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Bran Muffin Mania

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As a little girl growing up in Victoria, I remember regularly going to a “healthy” restaurant/bakery called Viteaway with my grandmother where she would buy me a “slug muffin”.  Though we called it a “slug muffin”, no slugs were harmed in the making of these oversized treats. These were sweet bran muffins topped with half a date that looked, to my imagination, like a slug and so they were named (not my greatest marketing moment).

While I was aware that bran was “good for me”, I enjoyed the crisp and crunchy top of the muffin, the dense, but fluffy, interior and the rich flavour of the molasses. The date (or “slug”) was an extra treat that I often kept until the end to savour the sweetness.

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Since then I’ve appreciated the delicate contradiction of an excellent bran muffin: healthy/tasty, sweet/savoury, light/moist, soft/crispy. My son also enjoys a bran muffin that is well balanced, especially if it’s crammed full of blueberries.

This recipe serves up all the key elements and is easy to tweak with different combinations of spices and fruits. I’ve started with the version that takes advantage of fresh blueberries and and warms up the flavour with Chai Spice.

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Blueberry Chai Bran Muffins

Ingredients

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 large egg, beaten lightly

1 cup yogurt (or sour cream)

1/4 cup molasses

1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed

1 cup fresh blueberries (or frozen)

1 cup flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup wheat bran

1 tsp Chai Spice

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 400
  2. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy
  3. Beat in egg, yogurt and molasses
  4. Mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl and then add to the wet ingredients
  5. Stir in blueberries (if they are frozen, rinse them first with cold water to remove any ice crystals)
  6. Spoon the batter into a Perfect Portion Muffin Pan
  7. Bake for 15-20 minutes until springy to the touch
  8. Cool on a rack and enjoy

Variations

Ginger Raisin Bran Muffins

Substitute raisins for blueberries and ground ginger for the Chai Spice

Cranberry Bran Muffins

Substitute dried cranberries for blueberries and Pumpkin Spice for the Chai Spice

Kitchen Hack: plump up dried fruit for baking by covering with cold water in a small pot, bringing it to a boil and then letting them soak while you assemble the other ingredients. Add a cinnamon stick to the pot to add a bit of spice. The sweetened spicy water can also be used to thin the batter, if needed.

What is your flavourite fruit to add to bran muffins?

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Cranberry Craze

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When the leaves twist and turn and fall into colourful piles, waiting for boots to crunch their way through, it’s time to prepare for comfort food simmering on the stove. Years ago we started a tradition for Thanksgiving and Christmas that Young Fresh Chef and I make a batch of homemade cranberry sauce. Mostly I do the prepping and cooking and he just lets me know when it is sweet enough. I had always been a fan of the canned variety, piling it on turkey sandwiches and maybe even eating a spoonful on the sly. 

But when you look at the ingredient list on the can it is short and sweet: CRANBERRIES, GLUCOSE-FRUCTOSE, GLUCOSE, WATER. I knew I could do better. I researched recipes years ago and I took the bits and pieces that appealed to me and created my ultimate cranberry sauce! The least daunting of the traditional turkey accompaniments, it’s a great take along if you are invited to a holiday feast.

Living in the heart of B.C.’s cranberry country, I can usually buy cranberries in the Fall, fresh from the bog, at the local Farmers’ Market. They are also easy to find in the produce section in your grocery store this time of year. I usually pick up some extra to fill a vase or pile around a pillar candle for a centre-piece.

Once you have the cranberries, next come the seasonings, and while it is necessary to add some sweetener to balance out the pucker inducing tartness of the berries, you can also add some holiday spice to add layers of flavour. The key to keeping it on the savoury side instead of being jelly is bay leaf and white peppercorns. By placing the smaller spices in a tea ball (or a cheese cloth pouch) you don’t have to fish them out individually, or wonder where that last clove is hiding.

While cranberry sauce completes the holiday table and elevates turkey to a special occasion, it’s also great mixed in with yogurt and granola, slathered on a peanut butter sandwich or maybe just a straight spoonful or two!

Recipe for Spiced Cranberry Sauce

Ingredients:

1 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries

1 3/4 cups apple cider or juice

3/4 cup honey (or other sweetener to taste)

1 cinnamon stick, broken in half

zest of 1 unsprayed/organic orange

3 whole cloves

4 white or black whole peppercorns

2 bay leaves

1 piece of nutmeg seed (optional)

1 thread of mace (optional)

1 allspice berry (optional)

1 star anise pod (optional)

3 cardamom pods (optional)

1 piece crystallized ginger (optional)

salt to taste

Method:

1. Place small spices in a tea ball or make a cheesecloth pouch tied with string.

2. Place all ingredients in heavy large saucepan.

3. Bring to a boil over medium heat.

4. Simmer until berries burst and sauce thickens, stirring occasionally (about 20-25 minutes).

5. Remove cinnamon stick, bay leaves and spices.

6. Allow to cool, the sauce will thicken up even more.

7. Refrigerate sauce until cold.

8. Serve with turkey, or yogurt or swirl into muffin batter!

The sauce can be made up to 3 days ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.

Share your favourite homemade holiday tradition in the comments.

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