October 16, 2013 at 6:52 am

Maureen Tisdale

Let's Talk Food: 'Bad Muffins' and surprise endings

You can go too far trying to infuse nutrients and lower calories, like in these muffins — which my husband would only eat if frosting was slathered on 'em. So much for healthy. (Maureen Tisdale / The Detroit News)

As I wrote last week, my fifth attempt at a hand-held breakfast for my husband bombed so badly he smeared frosting on them to choke them down – but there’s a reason I’m sharing the recipe anyway.

This is a story with a twist.

My husband first tried this breakfast muffin, which relies heavily on banana for sweetness and water for moisture, when I forced it upon him hot out of the oven while he was trying to leave for work.

“Good?” I asked eagerly.

“Um, not bad,” he murmured with a mouthful, trying to gather his belongings and get out the door with minimum muss and fuss.

Later — probably the second or third day I’d proudly tucked the muffins in his lunch bag — the whole truth came out.

“Just so you know,” he said with the nervous air of a husband trying to find the sweet spot between not offending his wife and not having to eat something unpleasant, “those muffins aren’t nearly as good once cold.”

“Uh huh,” I said grinning, grabbing something to write down his comments. I’m vastly entertained by his efforts to be polite, yet heard, when I make something he doesn’t enjoy.

“They’re quite spongy; spongy isn’t a breakfast bar,” he continued. “They’re moist, and they’re heavy. They have a consistency like banana bread but don’t taste like it —they’re much more bland.”

“Uh huh,” I said, scribbling.

Not knowing whether I was actually listening between my uh huh-ing and scribbling — and quite likely afraid of his politeness being mistaken for a lack of conviction — he clarified: “I don’t want you to make them again.”

That made me laugh out loud, at which point he knew he was heard and was free to turn back to encouraging: “By the way, I really like the second one you made…” — a not-too-subtle effort to turn my attention to tinkering with the second of my five attempts at a healthy, delicious, hand-held and homemade breakfast for him (instead of experimenting with new recipes I find).

So these “Bad Muffins,” as we took to calling them, may have ended as an amusing anecdote if it weren’t for what happened one morning when I was holding our son while I packed his dad’s food, complete with Bad Muffins (and yes, a small container of frosting). Our scrunchkin likes to “help” when I’m putting things from one place to another, so I thought he’d want to pop a muffin from the big container of ’em in the freezer into a little container for the lunch bag. I demonstrated doing one, but when I handed the second to him, he promptly spit out his binky and tried to shove the whole muffin in his mouth.

Hardly daring to hope, with echoes of “a consistency like banana bread but much more bland” still reverberating in my mind, I broke off a piece my wee one could actually fit in his mouth. He gobbled it up eagerly, quickly opening his crumb-covered little lips for another chunk.

Surprise: my Bad Muffin turned into a toddler home run, which is why I’m sharing the recipe after all (below). In the weeks since, those Bad Muffins (what, we HAVE to rename them? Is there a LAW or something?) have been a huge blessing on particularly hectic mornings: a hearty, healthy treat I can break up and put on my son’s tray for a fast, easy breakfast that saves me cooking and cleaning up from his traditional oatmeal, a messy and time-consuming affair.

Of course, that makes it tempting to keep exploring bars to see what other surprises come up — but with the freezer finally empty of previous attempts and my long-suffering husband full up of bad leftovers, I think it’s time to zero in on tinkering with Attempt No. 2.

Maybe that’ll have some surprise twists of its own.

Have you tripped across some surprise twists, or toddler hits, in your own recipe explorations? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below the recipe. You need a Facebook account to add comments, but they’re easy to sign up for, and free. Maureen Tisdale, Detroit News Food Editor, will keep an eye out the next few days to respond to any great comments or questions you post. You can also follow her on Twitter @reentiz. Join the conversation!

Bad Muffins (A Toddler Homerun)

By the by, I didn’t try these muffins myself, as I tend to veer away from baked goods these days. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they weren’t nearly as bad in everyone’s eyes as my husband made them out to be, depending on personal taste. I know some of what I find to be huge treats today – see my blueberry “cheesecake” or “cake-like” purple potatoes, or even my pie-free baked apples – I wouldn’t have liked nearly so much before I stopped eating flour and sugar in quantity. If you too have seen your tastes changed or formed by healthier habits, you might find these muffins aren’t so bad after all.

Dry ingredients:

5 cups old-fashioned oats

23 cup chopped dried apple

Ľcup ground flax seed

1 teaspoon salt

˝ teaspoon cinnamon

Wet ingredients:

2 ˝ cups over-ripe mashed banana

5 packets sweetener (I used Truvia)

Ľ cup plus 1 tbsp vegetable oil

2 ˝ teaspoons vanilla

Preheat the oven to 380 degrees and line your muffin tins. Mix dry ingredients well in one bowl, and in a separate bowl, mix the wet together. Combine the two, the scoop into the liners and bake 21 minutes.

As with all the breakfast bar recipes I’ve played with, you can change up the mix-ins (spices, oils, nuts or seeds, dried fruit, even chocolate – which, I imagine, would have made them far more palatable for my husband) but since our high-energy 16-month-old was content with them as is, I see the next batch sticking pretty close to the original.