Five Must Try Pumpkin Desserts

This week’s post is by Amy Desrosiers of Savvy Saving Couple.

Now that autumn is upon us, the air is just a bit chillier here, and I’ve been finding it hard not to be busy in the kitchen. Pumpkins aren’t just for decorating; they make a mighty delicious ingredient for baking and cooking. In my house, we love pretty much pumpkin anything!  Muffins and cookies are so versatile, but adding the secret ingredient of pumpkin to them can make them especially appealing this season. Even things like oatmeal cookies can even be jazzed up with canned pumpkin to make them one hard to resist snack!

In the mood for some seasonal baking? Check out these five must-make pumpkin desserts for this fall. I have included two gluten-free options as well since we do have an intolerant family member. Regardless of the fact that they are sans wheat, they are still equally delicious!

Sugar and Spice Pumpkin Muffins:

These easy to bake mini-muffins have a chewy, soft, yet dense texture. Rolled in warm butter, and cinnamon and sugar, they become an awesome treat!

Soft Baked Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies:

Love traditional oatmeal raisin cookies? Kick them up a notch by adding canned pumpkin. They are soft baked, and perfect with a glass of milk.

Gluten Free Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies:

These bite sized pumpkin chocolate chip cookies may be small on size, but they are jam-packed with flavor. The almond flour provides these cookies with a soft texture and moist taste.

Gluten Free Pumpkin Chip Muffins:

Love traditional pumpkin chip muffins but want a delicious gluten free alternative? Try these super moist “bumpy” pumpkin muffins for a convenient breakfast option.

Pumpkin Ice Cream:

Want to try the ultimate fall ice cream? You must make this pumpkin ice cream recipe because it is so easy, and oh my gosh good! The velvety texture and pumpkin spice taste are enough to make you want more!

Pumpkin Ice Cream Ingredients:

  • 1 can of pumpkin-not pumpkin pie filling
  • 1 & 2/3 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground clove
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2/3 cups of brown sugar

In a mixer, or large bowl mix all your pumpkin ice cream ingredients until well blended. Add the mixture to your ice cream machine, and blend until you reach a soft serve consistency. This recipe serves 8 people, and would make a wonderful addition to a slice of pumpkin pie.

Regardless of which recipe you try, they are all very easy and do not require a culinary degree. I hope you enjoy the start of the fall season with some good old pumpkin comfort foods.


Meal Planning Monday ~ The Dairy Debacle

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

If you’ve been following my Meal Planning Monday blog for any length of time, you know how much I love cheese!  So, you can imagine my dismay when my natural health practitioner told me that I was sensitive to dairy and if I wanted to see real improvement in my allergy symptoms, I need to cut way back on milk products.  (My biggest allergy is mold… and cheese is essentially moldy milk, so this definitely stands to reason.)

I was glad that my health practitioner recommended a gradual replacement of my dairy products with alternatives rather than going cold-turkey.  She had me keep a food diary so we could pinpoint potential problems.  The first week of keeping the food dairy was an eye-opening experience!  I didn’t realize how much dairy I was eating every day: half & half in my coffee, whey protein in my post-workout smoothie, a slice of cheese on my breakfast sandwich, string cheese for a snack, cheese on my taco salad for lunch, cheese on my turkey burger for dinner, and Greek yogurt for my evening snack.  Yes, that is a LOT of dairy on a typical day for me.  So, one by one, I’ve started replacing all of that mucus-producing dairy with other options.

 My coffee is extremely important to me and I like it to taste good!  I normally sweeten it with a little stevia or coconut sugar, add a dash of cinnamon or cocoa powder, and some half-and-half.  I began replace ½ of the half-and-half with vanilla coconut milk until I worked up to all coconut milk.  I also liked the chocolate almond milk as a coffee creamer, but my husband drank most of it because it is that delicious.

Finding a replacement for my protein powder was a little more challenging.  I’m doing Shaun T’s Insanity program right now, and I feel better post-workout if I have a good protein shake.  My stomach is sensitive to artificial sweeteners, so I had to find one that was whey-free and sweetened with stevia.  I finally settled on PlantFusion which is actually a vegan protein powder.  It is slightly grainy, but blended with a frozen banana and berries, it’s very tasty.

I’ll admit, I had a lot of heartache over finding a replacement for my favorite evening snack – Greek yogurt.  It took me a while to warm up to coconut “yogurt” (cultured coconut milk).  I also realized that I don’t HAVE to have yogurt as my final snack of the day.  I could have some berries, nuts, or a little bit of Enjoy Life’s dairy-free dark chocolate chunks.  Or… some of this awesome Cookies ‘n Cream coconut “ice cream”!

