Muffin Mondays: Meghan’s Sweet Potato Bran Muffins

For this week’s Muffin Monday, I’m happy to introduce someone very special to me. Meet my cousin, friend, and fellow wordsmith, Meghan J. Ward, of Banff, Alberta. Megan is a freelancer writer on health and wellness, mountain culture, and outdoor sports.  She writes and reflects over at The Campsite and brings her spirited observations today to the topic of food.

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I have always been a “dive in head first” kind of person. I rarely read directions and choose instead to figure things out as I go along. However, two things have made me think I might want to do otherwise: Baking and IKEA. After recently moving and putting together an army of IKEA furniture, I learned the hard way that taking apart a chest of drawers with that Star Trek looking wrench is much harder than doing it right the first time using the instructions. My baking exploits in the past have been slightly disastrous too, so today I challenged myself for this muffin post to actually follow a recipe.

This meant delving into the unknown corners of my grocery store here in Banff. Living in a National Park, I wondered if certain ingredients simply would not be available. I also wondered if I’d spend more than my university tuition buying the ingredients for my muffins at the ridiculously inflated prices of this tourist town.

I did.

I chose to use a muffin recipe from Eat, Shrink & Be Merry!by the Podleski sisters. Janet and Greta brought me through my university years and they could do it again. The recipe I chose, wittily titled A Bran New World, aptly described my venture into the unknowns of muffin making.

Soon after getting home with my loot of food, I realized this baking thing would still be improvised no matter how much I wanted to follow the directions. I didn’t have a mixing bowl big enough, and had to settle for using Tupperware and a giant wok instead. The sweet potato I had purchased was soft and mushy on one side, so I performed emergency surgery on it. I nearly blinded myself making orange zest. I had forgotten to buy allspice. I didn’t own a whisk or an apron. Turns out I really was just a wanna-be Muffin Maker.

I did some things just like the pros. I spilled muffin mix on my recipe book, which gave it the “well-used and well-loved” look even Martha Stewart would be proud of. I also remembered to preheat my oven (this is a big step for me!) OK, that’s about all that I did so professionally, but in the end, I didn’t miss a step, and those darn muffin cups looked so happy full of gooey, bran flakey, muffin mix!

As I placed the muffin pan in the oven, I recited my cooking mantra just for good measure, which goes like this: ‘Don’t burn them, don’t burn them, don’t burn them!’ I am notorious for burning things, usually because I am multi-tasking while I bake. Not today! Other than taking a few pics along the way, I stuck to baking until those muffins were in, and out of, the oven.

My new kitchen filled with the smell of a job well done. I didn’t have a toothpick to check if they were done cooking, though, so I had to leap forward in faith and take them out before I burned them into oblivion. My little colony of Bran Muffins were almost ready for the ultimate test: my mouth.

Was it worth my small fortune to make my batch of muffins? Absolutely. And while it’s already Winter in The Rockies, the sweet potato, dried currants, and cinnamon of this batch would also make it perfect for Fall. They warmed my happy soul, and warmed my new apartment with the love that only orange zest and cinnamon have to offer.

Now I know that if I can conquer A Bran New World, I can conquer anything.

A Bran New World

makes 12 regular muffins

1 cup cooked, mashed sweet potato (about 1 medium potato)

1 cup buttermilk (I substituted plain yogurt)

½ cup packed brown sugar

3 tbsp vegetable oil

2 eggs

2 tsp grated orange zest

4 cups Bran Flakes cereal

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup dried currants

½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts (I used pecans)

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp each ground nutmeg and ground allspice

  1. Preheat oven to 375˚ F. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together sweet potato, buttermilk, brown sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, and orange zest. Add Bran Flakes and mix well.
  3. In another large bowl, combine flour, currants, nuts, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, and allspice. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix just until dry ingredients are moistened. Batter will be thick.
  4. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Bake for 17 or 18 minutes, or until muffins are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in center of muffin comes out clean. Remove muffins from pan and cool slightly on a wire rack. Serve warm.

from Eat, Shrink & Be Merry! Great-Tasting Food That Won’t Go from Your Lips to Your Hips!by Janet and Greta Podleski

Muffin Mondays: Emily’s Spiced Carrot-Date Muffins with Cashews

Happy Monday readers! I’m Emily Cobb, author of art and lifestyle blog “emily’s eye.” It is quite the honor to be your Muffin Monday contributor for I must admit: I am not a professional baker or cook.

I love food though, and have been working in the restaurant industry for seven years so I’m not completely clueless. As an artist, I love combining the flavors of various ingredients as if they are paint on a canvas. When grocery shopping I’ll buy ingredients that interest me rather than having a specific recipe in mind. So when it comes time to cook or bake I become a pantry scavenger and will select items that I feel may mesh well. My goal is for the ingredients to accentuate each others’ best qualities without overwhelming.

Sometimes I come up with kitchen gems . . . sometimes I get laughable flops. The element of surprise when experimenting sure keeps things interesting.

Clearly the creative process is what I really love about cooking – well, the eating part is pretty awesome too. That said, lets talk muffins . . .

For today’s recipe: a medley of medjool dates, cashews, coconut, orange, fresh ginger and cardamom put a funky twist on the typical carrot-nut muffin rut. The spice combination makes these muffins downright mysterious while the dates, like nature’s caramel, add a serious dose of sweetness.

Warning: these muffins may be treading on carrot cake territory. . . not that there’s anything wrong with having dessert for breakfast. In fact, I can’t think of a better way to start your day. (Even if it is at the crack-of-noon, as is typically the case with me.)

As a true American my personal motto is “Go Big or Go Home:” I use a jumbo size muffin tin. This recipe will yield a dozen sensibly sized muffins or 6 big boys.

In closing, big kudos to Jen for creating the opportunity for local (and familial) foodie collaboration. Way to bring people together through baked goods. Viva Muffin Mondays!

Emily of Emilyseyelive.com

Emily’s Spiced Carrot-Date Muffins with Cashews

The Dry:

1 cup all purpose flour

1 cup coarse bran (miller’s bran)

½ cup brown sugar

1/3 cup coconut flakes (plus a bit extra to garnish)

3 tsp baking powder

1½ tsp ground cardamom

1 tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp ground nutmeg

¼ tsp ground clove

½ tsp salt

The Wet:

2 eggs

½ cup orange juice

¼ cup yogurt (plain or vanilla)

4 tbsp softened butter

The Delicious:

3/4 cup shredded carrot

½ cup chopped (& pitted) medjool dates

1/3 cup chopped cashews

2 tbsp shredded fresh ginger (for the best flavor use fresh, otherwise, substitute ½ ground ginger)

1½ tbsp orange zest

  1. Preheat the oven to 400, and use a food processor to shred carrots and a little nub of skinned fresh ginger. Prep the rest of the items by hand and combine each set of ingredients (the dry, the wet, and the delicious) in 3 separate bowls with the dry in the largest bowl (all the ingredients will end up here.)
  2. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into it. Then fold and stir the two forces together until everything is just moistened.
  3. Fold in the remaining ingredients (the delicious). The consistency should be lumpy and moist – do not over work! Spoon the batter into a greased muffin tin, and sprinkle the remaining coconut flakes on top of each muffin.
  4. Depending on the tin size and/or the oven the muffins need anywhere between 20-30 minutes to bake. Do the clean toothpick test every 5 minutes after 20 minutes of oven time have passed to determine when they’re done. Like most pastries these muffins are excellent when served warm or reheated in the toaster oven. Enjoy!