Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Muffin Magic: One Family's Recipe for Guaranteed Happiness

#Recipe(s)ForHappiness come in many sizes and forms, as this post from Maggie Caldwell describes. A food blogger Allrecipes met at the 2012 BlogHer Food Conference, she is a writer, photographer, nature enthusiast, and mom. The changing fascinations and culinary journeys she and her family take inspired her blog, Life in a Skillet. “The blog name was actually my son’s idea,” Maggie remembers. “We were walking on a foggy afternoon, brainstorming names. He kept pressing me on specifics, asking, “What are you really going to write about, Mom?” I told him I wanted to write stories about food our lives. He thought for about a second and said, “Well, you drink lots of tea. What about life in a teapot?” It was only a short leap from teapot to skillet! Maggie loves to improvise healthy, satisfying meals. Here Maggie shares a spontaneous baking moment with her family.

Every #RecipeForHappiness begins with my two children; I could never have anticipated the tremendous joy being a mother would bring to my life. The boys consistently inspire me
I’ve become a better cook, a better listener, and more patient since they’ve been around. Most importantly though, they’ve taught me to take joy in the present and to never take a moment for granted.

It’s not always easy to recognize those seize-the-day moments though, and I almost missed one recently. My 13-year-old plopped down after school and announced he was not just hungry, he had a fierce craving. “Mom what I really, really, really want right now is a big, sweet, chewy, fluffy homemade muffin that I can just nom nom nom nom nom. Do you have anything so we can make something like that?”

No, I thought. I had a pile of clean laundry to fold, he had homework, and the dog needed a walk. I was right on the verge of telling him so, when I realized his afterschool requests are usually much simpler; he grabs a bowl of cereal or three and moves on with his day. And I looked into those big, trusting eyes and realized at that particular moment in time, there was nothing more important than taking an hour after school to bake something with my son.

“Sure,” I answered instead. “Let’s make muffins.”

There was leftover breakfast oatmeal in the fridge and a can of crushed pineapple in the pantry. Using an oatmeal muffin recipe from Margaret Rudkin’s 1963 Pepperidge Farm Cookbook for measurement guidelines, we started to improvise the sweet, chewy, fluffy taste he was going for. A little flax meal for good health, some Chinese Five Spice because that makes everything sparkle, and some crushed freeze-dried raspberries because they’re pretty but too tart on their own—and we didn’t know what else to do with them!

The muffins we ended up with are fantastic. Dense, moist and rich, tasting like a meal and deeply satisfying. He packed several extra in his lunch the next day to share with his friends. “We get pretty hungry at school,” he explained as I watched him. “Most kids don’t make muffins with their mom.”

Awww. An hour well spent. My recipe for happiness: place laundry on the back burner. Mix together old cookbooks, favorite flavors, and lots of love. Share with children and friends.

Here’s our improvised recipe for Oatmeal Lunchbox Muffins; I hope it brings you some happiness, too.

Oatmeal Lunchbox Muffins ready to eat! (Photo by Maggie Caldwell)
Oatmeal Lunchbox Muffins
Recipe by Life in a Skillet adapted from the Pepperidge Farms Cookbook

Makes 12 large or 24 mini muffins. These muffins freeze well and are perfect, healthy, lunchtime treats.

2 cups all-purpose white flour
1/2 cup ground flax meal
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon Chinese Five-Spice Powder*
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cooked oatmeal
4 tablespoons brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup crushed pineapple
1 cup crushed freeze-dried raspberries
4 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin or line with paper muffin cups.
2. Sift together the flour, flax meal, baking powder, Chinese Five Spice powder, and salt in a mixing bowl. Set aside.
3. In a separate bowl, combine the oatmeal, brown sugar, beaten eggs, and pineapple. Stir the dry ingredients all at once into the oatmeal mixture, and mix well. Stir in dried raspberries and melted butter. 6. Spoon the batter into buttered muffin tins. Sprinkle the tops with granulated sugar and bake in preheated oven for about 20 minutes. When done, tops should spring back when touched. Cool slightly before removing from muffin tin.

If oatmeal isn’t your thing, don’t worry. Muffins are completely versatile! You can play with different types of flour or toss pureed fruits or vegetables into the batter, add a handful of crushed nuts, dates, or dried fruit and always come up with a taste treat that feels like homemade comfort food. If you’re new to baking or uncertain about your substitutions, check out these terrific muffin how-to basics from Allrecipes.com.

My family has enjoyed other muffins from Allrecipes over the years. Here are a couple of favorites: We love these Whole Grain Banana Muffins. They're moist, dense and excellent for using those overripe bananas that always seem to show up.

Wholesome Wholegrain Banana Muffins (Photo by CC♥'s2bake)
These Orange Chocolate Muffins are another one of our favorite breakfast treats, served with a side of fresh berries.

Always a hit! Orange Chocolate Muffins (Photo by Pam-3BoysMama)
Here’s a “you’ll never guess it’s vegan” muffin. Even kids like them! Vegan -Agave Cornbread Muffins.
Vegan-Agave Cornbread Muffins (Photo by Maureen)
Another favorite, these Gluten-Free Blueberry Muffins are perfectly cake-like and extra luscious warm from the oven. Make them with fresh or frozen berries.

Life gives us moments; it’s up to us to take advantage of them and capture the happiness. May you find magical moments with your family, and may they include warm muffins, too.

-- Maggie

*Chinese Five-Spice Powder consists of five ground spices: cinnamon, cloves, fennel seed, star anise, and Szechuan peppercorns. Used extensively in Chinese cooking, it can be purchased prepackaged in Asian grocery stores and the Asian food section of most supermarkets.