Orange Breakfast Muffins

These very simple breakfast muffins are as easy as languidly stirring the ingredients together. No mixer or beater required. Be careful not to overwork the batter though, as lumpy is what you're after. Made with just a little sugar, these delicious babies won't make you feel guilty the rest of the day for indulging first thing in the morning.  And because they're not very sweet, I advise you to go for it and enjoy them with a little jam. I had mine with strawberry and am inspired to take on homemade preserves with all the strawberries that are ripening so quickly around here. Stay tuned!

                    6 tablespoons unsalted butter
                    1 2/3 whole wheat pastry flour
                    2 tablespoons ground almonds
                    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
                    1 teaspoon baking powder
                    1/4 cup mascobado sugar
                    zest of 1 orange
                    1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
                    1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole milk
                    1 egg

Preheat the oven to 400F. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper baking cups.

Melt the butter and set aside. Combine the flour, ground almonds, baking soda, baking powder, sugar, and orange zest in a large bowl. Measure the orange juice and milk into a pitcher and whisk in the egg and then the cooled, melted butter. Now pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients, mixing with a fork as you go. The batter will be lumpy but that's how it should be: you want everything to be no more than barely combined.

Spoon the mixture equally into the muffin cups and cook for 15-20 minutes. Remove, in their paper cups, to a wire rack and let cool slightly. Serve warm with jam or preserves.

Makes 12 muffins.

Adapted from Nigella Lawson, Nigella Bites.


Pear, Rocket and Fennel Salad with Blue Cheese

A combination of favorites: cheese, fruit and greens. What a delightfully simple but sophisticated little salad this is. And fennel! Fennel, that odd and quirky bulbous herb/vegetable with feathery leaves and a slightly sweet crunch. Not being one who picks up fennel frequently, I must admit I was rather proud to be waiting in line with my stalks. Fennel is one of those ingredients I always admire longingly. Moreover, if someone is standing next to me with some, I am instantly impressed. I'll assume them to be risk-takers. Creative, confident, and masterful. Members of the Fennel Club.

And it turns out fennel is quite good for you. Feeling bewitched with this element of the salad, I did a little reading up on the stuff. Fennel is chock full of unique phytonutrients with antioxidant and cancer-fighting properties. Not only that, it boasts high levels of vitamin C, fiber, folate, and potassium. If you haven't been one for fresh fennel in the past, I encourage you to give it a go. You might feel pretty cool buying it, too.

                    4 slices crusty bread
                    5 oz. rocket (arugula) leaves
                    1 fennel bulb, sliced
                    2 pears, sliced
                    blue cheese, cut into 4 wedges
                    sherry vinegar, to serve
                    extra virgin olive oil, to serve
                    sea salt and cracked black pepper

Grill or toast the bread until crisp. Arrange on plates with the rocket, fennel, pears, and blue cheese. To serve, drizzle over a little oil and vinegar, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Makes 4 servings.

Adapted from Donna Hay.


Couscous with Wild Rocket Pesto

I'm aware that there are a lot of crazy couscous people out there. Personally, I've never been big on it. Sure, I like it. It's fine. Not bad. But I might have been able to live without ever eating it again. Until now. This, my friends, is a keeper. So simple, so quick, and so good. This could sound a little nuts for someone who before today was not a big believer in the stuff...but I'm going to go ahead and say it anyway. I think this couscous stands a very good chance of becoming one of those dishes that we make a couple of times a month around here. I know, I know. Shawn, that might be taking it a little far. Well, possibly. But I like the thought.

We're talking ten minutes undisturbed here, guys. No boiling, stirring, simmering, covering, letting stand, peeking in, etc. It is one of those dishes that will say to you, "Will you please leave me alone? I've got this covered." I love it when food takes that stance. That self-sufficient attitude that allows you to, as Nigel Slater once wrote, "go brush the cat". (I love him.) What takes the longest, is roasting the tomatoes for twenty minutes first. Again, they, too, do all the work themselves. You toss them with olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper and pop them in. Then you take them out, add the couscous and stock and back in for ten more minutes. That's it. Top with a rough pesto of any kind (I chose arugula), and you have yourself a beautiful dish to enjoy hot or cold.

                    10 roma tomatoes, halved
                    2 tablespoons thyme leaves
                    2 tablespoons olive oil
                    sea salt and cracked pepper
                    1 1/2 cups couscous
                    1 1/2 cups stock
For the pesto:
                    2 oz wild rocket (arugula), chopped
                    1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
                    1/3 cup finely grated parmesan
                    2 tablespoons lemon juice
                    1/2 cup olive oil
                    sea salt and cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. To make the pesto, place the arugula, pine nuts, parmesa, lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper in a small bowl and mix to combine. Set aside.

