This time of year is always an interesting one.
The gluttony and revelry of the holidays are over and the holiday decorations have been put away.
We’ve rung in the New Year, counted our blessings and recapped the year in the rearview mirror.
Thank you notes are being written, and all those lofty plans for elaborate, sumptuous meals need to be remembered– or shelved, at least for a bit.
With the kids back at school, it’s the perfect time for a little housekeeping and seeking out pals who I barely saw during the chaos of the holidays.
Now there’s time for leisurely lunch dates, both in my kitchen and around town.
I invited one friend over mid-day and I used once again a recipe I’d been given to test out for a cookbook; the recipe is from Lardo owner Rick Gencarelli (I interviewed him a while back) and the recipe is a keeper.
It’s just a simple bucatini recipe with pancetta and Reggiano but what makes it so great is you toss the warm cooked noodles with the pancetta fat leftover from frying and you top the dish with an oozy cooked egg.
When you then cut into the yolk, you add an extra sumptuousness and richness to the finished dish (it’s crazy good, people).
Another pal invited me to join her at Tabor Bread and she treated us to the most wonderful lunch.
I’m absolutely besotted with their breads and I usually head over to this bakery once a week to buy a loaf or two.
This was my first chance to eat at their cafe and I was wild for it.
We each had one of their laudable grilled cheese sandwiches (with caramelized onion and Gruyere?) and she added a house salad to her combo, and I the soup of the day — a Potato Leek soup which was hands down the best version I’ve ever had.
It had an intensely leeky (were they roasted?) base and a velvety rich potato puree which they topped with an addictive bacon topping.
(I’m definitely going to try to replicate that soup at home soon.)
Everything about Tabor Bread is sublime — and I can’t wait to try out some of their other offerings (like the egg sandwich offerings on the weekend).
And all through New Year’s weekend and this week, people have been dropping off treats in person or on my porch.
How wonderful to come home from errands and find little treats awaiting me!
And in that similar spirit (and blithely ignoring the New Year’s resolutions), I’ve been tinkering in the kitchen and baking up some magic for those around me and surprising them with treats.
There was the girlfriend of mine who told me she was headed up to Timberline Lodge with another family and I thought a care package of homemade cookies would make the trip up to Mt. Hood that much more memorable.
I’ve gotten to know her fairly well over the past year, so I knew exactly what kind of cookies to include.
There were Super-sized Chewy Ginger Cookies (also a personal favorite)
and these beauties –the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies.
I baked up this batch and passed them around to friends and neighbors, too.
And here’s another thing coming out of my kitchen this week — Berry and Yogurt Muffins.
This is a recipe I’ve made perhaps several dozens of times over the years; not only is it unfussy, but I almost always have on hand the ingredients for it and it whips up in no time.
Even better than that is the fact that recipe seems foolproof and delivers up a fantastic result each and every time.
Melted butter, fresh or frozen berries, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and either yogurt or buttermilk and some dry ingredients are basically all you need for this recipe.
This time I added lots of fresh Cara Cara orange zest to the batter to give it an extra umph and I loved the brightness it added to the cooked muffins.
I’d read somewhere that if you toss your berries in flour before adding them to the recipe they won’t all fall to the bottom so I tried that.
I tossed the berries with flour, sugar and fresh orange juice and either my berry blend was too wet or the advice was bunk, but no matter — the muffins were still scrumptious.
I drizzled a little Cara Cara glaze atop the cooked and cooled muffins and prepared the packages for friend drop-offs.
One friend in the neighborhood got a whole cake on her porch.
(She still has in-laws in town and I figured they could all crack into it for the following breakfast.)
Other pals got little trays of goodies.
I’d found these paper platters at an estate sale over the summer (still in their unopened package) and they made the ideal delivery vehicle.
I think it’s great when you can deliver treats out of the neighborhood in packaging that’s both cheery and disposable; why saddle the recipient with the pressure of returning something?
Isn’t the point to make the treat welcoming without creating something else on their To Do list?
Also, honestly, I’ve delivered so many treats on platters/plates/containers that I’ve never seen again (no judgment here as the “do I keep/return?” issue is a murky one).
Try this recipe.
These muffins are like a new best friend; suddenly you can’t imagine your life without this new addition and you find yourself daydreaming of all the future occasions that await you.
- Nonstick cooking spray
- 2 C. unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- ½ tsp. baking soda
- ½ tsp. salt
- ½ C. (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- ⅔ C. sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- 1 tsp. grated lemon zest (I used 1 Tbs. orange zest)
- 1 C. buttermilk or plain yogurt (I used Faje Greek style yogurt)
- 1¾ C.fresh or frozen blueberries (I used this time closer to 2½ C. mixture of raspberries and blueberries)
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners or coat it with cooking spray.
- Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium mixing bowl.
- Whisk together the cooled melted butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, zest and buttermilk/yogurt in a large mixing bowl.
- With a wooden spoon, stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Gently stir in the berries.
- Fill each muffin cup about three-quarters full. Bake the muffins until they are golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 22 to 25 minutes.
- Let them cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, invert them onto a wire rack, and turn them right side up on the rack to cool completely.
- Best Berry Muffins will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days, or wrap them individually in plastic and then aluminum foil and freeze them for up to 1 month.