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more muffins, please!

October 10th, 2012 | 1 Comment »

I adore muffins.

But I should clarify something; I like real muffins, not cupcakes masquerading as muffins. While there are those in the camps of muffin lovers that think sweet muffins are perfect, I’m generally not one of them. I like a hearty muffin. Small in stature but huge in flavor. I like them to be full of grains, nuts, fruits and the good stuff that makes me feel all right about eating them. And apparently, given that there are more than half a dozen recipes in this blog (and wayyyy more that never made it long enough to be photographed and talked about), one could stand to reason that if given a choice of what to bake on a very chilly, rainy October morning, it would be muffins.

And even though I likely would LOVE to re-make all these muffin recipes, frankly, it wouldn’t be so hot for my waistline. So I’ll just re-visit some of my favorites instead. You’re ok with that, aren’t you? 

{{Before moving in to Muffin Mania, have you checked out this week’s Cookbook giveaway yet??}}

Songs and soundtracks make up the background for this indulgent Fig Muffin with Honey Lemon Cream Cheese filling.

Just right for the season, Pumpkin Maple Muffins. Sorry the photo is missing……

Butternut squash, November light and Whole Wheat Muffins with Quinoa & Squash.

Whole Wheat Muffins, a blank palette for so much imagination and flair.

Another good choice for Fall; Oatmeal Sweet Potato Muffins. *sigh*

And of course, there has to be something with Apples. The Apple Cheddar Muffin recipe is tops, but quite frankly, these Apple Streusel Bars just had to be snuck in because they are SO darn good.

How about a Blueberry Bran MuffinThis particular creation had a handful of fresh cherries tossed in as well.

 

And finally, a Chocolate Graham Muffin that thinks it should be a cupcake. Add marshmallows and it might be S’Mores.

Next time, I’ll tell you all about my love for Tea Breads. And of course, share that bounty of recipes as well. :-)

coconut oat banana muffins

April 21st, 2012 | 4 Comments »

If you hang around me and the blog long enough, you’ll realize that I really love quick breads. Scan my Recipe Index and you’ll see the spoils of a bowl of dry, a bowl of wet, a loaf pan or paper lined muffin tins and a hot oven. Some gals get their bake on through cookies, or lofty cakes slathered with buttercream; they perfect treats of sugar and spice, with fondant or piping, bars and brownies worth gloating over. I do love cake, and grew up with a Mom who never bought cookies from a store, rising in the summer before daybreak to bake prior to the sun releasing it’s intense heat on the day.  But there’s something magical about a muffin, or tempting tea breads with a perfect moist crumb. I can’t get enough of them.

I’m always paying attention to quick bread recipes, but am often driven to dismay over ones that are choked with sugar and oil. I’ve managed to make a few of these into something a bit more healthy, but these days, I want recipes that offer abundant flavor without the tooth-aching sweetness.

I came across this muffin recipe on The Kitchn and immediately wanted to make it as I’ve sufficiently restocked on Coconut Oil for a while now, and in glancing over the ingredients I was impressed with the amount of flavor these muffins would have, without dumping a ton of sugar in them. They’ve got coconut oil! And flaked coconut!! A vanilla bean! Whole oats! Fruit! What’s not to love?? The original recipe called for mango, so I selected one from the store and a few days later when it was ripe, I began tossing flour and oats together, melting coconut oil and tenuously scraping down the ONE vanilla bean that I had remaining in my kitchen. Then I cut open the mango, and nearly started crying. It was stringy and bone dry inside. I angrily tossed in in the trash, envisioning a few dollars being dumped there, then glanced around my kitchen, studded with lined muffin pans, full bowls and an oven blinking its readiness. What now??

Thank goodness there lay several bananas in the utmost condition for baking in to a tropical themed muffin.

A few deft turns of a sharp knife, and swipes of a rubber spatula to pull it all together and soon I was being treated to the most amazing scent coming from my oven. I know that I should never think that I’ve ever found the most perfect muffin recipe because there is always something out there to top it. Guaranteed.

These moist and perfect muffins are one of the finest I’ve eaten. And I’ve consumed a great deal of muffins. The tender banana chunks in them get sweeter and more intense after a day or two, and the coconut, subtle taste of vanilla and the crunchy oats add oh so much goodness. Although I’m certain that a perfectly ripe and juicy mango would be utterly divine in them, having only a banana to work with was not a step down, by any means. I’d do these again, without one change. They’re that good.

Coconut Oat Banana Muffins

1/2 c. virgin coconut oil
3/4 c. wheat flour
3/4 c. oat flour (you can make this by grinding whole oats in a food processor or coffee grinder)
1/2 c. old fashioned whole oats
2 T. ground flaxseed
1-1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. kosher salt
1/2 c. unsweetened flake coconut (if you have the wide flakes, the original recipe called for those; I only had fine)
1 c. full fat sour cream, room temperature (I used Noosa Honey flavored yogurt and would do that again, hands down)
1/3 c. granulated sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 t. lemon zest
1 T. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 c. milk of choice (I used vanilla almond milk)
1 split vanilla bean
1 c. diced banana (I used two bananas, which came out to be more than 1 cup)
1/4 c. shredded coconut to sprinkle on top of muffins, if desired

NOTE: You DO want the sour cream (or yogurt) and egg at room temp because if you mix those cold with the melted coconut oil, the oil will just seize back up again. Measure the sour cream and egg in a large 4-cup measuring cup, or small bowl and let it sit on the counter for a few hours.

