Lemon Berry Breakfast Cake

Friday, May 30, 2014

Happy Friday! Hopefully you have a gorgeous spring weekend ahead of you. I'm off to a graduation weekend myself and can't wait to hug some of my favorite people in the world. As a matter of fact, this recipe reminds me of a few more of my favorite people. I served this as a sweet option at Easter brunch this year and it earned the highest praise possible: my nieces texted me for the recipe after the fact.

I started thinking about brunch and breakfast cakes I have loved. Fruity, moist, dense, fresh. I knew my required starting points were lemon and sour cream/yogurt. Smitten Kitchen answered the call perfectly with Lemon Yogurt Anything Cake. Done and done. The recipe asks to be altered - there is an entire section with suggested swaps or tweaks - and I went with Greek yogurt, lemon zest, fresh blueberries and fresh strawberries.

It starts with eggs, sugar, lemon zest, and yogurt. Sunshine in a bowl! (Also, vanilla extract and cooking oil.)

Slowly add in the dry ingredients (mixed in a separate bowl).

I sliced a whole carton of strawberries into little spears and rinsed them with a whole box of blueberries.

You lightly coat the fruit with about a tablespoon of flour and then gently fold into the sweet, lemony batter.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for around 45 minutes or until a tooth pick comes out clean.

And it is gorgeous. And you wait patiently for it to cool. And then it gets even more gorgeous.

That is a picture of the most delicious breakfast cake I've ever had. It is everything I wanted. It was dreamy and dense and smooth and even with the richness from the yogurt and sugar, it still tasted light and fresh from the fruit and lemon zest.

Above all, if you make this for your favorite people (including yourself), you will cement your place as one of theirs. Have a fantastic weekend!

Roasted Harissa Shrimp & Ramps

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Spicy, cool, and pungent: these three adjectives describe each component of today's recipe. Read on if "pungent" didn't immediately turn you off.

Three days a week walking to and from work through the Union Square Greenmarket, I cannot help be inspired by fresh local food. Earlier this month, I saw ramps. I'd never eaten them, never cooked them, but knew that they're a springtime-only hybrid of onion and garlic. And they were $4 for a huge bunch. So they came home with me.

What do you do with a potent oniony garlicky vegetable? You roast it.

And then you top it with shrimp.

I thought to pair the bold ramp flavor with some heat, as well as an actual protein that can stand up to big flavors. I dolloped some beautiful shrimp with harissa. It looks like a lot, but it actually coated the shrimp very lightly - the spice was present but it wasn't overwhelming.

I roasted the ramps for about 10 minutes in a shallow dish before adding the shrimp on top for another 5 minutes or so.

To counter these huge flavors, I went with a cool, crisp, fresh salad. I took a cue from Katie and chopped up sugar snap peas and radishes.

The dressing was the juice of a lemon with some tahini mixed in. The end result was fresh and creamy and worked perfectly with the heat of the shrimp.

You can't see the end result of the ramps because they're hidden by the shrimp, but holy moly I'm hooked. They had the consistency of a roasted scallion and packed a serious flavor punch. Make sure you do not eat these on a date or before any important meetings - though delicious, I had some of the most aggressive garlic-and-onion breath of my life. The shrimp were tender with only a mild luster of spice and the salad was crunchy and creamy at the same time. This dinner involved so many flavors at once and I relished every single bite!

Lamb Kebabs with Mediterranean Couscous Salad

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

I have a confession: we didn't fire up the grill a single time this weekend. I know! It's our duty as American citizens to grill over Memorial Day, right? We're one of three apartments in our building with outdoor space. The owners who live on the penthouse level have a rooftop terrace. Then, there's us and our next door neighbor. The patio is one solid rectangle of pavers divided by an absolutely exquisite lime green plastic sheet. Last fall, the building dug up the old patio, added better drainage (this is good and overdue - we've had one major flood and a handful of rainy day leaks), and relaid pavers. When the work crew put the green plastic wall back up, they split the belongings.... incorrectly. We have their table and our chairs, some of their planters, and the bottom half of the grill only. Some of the items are properly sorted out now, but our little Weber is exceptionally rusty. Since Memorial Day weekend is also for Pure Relaxation, the end result was no rust scrubbing, no grilling, but lots of tasty indoor food.

I probably could have made this story a lot shorter by also noting that it rained in NYC this weekend the nights that we cooked which, inherently, puts a damper on grilling, pun intended.

