Pretty please, with a cherry on top…and inside

You know it’s summer around these parts when the cherry tree’s fruity offerings ripen practically overnight and all need to be picked immediately before they cause the branches permanent injury. I admit I’ve grown just a little disenchanted with the picking and the pitting, and was tempted to ignore this year’s harvest altogether and see how long it took the birds to clear it off, but…I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to do jam again (there’s still some of last year’s in the freezer because although I like making it, I never think to eat it), and so rescued a modest 6-cup bowl of fruit and thought about what to do with it.

I had first made these muffins a couple of years ago with blueberries, as the recipe calls for, but thought: why not cherries? Yeah! Why not cherries? The sour cherries, while larger than blueberries, are still pretty small compared with the jumbo Bing cherries all the local grocery stores trumpet, so I didn’t feel the need to chop them in any way before using them. But hey, do you know what happens to your hands when you pit a cup’s worth?

I texted that picture to a friend who wrote back, “Wait, did you burn yourself?” Luckily it all came off with soap and water, and yielded these beauties:

The trick to the recipe’s success is soaking your oats in milk for 20 minutes. It might not look like much… (Seriously, how can people eat overnight oats? Bleh.)

But it really does help the finished product – and gives you ample time to pull together your dry ingredients:

…and your wet ingredients.

This doesn’t look like much, either (are you noticing a trend?), but it smells heavenly once the melted butter, honey, and vanilla get whisked together.

Pour the wet into the dry, and add your milk ‘n oats and blueberries cherries.

After spending years baking cupcakes, which you never, ever overfill unless you want them to do things they shouldn’t, there’s something deliciously naughty about making muffins that let you fill the liners right to the very tippy-top.

Five minutes at 425 and 17 minutes at 350 later, they finally look like something!

These are so lovely that I’m almost (but only almost) starting to wish that I had pitted and frozen more cherries to be able to do these year-round. The muffin batter itself isn’t overly sweet, and the cherries are tart in a way that’s reminiscent of cranberries. I tripled the cinnamon called for – we like cinnamon – but even at that it’s an undertone rather than some in-your-face spice. They’ve been a hit so far with everyone who’s tried one (or more!).

Thanks for looking! 🙂


I found my thrill on blueberry hill…

or: What a Drag It Is Getting Old

Hey, guys?  This whole maturity thing is a buzzkill.  (Side question: do the Who still sing about hoping they die before they get old?)  Gone are the days of drinking-as-a-competitive sport, all-nighters, and greasy food whenever you darned well felt like it.

Okay, so I exaggerate somewhat – I was never much of a drinker – but this is my pity party, and I’ll embellish if I want to.

Last week, I made margarita cupcakes, and did I pile them high with swirls of tequila-lime-salt icing?  I did not.  I made a ridiculously small batch of icing, and demurely spread an even layer on each cupcake.  They still tasted fine, but didn’t feel as fun.

The weekend before that debacle, I saw a commercial for Robin’s Donuts new summer blended drink: a s’mores mocha.  My inner five year-old shrieked joyously, and the next day, I managed to con my friend into making a detour while we were out.  They had signs for it posted in the windows, and those marshmallows looked good enough to eat (obviously), and then I saw the nutritional information right beside the picture: “starts at 560 calories”.  I hate when people misuse the word “literally”, so when I say I literally froze, I mean it.  I wanted that chocolate-marshmallow-graham concoction so badly, and (with apologies to V.N.) what d’ye know, folks – I just could not make myself do it.  Cringing, I ordered a black coffee (and a Ghostbuster; I’m just old, not dead).

In light of these involuntary displays of maturity, I was intrigued by the recipe for Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins on Sally’s Baking Addiction.  I like oatmeal.  I like blueberries.  And no refined sugar?  Sign me up!

Sure, they’re sweetened with honey, and sure, a surfeit of sugar isn’t great for you no matter how natural the source, but honey is a lower GI sweetener, so I figure, it’s a trade-off.

Blueberry Muffins 1

The batter turned out super-thick thanks to letting the oats soak in the milk for the prescribed time.  This recipe makes great use of time: in the 20 minutes of soaking time, I had everything else pulled together, ready to add the oats and milk.  How efficient!

Blueberry Muffins 2

Blueberry Muffins 3

They baked up so nice and tall.  The whole house smelled like blueberry-oat-cinnamon magic (I did increase the cinnamon to about 1 tsp), and it was divine!

