Sassy Savory Broccoli Muffins

MY FRIEND A tells me that age 28 is a turning point in one’s life — a chance to make new decisions, find new directions, and explore new territories (both emotional and physical).  Astrologically, this is known as Saturn Return, a dimensional shift “when Saturn returns by transit to the place in the zodiac he occupied when you were born.”  This isn’t to say it’s a return to infancy, but instead is a chance to reevaluate, reconsider, and move forwards in new and potentially unexpected ways.

Certainly, I’m finding this year to be exactly that.  2012 has, in many ways, been a return to a very basic and humane part of myself, a part of me that has felt buried beneath the demands and expectations of graduate school.  This spring, the 6th graders I taught in Morocco graduated high school, the undergraduates I worked to admit to my alma mater graduated with their BA’s (some with their BS’s), and I earned my MA.  Not only have I seen two classes through these important milestones on their educational journeys, but I saw myself through something I wasn’t sure was going to finish — or was going to finish the way I wanted it to.  Indeed, this is the year I decided to stop halfway through a journey — something that is uncharacteristic for me, but feels completely right.  Graduate school, or at least the program I was in, wasn’t right for me. And instead of suffering through another four to five years of disillusionment and disappointment, I stepped back and am reevaluating what my next steps will be.

It’s very Whitney, I hope, this refusal to settle for anything less than the best: the best for me and the best of me.

So now, tucked into my parents’ Texas house while my mother prepares for minor surgery, I’ve taken over the kitchen.  And one of the first things I wanted to make was a sassy muffin with a surprising secret: a broccoli center.  This muffin makes you rethink muffins.  You’ll give it the fish-eye at first, but then you’ll sit back and just enjoy.  Because the surprise of it is that, despite first glance, this muffin is a miracle.

The original recipe is here, but I’ve tweaked it to be a bit healthier and a bit coarser.  Instead of a butter base, here’s a cornmeal base that provides an interesting contrast to the smoothness of the broccoli heads while giving the cayenne some interesting pockets in which to hide.  It’ll surprise you, delight you, and demand your focus.  And, while you’re at it, these are great muffins to talk major life decisions over.  Just saying.


Sassy Savory Broccoli Muffins

  • 1 cup cornmeal (I used white cornmeal, so the turmeric would have more of a visual effect)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup milk
  • 12 broccoli florets, trimmed to fit in a muffin cup with room to spare

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease your muffin tin (this recipe makes 12 regular-sized muffins, so plan accordingly).

Bring a pot of water to boil and blanch the broccoli for about 3 minutes.  Rinse in cold water, pat dry with paper towels, and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, mix your dry ingredients.  Add the eggs, canola oil, and milk; mix well to form a dough.

Place one heaping spoonful of batter in each muffin cup; press down with your fingers to fill the base of the cup.  In each, stand a single broccoli floret.  Top with the remaining batter, dividing it evenly between the muffin cups (or else be ready for one HUGE muffin and a series of flat ones).  It doesn’t need to look perfect, but each muffin needs to have a base as well as a top.

Bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown and a little stiff to the touch.  Allow them to cool before eating — it’ll be hard, trust me! — but give yourself leave to eat them all in one day.



“Whuh-Oh Wow” Fudge + Agave-Balsamic Syrup

THE HOLIDAY season is upon us.  Brunches (!), lunches, dinners, and other holiday gatherings are calling.  Potlucks require inventive recipes, culinary ingenuity and, in my case, last-minute recipe retrieval.  Why is it that, when faced with a potluck or gift exchange, I always wait until the last minute to figure out what my contribution is going to be?!

But no longer!  With this pretty fail-safe recipe — you just need to set aside about 3 hours to get it made; which gives you plenty of time to gussy up and wrap that last-minute-found-in-the-back-of-the-closet gift — you’ll have a hit to take with you to any party!

It took me quite a while to come up with this recipe, I will admit that.  I initially intended to make peanut butter bacon maple fudge, but realized I was going to a soiree attended largely by vegetarians.  Undeterred, I looked up a few spicy fudge recipes, but nothing was really leaping out at me.  So in g-chat conversation with my friend JM (he’s a big fan of cinnamon and vanilla together), we came up with the idea of balancing spicy with a bit of a sweeter tang.  Voila!  Chili powder, meet balsamic vinegar.

It might take a moment to wrap your head around that one.  But this is where the genius lies: it takes your palate a moment to get it all, too.  First there’s the heady chocolate of the fudge; then the sudden onset of the chili/cayenne mix (“whuh-oh, wow” is how someone described it); then the agave-balsamic syrup sets in with just enough tang to keep it interesting but enough sweet to soothe the chili down.

So if you’re attending (or hosting) a decadent holiday brunch — or if you’re home alone with a mountain of work — this should make a star cameo.  I’m just saying.

“Whuh-Oh Wow” Fudge

  • 12 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 4 oz dark chocolate bar, chopped   I used Ghirardelli’s 100% cocoa for balance
  • 14 oz (1 can) sweetened condensed milk
  • dash salt
  • pat butter
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp chili powder *
  • 1 tsp cayenne *

* Adjust spice levels for those with more restrained palates

Line an 8″ or 9″ baking dish with waxed paper and set aside.

Melt all ingredients in a heavy saucepan over low heat.  Stir occasionally.  Remove from heat when melted and smooth.

Pour into lined baking dish.  Cover with foil and refrigerate until firm (2-3 hours should be fine).

Agave-Balsamic Syrup

In a small saucepan, bring the agave nectar and balsamic vinegar to a boil.

Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 9-10 minutes, swirling occasionally (there will be bubbles on the surface).  Remove from heat when the syrup is thick enough to coat a spoon, but not too thick.  It will continue to thicken as it cools.

Place in a jar to keep for later.  I poured my batch in a salad dressing bottle and dropped a cinnamon stick in there, for easy stirring.

NOW, the fun part.

Cut the fudge into squares and refrigerate in an airtight container.  When you’re ready to serve/eat the fudge, pour out the agave-balsamic syrup into a small bowl and garnish with a cinnamon stick.  Using the cinnamon stick, drizzle (or paint) syrup onto your fudge square.