Sunday, November 12, 2017

Orange Almond Fudge Cookies

Today, I'd like to share another cookie recipe with you. This recipe is based on yet another of Joanne Fluke's recipes. The original recipe for "Orange Fudge Cookies" was included in her 2017 Hannah Swensen mystery "BananaCream Pie Murder".

I first tried making these in May of this year with these changes:

The original recipe called for unsweetened baking chocolate squares. I almost never have these in my pantry so used the standard substitution: "3 level tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder and 1 tablespoon butter, margarine or shortening for every 1-ounce unsweetened baking chocolate."

As always, I also used block margarine rather than butter - mostly because butter is generally over $5/pound here and that is more than I can afford. A good quality block margarine such as Imperial or Parkay will work quite well. I watch for sales and can usually get a 3 pound /1.36kg box for about $3 to $3.50. I've never had anyone complain about me using margarine or the resulting flavour in my recipes.

I also toasted up some chopped almonds and added those as they go so well with orange and chocolate! Naturally, I added more chocolate chips.

The cookies were good but not quite what I had imagined. The orange flavour wasn't really there and they weren't really that fudgy. I knew I had to make a few more changes.

I made them again in October and slightly reduced the amount of margarine while upping the orange juice concentrate. I also added a bit of orange extract.

The other major change I made was actually an accident! The original recipe instructions called tor melting the butter/margarine with the unsweetened baking chocolate. That first time, I had just melted the butter/margarine and added the cocoa powder with the dry ingredients. When I made them in October, I actually FORGOT to melt the butter/margarine! I just added it with the sugar to the bowl of my stand mixer and whipped it up to light and fluffy!  

I know that melting can change the way a recipe turns out but I'm not sure if this was the case here or whether it was my other changes. Either way, this version turned out moist, fudgy and loaded with flavour! It was EXACTLY what I had imagined to could be!

I took samples to several people and got rave reviews!

Yes, this recipe makes a LOT of cookies (8-9 dozen) but they freeze well. They would also make great gifts for the upcoming holiday season - or any time of year!

I hope you and yours enjoy this recipe!

Orange Almond Fudge Cookies
1 cup chopped almonds, toasted*
4 cups flour (I use 2 cups all purpose and 2 cups whole wheat)
1/2 unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups butter or block margarine softened to room temp.
1 3/4 cups white (granulated) sugar
3/4 cup frozen unsweetened (pulp free) orange juice concentrate, thawed to room temp
2 large eggs, fork beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
1 1/2 cups dark or semi sweet chocolate chips

*Place the chopped almonds on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and toast in a preheated 350F oven for about 5-7 minutes - stirring at least once. These can burn easily so keep an eye on them while preparing other ingredients. Once the almonds are toasted to the desired degree, place the baking sheet on a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before adding to the cookie dough.
Measure the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt into a medium mixing bowl. Stir and set aside.

Place the butter/margarine and white sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix thoroughly then whip to light and fluffy. Add the thawed orange juice concentrate and the extracts. Mix in completely. 
Add the fork beaten eggs to the mixing bowl and beat thoroughly.

Gradually add the flour combo in (about) 1 cup increments mixing well after each addition. Reserve about 1 Tablespoon of the flour mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl between additions of flour mixture to ensure all ingredients are well combined.

Combine the cooled almonds, chocolate chips and the reserved flour. (Coating the nuts and almonds will help create a more uniform distribution. Add the nuts and chips to the dough and mix in on low speed till well incorporated. The dough will be really soft.

Scrape down the bowl and the mixing paddle. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and cover with plastic wrap - or transfer the dough to a smaller bowl and then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least two hours or overnight. (I prefer transferring the dough to a smaller bowl before chilling as it takes up far less space in my fridge.)

Once the dough is chilled - line your baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll the dough into balls about an inch in diameter. Place on the prepared sheets and flatten slightly - just enough so that the balls don't roll around when you are transferring the pan from the counter to the oven. These spread while baking so leave a couple inches between each ball. 
Bake in preheated 350F oven for about 8-9 minutes. Allow cookies to cool on the pans on a cooling rack for 4-5 minutes. The cookies are very soft hot out of the oven and need a few minutes to firm up on the pans before transferring to racks. Then, carefully slide the parchment paper and cookies onto a second rack to finish cooling.

