Cider Doughnut Muffin Recipe

muffin closeupFrom the Apple House at Linden to Marker-Miller Orchard, cider doughnuts are a sign of the season here in the Shenandoah Valley. These are the wonderful cakey doughnuts rolled in cinnamon sugar that are perfect with a cup of hot coffee or cider.cider donuts

Here at The Inn at Vaucluse Spring we have been inspired by these treats to serve our own Cider Doughnut Muffins for breakfast every Muffin-Monday this fall. They are easy to make, and are best made with local Rinker’s Cider.

We triple reduce the cider, making the muffins even more intensely apple-flavored.

Cider Doughnut Muffins


3 cups cider down to 1 cupreduced cider

Dry ingredients:

2 1/4 cups flour
1 ¼ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. soda
1 tsp. salt

Cream together:

1 stick butter, room temp
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, room temp
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

After baking, roll in:

Melted butter
Cinnamon sugar, mix together:
¾ cup sugar
3 T. ground cinnamon

Reduce cider and allow to cool to room temp. This can be done earlier in the day.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk dry ingredients together in medium bowl.  Set aside.

Cream butter and sugar with stand-mixer until fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, blending well after each. Beat in vanilla extract.

Add a third of dry ingredients to butter mixture and beat just to combine.

Add half the reduced cider and beat to combine.

Repeat with another third of the dry mix, then the rest of the cider, then the remaining flour mixture, beating to combine after each.

level the scoopScoop into Pammed muffin tins using a large ice cream scoop, completely leveled (in order to get 12).  Bake 20 to 22 minutes until tops are golden brown.



roll in sugarWhen muffins are just cool enough to handle, roll lightly in melted butter (do not allow to soak) and then roll in cinnamon-sugar mixture. Serve warm.


photography:  Dylan Niide
styling:  Tehya Niide

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Wine Berries

wine berries at Vaucluse Spring
posted by Neil Myers

Part of the mystique of Vaucluse Woods are the wild wine berries.  If you have ever walked the back fence-line through our woods here at The Inn at Vaucluse Spring, you have seen the bushes.  Right now in July the berries are at their peak, and I’ve never seen them better.  Just the right amount of rain has made them not too small and sour, and not too large and bland, but, as Goldilocks says, “Just right.”

cow friendsI met these new friends along the fence-line path.  They do not care for either the berries or the vine foliage; they just like to check the fence to see if they can get out, and coincidentally they keep a path open.


wine berries on the vineTurns out the wine berries are (another) invasive exotic plant from Asia that have taken over some woodlands in the eastern part of the U.S.  According to Wikipedia, Rubus phoenicolasius was introduced as an ornamental plant [hard to believe] and for its potential for breeding hybrid raspberries [makes more sense].


wine berry vinesThe berries are easy to pick here since the cattle have made such a nice access path.  Probably their best use is to just pop them into your mouth as you pick them while you take a walk in the woods.  We’ve also served them with fresh bananas at breakfast for a great color and tartness contrast.  They would also be lovely mixed with other fresh berries or used as a raspberry substitute, keeping in mind that they are tarter than domesticated raspberries.

wine berriesThe great thing about wine berries is that since their vines are considered a pest, you can enjoy eating all you want and hack away at the vines with a clear conscience.  You’ll be helping the environment!

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A Healthier Bed-and-Breakfast Breakfast

posted by Neil Myers

In our 19th year of innkeeping here at The Inn at Vaucluse Spring, we are re-thinking the idea of what it means to serve an indulgent B&B breakfast.  More and more of our guests are looking for a healthier breakfast.  The problem is that many health claims are diametrically opposed and there is no one menu which would strictly meet everyone’s idea of health.  The Paleo/Gluten-Free crowd is not going to be happy with what the Whole-Grain/Low Fat/Vegetarian folks want and vice versa.  Plus, we still have a lot of guests who just want to take a small vacation from these concerns and indulge themselves with their old way of eating for a couple of days.  Without becoming a short-order cook, what’s an innkeeper to do?

Our evolving approach is to follow The Middle Way (with apologies to the Buddha) and encourage our guests to relax a little bit about food.  In a world of Extreme-Everything, our choice is to be Extremely Balanced (can there can be such a thing?).  Our goal, as ever, is to serve delicious food, beautifully presented, that delightfully nourishes body and soul.  We will continue to accommodate allergies, food intolerances, and medically-imposed restrictions (as well as personal food preferences as best we can).

