Almond Topped Chocolate Chip Muffins

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A few months ago I asked Calvin if he wanted something new for school day breakfasts. He eats lunch late, so it is always a challenge to find something that will hold him over all morning. He suggested chocolate chip muffins with almond extract. I figured a few chocolate chips were okay as long as I threw in a few whole grains. With those parameters I took the concept and ran with it.

I have been tinkering with this muffin recipe for several months. I have used various combinations of whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour and almond flour. I put oats in the batter, and then I put more oats in the batter. I put chocolate chips inside and on top, then just inside. I made umpteen variations of the crumb topping. I played with the sweetness level. Some versions were a little too grainy, others were too sweet or not sweet enough. Some topping attempts fell off the muffins as I took them out of the pans, some sank into the batter and others melted and ran off in the oven.

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The final recipe (at least for now) is a tender, almond-scented muffin full of chocolate chips and topped with a buttery almond topping. The batter has both oats and whole wheat flour, along with a moderate level of sugar. I used oil in the muffins, but butter in the topping for flavor.

We still aren’t tired of these muffins, and we have been eating them for breakfast and snacks for at least two months now. If that isn’t an endorsement, I don’t know what is.

Download or print the recipe here.

Almond Topped Chocolate Chip Muffins
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 12 muffins

Muffins:
1½ cups buttermilk
1 cup oats, quick or old-fashioned
¼ cup oil
1 egg
⅓ cup sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose flour)
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips

Topping:
¼ cup sliced almonds
¼ cup rolled oats, quick or old-fashioned
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter

Mix the buttermilk and oats together in a large bowl and set aside while you gather your ingredients and make the topping.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease 12 standard muffin cups and set aside.

Make the topping:
Use a food processor, mini chopper or a pastry blender to mix together the almonds, oats and granulated sugar. When the mixture is fairly finely ground, with the almonds mostly broken up, add the butter and mix until everything starts to clump together slightly and looks like coarse wet sand. Refrigerate topping while you mix the muffins.

Add the oil, egg, sugar, almond extract and vanilla extract to the oat and buttermilk mixture. Mix well.

Mix the whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder together in a small bowl. Add to oat mixture and stir gently. Do not beat or you will end up with tough muffins. When the flour is almost completely mixed in, add the chocolate chips and stir until there are no streaks or pockets of dry flour.

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Divide batter evenly among the greased muffin cups, which will be almost full. Use a measuring tablespoon to divide the topping between the muffins, using about 1 tablespoon per muffin. Keep most of the topping toward the middle of each muffin. If the topping is compacted into mounds, use your finger to break them up slightly.

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Bake the muffins for 13-15 minutes, or until tops are golden brown and bounce back when touched lightly. A toothpick inserted in the middle of a muffin will come out with just a few moist crumbs, if you can manage to miss the chocolate chips.

Let muffins cool in the pan for about 10 minutes to firm up a bit. Then remove them from the pan to finish cooling on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to two days. After that the muffins will start to get dry. Freeze for longer storage. Thaw at room temperature for a few hours, or in the microwave for about 20 seconds per muffin.

 

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Raspberry Lemon Muffins

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Fresh raspberries usually cost the earth, so I don’t even look at them in the grocery store most of the time. This week they were on sale for a dollar a package. I couldn’t pass up that deal. Then I was faced with how to use them, other than just eating them.

I mentioned raspberry lemon muffins as a possibility to Rich and Calvin and they jumped on it. My decision was made. Of course, I didn’t have a recipe for raspberry lemon muffins. I decided to start with my go-to blueberry muffin recipe and tweak it a bit.

I substituted raspberries for blueberries, of course. I upped the amount a bit, to match up with the volume of one six ounce package of raspberries. I added the zest and juice of one lemon to really give the muffins a citrus zing. I then increased the sugar just a bit to offset the tang of the lemon.