Makes about 9-10 dozen. 
These freeze well. I stack them side by side in rows in freezer bags. When I want to have a couple as a snack or serve several to guests, I lay them in a single layer on a plate to thaw then warm for a few seconds in the microwave so they get a bit of a flavour burst.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Apple Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Autumn is here and so are the fresh crop of apples! Today, I'm sharing my recipe for "Apple Sour Cream Coffee Cake"! There are countless recipes for apple coffee cakes on the internet. This recipe is based on a blueberry coffee cake from Mennonite Girls Can Cook.

The basic cake batter is pretty much the same - with a few changes. Obviously, I swapped out the blueberries for diced apples. (I used Royal Gala). I also added some chocolate chips! (duh!)  I prefer using a combo of all purpose flour and whole wheat flour but if you only have all purpose that will work fine. At about $5-6/pound, I can't afford butter, so use a good quality block margarine such as Imperial or Parkay in my baking. The MGCC recipe made the cake in a 9"x13"x2" pan but I tend to favour using 2 8" or 9" round pans. I find they bake more evenly than a large pan. With a bit of pan prep, the cakes can be removed to a serving plate and also wrapped for freezing. The original recipe also called for a layered assembly method of half batter, fruit. half topping, remaining batter and remainder of topping. Personally, I like my fruit mixed into the batter rather than a separate layer. The separate layer tends to get a bit soggy if the entire cake isn't devoured the same day.

For the topping, I used my own recipe which is light on cinnamon as I don't care for an overwhelming taste of it in my food. You can add a bit more if you prefer. My topping also includes toasted almonds and finely chopped chocolate!

As always, I took samples to some of my friends and they thought it was great!

This cake is moist, flavourful and great anytime of the year but there is something about baking with apples in the fall that just feels right and is oh, SO delicious!

 Apple Sour Cream Coffee Cake
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tablespoons cold butter or block margarine
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips or finely chopped chocolate (semi sweet or dark)
3/4 cup finely chopped almonds, toasted

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup unsalted butter or block margarine at room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream (I used light)
1/2 cup milk (I used 1%)
2 cups diced apples (peel and seed before dicing) (I used Royal Gala)
3/4 cup semi sweet or dark chocolate chips

Toasting Almonds:
Preheat oven to 350F. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a rimmed cookie sheet and then spread the chopped almonds in a single layer. Toast in the oven for about 5 - 7 minutes making sure to stir at least once or twice during that time. The almonds will take on a strong nutty aroma and turn a darker shade of brown. Watch them carefully though as they can go from perfectly toasted to burnt in a minute! Remove pan to a cooling rack and cool to room temp while you prepare the rest of the recipe.
For Topping:
Combine the flour, sugar and cinnamon. Add the cold butter/margarine and mix with a fork till fine crumbly mixture. Add in the cooled almonds and chocolate. Stir to combine. Set aside.

For Cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare 2  8 or 9 inch round cake pans by spraying with non stick cooking spray. Then place 2 strips of parchment paper (about 1 1/2 - 2 inches wide) in an X shape, pressing down along the bottom and up the sides - allowing about an inch or two to hang over the top edge at each end. Place a circle of parchment over the X and press down to line the bottom of the pan. Note: To make the parchment circles, place the pan on top of the parchment and use a pen or marker to trace around the outside of the bottom of the pan. Then using the marked line as a guide, use scissors to cut out the circle. Repeat for second pan. Set prepared pans aside. (Note: I've tried this with wax paper but it isn't as strong as parchment so tends to tear when you attempt to lift the cake out of the pans after baking and cooling.)
Combine the flours, baking powder, salt, and soda in medium bowl. Set aside/

Using an electric mixer beat butter/margarine in large bowl till fluffy.

Add both sugars and beat until blended.

Beat in eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each egg.

Add lemon zest and vanilla and combine.

In a glass measuring cup, measure the 1/2 cup milk then add the 1/2 cup sour cream to make 1 cup. Stir to combine. If you don't have a glass measure, you can blend the two ingredients in a small bowl.

Beat the flour mixture and the milk/sour cream mixture alternately into the butter/margarine mixture - beginning and ending with the flour mixture. This doesn't have to be exact. Just add about 1/3 of the flour mix and mix in. Then add about 1/2 of the milk/sour cream mix and mix in. Repeat with the flour, then the last of the milk/sour cream and the last of the flour.

