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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Lemon Cake

I had a friend over for breakfast the other day. It was such a nice break! She came and we chatted for a couple of hours. My kids were all at school, her preschooler took advantage of a kids' house with no kids in it (meaning she had full control and never had to wait her turn. Bliss).  It was such a wonderful escape from the constant running around that I have done for the past few weeks.

A little while ago this  same friend had served me an amazing breakfast of fresh-baked scones and delicious juice, made in her really, really cool juicer. I mean the juice was amazing. Fresh pears and oranges and I'm not sure what-all went in one side and came out the other side in a delicious concoction that made me feel like I did my body more good in that one glass than I did the rest of the month combined. (Honey? Are you reading this? I'm hinting!!)

Anyway, I did what I consider to be typical for myself, and I waited way too long to reciprocate the favor. So long that I started to feel so much pressure. Waiting that long could only mean two things. Either I am too lazy and distracted to invite her for breakfast (and I don't really want to admit that), or I am planning something really really special. So that means I totally had to come up with something good, right? But she already set the bar so high! I mean, fresh chocolate scones? How do I top that? And I don't even own a juicer! (hint, hint).

Plus, her house was spotless. How do I compete with perfection?

Okay, I'm exaggerating. This is the coolest, most laid-back friend. She totally would never expect that she should be invited back, or that anything should be special in any way. I could invite her over for a bowl of Cheerios and she would probably be just fine with that.

Still, though, I did want to make a yummy breakfast. I never eat a good breakfast. Most days I get the kids fed and ready for school and then whip up a quick protein shake to down on my way to work. Not exactly leisurely or inspired. Having a friend over forced me to actually think about what I was eating for a change.

Lo and behold, this week's Abundant Harvest newsletter included a recipe for Lemon Cake. Either the food gods are looking out for me, by continually setting perfect recipes in my lap at just the moment I need them, ... or I'm getting lazy and cooking the first recipe I see. Let's go with I am in the gods' favor. It makes me feel special.

One of the great things about this cake recipe is that it makes two loaf-sized cakes. That means that we had one with our breakfast (and the kids had the leftovers for an after-school snack) and I sent the other in to my son's teachers as a little recess-time snack, to thank them for their hard work at the school fundraiser the day before. Win-win-win! Everyone's happy!

The cake is really nice. It is lemony without being overwhelming. It's almost like a pound cake with some lemon added to it. The recipe called to make a syrup that would soak into the cake, (and I'm sure up the lemon-factor). Instead, I thought it would look nicer and taste just as good to make it into a glaze that stayed on top of the cake. By slightly decreasing the amount of lemon juice and using powdered sugar instead of granulated, I thought it made a nice difference.

This one travels well and goes great with a cup of coffee. Take some to work to share in the staff kitchen!

Lemon Cake
(From Abundant Harvest Organics)

2 sticks butter at room temperature
2 cups sugar
1/3 cup grated lemon zest
4 eggs
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350. Grease two loaf pans.

In a stand mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. With mixer on medium speed, add eggs and lemon zest. Add dry ingredients. In a small bowl, combine l/4 cup lemon juice, buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the lemon mixture to the mixer and mix thoroughly. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until is is turning golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

When the cakes are cool, remove from their pans. Combine the powdered sugar and the remaining lemon juice (a tiny bit of juice at a time, until the glaze is a good consistency). Pour the glaze over the cakes and serve.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Grilled Chicken Salad from Martha Stewart

Oh my oh my. Martha Stewart. Just when I was ready and set to give up on you. Just when I felt like every recipe in your magazine required the purchase of either (a.) a new specialized baking dish or kitchen utensil or (b.) a farm in New Hampshire, you came through for me.

In the May issue of the magazine is the feature "Lunch in the Garden," in which Dana Gallagher rewarded several of her friends for helping rescue her weedy garden by serving them a delicious lunch that she made largely with the fruits of their own labor.

