Wednesday, January 6, 2016

How To Make Super Frugal Healthy Breakfast Muffins Using Revamped Leftovers (Gluten Free and Vegan Options)

 photo muffins_zpsnrmjvdeh.jpgI'm a big fan of making muffins for my family for breakfast, and I find it ironic that despite making them so often, I don't really have any recipe on my blog for the types of muffins I tend to make for breakfasts.
See, the reason is that I don't have a specific recipe I follow- I have a basic concept of how I make them, and the rest of it changes every single time.
I could probably best call this type of muffins "waste not, want not" muffins, or "everything but the kitchen sink" muffins, or "revamped leftover muffins", and though they sound funny, my kids actually prefer when I make this type of muffin to when I make "standard" muffins using regular recipes.

Going back, the inspiration for this type of muffin probably originally can be credited to my dad, who is the king of repurposing leftovers. Whatever leftovers there were in our house that were mildly sweet, pretty much, would go into pancakes. Leftover bowls of cereal and milk, grits, you name it. Into pancakes it went. I think he even put in leftover spaghetti one time but I'm not sure.
So from him I got the idea that you can use leftovers in a variety of ways...

Enter Amy Dacyzyn, author of The Complete Tightwad's Gazette. She has a universal muffin recipe that is easily adaptable and makes use of things like leftover cooked oatmeal or rice, and can also contain things like fruit and nut butters. (I'll share it at the bottom if you need a specific recipe and can't just wing it like I do. ) My issue with her recipe is simply that it is too specific and that the leftovers are just as an addition and not as the base like I sometimes do. Essentially hers are regular muffin with standard ingredients that you can add leftovers to, and mine are "leftover muffins" that I add enough of the "basic muffin ingredients" to make them work as a muffin.

I'll admit- they aren't the most beautiful looking muffins, but my kids actually prefer them to regular muffins. Every time I made them recently, my kids said that they were the best kind of muffins, and when I tried making "normal" muffins, they asked me why I didn't make them "the better way". So if anyone "feels bad" for my kids for "having to eat these", don't. They love them, and my pocketbook likes them.

So, how do I actually do it?

Well, it depends what my goal is. Is my goal to make it as nutritious as possible, first and foremost? Or is it because I have leftover that I don't want to go to waste and/or I am trying to be a? Ideally I'd like it to be a mixture of both; even if I do have leftovers I like to make the muffins healthier.

But let me give an example of what I did last time I made muffins, to give you an idea of the process that goes into making it.

I just got back from the farmer's market, and I'd bought a lot of reduced rack for dirt cheap. The thing is- while much of the reduced rack produce actually can last quite a while, in every batch there are a few items that need to be used up sooner, rather than later.
I was trying to think about what to do with a few zucchinis, a few apples, and a few pears when I got home, and then I looked around my kitchen and saw a pot of buckwheat porridge leftover from breakfast that morning. Additionally, a little while ago I'd made some pizza crusts out of buckwheat and egg and then overcooked them a drop so they were crunchy, so I let them dry and intended to use them to make breadcrumbs, but then changed my mind and decided to soak them to use them for bread pudding. I thought- why not take the soaked pizza crusts and porridge and make muffins out of that and the produce I needed to use?

Essentially, that is how most of my muffins come into being. I make a base- out of grains typically, generally leftover ones. My main staples are leftover porridge- buckwheat and polenta based porridge are my mains, but leftover oatmeal, rice pudding, cream of wheat, millet porridge, oatmeal or anything of the sort all work well.
Cooked grains that aren't porridge also work- rice, quinoa, buckwheat, etc... as long as they weren't cooked with seasonings that don't work with sweet muffins. This actually is why I prefer to cook my grains with just salt, and then add other flavorings as needed, so I can repurpose the leftovers more easily. If you're using cooked grains that don't mush up easily, I suggest you stick them in a food processor and blend them up first, otherwise it won't mix in well, and instead of having rice as part of the batter, you'll have individual grains suspended in batter.
As I mentioned above, I also will use other grain based things, like leftover bread (gluten free bread or not, depending on your needs), crackers, pancakes, or rice cakes in the muffins as well. These typically need to be soaked first before they can be used, and depending on how much they fall apart, also may need to be blended up in a food processor.

No matter what grain base you use, you need to break it up very well so it mixes with the other ingredients- I find breaking it up with my hands is usually enough, other than the cases that I mentioned require a food processor.

