Friday, January 30, 2009

Celebratory Chocolate Toasts

Today is your lucky day. Not just because it's Friday, but because today is the day I'm going to share one of my absolute favorite desserts with you. It's not even so much a dessert as it is an EXPERIENCE. Please allow me to introduce you to my delightful little friends who answer to the name of Chocolate Toasts. You probably have all the ingredients in your kitchen right now and could make them a favorite part of your own repertoire too. I stumbled upon this ecstatic combination of ingredients on this very day in 2005, and it was such a felicitous discovery on a remarkable evening that it only seemed appropriate to share them with you today.

I live for the impromptu party. Though I derive great joy from planning and preparing an elaborate meal, I also love being able to quickly conjure up a mini party when friends stop by spontaneously. With a few key ingredients at the ready at all times, I am ready and willing to lift any situation up to a more celebratory level, sometimes on as little as 10 minutes notice, if necessary. My basic Impromptu Party Kit includes a hunk of interesting cheese, good bread and excellent olive oil, an assortment of briny olives, and some roasted almonds, especially the swoon-worthy Marcona almonds from Spain. My apartment always plays host to beautiful bittersweet chocolate bars, as well as festive bottles of fun sparkling wine plus gorgeous red wine. These are staples in my kitchen at all times, for I never know when friends are going to pop by, hungry and thirsty and eager to hang out.

Math was never my favorite subject in school, and that's an understatement if I ever heard one. But there are a few very basic equations that I find quite satisfying and downright beautiful when it comes to entertaining:

olives + a nice wedge of artisanal cheese + festive sparkly wine + friends = Instant Party

almonds + exquisite bittersweet chocolate + lovely luscious wine = Instant Dessert for Happy Friends

baguette + bittersweet chocolate + olive oil + flaky sea salt = SHEER HEAVEN, with or without friends, but even better with friends

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Perfect Martini For Some Enchanted Evenings

A perfectly-made martini is a thing of beauty. When it is done poorly, the disappointment can be severe. My brother Peter , a true artist with both a paintbrush and a cocktail shaker in his hands, makes a gorgeous martini and has certainly spoiled me in this department. I call him The Alchemist, for he is uncanny in his ability to create exquisite cocktails. He has been known to receive outrageously generous tips from discerning patrons who will declare his the best martini they've ever had, and I can understand their gratitude!

Since Peter no longer lives in New York and therefore doesn't make cocktails for me on a regular basis anymore, I am glad to know that I can still get a fabulous martini at Ouest , one of my favorite restaurants in my neighborhood. I used to be more of a vodka martini girl, but I truly love the gin-based Ouest Martini, with its smidgen of grated orange zest mixed in and garnished with onion-stuffed olives. My enjoyment of the drink is increased when the bartender on duty is Dan, who, like my brother, has a true talent for creating a beautifully balanced cocktail.

The only problem is that Ouest does not stay open late enough for my schedule, as they've usually done last call by the time I get there after a performance. This has often been the case lately, much to my dismay. I have had a number of concerts recently which were exciting enough to warrant a celebratory cocktail with friends afterwards, yet I found myself unable to have the martini I really wanted.

For example, I was delighted to be part of a benefit production of Sondheim's "A Little Night Music" at Studio 54 two weeks ago. Natasha Richardson, Christine Baranski and Victor Garber were all terrific, and it was a joy to play this wonderful score. it was particularly heartening when Stephen Sondheim himself came onstage afterwards to thank the musicians and take his bow to thunderous applause from the audience.

But it was really Vanessa Redgrave who really set us all aquiver with her incredible presence and graciousness. She was kind enough to take a few photos with the violin section on one of our rehearsal breaks, and we were all very excited! The occasion definitely called for basking in the glow of the evening with an excellent martini afterwards. Yet it was very late by the time we extricated ourselves from Studio 54, and Ouest had already shut its doors for the night.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Vibrant Colors For Your Walls And Soups

My general theory is that the deeper a vegetable’s color is, the more nutritional value it packs. Compare watery pale green iceberg lettuce with hearty emerald green Swiss chard. No contest. Or take starchy white russet potatoes versus dense garnet yams. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out which one is going to register higher on the vitamin scale. Don’t get me wrong, for I certainly love shredded iceberg on a Houston’s hamburger or a great bowl of mashed potatoes slathered with butter and cream. However, in the interest of my health and my mental well-being, I feel better when I opt for the more vividly colored vegetables that fill me up and don’t immediately send me into the dreaded “carb coma”.

