Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

IMG_5457When I was in sixth grade, my class took an overnight field trip to a recreation camp in a nearby area of Washington. We hiked through the woods, braved the climbing wall, swam in an outdoor pool, and played way too many games of B.S. (“Bubble-Scrub” was the chosen sixth-grade euphemism for that card game at the time) while sitting cross-legged on the cots in our little cabins. I’m not sure how much our teachers and parent chaperones enjoyed what was essentially a two-day sleepover with more than sixty pre-teens, but we sure had a fantastic time. IMG_5452

One of the best parts about the camp was its food. We ate in a large dining room, and whenever a table wanted more of a certain dish (pot roast, roasted red potatoes, dinner rolls), they just had to hold up the empty bowl or basket and a waitstaff would quickly replace it. My peers and I were enthralled at this magic, and it made enough of an impression for me to still remember the menu almost a decade later.IMG_5453

Somehow, the subject of this particular field trip came up over dinner the other night, and my dad (who happened to be one of the ever-patient middle school teachers on the trip) was in awe that I remembered everything we ate. He always teases me for remembering the details of my past birthday parties, what toys I got each Christmas of my childhood, and what we had for dinner seven years ago. I suppose my crazy memory is just another trait of my foodie self–I have always loved good food, and considering the amount of time I spend thinking about past meals, it makes sense that they have pretty well-worn paths in my memory. Some might think it’s ridiculous that I can recall what we had for dessert on the night of my sixth-grade field trip, but it’s just who I am.IMG_5476

Speaking of dessert at my field trip in 2006 (sorry that it took me three paragraphs to get to that point), what we had was lemon poppy seed cake. Unlike all the other components of the meal, there were no seconds (or thirds, or fourths) on dessert, and each of us got only one thick slice, drizzled in a lemony glaze. It was fantastic, and reinforced my love of lemon poppy seed baked goods. I have always loved lemon anything, especially in the spring and summer months. When my mom mentioned that she needed to bring a baked good to a PTA meeting the other day, I quickly volunteered to supply muffins. In an attempt to conjure up some bright spring vibes (we’ve had gray skies and drizzle lately), I opted to make lemon poppyseed muffins. With their fresh citrus flavor and tender crumb, they are sure to brighten up anyone’s day. The poppy seeds give these lemon muffins a wonderful little crunch, and the sour cream adds moisture and just the tiniest hint of tang. Who knows, these muffins might even be good enough to stay at the forefront of your memory for years to come! Enjoy. 🙂 IMG_5479

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

Yield: 12 standard-size muffins

2/3 cup granulated sugar

Zest and juice from 1 large lemon

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup sour cream (or Greek yogurt)

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

2 tablespoons poppy seeds

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners or spray with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the sugar and lemon zest with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Whisk in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the sour cream, eggs, vanilla, melted butter, and lemon juice until well-combined. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until no flour streaks remain. Fold in the poppy seeds.

Divide the batter among the muffin cups, filling about 3/4 of the way. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean and the muffin tops spring back when lightly pressed. Cool the muffins for 5 minutes in the tin before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature.IMG_5458

Recipe adapted from Brown Eyed Baker

Wild Blackberry Pie

IMG_4054When my brother and I were about seven years old, my parents decided to convert our backyard sandbox into a miniature strawberry patch. Considering that no one in my immediate family was (or is) much of a gardener, this was a pretty big deal. At that point, the closest I’d ever come to home-grown food was the handful of gnarly apples that our ancient little tree managed to produce every other year and the crazy mass of rhubarb that grew around our sandbox-turned-strawberry-patch. Compared to our across-the-street neighbors’ perfectly trim, maintained vegetable garden, our 3’x5′ strawberry box wasn’t exactly impressive, but that didn’t stop my brother and me from running out to the yard every day to check on our strawberries’ progress.

