>All-Day Muffins

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I firmly believe that muffins are the greatest snack you can have. I know this is highly debatable, but I stand by my opinion. Here’s why:
  • They have sweetness. All the best snacks are sweet.
  • They have fiber. Fiber keeps you full.
  • They are infinitely variable. Variety is the… you know.
  • They are appropriate to eat at any time, day or night.  

I was once the head cook at a camp, and we baked our muffins in sheet pans. Easier to prepare, easier to serve, easier to clean up after. (Who wants to spend their morning scrubbing out 100 holes? Not me. And not my dish crew.) Any leftover slabs of muffin got piled on a plate, and though they might languish in the morning, the kids would fight over them come 2 o’clock. 


Recently I made a Morning Glory Muffin recipe, and they were… okay. Morning Glory Muffins traditionally have shredded carrots, drained canned pineapple, raisins, coconut, and nuts. I swapped out diced rhubarb for the pineapple (still dealing with the rhubarb glut here), omitted the nuts, and substituted diced dried apricots for the raisins. All these switches were fine. The problem was with the muffin batter itself. It was too sweet, and had little heft to it. It tasted like a cupcake.


This brings up another debatable question: What’s the difference between a cupcake and a muffin? I believe the answer lies in the frosting (one had it, one does not) and in the dry ingredient ratio. I like my muffins to be not TOO sweet, and with some whole grain goodness. 

There are many way to incorporate whole grains into your baked goods. You can sub ground flax seed for some of the flour, or add some wheat germ. The easiest way is to use whole wheat pastry flour. I like Bob’s Red Mill, both for its texture and for the labor practices at the company. (Bob recently retired and gave his company to his employees, he’s that cool.) If you live in Seattle, you can get it at the Oroweat outlet store on 95th and 1st for the best price I’ve seen. 


The recipe had good bones, and I tweaked it to make it better. As noted in point three above, muffins can adapt to whatever you have on hand. You could cut the sugar even further, to 3/4 of a cup, if you like austere pastries.

One non-muffin note: I will be having a giveaway in two days! So check back on Wednesday for your chance (very high chance, thanks to a small readership) to win some homemade goodies!


Glorious All-Day Muffins

adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, revised edition

1 c all-purpose flour
1 1/4 c whole wheat pastry flour
2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 c white sugar
3 large eggs
8 T (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled
1 t vanilla or almond extract
2 c grated carrots (don’t bother to peel them first)
3/4 c or so diced rhubarb
1/2 c coconut
1/2 c diced dried apricots
1/2 c chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 375˚. Coat one or two muffins tins with baking spray. Be sure to coat the top of the tin, not just the insides, as it makes removal so much easier.


Whisk together the dry ingredients, except the sugar, in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until combined. Slowly whisk in the butter and vanilla until smooth. Fold the egg mix into the dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in the carrots, rhubarb, coconut, apricots, and nuts. (This makes a pretty stiff batter. I actually just folded the final ingredients in using my hands and a light kneading motion. Don’t overwork the batter.)


Scoop into the prepared muffins tins. (I used my hands to scoop, since they were already dirty.) Bake until golden and toothpick stuck in the middle of the middle muffin comes out clean. This will take about 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes, then flip out out a rack and let cool a little more before serving. 

Makes 12-15 muffins.

The carrots are sweet, the rhubarb adds a bit of tartness, and the coconut and apricots lend some chew. These muffins keep well, and are a wonderful little treat. 

You can make many substitutions here. Use any other kind of nut, or no nuts*. Use any sort of dried fruit for the apricots, or none. Go the traditional route with one 8 ounce can of crushed pineapple, drained, for the rhubarb. If you have another vegetable, such as zucchini, use it in place of carrots. Grated beets might make for a lovely pink muffin (and use some dried cranberries or cherries for ruby accents). As mentioned above, muffins take well to adaptation. What is your favorite kind of muffin?

* “no nuts” is a phrase I really like because of how it feels in my mouth . This started at the camp, where we would make granola two ways — nuts, and no nuts. The no-nuts (see? it’s fun) version got a little sticker on the bottom, so when nut-allergic kids came, we’d swap out the nuts for the no-nuts. The boys I worked with thought “no nuts” was funny. I like the alliteration. 
 

>Kitchen Smackdown! Rhubarb Cake!

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As mentioned in my last post, I was recently gifted with HEAPS and HEAPS of rhubarb. That same day, I’d examined the three rhubarb plants in our front yard and saw that they were more than ready to be cut. What to do with so much rhubarb? The sweet-tart, and sweet-sweet-sweet answer, is after the jump.

I used some of it to make rhubarb chutney. Chutney is a condiment typically made from fruit and some spices simmered in a vinegar-based liquid until everything softens and comes together a little. It’s used with meats and poultry and can be served alongside a cheese plate for a tart bit of refreshment. A simple party trick is to pour some over cream cheese or goat cheese and serve it with crackers.
There are many kinds of chutney out there. Perhaps the most well-known is mango chutney (and if you have some laying around  and it’s cold where you are, like it is in Seattle right now, go make this.) I’d never made chutney before, but 40 pounds of rhubarb can be very inspiring. For a good recipe, I turned to Food in Jars (as I often do) and found this delicious-sounding recipe. I followed it to a T (well, used red onion, and simmered 35 minutes) and now have six pints of rhubarb chutney. I see many cheese plates in my future.
A warning: don’t try this recipe when it’s very warm. You might accidentally inhale hot vinegar and sear your throat on hot acid and that might lead you to believe that you don’t like the chutney you’ve slaved over. Just sayin’.
  
