Orange Pomegranate Oat Muffins with Blood Orange Curd

While I couldn’t be more pleased that spring is around the corner, if we could ever get it to stop snowing in the Pacific Northwest, there are a few great things about winter that I’ll miss. Pomegranates and citrus fruit rank high on that list. I baked these muffins as something of a last hurrah for the chilly season. They have a delicate crumb, a crusty top, and this twist on classic Lemon Curd made with blood orange juice is luscious, tart, and comforting all at once.

Orange Pomegranate Oat Muffins

5 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
6 oz flavored yogurt (I used Tillamook Orange Creamsicle)
1/2 tsp finely minced orange zest
1/4 tsp orange oil
1 cup flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup pomegranate arils

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners.
Beat butter, sugar, and egg together. Add yogurt, zest, and orange oil.
In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients thoroughly. Incorporate into the wet ingredients, being careful not to over-mix. Carefully fold in pomegranate arils.
Fill standard muffin tins 3/4 full. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden-topped.

I tried a number of different Lemon Curd recipes before hitting upon the right variation for this Blood Orange Curd. In the end, my mother’s recipe won out. This was the first Lemon Curd I fell in love with, but I don’t usually make this version as it leaves me with a few extra egg whites on my hands. What, meringues? Me? Please.

Blood Orange Curd

1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons finely minced blood orange zest
1/4 cup blood orange juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter
3 slightly beaten egg yolks

Combine sugar, cornstarch,  zest, juice, and butter in a small, heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until thickened and bubbling. Remove approximately 1/2 cup of the sauce and beat into the egg yolks. Return this mixture to the saucepan, and bring to a gentle, bubbling boil. Cook, stirring for two minutes more. I confess to adding one (just one!) drop of red food coloring; the egg yolk distorts the beautiful ruby red of the blood orange juice otherwise.

Be sure not to use Meyer lemons for this recipe, as the tartness of yellow lemons is needed to balance out the almost-sweetness of the blood orange juice.

Prepare a nice cup of tea and enjoy! The muffins aren’t half bad with a little pat of butter, too.

This is an earlier version of these two recipes. That single drop of food coloring makes as significant a difference in appearance as the use of only egg whites and a half orange juice, half lemon juice mix does in texture and flavor. Not these muffins didn’t get devoured, too, though…

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How-to Tuesday: Five Minutes’ Peace

I’m experimenting with obligating myself to post more regularly by committing to posting on a theme for different days of the week. This began with Small Style Thursdays. Herewith begins my foray into How-to Tuesdays.

Five minutes of peace is an elusive goal for many new parents, and perhaps some not-so-new moms and dads as well. Here’s my favored procedure:

-Baby on hip, put the kettle on to boil and drop some Ginseng Oolong Tea* in a teapot.

-Set baby on the kitchen floor. Distract with measuring cups while you slice and plate a piece of the Pumpkin Pie with Apricot Preserves you managed to bake last night after the little one went to sleep.

-Before the water boils and gets too hot, pour a bit of (purified!) water into a bottle with some oatmeal cereal. Put the kettle back on. Settle the little one with her bottle. Pour tea.

-Waste precious moments of quiet time arranging tea and pie to photograph for posterity. Grab a spoon and mess with the whipped cream from a bottle so it looks like it might possibly be freshly whipped.

-Sit down to enjoy tea and pie. Realize that the tea is too weak, but the pie is heavenly. That’s OK, the tea is really just an excuse to eat pie in the morning. Get Spotify going for some mood music. Polish off slice of pie.

-Pour second round of hot water over tea leaves. Chase after escaped baby and re-settle her with her half-finished bottle while tea steeps.

-Savor second cup. Be sure to exhale slowly after each sip to appreciate the naturally sweet aftertaste.

-Aaaahhhhhh.

-Share pretend sips of tea with baby and groove to Spotify choices to distract the little one from “helping” you type up this post. Nobody promised five *consecutive* minutes of peace.

*It’s worth noting that the über-Chinese Ginseng Oolong Tea and classic American Pumpkin Pie make a great pair. The sweetness of the ginseng, only apparent in the aftertaste, complements rather than overpowers the sugary spiciness of the pie. I discovered Ginseng Oolong (人参乌龙茶) at a tiny dim sum joint in Guangzhou and it quickly became one of my favorite teas. It’s a great introductory tea for novice drinkers of loose-leaf tea…a stage I haven’t moved beyond myself.

This is Where I’m From

I come from an island. A small island. The kind of island where all the kids go to the same school and nobody locks their cars. There’s actually a joke that’s been floating around for years saying that, on the Island (Yes, we call it THE island. Sometimes we even call it The Rock.) people only lock their cars during the zucchini harvest…’cause if you don’t, you’ll come back to a car full of squash.

My Korean friends from Portland came to visit me once. I look them to the lighthouse (a legitimate tourist attraction)

I took them to the Park&Ride.

I took them to see the Bicycle in the Tree.

We drove past an old railroad car overgrown with blackberries. They commented on how odd it was to have a railroad car on an Island. This had never occurred to me.

When they left, they said in typically polite, understated tones, “We understand you much better now.”

My Mexican friend from Cuernavaca came to visit me once. I took her to the lighthouse, to the Park&Ride, to the Bicycle in the Tree, and past the overgrown railroad car. I also pointed out the joys of Highway Haiku to her.

When we drove past the railroad car, she turned to me and said, “Ahora sí, amiga…ahora sí.”

A friend of mine organized a Welcome to the Island party for some mutual friends who moved here recently. I baked and adorned this Cider Tart from my own apple cider

…and organized a haiku contest in which teams wrote their compositions on blackboard strips.