With the new Middle Way approach, we are considering calling our first course our Breakfast Appetizer or Starter so we have the leeway to serve something other that a breakfast bread.  The Appetizer/Starter may well be one of our traditional breakfast breads or muffins, or it might be a miniature version of one of our “sweet-day” breakfasts.  We just noticed the other morning how a breakfast strata filled with apples looked remarkably like an apple strudel; a smaller portion of this would make a lovely appetizer.  Last winter we got rave reviews on our Apple, Blueberry, and Carrot Muffins which (behind the scenes) we called the “stealth health” muffins because they contain a large portion of flaxseed meal and oat bran in addition to the goodness of apples, dried blueberries, carrots and walnuts.  We will be tinkering with the Breakfast Appetizer/Starter idea and getting guest feedback as we go.

The second course, Fruit for the Day, will continue to feature fruit, whether fresh or roasted.  We still believe perfectly ripe fruit, simply prepared, is an indulgence of which we don’t partake often enough.  It’s fun to try different combinations of fruits and sauces, and although there’s never been a lot of sugar in our sauces, there will now be even less.

The entre will be full of vegetables and protein, mostly in the form of eggs.  We’re still looking for a snappy name for this, so would love to hear your ideas.  We agree with Jefferson that meat is an excellent “condiment”, not the star of the show.  Eggs can be prepared in an infinite number of ways and they no longer seem to be considered the bad boys of the dietary world (after all those years of bad press!).  Fresh vegetables are as much an indulgence as fruit – in our daily rush we don’t always take the time to prepare them with care and imagination.  One of our favorite entrees right now is a Quinoa and Greens Breakfast Pie which we serve with a Prosciutto Crisp for a little crunch and ping of salt.  You might think there would be some hesitancy about the pie, but we’ve found that the overwhelming majority of guests really, really enjoy it.  Maybe it’s all those onions, leeks, red pepper flakes, and a great white cheddar.

So, we are looking to our guests for reactions, whether positive, negative, or indifferent.  Do you have an all-time favorite Vaucluse breakfast dish that you believe we should never abandon?  Any recipes of your own you would you like to share?  (We’ve gotten some fantastic recipes from guests over the years.)  Tell us about any new foods you have tried that you recommend.  Let’s hear from the silent majority who may think things should stay exactly the same.  Please email your thoughts directly to Neil.  I would love to hear from you.

* * *


Apple, Blueberry, and Carrot Muffins
aka The A-B-C “Stealth Health” Muffins
(12 muffins)

This is a substantial muffin with lots of super-food ingredients.  We like to serve them with cinnamon-sugar butter, but you could serve them plain.  They are good “keepers”, but the sooner you serve them after they come out of the oven, the better they will taste.  Ours come out just minutes before breakfast starts.

Whisk together dry ingredients and set aside:
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup flaxseed meal
½ cup oat bran
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
¾ tsp. baking powder
1 ½ tsp. cinnamon

Whisk together and then add to the dry ingredients:
1 egg, lightly beaten
½ cup milk
2/3 cup brown sugar
¾ tsp. vanilla

Add in:
2 cups shredded carrots
1 large Granny Smith apple (unpeeled), shredded
1/3 cup dried blueberries
2/3 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped

Scoop batter with 1/3 cup measure into muffin tins that have been sprayed with vegetable oil spray.  Bake in 350 degree oven for 25 minutes or until muffins spring back when poked or toothpick comes out clean.


* * *

Quinoa and Greens Breakfast Pie

(serves 6)

We have experimented with several versions of this.  This is the current favorite, but you could certainly try other greens and cheeses depending on what you have available.  After nibbling on all the greens in the market, mustard greens are our current favorite for that extra zing of flavor. Sharp/tart cheeses are preferable; just think what a little splash of vinegar does for greens and you get the idea.  Go heavier on the red pepper if you like – we need to follow The Middle Way here at the inn.

½ cup quinoa (a mix of red and white looks especially nice)
1 cup water

1 small sweet onion, chopped medium fine
1 bunch leeks, white and light green parts, halved longways and cut into 1/8” semi-circles
1 bunch mustard greens, stemmed and coarse chopped
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
½ cup grated Cabot White 3-Year Cheddar

5 oz. goat cheese, softened
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
4 eggs, room temp.

Cook quinoa according to package instructions.  Dump into large mixing bowl to cool.

Sauté onion in a little olive oil until soft.  Add leeks (make sure they are well washed) to the pan and continue until they are soft as well.  Dump into the quinoa bowl.  Sauté greens with red pepper flakes until wilted.  Add to the big bowl and toss until evenly distributed.  Add white cheddar to the bowl mixture and toss again.

Beat goat cheese until soft and fluffy.  Mix salt and pepper together with each other before adding to goat cheese.  Beat until blended.  Continue beating, adding eggs, and mix well.  Pour goat cheese mixture over the big-bowl ingredients and mix well.  Put into a 9” pie pan that has been sprayed with vegetable oil spray.