It may be drab and bitter outside, but today is the day to overcome the chill of winter with a burst of vitality for your eyes and your palate. I am warming my stomach and my soul with a bowl of brilliant orange in the form of Sweet Potato and Peanut Soup. This recipe is so much more to me than just a scrumptious and nutritionally rich bowl of soup, for this very dish conjures up memories of the week in which I invited a new vibrant palette of colors into both my home and my life.

It was three years ago today that my apartment was infused with COLOR, and after a lifetime of strictly white walls, this transformation is still worth celebrating! I had done a massive overhaul of my apartment earlier that month, dramatically rearranging furniture, installing new lighting and purging all the clutter from my life. But I needed serious assistance with painting since I was instantly reduced to a state of paralysis during a solo trip to the paint store, overwhelmed by the endless choices suddenly available to me. Thank goodness for Peter and Alison, my wonderful brother and sister-in-law, both of whom are fine artists and true experts with a paint brush in any context. They have painted every one of their apartments together, choosing bold hues to transform each one of their living spaces, and I was thrilled when they agreed to help me paint my own apartment for the first time.

I was grateful for Alison’s keen eye and intuitive sense of color as she helped me sift through an endless pile of paint chips. It reminded me of being fitted for a new prescription by the optometrist who asks, “Which is sharper, A or B? C or D? A or D?” until the doctor finds the perfect lens which allows you to see clearly. Alison held paint swatches side by side, narrowing it down until we found colors that would not only complement each other but would truly resonate with me.

“Now THIS is a color that looks like you!” Alison had said three years ago today, generously coating the roller with a luxurious deep red paint. A wide smile spread across her face as she expertly guided the roller over the wall, gradually transforming the dingy white walls of my bedroom into a gorgeous burgundy red, a shade appropriately named Fine Wine. “I don’t know why we didn’t do this sooner,” Alison said. “You somehow look more like YOURSELF against a wall this color!”

After the bedroom had been deepened by Fine Wine, my very sunny living room was brightened to an almost ridiculous degree by a brilliant shade called Sunspot. This particular yellow conjured up visions of a most glorious field of sunflowers I had once seen from a train journey through Tuscany, a visual image which nearly reduced me to tears of joy at the time. This transformation of my own walls made me unbearably happy, for how could one ever be truly sad sitting in a room this cheerful and light, even in the dead of winter?!

I felt clumsy and unskilled with a paint brush, especially compared to my sister-in-law whose hand was so steady and practiced. I watched with admiration as Alison created perfectly cut lines where the walls met the ceiling without even having to use painter’s tape. And when my brother came later to join the painting party, they worked beautifully in tandem as though they were dancing a slow dance, taking turns leading and following each other as they moved along the walls with their paintbrushes. When I asked how I could help, Peter grinned at me and simply said, “Would you make food for us?”

Now THAT I could do.

A hearty soup is always appropriate and welcome in frigid January, and I was inspired by the bold colors that were going on my walls at that very moment. Sweet potatoes were the most enticing option, and I thought of a recipe for something called African Peanut Soup that I’d once tried from one of the Moosewood cookbooks. It was an unusual combination of ingredients which seemed odd at first glance—sweet potatoes combined with carrots, ginger, tomato and peanut butter, of all things—but I remember it being fabulous and nearly impossible to eat just one serving of it.

I didn’t have a recipe but I improvised one based on what I could remember of that Moosewood soup. While Peter and Alison did the lion’s share of the painting, I chopped and sautéed fragrant onions and garlic with pungent ginger. I added carrots for sweetness, crushed tomatoes for a bit of body and acidity to balance the sweetness, and I poured in vegetable broth along with the cubes of sweet potatoes. My stockpot was a riot of oranges and golds, as though I had grabbed a handful of paint swatches and tried to find an ingredient to correspond with every color on the chip.

When the sweet potatoes were tender, I pureed the entire mixture with an immersion blender until it had coalesced into a smooth puree. I blended peanut butter into the soup, which added a richness and a depth of flavor. Chopped scallions were an excellent garnish, providing a textural contrast and a splash of vivid green.


