Jun 012014
 

Strawberry cream scones

For the last week, through the wonder of u-pick farms, I have been awash in multiple gallons of fresh strawberries. This is in no way a terrible predicament, though I have been plagued by the question of what do I do with all of them??? I started simple by throwing them in a fruit salad and making strawberry-blueberry shortcake — pretty basic, but I figured that basic (and easy) was a good way to go when they were at peak freshness. Next came a pie (whose filling was delicious but whose crust we shall never speak of again, except to exclaim that, when given flour, butter, lard, salt, sugar, water, and vodka, I can make a kick-ass crust, but when I try to actually use a pre-made crust, utter ruin rules the day) and the decadent grown-up flavors of Jeni’s recipe for roasted strawberry buttermilk ice cream. And, of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t repeat my strawberry bourbon-barrel freezer jam.

But this morning I finally got to try my hand at baking with the berries. A friend of mine hooked me on scone-baking several months ago, and though I’ve been in remission recently, I decided to succumb to the bug once again. There were plenty of fancy and complicated recipes out there, but I was looking for something that was a marriage of the simple goodness of a basic cream scone with plenty of room for strawberries to shine. Once again, Smitten Kitchen came through and delivered this gem. So if you find yourself in a situation where you might need to swim Scrooge McDuck-style through a glut of strawberries and you would like to vary from the technique that my tot is demonstrating below, may I suggest that you give this marvelous scones a try?

Leah and her strawberry

Click for the recipe →

Dec 192012
 

Mugsy's gingerbread mini-muffins

There are quite a few food associations of mine that are inexorably linked to the holidays: beef burgundy, Danish pastries, sand-tarts (elsewhere called Mexican wedding cookies or Russian tea cookies), and rum cake all come to mind. These gingerbread mini-muffins are certainly make the list as well. This recipe comes to me by way of my maternal grandmother. Grandma (or Mugsy, to everyone else) had a way with baking and was damn good at it (her pie crusts remain legendary), but honestly, she was such a force of sheer kindness and goodness in this world, that her prowess with the oven has been eclipsed in my mind by the warm and gooey feelings that I remember when I think of her. The recipes that she left behind are all that serve to jog my memory in the baking-department.

So I love when I come across memories that have been written down on her recipes. It’s plain that my mom has been eating these spiced delights on or around Christmas every year since she can remember — and thus, they’ve woven their way into most of my memories as well. Sadly, it had been several years since I made them myself, but I found myself with an excellent excuse to dust off tradition and make them again this year (as holiday pot-lucks are an ideal venue for mini-muffins). And even though The Bun won’t be eating them this year, it’ll be nice to know that I started baking them again the year she joined our family.

So here’s to passing a family tradition down to the next generation: perhaps these can find your way into your own family annals too!

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Dec 022012
 

Banana chocolate-chip bread

As I have said here before, there is something eminently comforting about a loaf of quick-bread. When one finds oneself in the throes of a Banana Corollary situation and is simultaneously in need of some comfort food, banana bread is an obvious choice. I previously only jonesed for a good loaf of quick-bread when battling a cold or some other malady, but in the final weeks of my pregnancy I could. not. get. enough of the stuff, which perhaps explains why Leah was a little yellow when she made her grand appearance.

There are two things that banana bread should be and a third thing that is awfully nice, but by no means required. They are, respectively: excessively banana-y, super-moist, and chocolatey. You’d be surprised how many recipes fall short in the required categories. So, at thirty-eight weeks along and sporting more than a few water-polo-balls’ worth of bulk in the front of my abdomen, you can imagine that I didn’t want to waste time on sub-par banana bread recipes. Another recipe I’ve tried (from Cook’s Illustrated) delivered on the banana front but was excessively fussy (don’t tell a woman who’s full to the brim with child that she has to microwave bananas and then reduce the juice on the stove-top: I can assure you that the last thing she wants to do is be on her feet longer than she has to. She just wants to eat banana bread) and it was frankly not as good as this recipe that I’m going to share with you.

So the next time you find yourself in need of a quick-bread fix, I hope you’ll give this recipe a try. I think you’ll find — like we do — that it never lasts long!

Note: February 23rd is National Banana Bread Day in the US! Mark your calendars and use up those brown bananas!

