Bran muffins are my jam. Seriously. This is my second full post on them. In the first, from over 5 years ago, I recount my long and loving history with the bran muffin and my inability to make them well at home. Feel free to go back and read my lament, but in the meantime just know that only towards the very end of my six years living outside North America did I find decent bran muffins – and only then in a few inner-city Sydney cafes for $5 each. I was frustrated. I was disheartened. So I set to work.
After a bunch of flops, I kind of gave up. Maybe it’s not possible to make them at home. Maybe it takes some sort of bakery magic to get that perfectly dense, hearty, branny muffin. Plus, after 18 months stateside, I’d gotten used to finding bran muffins everywhere (even though, in Brooklyn, they’re still $5 each). But with another imminent intercontinental move, this time to London – where, honestly, I don’t think there will be a shortage of mind blowing baked things – I needed to get my bran muffin strong. Just in case.
For those of you who don’t know, I don’t do fussy recipes. Well, sometimes I do, but I usually resent (and never remake) them. So when I came across this recipe, which is the classic formula of mix wets + mix dries + mix them together, I didn’t really hesitate. Better a low-effort failure than an annoyingly precious failure or, worse, no bran muffins at all ever again.
Turns out these are the best bran muffins I’ve ever been able to make at home. Hands down. Not only that, they are low-effort, free of refined sugar, full of grains, easily modified and beloved by the whole family. After years of searching, I’m done. The great fear of going without bran muffins is over. The homemade bran muffin is real. And this is it.
BEST BRAN MUFFINS
Not too sweet but very substantive, these are the best easy breakfast. The recipe is from a site called Farmgirl that I can’t access anymore, but Google it and you may have more luck. This recipe makes 12 biggish muffins. You can add spices if you want, but I think the nuttiness of the bran gives them a deep flavor. These are even better the next day and perfect defrosted for an hour from the freezer.
2 cups wheat bran (I’ve substituted wheat germ/oat bran/flour)
1 cup oat bran
1 cup flour (whole wheat or white)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2/3 cup milk
2/3 cup yogurt, sour cream or labne
1/3 cup canola or similar oil
2/3 cup honey, maple syrup, golden syrup, molasses or a mix (I usually use half honey, half maple)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 – 2 cups additions if you want (such as raisins, fresh or frozen berries, chopped figs, chopped apples, etc.)
Preheat oven to 375F. Grease a muffin tin or line with paper liners.
In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients – the flour, oat and wheat bran, baking powder and soda and the salt. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, mix the wet ingredients – the eggs, yogurt, milk, oil, vanilla and honey/syrups/molasses.
Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients and very gently fold them together until combined. Gently fold in whatever additions you like – raisins, dried or fresh cranberries, chopped apples, frozen berries, etc. I love frozen berries because they’re the easiest, but raisins pre-soaked in hot water (then drained) and chopped apples are good classics, too.
Spoon batter into greased muffin tin, filling up to the top (they won’t rise too much). Bake in the preheated oven for 10 – 20 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean and golden brown on top. Cool in the pan for a few minutes then remove from the pan and cool.
Cool completely before storing or freezing in an airtight container or bag.
A labor of love. That’s what this is. How else could you describe a pot pie – usually a thrown-together, rustic affair – that takes all day, at least six pots, and a good dose of fuss? I’ll admit, I’m not usually one for fuss. Except when baking, I’m loathe to even follow a recipe. And besides, my normal chicken pot pie recipe – which I blogged about not too long ago – takes like half an hour and hits the spot.
So why did I embark on this hours-long foray into chicken pot pie and, more importantly, was it worth it? The answer to both of those questions is a womp-wompy “I don’t know.” I came across the recipe on Food52, a site that tends to give me food envy over even the most mundane sandwich, on a rainy morning with a whole day of leisure stretched out before me (thanks, unemployment!) begging to be put to useless forms of use. The elaborate chicken pot pie seed had been planted and I had no choice but to give in to the pull of its roots. I was a goner.
The recipe – here – is (in my opinion, ridiculously) persnickety, so just do with it what you will. I still believe the humble chicken pot pie should not require this much effort, washing and cooking but you know what? I learned some nice things along the way. For example, that roasting the fennel on its own was a huge waste of time as the fennel was indistinguishable from the rest of the mush of ingredients. And that “refreshing” the haricots verts (that’s green beans for they rest of us) after parboiling them separately in order to – I assume – keep them bright and crisp is unnecessary considering they’re about to be thrown into the mix and baked in a creamy bechamel. But I did appreciate the tangy luxury of the creme fraiche and the bite of the mustard, both of which I’ll use again. So go forth and make chicken pot pie! Just remember that here, as on many roads in life, the shortcuts really will get you there faster.