We devoured our sweet potato soup as we looked around proudly at these crazy-bright living room walls. “I think good things are going to happen to you now that you’ve done this to your living space,” Alison said. “I think it would be impossible not to be affected in a really positive way by this.” She was right, for that was the beginning of one of the most incredible years of my life. As I spent time in my newly transformed apartment, I found myself energized and inspired in new ways, wanting to stretch and challenge myself in bigger and better directions. In the end, 2006 was indeed a year of marvelous adventure, one that was characterized by a substantial deepening in many of my relationships with others as well as great creative flourishing and exciting travel all over the globe.

As I stand in my kitchen, I have a view of both my Fine Wine bedroom and my Sunspot living room, and I get great happiness looking into those side-by-side rooms from my kitchen vantage point. I whipped up a huge batch of my Sweet Potato and Peanut Soup this afternoon in honor of our painting party and the improvised creation of this recipe on 1/16/06. Three years later I am still filled with happiness to be surrounded by such vibrant color on my walls, at my table, and in my life.

Inspired by a recipe in Sunday Suppers at Moosewood

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 1-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
½ teaspoon salt
¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (depending on how hot you like it)
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped (about 1 cup)
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped ( about 2 lbs.),
6 cups vegetable broth
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
1 cup smooth peanut butter
Additional salt and pepper, to taste
Finely chopped scallions, for garnish

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed stock pot. Add the chopped onions and cook until translucent, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Add the minced garlic, ginger, salt and cayenne pepper and cook for an additional minute, stirring constantly. Do not let the mixture brown; if the mixture is dry, add a splash or two of the vegetable broth to prevent this from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Add the chopped carrots, stirring frequently until the carrot begins to soften a bit, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped sweet potatoes and crushed tomatoes, then carefully pour in the vegetable broth and stir. Increase heat and bring soup to a boil; when the stock is boiling, reduce heat and simmer over low heat until the sweet potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Stir in peanut butter. Puree the soup using a handheld immersion blender. Alternatively, you can puree the soup in batches in a standard blender or food processor.

Taste the soup for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as necessary. Garnish with lots of chopped scallions. Serves 6 to 8.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Happy Clams

I don’t know about you, but I have a slight case of the post-holiday blues. I would love to be on a Caribbean island right now, but I’d happily settle for a beach in Florida too. I was on such a high for most of December between all of my CocoaRoar chocolate-making and Christmas concerts, and I ushered in 2009 quite joyously surrounded by wonderful friends and great food. But now the holidays are officially over, and it is downright frigid outside. What little snow we’ve had in New York hasn’t been at all satisfying, especially since it keeps turning into treacherous ice. I feel claustrophobic on the crowded subways where everyone is swathed in bulky layers, taking up much more space than usual. I AM very excited about the upcoming Inauguration Day, but otherwise there are no upcoming January holidays to look forward to.

If you are feeling anything like I am (and if a beach vacation is out of the question for you too right now), you need something right now that will lift your spirits, transporting you far beyond your winter doldrums. You want to make--or have someone make for you--food that is hearty and soul-satisfying, something that will warm you to the deepest fiber of your being. And that is why I need to tell you about Happy Clams.

Simply put, this chorizo&clam stew is something to make for people you really love. I always want my friends and family to feel appreciated and well taken care of whenever I cook for them, and these Happy Clams are one of my all-time favorite dishes to make when I really want my friends to feel special.

Adapted from a recipe from Mario Batali’s marvelous book, Simple Italian Food, this dish is about building layers of flavor. Beautiful succulent clams and smoky chorizo swim together quite magically in a white wine-and-tomato broth, with some onion and wild mushrooms thrown in for textural interest. It is a guaranteed winner each time.

It’s really very simple. Obviously you will need clams for this dish. A dozen or two littleneck clams ought to do the trick. (For some reason, it’s difficult for me to say “littleneck clams” without totally smiling!) Scrub them well so that they’re squeaky clean and won’t track any grit into the stew. Look at them, aren’t they gorgeous?!!