Also note: dairy-free variation at the end of the recipe!

Banana chocolate-chip bread

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Nov 012009
 

Right now I’ve got bagels for the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge retarding in the fridge, but I decided that I’m kinda overdosing on all that white flour and it’s high time that I posted a whole-grain bread. This particular bread is one of my favorites for its challenges, its fun, and its textures and I can’t believe that it’s taken me more than two years to get around to sharing it.

Wonderfully textured and flavored bulgar wheat bread
Nikon D50

First, its challenges: this bread contains a lot of chewy, delicious bulgar wheat berries. However, all those grains can really get in the way with the formation of long gluten strands. As a result, I don’t usually achieve the humongous rise that my basic whole wheat and oatmeal loaves have spoiled me with, but really, it’s ok – the flavor more than makes up fr it! Also, this dough is very soft and slippery (more on that later), which means that if you start daydreaming while you’re supposed to be focusing on push, fold, rotate, push, fold, rotate, then it could end up shooting across the room. Now, the last challenge: occasionally the dough will tear, freeing an avalanche of bulgar across the kneading board. Not to worry, you’ll learn soon enough how to poke the grains back into the dough, conceal the tear with a couple of folds, and keep kneading like a pro. Crisis managed!

Wonderfully textured and flavored bulgar wheat bread
Nikon D50

Secondly, this dough is a lot of fun. This was my first truly enriched bread and it uses a novel way to incorporate the butter into the dough: you smear it across the board and let the dough soak it up as you knead! It’s pretty ingenious, and if it wasn’t for the bulgar dotting the surface of the dough it would be the poster child for satiny and supple. It also makes the dough very soft, so if you’re looking for the culprit causing the above challenges, look no further.

Thirdly, the texture of this bread is just out of this world. In addition to the butter doing marvelous things to the taste and texture, the buttermilk acts as a dough conditioner, making it even lighter, more complex, and more delicate tasting. Throughout baking, the bulgar keeps its toothy texture and it even makes me want to nibble at the bread little by little, picking out the grains so I can eat them separately. If you can tear yourself away from eating it plain, it’s pretty devastating on a sandwich piled high with some home-roasted chicken and some fresh produce.

So if you’re in the mood for a whole-grain bread that is still wholesome and delicious but puts a new spin on the old formula, try this recipe on for size. It’s well worth the effort!

Warning: do not toast and butter - you will consume the whole loaf that way!
Nikon D50

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Oct 232009
 

I hardly ever make apologies for my cooking for any reason whatsoever. I take great pride in what comes out of my kitchen and get great joy from sharing that food with others.
With these delectable little cookies, however, apologies might be in order. Don’t get me wrong – they’re excellent, it’s just that they’re so rich that unless your ovaries have taken you hostage and are demanding nothing less than a chocolate IV now, indulging in more than, say, two, might be out of the realm of possibility. Even if you find yourself in the midst of a hostage crisis, a chaser of milk (preferably straight from the carton!) is still necessary.

Chocolate chopped up for cookie delights!
Nikon D50

Richness aside, these suckers are delicious. So sinfully delicious, it’s said, that if everyone in the world had these, conflict and war would no longer be issues. I’m inclined to agree – these cookies can cure what ails you. Well, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually at any rate, if not physically (unless butter and chocolate are agents of healing now).

Ready to go in the oven
Nikon D50

As for the world peace bit, I’m doing my part. I’ve sent these cookies throughout the world, including war zones, as gifts that are meant to bring comfort and happiness to those who needed it, whether it was because they were missing their families or because they had just had their hearts broken. They’ve also done good domestically, be it by bringing a bit of cheer to shift workers on a dreary Monday or by raising money for charities in need.

Ready to eat!
Nikon D50

I should confess that I’m not totally altruistic with these cookies. Not every batch is for a good cause (see previous statement about ovaries taking a certain person hostage) – because, really, sometimes you just gotta keep some of the riches that flow from your kitchen to yourself. Even if you’re impeding world peace by doing so, I don’t think anyone will blame you!

Ready to eat!
Nikon D50

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Aug 302009
 

In an effort to get back into the swing of this blogging thing, I’m going to make a post today devoid of any real substance (i.e. recipes) because I have no new substance to report. Rather, this I’ll be posting gratuitous shots of some of the food I cooked today, all of which has been seen here before.