Preheat the oven to 375°. Line two six-cup muffin tins with paper liners.

Split the vanilla bean and scrape the insides, adding it to the sour cream/egg mixture. Heat the coconut oil gently in a microwave safe container (I did about 40-50 seconds on 60% power) and add the vanilla bean shell to it. Allow the oil to cool, but not to the point of being solid again.

In a medium bowl, whisk both flours, the oats, flaxseed, baking powder and salt together. Stir in the half cup of unsweetened flake coconut.

To the sour cream/egg and vanilla bean mixture, add the sugar, milk, lemon zest and juice. Strain the coconut oil through a wire strainer right into the bowl and whisk to combine everything. Mix this with the dry ingredients until about halfway incorporated, then add the banana and fold gently until everything is uniform. Be sure to scrape across the bottom of the bowl with the spatula to get all the dried ingredients.

Scoop into the muffin tins. You can fill them pretty full, but if you don’t care to, you may need another tin. I filled 12 cups completely full and still had a bit of batter left in the bowl. Next time, I will make them smaller and use another six-cup tin.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until tops spring back when you touch them, or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Dare to wait until cool enough to eat; they will smell so enticing that you’ll find that to be a challenge.

Original recipe from The Kitchn, here with heavy modifications.

blueberry/coconut/macadamia muffins

December 10th, 2011 | 4 Comments »

For starters, there are WAY too many vowels in this muffin description!!

But they are worth every twisted tongue and exhaustible explanation because they are fragrant, tropical and fabulous.

About a month ago I was contacted by a company called Oh! Nuts! and asked if I wanted some products to use for my holiday baking. I’d done some business with Oh! Nuts! before and was really pleased with the quality and freshness of their bulk nuts and dried fruits. Oh! Nuts! has a lot of attractive gift options for holiday giving, as well as fresh nuts, dried fruits, candy and other items for year-round baking. I highly recommend their products and can personally vouch for the quality. I was more than happy to have another chance to use some of their items.

For my personal use this time around, I requested Macadamia Nuts and Calymyrna Figs, and within a week, they landed on my doorstep. The figs are gigantic and sweet with a soft bite, and the macadamia nuts are perfectly tender and moist. I’ve been just tickled with both products and decided that before I gobble them all up in my adoration, I would at least make an attempt to bake something with them. It isn’t often you get a world class nut like macadamia gracing your pantry.

This muffin recipe has been hanging around my kitchen for some time now; originally it’s from the Fall 2006 issue of Eating Well magazine. And in a current frenzy through the recipe stack threatening to take over it’s designated drawer, I serendipitously came across it, magically having everything on hand to whisk up a batch of these to make a sunny, yet chilly December day feel a bit more cozy.

The recipe itself is without a great deal of fat or sugar, thankfully. But the muffin doesn’t suffer in the loss of theses tasty ingredients. They burst with blueberry taste, crunchy bits of chopped macadamia nuts and a hearty, nutty crumb that is moist but not at all cake like. If it’s supposed to be a muffin, I want a muffin, not a cupcake disguised as something else. With it’s crunchy streusel-like topping and tender fruit, this will be a repeat in my kitchen, a perfect means to use the frozen berries in my freezer, and to draw more warmth to our frozen landscape.

Blueberry Coconut Macadamia Nut Muffins

1/4 c. unsweetened flake coconut
3/4 c. + 2 T. AP flour (divided)
1/2 c. + 2 T. packed brown sugar (divided)
1/2 c. chopped macadamia nuts
3 T. good quality olive oil
1 c. whole wheat flour
2 T. ground flaxseed
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/8 t. sea salt
1 T. ground cinnamon
1 large egg
1 large egg white
3/4 c. skim milk
2 T. plain or vanilla lowfat yogurt
1 t. lemon extract (can sub vanilla, or coconut as well)
1-1/2 c. fresh or frozen (not thawed) blueberries

Heat your oven to 400°. Line two six-cup muffin tins with papers. Alternately, spray the muffin pans with non-stick cooking spray.

In a small bowl, combine the coconut with 2 Tablespoons each of AP flour and brown sugar with 2 Tablespoons of the chopped macadamia nuts. Drizzle this with one Tablespoon of the olive oil and stir to combine. Set aside for muffin topping.

Whisk together the remaining 3/4 cup of AP flour, the whole wheat flour, flaxseed, baking powder and soda, salt and cinnamon until well combined. In a large measuring cup, whisk the 1/2 cup of brown sugar, the egg and egg white, skim milk, yogurt and extract until smooth. Make a well in the dry ingredients and whisk in the wet until only just mixed. Add the blueberries, and the remaining macadamia nuts and carefully fold in until blended.

