Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Wait for it...

New computer? Check.

Return of my blogging enthusiasm? Check.

The best dessert I have ever made? Check.

Recipe to follow.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Spring is Coming!

(not my picture of lemons, for the record)

I don't know about you, but I had a serious case of the winter blahs this year. I was just not motivated...somewhere between my last winter CSA dropoff and daylight savings time I had forgotten that the sun even existed. I became an sleep/work/eat machine with the sleep and work part taking up most of my energy. My creative juices had just stopped flowing. My frozen veggie stocks were running low. Boiled potatoes and rice started sounding like a good idea for dinner. Cheese became my best friend, and somewhere, I started feeling crappy.

Wow. I'm glad thats over. Yay for me for surviving my first full winter in New England.

I feel a little bit guilty saying that I got to enjoy spring a little bit earlier than my fellow North Easterners. I went West. WAY West, where a girl can walk around in a t-shirt and sandals, drink coffee on the patio, drive around with the windows down and forget the jacket at home. West, where they have birds nesting, lovely, flourishing gardens, and lemon trees. LEMON TREES, I'm telling you. I live in New England, for gods sake, and always feel that little pang of guilt when I drop a lemon into my shopping basket, and here I was with these forbidden packets of goodness growing in every other yard, just asking me to don my best ninja suit in the middle of the night and steal them all. Oh my god, did my traveling companions want to smack me. All I could see or think about was lemons. My mind raced with the possibilities--Lemon tarts. Lemonade. Custard. Preserves. Fresh squeezed lemon over warm grain salads. Candied lemon peels. Potatoes with lemon and dill. Oh my. Would anyone miss them if I took just a couple? Is that considered stealing? Can we just stop and get some lemons? NOW?

Luckily, I didn't have to steal. Sweet Jane Aikidoka, who was kind enough to offer us her house for the weekend gave me picking rights to a lovely little tree outside. Oh man. I could have picked that thing bare, but that wouldn't be proper, now would it? In the end I took just enough, but not too much (the lemons never did make it back to New England, though). A few went to my mom as a gift (along with my favorite honey from Quebec, Richard Paradis & Fils) and the rest? Well, my lovely globetrotter friend Carolyn helped me with those. For breakfast we made blueberry pancakes with a citrus compote (lemons and oranges with panela, an unrefined sugar from South America). Later, when we went hiking (my first real sunshine of the year) we had boiled potatoes served cold with flax oil, sea salt, parsley, garlic and a generous squeeze of Jane's beautiful lemon. My friends are good to me.

Thank you spring. You couldn't have come soon enough.

By the way, I was feeling so refreshed when I got home I decided to tackle my fridge, which had been in dire need of a clean. I mean, who had dirt in the bottom of her fridge anyway? (I am not talking about a little bit of dirt here, folks, I am talking like half a farm worth of dirt that was once clinging to my freshly picked vegetables and now is spread all over the bottom shelf. Or was, until yesterday--I can honestly say I have never had to vacuum my fridge until now). The new space is nice, though--empty shelves just begging to be filled with goodness. It allows me to feel more open to new possibilities in my cooking, instead of being tied down to the past. Alright Spring. I am ready.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Lemon Basil Shortbread Love.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I came out of the holiday season ready to shift gears back to my normal, healthy diet. Don't get me wrong, I love cookies and cakes and stuffing and Christmas dinner as much as the next gal, but after almost two months of it, I am usually burned out.

"So why are you posting a cookie recipe?" you might ask.

*Sigh. Because I baked on Sunday. A lot. You see, I moved across the country last winter, and have been seriously missing some people back home. And, my favorite way to show a person I have been thinking about him or her is to bake. Sifting together ingredients, getting my hands in some dough clears my mind, puts me in a good mood, and leaves me with yummy treats to share with others. What more can a girl ask for? So, completely ignoring the fact that my friends at home are probably cookied-out, I baked and baked and baked until my countertops were completely covered with about 9 dozen little treats. These Lemon Basil cookies just happened to be one of them.

Shortbread is easy, simple, and incredibly versatile (I have recently made Heidi Swanson’s Pinenut Rosemary version, and am looking at making a rosewater pistachio version and an espresso version sometime soon). There are a million different ways to play. Healthy? No. Awesome? Yes.

Lemon Basil Shortbread

2 cups white whole-wheat flour (or unbleached all-purpose flour)
1 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup natural cane sugar
zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh basil, finely chopped

Sift together the flour and salt in a medium-sized bowl and set aside. In a separate large bowl or stand mixer, cream the butter until it is light and fluffy (Note: if “room temperature” is as cold at your house as it is at mine in the winter, you can put the butter in the microwave for 5 second intervals until it softens up. Be sure not to zap it longer than this though…you don’t want it to melt at all). Beat in the sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice and basil until incorporated. Mix in 1/3 of the flour at a time until it is all incorporated (and give your arm a nice workout, if mixing by hand). Don’t mix too much after the dough is pretty uniform. Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap, cover with a second piece of plastic wrap and smash into a patty about one or two inches thick.* (Note, this step is just for ease of handling the dough…you can skip the whole plastic wrap thing and just transfer the dough to a plate or something if you don’t care to use saran). Transfer the dough to the fridge for about 15 minutes to allow it to firm up.

Preheat the oven to 350 F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface, and roll out to ~1/4 inch thick (if you are getting a bit of sticking, sprinkle the top of the dough with a bit of flour). Stamp out cookies with your favorite cutter, and transfer to the baking sheets. Bake for about 10 minutes, until the bottoms of the cookies are starting to brown, then chow down with a cup of tea or glass of milk. Enjoy.