The first few years were pretty disappointing…only a couple of teeny-tiny (yet sweet!) berries appeared among the leaves, which we quickly gobbled up. Each year seemed to be a bit better, though, and by the time we put our house up for sale in 2003 our strawberry patch had quite a few juicy red berries to boast. Of course it happened that just when our little plant was starting to thrive we had to pack up and leave….but isn’t that the way it always seems to go? Sigh.

Still, even those tiny red sandbox strawberries taught me an important lesson…garden-grown produce is not in the same league as store-bought. Not even close. It goes for anything: berries, tomatoes, lettuce, beans, carrots, you name it! I love this time of year when the farmer’s market is in full swing and our green-thumbed friends and neighbors gift our family with “real” fruits and veggies. It’s also the time of year for blackberry picking, one of my favorite parts of summer!IMG_4069

When we first moved to the area and discovered it teeming with wild blackberry bushes I was beside myself with the excitement of berry-picking. I loved the rustic feeling of heading down the driveway with a bucket swinging from my hand, plunking in berry after berry to the point of near-overflow. I never minded all the scratches that covered my wrists and shins after a session of blackberry picking; it was all worth it to get that perfect patch of berries tucked among the thorns. I always felt a little like Laura Ingalls Wilder, collecting a bounty of wild blackberries to bake into pies and eat over porridge (aka oatmeal).

To this day I’m still a berry-picking fanatic. I often venture down to the best bushes on our road after dinner and fill a bowl or two with ripe, gigantic blackberries. Secretly I love to close my eyes and just breathe in the smell of them. It brings back a flood of memories of hot summer days at our county fair, pie-baking with my friends, and squeezing in one last trip to the bushes on the night before the first day of school. This year I went a little crazy and had to fill three gallon-size ziplock bags with blackberries to freeze since there’s only so many that my family can eat up while they’re fresh. I also made sure to bake a blackberry pie, which my dad has deemed his favorite pie in the world.

The quality of a pie is largely determined by the quality of the fruit inside it, and that’s what makes my wild blackberry pie extra-delicious. I never buy blackberries from the store since they grow so plentifully around here, but earlier this year I had store-bought blackberries at a friend’s house and was shocked by the difference in flavor. All I can say is that those seedy little berries in the plastic containers are not real blackberries. Wild blackberries are so much sweeter, softer, juicier, and more fragrant that I can’t even think of them as the same fruit. Sorry to diss the store-boughts, but it’s the cold hard truth!IMG_4071

While I’ll never say no to a fresh blackberry straight off the bush, sprinkled into a fruit salad, or served over vanilla ice cream (gah), they really shine in this pie. The filling is kept simple to let the blackberries dominate, but the flavors of bright lemon and warm vanilla add a perfect little enhancement to the sweet berries. This recipe also uses tapioca starch (tapioca flour) to thicken the filling. I like the mild, slightly-sweet flavor of tapioca better than cornstarch, which has a more “starchy” taste, but you could always substitute it in a pinch. I’ve never been a pro at making pie crust (far from it, in fact), but this crust was surprisingly easy to work with. It’s an all-butter crust (yay for flavor!), and as long as you make sure that your ingredients are extremely cold and you’re careful not to add more water than necessary, you’ll end up with tender, flaky crust. I used to take the shortcut of buying a pre-made Pillsbury pie crust, but homemade is so much better. If you’re willing to brave making your own crust, I promise the end result will be worth the time and effort!