It was another one of those serendipitous moments for me. I was leisurely leafing through the magazine, just about to quit my Martha habit cold turkey, when I spied the recipe for the Grilled Chicken Salad. It listed several ingredients that happened to come in my box again this week (thanks be to seasonal cooking once again! Dana Gallagher's garden and the Abundant Harvest Farms both seem to have produce that understands it should be ripening right now. Those smart little veggies.).

Lettuce, peas, mint, lemon? I've got that!

This recipe is really easy to put together, especially considering lots of it can be done ahead of time. If you've been around here for very long at all, you know I love something that can be done ahead. There just isn't time between school and karate class and baseball practice and piano lessons and scout meetings to really dedicate any length of afternoon/evening to the kitchen. This salad let me marinate the chicken in the morning, grill it while I cleaned the veggies and whisked up the dressing at lunch time, and throw the salad together just in time to intercept the starving family as they zipped though my dining room. The chicken can actually be cooked at any time during the day and kept refrigerated until showtime.

I sat at dinner and ate and ate and ate until I was uncomfortable (which has been pointed out to me, isn't easy to do with a salad). It was just so delicious that I couldn't stop! I didn't know how I was going to feel about mint in my salad, but it was amazing! I am hoping to get more peas right quick so I can make this one again!

Here is the recipe just how Martha presents it. The only substitution I made was to use Romaine instead of butter lettuce. I think the butter lettuce would have been even better, but Romaine was what I got this week, and so Romaine is what I ate. I also cooked a little less chicken (feeding only five, rather than the 20 or so that seemed to be at the featured garden party). I loved that it called for both legs and breasts. The kids love eating chicken drumsticks!

Grilled Chicken Salad
from Martha Stewart Living May 2012

  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (from 3 or 4 lemons), divided
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon minced garlic (4 cloves), divided
  • 5 boneless, skinless chicken-breast halves (10 to 11 ounces each)
  • 12 chicken drumsticks
  • 2 cups shelled fresh peas (from 2 pounds in pods)
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallot
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint leaves, plus 1/2 cup packed fresh mint leaves (from 2 bunches)
  • 1 to 2 heads butterhead lettuce such as Bibb or Boston, trimmed and separated into leaves


  1. Whisk together 1/4 cup oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon garlic. Pour over chicken, and refrigerate 2 hours.
  2. Cook peas in a large pot of boiling water until just tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain, and submerge in ice water to stop the cooking and retain color.
  3. Preheat grill to medium-high heat or set up grill for indirect heat. Remove chicken from marinade, and grill chicken, turning often, until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees, 15 to 20 minutes for drumsticks and 20 to 25 minutes for breasts. Let cool, and refrigerate until ready to serve. Just before serving, cut chicken breasts into thick slices.
  4. Whisk together remaining 1/2 cup oil, 1/3 cup lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon garlic, the shallot, mustard, salt, and chopped mint in a medium bowl. Arrange lettuce, whole mint leaves, and peas on a large serving platter. Toss chicken in dressing, and arrange on salad. Pour remaining dressing over salad.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Parsnip Muffins (adapted from Alton Brown's recipe)

A little over a year ago, I tried a parsnip for the very first time. And then,  (new to the whole veggie box, and unsure of how to best get the vegetables out of the kitchen and into my gullet) I attacked the parsnips with gusto.

And very very quickly overdosed on parsnip.

I was fairly certain that no parsnip should ever pass my lips again. My little brother got married during this past year, and at his wedding the guests were served course after course of absolutely amazing food. Everything was locally sourced and fresh and seasonal and amazing. At the table where I was sitting, everyone raved about the vegetarian pot pie. I dove right in, and came up gasping for air... all I could taste was the parsnip.

However, the world continues to turn and the seasons to change, and the root vegetables to mature. And lo and behold, again came the parsnip. Out of the earth and into my kitchen.

I tentatively put one in a batch of vegetables I was roasting. I ate it nervously, and while I could taste it, it didn't leave me gagging.

This led me to try to give the parsnip another real chance. One relative success I had with them last year was muffins. I couldn't get the kids to eat them at that time, and I was already parsnip-weary, so many of them ended up going to waste. However, as I recalled, they were really pretty nice muffins.

