28 February 2011

Family recipe Monday: muffins and popovers

Bird runes on the front porch

For straight-out mental exhaustion on a grand scale, the sort that makes your loved ones seriously debate the merits of having you placed in a nice home for the bewildered for a while, very little stacks up against unrelenting weeks of grant-writing interspersed with a few building emergencies. Times being what they are, there is no let-up to grant-writing in sight. In order to be the flagship institution I think we can be within the next ten years, we absolutely must re-think, re-plan, re-tool, and find the resources to do that. But that work is in addition to, not instead of, everything else that is going on. We plan strategies. We plan budgets. We teach and grade and advise. We serve on committees. And we write grants.

On Friday we moved most of the bones of a mammoth from the old building to the new one. Yeah, they're big. And they had to go down a story's worth of outdoor steps. In the snow. That led to a great discussion on how we should be commemorating these events for the participants--grand-tour-type rock band T-shirts, or Scout-type badges? It's been an astounding year when viewed in retrospect. Opened a new building. Moved steel cases with our bare (OK, work-gloved) hands. (My grandmother always did want me to wear gloves during the day....) Moved a library and a half. Packed thousands and thousands of rocks and fossils. Bought a forklift (for this I went to graduate school?). Mopped up a flood. Mopped up other leaks. Gave tours to a couple of thousand people even before the building opened. Moved giant sculptures into place. And, in the process, got blessed with one of the best groups of students, faculty and staff ever, anywhere.

My new plan in to start bringing in some kind of baked goods every Friday to keep everyone happy, or at least fed. I'll post a running chronicle here on Thursdays. With any luck and a few good breaks in the weather, we can get this move completed by the summer. I've posted some of my favorite cookie and muffin recipes already; it's time to start baking them for the troops here.

This is another of my favorite big-batch mix recipes. Nice to have on hand at the end of a frenetic week, and easy to load up with fruit so that we can call it a health food....

Oatmeal mix

7 cups flour
3½ cups sugar
2 T salt
¼ cup baking powder
2¼ cups shortening
18-oz. box rolled oats

Combine dry ingredients in very large bowl. Sift. Using a pastry blender, cut shortening into mix until mix is consistency of cornmeal. Store in airtight container in cool, dry place. To measure, spoon lightly into cup and level off with spatula. Yield: 22 cups mix.

Oatmeal muffins

1 egg
½ cup milk
3 cups Oatmeal Mix (above)

Beat egg until light. Add milk and mix well. Pour into oatmeal mix. Stir just enough to moisten, Fill greased or papered pans 2/3 full. Bake at 425* F for 20 minutes. Yield: 1 dozen.

Variations: Add ¾ cup chopped dates, ¾ cup simmered raisins, 1 cup blueberries, ¾ cup chopped nuts, or 1 cup diced apple and ½ tsp cinnamon.

Popovers don't keep long enough to be brought to work. They are steam-puffed and collapse soon if they're not eaten first thing. But they're wonderful dinner breads and not all that difficult to make. You need the right kind of baking pan and a very hot oven. You can experiment with them a bit; savory popovers with onion and dill are especially nice with seafood.

Perfect popovers

2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
1 T salad oil

In mixing bowl, combine eggs, milk, flour and salt. Beat 1 ½ minutes with rotary or electric beater. Add salad oil; beat ½ minute. Don't overbeat. Fill 6 to 8 well-greased custard cups ½ full. Bake in very hot oven (475* F) for 15 minutes; reduce heat to moderate (350* F) and bake 25 to 30 minutes or until browned and firm. A few minutes before removing from oven, prick each popover with skewer or two-tined fork to let steam escape. For drier popovers, turn off oven and leave them in for 30 minutes, door ajar. Serve hot.

Happy Monday. Four weeks until we see cranes in the skies....

Cranes at sunrise.

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