So…it just occurred to me that I’ve suggested that this recipe is unattainable to anyone who doesn’t happen to have blackberries growing out their back door. You know, since wild berries are so superior. While this is true, I hate to alienate all of you poor wild blackberry-less souls, so I’ll let you know that you could make this pie with store-bought blackberries. Fresh or frozen. I can’t say your pie will be the same, but it will probably still taste pretty good. It might even taste really good. You could also use any type of berry you like (blueberries, raspberries, loganberries, etc.) and I’m guessing you’d still end up with a darn delicious pie. So go ahead! I’ll shut up about the superiority of wild berries. But before I shut up, if you do have access to the wild ones, your pie will be even more amazing. Just keepin it honest! 😉

IMG_4078Wild Blackberry Pie

Makes one 9-inch double-crust pie

For the crust:

2 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter, cut into small cubes

1/3-1/2 cup ice water

For the filling:

6 cups blackberries

1/4 cup tapioca starch

1/2 cup sugar (add more to taste if your berries aren’t super sweet)

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For assembling:

1 egg, beaten

Extra sugar, for sprinkling

Directions:

Place the flour, salt, and 1 tsp sugar into a food processor* and pulse once or twice to combine. Add in the chopped butter and process for about 10 seconds, or until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Pour the water through the food chute 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing 2-3 times after each addition. As soon as the dough starts to stick together, pat it into a ball.

*If you don’t have a food processor, simply whisk together the dry ingredients and then cut in the butter using a pastry cutter or two forks. Sprinkle the water in 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with a fork after each addition. When the dough sticks together, pat it into a ball.

Divide the dough ball in half and flatten each half into a thick disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.

When ready to make the pie, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. On a floured surface, roll out one of the pie dough discs into an 11-inch circle, then carefully transfer to a 9-inch pie plate. Gently press the crust into the pan and refrigerate while you prepare the filling.

Place the blackberries in a large bowl and sprinkle with the tapioca starch, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla. Gently fold or toss the mixture until the berries are coated. Let the berries macerate (release their juices) while you roll out the second pie crust. If desired, cut the dough into 1/4-1/2″ strips for a lattice crust.

Take the pie plate out of the fridge and brush the bottom crust with beaten egg. Spoon in the berry filling and top with the second crust. If you’re making a lattice crust, weave the strips of dough onto the pie and smooth out the edges with your fingers. Cut off any excess pie dough around the sides, leaving enough overhang to crimp the edges. Brush the top crust with the remaining egg and sprinkle with sugar if desired.

Bake the pie for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake for an additional 20-30 minutes. When the crust is golden-brown and the filling is bubbly, remove from the oven. If the edges are browning too fast, loosely cover with aluminum foil. Cool the pie for at least an hour before slicing.

(Crust and filling recipes adapted from The Baker Chic)

Quinoa Salad with Roasted Tomatoes, Chickpeas, and Tahini Vinaigrette

IMG_4035Surprising as it may seem, I do actually make food other than dessert. Behind all the butter and sugar, I happen to follow a fairly healthy diet. Of course I taste everything I make (my motto is everything in moderation), but most of it ends up in the stomachs of my friends and family members. Unless of course it’s something like these healthy Oatmeal-Raisin Energy Balls which I may or may not hoard in secret tupperware containers in the way way back of the fridge. Strange as it is, I actually get more excited about stuff like this quinoa dish than I do about chocolate chip cookies. Who am I?!IMG_4037

Now, before you lose all trust in me as a baker/blogger and toss me to the curb as a pitiful soul who chooses quinoa over cookies, you’ve gotta try this recipe! Then you’ll see what I’m talking about. With quinoa as its base, this salad is loaded with sweet balsamic-roasted cherry tomatoes, crispy roasted chickpeas, creamy avocado chunks, and nutritious baby spinach. Then it’s all tossed in a fabulous lemon-tahini vinaigrette–the recipe makes extra, so you can use it to dress other salads as well! My favorite way to serve it is slightly warm, but it’s also delicious at room temperature or straight out of the fridge. My family loves to eat this salad as a main dish for lunch or dinner, but you can also serve it as a side. Or you can do what I did and eat it straight out of the tupperware as a late-night snack!

If you’re looking for a fast, easy, meatlessgluten-free, and delicious dinner recipe, you have to try this! It’s got so many good things going on that I can’t pick a favorite…the juicy, almost caramelized tomatoes? The hidden pieces of smooth avocado? The slightly-nutty, slightly-sweet lemony dressing? Call me crazy to choose leftover quinoa salad as dessert instead of a cookie, but I just couldn’t get enough! The cookies can wait.IMG_4047

Quinoa Salad with Roasted Tomatoes, Chickpeas, and Tahini Vinaigrette.