Place the tomatoes, thyme, oil, salt and pepper in a baking dish and toss to combine. Roast for twenty minutes. Add the couscous and pour over the stock. Cover with foil and cook for another ten minutes. Top with the pesto to serve.

Makes four large servings.

Adapted from Donna Hay.       


Whole Wheat Buttermilk Loaf with Thyme

This is a tasty loaf. So tasty, in fact, I rose from my chair mid-post to cut myself a slice. I think it's the thyme that has me so enamored. Thyme, with it's unassuming nature and perfectly dainty little leaves, is one of my favorite herbs. Even it's name on paper looks lovely.

This bread is made with buttermilk and yogurt (substituted for sour cream), so it's very moist, yet not too dense. Pepper and a tiny bit of garlic compliment the thyme nicely. I've been enjoying it as is, as well as slightly toasted with a little butter. Thinking of trying it with a little melted cheese over the top next before it's all gone. This recipe makes one 8x3" loaf. I doubled it and made 4 mini loaves. I highly recommend this if you like savory breads.
                    1 large clove garlic, minced
                    4 tablespoons unsalted butter
                    1 3/4 cups whole wheat white flour
                    2 teaspoons baking powder
                    1 teaspoon salt
                    1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
                    1 tablespoon unrefined sugar
                    1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
                    1 egg
                    1/4 cup plain yogurt
                    1 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 350 and butter or spray an 8x3" loaf pan. Put the garlic and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat just long enough to melt the butter. Set aside.

Stir the flour, baing powder, salt, pepper, sugar, and thyme together in a medium bowl. Crack the egg into a small bowl and whisk in the yogurt and buttermilk. Pour the egg mixture and garlic butter over the flour mixture and stir just to moisten the dry ingredients; don't worry about a few dry spots in the dough.

Spoon the dough into the prepared pan and place it in the oven. Bake until the top springs back when gently touched in the center, 45-55 minutes. Put the loaf on a cooling rack until just warm. Unmold the loaf and wrap it in plastic. This bread will stay moist and flavorful at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Makes one 8x3" loaf.

Adapted from Mary Cech, Savory Baking.


Lentil Soup with Chard and Sausage

If my kitchen had an annual awards ceremony, Best Dried Pantry Staple might very well go to lentils. When I haven't got the time to soak or cook for hours on end, lentils are there for me. They cook quickly, are healthy and filling, and make for a great lunch the following day. That's why I reach for them more often than anything else (in their category), and they have permanent front row seats on their shelf. Chard could easily win, or at minimum be nominated for Most Versatile Green, as I have yet to find anything it doesn't taste good with or next to. So the combination of the two in this soup really makes for a winning performance. I'm a big fan of greens in soup. They lend a wonderful contrasting texture and really freshen up the frequently monotone, nondescript color palette that is inherent to soup. The addition of sausage takes this from really good to Wow!, but of course my veggie peeps will not be disappointed after omitting it. And on a final note, I have come to realize that, sadly, I don't cook with herbes de Provence often enough. I'm a creature of habit, and always too caught up in cumin when seasoning soups. But the spices in this dish made for a fabulous French country flavor that left me pining for a trip to southeastern France.
                    2 tablespoons olive oil
                    1 large onion, chopped
                    1 pound sausage
                    4 garlic cloves
                    1 1/2 cups lentils
                    1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
                    Kosher salt
                    1 bunch green chard

Heat the olive oil in a heavy, large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until golden, about 10 minutes.

Cut the sausage into 1/2" rounds. Add to the pot and cook, stirring frequently, until the sausage is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the lentils, 7 cups water, and the herbes de Provence, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add a good sprinkle of salt, and simmer until the lentils are very tender and the broth is slightly thick, about 1 hour.

Remove the tough stems from the chard and cut it crosswise into 2"-thick strips. Stir in the chard and simmer just until it wilts, about 3 minutes. Season the soup with salt and pepper.

Makes 6 servings.

Adapted from Jeanne Kelley, Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes.


Lemon Lime Cookies

After ogling endlessly at these over at lovely Hannah's Honey and Jam, I decided to try them - with a twist. I had a surplus of both lemons and limes, so it made sense to use both, rather than just limes as in the original recipe. As well, I literally lost control while making these, and found myself sprinkling the beyond belief gorgeous zest-infused sugar over the top, instead of just rolling it around the sides. In my opinion, this is the best part of the recipe. The zest gets worked into the sugar for several minutes making it moist, fragrant and beautiful.