CHICKEN POT PIE PROVENCAL (AKA A Really Good Chicken Pot Pie That Will Take You All Day)
Here’s the original recipe from Food52 with my edits along the side. Make of it what you will! No matter the road you take to get there, chicken pot pie is never time ill spent. For the record, this made enough filling for 2 huge 9″ springform pans. I ended up freezing half the filling because our little family of 3 can only handle so much chicken pot pie at a time.
- 4 pounds roasting chicken
- 6 carrots, ends trimmed, peeled
- 4 celery stalks, ends trimmed
- 1 leek, white and light green parts only (replaced this with a big onion)
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 2 sprigs tarragon (didn’t use this)
- 3 sprigs thyme
- Fronds from a large fennel bulb (or this)
- 10 ounces pearl onions, peeled (definitely did not use these for the peeling alone; plus I couldn’t find them)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 12 black peppercorns
- Place chicken in a large stockpot.
- Tie whole carrots, leek, celery, and fennel fronds into a bundle and add to the pot with the chicken. Tie tarragon and thyme together and add to the pot. Toss in the peppercorns and the pearl onions, white wine, and 1 tablespoon of salt. Fill with water to just cover the chicken, put over a high heat and bring to a boil.
- Once boiling, lower the heat to maintain a gentle boil for 20 minutes. Raise the heat back to high, to again achieve a rapid boil, turn off the heat, cover and let sit for 1 hour.
- Remove chicken from the pot and set aside to cool. Remove the bundle of vegetables, discard the fennel fronds and leek, and cut the carrots and celery on the bias into bite-sized pieces, reserve.
- Skin the chicken and pull all the meat from the bones, tearing into bite-sized pieces, reserve.
- Strain the cooking liquid through a fine meshed strainer into a clean saucepan, skim any fat from the top and set over medium high heat to reduce to 4 cups of concentrated stock, reserve.
- 3 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 sticks plus 5 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1” pieces.
- 2/3cup ice water
- 1teaspoon kosher salt
- (Ignore the above ingredients [and steps 1. and 2. below] if you, like me, want to use pre-made, store-bought shortcrust or puff pastry)
- Reserved chicken
- Reserved carrots
- Reserved pearl onions
- 10 fingerling potatoes (this is what I mean when I say “persnickety” – you could use regular potatoes, of course)
- 1 large fennel bulb, quartered and roasted (do not bother roasting this ahead of time, honestly)
- 10 ounces button mushrooms, thickly sliced and sauteed
- 1/2pound haricot verts, topped and tailed, blanched, refreshed, and chopped (just parboil the buggers)
- 1 1/2cups frozen green peas, thawed
- 1/4cup diced oven roasted tomatoes (store bought) (you could substitute sundried tomatoes like I did)
- 1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
- 1/4 cup vermouth
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 8 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup creme fraiche
- 4 tablespoons dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped tarragon (couldn’t find this)
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped thyme
- 1 egg, whisked for egg wash
- Salt and pepper
- for the pastry crust – Place the flour into a bowl of a food processor, toss the butter on top, and pulse in short bursts until the butter is reduced to pea sized pieces. Add the salt to the water and stir to dissolve. Pour the water through the feed tube of the processor and pulse until the dough just starts to come together in a ball, you should still see some small butter chunks in the mix.
- Dump the dough out onto a well floured work surface, and divide it into two equal sized balls. Press each ball into a disc about an inch thick, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours, or overnight.
- for the pot pie filling – Pre-heat the oven to 400?. Quarter the fennel bulb, and cut out the wedge shaped core. Toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and place on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven for about 20-25 minutes, until nicely caramelized. Remove from the oven, roughly chop and reserve.
- Place the fingerlings in a pan of cold water to cover. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a gentle boil and cook until just cooked through, about 10-12 minutes. Drain, place on a cutting board, and cut into coins. Toss in a bowl with a touch EVOO and reserve.
- Sauté mushrooms in a little olive oil with salt and pepper, until caramelized. Add mustard seeds and vermouth, and cook until all the liquid has evaporated, reserve.
- Make a roux by melting the butter over medium heat in a medium saucepan, add the flour, and whisk constantly for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the 4 cups of reduced stock, whisk until smooth. Put back on the heat, add the cream and creme fraiche, and cook, whisking, until the sauce thickens to coat the back of a spoon. Whisk in the mustard and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the minced tarragon and thyme, remove from heat to cool slightly.