First up are the beloved pumpkin spice cookies. Last week whilst in the grocery store I was literally flabbergasted to find Halloween candy for sale. My brain was seriously thinking it was still July or something and was wondering why they were hawking old candy. I was happier when I realized that the appearance of the sickly sweet stuff on the shelves means one thing: it’s time to start baking these jewels again. I particularly enjoy the third photo when blown up to take over the entire screen and viewed with the benefit of a few feet of distance. It almost made Cory start drooling in his tracks.

Pumpkin spice cookies: cooling their heels
Nikon D50
Pumpkin spice cookies: good things come in piles!
Nikon D50
Pumpkin spice cookies: good things come in piles!
Nikon D50

Cory and I have been loving the grill recently. It doesn’t get much more simple than slicing up some veggies, crumbling some dried Greek oregano over them, and throwing them over the fire to blacken and soak up that flavor. We usually also grill fish, especially right now while the Alaskan seafood is so good (but admittedly not quite as fresh as I’m used to). Tonight we feasted on King salmon — a true indulgence — prepared in the usual manner, also pictured here and here — along with grilled zucchini, yellow crookneck squash, and julienned onion (alas, the light was gone by the time it was prepared, so no photos tonight) and – another special treat – caprese salad.

[Hold on, I think I hear a riot forming in the back. What’s that, you say? I’ve never actually posted a recipe for caprese salad? Ah, that’s right, I’ve just posted a photo. Don’t fret. It couldn’t get any easier. It’s a pity because it’s certainly a favorite but I don’t know that it justifies its own entry. Anyway, here goes: take a large very ripe (preferably local because it’s really hard to find truly ripe tomatoes that aren’t local) tomato, heirloom if you can get it. Take a half-pound of fresh mozzarella cheese. Slice both into 1/4-inch thick slices and arrange on a plate. You can put the tomatoes flat and place mozzarella on top of them or you can place them vertically – it’s up to you and how fancy-pants you’re feeling. Made a chiffonade out of some basil and sprinkle it over the arrangement. Finish with a drizzle of high-quality extra-virgin olive oil and some fresh cracked pepper. Skip the balsamic — good caprese is only hurt by it. Proceed to dazzle your tastebuds with one of the most simple and delicious foods out there. If you’re into, y’know, kicking it up a notch (oh god, I think I just threw up a little in my mouth), use buffalo mozzarella – mozzarella di bufala. It’s spendy but the flavor and texture are beyond compare. In further kicking-it-up action, spring for an heirloom tomato. My favorites are the Black Krims. Oh, and do yourself a favor – save those seeds and plant them next year! Another variation – great for parties – select some good cherry or grape tomatoes and find mozzarella sold in similar-sized balls. Get a bunch of basil. Take a wooden or bamboo skewer and put a tomato, a basil leaf, and a mozzarella ball onto it. Repeat until your ingredients are exhausted. Arrange on a tray and drizzle with olive oil and pepper.]

Whew. That was quite an aside for an entry that’s supposed to be all pretty pictures. But I digress.

But this was no mere caprese salad! This was, indeed, the fancy-pants variation described above! Marvel Stripe heirloom tomatoes! Buffalo mozz! Basil from the garden! And the clouds parted and Lo, the angels did sing, and it was good. And then it was in my tummy.

Black Russian heirloom tomatoes.  YUM.
Nikon D50
Marvel Stripe heirloom tomato with Russian Black heirloom tomatoes in the background.  YUM.
Nikon D50
Marvel Stripe heirloom tomato with mozzarella di bufala and basil from the garden.  YUM.
Nikon D50
Aug 282009
 

Ain’t life grand when you have the luxury of throwing a pizza in the oven on a Friday night? And isn’t it even better when that pizza is homemade? We definitely hold by that line in our house.

Kneading the dough
Nikon D50

I’ve always eschewed the line “Even when it’s bad, it’s still pizza” (quit rolling your eyes, I know that comes as no surprise whatsoever if you’ve even spent two minutes reading this blog) and I take great joy in making every component for my pizza that I can. Really, it’s the only way you know you’re going to get a good one.

