My Sweet and Savory Cheddar Leek Muffins
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My Sweet and Savory Cheddar Leek Muffins

I was supposed to bake snacks for a school event that started at 6 p.m. My daughter wanted sweet and I wanted something that wouldn't spoil her appetite. Sometimes compromise is a beautiful thing.

Every winter my daughter Ursula's school celebrates the season and brings light to the shorter days with a lantern walk. For the uninitiated, that means dozens of children singing softly like nymphs and walking with lit candles nestled inside glass jars in an otherwise-dark community garden. The teachers lead the group in a slow procession and the children follow, their illuminated faces dazed with wonderment. The same kids who just minutes earlier were running and shouting are suddenly solemn, scarcely able to believe that they're out after dark, being entrusted with the flickering votives in their fragile containers. Believe me, though it sounds dangerous, the effect is quite beautiful, and no one gets hurt.

Part of the tradition is for each family to bring a dozen muffins. I always get tripped up by this request: Muffins at 6 in the evening, right before dinner? Blueberry or chocolate just seems wrong. So for my dozen I reach for some savory ingredients.

This year I chose a cornbread base and amped it up with buttermilk and sharp Dubliner cheddar from Ireland. Leeks add an oniony kick. I drizzled a little honey into the batter only because Ursula was helping and she insisted. It was a good call: The kids loved the sweet and savory combo and I didn't feel like I was spoiling anyone's supper.

When we got home that night, I served the leftover muffins as a side to mop up juicy braised pork -- a meal that satisfied kids and adults alike.

Cheddar and Leek Muffins

Work: 20 minutes
Total: 45 minutes

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cups low-fat buttermilk
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup grated sharp cheddar
1 1/4 cups thinly sliced leeks, white and pale green parts

1. Heat oven to 375°F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.

2. In a large bowl whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. In a small bowl whisk together eggs, buttermilk, 5 tablespoons melted butter, and honey.

3. Add the buttermilk mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until smooth. Fold in cheese and 1 cup leeks.

4. Spoon mixture into the muffin cups, filling about 3/4 full. Top each with a few of the remaining leeks and a drizzle of the remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter.

5. Bake until tops just begin to brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Makes 12 muffins.

Per muffin: 205 cal, 11.5g fat (6.5g sat), 694mg sodium, 20g carb, 60mg chol, 6g protein, 1g fiber

Food writer Sara Kate Gillingham shares a tiny apartment in New York City with her daughter, their dog, Nigella, and a pet turtle named Baby Dinosaur.

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