Session 11 – Pumpkin Bran Muffins

Aaaand I’m back! Happy Holidays, everyone 🙂 I hope you have been enjoying the fall holidays thus far. Sorry for the absence – broken foot, life, yadda yadda. I wanted to get back in the swing of things with a pumpkin bran muffin recipe. I love pumpkin anything, and have never experimented with bran or wheat germ before.


This recipe was curious – it called for bran cereal. I found some bran flake cereal that contained “sun activated antioxidants”… I did not leave the flakes in the sun to test this theory. The recipe called for nuts but I am not a fan of pecans so I substituted blueberries in half the batter (pumpkin and blueberry is a tremendous combo). It’s a two-ish step process to make the batter, and takes only 20 minutes to bake. The wheat germ I had was non-toasted, so I had to toast it quickly in the oven which only took about 5 minutes. Fill the muffin tins 2/3rds of the way and you’re good to go!

The Results

The muffins were good! I especially liked the batch with blueberries in them, they gave the muffins a nice zing. This recipe will not be a keeper for me, however. It was a little too much effort for a mediocre result – I don’t usually have the basic ingredients on hand, and now I have an excess! The muffins are very dense and don’t spring up in the oven. They keep the same rough shape as how you spoon them into the tins. The bran taste is one I appreciate; I might try this again with whole wheat flour for a more multi-grain approach. For the record, my roommates liked the muffins! They are best toasted with butter 🙂 .

The Recipes

Pumpkin Bran Muffins

Ingredients – makes 8 muffins

3/4 C whole bran cereal
1/2 C skim milk
1/2 C canned pumpkin
1 beaten eg
2 TBSP brown sugar
2 TBSP melted butter
1/2 C flour
1 TBSP toasted wheat germ
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 C chopped pecans (optional)
8 pecan halves as garnish
blueberries (optional)


In a small mixing bowl, lightly crush bran flakes and pour in milk, submerging the flakes. Soak for 3 minutes. Stir in pumpkin, egg, brown sugar, and butter. In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, wheat germ, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Make a well in the center, add bran mixture and stir until moistened. Fold in pecans or blueberries, if using.

Grease muffin cups and fill each 2/3rds of the way. Top each muffin with a pecan half or desired garnish and bake at 400ºF for 20-25 minutes. Cool and serve.

Approximate Nutritional Information

160 Calories, 4g protein, 21g carbohydrates, 8g fat, 210mg sodium, 3g dietary fiber, 6% RDA calcium (US).

PROTIP: You can use non-dairy milk and butter if you choose without affecting the bake consistency!


Session 10 – Broccoli-Cheese Delight

A belated Happy Father’s Day to you all! I neglected my parents in favor of celebrating my best friend from college’s wedding day in northern New Jersey. Before I left for the weekend, I was able to give a new recipe a whirl! “Broccoli-Cheese Delight” – seems to be in Grandmother Rubright’s handwriting, though there is no name to attest that fact; I’ll have to ask her! I had never seen anything like this recipe before, one that called for cheese and eggs with the vegetables. It was hard to envision the end result, but I was game to investigate!

As shown above, the secret ingredients in this dish were onion and garlic powder, powdered bouillon, and ricotta cheese. An interesting mix for sure. The original recipe called for frozen broccoli, but I used fresh broccoli instead, cutting the heads down to small florets. Then, you blend the secret ingredients with eggs and some cheddar cheese, combining with the broccoli in a baking dish, and bake for 30 minutes. I added an additional step by topping the dish with Nutritional Yeast – an alternative to parmesan cheese. It creates a nice crisp top. Ultimately, this is a very straightforward recipe, and doesn’t take long to put together at all!

The Results

This recipe was pretty good. The resulting dish was very similar to a quiche, only quite as eggy. The ricotta gives an interesting texture to the dish, it doesn’t smooth much through the blending process. I personally would like to try reworking this dish to get a creamier texture, perhaps adding some milk or cream, so it is going on the chopping block. I would also up the amount of cheddar to 1 cup.


Fun fact, I got adventurous one morning and had a scoop of this broccoli dish for breakfast with a fried egg on top. That, was amazing. Recipes below!

The Recipes

Broccoli-Cheese Delight

Ingredients – serves 4-5

4 C broccoli spears
1 C part-skim ricotta
1/2 C shredded cheddar cheese
4 eggs
2 tsp minced onions flakes (or onion powder)
1 tsp instant chicken flavored broth mix (bouillon mix)
1 tsp garlic powder
1 TBSP all-purpose flour
salt & pepper to taste
optional: parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast


Preheat over to 350ºF. Spray large square baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Cut raw broccoli into small florets. Place evenly in baking dish. Blend all remaining ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth. Pour mixture evenly over the broccoli, top with parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast if desired, and bake for 30 minutes or until set and lightly browned.

PROTIP: Watch this in the oven carefully towards the end – you don’t want to over-bake, which dries out the dish.

Session 9 – Quick Chicken Dijonnaise

Happy Mother’s Day! If you are honoring the memory of a mother today, my heart goes out to you and your family. It’s so very hard losing a parent, but hopefully you can find comfort in remembering them on a day like today with other family members. Below are some pictures of my mom when I was little. The left photo is Aunt Maggs and her mom, Granny Meier, on either side of my mom who is holding me (in a super cute bib). The left is my mom and I going for a dip in the Poconos. I am so grateful that my dad was a shutterbug and took so many pictures of the family growing up.

This morning I went out to lunch with my mom’s parents and sister, and being around her relatives (and mine) made me feel like I was honoring my mom’s memory in a very real way. I will never be able to cast off these feelings of missing her, but my 30th birthday being right around the corner adds a level of complexity to this mother’s day in particular. It’s a big milestone birthday, and it is heartbreaking not to be able to spend it with her. I am thankful to be close with my family and have some amazing and wonderful friends to help me celebrate the big day (in New Orleans!).

Coincidentally, I chose a completely handwritten recipe for this cooking session – “Quick Chicken Dijonnaise”. I can pick out my mom’s handwriting out of a thousand samples; I saw it’s distinctive lettering all my life. Most special to me were the notes she left me to find tucked in my luggage on vacations without her or at sleepover camp, or the “boxes of love” she would send me while at college to get me through finals or other minor holidays away from home. One of the great parts of this project is to see her writing again on some of the recipe cards.


Chicken Dijonnaise, as written, calls for chicken cutlets and a quick stovetop prep. I opted to use a flat of chicken thighs I already had in the freezer and turned the sauce into a marinade! After thinly slicing the shallots and dicing tarragon, I cooked up the sauce on the stovetop and it’s intoxicating aroma filled the kitchen. Off to a good start!

I then trimmed the excess fat off of the chicken thighs and threw them into a gallon ziplock bag with the cooled sauce. After 30 minutes in the fridge, they went into the oven and came out tender and juicy after an hour of baking. I served the chicken with a side of roasted zucchini, but this would also be delicious with rice, potatoes, or any vegetable side.

The Results

This recipe is fantastic. The shallots and tarragon really add a great depth of flavor with a hint of sweetness that is further brought out by the white wine. This would absolutely work well as the original recipe intended with chicken cutlets on the stove, but was equally successful as a quick marinade. A+!


(…apologies for the non-plated shot…)

The Recipes

Chicken Dijonnaise

Ingredients – serves 4-5

1 package chicken breast cutlets or boneless thighs
1 TBSP butter
2 large shallots, sliced (about 1/2 C)
1/2 tsp dried tarragon (or a few sprigs of fresh tarragon, diced)
1/4 C chicken broth
1/4 C white wine
1 TBSP dijon mustard
salt & pepper


If using cutlets:
Season chicken with salt and pepper to taste. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium high heat and brown chicken, two minutes on each side. Remove chicken from the skillet and set aside. Add shallots and tarragon to the pan, stirring frequently and cooking for about one minute. Stir in broth, wine, and mustard until blended and bring to a boil. Return chicken to skillet and once boiling, reduce to low, cover, and simmer until chicken is cooked through; about 5-6 minutes. Serve with sauce over the chicken.

