Archive | July 2012

Blueberry Lemon Muffins

Blueberries (anything remotely blueberry) remind me of my mother. She adores everything blueberry.

Last Saturday morning, I walked to my farmers’ market with my friend Lisa. What is normally a few minutes’ drive took us approximately three quarters of an hour to walk in the scorching heat. With our bags over our shoulders and water bottles in hand, we walked leisurely talking all the way and just plain catching up. The first things that jumped up at us  were the rows of big (and I mean big), succulent blueberries. I purchased the larger basket because every year I make blueberry lemon muffins for my mother when in season.

This recipe is adapted. In its original form, it used butter instead of canola oil and chocolate chips instead of fruit. I have also substituted the sour cream with yogurt from time to time. It’s a recipe that has been with me for years. Unfortunately, I don’t have the source, but it is too good to keep to myself. I have made my share of muffins over the years and I stopped searching for muffin recipes after I found this one. The batter is perfect, perfectly moist without being too spongy. So perfect, in fact, that I use it as my base for most of my other muffin types. The recipe in its original form was meant for chocolate chips, but I have used it to make all kinds of other muffins, including cranberry orange, peach, toffee, etc.

I love muffins, especially for breakfast. I can’t tell you how many times my husband has woken up to the sweet smell of the muffin of the season coming out of the oven on a Sunday morning. I can’t think of a better way to wake up.

Blueberries and lemon are a classic combination, so classic that the lemon is barely detectable in this recipe; it works only to enhance the blueberries. In most muffins with fruit, the recipe calls for sugar to be added to the fruit for extra sweetness. This recipe does not require the addition of sugar to the fruit. The batter is sweet enough that it balances the blueberries, which are naturally sweeter at this time of year. When baked, some of those big, luscious blueberries retain their shape and literally burst in your mouth with an intensity so deep that can only be blue. Those that do explode when they bake produce the most luscious blue lava that seeps into the muffin not unlike blueberry marmalade. Get ready for a blueberry blast!

Makes 6 extra large muffins or 12 regular size muffins

Ingredients:

Flour 2 cups
Baking powder 2 tsp
Baking soda ½ tsp
Salt pinch
Sugar 1 cup
Canola oil ¾ cup
Eggs 2
Vanilla 2 tsp
Sour cream 1 cup
Zest, lemon 1
Blueberries, fresh 1.5 cups

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 
  2. Line a 12-tin muffin pan with liners.
  3. In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. 
  4. In a medium bowl, mix the oil and sugar until light and fluffy.
  5. Beat in the eggs, one at a time (in the wet mixture).
  6. Beat in the vanilla (in the wet mixture).
  7. Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture alternately with the sour cream.  Begin and end with the flour.
  8. Spoon in the blueberries and lemon zest.
  9. Spoon into muffin cups.
  10. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. If making 6 muffins, bake for 30 minutes.

Verdura


Yes, this week it is all about the greens (verdura). I hesitated in selecting this recipe for the week because I wasn’t sure I could take a picture that would do this dish justice. Really, what kind of picture would I need to make a plate of greens appealing?

This dish was such a big part of my childhood and it comes in many variations. I know the greens are boiled, but it does scream summer for me. Last weekend, some family from Toronto was visiting and my sweet mother sent up a care package of a mixture of leafy greens from her vegetable garden (completely organic by the way). I love visiting Toronto in the summer because I literally go grocery shopping in my mom’s vegetable garden. She’s an advanced gardener with strong farming roots.

For those of you adventurous enough to try it, the recipe will impart an astute Italian cooking secret, flavouring through simplicity. The dish consists of leafy greens with a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ undertone, which in this case happens to be fennel leaves. They are added to the water first along with the potatoes even before the water comes to a boil and they will work to flavour the broth and the greens so subtly with an implicit hint of liquorice, both sweet and minty. No one ever guesses correctly, but they detect something.

I apologize in advance for the non-recipe. Welcome to my world. For the most part, I’ve done well putting recipes to my mother’s non-recipes, but I’m leaving this one open for experimentation intentionally. As long as you are using all of the ingredients, you shouldn’t go wrong regardless of the configuration. I generally go with one bunch of chard per person (remember greens shrink), one head of escarole for every two people, one oversized potato per person, and a large bunch of fennel leaves per batch.