There's a bit more to this story. The recipe calls for forming the dough into cylinders, and for the life of me, I could not get a perfectly round tube of dough. The pathetic aesthetic was further accentuated by the fact that when I put the dough on a plate to chill in the fridge, the bottom side took a flat shape and when slicing off the 1/4-inch "rounds", mine weren't, sadly. Round, that is. They were roundish, with one straight edge - if you can imagine that. It was near catastrophic. Soooooooo, Plan B. Okay Life, if this is how it's going to be... I can "fix it" as my childhood art teacher, Mrs. Kinney, used to say when I would ask if I could start over. Ironically, I've thought about her a couple of times lately. For the first time in almost twenty years. So I fixed it. I took small handfuls of the dough and rolled them out to a 1/4"-thick, and then used a cookie cutter. Not bad. Then I joyfully sprinkled the sugar all over the place.

For the cookies:

                    3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
                    1 3/4 cups raw cane sugar
                    1/4 teaspoon salt
                    zest of 1 large lime, and 1 lemon
                    12 ounces (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 24 pieces
                    2 large eggs

For the sugar coating:
                    1 1/2 cups raw cane sugar
                    zest of 1/2 a lime and 1/2 a lemon

Mix the flour, 1 3/4 cup sugar, salt, and zests in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse 10 times to reduce the zest to smaller pieces.

Add the butter and pulse until it is completely mixed into the dry ingredients, but the mixture is still powdery. Add the eggs and pulse until the dough forms a ball. Turn out the dough onto a floured work surface and divide into two equal pieces. Form each into a ridiculous wannabe cylinder about 8 inches long.

Clean any flour off the work surface and combine the 1 1/2 cup sugar and lime zest, working together with fingertips for a minute to release the lime flavor into the sugar. Pour the sugar onto the work surface in a wide line about 8 inches long. Roll one of the logs of dough in it to coat the outside completely. Repeat with the other log of dough. Wrap each log of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. 

When you are ready to bake the cookies, set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350˚F. Line cookies sheets with parchment paper.

Cut the logs of dough into 1/4-inch thick slices and arrange them on prepared pans about 1 inch apart on all sides. See how silly they look. Laugh nervously, panic briefly, and then opt for rolling the dough out to a 1/4" thick, working in small batches and being careful to handle it as little as possible. Cut the desired shape out with a cookie cutter.  Repeat with the second log of dough, or wrap, freeze, and save it for another day.

Bake the cookies until they are firm and golden around the edges, 15 to 20 minutes. After the first 10 minutes, place the pan from the lower rack on the upper one and vise versa, turning the pans from back to front at the same time. Slide the papers off the pans to cool the cookies. If you only have one pan of cookies to bake, adjust the racks to the middle of the oven. 

Store cookies at room temperature between sheets of wax paper in an air-tight container.
Makes 40-60 cookies, depending on the size.

Adapted from The Modern Baker.


Broccoli Rabe Frittata with Chevre

Sorry, Omelet, but I think frittatas have you beat all around. Not only are they far easier to pull together, but I think they also taste better and are much prettier. You can have them warm or at room temperature, and I'm not sure how many times I've ever thought to myself, "Gee, that other half of my omelet is just beautiful and will make for a great snack later!" Maybe some of you out there disagree, and that's all good, but I'm not sure I will ever attempt another omelet again. I'm horrible at it, and I've concluded there's just no reason for me to.

I decided to switch things up and make this frittata as an individual portion (albeit a sizeable one!) in a 7" skillet. Whenever I've made frittatas, I've used 6 or 7 eggs, and in this case I wanted to see what would happen with 3. The results were perfect - this was my breakfast and afternoon snack and I was sad when it was over. Substitute any green you want if you don't care for broccoli rabe. We've been eating a lot of it around here and I'm pretty taken with it, myself.

                    3 eggs
                    5 tablespoons olive oil
                    1/2 shallot, finely chopped
                    2 cups broccoli rabe, stemmed and torn or chopped coarsely
                    1/4 cup chevre (goat cheese)
                    salt and pepper

Preheat the broiler to 425 and place a rack on the top shelf of your oven.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a skillet over medium heat and saute the shallots until soft. Add the broccoli rabe and a tablespoon of water and cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted and bright green. Set aside.

Beat the eggs with salt and pepper to taste. Heat the remaining oil in a 7" ovenproof skillet over high heat. Add the eggs and immediately turn the heat down to low. Let the eggs cook undisturbed until the bottom has set. Then use a spatula to pull the eggs away from the rim and let the loose eggs run under. 

Arrange the broocoli rabe, shallots, and goat cheese over the top and flash broil the frittata just to set it's surface, a minute at most.

