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Winter cookie has fresh flavors of lemon and mint

Recipe: Other herbs also work in this delicate treat

Two cookies on a red plate
Lemon and mint add flavor notes to these little
tea cookies. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)


Lemon says "winter" to me as much as cinnamon and ginger do. It must be because Californians' lemon trees -- the Meyers, Eurekas and other varieties -- this time of year are full of beautiful yellow fruit, contrasting so nicely with the shiny green leaves.

Lemon also is a wonderful partner with fresh herbs. When I went looking for a lemon cookie recipe, I found quite a few that incorporated thyme and some that had rosemary, but the one that caught my attention included fresh mint. Alternative herbs mentioned included lemon balm -- which is also part of the mint family -- and lemon verbena. That recipe I had to try. (It's at landolakes.com , if you want to see the original.)

Two lemons and a pile of mint clippings
Lemon and mint are complementary flavors. The leaves from
these mint snippings produced 2 tablespoons chopped mint.
I doubled the amount of lemon zest and fresh mint listed, and reduced the sugar. (I also used tart lemons, not the mellower Meyers.) The resulting cookie is small, delicate and still pretty sweet -- an ideal cookie to accompany a cup of afternoon tea. The mint is subtle. Next time I'm going to try the recipe with fresh lemon verbena. To really up the lemon factor, I might use a bit of lemon extract instead of the vanilla.

Meanwhile, I have half of this first batch already rolled and frozen, reserved for another grey winter day.

Lemon minted sugar cookies

Makes about 50 two-inch cookies

Ingredients:

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract or lemon extract
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Cookie dough on pans and in sugar
A melon-baller or cookie scoop helps keep the cookies
uniform size.

1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest (from 2 large lemons)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves, lemon balm or lemon verbena

Sugar for rolling

Instructions:

In a large bowl, cream the butter and shortening with the sugar until fluffy. Add the egg and whichever extract you're using, and mix thoroughly.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. On low speed, mix half the flour mixture into the butter mixture until combined, then the remaining half. Gently stir in the lemon zest and chopped mint.

Chill the dough at least 30 minutes. (You can bake it right away, but chilling makes the dough easier to roll and keeps it from spreading too much.)

When ready to bake, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper, or just leave the sheet ungreased.

Put about 1/3 cup granulated sugar in a small bowl. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls; I used a melon-baller to keep them all the same size. Then roll the balls in the sugar so they're just coated, and place on the prepared pan abut 2 inches apart. No need to flatten them.

Baked cookies and dough to freeze
I baked two dozen cookies and froze the rest of  the batch
for another day.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, until cookie edges are very lightly browned. Cool on a rack for a few minutes before removing to cool completely.

To freeze cookie dough: Roll into balls, but don't roll in the sugar coating. Freeze until ready to bake, then roll in sugar and bake dough without defrosting it. Cookies will require a minute or 2 more in the oven, but do keep an eye on them.






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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Jan. 29

Bundle up and get work done!

* Prune, prune, prune. Now is the time to cut back most deciduous trees and shrubs. The exceptions are spring-flowering shrubs such as lilacs.

* Now is the time to prune fruit trees, except apricot and cherry trees. Clean up leaves and debris around the trees to prevent the spread of disease.

* Prune roses, even if they’re still trying to bloom or sprouting new growth. Strip off any remaining leaves, so the bush will be able to put out new growth in early spring.

* Prune Christmas camellias (Camellia sasanqua), the early-flowering varieties, after their bloom. They don’t need much, but selective pruning can promote bushiness, upright growth and more bloom next winter. Feed with an acid-type fertilizer. But don’t feed your Japonica camellias until after they finish blooming next month. Feeding while camellias are in bloom may cause them to drop unopened buds.

* Clean up leaves and debris around your newly pruned roses and shrubs. Put down fresh mulch or bark to keep roots cozy.

* Apply horticultural oil to fruit trees to control scale, mites and aphids. Oils need 24 hours of dry weather after application to be effective.

* This is also the time to spray a copper-based oil to peach and nectarine trees to fight leaf curl. Avoid spraying on windy days.

* Divide daylilies, Shasta daisies and other perennials.

* Cut back and divide chrysanthemums.

* Plant bare-root roses, trees and shrubs.

* Transplant pansies, violas, calendulas, English daisies, snapdragons and fairy primroses.

* In the vegetable garden, plant fava beans, head lettuce, mustard, onion sets, radicchio and radishes.

* Plant bare-root asparagus and root divisions of rhubarb.

* In the bulb department, plant callas, anemones, ranunculus and gladiolus for bloom from late spring into summer.

* Plant blooming azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons. If you’re shopping for these beautiful landscape plants, you can now find them in full flower at local nurseries.

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