Without Further Ado: Kitchen Sink Blueberry Walnut Bran Muffins

I blame Elton.  I have had “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” stuck in my head all day.  I’ve also been stuffing my face with blueberry bran muffins.  For this, I can really only blame myself.  I can’t help it; I have a soft spot for bran—and for certain Elton John lyrical snacks. 

I’ve thought about posting the recipe for these muffins for a while, but feared they were too plain Jane.  But they’re—and I hesitate to say this—too useful not to share.  I hate to describe any food as such.  It sounds a bit soulless.  So let’s just say I have lovingly named them “Kitchen Sink Bran Muffins” because you can throw almost anything into the batter and they’ll just puff up and smile back at you from their tins. 

These muffins can do no wrong. Which makes me sound a bit like a pageant mom.  Truth be told, I secretly fear that one day they’ll fall flat on their little muffin bottoms.  

I will open the oven only to reveal a sad state of bran.  I’ll have pushed the poor dears to the brink. They’ll be dry and lifeless.  Or too gummy, bloated with fruit.  And this will reflect poorly on me.  As a baker.  An eater.  A person.  People will start gossiping that I don’t always level off flour when I bake.  Or that I pour vanilla extract straight into the mixing bowl: no measuring spoon in sight.  That I’m a savage in the kitchen.  And they might be right.

In truth, I don’t even remember where I found the original recipe.  I’ve doctored it so much along the way, it probably wouldn’t even recognize itself.  I’ve scribbled.  And rewritten.  Crossed out and underlined.  But it remains a wonderful recipe that behaves very well for cooks who have a hard time sticking to instructions.  I've thrown these muffins some odd ingredients, arguably one too many fiery batons.  But they haven't even blinked.

This is a recipe that has hung with me since the beginning of my baking.  So, yes, I’m decidedly biased.  A bran muffin stage mom in her own right. Nevertheless, they have yet to disappoint. I suspect they’re not the kind.  They couldn’t if they tried.  And even if they did, I’d love them anyways. 

Kitchen Sink Bran Muffins, This Time Presenting: Blueberry Walnut


1.25 cup bran
1 cup flour (this time: 1/2 all purpose and 1/2 whole wheat)
2.5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp spices (this time: 3/4 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp nutmeg)
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup milk (this time: whole milk)
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup honey
2 tbsp sugar (this time: brown sugar)
1/4 cup oil (this time: canola oil)
1.5 cup cut up fruit and/or grated vegetables (this time: all frozen blueberries)
1/4 cup nuts, roughly chopped or seeds (this time: walnuts)  


Preheat the oven to 350.  Combine bran, flour, baking powder, spices and salt in a medium bowl.  In a large bowl, combine milk, eggs, honey, sugar and oil; fold your flour mixture into the wet ingredients until just combined (about 10 turns with a spatula); gently fold in the fruit/vegetables and nuts.  Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of a muffin.

Makes 1 dozen

-This is an everyday eating-type of bran muffin.  It's hearty.  It's got guts.  A special occasion bran muffin can be found here.  (I know, you didn't think there was such a thing.  And I'm not certain there is.  It's just a little fancy.)

-I'll often grate ~1/2 cup zucchini or carrots and add them along with 1 cup fruit.  Diced apples are nice, too.  If you are using frozen fruit (as I did with the blueberries) you can mix them straight into the batter, no defrosting necessary.  It just may take a wee bit longer to cook.

-Because I eat these so often (and I am a dietitian, after all) I calculated the nutrition info awhile back and thought I'd pass it along, or what I've managed to save of the calculation.  They have about 200 calories and 4 grams of fiber.  Not bad for a muffin.  More importantly, I enjoy eating them.


Spicy Tomato Basil Soup, So Long Winter Chill

It was so cold in my apartment this past weekend and it wasn’t until I realized I was wearing an ear-flapped fur hat and a bathrobe over my street clothes that I decided the heat situation needed to be remedied.  Pronto.  So I packed up my laptop, put on a scarf, and headed out to a bar that I knew had electrical outlets … and a fireplace. 

Don’t get me wrong.  My creaky old apartment has a lot of charm.  It has high ceilings, glass door knobs, and big beautiful windows that leak out a maddening amount of heat on gray January days.  

Apparently, I've decided to circumvent this issue by developing a weekend drinking problem. I suppose I can think of worse things—like, say, having to bathe with an ushanka on—but fixing up a steaming bowl of tomato basil might not be as hard on my liver.  Also, I’m not actually Russian.  So, we should probably get back to soup. 

Especially this soup.  Which I am pleased to say does not contain a drop of alcohol(!).  Though—if I’m being completely honest here—its origins did come about after plans for making bloody marys fell apart one Saturday.  (A leopard doesn’t ever really change her spots, now does she?)  I was left with a big bottle of tomato juice and some time to kill.  What resulted was a soul-warming soup. And, if I may be so bold, I haven’t found a comparable recipe since. 

The bit of butter in the soup gives it a little richness, while the habanero kicks in some heat.  And this warmth is particularly welcomed on blustery winter days.  Don’t let the tomato juice throw you, it makes the whole soup process very low maintenance.  In fact, I forgo the blender entirely and leave the sautéed onions and basil bits alone.  Let’s just say it’s good enough this way to keep me at home, far away from cozy bar stools.

You'll want to make this soup on a lazy winter day when you’re looking for an antidote to the Boston chill.  You can casually tend to it on the stove top, perhaps with a drink in hand.  Lillet would work well for such a role.  As would a Barbera.  Though, to be clear, this soup is fully capable of warding off the cold, all on its own.

Spicy Tomato Basil Soup


~2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 small onion diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 habanero pepper, seeds removed and pepper flesh minced
Kosher salt
Black pepper
6 cups tomato juice
¼ tsp cumin
¼ tsp coriander
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour 
~1/2 cup packed basil, divided


Heat a large saucepan on medium heat, add the olive oil and onions and saute until the onions are nearing translucent; then add garlic and habanero, season everything with salt and pepper, and stir occasionally until the garlic and pepper soften.

Add the tomato juice and spices to the pan and stir to combine.  Mash together the butter and flour and add it to the tomato mixture.  Cut the basil into thin strips and add half to the pot.  Let the tomato soup simmer until it thickens and gets rich in flavor, about 45 minutes or so.  Add the remaining basil; taste and add additional salt and pepper as needed.

Makes about 5 cups

-This is a casual recipe, taste and adjust as you go.  It gets better the longer it sits.  This is not usually true with people that sit on bar stools.  Or maybe it is.

-Let the bar come to you: a Lillet cocktail while you cook.


The Silence of Fleur de Sel Caramels

I’ve been trying to resolve how to roll out the red carpet for these caramels.  They’re so good they’ve left me a bit blocked, without a stately introduction or even the end bits of a few rose petal descriptors to pave the way.  I googled “how to make a grand entrance,” because I thought some glitzy adjectives might help ungunk things.  But I’m pretty sure these caramels don’t have to worry about wearing the perfect outfit, nor do they need to manicure their nails or remember to relax their face muscles.  Which is apparently what it takes to make a head-turning entry.  Heck, I don’t do any of that.  My face is all squinty and unladylike-looking just thinking about it. 

So, I’m stripping away the glamour.  The shoe doesn’t quite fit anyhow.  Sinking your teeth into them is a luxury, but there is something decidedly more romantic and honest about these caramels.  They aren’t really fancy at all.  They’re intimate.

Yes, they are technically unnecessary.  But that’s what gives them personality and makes them so intriguing.  I recently met someone who bought a secondhand copper fondue pot for his kitchen: because he thought it wise to have one.  Just in case. Because, hey, you never know.  Sometimes fondue happens.  And one never knows when. 

That’s how I feel about these caramels.  You might need to know how to make them someday.  And eating them sure doesn't hurt, that's for sure.  These lovely little ladies deliver, much like a big bubbling pot of warm cheese would.

Surprisingly, they aren’t too high maintenance, assuming you have a pot, a pan, and a candy thermometer.  You’ll spend some time watching the sugar gurgle on the stovetop too, but it’s well worth it. These caramels hold their form; they are chewy with a nice salty bite, which lends an almost earthy quality and keeps them from being too prim and proper. 

And when you’ve finished.  When the kitchen is cleaned, and the caramel has set and been cut, and you sit down and have your first taste, the world goes quiet.  You can’t think of anything more necessary at the moment.  The sea salt and silence has it.  And perhaps that’s the best descriptor of all.

Fleur de Sel Caramels
Adapted from Gesine Bullock-Prado of sugarbaby

1.5 cups heavy cream
2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces 
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 tsp fleur de sel sea salt, divided

Line a square baking pan (I used an 8 x 8 inch) with foil and grease the top part of the foil (the part facing you) with a neutral-flavored oil, like canola oil.  In a large saucepan combine cream, sugar, and corn syrup over medium-low heat; stir occasionally until the sugar has melted, then raise the heat slightly (to medium) and continue to stir until the sugar mixture boils.

Once the mixture boils, stop stirring and cook until the sugar reaches 257 degrees (125 degrees Celsius) on a candy thermometer; you'll want to stay close by during this time, in case the mixture starts to bubble up.  (If it does, remove the saucepan from the heat until it quiets again.) Once the temperature is reached, immediately remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the butter; add in the vanilla and 2 tsp of the salt and stir again to combine. 

Pour the caramel into your pan and sprinkle with the remaining salt; let the caramel sit at room temperature until it sets and is cool enough to cut (this will take an hour or so).  Cut the caramel into small squares and wrap them individually in wax or parchment paper. (Prior to wrapping them you may want to press a few extra grains of sea salt into each piece; this is what I decided on.)  Store the caramels in an airtight container for up to a week.

Makes about 50 pieces (depending on your cuts)

-Wholesome Sweeteners makes an organic corn syrup that I just love.  The salt was from here.  (Spoiled!)

-I left the wrapped caramels out accidentally for a few days without an airtight container, but they didn't go all hard on me.  They have such a lovely toothsome quality.  

-sugarbaby (yes, in all lowercase letters; the punctuation nerd in me is freaking) a wonderful, wonderful cookbook.  And it's as entertaining as it is tempting.


A Spicy Resolve of Red Lentil Hummus, And Other Things

Another year has poofed.  The hopes of 2011 have gone up in smoke.  We’ve arrived at a symbolic fresh start.  And I stand at the edge of 2012 emptied handed, with no neatly folded, nicely written resolutions to share.  Each year I simply resolve to live life a little more.  To really feel it.

Last year I baked pie.  Made lace curtains.  Finally conquered madame brioche.  Sent more handwritten notes.  Saw Paul Simon sing “ The Sound of Silence.”  Mastered the charcoal grill. And drank my fair share of dark and stormies.

This year I have a new set of wishes. Listen to more Chet Baker.  Drink rosé on random Tuesdays.  Ease into silence.  Shell more oysters at home.  Conversationally work in the word “honey.”  Not fret about the dangers of homemade mayo.  Remove “should” from my dictionary.  Wear the canary yellow fascinator I bought last year out of the house at least once. Put in a shade garden.  And continue to nurture the traditions I’ve sown.

I’ve been working on these traditions for a few years now.  I reset my wishes in January.  Eat salt water taffy on the Cape in June.  Buy a glass pumpkin every October. And make lentils at the start of every new year.  Like any good Italian should would be well advised to do.  While I don’t participate in resolutioning, I do believe a little luck never hurt a gal.  And this is where the lentils come in.

At the very least, it certainly isn’t terrible to have this creamy lentil hummus around.  It’s a plucky spread with some serious heat and a gracing of roasted garlic.  And its charming orange hue takes very well to some Ethiopian flavors I’ve grown quite found of.  So after a quick whirl, the red lentils are laced with the likes of berbere, a blend of about a dozen warm spices that I found in a little metal tin at the South End Formaggio.  If you can’t track it down, you could tackle making your own.  Or even just add a few of the spices commonly found in berbere; cayenne pepper, paprika, ginger, cardamom, and coriander come to mind.

It’s a lovely little dip to let linger in your fridge.  Will it help with your hopes for 2012?  Probably too soon to tell.  But honey, it’s worth a shot.

Spicy Red Lentil Hummus


6 cloves roasted garlic (see directly below)
~ 2 cups dried red lentils
6 cloves
2 bay leaves
kosher salt
1.5 tsp berbere spice (see note)
1/2 tbsp chili garlic sauce
Juice of 1/2 lime
2 tbsp tahini
3 tbsp olive oil, plus additional for drizzling

Roasted garlic

You can roast garlic by cutting about 1/4 an inch off the top of a garlic head.  Rub the head with olive oil and cover it completely with foil; bake in a 425 degree oven until the cloves are sweet, slightly browned, and melty (about 45 minutes give or take).  Gently squeeze the cloves out of their skin.  You'll have extra.


In a saucepan, add lentils, cloves, bay leaves, and a pinch of salt and combine with enough water to cover the lentils by 1 inch; cook until the lentils are softened (about 10-15 minutes).  Drain any excess water, remove the cloves and bay leaves, and place the lentils in a food processor along with the remaining ingredients; puree.  Salt to taste and adjust with additional seasoning as needed.  Drizzle with more olive oil (about a teaspoon or so) before serving.

Makes about 2 cups

-Berbere is an Ethiopian spice blend that often includes fenugreek, dried chiles, paprika, ginger, cardamom, coriander, nutmeg, cloves, garlic, and allspice.

-This hummus is also fantastic with some crumbled feta on top.

-Oversized homemade croutons proved to be the perfect vehicle for the spread.  Carrots also.  It's spicy, so you'll want something that won't fight with it.