Forbidden Cookbook: Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

Welcome to pumpkin season!

Some years back, Starbucks began carrying these absolutely delicious pumpkin cream cheese muffins during their pumpkin spice latte season. It was kind of hard to get them, frankly, because they usually sold out early in the day.

Well, there’s a whole movement of copycat recipes out there for menu items that are very popular at well-known chains. My cousin once gave me the recipe for Chuy’s creamy jalapeño dip, which was spot on, and I’ve also seen various copycat versions of the brown bread at Outback Steakhouse — although the jury is definitely out on those recipes, which are all quite different and have garnered very mixed reviews on their faithfulness to the original. (And if you have a source for a good one of those, please do share it with me!)

One copycat recipe which is not only authentic to the original but actually, if possible, even yummier, is Starbucks’ pumpkin cream cheese muffins. I wish I could tell you where I found it a number of years ago, but “online somewhere” is about the best I can give you.

And now I’m sharing it with you here. These pictures are from the batch my kid and I made this past weekend, and they were probably the best iterations of these muffins we’ve made to date! So delicious. And it has always, for us at least, been a two-person job. Before you attempt these, read over the recipe carefully for the process. There are a lot of steps. It’s not hard, there’s just a lot going on.

But so worth it!

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

Cream Cheese Mixture:
4 oz cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Candied Pumpkin Seeds:
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup pepitas (raw shelled pumpkin seeds)

Muffin Batter:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup canned pure pumpkin puree
3/4 cup vegetable oil

Cream Cheese: Using an electric mixer combine cream cheese, sugar and vanilla extract until smooth. Cover and chill until firm. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 12-cup muffin pan with paper muffin cups.

Candied Pumpkin Seeds: Spray large baking sheet with cooking spray. Heat seeds in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently, 5 minutes or until the seeds begin to pop. Add sugar, and stir constantly about 1 minute or until sugar begins to liquefy and caramelize; add cinnamon and salt. Spread seeds on prepared baking sheet, and cool. Break apart the seeds that are stuck together, once they have cooled.



Muffin Batter: Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice, and salt in a bowl. Set aside. Using an electric mixer, combine eggs, sugar, and vanilla; mix on low speed just to combine ingredients. Add pumpkin and oil, and continue to mix about 1 minute. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients, and mix until batter is smoother, about 30-60 seconds.


The Final Steps: Spoon batter into paper muffin cups, making batter level with top of the muffin cup. Add approximately 1 tablespoon of cream cheese mixture to the top of each muffin and press cream cheese down into the middle of each muffin cup of batter. Sprinkle muffins with candied pumpkin seeds.

Baking: Bake for 20-25 minutes, until slightly browned on top. (If you’re using a convection oven, go with the lower end of that time range.) To test for doneness insert a toothpick into center of muffin (not cream cheese), will come out clean.

Forbidden Cookbook: Can’t Complain Beef Stew

This rich stew goes well with baguettes or another crusty bread and a nice cabernet sauvignon. To lighten the meal with a refreshing side dish, add your favorite green salad.

2 lbs. stew beef
salt pepper
olive oil
2 envelopes dry onion mushroom soup mix
1 envelope dry Ranch dip mix
1 16 oz. bag frozen peas and carrots
2 15 oz. cans whole potatoes (drained)
3 cloves garlic, minced
pearl onions (peeled) — cipollines have a rich taste
2 envelopes dry brown mushroom gravy mix

Combine flour with salt and pepper (to taste) in mixing bowl. Coat chunks of beef in this mixture while heating large skillet with thin coat of olive oil on the bottom.

In skillet, brown the beef in olive oil. Transfer the beef to a pressure cooker. Empty two envelopes of dry onion mushroom soup mix and one envelope of Ranch dip mix over the beef.

Deglaze the skillet with water and then empty water onto the beef. Add more water until beef is covered and stir until everything is well mixed. Bring to boil, stirring now and then to prevent burning on the bottom of the pot.

Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir now and then to avoid scorching on the bottom of the pot. Then cover pot with pressurizing lid and simmer for another 20 minutes. (The pressure cooker helps make the stew beef, an inexpensive cut of meat, more tender.)

