Settling In to Fall

DSC_0693Although the official first day of fall is still a week away, there’s no denying that it’s already here. That autumn chill is in the air, leaves are just starting to turn, and it’s darker and darker each morning when I wake up. It’s sad to see summer go, but part of this transition is comforting. Fall is about beginnings – for many (and me this year) it’s time to go back to school, which is a natural transition time. We’ll all take fewer vacations in the next 3 months, meaning we all settle in where we are at home. It’s rather nice when you think of it that way.

As a friend recently put it – summer is about family and fall is about friends. We probably all spend more time with our friends in the fall than in the summer. Summer is full of family reunions and vacations, and fall is more community focused, through watching sports events, going apple picking, dressing up for Halloween. It’s a great time to connect with your larger family in the community around you.

So, in honor of everything fall has to offer (such as apple picking, corn mazes, pumpkin carving, pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin flavored everything, boots, sweaters – do I sound cliche yet?), I’m sharing three previous posts that remind me why this season is so great.

  1. 4 Tips for Soup Season – how to make the most of the cooler weather and fall vegetables
  2. Butternut squash soup – put those tips to good use (plus a story about that time Evan read my diary)
  3. Will Run for Pie – a reflection on one of my favorite fall traditions, the NMH Pie Race (bonus: my simple apple pie recipe)

What are you excited about this fall?

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Pumpkin Cream Cheese Brownies

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It’s that time of year where you can find everything in pumpkin flavor… and everyone seems to be obsessed with it. Pumpkin coffee, pumpkin donuts, pumpkin cream cheese, pumpkin bagels, pumpkin oatmeal, pumpkin muffins… I could go on. I wouldn’t be surprised to see pumpkin flavored toothpaste. To be honest (please don’t judge me) I’m not a huge fan of anything pumpkin flavored.

This recipe is an exception, for the most part because I am a sucker for cream cheese brownies. My Nana made them all the time when I was a kid, artfully swirling the cream cheese into the brownie mixture. I always tried to choose the brownie with the highest cream cheese to brownie ratio (usually, these were the brownies from smack dab in the middle of the pan).

But cream cheese brownies can be extremely fattening, so now I opt for this version, adding pumpkin puree to the cream cheese to give it a seasonal kick. This healthy treat is definitely not a trick – it is truly a healthy brownie recipe. Greek yogurt and Neufchatel cheese replace the heavy cream cheese in the topping, and the fats from the oil and egg in the brownie are eliminated by pumpkin puree. You would never know these are a healthier take on a classic – despite using pumpkin, the brownies are still chocolately and very fudgey.

If you’re celebrating Halloween this week, bring along a pan of these – they’re sure to be a hit! I claimed my 2012 Office Bake-Off victory with this recipe. Let me know what you think!

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Brownies

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a 9×13 inch brownie pan with cooking spray. In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 package low-fat brownie mix with half of a 15 ounce can of pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix, read the label carefully!). Combine until smooth and pour into brownie pan. This sounds easier than it is – be patient and just keep stirring.

In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine 5 ounces plain Greek yogurt and 4 ounces softened Neufchatel cheese (essentially low-fat cream cheese) with the remaining pumpkin puree. Soften the cheese by microwaving it in 20 second intervals, stirring in between, until smooth.

Drop the cheese mixture onto the brownie pan by the spoonful. Use a knife to cut swirls into the brownies, lightly combining the cheese and brownie mixture. Bake at 375 degrees for one hour, or until you can stick a knife in the brownies and it comes out clean. Make sure to store these in the fridge, if there are any leftover!

Yield: 16 servings. Per Serving: $0.47, 191 calories, 4g fat, 37g carbs, 3.5g protein.