Thursday, January 27, 2011

Project Lunch: My Little Muffins

Today I did another Kids Cooking Class with my MOMS Club. I know, I know. It's been a while! But we got snowed out in November, then I only had 1 person signed up in December and Z was sick, so we cancelled. But this month, not only was the busy holiday season over, but another MOMS Club member offered to host, and she has about 4 fewer cats than I do, and wood floors, so a lot fewer allergens floating around. Plus a lot more clean. Like, regularly. So that was all kinds of awesome.

It was hard to decide what to do. Summer I chose no-cook recipes. October was Halloween-themed, November was Thanksgiving-themed, December was Christmas-themed. Easy-peasy. In fact, it was hard narrowing down my recipe choices. But January? Total blank. At some point I looked up zucchini bread muffins. No clue what made me think of them. But almost immediately I found chocolate zucchini muffins. Well now. Hubba hubba.
I needed something lunch-y to go with them, so I decided we'd do chicken nuggets again, even though we already made some in September. Only one MOM made it to that, and she couldn't come this time, so it would be new to everyone else. Plus I changed it up a bit, since *I* liked the turkey nuggets that got cancelled in November a whole lot better.

For a quick recap of the Nuggets recipe:

1 lb boneless skinless chicken (or turkey) cut into nuggety bits
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
1 tsp Italian Seasoning
(oil or cooking spray, but we didn't grease the tinfoil this time and there was no problem.)

Mix wet ingredients. In separate bowl, mix dry ingredients. Coat nuggets in wet, then in dry ingredient mixtures. Cook 10 to 12 minutes at 450 F.

Since there's very little the kids get to do for this recipe (mix the crumbs, cheese and seasoning; mix egg and milk. Then I do the rest, dipping the nuggets into the egg mixture and then into the crumbs and onto the tray using my tongs) I changed it a bit. I gave each child a Ziplock with 3 Saltine crackers in it, which they crushed. Then I tossed in 1 Tbsp Panko crumbs, a dash of Italian seasoning and 'some' Parmesan each. Then they each got 3 to 4 egged nuggets to shake in their baggies to coat, then onto the tinfoil baking sheet.
Since 16 nuggets (5 kids) wasn't using up the whole pound of nuggeted chicken breast, I mixed up around 1/4 cup of Panko crumbs, a larger dash of seasoning and almost the rest of the Parmesan (I had measured out a little over 1/4 cup to bring with me.) I made the rest of the nuggets using just the regular ingredients (no Saltines.)
The kids' batch.

For the chocolate zucchini muffins, the reviews either complained that they were too oily, or mentioned that they had substituted applesauce for some or all of the oil. I didn't have any applesauce (and almost no zucchini! I had sent Unka Seesee to the store with a list, since I needed Cardamom and vanilla extract too, and would be using up almost the last of our canola oil, and I totally forgot to actually put zucchini on the list! Luckily my husband was able to pick some up on his way home!) My plan was to just use 3/4 cup of oil instead of 1 cup, but as I was packing my supplies up in the morning, I saw a lone banana on the counter, starting to brown.... Aha! I could use it instead of applesauce! Right? Right??

Chocolate Banana Zucchini Muffins
3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 banana
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp each of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom

Makes 24

Step 1: Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease or line 2 12-cup muffin tins [or 4 6-cups, or any combination which involves 24 muffin-y holes being greased or lined... Ooo sounds dirty!]
Step 2: In a large bowl, beat the eggs.
Step 3: Mash in banana.
Step 4: Beat in the sugar and oil.
Step 5: Add the cocoa, vanilla, zucchini and stir well.
Step 6: Stir in flour, baking soda and powder, salt, and all 4 spices. Mix until just moist.
Step 7: Pour batter into prepared muffin tins, filling 2/3 of the way full.
Step 8: Bake at 350 F for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from pans and let cool on a wire rack. Store loosely covered.

What actually happened:
We beat the eggs. I broke all 4 into the mixing bowl and the kids each had a turn mixing.

Totally skipped ahead to step 6. (Although in the original recipe steps 3 through 5 were all one step, so I just accidentally jumped ahead one line.) Stir in flour, start adding spices, before realizing something's just not right. Go back to recipe. Deep sigh of frustration. Add oil and sugar. (Kids are "mixing" and helping pour in each ingredient. And licking the measuring cups and spoons. *sigh* Totally decide not to care. It'll all be cooked, right? Burn off all them spitty germs!)

Add cocoa and zucchini. Let each child try some zucchini (pre-shredded. I learned from letting them shred cheese my first class that it would take about a thousand years if I let them do it.) Watch as each child says "eww no thanks" as they flick it back into bowl. Final child gets smart and refuses to even touch it. Let each child try a "pinch" of unsweetened cocoa powder. Apparently it's tastier than I remember. There were no looks of betrayal.

Mash in banana bits. Break off a few 1" pieces to shut them up for kids to taste.

Add baking soda and powder, and rest of the spices. Make Let the kids sniff each spice before adding it.