Makes 6-8 servings

For the salad:

1 & 1/2 cups quinoa (uncooked)

1 pint (16 oz) cherry tomatoes

1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Salt & pepper

1 avocado, diced

2 cups baby spinach

For the dressing:

1/4 cup tahini

3 tablespoons warm water

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/4 cup lemon juice (from about 1 large lemon)

1 teaspoon honey

2 large garlic cloves, minced

Salt & pepper, to taste

Directions:

Cook quinoa according to package directions. While the quinoa is cooking, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. When the quinoa is finished, fluff with a fork and allow to cool as you assemble the rest of the ingredients.

Wash and halve the cherry tomatoes and spread onto a lined baking sheet in a single layer. Add the chickpeas to the baking sheet and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast for 25-30 minutes, stirring halfway through, until the tomatoes are blistered and the chickpeas are golden and slightly crisp. Cool slightly.

To make the dressing, whisk together all the ingredients in a medium-small bowl. Place the cooked quinoa into a large serving bowl and add in the roasted tomatoes, chickpeas, and baby spinach. Pour on as much dressing as you like (the recipe makes about 1 cup and I like to use about 2/3 cup). Stir gently to coat, then carefully fold in the diced avocado. Serve warm, chilled, or at room temperature.

(Recipe adapted from Tasty Kitchen)

Baked Falafel with Lemon-Tahini Sauce

IMG_6874In the little practically microscopic town of my college, there’s a Middle Eastern restaurant that I like to eat at on special occasions. I’ve been there three times throughout this year, each time getting my fill of fresh hummus and pita, chicken shawarma with red rice, mini falafel balls, and the most amazing almond cake. On my tiny island we have a limited number of restaurants, and unfortunately no Greek/Mediterranean/Middle Eastern cuisines are among them. Which is quite sad for all the stuffed-grape-leaf-and-tabbouli-deprived people here on the island, but it makes eating at this particular restaurant at college all the more exciting for me.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret, and I’m hoping you won’t judge. Cause it’s kind of bad, as in it makes me seem like the laziest person ever. Which I’m totally not, if you happen to ignore all the hours I’ve clocked watching Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix in the past transitionary week between the end of school and the beginning of work. We’re talking zero laziness for this girl. Anyhow, I was gifted a food processor last Christmas (ummm, as in 2012), which I was super excited to get and had every intention of using at my earliest convenience, but…..but. It might possibly have stayed in its tight little plastic cover on the carpet of my closet for the past too-many months. And this might be for no good reason other than that I decided it was too much work to wash and put together and learn how to use with all its little slicing/dicing/careful-or-you’ll-cut-your-hand-off tricks. So it might have just sat there gathering dust and shame. But I’m neither confirming nor denying.

IMG_6881

The important part is that now my little food processor is happily out of the darkness and getting quite the workout. Earlier this week I made some energy bites out of dates, flaxseed, cocoa powder, peanuts, vanilla, and honey (which were an experiment, and aren’t quite worthy of posting on the blog–sorry!) and it played a major role in last night’s dinner. The theme was Greek, and the menu was miniature baked falafel balls wrapped in whole wheat pita bread with a lemon-tahini sauce and Greek salad on the side. These falafel balls are gluten-free, vegetarian, easy, and fairly quick. And most importantly, delicious. Just as good as a meal from my beloved restaurant, but a million times cheaper and substantially healthier since the falafel is baked rather than fried. The lemon-tahini sauce is the perfect accompaniment to the falafel balls, and when stuffed inside warm pita bread with fresh greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, and feta, it was a regular feast.

