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.

 

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.

Herbed Tuna in Heirloom Tomatoes

I could sit down with a good cookbook like a good novel. A nice night in, to me, is poring over a new cookbook, imagining each step of each recipe, and picturing the delicious finished product. It’s basically the equivalent of fantasy fiction for cooks.

With a fairly large collection of cookbooks (plus compulsively checking them out from the library, as I do) there are always those recipes I bookmark during my perusing and think, I’ll make that eventually. But time goes by, I find new and exciting ideas on Pinterest, and sometimes things I think I’ll make fall by the wayside.

These Herbed Tuna in Heirloom Tomatoes are one such recipe.

For years I’ve been a fan of Real Simple’s line of cookbooks, and this recipe called out to me from Meals Made Easy as long ago as–dare I admit it–2009. I thought it looked healthy, easy, and bit unique. I mean, how often do you put fish in a tomato? Sounds kinda weird…but not in a bad way. Plus, I find the idea of food as its own serving container ADORABLE and kind of a genius way to minimize on doing dishes.

The thing is, though, heirloom tomatoes are only in season so often. And even when they are, I usually pass them by in the grocery store, thinking they’re just a little too fabulous for me. They’re the fine china of vegetables: Fancy and gorgeous, but really? For everyday?

You know what, though? Yes! Why NOT splurge on something as healthy (not to mention gorgeous) as heirloom tomatoes? I picked up these multi-colored models yesterday determined to finally put fish in a dang tomato!

The results were worth the wait. (Of ten years, haha.) I really enjoyed not only the process of stuffing these heirlooms for unique presentation, but also the fun of eating them. The tuna mixture is flavored with a Mediterranean profile of lemon juice, olive oil, capers, parsley, and pepper, but could be played with any way you like. Plus, if you have dietary restrictions like gluten-free or dairy-free, these fit the bill.

Give them a try for a tasty, healthy, seasonal summer lunch!


Herbed Tuna in Heirloom Tomatoes

This light and healthy Mediterranean-flavored lunch is a fun way to soak up the flavors of summer!
Servings: 2 as a main course

Ingredients

  • 3-4 large heirloom tomatoes
  • 2 6-oz. cans tuna, drained, preferably albacore packed in olive oil
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 Tbsp. capers
  • 1/3 c. fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • drizzle olive oil, if you used tuna packed in water

Instructions

  • Using a paring knife, slice a circle in the top of each tomato. Scoop the flesh out of tomatoes, leaving about a 1/4 inch-thick tomato "shell." Drain any excess water out of the flesh you've scooped and dice it into 1/4 to 1/2-inch pieces.
  • Place diced tomato in a mixing bowl. Add all remaining ingredients and mix to combine.
  • Scoop the mixture into your tomato shells and serve.

Notes

Adapted from Real Simple.

Orange Olive Oil Bundt Cake

Need a dessert to feed a crowd? This Orange Olive Oil Bundt Cake with yogurt icing is just the ticket!

Every other Sunday for the last fifteen years, my husband and I have had Sunday dinner with his family. Coming from a New York Italian family as he does, Sunday dinner is almost more of a religious observance than a simple meal. Barring an act of God, it WILL happen. And it will probably involve sausage.

Over the years, as we’ve gotten together, the family has seen many changes. While Sunday dinner started out at his parents’ house every week, we’ve now transitioned to rotating between the homes of his mom and his siblings. And whereas, fifteen years ago, there were seven of us around the dinner table, there are now eighteen adults and kids. When it’s our turn to host, you can find me searching for recipes that feed a crowd.

I’ve assembled a handful of go-to entrees to serve for dinner, from chili to casseroles to barbecue chicken sandwiches (thank God for the Crock Pot). But sometimes the course that leaves me stumped is dessert. A single pan of brownies no longer suffices for this many people, and forget about a single pie–or even two. One dessert I come back to time and again is the ample, flexible bundt cake. It’s easy to slice and serve for any portion size, it doesn’t require the effort of frosting of a layer cake, and it always turns out so pretty. Plus, who doesn’t like cake?

I made this Orange Olive Oil Bundt Cake for our most recent Sunday dinner. Lately I’ve been digging in to a bit of “research” (aka baking and eating) on replacing butter or other fats with heart-healthier olive oil. This particular olive oil baking experiment was certainly a success! The cake turned out slightly–but not overly–dense, with a delightfully almost-crunchy crust. Drizzled with a yogurt icing with a hint of orange, each slice was a little bit of citrus heaven, especially when accompanied by a dollop of vanilla ice cream.

