Lemon Ricotta Muffins

These Lemon Ricotta Muffins are sweet, rich, and cake-like–even though they contain whole wheat flour and not a ton of sugar!

Even though I live in one of the hottest places in the country, I still always look forward to the end of winter and the beginning of spring. (Especially now that I’m getting older and seem to be turning into a cranky old lady about the cold.) Here in Phoenix, one of the signature harbingers of spring–along with our beautiful wildflowers and the snowbirds leaving town–is the harvesting of lemons.

I don’t have a producing lemon tree myself, but my mom does, and BOY does that thing produce. There’s no way I could get through the lemon juice from the 49,000 lemons she brought over recently (in addition to the 49,000 I’m sure she also has at her house), but I of course want to hang on to it for use in tasty muffins, sauces, desserts, and more.

My favorite method for preserving all that good, fresh juice? Freezing it in a handy-dandy ice cube tray.

A couple of weekends ago, I enlisted my eight-year-old daughter to help me with juicing–a task she actually seems to enjoy. There really is something kind of fun about watching the whirring devastation of the juicer emptying lemons of their insides. We let it do its quick work, poured the juice into individual little wells, and…

Boom! Fresh lemon juice for months to come!

Now that I have a freezer full of lemon juice, I’ve been going a little nuts with the lemon recipes. The other day I made a batch of these lemon ricotta muffins–which was a bit of a leap of faith, because the lemon ricotta muffin recipes I’ve tried in the past have been a complete disaster. (Granted, that’s probably because I tried to substitute cottage cheese for ricotta and ended up with hard, chewy balls of baked cheese in each bite. Learn from my mistakes: Do NOT use cottage cheese for ricotta in baked goods.)

These muffins, on the other hand, turned out delicious, with a rich, cake-like texture. The creamy ricotta added moisture while eliminating the need for butter or oil. And not only did these taste like spring with their light lemon flavor, some pretty muffin liners (from TJ Maxx) made them look extra fresh and appealing–almost like Arizona wildflowers blooming right out of my oven.

For an Easter brunch or sweet afternoon snack, give these Lemon Ricotta Muffins a try! And tell me in the comments: What flavors make you think of spring?

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Lemon Ricotta Muffins

Rich, cake-like, and full of lemony flavor, these muffins are a special treat!
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Course: Breakfast
Servings: 12 muffins

Ingredients

  • 1/2 c. white whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 c. granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 c. ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 c. almond milk
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon zest
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin, or line with paper liners.
  • In a large bowl, mix both flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center and add all remaining ingredients. Stir gently until combined.
  • Divide batter among muffin cups and bake 16-20 minutes. To retain freshness, store baked muffins in the refrigerator.

Notes

Adapted from MyRecipes.

 

11 Weird Facts About Fruit

My kids have these books–if you have kids, you’ve probably seen them, too–that are all about strange and interesting facts. 1,001 Facts About the Human Body That’ll Blow Your Mind2,002 Weird and Wacky Facts About Natural Disasters3,003 Star Wars Facts You Won’t Learn From Watching the Movies. These are, of course, always complete with pictures of volcanoes gurgling over and half-costumed Wookies. (Aside: No, autocorrect, for once in my life I do NOT want to write “cookies,” but thank you for understanding my inner monologue so well.)

Last week I was chaperoning my 8-year-old daughter’s field trip to the natural history museum when a kid in my little student-herd kept getting on my nerves with his endless recitation of facts. Actually, he would pipe up, the longest whale on Earth was blah blah feet long. ACTUALLY, the oldest trilobite ever discovered was blah blah billion years old. No doubt, he had gotten these from the same books my kids pore over. (That or he has a lot of internet access for a third grader.)

I really had to grit my teeth to keep from opening up an ACTUAL can of chaperone whoop-ass on this kid, but then I realized…I’m a collector of weird facts, too. I just like different kinds of weird facts, usually about food. After all, fun facts are such delightful little nuggets of intellectual enjoyment, especially when they pertain to something that already interests us. Learning something new or strange must light up a particular part of our brains connected to pleasure. See, kids? Learning IS fun.

Anyway, I’m a sucker for surprising tidbits about any category of comestible, so for your reading pleasure (or, more likely, my own) I’ve assembled several about one of my favorite categories of food: fruit! Fruit is such a commonplace thing in our edible lexicon, but ACTUALLY it holds a ton of strange secrets. Therefore, I give you..

11 Weird Facts About Fruit

1. Kiwi isn’t originally from New Zealand or Australia. This fruit was originally grown in China and was known as the Chinese gooseberry until 1959.

2. Many people assume jackfruit is the world’s largest fruit. After all, these giant, spiky beasts have been known to kill people when they fall off trees–and they are the largest tree fruit on the planet. But the biggest fruit ever recorded was an Atlantic Giant pumpkin, which weighed in at over a ton. (Though if you ask me, it’s debatable that a pumpkin is a fruit.)

