Thursday, March 17, 2011

Start with the chocolate - Chocolate Chip Muffins

First and foremost, this blog is an open letter to my 11-year old daughter, Kate, in an attempt to pass on the recipes we eat at home, including those recipes passed down through generations which shouldn’t be lost, as well as any tips and tricks.  The forum may be a little more public than a hand-written letter, but I hope that with some friends and family looking over my shoulder, maybe I’ll be more diligent. (Kate, please see your barely written in baby book for an example of my ability to drop the ball with memory-keeping.)  And while this is written specifically for Kate, friends and family are invited to read along and join in.

Dear Kate, 

When I was your age, your uncle was already a terrific, confident cook and I was determined to be a modern working woman who could care less about the kitchen.  Your uncle is still a terrific cook, the natural kind who can “toss it all together” and make something great.  I, on the other hand, have come to the game late and still tend to cook like I’m in organic chemistry and might blow up the lab if I don’t follow the directions precisely.  Sure I’m a modern working woman, but I’ve come to love my kitchen.  It has been a long road since the day when I had to ask the neighbor to help me cook spaghetti noodles the first time I made dinner for your dad. (Do you the boil the water first?  How long?  How do you get them out of the water?)  And you and your brother continue to inspire me to try making new things. (Remember those chocolate ├ęclairs?  Never would have happened without you asking me to make them for your class.)  Hopefully, I, too, will one day be a "toss it all together" kind of cook and if you aspire likewise, you can too.

Tonight we made your favorite muffins, which seems an appropriate way to begin a recipe collection designed for you.  Breakfast has never been an easy meal to prepare for you as for many years you would NOT eat eggs, cereal, toast, bagels, pancakes, waffles, French toast, bacon, sausage, oatmeal, etc. etc.  Name a breakfast food and chances are you would not like it.  Do you remember how we fed you chocolate frozen yogurt milkshakes for breakfast through most of Kindergarten?  Having discovered that the sugar, fat and caloric values of this breakfast was really no worse than pancakes and syrup, we whipped up a shake every morning (feeling vaguely guilty about the unconventional breakfast food nonetheless.)

You’ve come a long way since Kindergarten, eating some cereal and even pancakes and French toast, but you do still like your chocolate, don’t you?  So pancakes must have chocolate chips, and so do these muffins for which you’ve discovered a fondness.  Much like me, you somewhat grudgingly eat a regular breakfast and don’t really want variety in the meal.  Most days, you chose a muffin, cereal and glass of milk.  I think I ate a blueberry muffin or a bagel every morning all four years of high school, so I know how you feel.  (And remember longingly a time when I didn’t think about the fat, carbs or calories of breakfast.  Ah, youth.) 

Your great-grandmother, Grammy June, gave me this muffin tin of hers when she was moving, about a year before I got married.  That's my excuse for why it is such a mess, many years of use!
This is a simple muffin recipe that makes a surprisingly tasty muffin with little mess to clean up.  You can substitute blueberries for chocolate chips if you find you develop a taste for blueberry muffins in the future.  For now, I’ll continue to indulge your love of chocolate, even at breakfast, so long as you keep chasing the muffin with a big glass of milk and hearty serving of shredded-wheat cereal. 

Chocolate Chip Muffins
1 ½ Cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
¾ Cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 Cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1/3 Cup buttermilk (or regular milk if you don’t have buttermilk)
¾ Cup chocolate chips (stop shouting “more, more” – this is plenty for a breakfast muffin)
Cinnamon sugar (I don’t have a recipe for this, I just always keep a small container of granulated sugar mixed with cinnamon in the cupboard for just this sort of thing.)

1.       Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spray muffin cups with cooking spray.
2.       Combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a medium-sized bowl.
3.       In a 1 or 2-cup liquid measuring cup, lightly beat with a fork vegetable oil, egg and enough buttermilk to fill to one cup. 
4.       Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredient and mix until just combine (don’t overmix, lumps are ok.)
5.       Add chocolate chips and stir to incorporate.
6.       Fill muffins cups ½ full for 12 muffins.  If you want bigger muffins, fill to 2/3 full for 9 muffins and increase the cooking time (see #8 below).
7.       Sprinkle tops with cinnamon sugar.
8.       Bake for 17 minutes or until browned on top.  If you made bigger muffins, increase the time by 3 to 4 minutes.  Cool 2 minutes, remove from pan and cool on wire rack (or a cold pizza stone works well also).

Clearly, I'm a lawyer, not a photographer.  Maybe I'll improve with practice?

TIPS:  Fill any empty muffin cups with water before placing in oven if you make less than 12 muffins. You can also made a delicious crumb topping by mixing ½ Cup unbleached all-purpose flour, ¼ Cup dark or light brown sugar, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, and ½ stick of butter cut into pieces – either cut together with two knives, blend with a pastry blender or process in a food processor until it resembles coarse meal.  Any leftover topping may be refrigerated or frozen. If you are using blueberries, feel free to add a whole cup.

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