Buttermilk Almond Muffins & Meyer Lemon Curd

Buttermilk almond muffinsOver the last few years, Meyer lemons seem to be creeping into the mainstream. A cross between lemon and orange, Meyer lemons are smaller, have less acid and more sweet juiciness than common Eureka or Lisbon lemons.

I heard Alice Waters sing their praises about 10 years ago when I lived in Minneapolis, while giving a talk at a food event I attended. Because she’s Alice Waters and she could, she’d brought along a crate full of fresh, boutique-farmed California produce to display for show-and-tell.

In the middle of the big, beautiful pile of vegetables and fruits I figured I’d never, ever find in any Midwestern grocery store or produce stand was a little basket of lemons, colored an intense shade of egg-yolk orange.

Their skin was silky smooth and they had a sweet perfume I could smell from 3 feet away. One sniff of those lemons and I immediately longed to be transported to a climate where they grew.

That was a decade ago; I don’t think there was much commercial distribution of Meyer lemons; pretty much the only way you could find them was in someone’s backyard in California.

The season for Meyer lemons is relatively brief – unlike common lemons you can find any old day of the week, they appear in the market roughly between early winter and early spring.

Because they seem so scarce and rare, whenever I see them I usually buy more than I can use before they start to rot. Their skins are much more tender than the usual lemon, so they don’t last as long in the crisper drawer.

One way to preserve them is to make a buttery curd using the zest and juice.

meyer lemon curd

And a nice way to use up lemon curd (rather than tucking into it with a spoon), is baked into a topping for these tangy buttermilk muffins.

Buttermilk almond muffins

Buttermilk Almond Muffins & Meyer Lemon Curd

Yield: 1 dozen

Ingredients

  1. 1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
  2. 1/2 cup almond flour
  3. 1/3 cup sugar
  4. 1 teaspoon baking powder
  5. 1 teaspoon baking soda
  6. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  7. 2 eggs
  8. 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
  9. 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, melted
  10. Freshly grated zest of 2 Meyer or regular lemons
  11. 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
  12. 3/4 cup Meyer lemon curd -recipe follows (yes, you can use prepared lemon curd instead)
  13. 3/4 cup sliced, toasted almonds
  14. For Meyer lemon curd:
  15. 3 Meyer lemons
  16. 3/4 cup sugar
  17. 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  18. 6 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a muffin tin or line with cupcake liners.
  2. Whisk together the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl lightly beat the eggs, buttermilk, butter, zest and almond extract; pour over the flour mixture and stir until just blended.
  3. Divide the batter into the muffin pan cups. Top each cup with 1 teaspoon each of the lemon curd and the almonds.
  4. Bake 15 - 20 minutes, or until tops are just turning golden and are firm to the touch.Cool the muffins for 10 minutes before turning out and serving.
  5. To make the lemon curd, zest the lemons with a grater, then cut them in half and squeeze the juice into a small, heavy saucepan. Add the zest and stir in the sugar to dissolve.
  6. Add the eggs and butter and place the pan over medium heat. Use a small heatproof spatula or wooden spoon to constantly stir the mixture until it begins to thicken around the edges of the pan.
  7. Scrape the sides and bottom of the pan and lower the heat a bit as you continue to stir. At this point it should form a curd pretty quickly, within a minute or two. Once it reaches a pourable pudding-like consistency, remove the pan from the heat.
  8. Strain the curd into a bowl, cover and chill at least 2 hours before using.
http://familystylefood.com/2011/03/buttermilk-almond-muffins-meyer-lemon-curd/

Oatmeal with Amarena Italian Cherries & Almonds

After posting my recipe for homemade oatmeal mix the other day, I remembered that I wanted to share this idea for topping off your morning oats.

Admittedly, it’s a little indulgent. Amarena cherries are a type of tart cherry grown in northern Italy. They’re soaked in grappa or brandy and packed in cherry syrup, and let me tell you they are the Cherry Bomb. I really like their tart sweetness and intense almond-like essence.

It could be that the word “amarena”  makes me think of amaretto. I’m not sure how the extracted almond flavor is achieved; whether it’s naturally how the cherries taste or if they’re enhanced by the type of brandy used – all I know is the cherries work very nicely paired with the crunch of toasted almonds and warm, creamy oats.

I didn’t find much info on how amarena cherries are made;  if you know more I’d love to hear.

They are sweet and rich, but a little goes a long way here. Feel good knowing that cherries are regarded as a superfood with protective benefits against degenerative disease.