- Put all filling ingredients (potatoes, tomatoes, onions, carrots, fennel, celery, haricot verts, mushrooms, and chicken) into a large mixing bowl, add the mustard velouté and mix well. Check for seasoning, reserve.
- Whisk the egg in a small bowl.
- Pour the filling to within 1/2” of the top of a 3” deep, 8-9” round soufflé dish (or other such ramekin or earthenware vessel)
- Roll the pastry dough on a well floured surface to about 1/8” thickness.
- Brush egg wash onto the rim of the ramekin and about halfway down the outside of the dish to hold the crust in place while baking.
- Place the rolled pastry on top of the pie, allowing about 2” to drape over the edges. Press into place to adhere to the dish, cut away any excess.
- Brush the entire crust with egg wash, and cut 8 small vent slits in the top. (I didn’t do this.) Put the pie on a sheet tray and place in the 400 degree oven for 30-35 minutes, until the crust is nicely browned, and the contents are seen bubbling through the vent holes. Remove from the oven and serve with a simple green salad.
- If you made it this far, I salute you.
I don’t follow recipes. That sounds disingenuous coming from someone who has encouraged you to follow many recipes on this very blog, I know. But unless I’m baking something (and even when I’m baking something), I look at recipes, I find inspiration in recipes, but rarely do I follow them.
Take this soup. I felt like something hot and easy (oh man, so many jokes right now) and this recipe looked too good to be true. It has 284 glowing comments on Food52 with people saying things like “best soup I’ve ever had.” I scoffed. How could a soup made of nothing but onion, cauliflower and WATER be good at all, let alone “exquisite”?
But I wanted hot and easy (lol) and happened to have a cauliflower (and not much else) in the fridge so I started to make this soup. The unbeliever and tinkerer that I am, I sweated some garlic in with the onion the recipe called for. Not a big deal, right? Right. I kept on plowing through, not measuring anything, kind of assuming I knew what the recipe wanted me to do. It’s just a cauliflower and some water, right? Turns out actually following the instructions was important. Because after pureeing my soup for an inordinate amount of time, it was not “rich” tasting or even edible looking. It looked like a watery, clumpy mess of cauliflower and water. Just as I’d suspected!! A flaw!
Not one to throw in the towel (read: empty fridge + no desire for Seamless, god bless it), I took a good look at the recipe. There it was, bullet point number 3: “Working in batches, purée the soup in a blender to a very smooth, creamy consistency.” Ok, ok. So they wanted to me puree in batches? Ugh. More work.
But I really wanted to see what the fuss was about (“Such a delicate and beautiful soup!”, “The soup is so perfect and so easy it’s become a weeknight staple.”), so I pureed in batches. And?
Bliss. The consistency completely changed. The soup was elevated from something I wouldn’t feed a dog to a rich, silky, velvety ode to cauliflower. I didn’t follow the rest of bullet point 3 (or any of bullet point 4, which involved letting the soup sit for 20 minutes [who has that kind of time?] and reheating it with more water) and the soup was delicious anyway. We ate it with fresh, hot bread and a drizzle of truffle oil, which was totally unnecessary but definitely appreciated. And just like that, a cauliflower and some water became an exquisite soup and I became a half-hearted believer in the beauty of a recipe.
SILKY CAULIFLOWER SOUP
Here it is, in all it’s glory, what Food52 calls “Paul Bertolli’s Cauliflower Soup“. I’m just going to post it in its entirety (with my edits on the side). Feel free to tinker but don’t forget to at least read the recipe (and puree in batches!).
- 3 tablespoons olive oil (just a big ole splash)
- 1 medium onion (6 ounces), sliced thin (I used 2 shallots and 3 heads garlic)
- 1 head very fresh cauliflower (about 1-1/2 pounds), broken into florets (I’m not sure if my cauliflower could fairly be called “very fresh”)
- Salt, to taste (you’ll need a good deal of salt, I’d say at least 3 teaspoons)
- 5 1/2 cups water, divided (I’m not sure if I used all of this…)
- Extra virgin olive oil, to taste (or truffle oil!)
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Warm the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Sweat the onion in the olive oil over low heat without letting it brown for 15 minutes.
- Add the cauliflower, salt to taste, and 1/2 cup water. Raise the heat slightly, cover the pot tightly and stew the cauliflower for 15 to 18 minutes, or until tender. Then add another 4 1/2 cups hot water, bring to a low simmer and cook an additional 20 minutes uncovered.