You will also need a sausage, an onion, and some mushrooms. To be precise, you will want to get chorizo (the smoky Spanish sausage), a purple onion, and some shiitake mushrooms. That little sprig of thyme will also be useful.

If the chorizo you’re using has a papery skin, carefully peel that off before slicing it into small ½-inch coins. And if there is a little piece of yarn holding the two ends of the chorizo together, by all means discard that too along with the papery skin. My mouth is already watering to think of how the earthy smoked paprika flavor of the chorizo will contrast marvelously with the briny clams. Just you wait. The mushrooms are sliced, the onion is diced, and that thyme sprig is still waiting in anticipation.

You’re also going to need some canned crushed tomatoes, the very best you can find. I myself am partial to San Marzano tomatoes from Italy, because they’re sweeter and more concentrated in tomato flavor than your average canned tomato. The Muir Glen organic tomatoes are also excellent.

Choose a large heavy deep pot with a tight-fitting lid. Let’s start layering these flavors, first by sautéing the chorizo, mushrooms, onions and thyme leaves in some olive oil. Next we’re going to build the broth. The sweet red vermouth is first, bubbling madly when it is added to the pot. Now comes dry white wine, crushed tomatoes and those beautiful littleneck clams. Give them a good stir and immediately cover with a lid. You don’t have to touch them for 10 minutes while they cook, just let the clams get happy and slightly drunk in this winey briny broth.



Did I mention that you’re going to want some Wine-Laced Garlic Bread to go with your Happy Clams? Trust me, the broth is so intoxicatingly good that you’ll REALLY want some crusty bread to dip into it and mop up every last drop. You can prepare the garlic bread while the clams are cooking.

To make Wine-Laced Garlic Bread, combine a minced garlic clove and a few sprigs of thyme leaves with some olive oil. Cut a baguette in half lengthwise and drizzle the cut sides of the baguette with a tablespoon or two of wine. (I’m always ready to make this since I love having a glass of wine while I cook, and I know many of you do too! You can use red or white wine, whatever you have open.) Spoon the garlic-thyme oil on top of the wine-soaked bread, and stick under the broiler until the edges just begin to turn golden. Isn’t that beautiful?


It's been ten minutes. Let’s see what the clams did. Are they done? Did they all open?!?

SUCCESS!!! Check them out, I swear they look like they’re laughing! Happy littleneck clams indeed!

I sometimes make a version of it with mussels and shrimp to keep the clams company, but for right now I’m keeping it pretty basic. Look at the tomato broth clinging to the shells, the chorizo mingling with the clams. There is so much love happening in just one bite of this stew, I’m ready to swoon thinking about how satisfying this is.

I think it’s important to have recipes in your repertoire which produce such impressive and delicious results without your having to slave away in the kitchen all day. This clam stew is a dish which is greater than the sum of its parts, and everyone always freaks out over it. Having said that, Happy Clams can be a perfect fit for many different occasions. This is a fabulous thing to serve when you’re trying to cook your way into someone’s heart, for I can guarantee that that lucky person will be even more appreciative of you after eating these deliriously Happy Clams than they were before! This is one of my favorite things to throw together when friends come for dinner in between performances on a double-show day when we don’t have a lot of time, since I can prep everything ahead of time and the clams cook quickly. So many of my musician friends are such huge foodies, and this is a great thing to make when I have people over for a chamber music reading party and want to offer them something more substantial than wine, cheese and olives. This clam stew also feels festive enough that I’ve made it on Christmas, and my parents loved it so much that they decided that this should be our new Owen family Christmas tradition! Perhaps this will be my celebratory dish to make on Inauguration Day next week as well…

And suddenly, January doesn’t seem so bleak anymore now that Happy Clams are part of the picture!

Slightly adapted from a recipe in Simple Italian Food by Mario Batali

3 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces chorizo, sliced
8 ounces wild mushrooms, sliced (I usually use a combination of shiitake and cremini mushrooms)
1 medium red onion, cut into ½-inch dice
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 cup sweet red vermouth
1-1/2 cups dry white wine
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
2 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large heavy-bottomed pot. Add the chorizo, mushrooms, onion and thyme leaves, and sauté for 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the sweet vermouth and let boil for a minute. Add the white wine, crushed tomatoes, and the clams to the pot. Stir well and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes.