They baked up beautifully – tender cake surrounding tart, bright red raspberries, topped with a shattering sugar crust. I like the bursts of tartness from the berries, contrasting with the barely sweet muffin. If you like things sweeter, follow the directions in the head note of the recipe, or add a sprinkling of sugar at the table. As is, they are light, bright and refreshing –the muffin version of a glass of cold lemonade on a hot day.

Download or print recipe here.

Raspberry Lemon Muffins
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 12 muffins

These are not very sweet. If you like your muffins on the sweeter side, you may want to increase the granulated sugar by 1-2 tablespoons.

One small lemon
1 cup white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose flour, if you prefer)
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
⅓ cup granulated sugar (see head note)
1 egg
¾ cup milk
⅓ cup vegetable oil
1½ cups raspberries, fresh or frozen
Granulated or coarse sugar for sprinkling, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin pan and set aside.

Zest the lemon into a large bowl. I Iike to use a microplane for this, but the finest holes on any grater will work.  Add the white whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Stir and set aside. Juice the lemon and set aside.

Beat egg, milk and oil together until well combined. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture. Add egg mixture and lemon juice and stir gently. When just a few streaks of flour remain, add raspberries. Gently mix just until there is no more dry flour. Let batter sit for about five minutes to let the whole wheat flour absorb more of the liquid.

Divide batter among the greased muffin cups, filling each about three quarters full. Make sure each muffin has at least a couple of raspberries – redistribute the berries if necessary.

Sprinkle the each muffin with about ½ teaspoon of sugar, if desired.

Bake muffins for 12-15 minutes, or until the tops are firm and light golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

The muffins are tender – let them cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes before moving them to a wire rack to cool to room temperature.

Muffins keep at room temperature for a couple of days. Freeze for longer storage.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

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The other day I was looking for a recipe to make a slightly healthier snack for Calvin (and me, to be truthful). I remembered that my mom had made a recipe from Cooking Light Magazine for cookie bars baked in a pie plate and sliced into wedges. I found the recipe and then promptly made a bunch of changes.

I used sliced almonds instead of the chopped pecans called for, since I was feeling lazy and didn’t want to chop my pecan halves. I also used a whole egg instead of an egg white. I used white whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour to up the nutrition and fiber a bit. I also doubled the original amount of chocolate chips, because, why not?

To top it off, when I made a second batch, I reduced the sugar because I thought the first ones were too sweet. You can use either amount of sugar listed, with no other changes to the recipe. I also reduced the canola oil to one tablespoon in the second batch. It made the bars a little more cake-like and less cookie-like. The difference was slight, so I’ll let you decide how you want them. The wedge in the picture is more cookie-like and the square bars in the background are more cake-like.

You can bake these in a pie plate and cut them into wedges, as in the original recipe, or use a square pan and cut squares. The wedges are a little fragile and tend to lose their points. The square bars are better for packing into lunches, or eating with your fingers while you stand over the pan. Just in case you know anyone who would do that.

The original recipe was called Granola Cookie Wedges, which I thought was slightly misleading. They have no granola in them. I think they are supposed to resemble commercial chocolate chip granola bars, but I’m not sure. There was no explanation in the original recipe. I ditched “granola” in the name in favor of “oatmeal.”

These truly go together in just minutes, and they only require a bowl and a spoon to make – no mixer. I mixed them up before the oven had time to preheat, if that gives you any indication.

While not exactly health food, these are healthier than a chocolate chip granola bar from a box. And they taste a lot better too. Take a few minutes to whip up a batch and see what you think.

Download or print the recipe.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars
Adapted by The Cook’s Life from Cooking Light
Makes 12 wedges or bars

Use the smaller amount of brown sugar to make these slightly less sweet, if you prefer. Use the smaller amount of canola oil for more cake-like bars, the larger amount for more cookie-like bars.

¼-⅓ cup packed dark brown sugar
1-2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup white whole wheat flour or all-purpose flour
½ cup oats (I used old-fashioned)
¼ cup sliced almonds (or chopped nuts of your choice)
¼ cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-inch pie plate or 8-inch square pan. Set aside.

Mix brown sugar, oil, melted butter, vanilla and egg together. Add salt, baking soda, flour, oats, almonds and chocolate chips and mix well.

Spread batter in prepared pan, making sure top is level.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the center is set. Cool in pan on rack for at least 5 minutes before slicing into 12 wedges or bars.

Baked Sweet Potato Chips

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I love the bags of sweet potato chips from the store, but I don’t love the calorie count or the price. I have been working on my own baked version for months now, with various levels of success. I have made leathery chips, shattering chips and many, many burned chips. I finally am to the point that I am consistently making crunchy chips with a nice sweet potato flavor, and without burning most of them.

I tried high heat in the beginning, thinking to treat the chips like oven fries. No go. I managed to burn most of the chips blacker than charcoal; only saving about six edible chips. Then I tried very low heat, which did make sort of crispy chips, while they were hot. When they cooled they were leathery and hard to chew. Not a pleasant eating experience when you are expecting crispy chips. I think sweet potatoes have a bit of a Goldilocks syndrome, liking it not too hot or too cold. I used moderate heat and they were just right, crispy without a hint of chewiness, lightly browned and full of sweet potato flavor.

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It is important to slice the potatoes thin enough. Too thick and you will never get them crispy before they burn. I have a mandolin that works beautifully. If you don’t have one, use a food processor. You can use a knife, but it is hard to get them consistently thin enough. My slices were almost see-through and were certainly thinner than I could get them with a knife.

This is not a recipe to make when you are distracted with too many things. You can’t throw them in the oven and walk away until the timer goes off. Trust me. You need to be in the kitchen to make sure you aren’t incinerating your beautifully sliced sweet potatoes. You don’t have to pull up a chair and watch them through the oven door’s window, but you do need to be in the same room while they are baking so you can smell if they are getting too brown. You can certainly do these while you are making dinner. Or while you wash dishes or organize the pantry or whatever kitchen chores suit your fancy.

One sweet potato, sliced very, very thin makes a bunch of chips. Now I am even more amazed at how much a bag costs in the store, since it probably contains about a potato and a half. Leave the expensive bags of fried chips at the store and bake some of your own. And then eat them, warm from the oven, licking salt from your fingers and patting yourself on the back for making a healthy snack.

Download or print just the recipe here.

Baked Sweet Potato Chips
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 3-4 cups chips

Cooking spray
1 large sweet potato, scrubbed
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly spray two baking sheets with cooking spray.

Peel, if desired, and slice sweet potato into very thin slices. I use a mandolin set on the thinnest setting – the slices are less than 1/16th of an inch thick. You can also use a food processor with the thinnest slicing blade. A knife will work, but you need a very sharp blade and patience.

Arrange the sweet potato slices on the greased baking sheets. You can overlap them, but try to keep only the edges overlapping. The sweet potatoes will shrink when you bake them, leaving plenty of room later. If you end up with any half slices or extra thin slices, double them up so they won’t burn.

Drizzle the slices with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt.

Bake for 15 minutes. Remove pans from oven and turn slices over. Yes, you need to turn them all over. It is tedious, but it helps them to crisp. Move the browner edge slices to the middle of the pan and move the middle slices to the edges. Return to oven for 15 more minutes. Stay in the kitchen. If you start to smell brown sweet potatoes, check the pans immediately.

After 15 minutes, remove pans from oven. Remove any chips that are crispy and browning. Yes, take them off now. Don’t think they will be fine while the other chips cook. They won’t. They will burn. Take them off the pan. Return any limp chips to the oven for five more minutes. Stay in the kitchen. Repeat until all chips are crispy.

Cool on pans or on a plate. Chips will get slightly crispier as they cool. Store in an airtight container for a few days, or eat them warm from the oven until they are gone.

Sugar Topped Cranberry Orange Muffins

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I was all set to make blueberry muffins for breakfast on Saturday when I realized I had used the last of the blueberries a week ago. I was not going to go to the store, so the frozen fruit choices were raspberries or cranberries. I made a batch of cranberry orange bread for a bake sale in November and have been craving it ever since, so cranberries won out. I decided to make muffins since they would bake in a short amount of time. You can bake just about any quick bread recipe as muffins, or vice versa.

The recipe I was starting with called for orange zest and orange juice, but I was feeling very Saturday morningish, and wanted an easy recipe, so I skipped the zest and used orange juice from a jug. Next time I will at least run the microplane over an orange to get a little zest to punch up the orange flavor just a bit. Not sure I will actually take the time to juice the orange, but I will do the zest.

I combined a couple of recipes and then made a few further variations. That is always a gamble, but this time it worked beautifully. The results were tender, orange-scented muffins with surprise bits of tartness from the cranberries. The sugar and butter topping was icing on the cake.

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Download or print just the recipe here. 

Sugar Topped Cranberry Orange Muffins
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 10-12 muffins

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup white whole wheat flour (or ½ cup all-purpose flour)
½ cup granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon orange zest, optional
¼ cup canola or vegetable oil
⅔ cup orange juice
1 egg
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries (no need to thaw frozen berries)

Topping:
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease 12 muffin cups and set aside.

Combine all-purpose flour, white whole wheat flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and orange zest in a large bowl. Set aside.

In a separate bowl mix oil, orange juice and egg, beating well.

Add oil mixture to flour mixture and mix gently until about half mixed. Add cranberries and mix gently until there are no dry streaks of flour.

Fill muffin cups half to two-thirds full – if you want taller muffins, fill the cups with the larger amount of batter. You may only get 10 of the larger muffins. If you have empty cups, place an ice cube in each one.

Bake muffins for 12-15 minutes, or until tops are just starting to turn golden brown and feel set when pressed with a finger. If the tops are pale or the centers are soft, bake a minute or two longer.

While muffins are baking, melt butter in a small bowl. Place ¼ cup sugar in another small bowl.

After muffins are baked, let them sit in the muffin pan for 2-3 minutes. Then run a knife around the outside of each one and ease it out of the pan. Dip the top of each muffin first in butter, then in sugar and set on a rack to cool for a few minutes before serving (see Note).

Note: It is best to dip muffins immediately before you eat them. If you are saving some muffins for another time, wait to dip them until you are ready to eat them. If you dip them ahead of time, the sugar melts into the butter as the muffins sit and makes them sticky instead of forming the desired white, slightly crunchy topping.

Muffins keep for a day or two in an airtight container, at room temperature. Freeze muffins for longer storage. Thaw muffins for a few hours at room temperature, in an airtight container. Dip muffins in butter and sugar after thawing.

Juice Jigglers

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I have a bottle of cranberry-grape juice that I bought to use in smoothies. Turns out none of us like that flavor in our smoothies. And none of us are juice drinkers, so it has been sitting in the fridge, staring at me every time I open the door. I kept trying to think of things to use it in, but I hadn’t found anything until today.

Calvin and I are participating in a famine awareness lock-in tonight at our church. The kids, and adults, try not to eat to get a slight understanding of how hunger impacts people around the world. Obviously we can’t truly understand, since we are only missing a meal or two, and we have abundant food available when we decide we are done. But it is an exercise in awareness. We are shopping for a local food pantry with money donated from the congregation and then we are heading back to the church for more activities and (hopefully) sleep at some point.

The organizer asked for people to bring jello and juice for snacks in case anyone gets too hungry. I am fine with regular jello, but it always tastes artificial (go figure, since it is). I wondered if I could use unflavored gelatine to make my jug of juice into finger jello snacks, otherwise known as jigglers. A quick look at the box of gelatine showed me that, yes, I could.

The original recipe called for an optional addition of sugar or honey. I figured that cran-grape juice is plenty sweet enough, so I added no extra sugar. You can use any kind of juice you like to make these, and other kinds might need a bit of extra sugar. I like the slightly less sweet taste of just juice, but add sugar if you feel the need. Taste the mixture before you chill it and see if you want the extra sugar or not.

I think my jigglers are pretty tasty. Here’s hoping the kids do too, or I’ll be eating them for the next week.

Download or print the recipe here.

Juice Jigglers
Adapted from Knox Gelatine
Makes about 80 squares

4 cups fruit juice, divided
4 envelopes unflavored gelatine
2 tablespoons sugar or honey, optional

Measure 1 cup juice into a large bowl. Sprinkle gelatine onto juice and stir to combine. Set aside.

Heat remaining 3 cups juice until boiling. You can use the microwave or the stovetop. I did mine in the microwave and it took well over five minutes. I think using the stovetop would have been faster.

Pour hot juice into gelatine mixture and stir until gelatine is fully dissolved, 2-3 minutes. Taste the mixture and add the optional sugar if you think it needs it.

Pour mixture into a 9 by 13 inch pan. Chill for 3 hours, or until set. Cut into small squares to serve. Store in refrigerator.

 

Vanilla Granola

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Every time I make granola I wonder why I wait so long between batches. I like it with milk for breakfast, mixed with plain yogurt and honey for a snack and by the handful. It takes minutes to make and keeps in the pantry for several weeks. I usually have everything on hand to make it. But even if you aren’t a grain and nut enthusiast like me, one trip to the grocery store should get you everything you need.

I am still thinking about vanilla, so I decided to make vanilla granola this time. It also has orange juice and honey, but vanilla is the dominant flavor. If you wanted more of an orange kick you could add orange zest along with the juice. Or you could go another direction and add a couple of teaspoons of cinnamon. I left out the dried fruit from this batch, only adding a few raisins for the picture. You could add a mix of fruit, or just keep it simple with one kind, or none.

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I added rolled barley flakes to this batch, in addition to the rolled oats. You can get rolled barley, rolled rye and rolled grain mixes in the hot cereal section of the grocery store, or sometimes with the flours. They add another dimension to the granola, but feel free to keep it simple and use all oats. If you like the idea of rolled barley, you can also get it at some Asian markets. I get mine at a market that is heavy on Korean foods and it is all of .69 a pound, which is a steal.

If you have never made granola, give it a try. Make it as written, or try some of my suggestions for adapting it. As long as you keep the proportions of dry ingredients the same, you can mix it up anyway you like – replace the nuts with more oats, add rolled rye for some of the oats or go crazy with nuts and seeds. After it is cool, you can add any kind of dried fruit you like. Or jazz it up in your bowl, with extra honey, fresh fruit, yogurt or milk. How do you like your granola?

Download or print the recipe here.

Vanilla Granola
from The Cook’s Life
Makes about 8 cups granola
Serving size, about ½ cup

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup rolled barley flakes (or 1 cup oats)
½ cup sliced almonds
½ cup wheat germ
¼ cup chopped pecans
¼ cup sunflower seeds
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup honey
2 tablespoons maple syrup (I used grade B – use what you have)
¼ cup canola oil
½ cup orange juice
4 teaspoons vanilla
1-2 cups dried fruit, optional

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and grease a large baking sheet. Combine oats, barley, almonds, wheat germ, pecans, sunflower seeds and salt in a large bowl. Warm honey in the microwave for about 30 seconds, or until thin. Add maple syrup, canola oil, orange juice and vanilla and mix well. Pour over the oat mixture and mix well. Spread onto baking sheet in an even layer and bake for 15 minutes. Stir well, moving the toastier outside parts to the middle and spread in an even layer again. Bake another 10 minutes and stir again. Turn the oven off and return the granola to the still hot oven for another 5-10 minutes, until golden brown and toasty, but not browned.

Remove granola from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet on a rack until room temperature. Add dried fruit, if using. Store in an airtight container for a month, or in the freezer for longer storage. Serve as cereal with milk, over yogurt, or eat by the handful.