Stir in the chopped apples and the chocolate chips till well combined.

Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans and level it out evenly with the back of a spoon or fork. Pans will be pretty much full but not overflowing!

Sprinkle half the topping mix on top of each pan. With the back of a clean fork or spoon, gently press the topping down but do not stir it in!
Bake for approximately 50 minutes or until toothpick test comes out clean.
Cool on wire racks for at least 2 hours before attempting to lift cakes from the pans. The more the cakes have cooled, the easier it will be to remove them without them breaking apart. Once the cakes have completely cooled, they could even be covered and put in the fridge to set more firmly before removal from pan. When you are ready to remove the cakes from the pans, run a knife around the edge between the cake and the pan to ensure it isn't stuck. Gently lift two opposite edges of the parchment to loosen. Then repeat with the other two opposite pieces. When you are sure the cake is not stuck, carefully and gently, lift the cake out of the pan, removing parchment and transferring to a serving plate.

Each cake can be cut into 8 pieces. Total Yield: 16 servings  
It should be noted that you can double wrap one cake in plastic wrap and store in a zipped freezer bag for up to a couple of months.


Sunday, September 10, 2017

A Vulture In The Guise Of A Volunteer

Over the years I've been approached numerous times by strangers who ask about my sight and how I manage to do as much as I do on my own. At first I was a bit surprised at others interest, but soon realized that most people were genuinely curious. I came to appreciate people actually asking rather than making erroneous assumptions. I also got quite good at giving succinct answers to their questions. I say this as a prelude to a recent experience and this cautionary tale....

This past May, I was on a city bus, coming home from my weekly grocery shopping at Superstore when I was approached by a senior. He came from further back on the bus, told me his first name and said he was hoping to become a volunteer with the CNIB. He wondered if he could ask me some questions about my vision, the CNIB and volunteering. He asked about my sight and how I managed. He asked how hard it was to do things like grocery shopping and errands.

I assured him that I was quite capable of doing things for myself and frankly enjoyed having the independence to do things on my own terms and time table. When he suggested that some things would be easier with a volunteer, I said that if I ever did need help, that I had several friends who were more than willing to help out with a heavier than usual shopping trip or assist in other areas if the need arose. There are other people with disabilities who need help much more than I do.

As for being a volunteer at the CNIB? I explained that other than an occasional purchase through the CNIB store, I rarely had contact with the agency anymore. I wasn't familiar with current staff or how volunteers were selected or trained.

Before I got off the bus, I asked if he was online and explained that I'd written a few posts about my vision loss and the CNIB over the years. He told me he wasn't online much - mostly just for email. I gave him one of my cards anyways and suggested he check out my blog.

Now, let me make this clear. I've handed out dozens of these cards over the years so that people can check out my Blog, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube pages. There is also an email address on the card specifically for random contact. Only a handful of people have actually sent me an email.

So, you can imagine my surprise when he sent me an email about 12 hours later - giving me his full name, address, phone number and offering to be my personal volunteer!!

Seriously? Had he heard nothing I'd said about my being independent?

He had seemed sincere on the bus that morning and asked all the typical questions. I'm usually quite good at reading people but somehow no alarm bells went off with this guy - until I got the email!

I waited a day, then responded politely, but firmly stating again that I had NO need for a volunteer. I said I hoped he would find a suitable volunteer position at some point - if not with the CNIB, then with any number of other agencies.

That should have been the end of it - but it wasn't.

The following morning, he sent another email. He wondered how I managed with grocery shopping in the winter. As he lived quite near the Superstore, he suggested that he could do some of my grocery shopping for me but thought I would probably want to shop for perishables myself. He could deliver it to me or meet at a neutral place close to me. Of course he added that we would have to discuss or make some arrangement for his seniors bus tickets but that I could think about his offer over the summer and he'd be in touch in a few months.

OMG!  This guy has NO concept of the word NO! I chose to ignore that email and hoped that he'd forget about me. I should also note that over the next few weeks, I shared this story (in more detail) with several friends - all of whom agreed that this guy was an idiot with an agenda and potentially a borderline stalker!