Turn off the heat and discard any clams which haven’t opened. Ladle the stew into wide shallow bowls, and serve with good crusty bread or Wine-Laced Garlic Bread to mop up all the sauce. Prepare yourself to be transported to culinary bliss.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Marvelous Muffins To Greet A New Year

Happy 2009! Even though this is a time of great uncertainty, I am filled with optimism at the beginning of this new year, and I am hopeful that life will go in better and wiser directions for all of us. May 2009 be an adventurous and fruitful one for everyone!

I always make mental notes of my Firsts of each new year, hoping that these Firsts will somehow set a good tone for the upcoming year. We were on my roof deck right at midnight, watching the fireworks burst into celebration over Central Park as we clinked glasses of gorgeous Gragnano, and it seemed fitting that my first wine of 2009 was that beautiful sparkling purply-red wine from Naples which makes my heart leap for joy each time I have a sip of it. In a bid for clarity and a dash of brilliance in this new year, the first music I listened to was Glenn Gould’s dazzling recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. The Bach was followed by my favorite Cleveland Quartet recording of the Beethoven Quartet opus 132, which I suppose represents my wish to live my life with more compassion and the courage to dig deeply. And my initial foray into the kitchen in this brand new year produced some mouthwatering Cranberry Ginger Pecan Muffins that I would love to share with all of you today.

I absolutely love starting a new year by hosting a party on the first day. It’s especially fun when that party is a brunch that begins around noon and lasts until long after the sun has gone down! The One-Year-Plan Club convened for our annual New Year’s Day brunch, and a merry time was had by all. Talk about setting a festive tone for the year!

The whole concept of the One-Year-Plan was my friend Ed’s brainchild years ago. He realized that not only he but also many of our friends had a plethora of creative ideas and projects that we wanted to get off the ground, yet we were all floundering without enough direction or a feasible plan of action. Making resolutions at the beginning of the year never seemed to work beyond the initial enthusiasm, so Ed’s idea was to create some sort of practical roadmap for helping these dreams come to fruition, as well as providing a system of accountability and encouragement for each other as we spurred each other on. We had an extended brunch on January 1, 2002 in which we discussed all of these ideas and goals for the future, and thus the One-Year-Plan Club was born.

The original New Year’s Day quartet was Jorge, Katie, Ed and I, but since 2002 we have grown as Alissa, Erica, Ben and Hannah have joined us. These friends and I have all watched each other make huge professional strides, satisfying career changes, and enormous creative and personal leaps over the years. We have celebrated each others’ successes together, no matter how big or small, and our One-Year-Plan Club has been an incredible source of support as well and a galvanizing force. There is real power in articulating one’s goals and crazy dreams out loud to trusted friends, for that is often the first step in making those very dreams become realities.

We used to go out for our January 1st brunches, but after experiencing interminable restaurant waits and servers who were either cranky as hell or still drunk from the night before, we now have our New Year’s Day brunch at my apartment, which is infinitely more fun. Not only do I love cooking for my friends, we also can linger as long as we need to and laugh as loudly as we want without the fear of inconveniencing any fellow diners. Trust me, that’s important because there is always high hilarity with this crowd, to say the least!

One of the secrets for a happy party is making everyone feel welcome the moment they arrive, no matter how far behind you are in your preparations. I used to get very stressed about that, wanting everything to be perfect the moment my guests stepped across the threshold. But thankfully I’ve discovered that nobody really cares if you still have last minute-cooking to do, especially if you greet them warmly and welcome them with a yummy beverage upon their arrival!

It was a brilliant sunny day, and we had an appropriately happy menu to usher in the new year. Today’s featured cocktail was my Pomegranate Mimosa, a glorious glass of sparkling plum-colored happiness. It couldn’t be easier to make, for all you do is fill a champagne flute about a third of the way with pomegranate juice, then gently pour in enough sparkling wine or prosecco to fill the glass. It’s fun and festive and is a welcome change from a traditional orange juice mimosa. Besides, what could be better than getting antioxidants along with your champagne bubbles?!!

