Back in the 1990s, I used to read a newsletter (which was eventually compiled into book form) called The Tightwad Gazette. Amy Dacyczyn, the author, promoted thrift as a viable alternative lifestyle in an entertaining, easy-to-read fashion. Over the years I've gone back to my dog-eared volumes many times to find ideas for economizing.
One of the greatest ideas I gleaned from The Tightwad Gazette is the principles for creating a homemade muffin. Not a recipe, but rather a formula. You can use whatever ingredients you have around the house or whatever is cheap. When the boys were young I used the "recipe" out of necessity, but now I'm using it as a template to make healthy food that tastes great, although it doesn't hurt that healthy also equals cheap.
The quantities listed are for a single batch of muffins. I always double the recipe and freeze the extras. They've turned into our go-to breakfast (and sometimes snacks), and two dozen last a little over a week in our house. I've made these so many times it takes me about 15 minutes to mix the batter and fill the pans. They never take more than 15 minutes to cook in my oven, and I let them cool in the pan for 10 minutes before I remove them to cooling racks. That means in a little over a half-hour I have a big Ziploc bag full of healthy muffins.
The original directions are below. I've added comments in orange. Hope you get a chance to try this!
To make muffins, combine dry ingredients, and then mix in wet ingredients until just combined; the batter should be lumpy. Grease muffin tin and fill cups two thirds full. Bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 15-25 minutes.
The following ingredients are required:
Grain: Use 2 to 2 1/2 cups of white flour. Or substitute oatmeal, cornmeal, whole-wheat flour, rye flour, or flake cereal for 1 cup of the white flour. Or substitute 1 cup leftover cooked oatmeal, rice, or cornmeal for 1/2 cup of the white flour and decrease liquid to 1/2 cup. I've been using half whole wheat flour and half oatmeal. Surprisingly, they're not too dense.
Milk: Use 1 cup or substitute buttermilk. Or sour milk (add a tbsp. of vinegar to 1 cup milk). Or substitute fruit juice for part or all of the milk. I use dry milk powder, adding it to my liquid of choice. Leftover coffee works great. My last batch used a bit of orange juice in the refrigerator and some watermelon juice. The results were outstanding!
Fat: Use 1/4 cup vegetable oil or 4 tbsp. melted butter or margarine. Or substitute crunchy or regular peanut butter for part or all of the fat. The fat can be reduced or omitted with fair results if using a "wet addition."
Egg: Use 1 egg. Or substitute 1 heaping tbsp. of soy flour and 1 tbsp. of water. If using a cooked grain, separate the egg, add the yolk to the batter, beat the white until stiff, and fold into the batter.
Sweetener: Use between 2 tbsp. and 1/2 cup sugar. Or substitute up to 3/4 cup brown sugar. Or substitute up to 1/2 cup honey or molasses, and decrease milk to 3/4 cup. I've used maple syrup with good results.
Baking Powder: Use 2 tsp. If using whole or cooked grains or more than 1 cup of additions, increase to 3 tsp. If using buttermilk or sour milk, decrease to 1 tsp. and add 1/2 tsp baking soda. I use 4 tsp. for a double recipe.
Salt: Use 1/2 tsp., or omit if you have a salt-restricted diet.
The following ingredients are optional. Additions can be used in any combination, up to 1 1/2 cups total. If using more than 1 cup of wet additions, decrease the milk to 1/2 cup:
Dry Additions: Nuts, sunflower seeds, raisins, coconut, and so on. The majority of the time I add a scoop of cocoa powder in with the dry ingredients. I figure these muffins are a pretty healthy way to get in my daily dose of chocolate!
Moist Additions: Blueberries, chopped apple, freshly shredded zucchini, shredded carrot, and so on.
Wet Additions: Pumpkin puree; applesauce; mashed, cooked sweet potato; mashed banana; mashed, cooked carrot, and so on. If using 1/2 cup drained, canned fruit or thawed shredded zucchini, substitute the syrup or zucchini liquid for all or part of the milk.
Spices: Use spices that complement the additions, such as 1 tsp. cinnamon with 1/4 tsp nutmeg or cloves. Try 2 tsp. grated orange or lemon peel.
Jellies and Jam: Fill cups half full with a plain batter. Add 1 tsp. jam or jelly and top with 2 more tbsp. batter.
Topping: Sprinkle cinnamon sugar on the batter in the tins.
Non-sweet Combinations: Use only 2 tbsp. sugar and no fruit. Add combinations of the following: 1/2 cup shredded cheese, 3 strips fried and crumbled bacon, 2 tbsp. grated onion, 1/2 cup shredded zucchini, 2 tbsp Parmesan cheese. Spices could include a tsp. of parsley and a pinch of marjoram.