Now that the long, LONG Presidential election process has finally drawn to a star-spangled conclusion, let’s all take a big breath, let it out slowly, and RELAX. Winter’s here, and it’s a great time to settle in with some simple comfort food: soup and muffins.
I admit, I’ve never been a great soup-maker. Bread, yes. Cookies and cake and pizza, fine. Stir-fries and curries, stew and anything on the grill, I’m in my element. But somehow, the fine art of soup preparation has thus far escaped me.
The exception is three soups that I’ve managed to nail, and feel comfortable serving in public. All three are similar, which you’ll deduce from their names: Creamy Tomato; Cream of Broccoli; and Pumpkin soup.
Fry onions. Add broth and the veggie of choice, and simmer. Thicken with flour, if desired. Add herbs/spices as directed, plus milk or cream. Get out my favorite tool, the stick blender, and purée. All of this I can handle.
It’s the chef’s art of the perfectly diced carrot, the bouquet garni, the tasting, adjusting seasoning, adding a soupçon of this and a pinch of that… I don’t get it. But I don’t have to, so long as I have my three never-fail favorites.
I’ve also discovered that all three play nicely with oatmeal muffins. There’s something about the very slightly sweet, vaguely nutty flavor of oats that complements anything in the vegetable family. Moist and tender, a pat of butter takes these oven-warm muffins to a new level. And served with soup, they make the perfect light lunch.
Are you a soup wannabe? Try this Pumpkin Soup, a curry-scented, cayenne-heated toast to cold weather. While the soup’s simmering, make The Simplest Muffins to serve alongside; they’ll go from mixing bowl to soup-side in less than 30 minutes.
First, sauté onions and garlic in butter, till the onions are golden.
Add spices, and cook for a couple of minutes, to bring out the spices' flavor. Then pour in chicken stock...
...and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes.
Stir in canned pumpkin, then milk. Heat the soup for about 5 minutes without letting it boil.
Purée with a stick blender; or transfer to a food processor or blender, and process till smooth.
If you have enough mental coordination, you can get the muffins into the oven while the soup is doing its 20-minute simmer.
Combine the dry ingredients; mix well.
Put the milk, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla into a bowl or cup. A measuring cup works well here (I like my Perfect Beaker), as you can measure the milk and oil into it before adding the eggs. You may also choose to use softened butter in place of the oil; if so, just add it to the dry ingredients when you add the milk mixture.
Whisk to combine.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, stirring just till combined.
You'll have a thick batter.
I like to sprinkle coarse white sugar, mixed with cinnamon, on top of the muffins before baking. Two tablespoons of sugar shaken in a jar with 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon makes just the right amount.
Line a muffin pan with papers, and grease the papers. This prevents the papers from sticking to the muffins—SO annoying.
A muffin scoop makes short (and mess-free) work of dolloping the batter into the cups.
Fill the muffin cups fairly full, though not to overflowing.
Sprinkle with the cinnamon-sugar.
And bake till they're a light, golden brown.
Remove from the oven, and tilt in the pan to cool.
What a nice-looking muffin, eh?
Lovely, craggy blonde interior.
Buy vs. Bake
Buy: 7th Avenue Donut Shop, Brooklyn, NY: Homemade bran muffin, $1.25
Bake at home: Homemade oatmeal muffin, 19¢