Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Cinnamon Basil Cupcakes with Fresh Tomato Soup for Novel Food

If you are a gardener, cook or voracious reader of mystery novels, (or all three like me) you will love diving into Susan Wittig Albert's China Bayles series. Set in the Texas hill country, China is a former high-powered defense attorney who shifts gears mid-career to open up an herb shop surrounded by gardens in a small town. Her main side kick is a red-haired Amazon, Ruby, who wears flamboyant clothes and shares commercial space with our heroine to run her New Age shop full of crystals, tarot cards and incense.

I had a thoroughly enjoyable time this summer reading through the cozy series, which now numbers 19 books in all.  Albert has a different herbal theme for each book and its title and one can learn a lot about gardening, folklore, the medicinal use of herbs and even try out some delicious recipes from the back of many of the books. I was particularly taken by a scene in Book 2, Witches' Bane, in which China and her mom dine at former nun Maggie's Restaurant and have a lunch of Cinnamon Basil Cupcakes, thick Tomato Soup and Greek Style Broccoli Salad. That sounded like a fantastic combination, so much so, that I ordered cinnamon basil seeds from a catalogue just to try out those cupcakes (which are more like savory muffins).

That's where I was stymied. I had a nice little bunch of Cinnamon Basil plants sprouting up in a clump in the garden when the overzealous weeder, husband Dan, yanked them out by mistake. It was a long interval between reading about this mouthwatering literary feast and actually seeing this project to completion, but it was a worthwhile wait.

A bunch of Cinnamon Basil with gorgeous purple stems

Back to the garden patch I went to plant some more, this time carefully marked with a special stake, and they duly grew into the handsome plants you see above. This basil variety really does have a spicy cinnamon fragrance and taste and are a striking plant with dark purple stems and light purple blossoms. In addition to using them in the following Cinnamon Basil Cupcake recipe, I used the chiffonaded leaves liberally in my tomato and noodle salads all through August.

The Cinnamon Basil Cupcakes come out a pale shade of green, which is not the usual color for a muffin or cupcake, but they are so delectable and they certainly make for a colorful meal paired alongside deep red tomato soup. I will reduce the amount of sugar in this recipe when I make them again, as I felt they were a little too sweet, but they really were a wonderful accompaniment when served warm from the oven and dunked into my soup.

Gluten Free Cinnamon Basil Muffins (or you can call them Cupcakes like China)

1/4 cup cinnamon basil leaves, stripped from stems
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten

1/2 cup white rice flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1 tsp baking powder

1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Puree cinnamon basil leaves in a blender with the oil until it is a fine puree. Add sugar and egg and mix well.

Sift together dry ingredients. Add to basil-oil mixture and combine. Add in sour cream, milk and walnuts and mix well.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes, or until muffins feel springy.

While muffins are baking, you can whip up a quick tomato soup by sauteeing some onions and garlic in olive oil until golden, adding in a bunch of fresh or canned peeled, pureed tomatoes and then cooking over low heat, stirring often, until desired thickness. Season with a little more fresh cinnamon basil and salt and pepper and you have an awesome, literary-inspired light meal.

I hope this whets your appetite for this excellent herbal mystery series and to plant a patch of cinnamon basil yourself. You'll want to read the China Bayles series in order, as China, Ruby and various family members go through a lot of changes in life. I saved up this tasty post just for the 14th edition of Novel Food, which is hosted quarterly by Briciole. Novel Food invites participants to cook up recipes inspired by a literary work which has been particularly captivating.

If you haven't already discovered this fun blog event, you can check back through the archives to discover novels, plays, short stories and poems which have inspired bloggers to whip up wonderful creations in their kitchens. This round of Novel Food ends this Sunday, so you still have time to join in the fun or wait until after the deadline to see what others have been reading and then eating.

**And now for a bit of Crispy Cook housekeeping. I am pleased to announce the winners of my Lundberg Family Farms and Stonehouse 27 giveaways. The five winners are: Lindsey, John, the Swedenese Family, Simona and Kathleen. Congratulations to all and I will be contacting you to get your mailing address so that you can receive your Lundberg Brown Rice Bowl and Stonehouse 27 Cooking Sauce sent to you.

Stay tuned for another Giveaway post this week to learn how to get a copy of a great new GF cookbook: Laura B. Russell's "The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen". I've made several recipes from this cookbook and all have been terrific.


Foodycat said...

These sound amazing! I haven't tried cinnamon basil before. The books sound good too.

Eliotseats said...

How have I missed these books??!?!

I will have to seek them out at the local bookstore. (Just what I need, more books, and more foodie books at that.)

I love this recipe. (Can't wait for fresh basil again!)

Simona said...

Your post certainly made me curious to read the novels. I am a hopeless gardner (though I accept my limitations with good humor :) but I love reading about herbs and getting to know some that are less popular. And I love your muffins and your take on the lovely basil-tomato pairing. Thank you so much for contributing to Novel Food!

Simona said...

Your post certainly made me curious to read the novels. I am a hopeless gardner (though I accept my limitations with good humor :) but I love reading about herbs and getting to know some that are less popular. And I love your muffins and your take on the lovely basil-tomato pairing. Thank you so much for contributing to Novel Food!

Simona said...

How could I forget? Thank you so much for the giveaway: the package has actually already arrived :)

Anonymous said...

Mmm! I love the idea of cinnamon basil. Never seen that before. Your muffins and the tomato soup sound delicious! The China Bayles series sounds very interesting. One more set of books for me to put on my to-be-read list. ;-)

librariane said...

Like Paz, I've not seen cinnamon basil before either!

The book series also sounds interesting and perhaps I'll see if there is an audio version worth listening to.

Phil in the Kitchen said...

I've never read the books and, although I've grown plenty of basil, I've never grown cinnamon basil. I want to do both now. Great combination of flavours.