Spoon batter equally in to the muffin tins, then sprinkle a bit of the reserved coconut topping on each muffin. Press gently in to the batter, and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in muffin pans for 15 minutes, then turn on to a wire rack to cool completely.

 

Original recipe from Eating Well magazine; posted here with heavy modifications.

DISCLAIMER:
Oh! Nuts! provided me with both the macadamia nuts and the calymyrna figs free of charge
and without expectation of any reciprocal endorsement. Everything stated in this post are
my own thoughts and are freely expressed. 

baking bonanza, quick bread style

November 13th, 2011 | 2 Comments »

There are dozens of recipes in my Recipe Index. I’ve been writing this blog for 5-1/2 years, and the content is huge, but my audience doesn’t go back that far. I could write forever about what’s been covered in the past, but instead, for this post, I’m culling together an entire array of quick bread baking options- muffins and tea breads alike- for you to enjoy. There are a lot of really good recipes for warming up your kitchen on these chilly November days.

I think there is nary a food item more perfect than a muffin; and I don’t mean a muffin so sweet and cloying that you might as well slap buttercream on it and call it a cupcake, I mean a MUFFIN. I real, honest to goodness muffin, made for breakfast, or a snack. I mean a substantial, hand held baked good. I’m talking MUFFINS, one of the baking world’s most perfect little foods, in my well-explored opinion. I love a good muffin, and have no less than eight in my Recipe Index. Muffins lend well to just about any flavor, take only a few minutes to put together and let’s face it, everyone loves them, right? Got flour, baking powder and a few spotty bananas? Make a muffin. Leftover grains from dinner? Make muffins! Blueberries? Raspberries? Nuts? Oats? Bulgur?? It’s all good for going in a muffin.

And oh, how I do love these fragrant and simple little things!!

 

Oatmeal Sweet Potato Muffins

 

Apple Bran Muffins


Fig Muffins with Honey-Lemon Cream Cheese

Whole Grain Blueberry Muffins

 

Squash and Quinoa Muffins with Toasted Coconut

 

Chocolate Graham Muffins

 

And then there are a few recipes without photos:

Pumpkin Maple Muffins
Apple Cheddar Muffins 

And….. because quick breads are created the same way, only baked in a loaf pan, they too can be stellar muffin options and I have plenty of those as well.

Applesauce Banana Bread
Banana Chocolate Chip Bread
Cherry Fig Tea Bread
Moist Date Nut Bread
Harvest Tea Bread
Peanut Butter Banana Bread
Cranberry Orange Date Bread

 

 

What’s on YOUR plate this month??

chocolate graham muffins

March 13th, 2011 | 5 Comments »

A few recipes have crossed my path lately that call for crushed graham crackers in the base. If this is a trend, it’s one I can get behind 100%. There is little else that will swiftly chuck me deep into a well of nostalgia quite like biting into a crisp graham cracker, especially one spread with butter and sprinkled with a little cinnamon sugar.

But to come across a muffin recipe, with chocolate AND graham crackers in it? To quietly utter the words ‘Oh my’ accompanied by a deep sigh of contentment doesn’t even begin to tell you how that made me feel.

And you know I love muffins, a primordial love for a small palm sized bit of moist cake-like goodness. But it has to solidly BE a muffin, as so many of them are nothing short of a dumbed down cupcake. This was a muffin, through and through, although to the eye it was cake at it’s finest. I loved the trickery; the coy visual tease that delivered an altogether different taste once the rich dark crumbs burst across your mouth, scattered with soft chocolate chips to satisfy a sweet tooth.

Yet the word ‘sweet’ wouldn’t be what I would use to describe these muffins. I expected sweet; like chocolate-y cake kind of sweet and I didn’t get that. It solidified further the rather unscientific findings that I am coming across by removing all refined white sugar from anything I bake. Almost everything I’ve baked since last Fall has been with some alternative form of sugar, usually drastically reduced, in an effort to remove products with poor nutritional value from what I eat.

Now please, let me be clear; I have no illusions that any form of sugar is healthy; sugar is sugar and too much of it is problematic. I know this. I’m not pulling a thick armor of wool over my eyes and happily drowning myself in cookies and cake. I love to bake, but the idea of white refined sugar, and also white processed flour has quietly taken siege on my common sense and demanded change. So…. gone is white flour and in it’s place is stone ground whole wheat flour. Gone is white sugar, to be replaced by pure maple syrup, artisan honey, organic natural cane sugar and on occasion, like in these muffins, brown sugar. And yes, I do know brown sugar is refined white sugar costumed with molasses, and in this form I use much less when I bake. But from all the research I’ve read on the use of sugar, when substituting a natural form of it- as in the maple syrup, honey or natural cane sugar- you avoid the chemicals found in the processing of the product. Natural forms of sugar are more readily digestible for humans than anything refined, and have less of an adverse effect on the blood sugar levels in your body. And while I’ll never advocate relentless consumption of anything chock full of sugar, regardless of it’s origin, I will quietly say that a little sweet treat is acceptable, at least for me and my guys. And I’ll feel better about giving them some indulgent goodies, especially when I can pronounce all the ingredients.