Blueberry Muffins 4

I really think these are no-fail.  I followed the recipe to a “T” (cinnamon notwithstanding), and they baked up perfectly, no overbrowning or mushy middles.

Blueberry Muffins 5

Just wholesome, blueberry-studded goodness.

My test audience couldn’t keep their paws off these.  I’m told they’re wonderful with just a little smear of butter on each half, but are excellent naked, too.  If you haven’t already preheated your oven, do it now!

I’m sure my self-imposed health martyrdom – if you can really call less-frosted cupcakes healthy – will come to an end soon enough, but I’ve got this recipe in my back pocket the next time I need a healthy snack or dessert.

Thanks for looking! 🙂



A very corn-y joke

Why don’t soldiers like to march through cornfields?  Because they might step on a kernel!  (Colonel?  That one really works better spoken instead of read.  Go on, read it out loud.)

My coworker, all too aware that flattery will get her everywhere, sighed recently and said that since I was such a good baker, maybe I’d have a good recipe for gluten-free corn bread.  Normally the answer would have been a resounding no.  I can digest gluten without a problem, and since most gluten-free baking I’ve tried has been on the nasty side, I don’t see much point in trying.  But…I had ripped a recipe out of the newspaper this spring for gluten-free corn muffins that seemed simple enough, so….challenge accepted!

The recipe was really very simple – seven ingredients, no waiting – and only made six muffins, so I wasn’t going to feel too bad if they didn’t turn out.  I mixed, spooned, baked, and waited….

….they looked good.

….they smelled good.

….they released neatly from their papers.

….they tasted good, but whoa, were they crumbly!

They were still more palatable than most store-bought gluten-free baking I’ve tried, so I brought them in for her anyway.  I apologized meekly for the crumbliness (I love it when food comes with disclaimers!) when I presented them, but she told me that tends to be a “thing” with GF baking, and that these were actually really good.  Who knew?

I think I may well stick with glutenous baking in the future, though…I know the territory and tend to stress less!  🙂


Free food always tastes better!

I was sitting at work yesterday, minding my own business, when I thought I heard someone say “rhubarb” in the general vicinity of the kitchen.  Has Paul brought in his tasty rhubarb cake again? I wondered, and began a stealthy, nonchalant trek to see what was going on.  He had brought it in a couple of weeks ago, and I wanted in on the ground floor if there was more.  There was no rhubarb cake to be had, alas, but what there was, was free rhubarb (or deconstructed rhubarb cake, if you will).  In fact, its purveyor attempted to send me home with the entire garbage bag full that he had brought in.  I demurred, but decided that a few stalks  – or, ahem, sixteen – couldn’t hurt.  I had never cooked with rhubarb before (although I do enjoy eating it), but getting tons of it for free was like a carte blanche to try something new.

You’d be surprised how difficult it is to find a rhubarb recipe (that’s not pie, because it’s hot out and I’d prefer cooler temperatures to fiddle with pastry) in a vegan cookbook.  Hello!  It’s not kumquats, or something equally exotic, but a springtime farmer’s-market staple.  Fortunately, Hannah Kaminsky’s Vegan Desserts came through with Spring Fling muffins.  And since I had the day off today, I was up and baking first thing in the morning while it was still reasonably cool.

Yum!  I love the streusel-y topping, and the little extra crunch that the sugar gives.  The recipe said it made 12, but I’m not sure what sort of oversized muffin cups the author used, because I got 15 nicely-sized muffins out of the deal.  (Not complaining…now I have more to share with an eager test audience.)

I thought the watermelon cupcake liners were a nice touch, as their main purpose seems to be to send mixed signals about what kind of fruit is inside.


You can’t spell “fibre” without… “brief”?

This is probably the kind of thing that could get my citizenship revoked, but I hate Tim Horton’s.  Oh, sure, they used to be good, back when their donuts were actually baked on-site, fresh, in each individual store, before these dark days of par-baked pastries that are frozen and sent to the stores to be “finished off”; back when they focused on being a half-decent coffee and donut shop instead of expanding their lunch menu to include sandwiches that probably taste better from Subway, salty-yet-flavourless soups, and institutional-sized vats of (shudder) beef lasagna casserole.  Unfortunately, flash-frozen donuts and subpar lunch items seem to be the order of the day, and I no longer have any interest in them.  Also, their coffee smells like cat pee (and I live with both cats and Tim’s drinkers, so trust me on this one).  But I digress.