Here are some other things I’ve learned during this process of culling out dairy from my diet:

  • I’m not alone in my quest to avoid dairy.  As I’ve talked to friends about it, I was surprised how many others were avoiding  it because of allergies, stomach issues, or a desire to avoid added hormones.
  • Butter doesn’t affect my allergies at all!  Yay for butter!!  The one dairy product I can eat with almost abandon!  (Grass-fed, organic butter is best – which thankfully I can buy that at my co-op).
  • By putting turkey bacon on my egg sandwich – instead of on the side – I don’t miss having the cheese.  Also, using hummus or pesto as a spread on my sandwiches serves as a good replacement for cheese.
  • I feel weird about asking the waiter to “hold the cheese” when ordering in restaurants.
  • I wonder, “Is it possible to OD on coconut products?”  I hope not!

Do you have any food allergies?  If so, what do you do to avoid your triggers?



Meal Planning Monday ~ Best of Summer


Happy Memorial Day!  Much love and respect to our troops, past and present, and to the families of our fallen soldiers.

I know that the official first day of summer is June 21st, but for me the start of summer is Memorial Day weekend.  Everyone is out manning the grills, mowing the lawns, and opening the swimming pools.  So I thought I would highlight some of the “Best of Summer” Meal Planning posts so you can make sure your summer meals are both easy and tasty.  Here are some of my favorites!


Save Big, But Still Impress, at Your Summer BBQ ~ How to have an awesome BBQ without breaking the bank!
Favorite Picnic Side Dishes ~ Inspiration for your side dishes to accompany your burgers and hot dogs!
Keeping It Cool in the Kitchen ~ Get tips for cooking great summer meals without heating up the kitchen.
Summer Desserts ~ A round up of sweet, cool treats for hot, sticky days!
I am an Ice Cream Evil Genius!  For those of you with an ice cream maker, don’t miss these delicious recipes.
Happy Campers ~ Great recipes for your summer camping trips.
Summer Fun ~ These aren’t recipes to eat, but for fun activities to keep your kids occupied and happy all summer!
What are  your best tips for successful meal planning during the summer months?

Meal Planning Monday ~ I am an Ice Cream Evil Genius!

I am an ice cream evil genius!

This week’s blog post is by Christine Luken.

A few weeks ago, I bought my husband an ice cream machine for his birthday. He loved it! I’m pretty sure his exact words were, “You are the best wife, ever!” Yes, that man LOVES his ice cream. If you haven’t been to the store lately to buy ice cream, you may not have noticed that it is expensive!! I try to buy food that is all natural, without high fructose corn syrup and other chemical additives. So Bryer’s is my ice cream brand of choice, but at over $6.00 for a half-gallon that’s hard to swallow.

Not only does making my own ice cream save me money, it also tastes SO much better than store-bought. Plus, I can control the amount of sugar and fat that goes into it. My absolute favorite ice cream is Ben & Jerry’s Mint Chocolate Cookie, now discontinued.  :(  It’s essentially mint ice cream with Oreo cookie pieces, so I figured I’d try my own version. I peered into the ice cream maker as it churned around, rubbing my palms together in anticipation. One bite of the finished product and I exclaimed, “I am an Ice Cream Evil Genius!” (Insert evil laugh here.) My husband came into the kitchen to see what the fuss was about. After trying my creation, he agreed I was indeed an ice cream evil genius.

Our Cuisinart ice cream maker – which is awesome – came with a recipe booklet. For most of my batches of ice cream, I’ve used some variation on the recipe for the Simple Vanilla Ice Cream. In the next few weeks, I’ll be experimenting with frozen yogurt recipes!

Simple Vanilla Ice Cream

• 1 cup of whole milk
• ¾ cup of granulated sugar
• Pinch of salt
• 2 cups heavy cream
• 1 tablespoon of pure vanilla extract

Use a whisk or hand mixer to combine milk, sugar, and salt. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Stir in the heavy cream and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate 1 – 2 hours or overnight. Turn on your ice cream maker and pour the mixture into the frozen bowl and let mix until thickened, about 15 minutes. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the freezer. Makes about 5 cups.

A few notes:
• You can use lower fat milk. I’ve used both 2% and skim milk and really can’t tell the difference from whole milk.
• You can use Splenda, Stevia, or another sugar substitute. I make all of my ice cream with Domino Lite, which is a half-sugar and half-stevia blend. Don’t tell my husband, he thinks I’ve been using regular sugar! Follow the directions on sugar substitute package for adjusting the amount for recipes. With the Domino Lite, you use ½ cup for every cup of sugar in a recipe.
• I bought some great ice cream storage containers by Zak Designs that I love! Each container holds almost the whole batch of ice cream, which is fine because Nick and I can’t help eating some as soon as it’s ready. Plus, they’re insulated with a freezable gel lid to keep contents cold for up to 90 minutes, so you can take your ice cream to a party or picnic and not worry about it melting on the way.