To complete a Mediterranean-themed meal, I served this after my Twice-Baked Spaghetti Squash with Sausage and Kale. (See? I told you sausage would be involved.) For Sunday dinner or to feed any crowd, I’d say you can’t go wrong with bundt cake–especially this one.


Orange Olive Oil Bundt Cake

Serve up a slice of citrus heaven with this orange olive oil bundt cake topped with yogurt drizzle!
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time45 mins
Total Time1 hr
Servings: 16

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 1 1/2 c. white sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2/3 c. high quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. orange extract (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh orange zest
  • 6 Tbsp. fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt

For the orange-yogurt glaze

  • 2 c. powdered sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 1 Tbsp. full-fat plain yogurt
  • extra orange zest for garnish

Instructions

Make the cake:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees and generously grease a 12-cup bundt pan.
  • In a large bowl, mix sugar and eggs with a hand mixer on medium speed. Add olive oil, vanilla, and orange extract and mix until smooth, then repeat with orange zest and juice.
  • Add flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and mix with hand mixer until no lumps remain.
  • Pour into prepared bundt pan and bake 40-45 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cake cool completely before frosting.

Make the glaze:

  • In a medium bowl, whisk together powdered sugar, orange juice, and yogurt until smooth.
  • Drizzle icing over cooled cake. Garnish with additional orange zest. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Notes

Adapted from Food Network, glaze my own recipe.

Twice-Baked Spaghetti Squash with Sausage and Kale

Last weekend, while I was out at the toddler cooking class I teach once a month, my husband got together with a group of guys for a Sausage Festival. I’m not being gross. They literally hung out for several hours making sausage. I kinda wish I could have been there, because this is one aspect of food production I have never personally experienced…and, though it’s not terribly glamorous, it’s pretty interesting! So before I dive into this tasty Twice-Baked Spaghetti Squash with Sausage and Kale–which, of course, uses the sausage from the Sausage Festival–here’s a little glimpse into the process.

Apparently it all starts with pork shoulder, cut into chunks.

Then the pork goes through a grinder…


And gets mixed with a blend of spices–in this case, parsley, garlic, fennel, and red pepper flakes.

 

And finally, the part everyone knows and loves: filling the casings with the meat to make links!


Pretty floral apron optional.


As far as I’m concerned, the best part about the Sausage Festival is that we now have homemade sausage to last until Kingdom Come. The guys made both links and bulk sausage, so I was only too happy to use some of the bulk kind up in this hearty, Mediterranean-style Twice-Baked Spaghetti Squash.

It all starts with yourr basic giant yellow squash, baked and scraped to get those signature squiggly strings so reminiscent of pasta. In the meantime, you’ll brown some sausage and wilt some kale in a bit of garlic-infused olive oil on the stovetop. Toss these yummy goodies–plus some sun-dried tomatoes, parmesan, and cannellini beans–with the squash strings. Refill the shells, top with a sprinkle of mozzarella, and bake one more time for the finished product!


As a one-dish meal, this Twice-Baked Spaghetti Squash is full of nutrients from the kale, beans, tomatoes, and squash, makes a ton, and reheats well. I think you’ll enjoy it, even if you don’t have the luxury of homemade sausage.

Twice-Baked Spaghetti Squash with Sausage and Kale

A hearty, mostly veggie dinner with flavors of the Mediterranean. Leave off the sausage for a vegetarian version!
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time50 mins
Total Time1 hr 5 mins
Servings: 6 as a main dish

Ingredients

  • 2 large spaghetti squash
  • 3/4 lb. mild sausage
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 bunch kale
  • 15-oz. can cannellini beans, drained
  • 1/2 c. sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1/4 c. parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prick both spaghetti squash all over with a fork and microwave each one for about a minute, to soften.
  • Slice squash in half lengthwise and scrape out seeds. Place squash halves cut side down on a greased baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for about 35-40 minutes.
  • While squash bakes, prepare the rest of the filling. In a large pan, cook the sausage over medium heat until browned and crumbled. Remove from the pan and place on paper-towel lined plate.
  • Using the grease left behind by the sausage (or supplementing with olive oil), saute garlic and kale until kale begins to wild and garlic begins to brown. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add cannellini beans, sun-dried tomatoes, and parmesan and cook an additional minute or two. Place mixture in a large mixing bowl, along with cooked sausage.
  • When squash has finished baking, remove from oven and scrape most of their contents into the mixing bowl, leaving a small border of flesh. (Be careful, squash will be hot!) Mix squash strings, sausage, and kale mixture thoroughly.
  • Divide the mixture among the four squash halves and sprinkle with mozzarella. Place back on the baking sheet and return to the oven for an additional 10 minutes, or until cheese has melted and filling is warmed through. One serving equals half of a squash boat.

Notes

A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe.