Friday, May 15, 2009

Mmmmm Muffins

Dish Gal was looking for some healthy muffins, so I decided that I would post these two recipes that I developed when I wanted to make some healthy baked goods for my son. The term "healthy" can mean different things to different people, so first I offer up my philosophy:

1. I mostly try to make nutritious food. That means I'm willing to keep the fat in a recipe if there are other nutritious elements (i.e. protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals).

2. I prefer to develop recipes around the items that I use frequently, such as whole-milk yogurt. It saves me money when I don't have to throw away a container of fat-free sour cream that I didn't finish, and mental anguish when I don't have to figure out how to use up a container of fat-free sour cream. (I don't buy sour cream, fat-free or otherwise, much at all anymore. In most cases, whole-milk yogurt works just fine - try it on a baked potato sometime). To use up leftover buttermilk from these recipes, you can always make waffles or soda bread.

3. I try to include whole grains in my baking, but again, I don't want to have a lot of extra stuff lying around that I won't use up. So, these recipes as well as my waffles include a little whole-wheat flour along with unbleached white flour and some other grains. If you want to go all-whole-grain, try out the "white whole wheat" flour from King Arthur; it has a lighter texture than regular whole wheat flour.

4. With respect to muffins, you may have to adjust your expectations. Starbucks does not make muffins in Life-Sustaining Portions. Have you looked at a muffin tin lately? A 12-muffin muffin tin? It holds about 1/3 cup of batter in each muffin. So don't get carried away with portions; respect the muffin for what it is. I like to think of them as nutritious snacks for me and my toddler (and sometimes they double as entertainment).

Most muffins taste best on the day that they are baked. I freeze the leftovers: pop them in a zip-top bag and eat them all week (20 seconds in the microwave, or a couple of hours in your purse while you commute to work is sufficient to thaw them). If you want to store them longer, wrap them individually in foil or plastic wrap before you store them in the zip-top bag and freeze.

Pumpkin Bread or muffins
Recipe adapted from

1 cup pumpkin or squash puree (canned, homemade, whatever)
½ cup light brown sugar, packed
2-3 tablespoons walnut oil (or olive oil)
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ cup buttermilk
1 egg

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Grease a 9x5” loaf pan or muffin tins (6 large, 12 regular or 24 mini-muffins).

3. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl.

4. In a medium bowl, whisk the pumpkin, brown sugar, buttermilk, egg and oil until well blended.

5. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and stir well to combine. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl. Pour the batter in to the loaf pan or spoon it into the muffin tins.

6. Bake the loaf for 1 hour, muffins 20-35 minutes depending on size until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Blueberry corn muffins
Recipe adapted from

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter
1 large egg
1 cup buttermilk
1 ½ cups fresh blueberries, dredged in flour

1. Heat oven to 375 F. Grease a 12-cup muffin or 24-cup mini-muffin tin.

2. In a large bowl combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

3. Add the egg and buttermilk, mix only until absorbed. Fold in the berries.

4. Pour the batter into cups, making each cup 2/3 full.

5. Bake 15-20 minutes or until browned and the center springs back when gently pressed. Cool on a wire rack.

Stalking Asparagus

Tidbit #1: I'm one of those strange people who actually enjoys grocery shopping. (Maybe I shouldn't say "one of those" people - for all I know, I'm the ONLY person who enjoys grocery shopping). I don't know why, exactly; there's just something enticing about all that food on display. Whenever I travel I always make sure to visit a local grocery store, just to "see what they have," and I usually end up bringing home more than a few items. (This is actually a good strategy for souvenir shopping). It's become a bit of a problem in that I've had to learn to steel myself to not overbuy, even if the asparagus is on sale, or I end up with much more food than I have time to cook.

Tidbit #2: I recently joined a couple of CSAs (community supported agriculture). As someone who grew up with a vegetable garden in the backyard and home cooked dinners on the table, this is not a terribly radical thing to do - the sad truth is that, despite my best efforts, my current backyard garden just isn't putting out enough. (I have read several of those books lately that exhort us to get back to the land, eat seasonally and locally, etc. etc. The politics of this is discussed extensively on the web, so I won't get into it here). We do have a farmer's market in Malden and other towns nearby, and I plan to keep visiting them as well.

What links those two tidbits? More food from a CSA = less shopping. And I love grocery shopping. As much as I look forward to picking up my bag of locally grown organic produce every week, I can't help but wonder - will I miss the thrill of the hunt? The challenge of planning the week's meals around fennel, only to discover that the fennel is dreadful but the rapini is dreamy (and maybe, just maybe, I could swap in zucchini)? I'm not sure what this says about me as a person (and if it's a good idea to reveal it on the Internet) but I really enjoy that aspect of shopping and cooking. If I don't get my fix at the grocery store, am I going to be making excuses to go out and shop anyway?

We had a preview of our CSA this week, though, and I think it's going to be OK. I happened to be sitting at my computer one afternoon when an email came in that some asparagus was going to be available. This was a special, additional thing to the usual bag-o-goods; the total amount of asparagus to be released, and when, was nebulous and weather-dependent. Excited, I replied immediately to put my name on the list.

What happened next is that I compulsively checked my email for two days, waiting for the word that I had made the cut - there are 240 members in this CSA, and not that much asapargus. When the announcement finally came, I was thrilled to see that I was #7 on the list (I did say that I was sitting at my computer when the asparagus email arrived) and that, barring a freakish hailstorm in the next 24 hours, I should be among the lucky recipients in the first round of asparagus delivery . I happily announced to my parents (who happened to be visiting) that fresh asparagus would be on the menu tomorrow night!

The following day, I checked the CSA website even more compulsively to see when the spears would be available for pickup. With each update, my anticipation grew: at 9 am - asparagus is being harvested! At noon - they've left the farm! At 3 pm - they're in Marblehead! At 5 pm - they're in Salem! At 5:30 pm - my parents grumble because we realize that the asparagus will be arriving at our depot pickup too late for tonight's supper! At 6 pm - the spears are in Melrose! The minute my hubby got home from work, I zipped off to make the pickup. Truth be told, I felt a little funny walking up onto someone's porch, signing my name to a clipboard and walking off with my precious little bundle. In some neighborhoods that I've lived in, that would be construed as an entirely different sort of activity. Nonetheless I found completion in the thrill of the hunt for our very, very fresh asparagus.

I know it won't always be like that, but I'm feeling more optimistic about the CSA experience. Maybe the excitement of opening "the bag" will be enough to keep me going through the summer months. Or maybe the quality of the vegetables will make up for my grocery store longings - that was some mighty fine asparagus. (I drizzled it with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted it in a 425 F oven for about 10 minutes, and we ate it out of hand. And yes, my parents got to have some. Just in case you were wondering).