Even though I’m kicking myself for not breaking out my food processor sooner, it’s better late than never! And if you don’t happen to be the proud owner of a food processor (or, you know, there’s one sitting in the floor of your closet because you’re a ridiculous lazy fool like myself), you could most likely make them anyway. Just be sure to mash up the chickpeas really well with a fork or potato masher, and use finely minced garlic, green onions, and cilantro. I can’t promise that the texture will be the same, but it’s worth a try! Because no one should miss out on these delicious little chickpea balls of goodness. No restaurant required!

IMG_6872

Baked Falafel 

Makes about 30 small balls, or 15 larger balls

2 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed

4 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped

4 scallions, roughly chopped

1 large egg

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 1 large lemon)

1/3 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/3 cup oat flour (or any other gluten-free flour)

1 teaspoon baking powder

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or a baking mat and set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, add all ingredients except for the flour and baking powder. Pulse about 40-50 times or until ingredients are well-combined but still coarse. Add in half the flour, and pulse several times to incorporate. Add in the rest of the flour and the baking powder, and pulse until combined. If the mixture is too wet, add in more flour 1 tablespoon at a time until the mixture is moist but still holds together well.

Scoop the mixture into balls about 1 tablespoon each. (Mine were quite small, so if you want more traditionally-sized falafel use 2-3 tablespoons per ball. You’ll just have to increase the baking time a bit.) Drop onto prepared cookie sheets and flatten slightly. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the outsides are crisp and golden-brown and the insides are soft but cooked through.

Lemon-Tahini Sauce

1/4 cup tahini

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon paprika

Directions:

Whisk all the ingredients together until smooth. Drizzle over warm falafel balls.

IMG_6870

(Falafel recipe adapted from How Sweet Eats; sauce recipe adapted from My Name is Yeh)

Lemon-Coconut-White Chocolate Chip Pudding Cookies

IMG_8769In my mind, it’s darn near impossible to mess up a cookie. Of course there are the huge, throw-away-the-whole-batch screw-ups like adding salt instead of sugar (been there, done that), losing track and measuring out one cup of flour too many (guilty again), or forgetting to set a timer and removing a pan of charred black lumps from the oven 30 minutes later, but all in all cookies are pretty forgiving. Or maybe it’s just the people that eat them. At least in my experience, the wide majority of the cookie-loving population will eat just about anything so long as it’s full of the sugar, white flour, and butter that we all know and love. Crisp, slightly dry cookies that were left in the oven just a bit too long? Don’t worry about it. Pancake-thin cookies that are just a tad too greasy? Still good. I’ve met a handful of cookie snobs in my day, but for the most part, cookies are one of the most fool-proof baked goods out there.

Regardless, even though the people I share my cookies with couldn’t care less if every cookie that passes their lips is flawless, I happen to be inflicted with the perfectionist gene. At least when it comes to certain things. (One look at my bathroom sink or the inside of my purse will claim otherwise.) Which is why I’m always on the lookout for recipes and methods that will produce perfectly soft, round, thick, chewy cookies. Thin, flat cookies may be delicious in their own way, but sometimes they just don’t cut it. Which is where this recipe comes in.IMG_8761

This pudding cookie recipe guarantees the softest, moistest, chewiest, fluffiest cookies every.single.time. None of those greasy little pancakes or dense little rocks. The secret? Dry pudding mix. Granted, I’m not a fan of using artificial ingredients, but the key is moderation in everything. Eating one five pudding cookies once in a while never hurt anyone, right? One of the best parts of this recipe is how adaptable it is. You can switch up the flavor of pudding mix and experiment with all types of add-ins: different kinds of chocolate chips, nuts, dried fruit, coconut, toffee bits, you name it. I have a Dark Chocolate Coconut version on the blog that’s phenomenal, and I’ve tried various other combinations including chocolate pudding mix with butterscotch chips and toffee bits, butterscotch pudding mix with chopped pecans, and vanilla pudding mix with classic semisweet chocolate chips.IMG_8763

All the variations I’ve tried are delicious, but this one is my very favorite. Soft, lemony dough is loaded with white chocolate chips and sweet shredded coconut and baked to perfection. I made these last year as part of a care-package for a family friend who was up fishing in Alaska, and he deemed them the “best cookies he’d ever eaten.” They’re great to send or give away as gifts because they stay perfectly soft and moist for days upon end, and the flavors just seem to intensify over time.

If you’ve never given pudding cookies a try, do so now! Use the Lemon-Coconut-White Chocolate combo as seen below or experiment with your favorite flavors. You can’t go wrong with these.

IMG_8781

Lemon-Coconut-White Chocolate Chip Pudding Cookies

Yield: about 4 dozen cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 3.4-oz package instant lemon pudding mix

2 & 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 & 1/2 cups white chocolate chips

1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease two cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars in a large bowl until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla. Beat in the pudding mix until well-combined.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Slowly stir the flour mixture into the wet ingredients, mixing just until combined. Stir in the white chocolate chips and the shredded coconut.

Drop the dough by rounded tablespoons onto prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until edges are slightly golden and tops are set. Be sure not to over-bake! Let the cookies cool on the sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.

(Recipe adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod)

Fresh Lemon Sorbet

IMG_7845-EditFor many years, I always referred to sorbet as “sore-bet” rather than the correct pronunciation “sore-bay.” My dad called it “sore-bet,” my mom called it “sore-bet,” so naturally I thought it was “sore-bet.” Who was I, an innocent and easily corrupted little child, to know the difference? Sadly, “sorbet” is not the only word I’ve pronounced incorrectly for years, only to find out that I’ve been sounding like an idiot for way too long. Like when I used to talk about “ether-real” desserts (ethereal), “super-flouse” amounts of something (superfluous), and what to order for “horse-da-vores” (hors d’oeuvres). Classy.

IMG_7854-Edit

Luckily I’m not the only one who slaughters the English language once in a while. I recently informed my father, a middle school English teacher, that the word disheveled is pronounced “dish-heveled” rather than “diss-heevled.” Whoops-a-daisy. And I can’t tell you how many times in school I’ve heard classmates talk about the “coop” in Afghanistan when its government was taken over, or ask our Lit teacher what exactly a “hyper-bowl” is. *Face-palm*

IMG_7856-Edit

Now that we’ve gotten the pronunciation issue squared away nicely, I can present to you this fabulous recipe for Lemon SorbAY! Its tart, sweet, zesty, icy lemon freshness is the perfect refresher to end any summer meal. Or winter meal. Or fall meal or spring meal for that matter. With only FOUR ingredients (two of them coming from the same fruit and one of them being water) this is one of the simplest recipes out there. Just heat up a simple syrup of water and sugar, let it cool while squeezing and zesting some fresh, juicy lemons, stir it all together, pour it into an ice cream maker, freeze for a couple hours if desired, and voila! Fresh, homemade sorbet ready to be gobbled up at your earliest convenience.

IMG_7858-Edit

I realize that not everyone owns an ice cream maker, and I can’t vouch for the results of making this recipe without one, but I have to say that prior to freezing this recipe is nothing more than wonderful homemade lemonade. I would imagine that if you blended/food-processed the mixture with a handful of ice cubes you’d have a pretty stellar lemon slushy to feast on, too. But if you DO happen to own an ice cream maker, go the sorbet route. You won’t regret it. This cool, creamy, perfectly tart, and fruity sorbet beats anything I’ve ever bought in the frozen food aisle. It’s seriously ethereal, guys. Ether-real indeed. 😉

IMG_7860-Edit

Fresh Lemon Sorbet

1 cup water

1 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 3-4 large lemons)

1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest (more or less to taste)

Directions:

Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan. Place over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 2 minutes, uncovered. Pour the mixture (called a simple syrup) into a bowl and cool completely.