Remove pressure cooker from heat and release pressure with cool running water before opening it.

Add peas and carrots, potatoes, garlic, pearl onions, and brown mushroom gravy mix to pot and stir. If you’ve lost a lot of steam, you’ll want to add another couple of cups of water.

Pressurize pot again and cook on medium high heat until steam begins to escape the valve, and then reduce heat to low and cook for another 10 minutes. Remember to depressurize with cool running water before opening lid. Stir and let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Can't Complain Beef Stew with whole wheat French roll
Can’t Complain Beef Stew with whole wheat French roll

You can increase the recipe for larger groups: for 8 people (for example), add another pound of stew beef and another can of potatoes.

Forbidden Cookbook: Chocolate Chip Cookies That Maybe Shouldn’t Taste As Good As They Do

We found out a few weeks ago that my husband may be allergic to wheat. Seeing as his diet revolves around the enjoyment of gluten, this has ruined his world a little bit. In that first week after getting the news, he would randomly and with great regret announce things, a propos of nothing, that he could now no longer consume. One evening when he was loading the dishwasher, I heard from the next room the sudden outburst: “Cinnamon rolls!” Then a grumble and maybe an expletive. He’s taken to craving sourdough bread.

The Fairy Princess Badass and I decided we would try to find a way to make wheat-free cookies for him. The best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever eaten were made with rice flour, so I thought, Sure, I can do this. Of course, when I’d learned of this and tried to make those cookies, substituting rice flour instead of all-purpose and making no other changes, the result was a textural mess. This time I went to the Internet (or internet now, if you pay attention to the AP). I read a bunch of different kinds of wheat-free chocolate chip cookie recipes and people’s comments about how they’d modified said recipes. Then I cobbled together something that was like them that sounded like fun. Then I went to my pantry and figured out what ingredients I actually had and modified it a little more. I suspect I will continue playing with this one.

The cookies turned out beautifully and were quite tasty. The FPB wanted to use some cute cookie molds she’d gotten for her birthday, but I don’t recommend it with chocolate chip cookie batter because it’s lumpy and doesn’t really conform to shapes well. (The batter does, however, taste delicious.) This batch yields about 3-4 dozen medium-sized cookies.

If you use this recipe, post in the comments here and tell me about it. I’m also interested to know what variations you might experiment with, so do tell!


Wheat-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipes That Taste As Good As Their Glutinous Brethren



1 ¾ c. rice flour
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
½ stick (real) butter (softened)
¼ c. refined organic coconut oil
½ c. white sugar
½ c. brown sugar
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs (almost room temperature)
1 package chocolate morsels
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 dash nutmeg



Combine the rice flour, salt, and baking soda in a bowl. Set aside.

In a mixer, combine the butter, coconut oil, white sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla till just kind of gooey.

Add the flour mixture one giant spoonful at a time while the mixer is going on a slowish speed.

Add the chocolate chips while the mixer is still going.

Add in the cinnamon and nutmeg while the mixer is still going.

Turn off the mixer and scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl to make sure no part of the batter is left out of the mixing, and give it another spin if needed. Cover the mixture and put it in the refrigerator for two hours. (This is an important step that will prevent your finished product from having a grainy, crumbly, disappointing texture.)

When it’s time to bake the cookies, preheat your oven to 375 degrees. (I use a convection oven so I can put three cookie sheets in at once, but this means the oven will burn hot and things will cook faster. Moderate your cooking time, if need be, based on the kind of oven you’re using.)

Put roundish clumps of this glorious batter onto parchment paper on your cookie sheet. (Parchment paper is the best! The cookies will slide off it when they come out of the oven without fighting you and turning into a crumbly, disappointing mess. You won’t even need a spatula. It also makes the cookie sheet clean-up effortless.) Make sure you put the raw cookie blobs at least an inch apart, since they will spread and flatten out a bit in the oven.

