Saturday, July 24th, 2010
I’ve had a serious lavender crush for some time now – lavender infused truffles, lavender whipped cream, lavender butter, rosemary lavender shortbread - like I said, it’s a pretty serious crush.
It all started at a wedding and with my dear friend, Amy, who was the mastermind behind a layer of lavender infused wedding cake. I had been dating Brian for just three months at the time, and we danced the night away, not quite knowing yet that it would be us walking down the aisle just three short months later (no, your math is not incorrect, we quite apparently followed this path).
I do not remember any of the other cake layers, or the cake icing, but I remember that layer of lavender cake…
moist, softly sweet, and deliciously infused with just a hint of beautiful, floral lavender.
Amy, being often more daring in her culinary endeavors than myself, and likely simply altogether more sophisticated, has long been infusing lavender into foods, and her list of lavender creations has only grown over time.
It was two winters ago when Amy was visiting that I first tasted these muffins. As former college roommates, Amy and I have always loved cooking together.
Let’s see – on that particular visit we made double chocolate scones (twice), apricot couscous (note to self – must post this recipe!), Romanian chicken and rice (this one too – so simple and comforting), homemade pasta (didn’t we, Amy? – or should I say, didn’t you?), strawberry lavender jam, lavender brownies, and these lemon lavender blueberry muffins.
These are very special little muffins. The base blueberry muffin recipe is courtesy of Alton Brown. It uses cake flour to create a perfectly light texture and fine crumb, and both baking soda and baking powder for a soft interior and lightly crisp crust. Yogurt adds both delicate flavor as well as acidity to leaven and lighten. There are no lack of blueberries within, and each muffin is dotted with additional blueberries, just for flair.
Alone this is a pretty awesome blueberry muffin.
But add the zest of three lemons and three teaspoons of crushed lavender, and what have you? Amazing, succulent, tangy floral berry wonderfulness – that’s what you’ve got. Flavors meant for each other – lemon, lavender and blueberry.
I think this could also easily be made into a loaf or sheet cake… drizzled with a concentrated lemon glaze? Ah, I think that would make Amy proud.
Nevertheless, it is quite amazing as little muffins, just like this, and little Jonathan can’t get enough of them – lucky him for falling for lavender well before his twenties – to think of all the lavender adventures that lie ahead!
Lemon lavender blueberry yogurt muffins
base blueberry muffin recipe found here
12 1/2 ounces cake flour (just under 2 3/4 cup)
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons aluminum free baking powder
heavy pinch salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup yogurt
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
zest of 3 lemons
3 teaspoons lavender buds
2 tablespoons ground pecans mixed with 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
Preheat oven to 380 degrees F. Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, and set aside.
In a food processor or mini chopper, pulse sugar and lavender buds together until buds are crushed and dispersed throughout the sugar.
In a separate bowl, whisk together lavender infused sugar, oil, egg, and yogurt and lemon zest. Add the dry ingredients, reserving one T of dry ingredients to toss with the blueberries. Stir just until dry ingredients are incorporated, add 1 cup of blueberries, and stir 3 more times. Reserve 1/2 cup of blueberries.
Fill muffin cups 3/4 full and then dot reserved blueberries on top, pressing down lightly. Sprinkle ground pecan mixture on top if desired.
Place muffins in the oven to bake and increase oven temperature to 400 degrees. Bake for 15-18 minutes for mini muffins and 20 to 25 minutes for larger muffins, rotating pan halfway through.
Remove from heat and turn over and out, to cool completely. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container.
Thursday, July 15th, 2010
“Look Jonathan! Look! The mountains. We are driving into the mountains. My mountains!”
It was good to be home again.
After my parents’ divorce and my father’s death, I could hardly go back.
But time and perspective have extended their gracious arms, and support me.
And all those I have always loved.
And those I have come to love.
Home has always been about them, really.
Yet I can’t help but feel these are my mountains.
Tuesday, July 13th, 2010
While I am not gluten intolerant, I do love experimenting with different grains from around the globe that have been used for centuries to create many traditional ethnic foods, and which oftentimes are also incredibly high in nutritive value.
Quinoa is no exception in this category. Used for thousands of years in South America, it is high in protein, essential amino acids, dietary fiber, and multiple vitamins and minerals (not a quinoa ad, just wiki info I like to research when working with new ingredients).
So, for me at least, gluten free cooking is often about discovery, nutrition, and curiosity as much as anything else.
I’ve been tinkering with quinoa flour for some time now, but have only recently begun experimenting with the whole quinoa grain. At first I was surprised by it’s petite size and nutty flavor and can imagine it easily substituted in many couscous and bulgar based recipes.
I am often searching for quick, tasty meals to make myself for lunch as I work from home, and I pulled this “salad” together on a whim last week in the middle of the day, and was pleased with the result.
I tossed the quinoa with a bit of olive oil, fresh grates of parmesan, torn basil leaves, slices of roma tomatoes (from our garden – finally!), toasted pine nuts, and finished it with a squeeze of lemon juice and cracks of sea salt and black pepper. It was lovely just like this, but I also think some lumps of fresh mozzarella would be at home here.
