Sunday, July 18, 2010

Strawberry Mango Muffins and The Crazy Fridge Disaster

My morning yesterday began quite normally. I woke up, made some coffee while still half asleep. I wandered around unpacking a bit and checked my email before starting my day. It was supposed to be a somewhat lazy Saturday morning, after a grueling week of doing nothing but searching for jobs, applying for jobs, driving around looking for job signs. /sigh I needed to relax big time!

My grand plan was to do some therapeutic baking, something I hadn't done in what felt like ages. Between low carb dieting, moving, and a general paring down of ingredients over the past month, I hadn't really had time to bake much of anything. Besides, now that I have such an adorable and fairly roomy kitchen to work in, I wanted to play.

The first sign of trouble surfaced when I opened the fridge to grab some eggs and milk. Instead of a bracing, cool breeze, I was hit with a fairly tepid not quite cool feeling when I opened the fridge door. I assumed that I must have left the door ajar when I grabbed the creamer for my coffee earlier. Oh if only that were the case! But at the time, it was certainly far simpler to assume I had been my usual clumsy self and, not being used to my new side by side opening fridge, must have not shut the door tightly.

I wanted to make some muffins, but I still hadn't decided which type of muffins I felt like making. Looking around in the fridge, I noticed that I still had a small amount of fresh strawberries left over from my purchase at the farmer's market earlier in the week, and the few that remained were not looking very happy. I picked out the ones that were too far gone and salvaged about 6 decent sized berries. I also still had a ripe mango, another of my farmer's market purchases. I didn't have a recipe for strawberry mango muffins, but it sounded like an appealing combination, so I went with it and started creating.

I assembled some basic muffin ingredients on the counter... flour, milk, eggs, baking powder, salt. I have a favorite blueberry muffin recipe that calls for mashing up some of the blueberries into the batter, and thought that might serve as a good starting point for these muffins. My mango was very, very juicy and parts were just a bit mushy, so I mashed up about 1/2 cup, and diced the rest into bite sized chunks. I was hoping the mashed mango would provide a nice balance of moisture and fruity flavor to the batter, and possibly brighten the color as well. My tiny handful of strawberries only amounted to roughly a half cup, which was really less than I would have liked, but there wasn't much I could do about it at the time. I also chopped up some macadamia nuts I had lying around, thinking they would add a nice bit of crunch to the streusel topping I was planning to sprinkle over the batter.

I realized at this point that I had forgotten to grab some butter, so I went back to the fridge, laid my hands down on the sticks of butter and felt them sink a bit under the pressure of my fingers. While the butter was still cold to the touch, it was clearly a lot softer than it should have been coming straight from the fridge. Concern set in now as I began to feel the contents of my fridge. Everything was definitely still cool, but definitely not as cold as normal and the entire interior felt like a cooler at the end of a long picnic, after the ice has started to melt. Opening the freezer door, I breathed some sighs of relief.. everything inside still seemed frozen and cold, and the fan was running. I turned the temperature control a bit cooler on the fridge side and proceeded with my muffins, hoping that would solve the problem.

I mixed up a quick and easy streusel topping by rubbing a small amount of butter with flour, sugar, and the chopped nuts. In retrospect, I would not use salted macadamias again, as their salty bite was too strong for these muffins. I would either try to find unsalted, or use a different nut .. perhaps Brazil nuts or almonds.

Unfortunately, after my muffins had been baked, cooled, and sampled, my fridge was still not cooling properly, so it was time to give the landlord a call and see about having a repairman come out. I found the manual to see if I could troubleshoot in the meantime, but I had already checked everything suggested in the book. I poured myself a soda, reached into the freezer for some ice and my heart sank. The ice bin had water in it... meaning the freezer was beginning to thaw out as well.

I spent a few hours waiting for the landlord to call back, which felt like an eternity. All of my perishable foods went into cooler bags with the remaining ice. Finally, around dinner time, the serviceman called and gave me the bad news... he had been swamped all day with emergencies and was not going to be able to fix my fridge until Monday the earliest. All I could think of was all of my food melting and spoiling over the next couple of days, and how I wasn't going to be able to replace it since my finances are so very tight right now.

Luckily, the repairman was awesome and was able to take the time to talk me through a temporary fix over the phone. I have never in my life done any sort of handy repairs on household appliances, so I was pretty impressed that he was able to get me to do this on my own. After figuring out which breaker switch to turn off (a feat in itself... why do those breaker panels NEVER seem to have things labeled correctly?), I had to remove all of the food, pry loose all of the trays, scrape away some ice buildup covering six tiny metal screws in the back of the fridge interior. It isn't like I have a huge arsenal of household tools to work with here folks, I was working with my cheap pink girly tool kit I had thankfully picked up at the local discount store. I wasn't working with quality equipment and my experience level was zero.