If using thighs:
Preheat oven to 400º. In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium high heat. Add shallots and tarragon to the saucepan, stirring frequently and cooking for about one minute. Stir in broth, wine, and mustard until blended and bring to a boil for a full minute to cook off the alcohol. Turn off the burner and remove the sauce from heat. Let sit until sauce is room temperature (or place entire pan into fridge for ten minutes or so if you have the room!). While the sauce is cooling, trim the excess fat off of the chicken thighs and place in a gallon ziplock bag. Add cooled sauce, seal tightly, and toss to coat. Let sit to marinade in the fridge for at least half an hour, or overnight. Dump contents of ziplock bag into a glass baking dish, making sure to get out all of the shallots and as much of the sauce as possible. Bake at 400º for 55 minutes, cover with foil if the top of the chicken is getting too brown or dried out. Serve with sauce over the chicken.

PROTIP: To learn more about cooking with wine and the basic accepted standards of how/if alcohol burns off while cooking, check out this article. The small amount of wine used in this recipe does evaporate significantly at a rolling boil for a minute, but not all – this is important to note for anyone with alcohol sensitivities (religious or other!)

VEGAN PROTIP: You can substitute vegan butter and veggie broth for the sauce and find a way to use it – it would probably do well tossed in with rice and some veggies/tofu!

Session 8 – Turkey Marsala

In between carting Zeus to more vet appointments and a bunch of weekends out of town, I was able to try out another new recipe from the box! Huzzah! This was a recipe card that clearly came with a Perdue product – Perdue (Young?) Turkey Breast Marsala. I rarely cook with turkey, so I figured this would make a somewhat challenging yet delicious recipe. If you don’t like mushrooms, I can’t help you because they REALLY make this dish (as any good Italian will inform you).


To start, you slice up a turkey tenderloin, pound out each medallion between two pieces of saran wrap into thin pieces and then saute. It’s amazing how quick a quarter inch thick piece of meat will cook!

Then, you cook up the mushrooms and start making the sauce with some fancy Marsala wine. I’ll be honest, I didn’t get this sauce exactly right. It’s technically a reduction, which means you simmer the liquid for a long time until at least half of it evaporates, aka reduces. The sauce thickens during this process, yielding a nice flavorful consistency without needing to add cream. It takes longer than you’d expect, dependent on how much liquid you start with of course, and requires patience and faith. I had doubled the recipe and thus the sauce because I was going to freeze half of my yield, so I should have waited longer than I did to properly reduce the sauce. But, when it’s almost midnight… you give up some ideals along the way!

Once the sauce is reduced, you throw everything back in the pan to finish cooking and meld the flavors together over low heat. I made some steamed broccoli and long grain wild rice as side dishes.

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The Results

The Turkey Marsala was a success! The flavors were even better the next day after the leftovers sat in the fridge in all of the sauce. The next time I try this, I’m still going to double the sauce but try for a more perfect reduction. I’m also going to let everything simmer together in the pan to really try and blend the flavors more before serving.


The Recipes

Because you’ve all been so patient, I’ll throw in another bonus recipe. It was not from the family recipe box, but it is a healthier alternative to brownies that features a secret ingredient: zucchini! Plus, it’s VEGAN. Enjoy! (Original Recipe found here!)


Turkey Breast Marsala

Ingredients – serves 4-5

1 package turkey breast tenderloins
1 flat baby portobellos, sliced
4 TBSP butter, divided
1/2 C Marsala wine
1/4 C water
1/2 C beef broth
salt & pepper


Slice tenderloin into 1 inch thick medallions. Place a few medallions between the two square sheets of plastic wrap with plenty of room around each. Use the flat side of a meat tenderizer to gently pound out each medallion to about 1/4 inch thickness. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter and add mushrooms. Saute until cooked down, adding salt and pepper to taste. Remove from pan and set aside. Add the remaining 2 TBSP butter to the pan and saute the turkey pieces on each side until cooked through. Remove the turkey and set aside. Add Marsala, water, and broth to skillet and cook, stirring until liquid is reduced to 1/2 C. Return turkey and mushrooms to the pan and cook an additional 5 minutes or so to bring everything up to the same temperature. Serve warm over wild rice.

