It is now February and the tangerines have stopped arriving, but the oranges are still in full swing. This morning was cold and we needed a hot breakfast. Because I am preparing for a trip to New Mexico I picked up my copy of Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home on my way down to the kitchen. This book falls open on its own to Multigrain Muffins on page 56, the recipe I use most often (For a zucchini season variation, those of you in the southern hemisphere might want to check out zucchini gingerbread muffins, adapted from the same basic recipe). The muffin is a good, plain, not-too-sweet muffin containing oats, whole wheat pastry flour, buttermilk and vegetable oil.
Because there were fourteen oranges sitting on the counter we were going to have orange muffins. Grab a large one and begin zesting it with the microplane into a small mixing bowl. All of your liquid ingredients, plus some brown sugar and quick-cooking oats are going to go in with the zest. Got all the zest? Now juice the orange into a one-cup measuring cup. I got somewhere between 1/4 cup and 1/3 cup. Since the Moosewood recipe calls for one cup of buttermilk, I pour buttermilk into the orange juice until I reach the 1-cup mark. See? I have just made my first substitution: 1/4 plus cup fresh orange juice plus zest for 1/4 cup plus of buttermilk. Both buttermilk and fresh orange juice are acid and will be reacting with the baking soda in the recipe to rise. Now I turn on my oven to 400.
Having substituted orange juice for part of the buttermilk I followed the recipe as written for awhile, adding to my orange-buttermilk mixture, one egg, 1/3 cup packed brown sugar and 1/2 cup quick-cooking oats. I whisk all that together. Quick cooking oats feature smaller pieces than rolled oats. Soaking in liquids helps them break down and blend with the other ingredients — you won’t know they are in the finished product, which is useful if you have suspicious children or significant others who are dismissive of “health foods.”
The recipe calls for 1/4 cup vegetable oil. I usually use corn oil, but I have a secret ingredient for citrus recipes, a wonderful product by Mosaic, a blood orange olive oil. In case you don’t know yet that I am not a high-income gourmand who goes out and buys everything under the sun, let me tell you that this oil showed up at my local Canned Foods Grocery Outlet. My friend Elaine gave me some as a gift and I went down and snapped up another bottle of my own. If money is no object, order yourself some. If you find it on sale, stock up. This morning I was wondering if I could buy some blood oranges and whomp up some of my own for less than the cost of a new bottle (my supply is getting low), so I read the label. They make this stuff by pressing olives and blood oranges together. Oh. Too bad — I don’t have access to olives.
Anyway, back to the recipe. In the same measuring cup I used before I poured about 1 Tbsp blood orange oil. Then I filled it with corn oil to reach 1/4 cup. This was my second substitution and there is a theme here: with each substitution I am building orange flavor. I’ve added zest, juice and now oil made from olives and oranges. Just for the heck of it, I added 1 tsp of vanilla and a grating of nutmeg because I like them.
Okay. Now I’m almost done substituting. I docilely mix the 1 cup unbleached flour, 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour, 1/4 tsp salt, 1 tsp baking soda and 1 tsp baking powder called for in the book, whisking them together in a large mixing bowl. Before I stir them into the liquid ingredients I get out my standard 12-muffin muffin tin. I am too old to eat jumbo muffins — if I want more, I’ll just have two.
Oops. Substitution number three coming up: Moosewood says to oil the muffin tins: if I do, they will stick — I need something greasier than oil. I dig out the greasy margarine from the butter compartment (this is the kind of thing we use margarine for — if I didn’t use margarine I’d lube the tin up with good old Crisco or another vegetable shortening. Or if I had a butter wrapper handy I’d swipe it through the muffin cups). For insurance I melt the tiny half pat of butter on the butter plate and swab that in with my fingers. It will add flavor.
Time to mix the liquid with the dry ingredients. I made a well in the dry, poured the liquids in and mixed with a rubber scraper just until I saw no flour clumps, hauled the batter into the tin quickly with the same scraper and popped the muffins into the oven. While they baked for twenty minutes I had time to do all of the dishes and put stray ingredients away, plus get out a cooling rack.
The muffins were good. That’s why I’m telling you about them. I made myself a cup of decaf coffee with half and half and ate two of them slowly. They have a subtle sweetness, best noticed if you chew them thoughtfully rather than wolf them down. I know from experience that Moosewood’s Multigrain Muffins taste sweeter and stronger after they have cooled, but it is lovely to eat them hot on a cold morning and know that the ones you don’t eat will taste better later.
Food Notes: The Mosaic blood orange oil is a lovely thing. I said that already. I would try any oil of theirs that I came across. No, they do not pay me, and I have no affiliation with the company. Could you make lemon muffins instead? You certainly could. Tassajara Bakery used to make a killer lemon-ginger muffin. You could do that, too. Could you use all white flour? Sigh. Yes, you could, although it pains me to admit it. In the privacy of your kitchen you can pile on the white flour and white sugar, too. I do that in desserts sometimes, but I don’t like gummy, white muffins. Could you use a different oil? Sure. If you keep to the amounts given in the recipe you can make any reasonable substitution. Out of buttermilk? Use yogurt or sour milk. Have only regular milk in the house? Sour it with a little vinegar or lemon juice OR eliminate the baking soda and add an additional teaspoon of baking powder. Enjoy
Painting Note: There is no painting this week. I thought there would be — let’s just say time management is not my forte. I did take a few photos to prove that I actually made these muffins and didn’t make them up, so, just this once, I substituted a photograph for a painting.
By the time you read this I will be en route to Taos, New Mexico sans mobile devices for eight days. I will not be able to read and respond to comments until my return on February 12, but I love it when you comment. If I can, I will bring you back something good from the land of green chile and pine nuts.