Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Orange Pistachio Muffins

I am something of a teacher-pleaser. I am also somewhat lazy, which means I was never consistently A+ material. But that desire to meet expectations, to be thought of as a pleasure (and not, as those of us with questionable parenting occasionally fear, a burden) runs deep. And this compulsion extends to surprising places. Such as, on a recent Tuesday, doggie daycare.

Now, I am wholly convinced of the virtues of my dog, and the appeal of his gentle nature and all-around positive attitude (not a family trait). But I figure it doesn't hurt to stack the deck. And so, when I drop him off to spend a few hours at doggie daycare, I'm not above throwing in a little sugar to help make him the teachers' pet. Like these orange pistachio muffins.

I am normally a hard sell on the sweet breakfast, preferring the protein hit of the humble egg. But these muffins are perfect — a light and lovely mix of rich green pistachios and punchy orange zest, tender and sweet without veering into cupcake territory. While I do love to start the day with an apple (I've been obsessed with the Pink Lady recently), I'd argue that these make an even better gift for the teacher. Gold star!

Orange Pistachio Muffins 

yields 10 muffins (you can portion the batter to make an even dozen, but I favor a nearly-overflowing muffin, as what's the fun of a muffin without a nice muffintop?)

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 stick butter, melted and slightly cooled (if you fancy, brown the butter in a small saucepan, melting it until it takes on a toasty color, for an even more delicious depth of flavor)
2/3 cup sugar, plus additional for topping
1 egg
3/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup orange juice
zest from 1 orange
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange blossom or rosewater (optional)
1/2 heaping cup chopped pistachios, plus additional for topping

Preheat your oven to 375° Fahrenheit. Grease 10 muffin cups, and set aside.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix together the melted butter, sugar, egg, sour cream, orange juice and zest, and extract(s) until well combined. Add the wet ingredients to the dries, give a turn or two, then sprinkle in the pistachios. Mix until just barely combined (better to under- than over-mix).

Quickly divide the mixture into muffin cups, coming just a bit below the lip of the cup. Sprinkle a dusting of sugar over the batter (you should need just a few spoonfuls for the whole tray), and then top with a sprinkling of pistachios. Bake until lightly golden and a tester comes out clean, ~15-20 minutes. Let cool slightly, then pop out of the muffin tin, wrap in a clean tea towel, and present to your teacher (or anyone else you desire).

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Savory Hamantaschen

I have spoken before about the beauty of hamantaschen, the tri-cornored cookies baked on the holiday of Purim to represent Haman's hat (or depending on the tradition, his ears). But this year I got to thinking — why should these delicious pastries be the only triangular food I eat on this holiday? Why not take this idea to its logical (or, you know, not-so-logical) conclusion?

And so, I present the wide world of savory hamantaschen. All sorts of 'taschen. They've been ably photographed by the amazing Leela Cyd, and can found over at Bon Appetit. Happy Purim!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


My college was located in the same town as a Malt-O-Meal processing plant, churning out boxes of hot cereal. On clear, crisp days — especially in the fall — there would be this lovely toasty smell in the air. Like bread, but slightly sweeter. Reassuring, comforting, and somehow a bit encouraging. Like hot cereal itself. There's something about the toasty smell that still reminds me of that time, of clear fall afternoons and being young and the terrifying sense of possibility of it all.

I haven't had a bowl of Malt-O-Meal in years — perhaps not since college. But I'm a big fan of the surprisingly wide world of porridge. And if you think beyond the box, and beyond oatmeal, you can find all sorts of delicious porridgey inspiration. Even if you don't have the same adolescent associations, it's still enough to warm your belly and soul. I give a rundown of the wide world of porridge (including the amaranth porridge with mango, coconut, lime and ginger pictured above) over at NPR's Kitchen Window.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Egg-Lemon Soup with Crab, Orzo and Arugula

There seem to be these strange unspoken rules about what makes for a Valentine's Day meal. It's got to be chocolate, or steak, or some gooey-with-cheese risotto or such. But I argue that's limited thinking. Special occasion dishes (be they for your special someone or a party of one) need not (and, arguably, best not) be dripping with heavy flavors. They can be light and lovely, yet still totally befitting of a special evening. Like this soup.

I adapted this recipe from the amazing Silvena Rowe, who tends to give an interesting Ottoman spin to anything she touches. The end result is a riff on the avgolemono soup common throughout Mediterranean. It's tart yet rich, studded with slippery orzo, a luxurious bite of sweet and briny crabmeat, and a handful of arugula to brighten things up. It's a refreshing different entry into the Fancy Soup category (a category that seems populated exclusively with sherry-spiked cream bisques). It might even be my new Valentine.

Egg-Lemon Soup with Crab, Orzo and Arugula

adapted from Silvena Rowe's Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume (her original version is much heavier on the egg yolks, so feel free to play around if you fancy a richer, thicker soup)

yields 4 small first-course servings, or 2-3 main course servings

1 quart chicken broth or stock
1/4 cup orzo
2 egg yolks
juice of 1 large lemon (or more, to taste)
1/4 — 1/2 pound picked crab meat
several handfuls arugula
several pinches crushed sumac (optional, available at Middle Eastern grocery stores)

In a large saucepan or small pot, bring the broth to a boil over a medium-high heat. Add the orzo, and reduce the heat until it's just high enough to maintain a simmer. Cook until the orzo is quite tender, ~20 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and lemon zest. Ladle in a half cup of the hot stock, whisk to temper, then pour the mixture back into the pot. Whisk to combine, then taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Let simmer for a minute to heat, then add the crab meat and arugula. Let cook for a minute or two, until the arugula is just wilted and the crab is heated through. Ladle into bowls, top with a pinch of sumac, and serve.