I’m planning to write a bit more on this topic at a later date, but really….. if you sat through my little science class, you deserve a Chocolate Graham Muffin.

 

Chocolate Graham Muffins

1 sleeve regular (or chocolate) graham crackers
1-1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1/3 c. cocoa powder
1-1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. sea salt
2 large eggs
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1/4 c. pure maple syrup
1 c. buttermilk
3 T. canola oil
1 heaping teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400°. Line muffin tins with paper liners. The recipe makes between 12 and 18 depending on the size of your tins.

Crush graham crackers, either in a food processor, or by placing contents of the sleeve in a large plastic bag and using a rolling pin to crush. In a large bowl, whisk crumbs with flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, soda and salt.

In another large bowl, whisk eggs, brown sugar, syrup, buttermilk, oil, espresso powder and vanilla until smooth and well blended. Pour into bowl with dry ingredients, and using a rubber spatula, gently fold together until just combined. Add chocolate chips and turn them carefully into batter.

Spoon into muffin tins and bake approximately 15-18 minutes. Check for doneness by either using a toothpick or touching the top of the muffin to see if it springs back. You may need a little more time if your oven, like mine, tends to be fussy. Cool muffins in pans on counter for 15 minutes or so, then turn out to cool completely.

Recipe adapted from Eating Well magazine

Other Muffin Recipes from my Kitchen:

Healthy Whole Grain Muffins

Whole Wheat Muffins with Squash and Quinoa

Oatmeal Sweet Potato Muffins

Fig Muffins with Honey Lemon Cream Cheese

Blueberry Bran Muffins

Pumpkin Maple Muffins

Apple Cheddar Muffins with Almonds

build me up, butternut

November 19th, 2010 | 4 Comments »

(photo from “That’s Yummy”)

We’re woefully into November’s gray and flat winter light. The cloud cover expanse across the sky is leaden and heavy and daylight begins to fade around 4:00pm, yet even in the best of midday light, the ability to take a good photo often is a crapshoot. I don’t really mind the changes that come around this time of year, this first adventure into winter, the shorter days and descent into wool sweaters, layers, warm socks and extra blankets on the bed. The coziness of it is good, it’s necessary, and there’s a lot of it that can be so soothing- like the leaping blue flame under the daily tea-kettle, the ritual of a warm steaming cup to carry me through the late afternoon; there’s the presence of the strands of tiny twinkling lights we’ve used to adorn certain areas of our home- the stairwell for those dark, dark mornings, the top of the cupboard in the kitchen, and the fancy festooned bakers rack in the corner of our kitchen.


The tiny lights are nice in those early mornings before the dawn when Mike is awake; it provides enough light to get the coffee pot going and the cat dishes filled without having that eye-burning glare that we encounter when first out of bed. The stairwell lights guide him safely down in the darkness. We put these lights up many years ago at Christmas time, and they’ve proven to be so useful that we never removed them. In those gloomy November afternoons they add a warm touch to our home, along with the singing tea kettle, and those steaming cups. Add a candle or two and you can chase those dark hours away a lot easier.

A good warm oven and simmering pot on the stove does that too. I recently came across a recipe for Butternut Squash Pasta, in Gourmet magazine’s Best of 65 Years cookbook. It was a simple process of cooking cubed squash then tossing it with garlic and pasta, but I thought to take it one step further and create an awesome squash puree to mix in with pasta, creating a saucy topping that clung to every single bite.

Problem was, as delicious as it tasted, it looked just ghastly. Imagine, brightly colored orange squash mixed with cooked whole wheat pasta. Oh gads…. it was homely as all get out, but tasted glorious and superbly like comfort in my bowl. I do recommend it, even if I can’t show you the result. Roast your halved butternut squash until it’s good and soft. Scrape the flesh into a bowl, add a little broth or milk to help thin it, then mash it smooth. You can whiz it in the food processor too. The resulting puree should be thick, close to the texture of canned pumpkin, and can be used like canned pumpkin, which, after all, is squash right?

Having the use of pureed squash on hand made it a cinch to whip up a batch of muffins too, and after finding a recipe for Whole Wheat Muffins with Pumpkin and Quinoa on Fork, Knife and Spoon, I knew those had to somehow come out of my oven in the near future. With a little trip towards the healthy side of muffins, these little beauties came out bouncy soft, only the slightest bite of sweet and full of chewy nibs of quinoa blended with the sweet taste of roasted squash.

Touched inside and out with toasted coconut, they had a lot going for them. A bite for breakfast, a quick pick me up snack or a nice late night treat before climbing under piles of blankets, they fill in all parts of your day with a compliment for your tummy. Follow the link to Kate’s blog  ( I know! Another Kate! ) for the original recipe. I doctored mine up to utilize what I had on hand for my version.