PROTIP: Instead of a meat tenderizer, you can use a soup can to flatten the tenderloin medallions. Feel free to use additional spices to flavor the dish, such as garlic and onion powder; add these while sauteing the turkey.

VEGAN PROTIP: You can use this sauce in other recipes by using vegetable broth and vegan butter!


Vegan Dark Chocolate Zucchini Brownies


2 C shredded zucchini, lightly drained of excess moisture
1 1/2
C granulated sugar
1/2 C canola oil
1 C unbleached all-purpose flour
1 C whole wheat flour
1/4 C unsweetened dark chocolate cocoa powder
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 C vegan semi-sweet chocolate chips


Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Coat a 8×8 baking dish with cooking spray.

In a large mixing bowl, combine sugar, oil, and flour until the mixture resembles wet sand. Mix in cocoa, zucchini, vanilla, salt, and baking soda until well combined. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the chocolate chips.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs clinging. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. Cut into squares and serve.

PROTIP: You can also use a 13×9 baking pan and expect to bake for about 10 minutes less time. Monitor the consistency with a toothpick while finishing baking. I swear to you; you will NEVER be able to tell these are veggie based/vegan! I brought them to a bridal shower and they went like hotcakes, just like the typical boxed brownies.

ALLERGEN PROTIP: You can use gluten free flour with this recipe instead of the regular wheat flour mix.

Session 7 – Breakfast Puffs

Well then! 3 months have passed in my blogging efforts. I have still been cooking dutifully every week, but have forgone the recipe box out of convenience and familiarity with other recipes. In December, days after my last post in fact, I fell ill and unfortunately the illness carried me into the beginning weeks of January. At that point, another member of my family fell ill right as I recovered. This, however, was different.

Jeff Benchich, beloved husband to Aunt Maggs and stepfather to Dan, Nancy, and Jack of the Blayney clan, and my amazing uncle (who honestly felt more like a stepfather to me), passed suddenly in the middle of January 2017. He is sorely missed, and will continue to be an inspiration and mentor to everyone in his life despite of our inability to talk with him as we once did. Eventually some of his amazing recipes will be featured in this blog as well. Rest in Peace, Jeff.


As we entered into February, I once again was struck with illness that lasted the entirety of the short month. As I healed, life again had other plans. Zeus was hospitalized with a condition requiring minor surgery, and then major surgery was required when he didn’t improve. Things got dicey, but luckily he is doing alright. He’s got a beautiful new headdress as prize for his troubles.


Yes, it’s pathetic. But we’re making it through. And of course, two days after his surgery, I was once again struck down with illness that took me out of work for a week straight and cost me a business trip to sunny Miami (what would have been a welcome relief from this frigid March in Philadelphia!). And that takes us right up to Friday, folks! So I hope you will forgive my absence, but often times life has other plans and it is all we can do to just function, setting aside our passions for our necessities until once again returning to the usual status quo.

Onto cooking! Today I rekindled the recipe box project with a simple recipe from my Aunt Joan: “Breakfast Puffs.” My grandmother from the Rubright clan said that this recipe came from a restaurant near where her sister, Joan, lived. The recipe card has a note saying “Cindia Restaurant,” so I expect that’s it! They would order this whenever they dined there, having the muffin halved and grilled with melted butter on top. It was a nice memory for my grandmother to recall, and she was excited to hear how the recipe would turn out.