A fresh harvest of basil from the garden
Nikon D50

I love to use pesto as a base for pizza, especially in the summer. Few things give me more pleasure than shearing my basil plants (Fred has recovered from his confined-to-a-pot days and is loving all the room he has to stretch his roots, for those of you who had met him when he wasn’t looking so hot), bringing the green stuff inside, and pulling the leaves off the stems. It fills the kitchen with a wonderful aroma!

Whole unpeeled garlic cloves toast on the stove
Nikon D50

The only problem with fresh pesto is that it’s really easy to overdo it on the garlic, especially if you’re like me and habitually triple – at a minimum – the amount of the tasty stuff called for in a recipe. Luckily, I ran across a technique with which you toast the unpeeled garlic cloves on the stove to mellow out that bite it’s known for. It works like a charm and I no longer have to work about whether or not I’m going to OD on garlic. You just have to make sure to toast up enough so that you have extra to put on top of the pizza!

It's done!!!
Nikon D50

The only thing left to do is to load it up with other high-quality ingredients. Once you’ve done all of this, you’ll have created a pizza night to remember!

It's done!!!
Nikon D50

Continue reading »

May 112008
 

Artisan French dough is an interesting animal. On one hand you have four – count ’em, four – ingredients. Not so hard, right? The thing is, it’s not the number of ingredients, it’s their proportion to each other. It’s a very hydrated dough compared to the multitude of sandwich loaves I’ve posted here previously, yet many of the requirements are the same.
The tricky requirement here is the kneading. Yes, this dough is a wet, sticky monster. And yes, you have to develop the gluten yourself. You don’t get to rely on a ridiculously long autolyze to do the hard work for you like you do in the famous no-knead bread (but it’s worth it – the pre-ferment makes for a far superior flavor). So how does one get the gluten to develop?

Some of you may quickly point out that KitchenAid stand mixers are proof that a god loves us and wants us to eat good bread. But I’ll point out even more quickly that the French have been making this bread before mixers were a twinkle in a baker’s eye, so there has to be some way to do it. And being the do-it-yourself-er that I am, I’m going to teach you how.

Like I said, you obviously can’t knead in the conventional fashion. Pushing, folding, and rotating translates into smearing, smearing, and smearing in the language of French dough. So instead of using force provided by your body, use the force provided by gravity to stretch, relax, and align those gluten strands and turn that yucky, sticky mess of flour and water into a ball of stretchy, supple, super-soft dough. Here’s an illustrated guide for how to do it:

Lay the heels of your hands on the dough, both thumbs pointing to the left (or the right, if you like. Just be consistent). Be sure your hands are positioned so that your thumbs are close to the edge of the dough and there is plenty of dough visible on the other side of your hand. Get your fingers underneath the dough.

Position your hands on the dough properly
Nikon D50 – photo taken by Trisha Moore

Pick up the dough with your thumbs now pointing up instead of to the left. Allow the dough to hang down and let gravity stretch it out.

Pick up the dough and let gravity stretch it out
Nikon D50 – photo taken by Trisha Moore

With a little flip (and without letting go of the top half of the dough), put the dough on the counter so that the side of the dough that was facing you when it was suspended in mid-air is now in contact with the counter. The upper half of the dough will still be in your hands.

Flip the dough onto the counter without letting go of it
Nikon D50 – photo taken by Trisha Moore

With another flip, fold the dough in half and let go. You’ve just completed one knead. As you become more practiced it will become a more fluid motion. Continue to work the dough until it is smooth, elastic, supple, and less sticky than it was originally.

Fold the dough over and let go of it
Nikon D50 – photo taken by Trisha Moore

None of the photos of the fully kneaded dough turned out, but the photo on the right shows it mostly kneaded, becoming smooth on the surface. Notice the huge difference between this and the shaggy unkneaded dough on the left.

Before: a sticky shaggy mess.  After: Smooth, elastic dough
Nikon D50 – photo taken by Trisha Moore

During the kneading process, resist the urge to add too much flour to the countertop. The dough will still be a sticky mess and will get all over your hands, but only add more flour a tablespoon at a time if the dough is totally unworkable. Without a very wet dough you can’t get the irregular, beautiful open crumb that is the hallmark of a good artisan bread.

After kneading, the dough will rise several times. This is another time when you don’t handle the dough in the same way as a sandwich bread. Do not punch it down or deflate it. Instead you will stretch the dough out between your two hands. When you see this in pictures or on video it looks impossible, like no dough should be able to do that, but after a properly kneaded dough has risen for a little while it will be incredibly soft and elastic. It’s very easy to stretch the dough out as shown below:

Stretch the dough out - it's easier than it looks
Nikon D50 – photo taken by Trisha Moore

Once the dough is stretched, fold it into thirds like a business letter. Rotate the dough packet 90 degrees and stretch and fold as before. Return the dough to the bowl and continue with the recipe. Best of luck to you!

Fold the stretched dough like a business letter
Nikon D50 – photo taken by Trisha Moore

Many thanks to my Mom for taking these photos while I handled the dough. This tutorial wouldn’t have been possible without her help.

For more fantastic information on baking artisan breads, buy the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Forum DVD.

Feb 292008
 

“Ugh! I hate Italian pizza! It’s so gross! It’s not even Italian, it was invented in New York! Let me eat the pizza at Boston’s, it’s so good!”

Wait for it….

KA-BLAMMO!

Yep. That was my head exploding.

It exploded not for just one, but three very good reasons.

Hating Italian pizza is impossible. The ingredients are so fresh and the results so simple that it’s quite simply easier to divide by zero than to hate it.
I’m not a food anthropologist, but I’m gonna call shenanigans on pizza originating in New York. The research I’ve done shows that it in fact came from Naples. It’s funny how a place can do such great things (invent pizza) and such monumentally stupid things (like stop collecting all the garbage so it piles up to third story windows). But I digress.
Boston’s pizza (god, I feel dirty typing in that URL for that link) is disgusting. You all know that I get pissed about paying good money for bad food, and not much makes me angrier than having to go there and pay the bill. In fact, the first time I ever went there (my bosses love it so we go there all the time for working lunches, much to my chagrin) I was sitting across from someone who had just read a few of my thoughts on restaurants and he could tell on the look on my face that I was livid about paying seventeen bucks for a shitty meal that I could have made one hundred and twenty times better by just lifting a finger and giving a shit about the food I was preparing. Anyway, their pizza is even worse than that first meal – a salmon caesar salad – that I had: the cheese was laid on way too thick and rubbery as only really bad American-made mozzarella can be, the crust suffered from being stuffed with ten times as much yeast as it needed to rise which made it utterly bland and sour, and the basil – this was supposedly pizza Margherita – was DRIED. DRIED, PEOPLE!!!!!!!!! WHAT THE FUCK???

*steps aside to breathe for a moment…. long deep breaths….*

Ok, I apologize for that “Oh FUDGE!” moment there. I just get sent into spasms of anger when I think about that place. Let’s get back to my happy place, and for me right now, that happy place is homemade pizza, even if, no matter how hard you try, it’s not quite like the Italians make it.

Not totally authentic Italian, but still really bloody good pizza
Nikon D50

For some reason I don’t make pizza as much as I should. There’s really no reason not to – I have a wealth of dough recipes whose prep times vary from 24 hours to 90 minutes. My pantry is always stocked with the requisite ingredients for the crust and toppings. I even have two 8-inch pizza stones, perfect for a cozy binge-free pizza night. But for some reason, I just… don’t.

Well, I had been craving good pizza for a couple of weeks and last Friday it became wholly apparent that that night was the night. The stars were aligned – the grocery stores were hemorrhaging fresh (FRESH! Not DRIED!) basil, I had plenty of fresh mozzarella in my fridge, and I had made a batch of marinara the night before. All I had to do was find a dough recipe.

So I called up my Mom. When I talk to him on the weekends, it’s not uncommon for my Dad to give me a rundown of the pizza my Mom made the previous Friday and for him to gush about how her pizza gets better every single week. No dice on the recipe from the Mom front though – she was really busy with some elderly relatives, no big deal, it’s not like she’s the sole source of pizza dough ever (though I still want her recipe!). So at one point, needing to get my current events fix, I brought up NPR and lo and behold, on their rotating blurbs about featured stories, was a Kitchen Window ad, whose topic just so happened to be pizza. It was like the skies had parted and I was sitting in my own little personal ray of sunlight. I was fated to make pizza that night. The gods had willed it to be so.

So when I got home, I got to work on my pizza. After the dough was done rising, I attempted to get the dough nice and thin, but the thing about kneading is that it make dough very elastic. Every time I stretched out the dough it just shrank right back up. I eventually adopted the mannerisms of a, well, special Italian, trying to toss this tiny disc of dough up into the air, catch it on one finger, and let gravity do the work. It certainly worked better than counter-top stretching, but clearly, my method needs work if I am to continue to aspire to Italian-standard thinness.

Thicker-crust-than-desired aside, this pizza was marvelous! I loved the warm, garlicky, basily sweetness of the sauce, topped with just a bit of mozzarella a plenty of fresh torn basil, all atop a crispy, grain-flavored crust. That pizza was not long for this world, and though I expect that it would have made a mean cold pizza breakfast, it never got the opportunity to prove itself. But even though I loved the process, the experience, and the taste so much, I think the best thing that came out of it was the inspiration to try again with a myriad of toppings. That’s one of the best things about pizza – almost anything is a choice candidate to grace your pie, so you’re only limited by your imagination.

And if you still think the pizza from Boston’s is better than this, well, do us both a favor and don’t ever talk to me about food. Unless, of course, you like watching my head explode.

Not totally authentic Italian, but still really bloody good pizza
Nikon D50

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Feb 262008
 

Note: While I have decided to leave this recipe on here for posterity’s sake, I really can’t endorse it anymore. This was posted six years ago, and I’ve since decided that low-fat diets are bad juju. If I were to make it again today, I’d replace fat-substitutes (such as the applesauce) and processed fats (such as the canola/safflower oil) with whole-foods ingredients and natural fats. Vive real food! — Stacey, April 2014

Muffins get a bad rap, and none more so than bran muffins. See, regular muffins are sugar-and-oil fests, full of empty calories, and most bran muffins are healthy but, well, made of twigs. Can there be a happy medium between these two extremes?

Of course there can be! Enter my breakfast-on-the-go juggernaut, the 150% whole grain banana nut muffin! Now, you may be asking yourself how the hell something can be 150% whole grain, and here’s your answer: grains are made up of the germ, the bran, and the endosperm. White flour and other processed grains get poo-pooed (and deservedly so) because the nutritious and tasty germ and bran are removed, leaving behind the starchy endosperm which, while semantically being a complex carbohydrate, is treated by your body just like sugar, a simple carbohydrate. While most muffins are made of only white flour, this recipe is made up of whole-wheat flour (germ, bran, endosperm), oats (again, germ, bran, endosperm), wheat germ, and oat bran. Lots of good-parts-of-the-grain yumminess, see?

Muffins like ducks in a row

An astute reader like yourself may have picked up on the fact that while a couple of those ingredients are the fiber- and nutrient-rich parts of the grain, they do not in fact contain all three parts. So I guess it’s not technically whole-grain, but really, when you’re only removing the bad stuff and keeping the good stuff it’s easy to see that it has way more of the good stuff than the bad stuff, so it’s like an endosperm with twice the bran and twice the germ, and hence, 150% whole grain! Don’t argue with me on this one, I majored in math and I’ll come up with some convoluted argument to prove that It Is So.

So that’s enough science geekery, let’s stop talking nutrition and start talking yumminess!
This recipe is awesome because it manages to be low-fat without tasting overly low-fat. Yes, when you bite into these muffins you can tell that they are healthy and nutritious, but they are still wonderfully moist and flavorful. That’s because applesauce, oil’s favorite understudy, has gotten its chance to shine in this recipe, and when it teams up with the bananas you get a moist, remarkably un-twig-like consistency. When you add in things like toasted pecans, flax, raisins, and the grains, you get a complex flavor profile that keeps your tastebuds happy.

These are ideal for early-morning athletes and snooze-button-hitters since they are easy to take with you and eat, ensuring you get those morning calories your metabolism needs to function properly throughout the day. I always eat one on the way to swimming in the morning and if I think there’s a chance I won’t get to eat my daily oatmeal I always bring along a couple extra to tide me over until lunch. That’s another benefit to this muffin’s ingredients: in addition to being flavorful, they also keep you full for a long time. So what’s not to love? Skip that chemical delight breakfast you were going to grab on your way out the door and eat one of these instead!

Be wary of pretty muffins my Dad makes, but I swear these are good!

Click for the recipe →

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