Well, as you may have guessed by now, that wasn't the end. In early August, I received another email. He had been to a volunteer orientation at the CNIB but wasn't sure he wanted to continue as they seemed to think volunteers were some kind of employee! He was also waiting for his security background check to be completed. He asked again if I needed any help with groceries or other errands.

Over the next week, I carefully drafted a detailed response. The following is a slightly edited version:

"A background/security check has become a necessity for most organizations/businesses. Sadly, there are far too many people who will use any opportunity they can to take advantage of those who require services. The main difference between a volunteer and an employee is a pay-check. Either way, you are a representative of the organization you associate yourself with. Therefore, you are expected and required to behave in a respectful and responsible manner - following their guidelines and directives. Personally, if I WERE to ever need a volunteer, I wouldn't want anyone who hadn't been thoroughly checked and was fully compliant with the agencies policies.

As to your ongoing suggestion of my needing assistance with grocery shopping or other things?

It appears that you've failed to grasp that I have already told you twice (on the bus and in a previous email) that I DO NOT need any help. I have friends in my life who are more than willing to assist if I ever do need help. They would also not expect/want payment for gas/bus tickets either.

When one volunteers, there are ALMOST ALWAYS incidental expense involved. It is extremely rare to receive remuneration for a volunteer position. If finances are that tight for you, perhaps you should reconsider volunteering.

Then, there is the matter of payment for said groceries. I collect PC points on my groceries and often pay with my debit card. These factors alone would eliminate you from doing any of my shopping for me.

Grocery shopping is an art. It is also one that I take VERY seriously! I do all of my own cooking/baking and keep a well stocked pantry. I keep a running list of items I am low on, watch for sales and compare prices in online flyers every week. This allows me to buy items on sale and/or in multiples when there is a good deal. Some items, I am brand loyal and others I will switch out for certain alternative brands if they are cheaper than an advertised item. If an item is cheaper in multiples, or larger sizes I calculate whether or not I would use it all before it expires. I check all packaging for damage and expiry dates.

Seasonally? I stock up even more in spring and fall so that I'm not carrying as much in heat of summer or cold of winter. In winter, I layer up and use grips on my boots in icy conditions. Year round, I use my large ergonomic backpack to carry the heavier items. I also have insulated bags and reusable bags in varying sizes for bulky or more fragile items. With the backpack, I can easily carry 20 - 25 pounds of groceries in one trip and generally have at least one reusable bag in use with the backpack as well. I am my own Sherpa.

In any given grocery shop, approx 40-80% of my list is perishables such as produce. I am even more particular of these items than the grocery items.

Having you or anyone else do only non perishable shopping is useless.

I take pride and pleasure in doing my own grocery shopping. It allows me to get out, see what's new in stores and keep tabs on changing products and prices. It also keeps me in touch with many of the kind staff and customers that I've met at Superstore over the years. On the occasions that I have needed in-store assistance, I've never had an issue finding staff or another customer who is willing to offer me assistance in reading a label or finding an item.

So, as I hope you will FINALLY see, I have NO need for your "assistance" in ANY part of my life.

Please stop trying to find excuses to inject yourself into my life. IT IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN!"

It is only three weeks since I sent that reply and he hasn't responded. "IF" he is smart, he won't try to contact/speak to me again. It is rare that I have to go into such detail or be that direct with someone but I felt strongly that this was the only way that he might get the message that he wasn't going to be part of my life in any respect. I've also realized that this guy has obviously done this direct approach before. As I said, my radar for sensing crap/scams is pretty well honed but nothing jumped out till I got the first email.

He thought he'd found an easy mark but what he really ended up doing was marking himself. He crossed the wrong person when he continued to contact me.

That persistence concerned me. With that in mind, I contacted a couple of friends who volunteer for various organizations/agencies and asked them to touch base with their coordinators about how this guy operates. I explained my concerns that he may try to take advantage of someone who was naive or vulnerable. I can stand up for myself but not all people can. Without revealing names/agencies - I learned that at least 2 organizations already had notes in their volunteer data base about him. Though I wasn't able to confirm this next part, it is my understanding that he also has his own business and tries to make money off of people like this!

Having a business that helps others is one thing, but approaching people directly or through an agency in the guise of being a volunteer then expecting to be paid is underhanded and pathetic.

It takes all kinds! Thankfully, the vast majority of volunteers are there to truly help others - not to serve their own needs/agenda. Hopefully other agencies and individuals will see his scam and realize that he is a persona non grata.