Funny enough, when I first skimmed the recipe I thought these were mini egg frittatas because of the name; I just assumed they were savory. But once I started gathering ingredients I quickly noticed all of the cinnamon and sugar in the recipe. Oops. This recipe is fairly straightforward like all other muffin/cupcake recipes. Cream together butter and sugar then mix in the dry ingredients. I went a little heavy handed with the cinnamon (doubled it) because in my experience older recipes typically err on the conservative side with any spices – especially cinnamon.

I utilized my mini muffin tin pans because it makes these sugary treats easier to eat in moderation, and easier to share! After lining the tins, I decided to experiment with a few blueberry and bananas at the bottom of the muffin cups in addition to the straight batter. Bake for 10 minutes and these are ready to go! I also did a bonus round of regular sized muffins with a banana on top, and those trays only took ten minutes as well.

The final step to these treats is to roll the muffins in melted butter and cinnamon/sugar. Because I used muffin liners, rolling wasn’t resulting in the prettiest final product. So, I used a silicon basting brush to apply the butter and sprinkled the cinnamon/sugar on top.

The Results

These muffins were great! Super quick and easy recipe. I would highly recommend adding 2 bananas (chopped) stirred into the batter and a sliced banana on top (in the case of the larger muffins). These would be perfect with coffee, or halved and toasted with butter as my grandmother and great-aunt loved them 🙂 .


The Recipes

In this session, I’ll throw in a bonus recipe. It was not from the family recipe box, but it is a healthier alternative to mac and cheese that features delicious roasted veggies and America’s favorite mystery meat, hot dogs. Enjoy!


Breakfast Puffs

Ingredients – makes about 2 dozen full sized muffins

5 TBSP butter, room temperature
1/2 C sugar + 2 TBSP sugar
2 eggs
2 C flour
1 tsp cinnamon + 1 TBSP cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 C milk
optional: 2 small bananas, chopped and 1 banana sliced into rounds
2 TBSP salted butter, melted


Preheat oven to 350º F. In a large bowl, cream together butter and 1/2 C sugar until soft and well mixed. Beat in eggs. In a separate bowl, combine flour, 1 tsp cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Alternate adding milk and dry ingredients into the egg mixture, stirring into a batter. Stir in bananas, if using. Line muffin tins with cupcake liners if desired, or grease the tins with baking spray. Pour batter into cups until halfway full (no matter which sized tins you are using). Top with a slice of banana, if using. Bake for 10 minutes or until muffins are spongy.

Combine remaining cinnamon and remaining sugar in a small ramekin. Once removed from the oven, coat the top of each muffin with melted butter and sprinkle on the cinnamon/sugar mixture. Serve warm or at room temperature.

PROTIP: Feel free to add additional fruit to this recipe.


Cheesy Baked Quinoa

Ingredients – serves 4

1 C quinoa
1 1/4 C water

2 C broccoli/cauliflower (small bite-sized florets)
olive oil, slat & pepper to taste

optional: 2 hotdogs, quartered and chopped
1 C milk
1 C ch
eddar cheese
panko or breadcrumbs
nutritional yeast or parmesan cheese


Preheat oven to 400º F. Toss veggies in a bowl with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil (as needed) and salt and pepper to taste. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay out each piece in a single layer over the sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, edges of veggies should just be beginning to brown/crisp.

While the veggies are baking, bring water to a boil in a medium sauce pot, add quinoa and reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes or until the water has evaporated, stirring once to fluff. Turn off burner and keep covered, set aside. Cook hot dog pieces in microwave, about a minute, until cooked through and starting to curl.

Once everything is cooked, reduce oven temperature to 350º F. Turn burner back onto medium heat and place the quinoa pot back over the heat. Stir in milk and bring everything to an evenly warm temperature. Once milk is hot, stir in cheese, then veggies and hot dogs. Pour quinoa mixture into a square baking dish and top with a 1/4 inch layer of panko and sprinkle with a layer of nutritional yeast. Bake at 350º for 25 minutes until bubbling and top is golden; cool for 10 minutes before serving.

PROTIP: This recipe would also work with pasta.

VEGAN PROTIP: Use daiya or vegan cheese and you’re good to go! (Sans hot dogs, of course)