Once you have your leftover grain base, then you need to add things that will bind it. Even though they're grains, and grains hold together when cooked, previously cooked grains generally will not, so you need to add some additions to hold it together. I usually use flour for this- I take a mix of gluten free flours, usually buckwheat, rice, potato starch and a bit of xanthan gum, but if I have available, I like to add in chickpea flour since it adds the legume type of protein, making these muffins a complete protein. You can use whatever flour you prefer to use- if gluten isn't an issue, feel free to use wheat, whole wheat, rye, spelt, etc... You'll need to mix the flours in well with the base grain mixture, to make it as uniform a mixture as possible.
Grains usually aren't enough to hold it together on their own- you'll generally need to add another binder like eggs or egg replacements like ground flax seeds. Depending on how much flour you add, you'll need more or less egg or egg replacement. Add a lot of eggs and you can get away without adding any flours or maybe just a little bit. Add a lot of flour and you can add just one or two eggs. Since I didn't have much flour in my house when I made my last batch of muffins, and I didn't have any eggs, I added an entire cup of ground flax seeds to my mixture (however, I made an enormous batch- the batter didn't even all fit into one of my large mixing bowls and I think it made more than 30 extra large muffins).

Ok, so now you have the base and the binder. Though if you don't have any leftover grains, you can just use more flour as the base.

Now for the moist additions, and upping the nutritional content.

For this, you can do a combination of cooked or raw vegetables or fruit that work well in baked goods. My main go-to produce options are apples, pears, bananas, butternut squash or pumpkin, sweet potatoes, carrots, and zucchini- either pureed or grated- but I've also done beets, peaches, nectarines and plums, and if you have other produce that cook well you can add them (things like strawberries, cherries, pineapple, raspberries, guavas, persimmons, but I don't usually have them cheaply and/or leftovers so I don't usually use those). You can also cut your fruit into small pieces, not grated or pureed, but I rarely do that.

In addition to produce, I like to add some protein and/or fat, generally tahini or peanut butter (cheaper) but occasionally nut butter (more expensive). If you eat dairy and have some, you can also add yogurt, cottage cheese, sour cream, etc... Adding some pureed cooked chickpeas is also a way to increase the protein even if you don't have chickpea flour.

You don't need to add both produce and fats/proteins, but I like to do that to make them as nutritious as possible, but one or the other can work.

This last batch of muffins, I actually added grated zucchini, apples and pears, as well as mashed banana for produce, and some tahini as well.

Once you have all the above mixed together, see what the texture is like, then decide what sweetener you will use, if any. Taste the batter- did the fruit you added make it sweet enough? If not, add whatever sweetener you tend to prefer. In an ideal world I'd use coconut sugar or honey or date syrup or jaggery to mine to sweeten it, but we're running low on some of those and completely out of others, and not buying any right now, so I actually used white sugar to sweeten mine, but had barely any, so I ended up adding some homemade powdered sugar that I had sitting around the house.

Then, if it is dry, add some liquid- water is generally what I add, but you can also add milk or fruit juice or some oil (or a combination). The more fruit and fats and liquid sweeteners you add, the moister it will be, and therefore less additional liquid should be added. Bear in mind that if you are using raw grated vegetables or fruit, they will release liquid when cooking, so your batter will need to be a bit dryer. If it is liquidy, you'll need to add more flour. The only exception to this is if yours is very egg heavy, since eggs will make your batter soupy but will firm up nicely. Other than that, I find the texture I'm aiming at is a thick batter, somewhere between cookie dough and cake batter.

Next addition, a very important one, is baking powder. You don't want to overdo this or it will end up tasting gross, but if you use too little, it'll be very dense. I suggest adding one to one and a half teaspoon of baking powder for every 12 or so muffins- so if you're making enough batter to make 36 muffins, then add a full tablespoon to tablespoon and a half of baking powder.
Add a drop of salt as well, depending on how much salt is in the additions you already added. If your rice and/or porridge has salt in it already you want to add less; if nothing has salt, add more. I'd aim for 1/2 teaspoon salt for every 12 muffins.

Last but not least you can add some of the following options:
Cocoa powder- but make sure the other flavors in it actually would work well with chocolate
Spices, like cinnamon and/or nutmeg.
Ground or chopped nuts or seeds.
Raisins or craisins or chocolate chips.
Coconut flakes or desiccated coconut.
Vanilla powder or extract or other extracts like almond extract.

My recent muffins had the addition of cinnamon and desiccated coconut.

Voila- and there you have it.

If you have some extra time, and you're just starting off with making hodge-podge muffins, I suggest you just bake ONE muffin, and see how it holds together when cooking. If it falls apart, add more binder. If its too wet, add more flour. If it needs more sweetener, add that. If its too dense, add some baking powder.
At this point, I don't typically do that, because I've gotten good at guestimating how it'll come out, but as a newby its a good idea to first see that.

Bake your muffins at 350 for 20-30 minutes, or until totally solidified and starting to brown.

I find my super frugal and healthy breakfast muffins tend to be more dense and moist when I use more porridge to start out, but my kids prefer it that way- they don't like drier muffins. If you prefer them drier, use less porridge and fruit and more flour.

And now for those who need a more precise recipe- here is the one from the Tightwad's Gazette:

Amy Dacyzyn's Breakfast Muffin Forumla Recipe
Ingredients:2-2 1/2 cups flour (of which oats, flake cereal or cornflakes can be 1 cup, or 1 cup of cooked grains can be substituted for 1/2 cup of flour)
1 cup liquid (she says milk, but I say use any- and decrease to 1/2 cup if using cooked grains)
1 egg or one egg substitute (Amy says to beat the egg white until still if using cooked grains, but I've never bothered with this)
Up to 1/4 cup fat (oil, butter, (margarine- Amy says, but I don't suggest), peanut butter, or I say tahini or any nut butter)- you can use less or leave out entirely if using a "wet addition" like fruit or veggie pure
Up to 3/4 cup sweetener (2 tablespoons to 1/2 cup regular sugar or 3/4 cup brown sugar (or coconut sugar- my addition), or up to 1/2 cup honey or molasses (or jaggery syrup or maple syrup or date syrup- my suggestions)- use 1/4 cup less liquid if using liquid sweetener)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Up to 1 1/2 cups additions (nuts and seeds, raisins, coconut, fresh chopped fruit, shredded or pureed vegetables or fruit, or spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, lemon or orange zest)

Amy says you can use less sweetener and add things like 1/2 cup shredded cheese, 2 tablespoons grated onion, fried and crumbled bacon, shredded zucchini, etc... to make savory muffins. I suggest tomatoes as well, or ground beef or poultry crumbles.

Sorry- I haven't managed to create a good paleo muffin recipe that isn't egg based- and since I can't do eggs, this recipe won't work for you paleo folks. Though if you are an egg eater, you can just do lots of eggs, spices, additions, and whatever paleo flours you can use like potato or tapioca starch, nut flours, or coconut flour.
Though this vegan grain free banana bread recipe that I made can just as easily be made into muffins, and is Paleo and egg free.

Are you and/or your family a fan of muffins? How often would you say you make them? Do you follow specific recipes or general "formulas" to make your muffins? If its a formula and not a recipe, what is your formula? Do you use leftovers in your muffins? If so, does your family like those kinds of muffins better than "standard muffins" or prefer standard muffins?


  1. Just wanted to let you know that I've tried these out and then work great ! I love all your recipes that are adaptable for special diets, a real blessing !

    1. Awww! Thank you! So glad you liked them and that my recipes are adaptable to your dietary needs! What variety did you make your muffins? What did you put in them?

  2. This recipe/guide is awesome, I will be trying these soon. I do have a question: Do you ever add pulp from juicing? Do you think they'd work/even be worth it nutrition-wise? Thanks.

    1. Thank you Brittany! I dont do much juicing, because it gets expensive and I prefer to have my pulp with my fruit, not separate, BUT... pulp works great in this recipe as well, as an addition, or instead of some of the fruit. But no need to reduce the liquid when you add the pulp as its already been removed mostly. Now as for nutrition- it wont be as nutritious as if you added pureed fruit, but i doubt juicing takes out all the nutrition from the produce. If anything, it adds healthy fibers and bulks up your muffins to make them cheaper...

  3. thanks for the great idea. i made these this week and they were a big hit. When my kids ate the last ones today, they immediately asked if i could make more. so nice to have a yummy way to use up leftover cooked oatmeal and other odds and ends.

    1. Updating to say that the other day i made a huge batch of this and did large, regular and mini muffins and had enough batter to fill a 9 inch metal pie pan.i baked it then froze the "pie" and thawed it for a busy day breakfast. It worked great in this coffee cake like presentation too and was so easy to freeze

  4. Too funny! I just read this and got very excited until I realized it is the same recipe 'formula' a friend gave me years ago and I use all the time. I do appreciate the reminder on all the specifics, like how to use cooked grains or less liquid when you use liquid sweetener, though.


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