Completely forget vanilla and salt. Which is okay, since Unka Seesee got Imitation Vanilla Flavoring, instead of vanilla extract. Ah well. I was going to use it anyway, but I was so overwhelmed. I'm not a cook. This was a lot of ingredients! And I know the order you add them in can be important, so I tried to follow the directions. But that's hard to do when someone keeps stealing your recipe card, and everyone wants to try all the ingredients.

Let each child choose 5 liners from my extensive collection (2 Christmas ones, 3 Halloween, 6 Valentines, plus the Stripes and Dots from Ver for my Santa Swap!) Try not to wince as pretty muffin papers go flying, and kids on end (instigated by the older girl, but definitely with Little Z as a willing accomplice) take initiative and start plopping batter all over the area near their chosen liners.

Move batter to a secure location. Remove huge hunk of flour and banana out of wire whisk that the kids were using to mix. Use scraper to unearth treasure trove of still-dry ingredients all along edge and bottom of bowl.

Since I could only find a 12-cup and 6-cup muffin tin, (couldn't find my red silicone 6-cupper) I had brought 3 of my Wilton Silly Feet clown shoe muffin cups, and all 4 of my chicken-feet cups (from TJ Maxx or Marshalls.) I let each child pick one to put one of their liners in. (I used the rest.) To keep everyone's muffins separate (which was totally unnecessary, as none of them asked for one of "theirs" later) I put the last 4 liners from each kid in one of the rows-of-4 in the 12-cup tin, and the 4th kid's in the 6-cup. Then just filled in with "Little Z's" (she had no interest in anything but stuffing as much batter and loose ingredients into her gob as possible.)

Pour batter onto counter into liners

Forget to preheat oven until all the batter is mixed and poured into liners. *facepalm*

The cheapy Dollar Tree V-Day liners got totally dominated by the color of the food inside, but the Reynold's Staybrite Polka-Dot ones (4th row in from the right, pictured above) kept their decorational integrity! They're lined with foil, so the oil and moisture doesn't seep through and stain the paper. Not that the kids cared a whit.  And I also liked that my fingers (and any surface they touched) didn't get that greasy shmear when handled.

They came out slightly overcooked, since at around 18 minutes I turned the heat up to 450 to start getting the oven ready for the nuggets (since they take less time to cook and prepare, and aren't as tasty cold, I opted to make the muffins first.) They tasted fine though.

As you can probably gather from my gross lack of photographic evidence during the cooking process, no cameras were harmed in the making of this meal. I totally forgot wanted to focus on the kids and make sure they were all involved and having a good time.
3 out of 5 chefs ate their nuggets. I think one of the other chefs actually tried hers. Plus my hostess's 16-month-old ate some. Little Z ate her 3, then 2 more of the ones that I made after, plus nibbled on 2 more of the ones that the one kid didn't eat.

Everyone ate a muffin. Surprisingly few crumbs. I hung out and jibber-jabbered until the hostess' 8-year-old daughter came home from school, and she ate one too. So even without the salt and vanilla, they must have tasted okay!

I liked the muffins (and the nuggets obviously. Since this was a repeat performance for me!) They tasted primarily banana-y, with a hint of chocolate-y. I've never subbed applesauce in before, so I don't know how much they'd affect the flavor. I have used sweet potato baby food in pancakes, and they do change the flavor, but it's very subtle.

I'm starting to run out of ideas! So if anyone has any recipes/ideas they can link or email me ( that are tasty for kids, let them be involved in a bunch of the prepwork (instead of me slaving over a hot stovetop while they run around like maniacs,) and don't require too much of the prep to be done beforehand (I'd hate to show up and have everything mostly made up. "Here are the chopped tomatoes, Here's the shredded cheese. Oh, and I cut and cooked all this part already" etc etc.)
Also the cooking times would need to be around 30 minutes or less, since we usually have a 2-hour window, and prep time is, like, quadrupled when you're letting toddlers help at all. Plus it needs time to cool, time for them to eat it, and time for people to show up late and kids to play!
Also nice if we can make something complementary to go with it, with short prep-times, similar cooking temps, or no-cook. I like to have mostly complete meals, rather than just a fun dessert. Pizza and pudding. Chicken salad and puddingNuggets and fries. Tortilla roll-up sandwiches and mini "cheesecakes." Guacamole and quesadillas. PBJs, cheese and fruit (for cookie cutter fun!)
My goal is to introduce the kids to new foods (avocados, for the guacamole. Zucchini for these muffins. Sweet potato fries with the nuggets, etc) or new ways to eat or prep familiar foods (cookie cutters, tortilla roll-up sandwiches, etc.) And to show the parents how much the kids can actually do to help. Is it messier? Yes. Will the measurements be as exact? No. Does it take a million-trillion-gabillion years longer to actually get it made? Yes. Well. No. Not quite that long.
I'm thinking, if I can figure out the logistics, of trying MTMs with them some time. Since it's one of my favorite ways to make her meals more exciting, and I love roping in new converts to Lunch-Fu! You will be assimilated.

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