Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Myer Lemon Sugar Cookies

Who doesn't love a standard issue sugar cookie?  I certainly do.  A homemade one even more.  What makes a baker special is how they elevate the basic and make it truly their own.  I'm working on being more experimental and discovered it's not so hard to make something special too.

My overflowing Meyer Lemon tree gave me the perfect excuse to update my tried and true cookie recipe with a zesty twist.  Let me taunt you with a few images.  You'll find the recipe below.

Fresh Out of the Oven, Myer Lemon Sugar Cookies


Myer Lemon Zest

 
Dry Ingredients Whisked Together

Butter & Sugar
Roll the Dough in the Sugar

 
Ready for Baking

Sugar Cookies Before....

 
Sugar Cookies After

Myer Lemon Sugar Cookies.  Look carefully and you'll see the zest.

Meyer Lemon Sugar Cookies

Ingredients:

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Zest of 1 large Meyer lemon
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons fresh Meyer lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar for rolling cookies

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
2. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
3. Using a mixer, beat the butter and sugar until creamy.
4. Add lemon zest, egg, vanilla extract and lemon juice. Mix until combined. Gradually blend in the dry ingredients.
5. Roll rounded tablespoons of dough into balls and roll in sugar. Place on prepared baking sheets,  about 1 1/2 inches apart.
6. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until cookies are lightly brown around the edges. Let the cookies rest on the baking sheets for a couple of minutes before moving to a cooling rack.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

With a Little Help From My Blogger Friends, A Do-Over Vegetable Patch

Every spring the vegetable garden story begins the same way, with great promise.  Like a good book, the observer hopes for a Victory Garden ending later in the summer.  The Victory Garden ending always seems to be in question though.  It wouldn't be a well appreciated tale if it weren't without its conflicts along the way, now would it?

Let's take my previous spring edition of this same story.  Last year, I struggled to grow tomatoes.  My educated guess was lousy soil and my primary protagonist, the bee, failed at making an appearance to complete my story.  Enter the antagonist, a mystery thief who was never fingered, took my only two tomatoes from the season. Thanks a bunch possum, squirrel or whoever you are.  You gave me a bummer ending to my kitchen garden tale.  I must rework the story this season.

Not wanting a fairy tale or wishful thinking garden, I researched as any decent author would do.

Starting with the soil, it's is all about nutrients.  Unhealthy soil will give you very little in return.  Wanting an organic approach, having a healthy compost amended in the beds will act as a superhero fertilizer warding off pests and disease.  A Way to Garden.com has an excellent tutorial on composting  if you are in need of help too.

Foxglove, a welcoming sentry
How do I make an alluring environment for my lead character, the sadly ever elusive bee?  The Honeybee Conservancy has an excellent guide on planting a bee garden  that provides food and habitat.  Bees like showy flowers just as much as humans.  They have spectacular vision and seem to be especially drawn to blue, purple, white and yellow flowers.  Aim for blooming flowers each season if your gardening zone allows; it will provide them a constant source of food.  Ideally, single petal blossoms are best since they have the most pollen and nectar to snack on.

Purple Salvia beckons the bees

Psst, hey Mr. Honeybee...over here and pollinate me so I can make a glorious, juicy tomato!


Tomato flower shows early promise
Tomatoes can use the help of a wing man.  The Back to the Basics blog, clued me in on the merits of companion planting. Marigolds, for example, fend off the nematodes and insects with it's not so heady perfume.

Marigold, the great defender of Tomatoes
The last twist in this version of the tale is time and weather.   We will have to wait to see how this version of the summertime garden story ends.
Meyer Lemon in hiding
As for spring, I'm proud to report, my matchmaking bee efforts paid dividends around my Meyer Lemon tree!  With a little help from my friends, I hope I've helped you too!


  

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Female Mind on Meal Planning Delivers A Mexican Casserole

Gents:  for a limited time, this is your rare opportunity to see the inner workings of a woman's brain on how she ultimately plans a home cooked meal.   Ladies, I hope you don't mind I left the door open a crack; I promise I'll close the door when I finish this post!

And so, this how I came up with a fireside dinner one evening.


First, I need to address all of those typical thoughts floating around in my head:
  • What vegetables do I have on hand?
  • I'd love to make that recipe I saw (now where did I see it?)
  • Anything in the freezer I could use?
  • Oh yeah..I'm trying to lower my food bill
  • But is it going to be tasty?
  • Can I sell my meal idea to everyone else in the household?
  • I've got to do better about not wasting food
Now having tamed all the noise, I'm almost prepared to answer the age old question, "what's for dinner?"   How to do it and not drive myself into an overbooked, over spent and overtaxed frenzy?

Tamara Adler's book, An Everlasting Meal:  Cooking With Economy & Grace, has saved my sanity.  Her succinct observations have transformed my meal planning skills.   She didn't say anything terribly revolutionary; what she did do for me was eloquently write it down in one cohesive spot. 

While her book is part essay, it has inspired me more word for word than any other cookbook I own.  And therein lies it's beauty; it's not really loaded with recipes but with insight on how to summon great tasting meals from what I already have.  Cutting to the chase...here's your CliffsNotes:
"Great meals rely on the bones and peels and ends of meals before them." - Tamara Adler
What does that mean?  Roast a chicken on the weekend and save the carcass to make a chicken broth.  The chopped off ends of a carrot or celery you didn't use are still nutritionally valuable in making a broth.  Cook dried beans (much cheaper than canned) and freeze individual servings.  Make mash potatoes and use the leftovers to thicken a future soup.  Keep the rind from the Parmesan cheese you shredded; it will give you extra flavor in a vegetable soup.  Look how much money I just saved you by not having to buy additional ingredients to make a soup or having to buy pre-made broth.

My decision to make a Mexican Casserole is just one example of a scrumptious meal made possible by having a nicely stocked pantry and "ends of meals."  Enough meal planning insight.  On to making the casserole.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Prep or mise en place all of the ingredients and this will come together in a snap.


Ingredients I had on hand: frozen corn from a previous shucking, pinto beans from another day's cooking session, corn tortillas,  salsa and Hatch enchilada sauce.


We also had leftover chicken from the previous night's roast.


Fresh vegetables I had in the fridge included a red bell pepper, half an onion and zucchini.


The only purchase I needed to make was this glorious hunk of creamy Manchego cheese.  Shred the whole thing.  Freeze the rind for a future meal.


Give a gentle warm up starting with sweating the chopped onions till they are translucent.  Add the bell pepper and cook for a minute.  Add in the zucchini, corn and pinto beans with an occasional stir for another 5 minutes.



Add in the enchilada sauce.  You can't go wrong if you are able to find Hatch.  Bring to a simmer on low heat.


Smear the salsa on the bottom of the casserole dish.  This will help eliminate the tortillas from sticking to the bottom.  


Start layering as you would a lasagna.   Salsa...tortillas...beans....chicken...cheese.  Repeat!
Bake for 30 minutes.  Garnish with fresh avocado and cilantro. 


Ole'!  I used mostly what I had and delivered at least one dinner and leftovers.  I'm now going to quietly close the door as I start pondering on our next home cooked meal.

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