When the syrup is cool, stir in the lemon juice and lemon zest. Pour the mixture into an ice-cream maker and freeze according to maker’s instructions. (Mine takes about 25-30 minutes.) Sorbet will be soft and slushy. Serve the sorbet immediately or transfer it to a container and freeze for 4 hours or until firm. Makes about 2 cups.

(Recipe adapted from Taste of Home)

Lemon-Berry Muffins with Cream Cheese Filling

IMG_4363

Happy July 5th, everyone! I hope you all had a fun and safe 4th of July yesterday, whether your day was filled with sunshine, parades, picnics, friends, fireworks, or all of the above.

Before heading downtown for our annual parade yesterday, I decided to start the morning off with a sweet treat to celebrate. Lemon-Berry Muffins with Cream Cheese Filling fit the bill nicely: tender, sweet, lemony muffins bursting with fresh juicy berries and containing a surprise pocket of lemon-cream cheese filling. To make the muffins more festive I loaded them with a mixture of blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries and figured that the cream cheese filling qualified as the “white” part of my red-white-and-blue color scheme. Sure, the cream cheese was hidden in the center, so the color scheme was more like red-blue-and-muffiny brown, but who’s complaining? For all intents and purposes, they were red-white-and-blue. Okay? Okay.

IMG_4367

Although the muffins themselves are delicious with a soft, moist crumb; a hint of cinnamon, vanilla, and almond flavors; a fresh citrus zing from the lemon; and a triad of sweet, juicy berries, they’re made even better with the secret filling. One bite in and you’ll encounter a tiny pocket of sweet lemony cream cheese that takes these muffins from good to great!

In my muffins I chose to use half whole-wheat flour and half all-purpose to give them a little more heft and fiber. The recipe below calls for only all-purpose flour, but it’s up to you. Same goes for the type of berries, extracts, spices, etc. Like many of my recipes, this one is highly adaptable!

Bake up a batch of these Lemon-Berry Muffins as a special treat one of these mornings! In no time at all you can be enjoying a warm, fresh-out-of-the-oven muffin for breakfast or brunch. Be sure to watch for people’s reactions as they discover the sweet surprise filling. Some surprises are not so good (like the surprise that would have occurred had I not realized in the nick of time that I was starting to pour peppermint extract into my measuring spoon rather than vanilla) but this surprise is definitely a nice one! Unless of course you happen to dislike sweet lemony cream cheese stuffed inside a tender lemon-berry muffin. But that would be just plain silly.

IMG_4371

Lemon-Berry Muffins with Cream Cheese Filling

Makes 9 standard-sized muffins

1 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup granulated sugar

Grated zest of 1 large lemon (about 2 teaspoons)

1/3 cup milk

1 large egg

1/4 cup canola oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract (optional)

1 cup fresh berries, rinsed and chopped (I used 1/3 cup each of strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries)

Coarse sugar, for sprinkling

Cream Cheese Filling:

3 tablespoons cream cheese, softened

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line or grease 9 cups of a 12-cup muffin tin; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. In a smaller bowl, use your fingers to incorporate the lemon zest into the sugar until fragrant. Whisk the lemon-sugar into the flour mixture.

In another bowl, whisk together the milk, oil, egg, vanilla, and almond extract until smooth. Using a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients just until incorporated. Be careful not to over-mix. Gently fold the berries into the batter, which will be thick.

To make the cream cheese filling, stir together the cream cheese, lemon zest, and sugar in a small bowl until smooth.

Fill each of the 9 prepared muffin cups about halfway with batter. Drop about 1 teaspoonful of the cream cheese mixture onto the batter in each cup. Then divide the remaining batter among the muffin cups, carefully covering the cream cheese center. Sprinkle the muffin tops with coarse sugar if desired. (I also topped each with a raspberry.)

Bake for 17-20 minutes or until tops are set and edges are golden-brown. Let the muffins cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack.

(Recipe adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod)