I usually cite July 2009 and pasta with fresh sauce as the moment when I learned how to cook. Although that summer did mark the point when I started to step away from packets of instant mashed potatoes and into the world of actual potatoes, drizzled with olive oil and roasted with fresh rosemary, I actually learned the mechanics of cooking several years earlier. In 7th grade, I spent three months in Mrs. Annoni's family consumer science class, a tired-looking beige room ringed by ranges and sinks. We started off with slice and bake cookies, probably to reassure Mrs. Annoni that we could operate the ovens without burning down the school. Next we moved on to Ting-a-Lings, a Christmas cookie made by mixing chow mein noodles and peanuts with melted chocolate and butterscotch chips, and caramel pull-aparts made from refrigerated biscuit dough. There were also turkey enchiladas, complete with a condensed cream of chicken soup sauce formulated to appeal to Minnesota taste buds, and a homemade version of Orange Julius.
It's easy to look back at the curriculum and decry the prevalence of processed foods and sugar and the lack of vegetables and whole grains, but Mrs. Annoni was constrained by a 45 minute class period and a tight budget. And there was more than chow mein noodle cookies and blender drinks. We roasted a class turkey and made stock from the carcass. We made apple muffins from scratch, grating fresh apples on battered box graters. I learned that you need to pack brown sugar when you measure it and that you can't blindly rely on a recipe's recommended baking time. I got in the habit of completely reading a recipe before making it--we would spend the entire class period before a lab studying the recipe, making sure we had all of the ingredients and watching Mrs. Annoni demonstrate any unfamiliar techniques. Those apple muffins taught me the fundamentals I needed for my yearlong bread adventure and many batches of biscuits, popovers, and pretzel rolls.
But despite how it all began, I don't bake muffins all that often. I need a breakfast with some heft--muffins are delicious but insubstantial, the kind of food that leaves you hungry by 9 am. Last week I finally hit upon the answer: muffins for dinner. Banana chocolate chip or pumpkin muffins would work with hash browns and eggs, but they're too sweet to pair with most entrees. Instead, this is a recipe for a basic, almost savory whole-wheat muffin, just enough to fill out a bowl of curry lentil soup into a meal. If you prefer sweeter muffins, or if you want to eat the leftovers for breakfast, these are lovely when spread with honey or raspberry jam.
Adapted from the Hillbilly Housewife
Yield: 12 muffins
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 1 cup milk
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.
In a medium bowl, lightly beat the egg. Stir in the oil, milk, brown sugar, and salt and mix until well-combined. Add the baking powder and flours and mix just until the flour is completely incorporated into the batter.
Spoon the batter evenly into the prepared muffin cups.
Bake for about 20 minutes, or until muffins are lightly browned. Remove from pan immediately and place on a wire rack to cool.
Store completely cooled muffins in an airtight container at room temperature.