Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Snow Day with Birds and Bran Muffins

It's another snowy day here at the farm. With the excess busyness and freedom of the holidays behind me, I am swaddled back up in a comfortably roomy routine. (Yes, I needed to learn to be more self-destined, but a little structure does a mind good, too.) Yesterday was a satisfying day of office work. Today, as the flakes flurry about, I'm enjoying being home with just a few joyful goals for my time.

Left alone with an unchaperoned kitchen, my thoughts always turn to baking. I had, after what seemed like ages of deprivation, replenished our supply of Whole Grain Whole Wheat bread on Sunday. It's so not fancy, but when it was done and toasted and buttered and jellied, I gobbled it up as if I had never known bread. Nothing, but nothing, is like homemade bread, even if it's not perfect. Good thing I photographed my last loaf. Anyway, with the Staff of Life thus handled, I turned to an idea that's been percolating on the back burner of my mind for many months.

You know how the bottom of the cereal bags always have those crushed-up dregs that make way too much sog when eaten with milk? Having been raised a poor girl and hating to waste food, my bright idea was to save them up and make bran-like muffins out of them. I have been collecting these leavings for weeks
(Note: We eat only whole-grain cereal. No sugaries here.) and even moved them to the farm in the insistent belief that I would finally get round to this experiment. Then I found Farmgirl Susan's Moist and Delicious 100% Whole Grain Bran Muffin recipe on her delightful Farmgirl Fare blog while obsessively consuming her archives (proper credit, check). Now I didn't even have to do internet research in the absence of my cookbook library, sadly stashed in boxes in a concrete and steel cell (My poor babies!). The project was meant to be.

There is one irony here. Farmgirl Susan's recipe actually calls for straight oat and wheat brans, not cereals, because she was trying to create a bran muffin that didn't require buying boxes of cereal. Despite our crossed purposes, her promise of tasty and moist muffins substantial enough to be breakfast (my blood sugar salutes her), without further recipe research, sealed the deal.

I chose the cranberry orange version, because we have seasonally-shipped citrus here at the house that I 've been itching to use for something other than noshing. (Christmas citrus is now one of our favored gifts to recieve. So much better shipped ripe from the grove than gassed in the truck!) Then began the tweakings to accomodate the other things on hand. I substituted equal measurements of my cereal dregs for the two brans, butterm
ilk for the yogurt, and local sorghum for the molasses. I opted for the suggested flavor boost of grated orange zest and squeezed the now denuded orange for part of the juice specified. (Part? I usually use only fresh citrus juices, so why I rounded out with carton juice escapes me at this moment.)

After first stirring it all together, I had my doubts about the batter. It seemed quite wet and too voluminous for the regular-size muffin tin that I was rapidly filling. As I was pondering how to handle this bounty (Overfill my regular tin? Or did "10 large muffins" perhaps mean those from a jumbo muffin pan?), my mother-in-law called to tell me all about how father-in-law hadn't yet returned from driving her to work because of two blown-out tires caused by running over a piece of a bridge that the snowplow had knocked off and left in the road, which event necessitated a trek through the snow, etc., etc. (Thank goodness the offending agency plans to reimburse them for the costs incurred during this little adventure. He just repaired a tractor tire last week, which this city girl now knows isn't cheap.) When I returned to my portioning after the news update, I found that the batter had achieved a more familiar thickness, but there still remained the question of what to do with the rest of it.I decided to fill two cups of my jumbo muffin pan with the remaining batter and popped both pans in the oven.

When the muffins were done, I could see that I had been misled by my retentive tendencies once again. The smaller muffins were quite flat on top, while the jumbo muffins were more properly domed. I had filled the smaller pan's cups two-thirds full as most recipes instruct. The remaining batter was not enough to make three jumbos, so it all went into two cups, filling them basically to the top. I'll have to make these beauties again to be sure, but I think I'm seeing Farmgirl Susan's (and my former boss Lana's) More, More, More policy in action. If so, this recipe could solve an old dilemma for me, in which standard regular-size muffins are a little small for a snack (my primary use for them), but jumbo muffins are too big. I want healthy, nourishing, medium-size muffins with tops and ledges. Next time, it's chockfull regular-size muffin cups for me.

The important thing to report is that they were indeed moist and tasty, as promised. The test muffin I devoured as a snack held hunger at bay quite nicely for an hour and a half or so, which is pretty good performance in a blood-sugar-challenged someone who's still on the infant feeding schedule of every four hours. Definitely stout and nourishing, but very pleasant to eat as well. I love it when taste and nutrition converge! It's my nirvana. My Beloved liked them, too.

I suppose I should have tested my personalized recipe until perfected before throwing it out to the world's wolves, but I what I really want to share here is the adventure of living and trying, without worrying so much about finished products. I have learned through being an untrained professional baker and a culinary student that experimenting--and enjoying it--is allowed and encouraged. Especially at school, a recipe, for the adventurous, is just a starting place. Besides, we should be responsive to what's available, what's seasonally appropriate, and what we desire, not be captive to a regimented cuisine or set of instructions. The enjoyable effort is the thing.

In that spirit, here is my version of today's bran muffins at this winter's Flora Farm. Do with it what you will.

Frugal Cranberry-Orange Whole Grain Muffins

3 cups whole grain cereal leavings (what's at the bottom of the bag)
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsps baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
Grated zest of one orange
2/3 cup orange juice
2/3 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup oil
1/3 cup sorghum
1/4 cup honey
1 cup dried cranberries

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2) Mix all dry ingredients together in a medium bowl.
3) Mix all wet ingredients together in a small bowl.
4) Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just until moist.
5) Stir in the dried cranberries.
6) Fill 10-12 muffin cups mostly full with the batter.
7) Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
8) Let cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely on a wire rack.

Yield: 10-12 generous muffins

And what of the birds in my title? Why, they accompanied the text in the same way they accompanied me whiIe I was baking--happily alongside.

**Update**I ate one of the jumbo muffins, split and peanut buttered, with a glass of milk for breakfast the next morning. It was more than I needed, and I wasn't hungry for hours! Anyone who knows me will now believe that these make a hearty breakfast. (I'm usually ready for first lunch by 10:30am and most always carry snacks.) The Farmgirl Susan regulation-size muffins should be just right when I make the next batch, which will be as soon as I have more cereal leavings--maybe with blueberries or raisins.

No comments: