Jan 01 2011

Healthier Cranberry Nut Muffins

Published by at 7:26 am under Food,Recipes

A big giant HAPPY NEW YEAR to everyone!!!!

But now, my darling readers, it’s time for some seriousness.  I know many of you have made resolutions to eat better or exercise more or just be healthier and that’s really awesome but I know many of you won’t keep them.  I’m a scientist, it’s second nature for me to take in data and think about what it means.  I look at data like how many treadmills are in use at my gym on January 2 compared to February 2 or the ratio of produce-filled grocery carts to Little Debbie-filled grocery carts on January 2 compared to February 2 and I know that people’s resolutions don’t last very long.

We’re guilty of the same thing in our house.  Last year, I planned to drink more water and I can’t even tell you where the pretty water bottle I bought is right now.  And every few weeks I ask Greg if we should just cancel his gym membership because he hasn’t been going–to his credit (and credit card), he always says no.  But one thing we have made a habit of is to incorporate more healthful ingredients into our diet.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  You read the Christmas cookies posts, you know I bring things like pumpkin rolls and pumpkin cheesecake when the occasion calls and, in the next few days, there will be a post about fettuccine alfredo that’s only made healthy by adding squash to it.  Obviously we’re not committed to being 100% healthy 100% of the time but I am pretty consistent about using alternative ingredients and healthy add-ins when the recipe allows.

After Greg’s father died at a young age after a relatively short but miserable and painful battle with colon cancer, I vowed to change our routines.  You can change your predisposition to things like cancer, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes by making small changes in your diet.  We switched to 100% whole wheat breads, brown rice, and whole wheat pasta although Greg gets pretty cranky about the off-putting chewiness of whole wheat pasta so that’s not an all-the-time switch.  And, it’s become a habit for me to substitute at least 1/2 of the flour in a recipe for whole wheat flour.  There are very few recipes where this substitution can’t be made and it’s hardly noticeable in baked goods like muffins and cookies or other flour-heavy dishes like pancakes.

Whole wheat flour is not as processed, retaining the germ and bran part of the grain that is stripped away in refining white flour.  This adds nutrients, texture, flavor, and whole-grain-derived fiber that is associated with a lower risk for colon cancer.  Whole grain does have a higher density than white flour and will result in a denser/heavier baked product than if you were using white flour alone.  I find that for most recipes, the best compromise between health and taste is a 1:1 ratio of whole to refined.

For a recipe like this muffin one that takes add-ins well, I also add some wheat germ and flax seeds for added macronutrients and fiber.  Finally, the use of whole, fresh cranberries and chopped walnuts adds flavor, texture, healthy fats and antioxidants without added sugar.  Normally, I’d also sub applesauce for the butter/oil but we didn’t have any.

Cranberry Nut Muffins
Adapted from Cranberry Pecan Muffins in Pie the Sky
Makes 12 muffins

1/2 cup granulated sugar1 cup cranberries, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1 tsp almond extract
1 large egg
1 cup Greek-style yogurt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 Tbsps wheat germ
1 1/2 Tbsp flax seeds, whole or ground
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Measure the sugar and reserve 1 Tbsp. In another bowl, toss together cranberries and nuts with almond extract and reserved Tbsp sugar.   Set aside.  In a large bowl, whisk together egg, yogurt, oil (or applesauce), remaining sugar, wheat germ and flax seeds.  In another bowl, combine flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.  Stir dry ingredients into wet ingredients; add cranberry-nut mixture and stir just until combined.  Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling them nearly full.  Bake 20 to 22 minutes or until the muffins are golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

The result of all this healthy tinkering is nothing like those cakey muffins you get at Starbucks or Safeway (or the Starbucks in the Safeway).  These are not fluffy dessert muffins; these are start-the-day breakfast muffins or rugged trailblazing snack muffins that keep your colon free of nasty polyps (anyone remember that commercial for colon screenings where the guy was dressed up in a giant polyp costume?  That’s not appropriate for a food blog, is it?  Sorry.  It was a funny commercial.  Get screened if you 45 or older.)  They freeze well and will help you get your New Year off to a healthier start.

Now, get off my treadmill, I’ve been waiting for an hour.

P.S. Check out the silicone baking cups I got for Christmas!  Ok, so I bought some for my sister then needed them for myself so I passed the idea on to my Grandma so I could have my own.  I get the pretty presentation of paper liners without buying and throwing them away over and over again and the muffins pop right out of those things!  Plus, dishwasher safe!  Score!

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