Are you laughing? This is not a parody, like that infamous episode of Saturday Night Live with Betty White. (If you’re looking for a naughty giggle, go ahead and click. Otherwise, keep reading with a clean mind.)
My mom is not as old as Betty White, but she did spend lots of time in the kitchen and so I always thought she was an expert cook. She made cookies, cakes, pies, and even cream puffs, in addition to all the savoury dishes she prepared. But she only ever made one kind of muffin – bran muffins. In her defense, this was before the days of coffee shops that sold muffins in multiple flavours right beside donuts, and certainly before the trendy “muffin top” was developed. Muffins were meant to be a healthy snack when I was a kid. Bran muffins may have been overkill, but served warm with butter I thought they were okay with the raisins or dates she made sure to include. (Now that I think of it, Mom may have liked muffins more as a vehicle for butter than for the muffin itself, but no matter.)
Perhaps it was a subconscious twinge of nostalgia amidst the grey days of early spring, or maybe just a craving for more fibre, but I found myself searching the grocery aisles for bran this past week. It took me 4 stores to find wheat bran – is this a backlash to the gluten-free trend? I didn’t want to use processed bran cereal, just the plain old bran.
I made them this afternoon, and I plan to warm one up for breakfast tomorrow. I will watch the butter melt, and maybe add a wee bit more for the last bite the way I remember my mom doing. There is something so very “homemade” about the taste of these little morsels… the bran is excessively healthy, but the moist chewy sweetness of the dates always made for the perfect contrast. It was that special juxtaposition that made me feel like my mom really loved us – she didn’t punish us with super-healthy, yucky-tasting stuff, she made it yummy. (Childhood logic can be so blunt.)
My mom’s bran muffin recipe is simple enough, and I’m sure you can find something similar if not identical on the web. But I am including it in my list nonetheless, since this is a taste from my childhood. I did add one small Rabbit Hollow touch this time, using dried greengage plums instead of dates. I think my mom would be proud.
This morning was grey and cold. It looked like a dreary day, a drastic change to yesterday’s glorious sunshine. I can handle the bleakness of winter in the sun, but I struggle when the clouds make me slouch and the wind howls. So, I took on a winter version of taking lemons and making lemonade…
When I need cheering up, I bake. This morning I needed something quick and comforting, a bit of winter sunshine. Luckily, I have an old favourite that does just the trick – Cornbread Jam Muffins ! As you’ll see if you click on the recipe link, this is something I tested on the hardworking cast and crews I worked with during my years in movie catering in Vancouver. If something can bring a smile to the face of a weary soul at the end of a week working outside in the cold winter rain, then I know it works. And I get to enjoy their smile as well as my own when I taste one!
Muffins are listed in cookbooks as “quick bread” for a reason – they are simple to mix, and don’t take long to bake. If you planned just a little, these could cook while you were in the shower and the coffee was brewing. Extras freeze easily and can be reheated in a toaster oven (microwaves tend to make them tough, but if that’s your method, stick to under 15 seconds for best results).
Even if you save this recipe for a day off, I guarantee they will cheer you up. Go ahead and customize them if you like (the recipe includes a savoury variation, or you can make them without jam if you prefer; they even work if you substitute gluten-free flour). Sharing the goodness of these little gems will give everyone a good start to the day.
As I write this, I notice the sky has cleared a bit over us and even the grey skies over the lake look less menacing. I am breathing deeper and a smile is creeping across my lips. It appears my little dose of sunshine worked its magic quite well!
So I decided to try some recipes that I saw in my surfing this week… I must admit, I still do more surfing in good old-fashioned print than I do online, but nonetheless there is lots to sift through. I have taken to pulling pages from magazines to minimize the stock in my recipe bookcase, as after 25 years of surfing I would be suffocated otherwise 🙂
Fall always makes me want to cook, with all the goodness of harvest overflowing at the market stands. This last week I found a few fall dessert recipes and I got to making 3 of them. Two were a hit, one was a miss. I am posting the links to both here, and would love to hear comments – have you tried them,, or similar recipes? Did you like them? Do you read recipe reviews? Do you believe them? Do you trust recipes in print more than online, or vice versa?? When I started gathering recipes they were the ones I had tasted or had come from cooks I knew (my Mom, my Aunts, my best friend… you know how it used to work). One of the recipes I made was supposedly from a restaurant chef, and yet it was a total fail. How do I know in today’s remote world what to trust? Help!!
The first recipe I made came from a blog that is hosted through a shop I love in Seattle, World Spice Merchants. They have the most complete selection of spices and herbs I have ever seen under one roof, and their staff are extremely knowledgeable. Cardamom and Olive Oil Cake was the title. I was interested by the uniqueness of the recipe, and how it offered an “outside the box” combination of ingredients. I have posted on the blog asking if I made some error in the recipe preparation but I have not heard back. (I printed the page and followed the listed directions explicitly, using the noted weights and not measurements in hopes of being the most accurate). I’m still interested to try the recipe if there is something I missed, but the way it came out it’s not my cup of tea. I suppose I should have taken a picture but it was so sad – only 1 cm (1/2 inch) high, and pale and oily. Not nice.
The second recipe I made was a much more mainstream item but it looked good. It came out of a Walmart magazine if you can believe it 🙂 Apple Coffee Cake. We live in the Okanagan and it’s harvest season so an apple cake seemed like just the thing. Full disclosure: I did tweak this one a bit by adding dried cranberries along with the apple. It’s not racy, but it works, even if you want to go more healthy and omit the caramel topping. (We almost always have homemade caramel sauce on hand so I used that for a few pieces and we ate the rest plain.)
The third recipe I also found online, through a search based on an ingredient. We had a litre of buttermilk in the fridge that was nearing its expiry and so I thought it would be good to make some muffins using buttermilk. This recipe from Williams Sonoma looked to be the best reviewed of the ones I found. I tweaked this one too at the last minute, adding a few spoonsful of mixed peel just for fun. These were tasty – great breakfast muffins.
It’s coming up on Thanksgiving and I’m thankful I’m not testing recipes on my guests for the holiday. I’d hate to have something “not nice” come out of the oven and have to make excuses for friends and family. Having a husband as a chef that is a cardinal rule in our house – we test things at home and might use each other as guinea pigs, but people we invite get treated to tried and true recipes we know and love.
Do you have any cooking disappointments? What’s your philosophy on cooking a new recipe for guests? At the end of the day I suppose the most important thing is gathering people together around the table, so even if it’s to decide as a group that pizza needs to be ordered, well that’s OK too.
Happy Thanksgiving. May your kitchen be full of good smells and good company.