Tuesday, May 17, 2011

(Low Fat!) Strawberry Shortcake Muffins and a Virtual Drive with Cleo Coyle

New York weather has been gray, chilly, and wet, but the abundance of strawberries in the produce aisle assures me the sun is shining somewhere. Of course, California strawberries are making their appearance all over the country, but here in NYC strawberries are also a local crop. How local? Get in my car, and I'll show you (well, virtually, anyway)--and during our drive, I'll point out some fun ideas for your summer vacation.

Cleo Coyle, author of
the Coffeehouse Mysteries,
sets her tales in New York City
(and occasionally Long Island)
Our trek begins in Manhattan, where we cross the 59th Street Bridge. Yes, the same span on which Simon and Garfunkel were "feelin' groovy," all those years ago. Click here to watch them sing the classic tune in Central Park. If you need a pick-me-up, this should do it. :)

On the other side of this famous bridge is a forked body of land, also surrounded by water. This is Long Island...

Click on the map to learn more about Long Island, New York. Map courtesy of Loving Long-Island.com
On the Manhattan end of Long Island sits Queens, one of New York's five boroughs and the place I (and the Mets) call home. Driving east, toward the rising sun, apartment buildings and row houses gradually give way to middle class homes. We're now leaving New York City and entering what we locals think of as "Long Island" proper.

The roads here (almost magically) appear much cleaner and in better shape. Suburban malls sprout up and we pass typical American franchise stores, restaurants, and movie multiplexes. Most of these things will be found along the center of the Island. The picturesque waterside views (a quiet bay on the north end and the tumultuous Atlantic on the south) are peppered by exclusive communities with multimillion dollar homes. But fret not, Oh Ye who do not manage hedge funds nor own software conglomerates, because there are plenty of state parks on Long Island, too. One of my favorites is a 6.5-mile white sand playground for the public called Jones Beach, which makes it possible for even lowly writerly types like moi to appreciate an ocean view.

Teddy Roosevelt's Victorian home,
near Oyster Bay, Long Island.
If strolling through historic villages floats your boat (as it does mine), then you should be buoyed by the many quaint towns along both shorelines. National landmarks are worth a look, too, like Teddy Roosevelt's stunning Victorian home, Sagamore Hill (aka his "summer White House"), near the scenic town of Oyster Bay on Long Island's North Shore.

Continue driving east and the Island takes on a much more pastoral complexion. Out here, you'll still find uber-rich people with their yacht clubs, stables, and summer houses, but you'll also find families who've been here for generations, along with working vineyards and farms. Strawberries are one of the big crops of their summer season. In fact, many of the farms feature pick-your-own strawberry patches.

I didn't pick my own today, although May is the kick-off season for picking your own, a fun outing for young and old. (To find out more, including a list of farm addresses, click here.) For this recipe, I got mine the old-fashioned way, at the grocery store, where the sign next to the stacked containers of bright red berries declared: "Buy 1, Get 1 Free!" 

Indeed, I did buy one, took home two, and had me a strawberry party. :)

In the coming weeks, I'll be posting more strawberry recipes. So stay tuned (she typed, listening to the cold, steady rain on her windowpane). I'm absolutely sure the sun is on its way, any day now. Until then, I'll just have to close my eyes, bite into a sweet, red berry, and listen to it whisper...summer is coming...it's almost here...really.
To check out New York State's interactive guide
to its farm fresh produce, with a list of nearly
2000 farms offering food, products, and
services directly to the public, click here.

Cleo Coyle's (Low Fat!)
Shortcake Muffins

With so many of us trying to lighten our daily diets, I give you a muffin with the taste of a strawberry shortcake but with far less fat. The canola oil and low fat milk make this a guilt-free breakfast or coffee-break snack. And if you should want to make it richer, simply replace the low fat milk with whole milk, half-and-half, or heavy cream. However you decide to bake them, I hope you eat them with joy! ~ Cleo

To download a fee PDF of this recipe that you can print, save, or share, click here

Makes 6 standard muffins


4 - 5 ounces of ripe strawberries (This equals about 4 medium, or 3 large, or 8 small berries. When chopped, they should measure about 2/3 cup.)
1 tablespoon white granulated sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup white, granulated sugar
2 tablespoons canola (or vegetable) oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup low fat milk (2% milk gives great results; for a richer tasting muffin, use whole milk, half-and-half, or cream)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Step 1 - Prep oven, pan, and berries: Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit. Line six muffin cups with paper holders. Wash your strawberries and gently pat them dry with a paper towel. (It's okay if they're still damp.) Hull them (see how below) and chop them into small, uniform pieces. If you slice them over a small bowl, you'll retain more of the juices. Once chopped, the strawberries should fill 2/3 cup and no more. Sprinkle berries with 1 tablespoon of sugar, toss well, and set aside the bowl.

How to hull a strawberry: Pinch off green stem. Using a small, sharp
knife, cut around the berry's crown (or move the berry in a circular
motion against the blade). You want to remove the fibrous white,
conical-shaped core, leaving as much fruit intact as possible
Step 2 - Make batter with one bowl mixing method: Crack egg into a mixing bowl and gently beat with a whisk or fork. Add sugar, oil, vanilla, and salt and whisk until well blended. Add milk and chopped strawberries from Step 1. Be sure to include any strawberry juices that may have accumulated at the bottom of the strawberry bowl. Stir to blend.

Batter before flour is added.

Step 3 - Add dry ingredients: Measure flour and pour into the dry ingredients then sprinkle the baking powder and baking soda evenly over the flour. With a spoon or spatula gently mix dry and wet ingredients to form a lumpy batter. Do not over-mix at this stage, but be sure to blend the flour completely into your batter.

Never over-mix muffin batter or you'll produce gluten in the flour
and your muffins will be tough instead of

Step 4 - Bake: This batter will make 6 standard muffins so divide it up evenly among your paper-lined cups. I use the two tablespoon method, scooping up the sticky batter with one spoon and scraping it off with the other. Bake in a well preheated 350º oven for 25 to 30 minutes. The muffins are not done until the tops have turned golden brown (see my photos)...

Step 5 - Cooling and storing: Allow the muffins to cool for five minutes in the pan. Remove and finish cooling on a wire rack. Once they're completely cool, you can wrap them in plastic and store them in the refrigerator. A little butter, a cuppa joe, and you're set for breakfast, a coffee break, or a late-night snack.

Summer is almost here, with all its
fresh fruits and veggies. Definitely a time to...

Eat with joy!

~ Cleo Coyle, author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

To get more of my recipes, win free coffee,
or find out more about my books, visit me
 at my *virtual* coffeehouse:


Click on the book covers above
to learn more about Cleo's culinary mysteries.


  1. Yes, where IS that sunshine? It's not down here in the sunny South, either (cold and wet here, too...bleh.) I love that this is a healthy breakfast, snack, or dessert--and I absolutely LOVE strawberries. We eat a lot of them here because the kids are wild about them. This is on my TBC'd list! Thanks, Cleo.

  2. Thanks for the tasty mini-vacation from a rainy day in Ottawa. The photos of the muffin prep are wonderful too. I will try these - in fact, can't wait!

  3. Cleo, your pictures are mouthwateringly gorgeous! I've been on a strawberry kick lately, and for the past 2 weeks we finally got some really delicious, sweet berries. Can't wait to try your recipe!

    I also loved your travlogue and the photo of Sagamore Hill. Brought back many memories. This lil Southern girl actually lived on Long Island for 2 1/2 years when my dad's job began transferring him around the country. Quite a culture shock, but enjoyable!

    Crossing fingers for good weather to come soon to your area! (The heater's on as I type, it's freakishly cold here this week!)

  4. Cleo, you know strawberries are one of my favorite things! I just bought a fresh basket yesterday at the little farm-direct stand around from our house. Yummy! Can't wait to make these.


  5. Great recipe, Cleo. And I especially enjoyed the tour of Long Island. I'd love to visit Teddy's Sagamore Hill.

  6. Yummy, Cleo! I'm looking forward to local berries, too. The ones in the grocery stores just aren't quite the same.

    ~ Krista

  7. Thanks for the great recipe Cleo. I am going to the farmers market tomorrow and hopefully they will have the berries. Our family loves the muffins.
    I enjoyed the drive along. I have only been to NY once and that was for 2 days. Would love to go back there.

    Back to the cold rain we are getting today so blah.


  8. Those look wonderful! I believe I'll make those. The top and bottom photos especially belong in a cookbook. Too pretty!

  9. These are so pretty...and scrumpdillyicious looking! My market also has BOGO free this week along with BOGO blackberries. I'll be making double batches..or coercing Chef Connor to make them ;-)

    Here's a wish for all of us who are wrapped in a soggy blanket of rain and fog..."oh Mr. Sun, Sun please come out and play...we all want the clouds and rain to go far away"!!!


  10. Loved that tour of Long Island. Let's take another drive sometime! Meanwhile, I want these strawberry muffins. And strawberry shortcake. And strawberry jam. And strawberry pie.

  11. Those look great!! I just posted a "kind of" strawberry short cake muffin on my blog. I would gladly reach for one of those beauties!

  12. What a cute post, and I was just wondering what to do with all these beautiful strawberries I just picked up! This is a no-brainer, I can't wait to eat one!

  13. Oh Cleo, now I sooooo want to go back to New York and do that drive, and pick strawberries!!! (and of course go to Citi Field as I have not yet been to Citi!!!!!!!) Our boys won tonight, admist all your crappy weather. We had the rain last week but this week has been sunny and warm so hopefully it should come your way soon. The muffins look fabulous! GO METS!

  14. Can't wait to give these a try. The strawberries are grown just blocks from my house, so they should be really fresh. Thanks for the recipes and the books. Love them!

  15. The muffin looks wonderful.

  16. This I have to make. Hopefully the berry patches will open soon.

  17. I bought myself a try of strawberrys this morning and your admission reminded me that they were sitting there waiting to be enjoyed.