Whole Wheat Muffins with Quinoa and Squash

2 c. whole wheat flour
1-1/2 c. cooked quinoa
1/2 c. pure maple syrup
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1/4 t. ground allspice
1/2 t. sea salt
1 c. cooked butternut squash
1 egg
3/4 c. buttermilk
3 T. oil
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 c. shredded coconut, toasted

Preheat oven to 375 and spray muffin pans, or line with paper. You will get approximately 18 muffins.

To cook quinoa- measure one cup of water in a saucepan and place over medium burner. Rinse 1/2 cup of quinoa in a wire strainer under cold running water, shaking to rinse thoroughly. Place quinoa in saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer about 10-15 minutes until all the water is absorbed. Remove pan from heat and let stand for 10 minutes, then scrape cooked quinoa onto a plate and spread out to cool.

When cooled, measure flour and quinoa into a large bowl. With your hands, gently toss together until blended, and quinoa appears the size of tapioca pearls. Add in baking powder, soda, spices and salt and mix thoroughly.

In another bowl, measure buttermilk, then whisk in syrup, egg, squash, oil and vanilla. Whisk together, then add to dry ingredients with coconut. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold ingredients together until incorporated. Do not overmix. Scoop into muffin tins, about 2/3 full and bake for 15-18 minutes, or until tops are browned and spring back when touched. Allow to cool in muffin pans for 15 minutes or so, then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.

And without even realizing it, I’m more than halfway through NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month. It’s proven to be way easier than I anticipated, but with 4-1/2 years of archives to wander through and re-introduce, I’m never at a loss for material.

always a different view

October 10th, 2010 | 12 Comments »

Eyes on the prize, we are; the human race that’s always striving and reaching for the next greatest thing. We race through our lives, our days and hours with little thought to what is happening around us. We watch traffic, we keep track of our kids, we watch the weather to see if we need a sweater, an umbrella or our sunglasses. We keep watch over our house, our To-Do lists and our spouses. We watch out for each other. We’re focused, with razor sharp precision. And life goes beating a pulse by us, days that we miss because we’re just watching out for what’s next, what’s going to happen tomorrow. Our view of our lives is only what we can fit inside a neat little box, with occasional forays into a view that’s maybe a bit different, or unusual.

Living in Minnesota is living with a palette of seasons that changes almost daily. This is one of those times, this particular season, that the best view comes from looking up, surrounded by the glory that is called October.

Although we can see quite a bit of what makes life so beautiful in this season even when our eyes are on the ground.

It’s important for perspective to look around too, not just ahead at what’s to come, or down to avoid stumbling over any hazards. By looking around, we catch those almost imperceptible moments where we realize there isn’t just one path to follow.

But then again, when we glance down to be sure we aren’t treading on unstable ground, we might catch sight of something that we realize is bigger than what we ever could have imagined.

Or we discover a gift left behind, a way of showing us that we’re not alone.

I’m reflective, yes. October does that to me. Transition does that to me. The job is over and right now, there is nothing else to fill my time. For a short amount of time, laziness will be welcomed but that won’t last. I will need to work again. Yet this season, this glorious thing called October beckons me to run out into it’s blazing sunshine and enjoy every moment I can grasp. And I do.

So on an unseasonably warm October day, a trek through my favorite regional park was the perfect balm for getting the last throes of my chaotic summer out of my system. I had written a post about my job back in early September, nearly 1300 words that spilled out of me in about 4 seconds flat, but as I read over what my mind churned out, I realized that it was written solely for me, a purgatory means to end that stranglehold. I both loved and hated this past summer and I’m still figuring it all out, it’s purpose in my life and what I can take away from it. I may never be able to verbalize it or even make sense of it because a great deal of life’s lessons come to us at inopportune times, when we least expect our brains to wake us up to what really happened.

But I can make sense of right now, right here. I can stop the crazy Merry-Go-Round of life with it’s clanging calliope of noise that’s impossible to shut off. I can ignore the To-Do list. I can take some time for myself. I can go on my rigorous hike through the woods, seeing it as a metaphor, something that applies seamlessly to where I am and use it to keep centered. Life isn’t about always keeping a forward face, never looking back or wearing blinders through your days. It isn’t always about keeping to a schedule, checking e-mail or looking over the calendar to see what’s coming. We miss some pretty glorious moments by being far too focused. We miss out on the season, the one that’s happening right now, in a stupendous and beautiful way.

There’s quite a perspective to be found when walking through tranquil woods, surrounded by towering trees and a shower of leaves with each gust of wind. And nothing makes you feel quite so humble as laying back, and really seeing what is above you.

And of course, there’s food too. I can’t just wax poetic about Autumn in Minnesota- well, I can, yes- but the best part about being away from the confines of my job is that I am bowled over with the urge to get back in the kitchen, the kitchen where Kate is most comfortable and the vehicle for this entire blog. I want to cook again, and I’m so eager to share all of it with you.

So, let’s start with this typically Fall muffin. I happen to be resurrecting it from a post back about a year or so, but it’s no less relevant now. And it’s perfect for this time of year.