Bake in 350 degree oven about 45 minutes until edges begin to brown and eggs are set (knife comes out clean).  Allow to cool 10-15 minutes before serving.


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Apple Butter Coffee Cake Recipe

posted by Neil Myers

Apple butter coffee cake is synonymous with fall at The Inn at Vaucluse Spring.  This past Saturday we had our first of the season, made with the local Stephens City Lions Club apple butter.  Lions Club members make it each year at Rinker Orchards, cooking it all day in copper kettles over an open applewood fire, with nothing added to fresh apples but sugar, water and their own secret blend of spices.  Our guests LOVE this coffee cake, so we thought we’d share our recipe.  We’ll never get around to publishing a cookbook, but if we did its title would be Too Good Not to Share!

Streusel mix:
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
2/3 cup chopped pecans

Dry mix:
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. nutmeg

Cream together:
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks), room temperature
1 c. sugar

2 eggs, room temp
8 oz. sour cream

Apple butter mix:
2 egg whites
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 cup apple butter

Combine streusel mix ingredients and set aside.  Mix dry ingredients together in a different bowl and set aside.  Butter a 9” x 13” Pyrex pan.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream butter and sugar with KitchenAid until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the sour cream and beat until incorporated.  Add dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated.

In a separate bowl, whip egg whites with salt until stiff.  Fold in apple butter until evenly incorporated.











Cover bottom of baking dish with thin layer of batter.  Sprinkle 1/4 cup streusel over top.  Spread apple butter mix evenly over the streusel.


Spoon remaining batter over apple butter mix as evenly as possible to cover.












Sprinkle remaining streusel evenly over top. 


Bake in 350 degree oven for 40-45 minutes until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean.  Place on wire rack to cool before cutting into 15 to 18 portions.  Enjoy!

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Apple Harvest Time in the Shenandoah Valley

posted by Neil Myers

No visit to the Valley in September or October is complete without an expedition in search of apples.  It’s the perfect excuse to travel the back roads and see some countryside.  Having lived here since 1995, we are happy to recommend our favorite spots to get apples.  Each orchard has its own personality but all have one thing in common:  they are all family businesses, as in fourth or fifth generation orchardists.  Not something you see very often.

Rinker OrchardRinker Orchards is a classic pick-your-own (PYO) operation.  Started in 1972, one of the first in Virginia, they are now seeing the return of a third generation of apple pickers.  We have guests at the inn who remember coming out as children with their families every fall to pick at Rinkers.  There are large bins of pre-picked apples, but picking from the tree really takes no longer that picking from the bin.  You can probably get all the apples you want from just a few trees, so it’s not like you are wandering around the whole orchard.  Things to know:

  • PYO is available Friday through Monday only.
  • The minimum purchase is a bushel, although it’s fine to mix together different types of apples.
  • Apple butter will be made on site by the Stephens City Lion’s Club on September 14, 21, and 28.  Just personal opinion, but Neil says this is the best of the local apple butters.
  • Rinkers is maybe best known now for their cider, available at the orchard but also at other markets, including the local Martins Food Store.  Made only from fresh fruit and flash pasteurized, we serve it at the inn until the supply vanishes, along about New Years.


Marker-Miller Orchard is a PYO operation that has grown into a destination all its own.  There are 20 varieties of apples, 12 of which you can pick from the trees yourself.  There’s a full bakery onsite, producing lots of treats including their famous cider donuts.  The mountain view from the front porch rockers is the best of the local orchards and there is a wide variety of local products for sale.  Things to know:

  • The market is open daily in September and October.
  • Their Fall Farm Festival in September 28 and 29, featuring live music from 1 to 3.
  • Their Apple Harvest Festival is October 12 and 13.


Richard’s Fruit Market has a nice assortment of already picked apples, and mixing the different types is encouraged.  You’re quite likely to meet at least a couple of generations of Richards while visiting.  Listen to their banter, and get a little peep into life in the Valley while you are at it.  The apples are sorted and graded right there at the market, and there’s almost always a small collection of “freak” apples or vegetables that have caught someone’s eye.  A little off the subject of apples, Neil is a huge fan of their home-canned jars of Tomato Mix, which is the perfect starter for a quick midweek meal at home.  Exactly what you would can if you had the time to do it yourself.  Things to know:

  • The market is open daily.
  • Their Apple Festival is Saturday October 19.
  • Richards is host to the Virginia State Gourd Festival November 2 and 3 (don’t giggle – there are fascinating things to be seen, and purchased).



Woodbine Farm Market in Lebanon Church offers 16 varieties of apples including at least two heritage varieties not found at the other markets – Spitzenberg and Ash Mead Kernal.  The drive from the inn down Middle Road is lovely, and if you will be heading west on Route 55 to go hiking or touring in West Virginia, you can pick up some great pork or chicken barbeque there as well as a tasty dessert for a picnic.  We’re definitely going back in October to try the Spitzenbergs.  Open daily.