3. What we think of as seeds on the outside of strawberries are actually called achenes. The actual seeds are inside the achenes.

4. While we’re on the subject of strawberries, did you know that, ounce for ounce, they contain more vitamin C than oranges, grapefruit, lemons, and limes?

5. Passionfruit contains the most fiber of all fruits, with 98% of your daily value in a cup.

6. Tried Sumo oranges yet? If not, get thee to a Whole Foods and load up on these amazingly delicious mandarin oranges! But don’t be shocked when you see their price tag; the reason these oranges are so expensive is that they take up to four years to grow. Plus, in the U.S. they ship from only one facility in California.

7. While bananas get credit for containing lots of potassium, several other fruits actually boast more of this micronutrient. Watermelon, dried apricots, and avocados all have more potassium than bananas.

8. Why does one bad apple spoil the bunch? When apples (and some other fruits) start to rot, they release a gas called ethylene, which can reach–and begin to degrade–other fruits close by.

9. If you’ve ever been warned against eating grapefruit while on certain medications, you should probably listen. Grapefruit can block the action of certain enzymes responsible for metabolizing medication. The result: you end up with more of the medication in your bloodstream (and possibly adverse side effects).

10. Maybe almonds should be classified as fruits! They come from the prunus genus of trees and shrubs, which includes peaches, plums, cherries, and apricots. (Almonds are most closely related to peaches–which could be why the two taste so good together.)

11. Finally, my favorite weird fact about fruit–or is it about a vegetable? In the 1893 case Nix vs. Hedden, the Supreme Court ruled that tomatoes are vegetables, at least for tax purposes. So there you have it, if you ever need to settle the age-old debate.

Crock Pot Mexican Chicken & Corn Chowder

This Crock Pot Mexican Chicken and Corn Chowder is a delicious and easy fix-and-forget meal for busy weeknights!


My kids have been playing piano for a number of years now. We were blessed to have a teacher who came to our house weekly for six years, and I guess I never knew how good we had it in this convenient setup. I didn’t have to cart everyone off to someone else’s house one day after school, and got to prep dinner to the sounds of gradually improving classical tunes (also to the sounds of my kids not fighting with each other for an hour and a half because they were occupied with piano).

Now, however, our beloved piano teacher has taken a job as a computer programmer. (Sadly, teaching piano lessons isn’t the most lucrative career. I get it.) For several months, we’ve been trying to nail down lessons with a new teacher, to no avail. Finally, though, we’re locked in with someone I think is going to work out well–phew!

The only problem? She’s only available from 5:00 to 6:30 PM, RIGHT when I’d normally make dinner. So what do you do when your kids’ new piano teacher can only do lessons when you’d rather be home slicing and dicing so you can eat on time?

You Crock Pot it up, that’s what.

 

This Crock Pot Mexican Chicken & Corn Chowder saved the day this week when I knew I’d be indisposed in the early evening. With a little work in the afternoon, our family was able to come home to something warm and filling–and oh-so-tasty–for dinner.

The original recipe from Chelsea’s Messy Apron (the one that made me say, “YES, I MUST EAT THAT AT ALL COSTS”) had the enticing phrase “Mexican street corn” in its title–and yeah, I could see where you could kinda get a street corn vibe from this soup. But to me, it wasn’t so strong that this actually seemed like eating a bowl of street corn.

Even so, this was a darn delicious Mexican-flavored chowder my whole family loved! It’s got chicken for protein, black beans for fiber, and two types of corn for sweetness and crunch. You may think the single cup of chicken broth that goes into it won’t be enough, but don’t add more! You’ll be surprised at the end that there’s plenty of liquid.

The other great thing about this soup is that it has just enough spice from a bit of chili powder, cumin, and paprika. No one (not even my 8-year-old) said it was too spicy, which tells me it has just enough kick. I served it with my Perfect Cornbread Muffins and we were able to sit down to dinner by 7:00.

Now…which Crock Pot meal am I gonna make this week (and the next, and the next, and…)? Drop me your favorite slow cooker recipes in the comments!

Crock Pot Mexican Chicken & Corn Chowder

This Crock Pot Mexican Chicken & Corn Chowder has it all: chicken, corn, black beans, a creamy, cheesy broth, and just enough spice!
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time4 hrs
Course: Main Course
Servings: 8

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 c. chicken broth
  • 2 14.75-oz. cans cream-style corn
  • 1.5 c. frozen fire-roasted corn
  • 1 15-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 4-oz. can diced green chilies
  • 2 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1 1/4 tsp. cumin
  • 1 c. grated Mexican blend cheese
  • 1 c. half and half
  • additional cheese, avocado, tortilla strips, etc. for serving

Instructions

  • Place chicken breasts in the bottom of a large slow cooker. Add garlic, chicken broth, cream-style corn, frozen corn, black beans, chilies, chili powder, paprika, and cumin and stir to combine.
  • Cook on low for 5-6 hours or on high 3-4 hours.
  • Remove chicken and shred, then return to the slow cooker. Add shredded cheese and half and half, stir, and re-cover. Heat an additional 15 minutes or until hot. Serve immediately.