While I can't share any grilled recipes from this weekend, I can share a recipe I made on our grill pan in the last couple of weeks. We'd tried a lamb dish that looked beautiful but left us shrugging indifferently flavor-wise, so I was fixated on a redemption recipe.

Enter Ina. Any time I've made one of her recipes, it's perfect. Flawless, even.

"I woke up like dis", said the lamb after marinating overnight (almost a full 24 hours) in Greek yogurt, lemon zest, lemon juice, and finely diced cilantro. Ina's recipe calls for rosemary but I had cilantro and, you know, waste not want not.

While I soaked the wooden skewers in water (so they don't burn during cooking!), I got to chopping. The red bell pepper and red onion ended up in wedge-ish pieces to join the lamb.

OCD much?

Since I couldn't get our grill pan as hot as a regular old outside grill, I did each skewer for about 2 minutes a side and then finished all of them in the oven.

Just imagine that grilled smell of sweet pepper and sharp onion, both with dark charred sections. The aroma should be bottled. Plus, these two vegetables stood up to the cooking well and had a great texture to counter the soft, melty lamb.

Speaking of veggies, remember the mini cucumbers, radishes, and tomatoes from the picture above? I cooked 1/3 cup of whole wheat couscous and tossed in those sliced veggies with a splash of red wine vinegar.

And then, feasting.

This final shot of lamb comes with the Beyoncé-inspired caption, "I look so good tonight." The yogurt marinade left the lamb exceptionally tender and tangy with a ton of flavor from the lemon and cilantro. The couscous salad was a crunchy and refreshing counterbalance to the richness of the meat. I can say with confidence that this is now a go-to lamb recipe and I'll definitely be making it again once we de-rust the real grill!

(Sort Of) Shakshouka

Friday, May 23, 2014

Happy Friday! Are you as excited as I am for a three-day weekend? I have a few fun items on my weekend agenda, but I'm excited to ring in the unofficial start of summer by sleeping late tomorrow and having a sleepy brunch at home. Daydreams of brunch over the last few days led me to today's post!

Shaskshouka is, at it's most basic, eggs poached in some sort of spiced tomato sauce. It's a fancy breakfast or brunch dish, a hearty Meatless Monday option, or in my case, the perfect way to repurpose leftovers. I'd made tomato sauce for dinner a few days before this breakfast and used what I had on hand. I had Jerusalem open for timing and egg cooking instructions but I simplified to basically spice up the leftover sauce and swap an onion in for the bell pepper.

I cooked a sliced onion until it turned golden around the edges.

Then, I added about a tablespoon of tomato paste and two tablespoons of harissa to my leftover tomato sauce, plus a few hefty shakes of ground cumin.

Once the sauce was heated through, I added the eggs.

I used a butter knife to gently swirl the whites around a bit and then covered the pan for a few minutes.

I served two eggs each with the sauce and onions in a bowl with fresh buttery toast on the side.

I loved the creamy eggs with the tang and heat of the tomato sauce and bite of the onions. In many ways, you can dress up your shakshouka any way you like by adjusting the heat and spices in the sauce. You could take it an Italian route and serve over polenta, or take it down an Indian path with curries and serve with naan. As with most egg-focused recipes, the possibilities go on and on.

Have a great Memorial Day weekend!

Rhubarb Bars

Thursday, May 22, 2014

I've mentioned my grandparents previously and had them both in mind when I created this very springy dessert. Grandy loved lemon squares and I have very happy memories of us baking them together. Grampy loves strawberry rhubarb pie and I remember my mom, Pie Baking Queen of our family (my sister is Princess), bringing him a mini one at Easter or Fathers' Day as a special treat. I was up in Massachusetts a few weekends ago and decided to bring a rhubarb treat his way, as well!

Fully inspired by lemon squares, Katie At The Kitchen Door posted a rhubarb ginger bar recipe last spring. Her dough contained fresh ground ginger, but I didn't want the ginger to compete with the tangy rhubarb flavor, so I swapped it for the zest of one lemon. Otherwise, the crust is an exquisite blend of brown sugar, butter, and flour. It is crumbly and sweet and perfect.

I pre-baked it for 15 - 20 minutes. I also went extremely literal on Baked With Love and scraped a heart into it. Cheese ball, party of one, right here.

While the crust was in the oven, I cooked down the rhubarb. This was my first time with rhubarb - finding it in the produce section, prepping it, and cooking it. It has a VERY sharp flavor when you eat it raw - if you've ever eaten a fresh cranberry, it gave me the same acidic, semi-bitter, tart kick. It also had a raw consistency that reminded me of a hybrid of celery (minus the stringies) and apple. I diced it up small and cooked it with the sugar. The rhubarb released this gorgeous bright pink juice and all the pieces softened really quickly.

I used my mini food processor to blend it all smooth, then let it cool for a bit before adding to the whisked eggs. The disgusting overhead fluorescent lighting in my early 1960s apartment cannot fully convey the gorgeous, rich pink color of the filling.

While these baked, J made an impassioned plea that I bake more often. Aromas of butter and juicy red fruit made the apartment smell SO good.

So pretty, right?

My square pan netted 16 squares. I packed 14 up into a Tupperware to bring to Grampy.

Then I realized I was late to pick up my rental car and blew out the door. Luckily, I saved two squares and enjoyed them post-photo shoot when I returned home from my trip.

The texture was 100% like lemon squares - a little gooey, sweet and fruity, and perfectly balanced with the buttery, crumbly crust. To fancy these up in the future, I'll actually invest in some powdered sugar and maybe slice some fresh strawberries on top. And best of all, my Grampy absolutely loved them!

One-Pan Fridge Clean Out Chicken Bake

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

As a loud and proud control freak, I love meal planning. As someone whose control and anxiety issues can take a very negative turn very quickly, I’ve worked hard to give myself a break if things don’t go EXACTLY as planned. This meal was entirely unplanned and served simply to use up a bunch of ingredients that were hanging around in the fridge - forgotten, looked over in lieu of leftovers, sidelined by an important lunch meeting being moved back day over day.

What did I have on hand? Broccoli, green beans, chicken thighs. I dumped them all into a lasagna pan. I also found a jar of marinated artichoke hearts and added those, too. Finally, I had sundried tomatoes and some peppadew peppers and zapped those in the baby food processor with a little drizzle of olive oil.

Then I baked it until the chicken was fully cooked.

Then I ate it.

And it was GREAT. It was a perfect no-brainer of a meal - I used what I had on hand and it ended up incredibly tasty.

Grown Up Mac & Cheese

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

I love so many recipes from our Newlywed cookbook and was waiting for an opportunity to make this dish. It is very grown up and I guarantee you that none of the kids in my family would eat this. No hate to the blue box, but here the fresh cheeses and addition of mustard elevate it to a very flavorful and fancy mac. One of my best friends has never met a mac and cheese she didn't immediately befriend, and I made this for her and her family after suffering a loss about a month ago. I'm looking forward to a happier occasion when I can make this again because it is top notch cheesy tastiness.

The recipe from the book calls for:

10 oz pasta
4 tablespoons (half a stick) butter
2 tsp flour
1 1/2 tsp dry mustard *
1 tsp warm water (* I combined these two into a teaspoon of Dijon mustard)
1 1/2 cups milk (NOT skim)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar
1 1/2 cups grated Gruyère
3 slices Muenster cheese (I left this out)
Freshly ground black pepper

Cook the pasta until it is just al dente and drain. I use cavatappi pasta because it's pretty and it also holds onto hearty sauces really well.

In the same pot, make a roux to start the cheese sauce. A roux is butter and flour cooked together and helps thicken a sauce.

The recipe calls for the water + dry mustard to be added here, but instead I added a teaspoon of Dijon mustard along with the milk. Just like when I added this to caramelized onion pie, I find that this was the critical component. Whisk until it's smooth, then cover until it thickens slightly. Whisk in the eggs, a pinch of salt, and cayenne and stir consistently (but slowly) until the sauce thickens. I also grated some fresh nutmeg into the sauce because I absolutely love nutmeg in creamy sauces. It doesn't taste Christmas-y but just adds another dimension of flavor - it was fantastic with the cayenne and mustard.

Stir in the shredded cheeses over low heat. Remove from heat after the cheese is half melted and continue stirring until all the cheese is melted.

I poured all of the pasta directly into the pot and stirred to cover with the sauce. Then I transferred the cheesy macaroni to an oven safe dish. The recipe calls for you to lay the sliced Muenster over the top but again, I skipped this part. I used disposable foil dish with a cover - I never bring food in a Give Back dish. At this point, I just covered the dish and brought it with me to their apartment. Once there, people scooped it into bowls and would heat in the microwave and it was perfect.

Ok, I tasted a bit before I brought it over.

Getting cornichons out of jars, whisking one egg at a time, stealing stealth bites of Grown Up Mac - these mini forks are super handy.
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