Seed catalogs are starting to jostle for space in my mail box and I couldn't be happier. They offer me the opportunity to mentally check-out on winter for a while and do some virtual gardening. I do this by curling up with a glass of wine, paper and pencil and devising my springtime plan of attack for the kitchen garden and flower beds.
My garden isn't very big, but I still manage to drag the planning process out for a few evenings: hashing over the layout, remembering what thrived last summer (and what barely survived), and haggling over decisions like purple or Thai basil.
After all the deliberation (and a few glasses of wine!) I've decided I'm going to do things a little differently this year. Instead of using valuable garden space for my herbs, I'm going to make a movable herb garden with pots and planters on our new deck. That is how I used to do it on the tiny back balcony when we lived downtown and my basil was never so nice. Not only will it look gorgeous and free up more space for the pea patch, but the close proximity to the kitchen will be ideal for scampering out barefoot and gathering snippets to add to meals.
One of my Christmas presents from Danny was Jamie Oliver's new cookbook, Jamie at Home. It could have also been titled The Naked Chef Gets Dirty, as he's up to his elbows in garden soil for most of the book. With recipes inspired by his own love affair with gardening, this is a cookbook I can really get into. It's divided into seasons and features over a hundred recipes using simple fresh garden produce. There are also pages of gardening tips scattered throughout that I hope to put to practical use this summer.
Come on spring! We're ready for you anytime.
These muffins were the first recipe I tried from my new cookbook. Really, they should be titled cupcakes instead of muffins, but they were lovely no matter what their name. Moist and flavorful, they reminded me of a really decent carrot cake--only better.
Jamie Oliver’s Butternut Squash Muffins with a Frosty Top
makes 12 - 16 muffins
14 ounces butternut squash, seeded and roughly chopped
2 & 1/4 cups light brown sugar
4 large free-range or organic eggs
pinch of salt
2 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, unsifted
2 heaping tablespoons baking powder
handful of chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
For the Frosted Cream Topping:
1 clementine, zested
1 lemon, zested
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/2 cup sour cream
2 heaping tablespoons icing sugar, sifted
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out
Preheat the oven to 350F. In a food processor, buzz the butternut squash until finely chopped. Add the sugar and eggs. Buzz in a pinch of salt, the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and olive oil and mix until well beaten. Scrape the sides if needed, and mix only until everything is well combined.
(Aimee's note: if you don't have a food processor, just grate the squash on a box cheese grater, transfer to a bowl and mix everything in by hand. This works just as well.)
Fill a regular sized muffin tin lined with paper cups until each cup is just over 3/4 full. Cook 20 - 25 minutes until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Allow muffins to cool on a wire rack.
For the topping:
Place the zest and lemon juice in a bowl. Add the sour cream, the sifted confectioner’s sugar and vanilla and mix well. Taste, and adjust the sweet and sour accordingly. Keep in the fridge until ready to top the muffins. If you like, sprinkle the topped muffins with a little more orange zest and lavender flowers.