Admittedly, somewhere (hopefully far) down the road, I may well need a volunteer but it sure as heck won't be someone like that! Until then, I will continue to be proudly independent with an occasional assist from store staff, a fellow customer or my amazing friends!


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Creamy Limoncello Pasta And Chicken

It's spring and for me, that means it's time to post another recipe with lots of lemon flavour!

This past year, I've been working on my own version of Limoncello Pasta!

There are a wide variety of recipes for this tasty pasta dish on the net. Naturally, the one constant is the Limoncello! Depending on where you live, a bottle of Limoncello can seem a bit pricy, but just remember that it can be used in cocktails, desserts, sauces and main course dishes. It also has a lengthy shelf life after being opened as long as the lid is on tight and it is stored in a cool dry place. I bought a 750 ml / 26 ounce bottle for about $25 + tax at my local liquor store here in Manitoba.

The recipe I've come up with is based on a combination of ingredients and quantities from several recipes. As with any recipe I post, I've made a number of changes and tweaks for my version. Here are some notes on what I've tried and how it worked out.

The Pasta:
Many recipes suggest linguini, spaghetti or even fettuccini - all of which are wonderful choices. I've made this with linguini and fettuccini. I've also tried a medium shell pasta which didn't work as well. The shells seemed to want to clump together and not hold the sauce as well as I had hoped. I've used rotini (cork screw) a couple of times and was quite happy with the results. Ultimately, the choice of pasta is up to you! Just remember to undercook it slightly in the salted water as the pasta will be added to the sauce and cooked a bit more before serving.

The Cheese:
Most recipes for Limoncello Pasta will call for "Parmigiano Reggiano". As delicious as it is, it is also incredibly expensive! A 225 gram / 8 ounce piece can cost you well over $10!! It's just not in everyone's price range and especially not in mine! So, what to do? Well, the first time I tried to make a Limoncello Pasta, I just used a white herbed cheddar. I wasn't happy with the results as it didn't seem to melt well into the sauce and actually seemed a bit gritty. The second time I tried to make it, I decided to try an herb and garlic spreadable cream cheese. The result was a flavourful creamy sauce! Another benefit to using the herb and garlic cream cheese is that a 225 gram / 8 ounce container can often be found on sale for about $3!

The Cream:
Almost all of the recipes I looked at, called for heavy cream or whipping cream. This is another item that isn't in my budget. Not to mention the extra calories! Instead, I used a combo of 1/2 & 1/2 with light sour cream. It created a very similar texture without the sweetness of the cream.

Additional Notes:
- This pasta can be made with or without chicken. I've only used fresh boneless, skinless chicken breasts. The chicken can be cut into bite sized pieces or strips. The choice is yours!
- If you don't like peppers then they can be left out.
- Add more or less garlic depending on preference.
- Fresh basil leaves is a MUST in the recipe! They add a dash of colour and the flavour of the fresh can't be beat! Dried basil works in some recipes but NOT in this one!

This past December, I made this dish for two of my gal pals for our annual holiday dinner. I served this pasta dish with a tossed salad, homemade mini bread sticks and herb butter. To drink? A sparkling white grape juice. They thought it was absolutely delicious!

Creamy Limoncello Pasta And Chicken
225 gram / 8 ounces rotini (spiral) pasta (for 4 portions)
350 grams / 12 ounces fresh boneless skinless chicken breast
1 large lemon
2-3 large cloves garlic
1/4 cup Limoncello
1 cup 1/2 + 1/2
1/4 cup light sour cream
40 grams / 1 1/2 ounce package fresh basil
2/3 cup diced onion
1/3 cup diced yellow, orange or red sweet bell pepper
1 225 gram / 8 ounce container herb and garlic cream cheese
salt and pepper to taste
green onion for garnish
Zest and juice the lemon. Set aside.

Mince or finely chop the garlic. Set aside.

Combine the lemon juice, Limoncello, 1/2 + 1/2 and sour cream. Set aside.

Remove the basil leaves from the stems and chop or tear the leaves into small pieces. You will get about 1 cup but don't worry if it is a bit more or less! Set aside.

Cut the chicken into small bite size pieces. Heat a small amount of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) in a large deep skillet. Add the chicken and brown. 