My task was to pry free the screws, remove the long metal plate, and find out what the metal coils and wiring looked like behind the panel. The serviceman was expecting .. correctly as it turned out.. that they would be covered by a wall of ice at least 3" thick. The only way to get my fridge to work at all and have any hope of saving my food was going to depend on me being able to remove that ice, since it was preventing the fridge from operating correctly. My next step was to lay out some towels, grab a power strip and my hair dryer and start melting that ice in intervals. It seems that a hair dryer can be powerful enough to actually melt the metal components of the freezer motor, something to think about next time you are blasting your hair.

It took a while, but eventually I did manage to get all of the ice thawed and cleared from the motor without getting the water all over my hair dyer and electrocuting myself. The panel back in place, I cleaned up the water, turned the breaker back on and had a running fridge again, at least for a few days. The repairman explained that until he is able to fix the real problem, the one causing the ice to build up like that in the first place, it will just continue to create a new layer of ice. But yay.. at least my food was saved!

And now, finally, the muffin recipe....

Strawberry Mango Muffins
(12 servings)

dry mixture:
2 cups all purpose flour or plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp poppy seeds (just 'cause I thought they'd look pretty)

wet mixture:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar or caster sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup mashed mango pulp
1 tsp vanilla or almond extract
1 cup diced mango
1/2-1 cup diced strawberries

Streusel topping:
4 Tbsp all purpose flour or plain flour
4 Tbsp granulated sugar
1/4-1/3 cup chopped unsalted nuts (macadamia, almonds, brazil, whatever you prefer)
2 tbsp unsalted butter

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl, making a well in the center. In another bowl, using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together, then beat in one egg at a time, mixing well after each. Add the mango pulp and the extract and combine well. Stir in the diced mango and strawberries, being careful not to crush them.

Mix together the streusel ingredients in a smaller bowl, adding the nuts last. Personally, this is easiest using your fingers to rub the ingredients together into clumps, making sure to leave the mixture very crumbly.

Pour the wet mixture into the well you made in the dry ingredients and stir just enough to combine the ingredients together, leaving no pockets of dry flour. Overmixing will result in tough chewy muffins, so don't use your electric mixer here.

Spoon the batter into 12 greased muffin tins and sprinkle the crumbly streusel topping evenly over each. They should look like snowy rubble-topped mounds.

Bake in a preheated 375 F oven for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick tests clean when you stick it into the largest looking muffin. Allow to cool in the tins for at least 10 minutes before attempting to pry them free. Enjoy warm or cool.

Notes: The muffins turned out beautiful and their texture was light and fluffy, with just enough crumb to make them true muffins and not cupcakes. I was very happy with their light sweet but not too sweet flavor, and the streusel topping was soft and powdery. The only things I would change would be to add more strawberries (a full cup) and unsalted nuts, as I already mentioned above. Oh... and perhaps almond extract instead of vanilla, especially if I went with chopped almonds in the topping.


  1. Ooooooooo. lovely muffins! Thks for dropping by Luxury Indulgence :)

  2. Oh my, what an adventure. If my ancient fridge goes on the fritz, I know who to call. Your muffins look delicious as usual.

  3. Thanks Karen - the fridge guy came today and it is all fixed now, thank goodness!

  4. Don't you hate it when this happens,especially when you a fully stocked fridge? I faced with the similar situation when renting from a stingy landlord who gave me an old fridge.

    Anyway, I'm glad this is all over. On the bright side, you have these delicious muffins to calm your nerve. :)

  5. I was so very relieved that I didn't lose much food. The only thing I needed to toss was the rest of my milk, which was near its expiration anyway - it was open and too tall to fit inside the cooler bag standing up. It could have been much worse! Thanks for commenting, Emily :)

  6. I was checking back in here to see if your fridge was fixed, and it is! yay!
    Florida heat does NOT go well with a fridge on the fritz!!

  7. Glad your disaster was resolved! I'm new here and will enjoy following your blog with all its good recipes! These muffins look delicious but I have to check out those toasted coconut blueberry muffincakes as they sound delicious also!

  8. Very impressive that you were able to make beautiful muffins, deal with your refrigerator and take great photos!

    Glad your food didn't spoil. what a nightmare!!

  9. Thank you Lennie, Pam, and thehungryartist. Muffins are one of my most reliable baked items - I can make them when I am tired, sick, have a headache, you name it. I guess they are a good stress reducer ;)

  10. Delicious recipe pairing my two favorite fruits!! I have made these twice in a month and they were a hit with everyone that tasted them. Thank you so much for sharing. I will be enjoying these for many years to come!