Oatmeal with Amarena Italian Cherries & Almonds

Serving Size: makes 1 serving

Ingredients

  1. 1/2 cup homemade oatmeal mix
  2. 1 cup almond milk
  3. 1 teaspoon ground golden flaxseed
  4. 1 or 2 tablespoons amarena cherries in syrup, depending on your sweet tooth
  5. 1 tablespoon sliced almonds, toasted

Instructions

  1. Mix the oatmeal mix and milk in a microwaveable bowl; microwave on high heat for 1 - 1/2 minutes or until the milk is absorbed and the oats are thickened to your liking.
  2. Top the bowl with the flaxseed, cherries and almonds. Enjoy.
http://familystylefood.com/2011/03/oatmeal-with-amarena-italian-cherries-almonds/

Toffee Oatmeal Chip Cookies

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I don’t know why I don’t bake cookies more often – they are such an excellent tool for bribing the kids to do the small, important jobs that happen to appear on their weekly chore lists, but for some reason don’t actually get done.  Like walking the dog.

We adopted Poppy, our little Jack Russell-mixed mutt, almost a year ago and since then she’s been keeping our family busy, taking us for walks and arranging playdates. So very busy.

How was I to know that the same dog who greeted us for the first time by docilely flopping down at our feet, presenting us with her soft, pink underbelly would turn out to rival Perez Hilton in her intense need to meet, greet and butt-sniff every dog in the neighborhood?

I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy the walking – it’s great exercise and all, but after a few trips around the block in a day I prefer to delegate the job.

I pulled a few pans of these Toffee Oatmeal Chip cookies from the oven and set them on the counter to cool, and like magic my children began to float around me like happy, dizzy dust motes. It occurred to me that I was in the position of ultimate power: Alpha Mom with Treats. Oh, you’d like a cookie? Walk the dog first.

Bingo! The lead was on Poppy’s collar and she was flying out the door with a child attached in two seconds flat.   A win-win for all parties. I love that!

Heidi Swanson was the inspiration for this particular cookie recipe. Her healthy cooking blog 101 Cookbooks is one of my favorite sites, and my copy of her cookbook Super Natural Cooking has pages falling out from over-use. One recipe I’d flagged and have been meaning to try is Mesquite Chocolate Chip Cookies. I was intrigued by the recipe because it calls for an ingredient that I’d never heard of or seen before (gasp!) – mesquite flour.

It turns out that mesquite flour can be difficult to track down. Commonly used as a staple among Native Americans of the Southwest,  mesquite flour (also labeled mesquite powder or meal) is made from the ground fruit pods from mesquite trees and is said to be super-nutritious.  What got me interested is Heidi’s description of its flavor; smoky, malty, sweet and chocolate-like.

I didn’t get my hands on some until just recently; my friend L brought some back after scouting it out at the super-duper Whole Foods flagsip store in Austin. (An online source for mesquite meal is the Raw Guru site.)

I made a batch of the cookies, and really liked the toffee-like quality the mesquite flour added. Since Heidi recommends substituting an equal amount of flour in place of the mesquite,  I tweaked her recipe a bit to make it a bit more accessible – I realize that most (sane) people don’t go to such lengths to find an unfamiliar ingredient.

These cookies have a similar texture and taste, perfectly good bait for anyone you need to gently influence – wink.

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Toffee Oatmeal Chip Cookies

Adapted from Heidi Swanson

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup stone-ground whole wheat flour

1/2 cup malted milk powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 sticks butter, at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup light brown sugar

3 eggs, at room temperature

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 cups rolled oats (not instant)

1 cup chopped toffee (I used Heath brand)

1 cup chocolate chips (I like dark but use whatever you like)

Heat the oven to 375 degrees for at least 30 minutes before baking. Line 2 or 3 rimmed baking sheets with parchment or reusable non-stick sheet like Silpat.

Combine the flours, malt powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.

Beat the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer until fluffy. Gradually add the sugars, starting with the granulated sugar, beating until incorporated before adding the brown sugar. Beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla. Gradually add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until a thick dough forms.

Lower mixer speed to “stir” and add the oats, toffee and chocolate chips until evenly mixed. The dough should be dense and moist.

Drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto the prepared sheets, about 2 inches apart to allow cookies to spread. Bake one sheet at a time for about 13 minutes, or until evenly golden brown. Cool on the pan 10 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely, or until it’s time to walk the dog.

Yield: 3 – 4  dozen cookies

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