Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Basil Blue Cupcakes

I am clearly on a sweet vs. savory kick these days, after falling head over heels for the tamarita in Monica Bhide's new and widely praised cookbook, Modern Spice; and then stopping short of icing the sweet-savory blackberry sage muffins that emerged from my kitchen last week so I wouldn't overpower their delicate flavors.

With blueberries from our farmer's market and basil from a pot in our front garden, I decided to take another shot at this kind of culinary blend today. After all, what two flavors better exemplify the early summer harvest - particularly in the Midwest?

The result is Basil Blue Cupcakes. Blueberries burst open on your tongue with each bite, while basil simultaneously adds an unexpected bite and a clean, crisp, character to the cupcake and olive oil adds a touch more sweetness. Top that off - literally - with a sweet-savory icing that adds more blueberry and basil flavor + a healthy dose of confectioner's sugar, for a pretty healthy treat that provides great tastes of the season.

Basil Blue Cupcakes
Makes 12-15

1/2 cup rolled oats, ground fine

1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

pinch of salt

1/2 cup olive oil

2 eggs

1/2 cup yogurt

3 heaping tablespoons fresh basil, stems removed, and minced fine

3/4 cup blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients thoroughly, except blueberries. Fold in blueberries. Pour batter into muffin papers and then bake 23-25 minutes. Cool for five minutes before removing from pan. Remove muffin papers 10-15 minutes later.

When completely cooled, add basil blue icing:

2 tablespoons butter, softened

2 tablespoons low fat cream cheese, softened

1 tablespoon blueberries, smashed with the back of a spoon

1 1/2 tablespoons basil, minced fine

1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar

Combine butter and cream cheese and then add all other ingredients, stirring well. Spread generously on each cupcake.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Kansas Prairie Burn

With only 1/2 an hour left before I would reach my destination, a ranch west of Emporia, Kan., I began to see wide charred fields along either side of the road. As I turned in at Grandview Ranch, dozens of visitors crowded the driveway and open area.

We had gathered to watch a carefully orchestrated prairie burn, designed to help protect the land from invasion of unwanted trees and brush. Five to 10 days after a burn, the land is once again green and growing. And prairie burns leave charred fields on many farms at this time of year.

Owner Jan Jantzen gave us our safety instructions. He said that, during the burn, if caught by the fire - though this is a rare occurrence - we should 'move to black or blue.' Black is already charred ground where there's nothing left to burn and blue is a pond. Then we headed towards the field that Jantzen would burn. Some visitors volunteered to light small patches of grass and then spread these tiny fires towards each other, to get the burn started.

Flames fanned across the pasture with amazing speed, engulfing vegetation as they created row after row of roaring orange blazes and a rather otherworldly landscape.

Finally, the burn slowed and the 'show' ended. Handfuls of spectators road on a farm truck or hoofed it back to the barn area. A trio of country musicians performed in one barn while we chowed down on an old-fashioned chuckwagon supper that began with pulled pork and ended with fresh berry cobbler.

As the sun set, another blaze raced up a nearby hillside and Jantzen prepared for the evening burn event on his second field. Regrettably, storm clouds and a 2 1/2 hour drive home chased me away. I'll have to return next spring.