While the chicken is browning, bring a pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, salt the water liberally. Add pasta and stir. Reduce heat to medium high and cook till el dante. (Times vary depending on type of pasta used. Check the package for cooking times). Drain the pasta - reserving about 1 cup cooking water in case it is needed to add to the sauce if it gets to thick. DO NOT rinse the pasta!

Meanwhile, while the water is boiling and the pasta is cooking - back to the pan with the chicken in it. Reduce heat to medium and add the onion and pepper - sauté for a few minutes then add the lemon zest, garlic and creamy mixture. Cut in the cream cheese and stir to melt. Bring to a gentle boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes - stirring occasionally.

Once the sauce starts to slightly thicken, add the pasta and stir to coat. Add the basil and mix thoroughly. Taste the sauce and add salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste. If the sauce is too thick, add some of the reserved pasta water and stir.

Serve hot pasta with a sprinkle of freshly chopped green onion on top and a side of green salad or veg.



Sunday, January 29, 2017

Raisin Muffins

My mom used to make Raisin Muffins and we loved them! These were just one of the baked treats she tried to keep in the freezer on a regular basis to serve with tea or coffee in case unexpected company stopped by for a visit!

I've been making her raisin muffin recipe at least once a year for a very long time!
More recently, I decided to see if I could update the recipe just a bit. The original called for the raisins to be boiled in water. That was fine, but I figured I could add just a hint more flavour by boiling them in orange juice or a citrus blend such as that made by 5 Alive or other brands. I also thought that since I was using juice, I could cut back a bit on the brown sugar.

The only other change I made was to use whole wheat flour instead of all purpose. The muffins didn't rise quite as much as with the all purpose flour but I prefer the taste and texture with the whole wheat.

As always, the choice is yours. You can boil the raisins in juice, water or a water/juice mix. You can use whole wheat flour, all purpose flour or a combo. I'd still stick with my slightly reduced brown sugar though as these were a bit on the sweet side.

Generally, I use Sultana raisins but you could also use Thompson, Golden or a combination. Regardless of the type, always rinse them with hot water in a colander before using to wake them up a bit from the drying. Raisins (or any dried fruit) can get really hard or clump together after awhile so the hot water rinse or a brief soak in hot water followed by a hot rinse is a perfect way to wake up and enhance the flavour for whatever purpose you are using them!

These muffins are yummy on their own!
They are also a might tasty with a bit of cheddar cheese! I think my favourite way to have them was to slice them in half and top each half with a piece of cheddar cheese - or just put a piece of cheddar between the top and bottom and eat it like a sandwich! 
I also love having them with apple slices or a fruit salad. 
In the last few weeks, I've handed out several muffins to taste testers and they all thought they were delish!

Raisin Muffins
2 cups raisins
3 cups orange juice or an orange/Citrus blend such as 5 Alive
3 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup block margarine, softened to room temperature
1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
2 large eggs, at room temperature - fork beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the raisins, I generally use Sultana's but you could also use Thompson or Golden if you prefer. Measure the raisins then place in a colander and run under hot tap water to rinse and separate. (Note: If the raisins are extremely dry, hard or clumped together, place them in a dish of hot water for a couple minutes then stir to separate then place in a colander to rinse.) Drain well.

Combine the raisins and orange juice in a medium sized pot. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium-high and cook at a gentle boil (uncovered) for 20 minutes. Remove from the burner to a rack to cool - DO NOT DRAIN! You will use the raisins and the remaining juice in the recipe!
Spray muffin tins with Pam or line muffin tins with paper liners and set aside.

In a medium size bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside. (Note: I prefer using whole wheat but you could use All purpose or a combination of both.)

Place the softened margarine and brown sugar in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer and beat till creamy. Add the beaten eggs and the vanilla. Mix thoroughly

Add the cooled raisins AND the juice they were boiled in. Mix thoroughly.

Add the dry ingredients - mixing on low speed till well combined.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin tins (to about 3/4 full). Bake in preheated 350F oven for 20 minutes or till toothpick test shows clean.
Remove to cooling rack. If you didn't use paper liners, carefully run a knife around the edge of the muffins to make sure they don't stick to the pan. Gently, tip the muffins on their side to cool for a few minutes to cool before removing to the rack to finish cooling.
Makes about 2 1/2 dozen tasty muffins. These freeze really well!