new recipes. I truly appreciated how many savory recipes Jamie has featured on her blog since some months I’ve struggled finding something interesting that is not a sweet. Maybe it’s because she hails from a large, close-knit Italian family. I enjoyed all her family and friend pics on her About Me page. 
I bookmarked a few things:  chickpea cakes with tzatziki, bake pesto chicken because we have a ton of frozen, homemade pesto from this summer’s basil haul, and tilapia in caper sauce, Roman style since we eat fish at least once a week (and Craig would be thrilled it’s NOT salmon). But we needed a veg one night, and the zucchini fries with roasted garlic aioli caught my eye. These are easy and very tasty. The panko adds more crunch than regular breadcrumbs, and the zuc becomes almost creamy when baked. A great texture contrast. Even though I made it with grocery store zucs, this is a great use of overflowing, summer garden zucs. I cut the recipe in half for just the two of us, and we had it as an appetizer. When I went to roast the garlic for the aioli I realized we were out of a whole head (heresy, I know!) so we dipped them in (homemade, canned) marinara. We ended up eating all that I made, which was THREE zucchinis. Kind of addictive to say the least. Next time I may spice up the seasoning mix and make the aioli. 

Enjoy! The recipe below reflects the changes I've made to the original recipe.

Zucchini Fries
1/2 cup whole wheat panko breadcrumbs, seasoned with Italian seasonings
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
3 medium zucchinis
Olive oil cooking spray

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with nonstick foil and drizzle lightly with olive oil cooking spray.

Put panko breadcrumbs in a shallow bowl. Mix in grated Parmesan cheese. In another shallow bowl, add the beaten egg. Season both bowls with salt and pepper. Cut each zucchini into horizontal pieces to make the “fries".
Dip each zucchini piece into the egg mixture first, dripping off any excess, and then into the panko/cheese mixture, coating completely and place on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 15 minutes, turn. Bake another 15 minutes, until outside is crispy and browned.

We served them with homemade marinara. 

Eat Laugh Love is a Featured Blog

Check out Carole's Chatter this month, where I'm one of the featured blogs.
 Carole, from New Zealand, has a wonderfully diverse blog, full of not only recipes, but art, books, travel, and a bit of wicked humor. Be sure to bookmark it, and visit often.


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