I found a recipe for a spectacular baked egg custard that provided a huge pay-off for very little prep work. All I did was whirl eggs and milk with a few dashes of nutmeg in the blender, pour the mixture over grated gruyere cheese and snipped chives in a baking dish and then stick the whole dish in the oven for 40 minutes. Look at what happened! It rose magnificently and puffed up like the most airy soufflé, and we devoured every last bit of eggy goodness. It was all the more delicious when served with crispy Niman Ranch bacon, which I am delighted to report is now available at both Fairway and Trader Joe’s. (Happy new year to me!)

We made quick work of the egg custard and the bacon while they were still hot. But then there were the MUFFINS, which carried us through our entire afternoon and into the evening. One of our friends doesn’t eat gluten, so I had a fun experiment making these delicious gluten-free lemon blueberry muffins from the wonderful blog Gluten-free Girl. And since I’m still in cranberry holiday mode, I also made an enormous batch of Cranberry Ginger Pecan muffins. It’s these delectable little baked treats that I’d like to talk about today.

Imagine a muffin still warm from the oven, slightly crunchy on top and tender inside, studded with tart cranberries and chewy morsels of crystallized ginger. Chopped toasted pecans provide a textural contrast, and there is a lot happening in just one bite of these muffins. They are homey and satisfying yet sophisticated all at once. These are the perfect thing to eat on a cold winter morning with a big steaming mug of coffee, but I must say that they also work fabulously with a Pomegranate Mimosa!

The champagne flowed as freely as the coffee while my friends and I did a recap of 2008 at our brunch today. We actually NEEDED several hours to thoroughly celebrate each other’s various achievements and the exciting personal strides made over the past year, as well as the creative endeavors which are in the process of being realized! Though we may not accomplish everything on our lists in any given year, the One-Year-Plan is about daring to dream big and enjoying the journey as your friends walk alongside. We had so much to discuss about our goals for the upcoming year, and the baskets of muffins made their way around the table many times as we tried to come up with some practical plans of action.

There were only seven of us at the table today, and when the brunch began, there were 42 muffins. By the end, there were only FOUR muffins left. That should tell you something about how addictive and delicious they are, and I cannot wait for you to try them for yourself!

I have adapted this recipe slightly from the Cranberry Harvest Muffins recipe in The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, reducing the sugar since I don’t think it needs that full amount. The original recipe calls for hazelnuts, but that felt too labor-intensive since I just wasn’t in the mood for toasting and rubbing the skins off of the hazelnuts on New Year’s morning! I’ve substituted pecans for the hazelnuts in the recipe, since I love pecans and always have plenty on hand. Instead of the dried Calimyrna figs in these muffins as the original recipe states, I’ve replaced it with an equivalent amount of diced crystallized ginger pieces. You could substitute almost any one of your favorite dried fruits for the figs, but this particular combination of zingy cranberries and hot-sweet ginger with crunchy pecans makes my taste buds dance a happy jig. And THAT is a fabulous way to start a new year!

(Jorge, Ed and Katie have bought New Year's party glasses for each new year this decade. I kept wondering what's going to happen next year, for how will they make those party glasses without the two zeros in the middle of the year??? As you can see, this brunch lasted so long that it's definitely dark outside!)

adapted from a recipe in The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten

It is important to use a very light hand when making muffins, so be sure not to overmix the ingredients! These are fabulous when served warm, but they are equally delicious at room temperature. Store any leftovers in an airtight container or a resealable plastic bag, though if you are anything like the One-Year-Plan Club, you may not have any left!

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1-1/4 cup whole milk
2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 cups fresh cranberries
½ cup coarsely chopped crystallized ginger pieces
¾ cup coarsely chopped pecans, lightly toasted
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup dark brown sugar, packed (you can use light brown sugar if you don't have dark on hand, but I like the caramelly quality the dark brown sugar adds)

Preheat the oven to 375°. Line 24 standard-size muffin cups with paper liners.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and ground ginger together in a very large bowl. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the milk, beaten eggs, and melted butter. Stir quickly just to combine. Add the cranberries, crystallized ginger pieces, pecans, and both sugars, and stir just enough to distribute evenly throughout the batter. BE SURE NOT TO OVERMIX. The batter will be very thick.

Spoon the batter into the paper liners, filling each one to the top. (Depending on how big your muffin tins are and how thoroughly you fill them, you may have enough batter to make a few more muffins.) Bake the muffins for 20 to 25 minutes until browned on the top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.