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Posts Tagged ‘lemon’

I’ve noticed lately that my days seem to be having their own soundtracks. We’ve become a kind of soundtrack world, what with the abundant use of iTunes, the earbud generation and the incessant need to insert any type of sound into the hours. These are the playlists of our lives, what we exercise to, the music in the background while we work, what blasts from our computers as we clean, or cook or just manage the day.

What I’ve been noticing is that each day seems to have it’s unique sound, a type of music that fits to the mood, weather and sense of self that we connect with through our waking hours. While most of us have our favorite music, I wonder how often we switch out the tunes in an attempt to match the feeling of a particular Friday, or a lazy Sunday afternoon or a bright shiny Wednesday morning. Rainy days have their own soundtrack, and sunshine makes music like nothing else. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, just sit down with an old Warner Bros. cartoon medley, and see what I mean. The Disney animators of old knew exactly how to use music to create a wordless story, to set mood, to create action. Remember the original movie version of Fantasia? It was all about matching music to mood. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, with it’s gentle Springtime lilt and angry Summer thunderstorm movements are a perfect example. I can’t ever listen to composer Paul Dukas’ famous orchestral work ‘The Sorceror’s Apprentice’ without seeing Mickey Mouse, flashing lights and thousands of brooms. Music sets the tone and starts the imagination, it inspires and ignites us.

And food fits into the sense of every day, much the same as music. We all know those lustrous summer days that beg for a juicy grilled burger and corn that’s fresh from the field, the springtime air that makes you dream of salads, fresh peas and asparagus. Winter speaks like soup, or a hearty stew simmering in a pot and then there’s those days that nothing else will do besides a long slow fire and the smoke of a perfect BBQ. Rain and baking, as I recently discovered, sometimes are the best of friends.

I love having music on when I’m elbow deep in the creative process in my kitchen. With iTunes radio, a huge selection is at my fingertips and with a few clicks I can have the perfect background to what I’m doing. I recently was faced with a rainy day that felt like it would perfectly match with soft cafe jazz, a warm oven and a pan of muffins to make it complete. Sitting at the top of my To Make pile on the counter, the place where inspiration lives with just a few shufflings of papers, was a recipe for Fig Muffins with Lemon Honey Cream cheese filling, and oh how that magically blended itself into the saxophone, the steady patter of spring rain outside the door and the gentle rhythm of mid-week. With a loaf of 10-grain bread from my dog-eared copy of ‘Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes’ and a steaming cup of tea, it was about as right and perfect as it could be to give chase to the gray sky.


Of course, I am a bit head over heels for figs, so it likely didn’t hurt that one of my most favorite fruits was the superstar in this moist and tasty breakfast treat. But when you blend up a lovely fragrant batch of sweet honey and lemon flavored cream cheese and bake up these muffins with it’s delightful hidden center, the result alone may have been enough to push the clouds aside for a ray of sun to enter the house.

Lemon is another true love I’ve found with baking. There’s something about the zesting and the juicing and the way the yellow oval resembles a bright July day that always makes me eager to place a few in my basket at the market. For me, the lemon scented cream cheese alone may be the path to a better day, with or without jazzy backdrop, whether it’s raining or not and I was so glad that I made the whole container into this fragrant mix. I will find ways to consume the leftovers. Like spreading it copiously all over these muffins, because I’ve discovered that with some food items, there simply can’t be enough of a good thing.

What kind of soundtrack defines your days? Do you change up your music to suit your mood??


Fig Muffins with Honey Lemon Cream Cheese filling

adapted from Eating Well magazine, February 2010

Preheat the oven to 400° and line two 6-count muffin pans with liners. You can use cooking spray too, if you like.

1  4-oz container cream cheese, softened
2 T. honey
1 T. fresh lemon zest
2-3 T. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 t. fresh ground nutmeg

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients and blend until smooth. Add more zest or juice if desired. I love a good tart flavor.

For the muffins:

2 c. whole wheat flour
1-1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. sea salt
1 T. ground flaxseed
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 c. turbinado sugar (you can sub in brown sugar if you don’t have turbinado)
1 c. buttermilk (I used vanilla soymilk)
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
1-1/2 c. chopped dried figs

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and soda, salt and ground flaxseed. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, buttermilk and oil and whisk until blended and uniform. If you’re using turbinado, don’t worry if the sugar doesn’t dissolve fully, just whisk until blended. Mix the wet ingredients in with the dry and stir until just incorporated, then add the figs and gently fold together.

