By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

Never too many muffins

Muffins are a useful way to use up a lot of different odds and ends: overripe bananas, leftover applesauce or baked squash, extra berries, the last spoonful of jam.

Better still, they turn those bits and pieces into something of a treat. Fresh, tender, tasty little cakes, preferably not overly sweet, are perfect for enjoying with a cup of coffee in the morning or packing into a lunch bag for a later pick-me-up.

Consequently, I have a ridiculous number of muffin recipes. A recent batch of strawberry spice muffins neatly disposed of a batch of strawberry-raspberry sauce from the freezer that had been defrosted and then failed to be used as planned. It also was a delicious way to celebrate strawberry season.

For using up jam, you can poke a hole in the middle of the batter and put in half a teaspoon just before baking.

Or, if you have more than a tiny bit to use up, bake a double layer cake, and put jam between the layers. A co-worker recently made a chocolate cake with blackberry jam filling; it was fantastic.

Muffins don’t keep terribly well, so most of the time, I freeze half the batch for later use.

Different flavorings help to keep things interesting. The strawberry spice muffins contain generous measures of cinnamon and nutmeg, an idea from “A Taste of Oregon” given a whole-wheat, low-sugar twist. Strawberries are seldom spiced, and the result is interesting; the flavor is still distinctly, deliciously strawberry, and yet layered with the rich warmth of cinnamon and nutmeg. Whoever came up with that idea is a genius.

Classic banana walnut muffins need no other flavorings, being a perfect combination as-is.

Applesauce muffins are spiced with cinnamon and cloves, and rich with raisins; cranberry muffins often include orange zest. They may also include candied orange rind or candied ginger, and are likely to contain coriander.

I like to put plenty of lemon zest in blueberry muffins and use a mixture of lemon and orange juice for the liquid, so that they end up being very tender little lemon cakes studded with juicy blueberries. Raspberry ginger muffins are another summer favorite — intensely gingery.

Chocolate almond squash muffins are pure, velvety chocolate goodness, sometimes enhanced with chocolate chips. Occasionally, they’re spiked with dried sour cherries, but most often, they are left alone in all their simple glory.

There’s something for every mood, and a use for many kitchen leftovers, in a good collection of muffin recipes. Being able to quickly bake up a batch comes in handy for all kinds of situations, from welcoming guests, to providing a brown bag snack, to just offering an occasional special breakfast treat.

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Strawberry spice muffins

Makes one dozen.

If you use defrosted strawberries, place them in a strainer over a container. Use the captured juice in place of all or part of the yogurt or water. Sometimes I use a mixture of strawberries and raspberries.

1 cup whole-wheat flour

1/2 cup almond meal or flour

1/3 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup strawberries, lightly mashed

1/2 cup plain yogurt or water

1 egg

2 egg whites

1/3 cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease a 12-cup muffin tin.

Whisk together dry ingredients.

In a separate bowl, beat together berries, yogurt or water, egg and oil. In a third bowl, beat egg whites until stiff but not dry.

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in liquids. Mix gently. Fold in beaten egg whites. Spoon into muffin tins. Bake about 20 minutes.

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