Christmas Morning Cranberry Muffins
Plus: Dinner at Gwen, Eggnog at AOC, and Lukas Volger on Lunch Therapy.
Hey newsletter friends,
We’re gearing up to go to Bellingham, Washington for Christmas (that’s where Craig’s family is) and this time around we’re taking our Santa’s Little Helper, Winston.
It’s Winston’s first time flying, so we just got back from the vet where they prescribed some doggie Xanax (we’ll give him half a pill) and his weight was determined to be 20.3 pounds — it’ll be quite a workout carrying him through the airport! Very excited to wake up on Christmas morning, though, with this little fluff ball who will join us for the traditional breakfast casserole that Craig’s mom makes, cinnamon buns that Craig’s dad makes, then the opening of presents in front of the fire.
But just in case I’m asked to contribute something, I have a brand new recipe up my sleeve: these festive cranberry muffins from Food & Wine magazine that are simple enough not to be a hassle, but special enough for Christmas morning.
The Recipe: Christmas Morning Cranberry Muffins
A few weeks ago, at Gelson’s, I bought a bag of cranberries and stuck them in the freezer. Cranberries are great that way: you can pop them in there and they’ll last for eight months or even more. Maybe you have some leftover from Thanksgiving? Then this is the recipe for you.
It’s as simple as this: first you make a streusel by toasting some walnuts, melting some butter, and pinching it all together with your fingers. Then comes the batter: a whole stick of butter gets melted (it’s okay, it’s Christmas), you mix that with yogurt (I used Greek which was a little too thick: I thinned it out with some milk) and an egg, and then you stir that into a bunch of dry ingredients with the cranberries. I used an ice cream scoop to get the batter into a greased pan.
It’s really as simple as scooping them in, sprinkling with the streusel, and baking them. The original recipe calls for a glaze, but I don’t think you need it: the streusel is sweet enough and the tartness of the cranberries makes these muffins a little more adult. (But if you want to make the glaze, you can find the instructions for it in Grace Parisi’s original recipe.)
Hot out of the oven, these muffins not only make your house smell good, they’ll provide enough of a distraction so that the kids don’t tear into the presents straight out of the gate (and by “kids” I mean my forty-five year old husband).
Makes 12 muffins
For the walnut streusel topping:
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of kosher salt
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
For the muffins:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of kosher salt
1 cup plain low-fat yogurt (not thick Greek yogurt; if that’s all you have, thin it out with a little milk so it looks like regular yogurt)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Use a cooking spray to grease a 12-cup muffin pan.
Place the chopped walnuts onto a pie plate and toast in the oven just until fragrant (careful not to burn them), about five minutes. Allow them to cool — I popped them in the freezer to speed things up — and in the meantime, whisk together the flour, sugars, baking powder, and salt. Pour in the melted butter, add the walnuts, and pinch together to make your streusel. It’ll look streusely. Set aside.
Now, in a medium bowl, whisk together the dry muffin ingredients (the flour, 1/2 cup of sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt). In another medium bowl, whisk together the yogurt, the egg, and the melted butter. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, stir together with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon (but don’t over-mix, or your muffins will be tough). Toss the cranberries with the final 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar and then fold into the batter.
Now, using an ice cream scoop, scoop equal-sized portions into your sprayed muffin tin. Top with the streusel topping and bake for 20 minutes or so (start checking after fifteen), until the muffins are light brown and a skewer inserted comes out clean (I use a piece of dried spaghetti). Allow to cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then lift out on to a baking sheet. Cool a little bit, and serve warm, with extra butter on the side.
Know somebody who’d love this recipe? Share it below!
The Restaurant: Gwen
On Wednesday last week, we went to go see The Band’s Visit at The Dolby Theater. This was my first live show in over two years and it was such a treat to sit in an audience again and to watch real actors performing in front of us on a stage. The show was so lovely — I’d listened to the music, but didn’t know the story. It’s not a flashy show by any means, but it slowly creeps up on you.
Before we went to the theater, I made a reservation at Gwen in Hollywood. Craig just wanted to grab something fast, but I’m a “dinner and a show” kind of a girl. If we’re getting dressed up for the theater, we may as well dine somewhere splashy first! Gwen was the perfect restaurant for that: just elegant enough, but not pretentious. We started with cocktails — Craig picked a winner with his perfectly-made Manhattan.
