Thursday, January 21, 2010

Orange- and Lemon-Infused Olive Oil Muffins with Toasted Almonds...Offered in Thanks!

With all that is currently going on in our world, I'm feeling particularly thankful right now for the food on our table, the roof over our heads, and the fact that all those from our own nest are safe, healthy, and secure...even if we ARE currently scattered across the globe. (My new friend, Skype, is helping me on that front!)

The truth, however, is that my last post was actually written as I hovered near the "furry child" I mentioned...watching him breathe in and out, snuggled comfortably on his bed tucked close by my chair, assuring me that he was doing well and "out of the woods." Following a tailspin 24-hour period that had us rushing our big guy to a veterinary ER...committing him to emergency surgery and an overnight stay, transferring him to our vet for eight hours of additional monitoring, and bringing him home a little more than a day later to recuperate...our thankfulness continues.

While I recognize (and am slowly digesting) the reality of our beloved dog's expected lifespan, I am truly appreciative of the efforts made to correct what could have been a very dire outcome. We acted quickly because the very calm voice of the woman that answered our call to the ER facility made it clear that what we "might be" dealing with needed to be addressed in a short time frame; the doctor on call was to-the-point, yet warm and assuring; the surgeon (whom we never met) was apparently "the doctor you want performing this surgery;" and, our vet's office was (as always) kind, compassionate, and thoroughly comforting in their care and assessment of our big guy.

And so, as we sat watching the tragedy of despair and destruction unfolding in Haiti and waiting for word on the outcome of our big guy's surgery, we made a call to one of the numbers that rolled across the CNN-tuned channel, pledging a donation (there are a host of organizations that need is a good place to look). And after reading an article in our paper today about five local, professional photographers who generously donated their time and talents to collaborate on a project documenting the work of our area's food bank -- photos that will be on display today for free public viewing and then go to the food bank (free of charge) to be used for future marketing -- I gathered extra cans of food that stocked our shelves and will now go toward this effort. Then...with our big guy more alert today and responding well in his recovery...I made muffins!

Muffins? Well...yes. While we said many heartfelt "thank yous" to all the skilled professionals that made the outcome of our Sunday night ordeal a happy just didn't seem like enough. Oh yes, we paid our bills, but muffins just seemed like a fitting gesture of thanks to let those late-night emergency personnel know that their efforts are appreciated far beyond the fees or paychecks they receive. You have a expect to be paid. You do your job well...with compassion and dedication...more should be said or done.

I chose these olive oil-based muffins specifically for their less-than-usual ingredients. They are subtly sweet, a touch citrus-y, and light...with just a slight nutty crunch from perfectly toasted almonds. And...yes, in addition to olive oil, they have balsamic vinegar in them too! While a very small percentage of the reviews I read on this recipe said that they tasted these two atypical muffin ingredients, I believe their presence is delicately finespun. Not only are these little muffins uniquely tasty and delicious, they are heart-healthy too...particularly fitting for a "medical" thank you.

Thankfulness can take many forms. Giving what you can to areas of need, both near and far, whether it's with your time or pocketbook, can and should be done. And if you want to top that off with a few homemade muffins as well...that's okay too.

Orange- and Lemon-Infused Olive Oil Muffins with Toasted Almonds

adapted from a recipe by Giada De Laurentiis
makes one dozen

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons orange zest
1/8 teaspoon pure lemon extract
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons milk (I used 2%)
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup slice almonds, toasted
powdered sugar, for sifting

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place paper liners in a 12-cup muffin tin (note: my batter made two additional muffins). Toast almonds in a small skillet over medium-high heat until just lightly toasted, about 1 to 2 minutes. Set aside.

2. Blend together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

3. Using an electric mixer, in a large bowl, beat sugar, eggs, zest, and extract until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in vinegar and milk. Gradually beat in oil.

4. Add flour mixture to egg mixture and stir until just blended. Crush almonds with your hands as you add them to the batter and stir until mixed.

5. Fill muffin tin with batter, almost to top of paper liners...

Bake until golden on top and tester inserted in center of muffin comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. (note: my batch took exactly 20 minutes...just keep an eye on them so that they don't over bake)

6. Transfer muffins, in tin, to wire rack and cool for 10 minutes. Remove muffins from tin and cool an additional 5 minutes. Place some wax paper, parchment (whatever) under your cooling rack...and dust muffins with powdered sugar.

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