I had some oat bran left in the cupboard from my last adventure with the Applesauce-Oat Bran muffins from Veganomicon, and thought I ought to bake some muffins this weekend.  Last time, I made them pretty much according to the recipe, and added raisins.  This time, I had planned to add some dried cranberries, when my mom reminded me that there were oodles of fresh blueberries in the fridge.  Lightbulb moment!  What about a cranberry-blueberry-bran muffin, much like the ones found at the above-mentioned national treasure of a coffee chain?

Ha!  Tim’s can suck it!  Not only did these come out beautifully, they have almost half the calories of one of those flash-frozen abominations (based on a rough calculation using calorie counts for my individual ingredients, divided by twelve muffins).  I followed the recipe for the most part, increasing the cinnamon by 1/2 tsp and swapping out the cardamom for 1/2 tsp ground ginger.  I also added just a touch of molasses to give them a deeper flavour, and then folded in 1/3 cup dried cranberries and 1/2 cup fresh blueberries.  Now that’s a satisfying 174 calories!

But don’t worry – I haven’t gone totally health-food on everyone.  It was my turn for Bake Day at work last week; check out the margarita cupcake redux:

The minis are so cute; the public loves them; I may well spend the rest of my days making margarita cupcakes to slake the desires of friends and co-workers.

baking, Cross-stitch and Embroidery

I shake de tree.

Sshhhh!  This is a top-secret sneak preview of a little something I whipped up for Mother’s Day, so think of this as an advance screening.

You may recall that a couple of years ago I embroidered a Swedish Chef towel for my mother’s birthday.  He still gets a lot of use, but it’s seemed to me that he could use a companion towel – most of our other tea towels come in pairs, except for the poor, lonely Chef.  So, bork-bork-bork, I decided to embroider the squirrel design from Sublime Stitching’s Forest Friends pack.

At this point, you’re probably questioning the connection.  Why not another Muppet, or something more kitchen-y?  Well, it all started like this: the very first episode of The Muppet Show that I remember seeing was the one guest-starring John Denver, with a camping theme.  In this one, the Swedish Chef has traded his kitchen for a little set-up in the woods, and has decided to make squirrel stew.  I can’t do it justice; just watch the video.

Now that it all makes a little more sense, on with the towel:

Here it is, posing on the oven door.

A better view of the stitching.  It’s done mostly in stem stitch with the little tufty fur bits in backstitch, and a hint of satin stitch to keep it interesting.

I also got some baking done!  (Although this is not for Mother’s Day.)  Behold, the Applesauce-Oat Bran Muffins from Veganomicon:

Truly, I have no future with the Muppets, as I didn’t haphazardly fling a single ingredient while making these.  🙂


Drat this cupcake top!

Questions that get really annoying after a while:

1. Where do you get your protein?

Actually, I daresay that most people who ask this are just genuinely curious and eager to learn, but after the twentieth time you’ve fielded this question…aargh.  Ever hear of legumes, whole grains, soy products?  Because I eat a well-rounded diet that consists of more than just french fries and Dr. Pepper, I’m fine.  Trust me.

2. Aren’t a muffin and a cupcake the same thing?

I can see where you might think that, but nooooo.  Technically speaking, a muffin is a quickbread, while a cupcake is just a small cake.  The mixing and baking instructions do vary somewhat.  Aren’t muffins also inherently healthier?  Well, no.  They can be – I’ve never seen a bran cupcake – but I made a batch of each yesterday and each recipe called for the same amount of sugar.  A quick visual breakdown:

This is a Mocha Chip Muffin courtesy of a recipe from the Post Punk Kitchen.  Unlike a cupcake, its top is slightly more domed (to wit, I’ve never heard anyone complain of the cupcake top protruding over the waistband of their jeans).

This is a variation on the Golden Vanilla Cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.  Its top is flatter, and, if you’re looking for a very basic way to tell them apart, it’s frosted, whereas muffins generally are not.  I’ve been known to eat naked cupcakes if I’m too lazy to make frosting, but really, it’s a cake.  It should be frosted.  Come on.

So remember, kids: flat n’ frosted = cupcake.  Round n’ naked = muffin.  Class dismissed.