The sweet-sweet-sweet reference above is a cryptic clue to last week’s cake-off. Faced with the last of the rhubarb still languishing in the fridge, I decided to dive right in and initiate a new type of post here called Kitchen Smackdown! The name is because I don’t mind a little violence, and because I think categories are a very very good thing.
The inaugural Smackdown features two kinds of Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake. The “bottom” of each cake was the same. I tossed largely-diced rhubarb in sugar (just eyeball it here, enough to lightly coat each piece when you stir it around) and a little lemon juice. Let this sit for a while, and if the rhubarb hasn’t yielded a lot of liquid, you’ll want to add some. Apple or pineapple juice works well, but you could use just about anything, even water. After the sugar has dissolved, pour the rhubarb into the bottom of the greased pan (note that each cake is a different size) and add some of the juice. I added just enough to make a sheen all over the bottom of each pan, but you could definitely do more; both cakes will soak it up nicely. I knew I was making two cakes, so I did about two pounds of rhubarb total. I’ll indicate the approximate amounts for each cake below.

Cornmeal Buttermilk Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake
 adapted from The Joy of Cooking. If you don’t own this classic compendium, go buy it.

About 1 1/4 pounds rhubarb, diced and sugared as described above. 
Grease a 9″ x 13″ pan and spread the rhubarb on the bottom.
Preheat the oven to 350˚.
2 1/3 c all-purpose flour
1 c cornmeal
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt

In another bowl, beat until creamy 
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 c) butter, at room temp (about 65˚)
then beat in gradually, about 3 to 5 minutes,
1 1/3 c white sugar
After the sugar and butter are combined to be creamy and slightly fluffy, beat in slowly
3 eggs (at room temp; put them in a bowl of warm water when you start the recipe)
1 t vanilla extract

Keep the mixer on low and add the flour in three parts, alternating with
1 c buttermilk
in two parts, scraping everything down after each addition. 

Pour the cake batter over the rhubarb and gently spread as needed to even. Bake until a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cool completely, then put a plate or tray bigger than the cake pan upside down over the cake pan. Use your thumbs to hold it in place, and in one smooth motion flip the whole shebang over and set the serving tray on the counter. If you’ve greased the pan well, the whole thing should slide right out without breaking. 

Rating: This cake was light and delicious. The buttermilk lent a nice tangy note, and the corn added a tiny bit of crunch and kept the cake from being overly sweet. It was actually so light and not-too-sweet that I served huge squares (5″ x 5″) and nobody complained. It would be a nice spring-time alternative to a coffeecake.


Next up:

Classic Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake
also adapted from The Joy of Cooking. Seriously, it’s great.
about 3/4 pound of rhubarb, diced and sugared as described above, spread in the bottom of a greased 9″ square pan. 
Preheat the oven to 350˚.
Whisk together in a small bowl
2 eggs 
2 T buttermilk
1/2 t vanilla

Whisk together in the bowl of the mixer or another large bowl
1 c flour
3/4 c sugar
3/4 t baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
1/4 t salt

Add
6 T (3/4 of a stick) soft butter
6 T buttermilk

Beat on low until the flour is barely moist, then increase the speed to medium (high for a hand mixer) and beat for exactly 90 seconds. Add one-third of the egg mixture, beat for exactly 20 seconds, and scrape the bowl and beaters. Repeat twice. Scrape the batter over the prepared rhubarb and spread to even. Bake until a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Let the cake cool completely, then invert it onto a cake plate or platter. 

Rating: This is classic pineapple upside-down cake batter. It’s very yellow and has a dense, moist texture. We ate it the day after baking and it still tasted very fresh. It was much sweeter than the other, and had a spongier texture.
The Moment of Truth: 
Preparation: Both cakes were easy to prepare. (Full disclosure: I have a KitchenAid stand mixer. This machine makes many things easy to prepare.) The timing notes on the classic cake were obnoxious, but in the end the batter was perfectly smooth.
Looks: Obviously these cakes looked very similar. One was bigger. I liked how the classic cake looked better, simply because it seemed the syrup had soaked into the cake a little more during baking. The rhubarb mixture on top is not super attractive; it’s sort of pink and green and brown. Either cake would go well with fresh whipped cream.
Taste: I polled everyone who ate both kinds. The majority liked the classic cake better, because it was sweeter. I liked the buttermilk-cornmeal cake better, because it wasn’t as cloying and was a little lighter in the mouth. I also like how this cake is a bit unexpected for an upside-down. In a good vote tally, majority rule might carry the day, but this is my blog.  
The Winner: Cornmeal Buttermilk Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake!
Let me know if you try either recipe. The Cornmeal Buttermilk Cake would also be wonderful plain, served with whipped cream and fruit. (I’m thinking preserved plums in winter.) 
Any suggestions for future Smackdowns?

What to do with Rhubarb, or, My sink overfloweth

 

Last week I was at my local fruit stand and saw an employee sorting through the rhubarb. She turned to a colleague and said “It’s all bad. It all has to go.” Now, something you need to know about me: I love free stuff. The rhubarb looked all right to me, so I said to her in my saddest-sounding voice, “You’re throwing all of that away?” And just like I hoped, she offered it to me. For free. The photo above has the cantaloupe for comparison purposes.
I wish I would have weighed the box. I think it was between 30 and 40 pounds. The ends were a tiny bit slimy, and maybe three stalks were getting soft, but the rest was great. I washed it, chopped it up, and froze it in zippy bags in 10 cup quantities. That was 50 cups worth of rhubarb, and I still had one-third of that box there.

So what did I do with the rest? I’ll let you know in future posts, but here’s a hint: chutney. And jam. And cake. And crisp. And if you want some rhubarb, we actually have a bunch growing in our front yard we’d be happy to share!