Lemon lavender blueberry yogurt muffins

July 24th, 2010

Lemon lavender blueberry muffin

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.

Lemon lavender blueberry muffin

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.

Lemon lavender blueberry muffin

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 muffin
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 egg
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.

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Banana ice cream with sea salt caramel and peanut butter maple almond swirl

July 3rd, 2010

Banana Peanut butter almond caramel ice cream

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.

Banana Peanut butter almond caramel ice cream

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 Peanut butter almond caramel ice cream

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).

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Strawberry mascarpone tart with lavender vanilla whipped cream

May 24th, 2010

Strawberry mascarpone tart with lavender vanilla whipped cream

Bloom where you are planted.  I’ve been saying this to myself for awhile now.

Single and in my early twenties, I lived outside of Washington D.C. and worked in the city where it was easy to do things like take photography, politics, and religion classes at night after work at the Smithsonian, and hop over to Old Town Alexandria on weekends to pick up groceries at Trader Joe’s.

After Brian and I married almost seven years ago now, we moved to a Virginia suburb to be closer to his family. Life in the suburbs is different from city life. There is no Smithsonian, no coffee shops within walking distance, and TJ’s is over half an hour away.

But you know what? Half a mile down the street is a farmer’s market where I can walk to buy fresh produce all summer long. And right next door to that market every spring is a strawberry farm where I can pick some pretty amazing fresh berries.

I’m also able to work from home and not have to commute an hour each way to work. And best of all, here we can afford enough land that Brian can experiment with just about every gardening idea he can dream up (the “big” garden has been tilled and the first plants are in the ground – hop rhizomes).

So, though I love the hum and culture of city life, I am trying to bloom where I am currently planted. Literally and figuratively.

The Saturday before Mother’s Day I took little Jonathan to the strawberry farm to pick berries. I’ve been feeding him strawberries already this spring, so I could see the excitement and questioning in his eyes as he saw the berries on the vines. It was such a perfect expression of surprise and wonderment that came over his face when I picked a berry in the field and let him taste. Such sweetness.

I came home and while Jonathan napped – worn through from the sun and humid coastal VA heat, I made this strawberry mascarpone pie/tart with lavender vanilla whipped cream to take to lunch with Brian’s family the next day.

Strawberry pieStrawberry mascarpone pie with lavender vanilla whipped cream

I’ve always loved strawberry pie. My mom used to make it simply growing up using sliced strawberries and strawberry gelatin on a flaky crust served with cool whip.

Here I wanted to capture everything I loved about Mom’s pie, but eliminate the strawberry gelatin that contains food colorings and artificial flavorings. I also love mascarpone cheese with, well – just about everything, so I thought adding a thick slick of honeyed mascarpone accented by lemon zest beneath the strawberries would be lovely. I also adore strawberries and lavender together, so I made fresh lavender vanilla whipped cream to serve alongside.

There are no pictures of the tart cut since I took it the next day to lunch and didn’t want to be hovering over people’s plates trying to grab a picture, and it went quickly.

I liked everything about this pie/tart except my crust shriveled and was a bit dense – I’m doing well on savory tart crusts, but a simple flaky pie crust (with no partially hydrogenated oils) seems to be eluding me – I welcome links to any favorite recipes!

I ended up with leftover whipped cream, so I decided to pulse it in the food processor and make lavender vanilla butter. It worked beautifully!

With the butter I made part whole wheat lavender rosemary shortbread cookies inspired by this and lavender accented granola bars with dried cherries, coconut, apricots, cocoa nibs and almond butter, inspired by this recipe – both of which were wonderful and Jonathan enjoyed for over a week.

I have been working hard on my business and am trying to stick to a reduced carb diet, which has left me feeling quite tired (must remember to take vitamins, drink more water, get more sleep, and still treat myself), but I hope to be back in order shortly. I hope you are well.

Fresh strawberry mascarpone tart

1 crust for 9 inch pie pan or 9 or 10 inch tart pan
1 quart fresh strawberries, washed and tops trimmed
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 cup water
8 oz mascarpone cheese, softened *
2 teaspoons honey
pinch of fine grain sea salt
zest from 1 lemon
lavender vanilla whipped cream (recipe following)

Prepare and bake pie crust according to recipe instructions. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Mix the honey, pinch of sea salt (no more than 1/8 teaspoon), and lemon zest into the mascarpone cheese in a medium bowl. Spread cheese mixture evenly over the bottom of the baked pie crust and place in the refrigerator until ready to assemble the pie.