As for the meal, Craig and I teamed up and picked a few things that we wanted to share. Even though sharing isn’t normally our deal, the fancy steaks are so expensive at Gwen — we’re talking $150 to $200 dollars for an aged rib-eye — we’d have to take out a bank loan to afford some of the more expensive cuts. We went with the $65 New York Strip for two.
We started with a charcuterie plate that was beautifully presented.
Pretty sure everything on it is house-made, including the salami and the pâté. By itself it was very good, but what took it to the next level was the salty, warm bread that they served with it.
I forget the name of the kind of bread — something Italian? Paging Giuseppe — but it was crusty on the outside and soft on the inside and with some rich butter spread on it, it was maybe the highlight of the meal for me. (That’s not an insult: I felt the same way about dinner at Bicyclette!)
But you don’t go to Gwen for the bread… you go for the steak. And this New York strip hit the spot.
Not only was the meat perfectly cooked, but it came with a little copper pot of sauce which we poured on top. (I imagine it was made with demi glace, it has that look about it.)
What’s there to say? It was a gorgeous cut of beef, not hammered the way that they normally do at steakhouses. There wasn’t that traditional char; instead it had grill marks and the meat was beautifully tender, easy to cut using the knives we picked out of a box. (It sort of felt like choosing a gun at a duel.)
For our sides, we had broccolini, which was fine, and duck fat potatoes which were addictive. I’m glad it was only a little bowl or I’d eaten an entire duck’s worth.
Anxious to get to the theater, we didn’t have time for dessert. But our dinner at Gwen ensured that I didn’t spend the entire musical worrying about what we’d be eating after it was over at ten; instead, I was full of steak and potatoes and happy to watch the show.
The Rest: Eggnog, Lukas Volger, and Links
On Friday night, we went with our friends J and Ben Mims to AOC for a holiday dinner before going off to a big gay holiday party in Westwood. The meal was most excellent, but the highlight for me was the cocktail that kicked things off: eggnog made with aged rum and vanilla beans.
True, it was a little desserty to start off the night (if I had to do it all over again, I’d order it instead of actual dessert), but it was definitely the best eggnog I’ve ever tastes: the richness of the egg yolks and cream was balanced out beautifully by lots and lots of booze.
Now I need to burn off all of the eggnog and steak and potatoes and what better way to do that than to cook a recipe by this week’s Lunch Therapy patient, Lukas Volger?
Lukas is the author of five cookbooks, including Bowl: Vegetarian Recipes for Ramen, Pho, Bibimbap, Dumplings, and Other One-Dish Meals and Start Simple: Eleven Everyday Ingredients for Countless Weeknight Meals. He's also the co-founder of the influential queer magazine Jarry, which won a James Beard award in 2016 for John Birdsall's essay, Straight-Up Passing. In today's session, Lukas talks about the diet he's currently on, how he approaches recipe-writing, the kind of food that he ate growing up, his mother's love of recipes (which she kept in a folder), and whether or not that had anything to do with him starting a food magazine. We also cover his pandemic wedding, working at a bakery with a flexible muffin batter, his love for Laurie Colwin, and which songs he likes to sing at karaoke.
You can listen to the whole thing here:
And if you like it, please be sure to leave a nice review.
Now for some links that caught my attention this week:
Acclaimed SF chef brings his skills to a retirement home (I’m ready to move in now) (Eater SF);
Apparently having millions of followers doesn’t mean you’ll have huge book sales, which is good news for aspiring cookbook authors with minor followings (NYT);
Read this viral review of a Michelin-starred restaurant meal that went awry — trigger warning for those who are disgusted by citrus foam served in a plaster cast of the chef’s mouth (The Everywhereist);
Bill Addison releases his annual list, started by the legendary Jonathan Gold, of The 101 Best Restaurants in LA (LA Times).
That’s all for this week, folks!
In case you missed it, on Thursday last week, for my paid-subscribers only, I listed the top ten dishes that I made this year and gave recipes for ALL OF THEM. If you want to experience that entire post, plus have access to all of my archives, here’s a discount code that gets you 20% off forever.
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I’ll be away on holiday next week (did that sound British?), so no newsletter next Monday, but look for me back here in the New Year when I’ll tell you all about our Christmas adventures.