Makes one 7" frittata.


Skillet Cornbread

There is something quite rustically appealing about pulling cornbread baked in a cast iron pan out of the oven. For some reason, I couldn't help but feel reminded of the desert I lived in for many years. Making this made me want to eat it sitting outside under a mesquite tree, while sipping on a strong cup of coffee and taking in the beauty and serenity of the desert sky and mountains. Maybe in the company of a woodpecker. I know. Odd, but true.

This bread is as easy as beating a couple of eggs and stirring together the ingredients with a wooden spoon. I love this kind of baking. Start to finish was less than 35 minutes with minimal clean up and the results are pretty neat-o.

                    1 cup milk
                    2 eggs
                    1/4 cup olive oil
                    1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
                    1/2 cup polenta
                    2 teaspoons baking powder
                    2 teaspoons sea salt
                    1 tablespoon unrefined sugar

Preheat the oven to 350. Place the milk, eggs, and oil in a bowl and whisk to combine. Place the flour, polenta, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a bowl and stir until well combined. Make a well in the center, add the egg mixture and stir until a soft dough forms. Spoon the dough into a lightly greased 10" oven-proof skillet or frying pan and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden and cooked through when tested with a toothpick.

Adapted from Donna Hay.


Chipotle Pulled Pork Tacos

This delicious pork tenderloin cooked for seven long hours in the company of chipotle peppers, adobo sauce, sauteed onions and garlic, and a small, yet cheerful array of traditional Mexican spices. And like with many things that are not rushed, the outcome was outstanding. I love slow cooking because the house smells amazing all day, and the anticipation of the evening's meal builds and builds. It allows me to prolong the enjoyment of preparing a dish and celebrate it's various stages of development. First, the joy of choosing and assembling the ingredients. Then the aroma of the flavors coming together at their own pace with the great luxury of time. And finally, the promised moment of tasting that first bite, in hopes that it will be as good as the expectation my senses have shaped. And in this case, it was.

                    1-1 1/2 pound(s) pork tenderloin
                    1 tablespoon canned chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, minced
                    1 tablespoon adobo sauce
                    2-3 tablespoons olive oil
                    1 small to medium onion, chopped
                    2 garlic cloves, sliced
                    2 teaspoons cumin
                    2 teaspoons dried oregano
                    2 bay leaves
                    1 cup fresh tomatoes, chopped (or canned)
                    2 cups chicken broth
                    1 teaspoon kosher salt

Saute the onions and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat in a dutch oven or skillet until the onion is translucent. If using a skillet, transfer the onions and garlic to a slow cooker.

Add the tomatoes, broth, chipotle, adobo sauce, salt, spices, and pork to the onion mixture and cook for at least 6 hours.

Gently pull apart the pork before serving - it should come apart with little effort.

Serve with corn tortillas, cilantro, and lime. Also good over polenta or rice, or in a sandwich with a soft bun. Even better the next day.
Makes 4-6 servings.


Brown Sugar Tart Shell with Lemon Curd

Since making lemon curd a couple of weeks ago,  I have not been able to shake the thought of individual lemon tarts. Lo and behold, what do I find on page 108 of this month's Sunset? A no-roll tart shell recipe. That's right. No rolling. Could it really be? Now for you experienced bakers, this may not be as life-changing as it was for me. But since I am not a lifelong fancy goodies maker, I was in disbelief. The thought of no rolling had me smiling from ear to ear. So, I went straight to work. This is a quick, no-fuss way to make tart crust. The dough gets pressed into the tart pan(s) and baked until the edges are golden. I was very happy with the results, as the vanilla and brown sugar were a perfect match for the tart lemon (no pun intended). This recipe is definitely a keeper.

                  1 cup flour
                  2 tablespoons brown sugar
                  1 tablespoon corn starch
                  1/8 teaspoon salt
                  1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
                  1 teaspoon vanilla extract, divided
                  1 recipe lemon curd
                  freshly whipped cream (optional)
                  thinly sliced strawberries (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350. In a food processor, whirl the flour, sugar, cornstarch, and salt until combined. Add the butter and vanilla and pulse until fine crumbs form and the dough just begins to come together. Press evenly into the bottom and up the sides of a 9" round tart pan, or four individual tart pans. Prick the center(s) with a fork.

Bake until the edges are golden, about 20-22 minutes if using one large pan, or 15-18 minutes if using individual pans. Let cool on a rack before gently removing from the pan(s).

Spoon the lemon curd into the tart(s), and if using, top with freshly whipped cream and thinly sliced strawberries.

Makes one 9" tart, or four individual tarts.

Adapted from Sunset.