Notes

Adapted from Chelsea's Messy Apron.

Peach Green Smoothie

Happy New Year! I hope this holiday season has been treating you well. Get anything cool for Christmas? My husband got me a Nutribullet–aka mega blender extraordinaire. My previous blender was, shall we say, lacking in power. By which I mean it was a hunk of garbage that took 15 minutes just to make a smoothie. And since I love smoothies as an easy afternoon snack that packs in nutrients from fruits and veggies, I’ve been wanting a more capable blender for quite some time.

So far, the Nutribullet delivers! (Even though I gave my husband a hard time about buying me something so pricey and nice.)

The blender comes with a smoothie-cup attachment that screws directly onto the base, which of course is super convenient. I decided to try it out with this refreshing peach green smoothie!

I’m not usually one for green smoothies, but with holiday indulgences edging out my veggie consumption the last week or so, something green sounded like it would hit the spot. To get my eight-year-old daughter to try it with me, I told her it contained a secret ingredient that she had to guess. Once she saw the grassy green color of the smoothie, she had some pretty good guesses, like cucumber and mint–but she certainly didn’t taste the true reason for the lovely green: spinach!

Even I couldn’t tell this smooth concoction contained leafy greens.

Instead of tasting bitter or savory, this smoothie was pure refreshment. (My daughter even said she wants me to make it again.) The peach, honey, and banana shone through for an afternoon pick-me-up that made me wonder why I don’t pop spinach into more smoothies. With its fiber, calcium, and vitamins C and K, it’s a great way to get some extra nutrients around the holidays or any time. If you can’t even taste it, might as well toss it in!

And now that I have the Nutribullet, anyone want an old blender?

Green Peach Smoothie

This fruity green smoothie is so refreshing! Despite its green color, peach flavor shines through with a sweetness that covers the spinach hidden inside.
Prep Time5 mins
Total Time5 mins
Servings: 2

Ingredients

  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1 1/2 c. frozen sliced peaches
  • 2 c. fresh spinach
  • 1 Tbsp. honey
  • 3/4 c. unsweetened almond milk
  • 3/4 c. plain Greek yogurt

Instructions

  • Blend all ingredients until smooth. Serve immediately.

Notes

A Love Letter to Food original recipe.

Whole Wheat Oatmeal Pancakes

Allow me to introduce you to a very good friend of mine: My all-time favorite pancakes. I know a lot of people would give me some serious side-eye to for saying that the greatest pancakes of all time involve whole wheat and oatmeal (there are a lot of white flour/buttermilk devotees out there) but stick with me. Cuz these pancakes are a-mazing.

I love these pancakes for the same reasons I love oatmeal: because they’re so hearty and filling–and healthy, too! I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I eat a stack of white flour pancakes, I find myself hungry again by mid-morning. Unlike those full of refined carbs, these whole wheat breakfast babies have longer-lasting complex carbs that stick to your ribs. And they manage to taste just sweet enough with only one itty bitty tablespoon of brown sugar.

Plus, instead of buttermilk, these use Greek yogurt, which makes them extra rich and thick. Quick-cooking oats take a soak in the yogurt (and some milk) to soften them so they’re not too crunchy in the finished product. And–possibly best of all–a cinnamon-nutmeg spice mixture gives the pancakes an almost chai-like flavor.

If you like oatmeal, I think you’ll agree that these take the (pan)cake. They keep well, so feel free to make a big batch on the weekend and continue enjoying throughout the week. Slap some peanut butter on top and you have a wholesome mid-morning or afternoon snack. Or make them with bacon and a fruit salad for BFD (breakfast for dinner). Any way you serve them, they’re a high-protein, whole grain menu choice you can feel good about.

Whole Wheat Oatmeal Pancakes

Whole wheat oatmeal pancakes bring the hearty goodness of oatmeal to your favorite weekend breakfast!
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time15 mins
Total Time30 mins
Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 3/4 c. quick-cooking oats
  • 1 1/4 c. plain Greek yogurt
  • 6 Tbsp. milk of your choice, divided
  • 3/4 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 Tbsp. melted butter
  • 1 Tbsp. brown sugar, packed

Instructions

  • In a large measuring cup, soak the oats in 3/4 c. Greek yogurt and 2 Tbsp. milk for 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
  • To the dry ingredients, add the soaked oats, the remaining 1/2 c. Greek yogurt and remaining 4 Tbsp. milk, the egg, melted butter, and brown sugar. Stir until just combined.
  • Heat a griddle over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to scoop batter onto griddle. (You may have to use a greased spatula to flatten the batter a bit.) Cook about 3 minutes per side, or until lightly browned. Serve immediately.

Notes

Adapted from Epicurious.