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THE HEALTHY PLATE: Recipe for hearty blueberry-banana muffins

This June 30, 2014 photo shows hearty blueberry banana muffins in Concord, N.H. The whole-grain, fruit-packed muffins can begin a day with a healthy start. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

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This June 30, 2014 photo shows hearty blueberry banana muffins in Concord, N.H. The whole-grain, fruit-packed muffins can begin a day with a healthy start. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

Ripe, plentiful blueberries are such a highlight of summer that some of us are prone to getting the blueberry blues during the rest of the year.

Happily, imported and frozen blueberries make it easy to enjoy them all the time. In fact, if you're really on your game, you can pick extra now and freeze them for later. And when later comes around, those frozen hand-picked berries make for some pretty awesome muffins.

But before you get out the muffin pan, let's tackle some of the issues we often run into when making muffins. Typically, the batter is made with white flour and a ton of fat and sugar. It's a delicious combination, but one that makes blueberry muffins more an indulgence than a healthy choice.

It was easy to swap some of the white flour with whole wheat, but I also added oat flour to the mix. I worried oat flour might be hard to find, but that's when I discovered that making your own easy; just pulverize the oats in a blender until smooth. I loved what the oats brought to the recipe besides lots of fiber and nutrients, principally a sweeter and heartier flavour than wheat flour. They also made the muffins moister.

Thanks to the mashed banana, which contributed moisture of its own, this recipe for a dozen muffins required only 3 tablespoons of butter. Just make sure the banana is very ripe to get the most out of its flavour and natural sugars. I also substituted low-fat — and big-flavoured — buttermilk for the full-fat milk usually called for.

Finally, I jacked up the pleasure quotient by adding lemon and cinnamon — which always pair up beautifully with blueberries — and conjured some crunch by topping the muffins with a little extra sugar.

Considering that this recipe requires only 25 minutes of hands-on time, you might frequently find yourself whipping up batches of blueberry muffins in the dead of winter. They are sure to banish those blueberry blues.

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HEARTY BLUEBERRY-BANANA MUFFINS

Start to finish: 50 minutes (25 minutes active)

Makes 12 muffins

1 cup oat flour (made by pulverizing 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons old fashioned oatmeal in a blender or processor until smooth)

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided

1/2 cup white whole-wheat flour

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon table salt

2 teaspoons lemon zest

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 small very ripe banana, mashed (about 1/4 cup)

3/4 cup buttermilk

1 large egg, lightly beaten

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 1/4 cups frozen blueberries

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Heat the oven to 350 F. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners or coat it with baking spray.

In a large bowl, combine the oat flour, 3/4 cup of the all-purpose flour, the white whole-wheat flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, lemon zest and cinnamon.

In a medium bowl, combine the banana with the buttermilk, egg and butter. Mix well. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until they are just combined.

In a medium bowl toss the blueberries with the remaining 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, then transfer them to a strainer and shake off the excess flour. Add the blueberries to the batter and gently fold them in.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pan. The batter should be slightly mounded above the edge. Sprinkle the granulated sugar evenly over the tops of the batter, then bake the muffins on the oven's middle shelf for 20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted at the centre of the muffins comes out clean. Let the muffins rest, in the pan, for 5 minutes before serving.

Nutrition information per serving: 170 calories; 40 calories from fat (24 per cent of total calories); 4.5 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 25 mg cholesterol; 29 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 11 g sugar; 4 g protein; 210 mg sodium.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."

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