Thursday, March 26, 2009

Veggie Might: Who Wants a Vegan Bran Muffin?!

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

I do! Seriously. I do.

My mom was that mom: first on the block to substitute carob for chocolate, rarely bought sweet cereal or pop, and always, always packet carrot sticks and an apple in my Tupperware lunch box instead of cookies or cupcakes. (I only got Ho-Hos on field trip days.)

We were not wholly deprived of junk food or butter- and cheese-laden comfort food, but a frugal, borderline health nut, Mom liked to make her mom’s meat-and-potatoes Midwestern recipes (and my Dad’s Southern fried family classics) healthier whenever possible and cheap pretty much always.

The New York Times’ ran a terrific article in the Health section last week called, “Who’s Cooking? (For Health, It Matters).It sites a public health study that claimed whoever does the cooking is the “nutritional gatekeeper” of the home and determines the health and eating choices of the family “not just home meals but children’s lunches, snacks eaten outside the home, and even what family members order at restaurants.”

A further study at Cornell University found that five “cooking personalities” emerged when the researchers asked “family cooks about their personalities, cooking methods, and favorite ingredients.”

“Giving” cooks love to cook, especially comfort food and baked goods; “methodical” cooks follow cookbooks to the letter; “competitive” cooks live to impress; “healthy” cooks focus more on nutrition than flavor; and “innovative” cooks thrive on experimentation which, according to the study, “lead[s] to more healthful cooking.”

I’m pretty sure that Mom rides the line between Giving and Healthy. For all of her attempts to pump my brother and sister and me full of celery and homemade granola, she alternately took pity on us with fried chicken and super-duper hamburger pie. Dad swooped in on the weekends for Pancake Saturday and Grilled Cheese Sunday.

Which explains my own split personality. I scored Innovative with Healthy tendencies. (You too can take the corresponding cooking personality quiz!)

Seven times out of ten, I will make the healthy choice when choosing what to eat—at home or out—but I rarely will I sacrifice taste for nutrition. Luckily, I live in NYC, mostly cook for myself, and am rarely faced with that choice. (Those other three times, I order nachos from the Chinese taco joint down the street.)

I share Mom’s zeal for cooking healthy meals and desserts, but I take great pains to make the “good for you” parts barely detectable. I like to experiment with unusual ingredients and create my own recipes. And there is no end to my pleasure when a hard-core meat eater raves about one of my vegetarian dishes, or, even better, people are fooled by my vegan baked goods. I love showing that animal products are not necessary for food to taste fantastic.

And speaking of fantastic, it took some trial and error, but, using Joy of Vegan Baking as my guide, I made some pretty amazing bran muffins this weekend. They’re a hold over from my deep-fried granola childhood, and I love them still. When not dry as cardboard, raisin-free, or banana-free, I heart bran muffins.

My first attempt was cardboardesque. Instead of using a powdered egg replacer, I tried the unfamiliar-to-me flaxseed egg replacement method detailed by the cookbook. The idea is to add water to ground flax seeds in the food processor to create viscose goo similar to egg whites.

Well. What an omega-3-rich mess. First of all, I only had whole flax seeds. No problem, I thought, I’ll just take them for a twirl in the coffee grinder. Not so fast there, Speedy. They immediately clumped, slowing my grinder to a wheeze.

In the mini-food processor, the clump remained mostly whole seeds, but I added the requisite water anyway. The goo began to ooze after a few minutes, but the seeds never became “ground.” Oh well, I thought, I’m sure it’s fine.

Not fine. The batter was coarse and clumpy, resulting in coarse, clumpy-looking muffins. Plus, the 3/4-cup of sugar was just not quite enough to take the bran muffins from health food to good food.

The original recipe also called for (sigh) raisins, which I replaced with glorious sliced almonds. I have nothing bad to say about the almonds. They were the good part.

Rinse. Repeat with powdered egg replacer and 1 cup of sugar. Viva la difference!

Moist, chewy, just the right amount of sweet, and not too dense, Batch Two was straight from Crunchy Granola Heaven. If the other corduroy bell-bottomed kids could taste these, they’d want to trade for their Zingers and Sno-balls.

Sorry, no thanks, I’d say. Tell your mom to make you your own bran muffins.

Tasty Almond Bran Muffins
Adapted from The Joy of Vegan Baking
Recipe yields 24 muffins
Serving size: 2 muffins

2 1/2 c wheat bran
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 c brown sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
6 tsp powdered egg replacer (like Ener-G; equivalent to 4 eggs)
1/2 c water
1 cup soymilk
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup sliced almonds

1) Preheat oven to 400°F.

2) In a large mixing bowl, combine wheat bran, wheat flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt.

3) In a large Pyrex measuring cup, combine soymilk and canola oil. Whisk together.

4) Add egg replacer to a food processor or blender. Puree until it's frothy. Pour into a small bowl.

5) Carefully pour soymilk mixture into egg foam. Stirring super-gently until it's all combined. Add almonds.

6) Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Stir until dry ingredients are just moist, and everything is barely combined. Don't overdo it, or risk a weird muffin consistency.

7) Distribute batter evenly into a greased muffin tin or muffin cups within a muffin tin. "If you have any empty cups in your pan, fill with water to ensure even baking." Bake until finished in the middle. (Use a toothpick to check.)

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
234 calories, 9.4g fat $0.30

2 1/2 c wheat bran: 300 calories, 5g fat, $.78
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour: 600 calories, 6g fat, $.54
1 c brown sugar: 837 calories, 0g fat, $.57
2 1/2 tsp baking soda: negligible calories and fat, $.06
1 tsp salt: negligible calories and fat, $.02
6 tsp Ener-G egg replacer: 60 calories, 0g fat, $.15
1 cup soymilk: 90 calories, 4.5g fat, $.40
1/3 c canola oil: 660 calories, 74.6 g fat, $.42
1/2 cup sliced almonds: 264.5, 22.5g fat, $.86
Totals: 2811.5 calories, 112.6g fat, $3.70
Per serving: 234 calories, 9.4g fat $.30 (2 muffins)

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