When I sat down on Wednesday night to eat this, I just couldn’t stop grinning. It just makes me feel nourished and it is so healthy. I feel that I’m doing my body good and though it is completely psychological (I know), I instantly feel physically and mentally stronger (Popeye-like). The greens and potatoes just work though my favourite part of the dish is the broth. You’ll notice that I overfill my plate with it. I’ve been known to drink it on its own. If I could, I would swim in it. These simple flavours are rounded out by the olive oil, which is the second Italian cooking lesson. A good robust olive oil gets elevated to a main ingredient (not in terms of quantity, but flavour) in such an earthy dish.

Though deceiving, the combination of chard and potatoes is a complete vegetable protein, so it is filling and extremely satisfying. I serve it as a main dish. This is a quick, easy, light weeknight meal.

Ingredients:

Water
Potatoes, cut in 2-inch chunks
Fennel leaves, roughly chopped
Salt
Chard, leaves cut in half
Escarole, leaves left whole
Olive oil

Directions:

  1. Fill the largest pot you own two-thirds of the way with water.
  2. Add potatoes and fennel leaves and bring to a boil.
  3. Add salt. You should add as much salt as if you were cooking pasta.
  4. Simmer for approximately 5 minutes until the potatoes are par-boiled.
  5. Taste the water/broth for salt. Adjust salt accordingly.
  6. Add the chard and simmer for approximately 3 minutes.
  7. Add escarole and cook for 3-4 minutes. You’ll know the greens are cooked when the stems of the chard are pliable.
  8. Remove from heat and strain reserving at least a 1/4 of the liquid.
  9. Return all contents to the pot with the reserved liquid and add olive oil – I normally work in a couple of turns. Mix well.
  10. Serve ensuring a good balance of greens, potatoes, and broth.

Crushed Chickpeas with Olives Open Sandwich


When I came across this recipe, having read it only on paper, I knew instantly that this combination would be outstanding, and so it was! It’s cooking at its best: a few simple ingredients with big, bold flavour. I can’t recall ever combining these two ingredients, but chickpeas and green olives complement each other in such a way that they not only bring balance, but do so in a way that enhances each, as if they were meant to be inseparable. It seems like such an obvious pairing; I’m not sure why I didn’t think of it myself!

The recipe was slightly adapted from Laura Calder’s (French Food at Home) recipe, Halibut with Brown Butter, Crushed Chickpeas with Olives and Roasted Cumin Carrots (http://www.foodnetwork.ca/recipes/Side/Vegetables/recipe.html?dishid=10264). She served it as a bed for halibut, but I made it the star attraction. It’s really that tasty.

I served it on an open sandwich, over a fennel seed multigrain chunk of bread and a side salad of mixed greens, shaved carrots, and shredded cabbage. For lunch the next day, I used it as a filling in a spelt wrap with an abundance of mixed greens. I’m always looking for interesting sandwich fillers and this sure is a nice change from hummus. I think it would also work beautifully in stuffed pasta shells, ravioli, and/or cannelloni accompanied, of course, by a nice fresh tomato salsa.   

This is a quick and easy weeknight meal.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

Olive Oil 1/2 cup
Green onions, chopped 5
Garlic, cloves, crushed 8
Chickpeas 2-19 oz cans
Black pepper  
Olives, green, pitted, chopped 2 cups
Salt  
Parsley, roughly chopped  
Lemon, zest & juice  
Olive oil for drizzling

Directions:

  1. Heat the oil in a sauté pan and gently fry the green onions for 3-4 minutes.
  2. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
  3. Add the chickpeas and black pepper and heat through.
  4. Crush the chickpeas a bit, here and there, with a potato masher, leaving some chickpeas whole.
  5. Remove from the heat and stir in the olives and parsley.
  6. Add lemon juice and lemon zest to taste.
  7. Check seasoning and add salt to taste. You shouldn’t need to add too much salt as olives are generally salty.
  8. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
  9. Serve on an open sandwich with a side salad.