Bake the cookies for 8 minutes or until golden brown.


wheat-free chocolate chip cookie


When you take them from the oven, you can lift the whole sheet of parchment with the cookies on it and set that on a cooling rack. They should be ready to eat in just a very few minutes.



National Poetry Month — Day 17

Today is my daughter’s birthday, and I’m one of those moms who makes her kids’ birthday cakes herself most of the time. One year, when the Fairy Princess Badass was very little, I came up with a chocolate cake hack for her birthday, and since I wasn’t sure whether it would end up being a nightmarish mess or something absolutely wonderful, I called it Chocolate Disaster Cake.

The only disaster was the impact it had on everyone who was trying to diet.

This cake has been the most popular dessert I’ve made for seven or eight years now. My aunt suggested Continue reading “National Poetry Month — Day 17”

Forbidden Cookbook: Pot Roast

This is a great dinner for a chilly evening. It’s very basic, and though it takes about an hour to prepare, most of that is stove time with the pressure cooker that you can use to do something else. I like to make the pot roast and use the au jus from the pot as a gravy over mashed potatoes and peas. (And to be really easy about it, use mashed potatoes from a mix and frozen peas.) Add a salad if you want and some ciabatta rolls, and yum.

I found a version of this recipe online, though I don’t remember where and can’t find it now (sorry). But as with all recipes, I tweaked it to exclude items I didn’t like or am allergic to and added things I do like. Then I played with measurements. (All the ones here are to taste unless otherwise indicated, but if you prefer having something concrete to go by, try it with 1 tsp. each of the herbs and go from there according to what you like.)

There’s no picture for this one because it’s just too boring to look at, despite how delicious and fall-apart tender it is.



beef roast (2-3 lbs.)
olive oil (enough to coat the bottom of your pressure cooker)
1 envelope Ranch dip mix
1 envelope brown mushroom gravy mix
garlic salt
black pepper
minced dried onion
dried thyme
dried oregano
dried parsley
24 oz. beef broth
1 white or yellow onion, thinly sliced

If you have the time and want to get fancy, add sliced baby bella mushrooms when you put in the sliced onion.

Heat olive oil in pressure cooker and brown roast on all sides in it. Be careful not to splash or burn yourself; the oil will heat very quickly.

In a small bowl, mix Ranch dip mix, mushroom gravy mix, and other herbs and spices together. Sprinkle them evenly over roast. Add beef broth and diced onion. Stir broth around so that herb mixture covering roast is moistened and diced onion pieces are in the broth. Seal the lid on the pressure cooker and cook on high heat until the pressure indicator sounds.

Turn heat down to medium and cook for 45 minutes.

Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Run under cold water to help release pressure before unsealing the lid.



Forbidden Cookbook: Three-Bean Pasta Salad

I love bacon and Ranch dressing, but I’m sort of tired of those being the driving factors in my pasta salad, so here’s something a little different with a little bit of a Mediterranean flair. It’s quite light, especially if you go easy on the homemade dressing (and if you want to swap it out for a different dressing you like better, you can). This recipe makes enough for a party, so if you aren’t throwing one, cut the recipe in half or plan to have leftovers.

pasta salad

ingredients for pasta salad:

  • 1 package tri-color pasta of your choice––I like the corkscrew kind.
  • 1 package edamame, shelled––Follow the cooking instructions on the bag.
  • 1 can baby corn
  • 1 can dark red kidney beans (low sodium preferred), drained
  • 1 can cannellini beans, drained––You can substitute garbanzo beans (chick peas) if you like.
  • 1 can quartered artichoke hearts, drained
  • 1 small jar kalamata olives, drained
  • 1 small package crumbled feta cheese
  • 3 or 4 stalks of heart of palm, sliced into discs

ingredients for homemade dressing:

  • garlic salt
  • lemon pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil––Make sure you go with a brand that tastes good!
  • lemon juice

Boil the water for the pasta for a dollop of olive oil instead of salt. Follow the instructions on the pasta.

Follow the instructions on the edamame to steam them.

Drain and rinse the canned/jarred ingredients.

Mix all the yummies together in a large bowl.

Now for the dressing, which is a Lebanese dressing my grandmother and mom taught me, and which I use for many kinds of salad. Add the garlic salt and lemon pepper to taste. I usually cover the entire bowl with each spice because it will be mixed in with a lot of pasta salad. (You can be more generous with the lemon pepper; if you add too much salt the flavor won’t feel light or refreshing.) Add enough olive oil to coat everything slightly but not enough for the oil to collect at the bottom of the bowl. Add a generous dollop of lemon juice. Mix everything together.

Serve cold. Enjoy!

Forbidden Cookbook: Sneaky Vegetable Lasagna

The title of this recipe post might be a little misleading, because the lasagna I’m about to share with you does contain meat, though you could leave it out if you wanted.

This is a wonderful one-dish meal for families whose members include finicky kids who won’t eat vegetables. It has fiber, veggies, dairy, and meat all in one. It also goes nicely, if you’re feeding a hungry bunch, with ciabatta rolls or garlic bread. Add a salad and you have a delicious weeknight feast. But be forewarned: a serving of this stuffed lasagna can be really filling!

I admit the prep isn’t super quick; mine took about 20 minutes. And the cooking time could be about 45 minutes. So start this one as soon as everyone gets home from work/school. The good news is that this makes about 8-12 servings, depending on the size of your pan and how you slice the lasagna up, so it could potentially be two meals. I recommend a 9”x13” casserole dish, unless, like me, you have a brownie pan with walls in the middle. (If you use such a brownie pan, you reduce the risk of a soupy middle, but you will probably have to break and artfully arrange the noodles when you lay them in the pan, which adds a few minutes to your prep time.)


  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • 1 can reduced sodium dark red kidney beans (drained)
  • SNEAKY PART ALERT: baby food purées of butternut squash, carrots, and green beans (though any orange-colored baby food will work well here, as they hide in the sauce undetectable by children on the lookout for Evil Vegetables They Refuse To Eat)
  • oregano (to taste)
  • 15 oz. ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg (slightly beaten)
  • SNEAKY PART ALERT: 1 jar (about 24 oz.) spaghetti sauce––with mushrooms and olives (So sneaky!)
  • 1 15-oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1 box no-boil lasagna noodles
  • at least 2 cups shredded Italian cheese blend (though plain mozzarella will work well here)
  • 3 tablespoons ground parmesan/romano/asiago cheese blend (though plain parmesan will work well here)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (Fahrenheit).

Brown ground turkey on stove in large skillet. When meat is browned and crumbly, add baby foods, kidney beans, spaghetti sauce, and tomato sauce. Sprinkle oregano on top. Stir and cook on medium high heat until bubbling, then reduce heat to low and let simmer. (You could also add any other finely chopped veggies to the sauce at this point, if you wanted. I imagine onions, portabella mushrooms, bell peppers, extra olives, zucchini, yellow squash, and eggplant would all be tasty here. Replacing the ground turkey––or whatever other ground meat you wish, such as beef or crumbled sausage––with these various vegetables could make this a good meatless entrée.)

lasagna sauce
yummy meat sauce with sneaky vegetables

Combine egg and ricotta cheese and more oregano in bowl. (If you wish to add basil here, do so. I don’t because I’m allergic to it.)

Spread a thin layer of meat sauce on the bottom of the lasagna pan. Spread a layer of noodles on top of this. Spoon some of the ricotta mixture over the noodles. Add a layer of meat sauce to cover the ricotta mixture. Sprinkle the shredded cheese blend over the whole thing. Spread another layer of noodles on this, then repeat the ricotta, meat sauce, and shredded cheese steps. Do it all one more time if you have room in the pan. Keep going until you’ve filled the pan about ¾ of the way to the top.

Add one last layer of noodles, then the remaining sauce, and finally the remaining shredded cheese. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese blend over the whole thing.

Cover with foil and bake 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake another 10-15 minutes or until bubbling. Let the lasagna rest five minutes before cutting into it and serving.

baked lasagna
The deliciousness is resting before we dig in!

Forbidden Cookbook: Lemon Chicken Tagine

I love a tagine.

For the uninitiated: a tagine is a Moroccan-style stew; it’s also the vessel said stew is cooked in. A tagine can be a one-pot meal, containing most of your food groups in a single, easy-to-prepare dish. Served over couscous or rice, it makes an easy but comfortably complex dining experience, excellent for all weathers. If you really want to be balanced, add a salad or green vegetable on the side.

It’s easy to find tagine cookbooks, and it’s actually not all that difficult to find tagines, either. My husband bought me this small and beautiful one for Mother’s Day a few years ago from Williams-Sonoma. It’s the perfect size for our family of four and sits directly on our gas stove. (If you have an electric range, tagines sometimes have to be handled a little differently; you can refer to the cookpot’s instructional guidelines for more information. They operate beautifully in an oven, too, which is what I used in our old house that had a glass cooktop.)





So the other night I needed to make dinner and didn’t have anything planned, but I did have a few simple ingredients on hand in the pantry (including canned vegetables, which means this was super easy to put together, though fresh ones will work beautifully too if you have the time). I made what I’m calling a Lemon Chicken Tagine. It ended up being delicious served over jasmine rice. Here’s the recipe.






1 lb. fresh (or thawed, if frozen) chicken thighs
extra virgin olive oil (for sautéeing)
butter (for sautéeing)
minced garlic
1 can button mushrooms, drained
1 lemon, scrubbed and sliced (discard the rind tips)
1 can chick peas (also called garbanzo beans), drained
1 can sliced white potatoes, drained
salt (optional)
pepper (optional)
garlic salt
lemon pepper




In a large pan (not your tagine yet), sautée the garlic and mushrooms in enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Add butter to taste; I usually drop in a good-sized spoonful scooped from the spreadable butter or a tablespoon of stick butter. Add the chicken thighs, chick peas, and potato slices. Now is a good time to add a little salt and pepper, if you like, to taste. Cook until the chicken is done (internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit), turning the thighs now and then and stirring the vegetables around.

When this is finished, transfer everything to the tagine. Add garlic salt and lemon pepper to taste. Spread the lemon slices around evenly. Add water to the dish just until everything is mostly covered, then stir everything up to make sure it’s well mixed. Stir gently, though: this dish will be full!

Cook the stew until it comes to a boil. Refer again to your own cookpot’s instructions for heating guidelines; mine works well up to medium heat on the stove. Once the stew is boiling, stir once more — gently — then cover with the conical cover and simmer on low heat. Again, individual tagine manufacturers  will recommend individual timing guidelines. (If your cookpot doesn’t have an instructional guide, you can find all manner of resources online to go with yours by doing a simple search.)

Here’s what my Lemon Chicken Tagine looked like when it was ready to serve:


Lemon Chicken Tagine


Sort of a monochromatic meal, I admit, but the whole thing took less than 45 minutes to conceive of and prepare, and even my finicky-as-all-get-out children ate it and liked it, so I’m calling it a success! I served it over jasmine rice, and we even had enough leftovers for one hungry person to heat up for lunch or dinner.

Like I said before, there are all manner of tagine cookbooks out there. I even have a really good one. The thing is, a lot of the recipes in it don’t really work for my family most of the time. There’s always at least one ingredient that someone hates or is allergic to or that is impossible to find at the grocery store around the corner. Mostly what I’ve found is that these recipes are adaptable. Pick one that gets it mostly right for you and then pick and choose from the ingredients list as you see fit. Make substitutions with similar foods. Play around with it. Enjoy!


Forbidden Cookbook: Game Day Guac (and a Haiku Contest Update at the Bottom of This Post)

I do not watch the Super Bowl.

Even though I live in Texas, I admit I don’t really care for football, not any part of it, and so I don’t host or attend Super Bowl parties as a general rule.  I don’t watch the game, not even for the commercials (though I have been to quite a few SB parties in the past which were primarily devoted to watching the commercials).

But I know a lot of people do enjoy it, and so I wanted to share my recipe for Continue reading “Forbidden Cookbook: Game Day Guac (and a Haiku Contest Update at the Bottom of This Post)”