Sunday, November 15, 2009

i made cranberry sauce muffins (then got news that made my day)

pear, brandy and brown sugar cranberry sauce
i was off on wednesday.
i woke up with a clear plan:
shop for dinner,
shop for muffin ingredients.
make muffins,
make dinner.

i was planning to tell you
about the muffins a week
from now, when we were closer
to thanksgiving and they were
sure to make a little more sense.
but then on thursday something really
great happened.

it was august when i found out
about food52. i was reading another
blog, talking about this recipe contest:
two winners each week, both
published in a book at the end of the year.
i pretty much enter any situation with
trepidation (sadly, true), and this?
if i entered, this would really be putting
myself out there. i'm not going to lie,
the blog in the beginning, was scary.
but in that really good way.
like the blog, i had a feeling that
food52 would be a good
thing to be a part of, for the community of it,
the inspiration and, yes, the possibility
of submitting a winning recipe.
after weeks of watching
and waiting for a category that i felt
strong and confident about, i entered
into the smoked paprika contest with
sherry steamed clams. i didn't win, but
it was not at all the scary experience i
thought it could be. so, i entered again
with a variation of the squid stew.
after a few contests, i felt
like i hit my groove and have continued
to enter when inspiration strikes.
fresh cranberries
two weeks ago, i entered the contest for
best cranberry sauce. and on thursday,
i found out that i was a finalist.
it's a recipe, i feel, that is true
to me and who i am as a cook:
not completely traditional,
but not so wacky either.
it's full of flavors and
different textures,
and, the whole thing is made
in one pot, so cleanup is minimal.
while i will not back peddle and say that i didn't
feel passionate about the other recipes
that i submitted, i know i can
stand by the cranberry sauce,
regardless of if it makes its way
in the cookbook or not.

the only problem with making
cranberry sauce a month before
the holiday, is that there are leftovers.
a lot of leftovers. and considering
that my thanksgiving day plate usually
holds only one small piece
of obligatory turkey, anyway,
i was not about to make anything
turkey now. i thought about fish,
and briefly toyed with chicken,
then thumbprint cookies,
before having a dream that i
made cranberry sauce muffins.

when i woke up, i realized
that it was not such a bad idea.
i planned to adapt a muffin recipe
that i already had, but then all it
took was one click of the button
to realize something:
someone else had already thought
of it. of course. what was i thinking?
brown sugar, whole wheat flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt
starting the cranberry sauce batter
so, i read a few and decided to
go with a recipe published last year
in serious eats. i was drawn to
this particular take because of
the whole grain flour and
oats, combined with a small amount
of oil and only one egg.
i was looking for something slightly
wholesome, not rich and buttery.

(in spite of liking the
good-for-you additions,
i'll admit one thing.
without a recipe in hand, i had
picked up white chocolate the
the night before, sure that it
was what the
muffins would need
to play off the tartness
of the cranberry.)
cranberry sauce muffins with white chocolate
the other thing i liked was that,
with a few modifications,
i had all the ingredients in the
house. sure, i had to swap out the
skim milk for 1%, which is odd
because we are usually a skim
milk househould, and i used
whole wheat flour instead of
whole grain because that's what
was stashed in the freezer.
but otherwise? all in the kitchen.
i cut my shopping trip in half.
cranberry sauce muffin batter
there is absolutely nothing
complicated about this recipe
and if you're not trying to
make cheese at the same time
(more on that later),
the muffins should take you
no more than 10 minutes
to mix together.

i added the white chocolate
in, which i kind of liked -
the pieces added sweetness and
moisture, to an otherwise
almost savory muffin.
but, if i didn't have any in the
house - or if you, like many,
are not a fan - i'd leave it
out and not worry.
also, i will tell you,
once simmered into a sauce,
cooled and then baked into
muffins, the cranberries
are not as tart as they once were.

these, i think, are great
to bake, cool and
throw in the freezer -
perfect to thaw for yourself as needed.
if i'm being completely honest,
i'm not sure these are the muffins
i would whip up for company.
unless, of course, the company
is your immediate family who doesn't
judge and who you cook for all the time
and are so famished after waking up
from their thanksgiving comas,
they're just impressed that you
made last night's cranberry sauce
into this morning's baked good.
cranberry sauce muffins - a little too brown
cranberry sauce and white chocolate muffins
adapted from michael harr via serious eats
you can use any leftover cranberry sauce - what i loved about using mine (wow, that sounds snobby) is that it was made with walnuts and grated pear, so as the sauce was incorporated with the other wet ingredients, nuts and pears created their own pockets in the finished muffin. two weird things about this recipe: 1) it said that it should make about 12 muffins, but i had a lot more batter. i decided to make mini muffins with the remaining batter and i actually liked those better than the big ones. but that may be because of 2) the baking temperature. i bake most things somewhere in the 300-350 range. this recipe calls for 400˚f for 20-22 minutes. if i had used my head sooner, would have lowered it by 50˚. but i didn't, and at 19 minutes, the large muffins were browner than i would have liked. if i make these again, i will stick to normal baking temperatures. here is the recipe, how i made it.

1 cup all-purpose flour, divided
4 ounces white chocolate, chopped into small pieces (optional)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup quick-cooking oats
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups leftover cranberry sauce (recipe below)
1/2 cup 1% milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg

heat oven to 400˚f. line wells of a muffin tin with paper baking cups. have a mini muffin tin on standby, just in case. (because i didn't expect to use the small muffin tin, i didn't have it out. after finding it under everything else i owned, i didn't bother adding muffin cups - i just coated the tin with nonstick spray.)

in small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour with white chocolate pieces; set aside.

in large bowl, combine remaining all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. in medium bowl, whisk together milk, oil, cranberry sauce and egg. using spatula, fold all dry ingredients into wet ingredients; stir just until moistened. fold in white chocolate pieces.

fill muffin cups 3/4 of the way full; spoon extra in greased mini muffin pan.

bake 20-22 minutes, or until just golden brown (i'd start checking somewhere around 15 minutes if you bake at this high a temperature), and toothpick inserted in muffins comes out clean. for mini muffins, bake 8-10 minutes.

let cool 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

pear, brandy and walnut cranberry sauce
1/3 cup, plus 2-3 tablespoons brandy, divided
2 cinnamon sticks, each broken in half
8 black peppercorns
12 ounces fresh cranberries, picked over
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 medium bartlett pears, peeled (ripe, but still firm)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted and divided

pour 1/3 cup brandy into liquid measuring cup; add enough water to equal 1/2 cup water total. set aside. place cinnamon sticks and peppercorns in in cheesecloth or large tea bag; tie closed using kitchen twine.

in medium saucepot, combine cranberries, brown sugar and cinnamon-pepper bundle. using large holes on box grater, grate pears into saucepot. stir in brandy-water mixture.

over high heat, bring cranberry mixture to a boil; reduce heat to medium and cook 10-12 minutes, or until cranberries have burst and the mixture has combined, stirring occasionally. remove from heat.

stir in 2 to 3 tablespoons brandy. let cool. remove and discard cinnamon bundle; stir in all but 1 tablespoon toasted walnuts. transfer mixture to a small seving bowl; sprinkle with remaining walnuts.