- Working in batches, purée the soup in a blender to a very smooth, creamy consistency. Let the soup stand for 20 minutes. In this time it will thicken slightly.
- Thin the soup with 1/2 cup hot water. Reheat the soup. Serve hot, drizzled with a thin stream of extra-virgin olive oil (or truffle oil) and freshly ground black pepper. (Note: I didn’t add more water.)
The title of this post is so New England in autumn it hurts. Summer tans are all but faded and the last nice days are slipping away as the chill sets in. Heavy blankets, fallen leaves, my loud and constant complaining – these are just a few sure bets for fall in New England. Another thing you can put your money on is pumpkin. Pumpkin has seeped into almost every aspect of life, from stoops to lattes. I even saw a pumpkin coffee drink on a menu in London last weekend (just when I thought I’d escaped!). So, like my cries of woe, the pumpkin must be embraced ’cause it’s here to stay.
In that strain, I present you a pumpkin recipe so good you may forgive autumn and give in (but never, ever to the latte). This recipe is just a variation on the Actually Squash Cake I used to make on the regular when I lived in Sydney, where fresh pumpkin is a mainstay of the local diet. To be honest, it wasn’t the season so much as pure supply that inspired these muffins. The whole wheat flour (so rarely seen on The Shortlists) came about because we’re staying at my parents’ house where the flour supply is unreliable; the canned pumpkin because their pantry is a five-cans-deep nuclear winter storeroom.
Before I start going on about how cold I was last night, let me cut to the chase and give you the recipe – arguably the only pumpkin muffin/bread/loaf/cake recipe you’ll ever need. Moist, light, flavorful, festive and at least nominally healthy. Everyone who tries them loves them. Meaning fall just got a little more bearable. If only because my mouth is too full to complain.
WHOLE WHEAT PUMPKIN MUFFINS
You can use white instead of whole wheat flour but I think the whole wheat really makes a difference. Feel free to mess around with additions like spices, dried or fresh cranberries, pecans, raisins, etc. This recipe makes enough for 12+ muffins, two layers of a cake or two loaves. I doubled it and made 12 muffins, a loaf and one 9″ cake, which I’m planning to frost with cream cheese frosting but it would be great with chocolate frosting, too.
2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
spices optional (but recommended!): 1 teaspoon cinnamon, some nutmeg, some cardamom
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup oil (canola, sunflower, etc)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 can (15 oz. or 2 cups) pumpkin
optional: chocolate chips, nuts, dried fruit
Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Grease a muffin tin, two cake pans or two loaf tins or a combination.
In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients: the whole wheat flour, the sugar, the baking soda and powder, the spices and the salt.
In another bowl, whisk the wet ingredients: the eggs, oil and vanilla.
Gently mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just barely combined. Then gently fold in the pumpkin puree and anything else (chocolate chips, etc.) until uniform.
Scoop the dough into prepared pans and bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (I just eyeballed it; but for the muffins I’d guesstimate around 12 minutes; loaves around 30 and cake around 40. Just check as you go!). When the cakes are done, carefully remove the cakes/muffins/loaves from their pans and cool on a wire rack. Devour or freeze once cool.
It’s early September but NYC is holding on to the heat. If I had my way, winter would be a place you visit, summer would drag on forever and salads for dinner would never go out of season. Luckily, this salad, won’t heat up your kitchen too much in summer and, with its boiled potatoes and sturdy vegetables, holds up to autumn’s chill just fine.
I first came across this dish in a (now-closed) cafe on my old block in Sydney and have been making rifts on it ever since. It’s easy to improvise with and easier to love. Even my almost-four-year-old (!!) loves (most of) it. It requires almost no cooking and not a whole lot of chopping either. It’s hearty enough to be dinner but light enough not to weigh you down. Perfect for any time of year.
Smoked Trout Salad with Potatoes, Fennel, Peas and Dill
Adjust the quantities and ingredients as you like. It’s best to eyeball it anyway. Serves 2 for dinner; 4 as 1st course
1-2 smoked trout fillets (or salmon or whatever fish you like)
2 medium waxy potatoes, chopped into 1/2″ chunks
1/2 bag frozen peas, defrosted
1 large bulb fennel, cored and chopped
1 bunch fresh dill, fronds pulled apart
2 big handfuls greens (mixed greens will do fine but I like butter lettuce or lamb’s ear)
extra virgin olive oil, salt & pepper
optional additions: croutons, pitted green olives, parsley, basil
Boil the chunked potatoes in salted water for about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool. To defrost peas quickly, pour them into the boiling water then immediately drain.
In a large bowl mix the greens, herbs, cooled potatoes, peas, chopped fennel and any other ingredient you want (croutons, olives, etc.). Sprinkle generously with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper (to taste). Mix well then serve salad in individual bowls. Divide the smoked fish fillet into equal sized portions and roughly crumble on top of each salad bowl.
We’ve had quite the winter in Boston. It was cold, it was bitter and now that it’s finally over I can’t help but wear sandals and leave windows open despite the chilly April wind. I don’t care if it’s too cold – we survived a 5-month arctic night, the last two months of which were particularly bleak weather-wise – we deserve to celebrate any way we want.
This salad is kind of like sandals in April. A little too early, but everyone’s too distracted by the evening sunshine to notice.
This dish screams summer for so many reasons: it uses stone fruit and fresh herbs, and requires no cooking and only 5 minutes of prep. Plus it’s super light, refreshing, and delicious.
So while my toes may be cold, my mouth is happy. And when summer comes? I’ll be ready.
PEACH, MOZZARELLA & FRESH MINT SALAD
Makes enough for a side salad for 4 or a light lunch for 2.
A few ripe peaches
1 ball fresh mozzarella (the kind in liquid)
leaves from a few sprigs of mint, torn
sale & freshly ground pepper
extra virgin olive oil
Slice the peaches thinly. Slice the ball of mozzarella, too. Arrange the slices on a plate. Sprinkle with the torn mint leaves. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle generously with good olive oil. Enjoy!
This is one of those recipes that you have to have on hand. It’s delicious, it’s perfect (better?) as leftovers, it’s quick (especially if you use rotisserie chicken), it’s good for you and it’s comfort like you haven’t needed since the last April frost.
I used to think that meat pie was like pizza – even when it’s bad it’s good. But then I moved to Australia, the land where meat pies are breakfast (and lunch and…dinner) and are, more often than not, pretty disgusting. Sure there are the Bourke Street Bakeries and true mum-and-pop shops, but, on the whole, they are inedible, defrosted puddles of goop inside stale pastry served with ketchup on top. I know, way harsh Tai. But seriously.
Back in the U.S., straight into the sticky hot malaise of summer, comfort food was the last thing on my mind. Hell, food was the last thing on my mind as I struggled (struggle? am struggling?) to deal with all the enormous (super enormous? gigantic?) changes in our lives.
But now. It’s March. It’s cold. This winter in Boston has been one of the worst on record. I wrote the first part of this post in September, almost six months ago. So much has changed since September. For one, more changes, all of them good. This long, frigid winter was my big thaw. And I’m coming out the other side ready, finally, to cook again.
So while we wait for the mountains of snow to melt, here’s an old favorite to keep you warm until spring. We could all use it.
Classic Chicken Pot Pie
Makes 8 individual or 1 large pot pie. It’s great to make ahead and freeze, unbaked, until you’re ready to defrost and bake. You can also assemble and bake them a few days in advance, store them in the fridge, and reheat when ready. Enjoy.
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
8 mushrooms, chopped
4 tablespoons (50 grams) butter
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 cups milk
2 cups chicken stock
3 cups cooked chicken, shredded (see directions if using uncooked chicken)
3 tablespoons dry sherry (or white wine)
3/4 cups frozen peas
2 teaspoons fresh (or 1 tsp dried) thyme
Store-bought puff pastry (or homemade biscuit dough/shortcrust)
Preheat oven to 400F/200C.
If using uncooked chicken, boil pieces of chicken in the stock for 10 minutes, reserve meat and broth separately. Continue with recipe:
In a large pot, fry the carrots, onion and celery in a bit of oil for 5 minutes or until tender; season with salt and pepper. While veggies fry, shred the chicken with your fingers and set aside in a large bowl. When veggies are done, transfer them to the bowl with the chicken and set aside but don’t wash the bowl.
In the now empty pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk constantly for 1 minute then whisk in the chicken broth, milk, thyme and any accumulated chicken juices. Simmer for a minute or two, until the sauce fully thickens; season with salt and pepper and add the sherry (or wine).
Mix the chicken and veggies into the pot with the sauce and add the peas. Pour the mixture into individual ramekins or any high-sided baking dish. Cover dish/es with pastry and bake for 20 – 30 minutes until the pastry is golden.