Puree half of the strawberries in a food processor (alternately you could simply mash them in the pan) and place in a medium saucepan with the sugar over medium heat, bringing to a boil while stirring frequently.

Whisk together cornstarch and water in a small bowl and gradually stir into the strawberry sugar mixture. Reduce heat and simmer until thickened into a thick syrup, about 5 to 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Allow mixture to cool for 5-10 minutes.

Mix the remaining half of the strawberries with the strawberry glaze either in the pan (if large enough) or in a large bowl in order to evenly coat the berries. Gently pour coated strawberries into the pie shell on top of the cheese mixture along with all extra strawberry glaze/syrup. Arrange strawberries to your liking and chill pie in the fridge for several hours (allow at least 6+ hours) before slicing. Serve with lavender vanilla whipped cream.

* If you cannot find mascarpone cheese, cream cheese would make a nice substitute

Lavender vanilla whipped cream and lavender vanilla butter

1 pint heavy whipping cream, very cold
1 teaspoon lavender buds, crushed and broken, using a food processor or mortar and pestle
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or seeds from 1 vanilla bean
1 tablespoon light brown sugar or natural raw sugar

Using a hand mixer or standing electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine all ingredients and whip till soft cream peaks form.

If you end up with leftover whipped cream, you can make lavender vanilla butter by placing whipped cream into the food processor and pulsing till the fat separates from the liquid. Strain the “buttermilk” from the solid, and you have butter!

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Preclusion, rhubarb galette, and rhubarb haze

April 28th, 2010

Rhubarb galette

I want to tell you about my week, but right now it all seems a bit blurry, clouded by the intermittent rain we’ve been experiencing and the busyness that has precluded my memory. Do you ever have weeks like that?
Oh, yes. I am remembering a bit.

Saturday Brian and I went on a rare childless date trying a restaurant that specializes in local and seasonal fare. Later we found ourselves, rather unintentionally, spending the rest of our precious free time perusing Williams-Sonoma, with the sales associate bringing out all of their stock of a particular cutting board I kept eyeing, and lining them up on the sales counter for us to compare.

“Well, I have this food blog I started, and now I’m always checking out interesting cutting boards, imagining how they will look in photos.” I explained to the affably amused sales associate.

I also made this rhubarb galette, which as it turned out, was no minor occurrence.

Rhubarb stalksDiced rhubarb

I’ve been wanting to make something with rhubarb for over a month now, knowing it is in season and seeing it pop up here and there on other blogs, but the farmer’s market down the street is sans rhubarb, and the standard grocers I frequent were completely out two weeks in a row.

“What we had went bad because it wasn’t selling, and we haven’t gotten another shipment in,” I was told by a man in the produce section at my first store, with my second grocer echoing the same.

Lemon zest

I feel sad thinking about that, yet I think I understand it. I believe there are many fruits and vegetables that are commonly overlooked simply because people are not familiar with how to cook them or what the end result will taste like. It’s natural to cook with the familiar.

I can be included in this bunch at times. Yes, I’ve had strawberry rhubarb preserves, and I’ve seen and heard about rhubarb many times. But somehow, this was my first time cooking with rhubarb.

“I recognize you,” the produce manager at the second store I’ve been stalking said, “You were here last week looking for rhubarb. We finally got some on the last truck!”

I fumbled through the stack of fresh rhubarb picking out the best looking stalks, – yes, I am like that – bought three pounds, even though I only knew what I was going to do with two, and went to work.

Rhubarb with juices released

I adapted my rhubarb recipe from a cookbook by the editor’s of Cook’s Illustrated Brian gave me several years ago from which I had not yet tried a single recipe. Judging from my first bite of this galette, if the other recipes turn out anything like this galette turned out, I have been sorely missing out.

Cook’s Illustrated did their own adaptation of the recipe from an apparently well known Portland, Oregon restaurant by the name of Bluehour. When I am in Portland someday, as I am determined I will be, this recipe has certainly earned my patronage at their swanky little outfit.

FillingGalette dough sprinkled with sugar

Filled

You start out making the galette dough by combining flour, fine grain corn meal, a bit of confectioner’s sugar and a dash of sea salt with plenty of cold butter, two large egg yolks, and a nice pour of cold buttermilk.