Spoon batter into muffin cups to half full. Add about a tablespoon of the cream cheese mixture to the center of each muffin, then cover with more batter. You shouldn’t see the filling, but don’t worry if you do. I spooned a smaller amount of cream cheese on to the tops of each muffin, but you don’t need to do that. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins with more turbinado sugar, or another sanding sugar if desired, then bake them for 13-15 minutes, or until they spring back when pressed.

Allow the muffins to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then take them out and allow to cool fully on cooling rack.

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I’m not surprised that baking is a soothing enterprise for me. It calms and centers me and usually it’s because I always feel my Mom’s presence when I bake. She gave me my baking gene and my love for all things flour and butter and it channels my inner child to get out my K5 and open the pantry. This time of year is especially hard for me, as Christmas was such a favorite of hers, but I find that the very act of cookie making can be like entering a zen mode and it takes some of the grief away to see all the delightful baked discs on my counter, and feel the spirit of my Mom’s beaming proud smile.

Plus, I just HAVE to get my cookie in to Susan!!

foodbloggacookielogoFor the second year in a row, Susan of Food Blogga is hosting this event and getting a mountain of responses in return. Last year I was ambitious and submitted three recipes, but this year I have only this one. But I have to warn you, this is a killer cookie recipe.

May I present the Lemon Ricotta Cookie.

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This cookie in it’s basic form, was a winner in the Holiday Cookie Contest held by our local paper. Although I love the idea of a cookie chock full of ricotta cheese, I imagined that by adding the tart and heady scent of lemon that it might just add something magical to this recipe.

Magic indeed! While the cookie itself was pillowy, moist, tender and rich, the added element of lemon and the tang of a little zest gave it so much more character. It’s like the cheesecake cookies I made last year for this same event, but lighter and fluffier, and lately I just can’t get enough of anything lemon. And although I might be asking for it by consuming ricotta cheese, the stomachache I get from the dairy in these would be well worth it. And so far, it hasn’t happened, but I also haven’t OD’d on them either.


LEMON RICOTTA CHEESE COOKIES

For cookie:
4 c. flour
2 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 (15.-oz) container ricotta cheese
1 tsp. lemon extract
2-3 t. fresh lemon juice + 1-2 t. fresh lemon zest
2 eggs

For icing:
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
3 tbsp. milk
Red and green decorative sugars, optional

Directions

To prepare cookies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt and reserve. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat sugar and butter until creamy, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed to medium, add ricotta cheese, extract, juice, zest and eggs and beat until well-combined. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, mixing just until dough forms. Drop dough in small mounds on prepared baking sheets. Bake until cookies are very lightly golden, rotating trays halfway through, for about 15 minutes (cookies will be soft). Remove from oven and cool 2 minutes on baking sheets before transferring cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

KATE’S NOTES:
I initially wanted to make these an Almond Ricotta cookie, with almond extract and finely chopped almonds, and sometime I do intend to try out that version, but my almond extract had evaporated so I went with lemon. Be sure to really whip the butter and sugar for a while- the loftiness you achieve makes the cookie very fluffy. Thoroughly scrape the bowl at least once during the mixing of the cheese and egg; you want to really blend the wet ingredients well. The dough, while not very stiff, should ONLY be mixed until the flour is just incorporated. Do not overmix at this point. Once the flour is mixed in,  turn it off and give the dough a few turns, gently, with a rubber spatula in case there is any flour in the bottom of the bowl. I made two batches of this, and inadvertantly let both of them sit after the dough was ready. Whether it made a difference, I have no idea, but that’s what happened with mine. I did not use the icing.

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Pasta with Lemon Wine Sauce

1# cooked pasta, drained, reserving cooking water
1 package grape tomatoes, quartered
2 large tomatoes, deseeded and chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 bunches broccoli, trimmed
3 sausage links, chopped (i used a tomato basil chicken sausage)
1 cup dry white wine
Juice of one lemon
Zest of one lemon
Grated cheese for garnish

In large skillet, heat oil of choice and add broccoli, stir fry quickly until bright green. Add about 1/3 c. water to pan and cover. Allow to steam for five minutes. Remove broccoli to bowl and cover. In same pan, add sausage and brown for 5-10 minutes. Remove. Add a splash of oil to pan and place chopped regular tomatoes in pan. Cook until they have broken down, maybe 3-5 minutes. Pour in wine, add garlic and 1 tablespoon of zest and bring to a simmer; cook until reduced by half. Have pasta, sausage and broccoli ready in large pan or bowl. Add quartered grape tomatoes to skillet and about a half cup of reserved cooking water; stir quickly to incorporate then pour over pasta mixture. Toss gently. Stir in a tablespoon or two of lemon juice and a little more zest (to taste). Season with salt and pepper.

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