A nod to the ferries we depend on to go anywhere significant:

A reference to ambiguity:

And, to sum it all up:

This is where I’m from.

How d’you like them apples?

One of the most satisfying things about leaving behind a megalopolis of ~23 million for a rural island of ~11 thousand is being so much closer to the land where the food we eat is grown. We had a great time recently scavenging for free apples and seeing how many different uses to which we could put our little red and green treasures.

Childhood friend L and I started off hitting up our friends and acquaintances with apple trees. We took a couple afternoons, in the company of Baby A to do some very inefficient, albeit enjoyable, apple picking. Implements such as rakes, shovels, and pruning clippers were employed. Deer poo was stepped in. A writhing, wriggling infant was lugged cross-country.

Precision Apple Picking with Shovel

L’s mom and dad are the proud owners of a cider press they built from a kit many years ago. We rounded up a few extra hands one crisp, clear Sunday afternoon and had ourselves a pressing party. This was, of course, the first time my Better Half had participated in a cider pressing. He quickly became an expert apple crusher.

Twist and Turn for Cider!

Cider, Sweet Cider...

L’s mom had the bright idea to make applesauce from the crushed pulp of the squeezed apples. We tried a couple different ways. First, we boiled the pulp with an inch or two of hot water and ran the resulting soggy mess through a food mill. It wasn’t half bad! Baby A’s been eating this unsweetened wonder mixed with organic oatmeal and loving it.

The second way we made applesauce was to run the pulp, uncooked, through my mom’s Champion juicer. Side note – that machine is a beast. Mom bought it 10 or 15 years ago from a woman who was living in an old school bus. It is a solid, piece of equipment and I know she’s never regretted the purchase. It doesn’t even compare to the two juicers the Better Half got me in China. The resulting applesauce (sauce, not juice, because most of the moisture in the apples had of course already been pressed out) was naturally sweeter and more intense than the watered-down cooked version, but still pretty juicy. I cooked some of this down and spiced it up to make Apple Butter, which has been great on toast and waffles.

There were also some tasty Applesauce Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Frosting that resulted from that applesauce, and plenty more tucked away in the freezer for use throughout the Winter.

Applesauce Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Frosting

The cider itself has been amazing to drink with breakfast, and the other night I boiled several cups of it with homemade mulling spices (cinnamon, crushed nutmeg, star anise, allspice berries, whole cloves, and orange peel from my Grandma’s trees in central California). It was ah-ma-zing.

Hot Apple Cider with Mulling Spices

Next up: I’m going to try and modify a recipe for Apple Cider Pie. Yes, that’s cider pie. No actual apples involved. I’ve made it once before and it doesn’t quite fill up the pie crust, so I’m going to try to make it a tart with a shortbread crust. Stay tuned.

Recipe for an Autumn Morning

I’m calling it. Summer, such as it was in Seattle this year, is officially over. Time to break out the sweaters and buy butternut squash and start leaf-watching.

I walked into my mom’s kitchen this morning and was hit smack dab in the face with the ultimate smell of autumn: German Apple Pancake.

This recipe occupies a sacred place in our family lore. It’s from The Vegetarian Epicure. Mom and Dad were once “plainclothes hippies” – vegetarians, gardeners, in touch with the planet and all. Their copy of the cookbook consistently falls open to the German Apple Pancake page. For a decade now the binding has been broken there, and there are little droplets staining the paper, souvenirs from pancakes past. My dad used to make this recipe for weekend breakfast once the good apples started to appear in the stores. No Red Delicious ever got near this recipe! We’re apple snobs in Washington.

We experimented with all kinds of varieties for the pancake topping…Granny Smith, Fuji, Gala, Jonagold, and in later years, Honeycrisp and Pink Lady. The original recipe suggests Pippens, a varietal that seems to have gone the way of shag carpeting.

The pancake itself is a light, airy wonder, with no leavening, just equal parts egg, flour, and milk, with a pinch of salt thrown in. It gets baked in a seasoned cast-iron skillet, climbing up the sides of the skillet and emerging from the oven a golden pancake bowl that is crisp and airy on the sides and doughy and absorbent on the bottom. This delicacy is subsequently topped with peeled, thinly sliced apples sauteed in butter and brown sugar.

Stop. Close your eyes. Really, you need to do this. Take a minute and just imagine all those smells…melted butter, eggy pancake, apple, caramelizing brown sugar, a bit of nutmeg…THAT is my smell of autumn.

My role as a kid was always to help my dad peel the apples. I was in awe of his skill with an apple peeler. (This is how important this recipe is in my family. We don’t have potato peelers in our kitchen; we got apple peelers here.) His long, curling strips of peel far surpassed Meg Ryan’s in Sleepless in Seattle. By the time I was finished peeling one apple, one round little blurb of peel at a time, he’d already powered through the other three.

He taught me to time it just right, to start sauteing the apples just as I turned down the temperature on the oven so that both apples and pancake would be done at the same time. He taught me to hold back, be a bit patient before starting to eat, so that the juices would have time to soak into the pancake, sweetening it and adding depth to the eggy flavor.

I learned on my own never to tamper with perfection:

German Apple Pancake, as I remember it from The Vegetarian Epicure:

Pancake:
1 TB butter
3 large eggs
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup milk
pinch of salt

Topping:
4 apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
cinnamon and nutmet

Method: Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Melt the butter in a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet, coating the bottom and sides. Mix the eggs, flour, milk, and salt in a bowl and pour into the skillet. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake ten minutes more.

Saute the apples in the remaining 1/4 cup of melted butter. When the apples are just soft, add the sugar and spices. Fill one half of the pancake bowl with apples, then fold the other half over on top.

Wait a few minutes.

Devour.