I ate it at room temperature, but found the leftovers even better the next day, cold, straight out of the fridge.
Summer quinoa salad with tomato, basil and toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup quinoa
1/2 cup loosely packed freshly grated parmesan (and/or fresh mozzarella, cubed)
10 basil leaves, torn
2 roma/plum tomatoes cut into 1/4 inch rounds
1 squeeze of fresh lemon juice (1 teaspoon)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Cook quinoa according to package directions (1/2 cup took 1 1/4 cup water for cooking for me). Toss with the olive oil and cool to room temperature (may place in fridge or freezer for a few minutes to achieve this quickly). Toss quinoa with the rest of the ingredients, adding salt and pepper to taste. Makes one meal serving, or 2-3 side servings. Scale as desired. Serve at room temperature or cold.
Saturday, July 3rd, 2010
Brian’s family loves ice cream.
When we go to his parent’s house (which is somewhat often, though less often than you might expect considering they live no more than a couple hundred yards away) I have never seen less than three cartons of ice cream in their freezer at any given time. They are ice cream people.
Me? Ah – it’s not that I don’t like ice cream. I do. But I rarely crave ice cream. So really it’s my perfect dessert. One that I will eat and enjoy, but not feel the necessity to return to the carton to for seconds, or sneak bites from shortly before midnight when I am double checking all the doors, Jonathan, lights, the oven, etc. etc. before I drop into bed.
Except I’m presently a bit concerned about my previously ambivalent relationship with ice cream.
For Father’s Day this year, I thought, “What would be a better gift than an ice cream maker for someone who inherently adores ice cream?”
I can make Brian ice cream till his heart is content, all the while not having to worry about my own over indulgence (selfish – eh?), since I normally have no problem passing on ice cream if my shorts are feeling a bit snug that day.
The problem is, no one told me how much better homemade ice cream is than regular ice cream!
We are loving experimenting with different flavors, and I made this banana, caramel, peanut butter, and toasted almond concoction to take over to Brian’s parent’s house tomorrow for the 4th. It took less than an hour total to prepare and I’m already having a hard time walking by the freezer.
Happy 4th of July!
Banana ice cream with sea salt caramel and peanut butter maple almond swirl
2 cups heavy cream
2 1/2 cups half and half
3/4 cup superfine sugar
1 banana, mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
generous pinch of sea salt (1/8 teaspoon)
1 recipe for peanut butter maple almond swirl (see below)
1 recipe for sea salt caramel (see below)
Combine heavy cream, half and half, sugar, banana, pinch of sea salt and vanilla and stir until sugar has dissolved. Pour mixture into the freezer bowl of your ice cream maker and process according to the ice cream maker directions. When ice cream is frozen and of a medium to firm soft serve consistency pour slightly cool caramel and room temperature peanut butter mixture on top and using a knife or spatula, gently swirl into the ice cream, pulling the bottom ice cream to the top on all sides once to evenly distribute caramel and peanut butter. Do not completely combine – allow swirls and separation between the ice cream, caramel and peanut butter mixture. Freeze completely (2 + hours) and serve with reserved caramel sauce. Makes 2 quarts.
Peanut butter maple almond swirl
1/2 cup natural creamy peanut butter
1 Tablespoon maple syrup
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil (if your peanut butter is already runny, start with 1 tablespoon and add more as needed)
1/3 cup chopped toasted almonds
sea salt (my pb was already salted, but if yours is not, I would add a pinch of salt to taste)
Combine all ingredients and mix until smooth.
Sea salt caramel
1 cup white sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons organic heavy cream warmed slightly (not boiled) or at room temperature
1/4 + 1/8 (3/8) teaspoon sea salt
Have all ingredients out, measured and within reaching distance of your cooktop. Caramel gets very hot, so use oven mitts, be mindful of your arms and eyes, and keep all little ones away for the few minutes this takes to make.
Distribute sugar evenly in a large, even heating saucepan or pot (to allow room for hot caramel to foam up) and begin heating over medium high heat. Keep an eye on the sugar, as when it begins to caramelize, it is a quick process that will need your constant attention.
Within a few minutes, the sugar will begin to melt and caramelize. As large patches of sugar turn to liquid puddles in the pan, stir only often enough to aid even caramelization (because sugar is comprised of crystals, it tends to clump together as it is melting and stirred). As soon as all of the sugar has turned to liquid (aside from any stubborn clumps that will dissolve later or can be strained out) and resembles the color of copper, and is just starting to think about simmering around the edges, remove from heat and immediately add butter and sea salt, stirring vigorously. Add cream and stir until completely combined. Reserve 1/2 cup of caramel to serve alongside the ice cream. Cool the remaining caramel to slightly cooler than room temperature before adding into ice cream (you can put it in the freezer or fridge for 10-30 minutes to accomplish this).