These delicious and moist muffins can help with an attitude adjustment too, and be a great means for using up the bounty of squash that’s available this time of year. Although the recipe calls for sweet potato, any type of squash will do. Chock full of oats and cinnamon, they speak softly of the visual blaze of October and are perfect for lunch boxes and after school snacks.

Oatmeal Sweet Potato Muffins
from the Louisiana Sweet Potato Commission

1 c. old fashioned rolled oats
1 c. flour (AP or Whole Wheat, or both)
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1 T. ground flaxseed
1 c. cooked and mashed sweet potato
3/4 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. canola oil
1/4 c. skim milk
1 large egg
1 t. pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400°. Line two standard muffin tins with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk oatmeal, flour, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and flaxseed. In another small bowl, combine sweet potato, brown sugar, oil, egg, milk and vanilla, whisking to blend well. Pour over dry ingredients and stir to combine. Mix until just moistened. Scoop into muffin tins and back for 15-20 minutes. Check at the 15 minute mark- these bake up quickly.

KATE’S NOTES:
This recipe doubles really easily. I doubled it using both AP and whole wheat flour and the result was nice and firm. You can substitute pumpkin for the sweet potato, or use garnet yams. Be sure that the vegetable is cooked and mashed well. I used soy milk in mine and it works just fine. For one batch of these, I added 1/2 c. of flaked coconut, and I think chopped and toasted pecans would be wonderful in these. As always, the ground flaxseed is optional.

For an extra level of flavor, you can top these with a crumb topping made from 1/4 c. oats, 1/4 c. flour, 1/4 c. brown sugar, 1-2 T. softened butter and 1 t. vanilla extract. Combine these well and sprinkle over the muffins before baking. I have not used it, but imagine it would be excellent.

some days just require improvising

August 1st, 2010 | 4 Comments »

As I write this, my boy is somewhere on the road between our home and the Southeastern USA, traveling across four states with his student leadership group from our church for a week-long missions trip to an impoverished area in the southern part of West Virginia. The road trip will take two days before they arrive at their destination.

My boy has been away before, so this is nothing new, this being gone for a week at a time. He’s been spending part of the past 8 summers away, and he always enjoys it. He has to; he was never given the luxury of having a choice in the matter. Being an only child, he was pushed away from my side by necessity. I couldn’t hover, I couldn’t at all. He had to learn to play by himself, read by himself, entertain himself and sleep by himself. And he didn’t have the advantage of siblings to soften any landing that occurred in his life. He was the baby bird on the limb, Mama coaxing him out of the nest at a tender young age and for the most part, he’s done well with those landings. He’s comfortable being away from me, and this is a good thing. Because I know that when he’s ready to fly and really spreads his wings, that he will soar mightily. And I am thrilled and excited to see where this missions trip will take him, in his walk with his Faith, and in his life. He’s had it good, this boy of mine. A dose of reality that life isn’t always kind, that homes aren’t always luxurious and comfortable and that a meager way of life happens to even the kindest people. We all need that perspective shift sometimes to keep us grounded and real.

When I dropped him off with his group and drove off, I expected some jubilation. I expected a slight sigh of relief for a quiet house and no chauffeur duties in the week ahead, meals planned for Mike and I and no one texting me to bring home ice cream as I am getting off work. What I got was something completely unexpected. I was wracked with worry. Because for now, until the team lands at their final destination, I have no clue what’s happening and I have to put an enormous amount of faith in the process. He is in good hands, the team leaders are amazing adults, with soft hearts and strong spirits. He will be safe with them. But there is a long, long and open road that they are on, one that isn’t always so friendly. Or protective. Two vans, one large trailer, and a laughing, wonderful group of incredible young men and women all in high spirits for the adventure that awaits. The thought of anything disastrous happening to them haunts me. And surprises me too. I didn’t expect this feeling, but I don’t doubt it’s validity. That’s my boy. It’s a piece of my heart on that road between here and the South. If I wasn’t worried just a little, that in itself would be worrisome. So I trust, and I remember to breathe. And to pray for them all. Especially those behind the wheel.

And so the expected excitement of sending him off and a week with my spouse has been replaced with this Mama’s heart, and a need to comfort myself. With an abundance of fresh blueberries on hand, a warm muffin seemed perfect. But like this unexpected shift in my day, my favorite recipe was lacking in one very important ingredient and for a moment I actually felt like I had no energy to punt and see what happened. Most of my recipes are sort of like Hail Mary passes, or the punt that will win the game. I close my eyes, do what needs to get done and hope for the best. It’s like craving lemonade when faced with oranges, or planning the trip of a lifetime only to get diverted to a different destination.

Or like this particular morning, wanting bran muffins with fresh blueberries, and ending up with something more like oatmeal. It’s reaching for dried cherries to add some flavor, and dumping what was left of some crushed almonds into the batter to use them up. It meant adding some yogurt to regular milk to create a buttermilk-like tang. More importantly, it meant drowning out the recurring voice in my head that left me lost and empty. The task of making a simple muffin, with necessary improvising, took away the worry. And the result was both peace of mind, with a side of oh-so-very-delicious.