Mint Chocolate Cookie Ice Cream
Using the above recipe, substitute 1 ½ tsp. peppermint extract for the vanilla. You’ll also need a To-Go Cup of Oreo Mini’s. Put the mini Oreos in a sandwich bag and crush them. Leave some larger chunks. After the ice cream has churned about 10 minutes, add ½ of the crushed Oreos. Add the rest of the Oreos the final minute or two of churning. This will ensure you have some larger bites of cookie.

Cherry Ice Cream
Using the above recipe, substitute 1 ½ tsp. almond extract for the vanilla. Add ½ cup of finely chopped cherries to the mix and refrigerate for 1 – 2 hours or overnight. Churn ice cream according to the directions above. I used fresh organic cherries from the co-op, and it turned out awesome!

Heath Bar Crunch Ice Cream
Add one crushed Heath Bar to the ice cream in the last few minutes of churning. Heath Bar pieces are sold in the baking aisle as well. One bag will make 2 – 3 batches of ice cream. This one is my husband’s favorite variety. Feel free to experiment with other candy bars!

Classic Cookies & Cream Ice Cream
This recipe is the same as the Mint Chocolate Cookie ice cream, except you use 1 Tbsp. vanilla instead of the peppermint extract.

Strawberry Ice Cream
Use the Vanilla Ice Cream recipe and add 1 cup of chopped strawberries before refrigerating. It’s better to chop them into smaller pieces, because frozen strawberries are hard as a rock!

If you’ve got a great homemade ice cream or frozen yogurt recipe, please share the link in the comments!

Meal Planning Monday ~ Summer Desserts


This week’s blog post is by Christine Luken.

Nothing makes it feel more like summer than hearing the jingle of the music from the ice cream truck coming down the street.  When I was a kid, my favorite treats from the ice cream man were the red-white-and-blue bomb pops and ice cream sandwiches.  My brother loved the orange push-up pops and Drumsticks.  I’m not sure that any of us outgrow that love of frosty desserts when the weather is hot.  So, I thought that this week, I would share some ideas and recipes for grown-up summer desserts that are both healthy and delicious.

Vanilla Coconut Milk Ice Cream – My friend Shirley shared this recipe on Facebook and I can’t wait to try it!  There are only three ingredients: coconut milk, vanilla, and honey.  Anything coconut reminds me of my vacations in Hawaii, so I’m sure I’ll love it.  Plus, there’s no dairy in this ice “cream” so you can eat it even if you’re lactose-intolerant!  You will need an ice cream machine to make it, which I don’t currently have.  My husband is a huge ice cream fan, so I think I know what I’m getting Nick for his birthday in a few weeks!

Freezy PB S’mores Sandwiches – I recently downloaded the new dessert cookbook from Hungry Girl, Just Desserts: 200 Recipes Under 200 Calories.  I’ve been on a chocolate and peanut butter kick lately, so I was eager to try this recipe.  Take 1/3 cup of Cool Whip Free, mix it with 2 teaspoons of powdered peanut butter (like PB2), 8 miniature marshmallows, and 1 tsp. mini chocolate chips.  Take one graham cracker sheet and break it in half.  Spread the Cool Whip mixture in between the graham crackers to make a sandwich.  Freeze for 90 minutes or until filling is firm.  It’s a lot of yum for only 160 calories!  Make a bunch and freeze them in individual sandwich baggies so you can grab one whenever the mood strikes you.

Angel Food Cake with Berries - Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are coming in season right now, so take advantage of their yummy ripeness with this easy dessert!  Mix one 6 to 8 oz. container of lemon Greek yogurt with one cup of Cool Whip.  If you can’t find lemon flavored Greek yogurt, mix 1 Tbsp. of fresh lemon juice with a container of vanilla Greek yogurt before combining with the Cool Whip.  Take a slice of store-bought angel food cake and top it with a dollop of the yogurt/ Cool Whip mixture then top with fresh (or freshly frozen) berries.  Absolutely delicious!

Protein Milk Shakes – Milk shakes are awesome, but they can really derail your healthy eating plan because of all the sugar.  Burger King’s small (12 ounce) chocolate milk shake has 588 calories and NINETY GRAMS OF SUGAR!  Holy moly!  (Don’t believe me?  Check it out on Calorie King for yourself.)  The good news is that you can have a tasty protein shake that will satisfy your cravings without all those calories and sugar grams. Diet Free Life has a bunch of great smoothie recipes, like Apple Surprise and the Coconut Berry Smoothie.  I freeze berries and ripe bananas for smoothies on a regular basis.  Lately, I’ve been taking my Chocolate Fit Pro and putting it in the blender with a few ice cubes and a tablespoon of PB2.  (I told you I was on a peanut butter and chocolate kick!)  The great news is that there are only about 200 calories and 10 grams of sugar – plus 28 grams of protein! – in my chocolate “milk shake.”  It tastes so great, I can’t even believe that it’s so good for me!

What is your favorite summer dessert?