Eric and I just returned from a trip to Napa Valley. Yes, that's right. For those of you who are keeping track, I have been to the lovely California Wine Country twice in two months. This happened by a complete coincidence, as our most recent trip was planned long before I was invited to compete in last month's burger cook-off. Even so, I did suggest to Eric that I could remain up in Napa, you know, just in case I would need to be up there again next month. Could happen.
Last week's trip was part of an event held every five years by Eric's family, celebrating their various birthdays and anniversaries, all of which seem to fall in October and November. This year, they decided to hold the party over a long weekend in the San Francisco Bay area, so Eric and I decided to extend the trip by spending a few days in Sonoma and Napa. I'm not really a quick-weekend-trip kinda girl anyhow. They are never truly relaxing since you are barely settled into your new digs before you need to think about printing out your boarding pass to go home. No thank-you.
The problem with Napa Valley is that, while it's incredibly picturesque and de-stressing, it also manages to be pretty harsh on the wallet. Admittedly, on this particular trip, this was partially our fault. O.K., maybe completely our fault. You might recall from my previous post that I am a sucker when it comes to signing up for shiny new magazine offers when they arrive in the mail. Twelve issues for just twelve bucks? That's highway robbery--sign me up! Well, apparently Eric and I possess a similar lack of self-control when it comes to signing up for wine clubs.
Oh sure, we had a strategy. Trust me, Eric always has a strategy. We were just going to go in and do a tasting. If we happened to like one of the wines, then we'd buy a bottle or two--but that's it. Little did we know that virtually every winery now has a "wine club," something to entice winos wine aficionados to purchase anywhere from three to twelve bottles, which will be shipped to their home at a discounted rate on a quarterly basis.
Bottom line: We visited five wineries. We are now the proud new members of four wine clubs. That's quite a resume. And yes, we still bought a few bottles from the fifth winery. No. Self. Control. What-so-ever. It must have been this intoxicating view. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
Truth be told, we don't even drink that much wine, so we either need to start doing some serial entertaining, or we're going to be pretty well stocked long after the Cabernet's recommended drinking date. I'm not even sure where we're going to keep it all. Hmmm.....maybe I should have thought of these points when we were being given "the pitch." Might have saved us a few bucks. My bad.
Although we definitely racked up a large pile of frequent flier points on the trip, there were quite a few unexpected freebies that we enjoyed as well (cha-ching!) Some of the wineries offered cheese pairings with their tasting, an area that I know very little about, but I thoroughly enjoy the learning process. My new favorite cheese discovery: Point Reyes blue. Try it with pears. You'll like it.
Our hotel offered a free nightly wine and cheese reception, not as if we needed more of either, but a nice touch none-the-less. They also provided a wonderful breakfast spread, which was included with the room. There's something about being on vacation that makes me feel like I can completely abandon my usual oatmeal or egg whites in lieu of a plate full of freshly-baked glazed and streuseled carbs. So I do. The best thing that I tried was a moist fresh cranberry spice muffin, which was drizzled with a tart lemon glaze. Mmmmmm-mmmmm! I was inspired to make a version of my own almost immediately after unpacking, but one that incorporates a walnut streusel and uses maple instead of lemon, perfect for November. Here are a few extra tips for making mah-velous maple muffins:
- These muffins can be baked and then frozen, tightly sealed, for up to 2 weeks. Glaze the muffins just before serving. The glaze will not freeze well.
- The muffins will keep at room temperature, covered, for 2-3 days. They are best eaten right after they have been glazed.
- For variations on this recipe, you can substitute chopped pecans or hazelnuts for the walnuts. Add some chopped dried figs or chopped dried cherries along with the fresh cranberries (then they would be "Double Maple Double Cranberry Muffins"!) You can also prepare the muffins without the streusel topping.
- Keep an eye on the muffin tops towards the end of the baking process. If the streusel starts to become too dark, cover the tins loosely with foil for the remainder of the time.
Double Maple Cranberry Muffins
Makes 18-20 muffins
1 cup butter, melted
¾ cup light brown sugar, packed
¾ cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 ¼ cups whole milk
2 teaspoons maple extract
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¾ teaspoon salt
2 cups cranberries (fresh or frozen) roughly chopped
1 cup chopped walnuts
¾ cup toasted walnuts
1 ½ cups flour
¾ cup light brown sugar, packed
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons butter, melted
For the glaze
2 cups confectioner's sugar
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2-3 tablespoons water or milk
Preheat the oven to 375F degrees. Line two muffin tins with 18 paper liners.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the butter with both sugars at medium speed until well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Mix in the milk and the maple extract.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients at low speed until just combined. Fold in the cranberries and chopped nuts. Using a ⅓ cup ice cream scoop, divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups, filling them about ⅔ full.
Prepare the streusel: In a bowl, mix together the walnuts, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Add the melted butter and mix until moist clumps form. Sprinkle the streusel evenly on top of the batter in the muffin cups, pressing lightly to adhere.
Bake the muffins for 18-24 minutes, until the tops are puffed and a toothpick inserted into the center emerges clean. Set aside to cool while you prepare the glaze.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the confectioner's sugar and the maple syrup. Add enough water or milk to make a smooth glaze of drizzling consistency. Remove the muffins from the tins and place them on a wire rack set over a baking sheet. Drizzle the glaze over warm muffins and let set.