Next you dice the rhubarb and sauté it with raw sugar, lemon zest, and the seeds and pod of one long slender fragrant vanilla bean, just until the rhubarb releases it’s cherry red juices. The sweet vanilla bean speckled juice is saved and simmered down to serve later alongside the galette.

The partially cooked rhubarb is then cooled and tossed  with just enough cornstarch for thickening, along with petite cubes of diced butter just for decadence sake.

The galette dough is sprinkled with raw sugar and the ruby filling is placed evenly in the center. The dough edges are then pleated in rose petal like fashion around the filling and whole milk is brushed on the exposed dough folds and finished with final sprinklings of raw sugar.

Sliced

“I really didn’t know what to expect,” Brian said after taking his first bite, “But the ‘rubber’ pie is GOOOD! I guess we will have to grow our own ‘rubber’ in the garden next year.”

Apparently Brian thinks the word “rhubarb” sounds a bit like “rubber” so he has taken to calling it such, but please do not let this deter you – there is absolutely zero other resemblance between the two, I assure you.

The crust was buttery flaky, edgy from the buttermilk, yet softened by the sweetness of the confectioner’s sugar – and with just a little crunch from the corn meal – this was a crust to come back to.

And the rhubarb. The rhubarb! Sweet tart, rich from the vanilla and butter, accented by hints of lemon playing off the buttermilk tang in the crust. Not too sweet – just right.

You could serve all this artistry with freshly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, but we happily devoured it with vanilla Greek yogurt and splashes of the vanilla dotted magenta sauce.

Rhubarb galette

Now that rhubarb and I have been properly introduced in my own kitchen, I want to make rhubarb everything! Like this, and this, and this – and many others I am sure I am overlooking in my present state of rhubarb haze – thank goodness I bought extra.

Eating galetteEating galette

All done

Rhubarb galette
Adapted from here who adapted it from here

Crust
1/4 cup cold buttermilk
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon water
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour *
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup fine-grind corn meal
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) very cold butter, cut into 1/4 inch dice

Filling
2 pounds rhubarb, washed, tops and bottoms trimmed, cut into 1/2 inch dice (about 6 cups)
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) raw cane sugar *
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest from 1 lemon
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds removed, seeds and bean pod reserved
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch dice
4 tablespoons raw cane sugar
2 tablespoons whole milk
vanilla Greek yogurt, whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream, for serving

Make the crust by whisking buttermilk, egg yolks, and 1 tablespoon water in a medium bowl. In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, in a food processor, or in a medium bowl using pastry knives or a fork, combine the flours, confectioners’ sugar and salt. Add the butter to the flour mixture and combine on a low speed just until mixture resembles coarse crumbs, with some pea size bits of butter remaining, about 1 minute. With the mixer or food processor running, or while stirring, add the buttermilk mixture slowly until dough comes together, about 20 seconds (do not overmix). Remove dough from mixing bowl and shape into an 8 inch disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate till firm, about 1 hour.

Make the filling by cooking the rhubarb, sugar, salt, lemon zest, vanilla seeds and pod in a 12-inch skillet over high heat until the rhubarb releases its juices, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer and spread rhubarb out on a rimmed baking pan and allow to cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Then stir in cornstarch and butter and set aside.

Simmer the juices left in the pan down to about 1/2 cup, 3-5 minutes, allow to cool, and reserve to serve as a syrup alongside the finished galette.

Heat oven to 350 degrees and adjust and oven rack to the middle position. Roll the galette dough out on a lightly floured surface to a 16 inch circle about 1/4 inch thick. Transfer the dough to a piece of parchment paper set on top of a rimless baking sheet. Sprinkle the dough with 2 tablespoons of sugar and then lay rhubarb filling in the middle of the dough, leaving a 3 inch rim uncovered by filling around the edge. Fold the edges of the dough up around the filling, overlapping and pleating at equal intervals. Brush the top of the crust with milk and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until crust is golden and filling is bubbling. Cool for 30 minutes and then cut in 8 wedges and serve with cooled rhubarb syrup, vanilla Greek yogurt, whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream.

*may use all white flour or substitute standard whole wheat flour for the white whole wheat flour
*may use standard granulated sugar

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