Long before Fresh-and-Local became a “trend”, these Shenandoah Valley families were out making the best of our sweet limestone soil by planting orchards.  We’ve developed a great affection for them and respect for their hard work.  We hope you’ll enjoy visiting them.

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Strawberry Balsamic Freezer Jam

posted by Neil Myers

Local strawberries are in!  Yay!!  But what to do when your loving husband brings you a flat of berries (8 quarts) rather than the 4 quarts you needed?  And the “shelf life” of these berries is maybe 8 hours.  Make freezer jam of course.

And what do you do when the weather has not been hot enough to bring out that full strawberry flavor you remember as a child?  Add a little balsamic vinegar of course.

With plenty of berries to experiment with, I made 3 batches according to the directions for strawberry freezer jam using Ball’s Instant Pectin.  The first batch was the “control”, just to see if adding the vinegar to the other batches had any effect on the jelling.  The vinegar batches were no soupier than the no-vinegar batch.  (Freezer jam by its nature tends to be soupier than cooked jams.)

I added 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar to one batch and 2 teaspoons to the other.  The 1-teaspoon batch tasted better than the control batch–more depth of flavor, and you couldn’t taste the vinegar until the very end.  The vinegar just enhanced the flavor.  In the 2-teaspoon batch, the flavor was still great, but the vinegar was a little more prominent.  It’s amazing what a difference such a small amount made.

We are currently serving the 1-teaspoon batch with rhubarb bread at breakfast.  I think the 2-teaspoon batch would be a great sauce over ice cream and pound cake.  What a treat to have either version stashed in the freezer.

Recipes that I saw online called for reducing the basamic before adding, but I really didn’t want that intense a flavor for breakfast.  What do you think?  Have you played around with freezer jams?  Any good combinations we should try?



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Neil’s Take on Contemporary American Cuisine

posted by Neil Myers

For those of us of a certain age, modern menus (including ours at The Inn at Vaucluse Spring), can look a little strange.  And the plating can be fascinating, even dramatic, but maybe a little confusing.  Here’s a brief guide for (and by) the clueless.

Menu writing has evolved as dining has evolved.  “Back in the day,” as we oldsters say, a menu would list a classic dish which you knew (or were expected to know) how it was prepared and what the primary ingredients were.

Well, Chef Adam is bringing us up to date.  Now, on our Saturday night menu, you might see:

Scallop, Corn Purée, Chorizo, Chili Oil,
Confit Tomato, Leeks, Machê, Plantain Chips

So, you might wonder, “What is this, a list of ingredients?”  Well no, the items listed for each dish reflect the primary flavor components.  Adam strategically places these components on the plate so that each bite you take will be a somewhat different combination of flavors and textures than the bite before or the bite after.

Unless, of course, you are the type who stirs up all those intersting components of your soup, getting the same effect you got when you mixed all your finger paints together in kindergarten.  Adam says, since you don’t tell him how to cook it, he’s not going to tell you how to eat it.  Neil says, pay attention to each exquisite bite and savor the moment!

You can see recent menus posted on our website to get an idea of what is in store for your dining pleasure on Friday and Saturday evenings.  We also have a collection of past menus here at the inn that are fun to leaf through.



Adam’s Musings on our First Beer Dinner — March 16, 2012

Let’s face it:  the world of beer has changed!  Today, many breweries are veering far from the old standards and creating craft beers which have all the nuances of fine wine.  I’ve seen (and tasted) such concoctions as green tea IPA’s, chipotle chocolate stouts and everything in between.

With this evolution and experimentation, one can understand why pairing beer with tasting menus is also valid and oftentimes more interesting than wine.

Don’t get me wrong, I love wine . . . I love pairing food and wine; however, the wide variety of hops and different combinations of toasted malts give beer a grassy freshness that interacts with food on many different levels.

Further, beer is usually not as high in alcohol as wine.  Alcohol can sometimes numb the palate, making it more difficult to detect some of the more finite tasting notes.

With all this said, I have decided to pair a tasting menu with the beers from Tröegs brewery in Hershey, PA.  This brewery produces a wide variety of beers which range from fruity and loaded with citrus all the way to chocolatey with a finish of burnt caramel.

I look at each of these beers almost as ingredients when I constructed this tasting menu so one is constantly asking, “Is this beer a supplement to the food, or is the food a supplement to the beer?”

Each one of these beers is drastically different, and can be enjoyed by seasoned craft beer drinkers or someone who is tasting these styles of beers for the first time.  Either way, this is an event not to be missed!


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