Kate’s Blueberry Bran Muffins

Heat oven to 425°. Prepare muffins tins with cooking spray, or liners.

Mix together in a large bowl:

1-1/2 c. All Bran Cereal
1/2 c. whole rolled oats
1-1/2 c. buttermilk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 c. melted butter
1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 c. maple syrup

Allow mixture to sit for 10-15 minutes, until softened.

In a separate bowl, whisk together:

3/4 c. unbleached AP flour
3/4 c. whole wheat flour
2 T. ground flaxseed
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. sea salt

When bran mixture is soft, gently stir in the flour mixture only until just incorporated. At this point, add a cup of frozen blueberries and gently fold them in. Scoop into prepared muffin pans and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then remove to wire cooling rack.

KATE’S NOTES: If you don’t have All Bran cereal on hand, you can use all oatmeal in the first step. Another option to use would be a commercial multi-grain hot cereal mix like Bobs Red Mill 7-Grain or 10-Grain for the All-Bran. I’ve done this both ways and the results are always delicious. The ground flaxseed is my addition. Leave it out if you don’t have it on hand. And you can use all white flour, or all wheat flour for these if you wish.

To sub for buttermilk, you can use the lemon juice/vinegar option (1 t. either juice or vinegar per 1 c. liquid, stir together then allow to sit for 10 minutes to curdle) or you can mix about 1/3 c. of plain or vanilla yogurt into 1-1/2 c. of plain milk, or even soy milk. I use soy milk, and love how the added yogurt gives it some extra moisture.

Some dried fruit is a nice addition to these; you can use apricots, cherries, figs, dates or prunes. Mince about a 1/2 c. of your preferred fruit and add it to the cereal mixture in the first step. The soaking in buttermilk softens it greatly, and it almost melts in the oven leaving tiny, tangy sweet pockets in your muffins. And adding in 1/3 to 1/2 c. of your choice of chopped nuts also makes for a fine addition.

soundtrack days

March 22nd, 2010 | 6 Comments »

I’ve noticed lately that my days seem to be having their own soundtracks. We’ve become a kind of soundtrack world, what with the abundant use of iTunes, the earbud generation and the incessant need to insert any type of sound into the hours. These are the playlists of our lives, what we exercise to, the music in the background while we work, what blasts from our computers as we clean, or cook or just manage the day.

What I’ve been noticing is that each day seems to have it’s unique sound, a type of music that fits to the mood, weather and sense of self that we connect with through our waking hours. While most of us have our favorite music, I wonder how often we switch out the tunes in an attempt to match the feeling of a particular Friday, or a lazy Sunday afternoon or a bright shiny Wednesday morning. Rainy days have their own soundtrack, and sunshine makes music like nothing else. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, just sit down with an old Warner Bros. cartoon medley, and see what I mean. The Disney animators of old knew exactly how to use music to create a wordless story, to set mood, to create action. Remember the original movie version of Fantasia? It was all about matching music to mood. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, with it’s gentle Springtime lilt and angry Summer thunderstorm movements are a perfect example. I can’t ever listen to composer Paul Dukas’ famous orchestral work ‘The Sorceror’s Apprentice’ without seeing Mickey Mouse, flashing lights and thousands of brooms. Music sets the tone and starts the imagination, it inspires and ignites us.

And food fits into the sense of every day, much the same as music. We all know those lustrous summer days that beg for a juicy grilled burger and corn that’s fresh from the field, the springtime air that makes you dream of salads, fresh peas and asparagus. Winter speaks like soup, or a hearty stew simmering in a pot and then there’s those days that nothing else will do besides a long slow fire and the smoke of a perfect BBQ. Rain and baking, as I recently discovered, sometimes are the best of friends.

I love having music on when I’m elbow deep in the creative process in my kitchen. With iTunes radio, a huge selection is at my fingertips and with a few clicks I can have the perfect background to what I’m doing. I recently was faced with a rainy day that felt like it would perfectly match with soft cafe jazz, a warm oven and a pan of muffins to make it complete. Sitting at the top of my To Make pile on the counter, the place where inspiration lives with just a few shufflings of papers, was a recipe for Fig Muffins with Lemon Honey Cream cheese filling, and oh how that magically blended itself into the saxophone, the steady patter of spring rain outside the door and the gentle rhythm of mid-week. With a loaf of 10-grain bread from my dog-eared copy of ‘Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes’ and a steaming cup of tea, it was about as right and perfect as it could be to give chase to the gray sky.


Of course, I am a bit head over heels for figs, so it likely didn’t hurt that one of my most favorite fruits was the superstar in this moist and tasty breakfast treat. But when you blend up a lovely fragrant batch of sweet honey and lemon flavored cream cheese and bake up these muffins with it’s delightful hidden center, the result alone may have been enough to push the clouds aside for a ray of sun to enter the house.

Lemon is another true love I’ve found with baking. There’s something about the zesting and the juicing and the way the yellow oval resembles a bright July day that always makes me eager to place a few in my basket at the market. For me, the lemon scented cream cheese alone may be the path to a better day, with or without jazzy backdrop, whether it’s raining or not and I was so glad that I made the whole container into this fragrant mix. I will find ways to consume the leftovers. Like spreading it copiously all over these muffins, because I’ve discovered that with some food items, there simply can’t be enough of a good thing.

What kind of soundtrack defines your days? Do you change up your music to suit your mood??


Fig Muffins with Honey Lemon Cream Cheese filling

adapted from Eating Well magazine, February 2010

Preheat the oven to 400° and line two 6-count muffin pans with liners. You can use cooking spray too, if you like.

1  4-oz container cream cheese, softened
2 T. honey
1 T. fresh lemon zest
2-3 T. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 t. fresh ground nutmeg

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients and blend until smooth. Add more zest or juice if desired. I love a good tart flavor.

For the muffins:

2 c. whole wheat flour
1-1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. sea salt
1 T. ground flaxseed
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 c. turbinado sugar (you can sub in brown sugar if you don’t have turbinado)
1 c. buttermilk (I used vanilla soymilk)
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
1-1/2 c. chopped dried figs

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and soda, salt and ground flaxseed. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, buttermilk and oil and whisk until blended and uniform. If you’re using turbinado, don’t worry if the sugar doesn’t dissolve fully, just whisk until blended. Mix the wet ingredients in with the dry and stir until just incorporated, then add the figs and gently fold together.

Spoon batter into muffin cups to half full. Add about a tablespoon of the cream cheese mixture to the center of each muffin, then cover with more batter. You shouldn’t see the filling, but don’t worry if you do. I spooned a smaller amount of cream cheese on to the tops of each muffin, but you don’t need to do that. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins with more turbinado sugar, or another sanding sugar if desired, then bake them for 13-15 minutes, or until they spring back when pressed.

Allow the muffins to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then take them out and allow to cool fully on cooling rack.

Can a food item be too healthy?

November 8th, 2009 | 4 Comments »

The FDA is pretty darn good at sounding the alarm over foods that one shouldn’t eat, or maybe not in excess. They’re just as good at recanting that advice after a year or so, more research and maybe some hand deep in their back pocket, but do they ever go the opposite direction? Can a food item be so stuffed with good ingredients, a high health quotient and incredible good taste that it’s possibly too good for you? Would the mighty FDA ever come at us like a pack of angry Chihuahuas for bypassing the french fry in favor of whole grains and fruit?

Eh, I think not. But this muffin might come a wee bit close to inducing a good health coma, if that is indeed possible.

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Muffins are one of my favorite snack items to make. There is so much that can be done to your basic muffin that I could spend from now until next November making a different variety each week and likely never run out of options. They tend to have a split personality though; as much as everyone wants to believe that eating a muffin is healthier, most of them sold in stores or coffee shops aren’t any better for you than eating a cookie or a croissant. And they’re HUGE, usually. Much too huge, and come on….who eats only half of those monsters? Uh, huh. That’s what I thought.

These basic whole grain muffins are one of my favorite recipes to play with, and they’re loaded with healthy ingredients. With their good hearty texture, they’re wonderful for any eating need from morning coffee to a late night indulgence and they adapt to any kind of extra I can dream up to mix into the batter. I’ve made them with zucchini, chopped pears and pecans, banana, blueberries and here in this version with apples. They freeze beautifully too, as any good muffin should.

Whole Grain Muffins
by Kate

1 ½ c. buttermilk
2 large eggs
2 T. butter, melted
¼ c. oil
¼ c. real maple syrup
1-1/2 c. All-Bran cereal
½ c. packaged 7-Grain cereal (like Bob’s Red Mill; 5-Grain or 10-Grain is fine too)
3 T. whole rolled oats
1-1/2 c. AP flour (can sub Whole wheat flour for half, if desired)
2 T. ground flaxseed
¼ c. brown sugar
1 t. EACH baking powder and baking soda
¼ t. salt.

Heat oven to 375°. Line muffin tins with paper liners, or spray with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs, butter, oil and maple syrup. Stir in All Bran cereal, oats and the 7-Grain cereal. Let stand for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In another bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, flaxseed, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Blend in the wet ingredients and fold together until just combined. Scoop into muffins tins to 2/3 full and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until tops spring back when touched. Cool on wire rack for about 10-15 minutes, then remove muffins from pan to cool completely.

Added ingredients- 1 c. blueberries, frozen (do not thaw) or fresh; 1 c. chopped pear like a D’Anjou or Bosc; 1-2 mashed ripe bananas, 1/2 c. of any nut you prefer; 1 c. shredded zucchini; 1 medium apple, cored and chopped or shredded (or about a half cup of chunky applesauce), 1/2 c. coconut (delicious with banana and pecans)  The possibilities are endless for what you put in these!!

And yes! Pumpkin, sweet potato or even squash is an option too, but check out this recipe for a delicious muffin idea with those ingredients.