Wow! Give me a year break from parsnips, and a fabulous muffin recipe, and I am a whole new woman!

These things are great! They really are nice and light and fluffy. They are sweet and the nutmeg gives them just enough interest. The kids aren't so afraid of my vegetable antics any more, and they gobbled these muffins all up right away. As a matter of fact, I am going to make more this week.

Parsnip muffins
This is basically Alton Brown's recipe, but I had to convert his measurements from weights into cups, so I thought I would just give it to you the easy way.

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups grated parsnip

Preheat the oven to 375.
Combine the flour, soda, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl and set aside. In a mixer, combine the eggs, yogurt, oil and sugar until well blended. Add the parsnip and then the dry ingredients.
Mix until just combined.
Pour into greased (or paper-lined) muffin tins.

Bake for 20 minutes or until they're golden brown and they spring back to the touch.

Makes 16-18 muffins

Monday, April 23, 2012

Really simple broccoli side dish

We are at a bit of a crossroads in my house. My kids like their vegetables to stay plain. They'll eat only a few different veggies, and no sauces or dips or really anything else. They like them just simply steamed. Steamed broccoli, steamed asparagus, steamed peas. They don't want any cheese, cream, garlic, or anything else coming near them.

On the other hand, I want food to be much more complex than that. I want each bite to offer me a few different layers of flavor. Broccoli is good, but it begs to be combined with cream and garlic and thyme. Asparagus is lovely, but asparagus with lemon or cheese is amazing. Carrots are fine. But carrots with ginger or baked into a pot pie or simmering in a thick stew are a whole new vegetable.

I decided to attack this little "problem" of the warring taste preferences in my house by getting the kids over to my side little by little. I am going to treat their veggies with just the slightest, lightest, mildest sauces, and increase over time until my kids become full-fledged humans, who were born to be omnivores and actually like a variety of foods.

I know there must be some sort of amazing metaphor for my job as a parent and raising my kids to be independent contributing members of society in there, but right now it's Monday morning and I am just getting into my first cup of coffee. I'll be ready to wax eloquent much later today.

For now, I'll tell you about the broccoli that the kids ate, somewhat willingly, even with three actual ingredients in the dish.

It is a nice, light, easy side dish. I made it in the morning and kept it refrigerated all day. I pulled it out of the fridge about an hour before we ate, so it could come back to room temperature. The flavors are mild, but sweet and salty enough to give it some interest. This one will probably grace our table a few more times during the current broccoli season.

Sweet Asian-ish Broccoli

1 or 2 big heads of broccoli
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
3 teaspoons sesame seeds

Steam the broccoli on the stove or in the microwave.
In a large bowl, whisk together the sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Add the cooked broccoli and toss. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top just before serving.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Asparagus and Radish Salad

Well hello there!

It has been a while, hasn't it?

When I first started getting the box, and I first started reading more and more about the importance of eating locally and seasonally, all the literature assured me that my tastes and my body would grow to love it. That the zucchini would run out just when I was tired of it, and come back when I was missing it again. I would be thrilled to see the return of the oranges just as the stone fruits went to sleep for the winter, and that the coming of asparagus would be one of the highlights of my spring.

I have to admit that I wasn't so sure I believed it all. I thought that a year in which avocados were available every day and that beets didn't have a season sounded more like paradise. I'd rather have basil grow all winter long and skip the turnips, thankyouverymuch.

But once again, as it turns out, the experts know a tad more than I do. This winter I realized that a stew just hits the spot on a rainy day (and that turnips actually are a perfect part of a good stew!). And while I was eating hot bowls of creamy cauliflower soup or slow-roasted squash, I never longed for an avocado. (I'm still not sure I will ever last as long as zucchini season does, though).

But when the days got warmer and longer, it was so nice to see basil come back, along with it's perfect partner, tomatoes. It is paradise to spend a warm afternoon on the patio eating a no-cook appetizer of basil, cheese and tomatoes stacked together, and some avocado on the burgers we are grilling.

So, because I have spent the spring so happy to see my old friends come around again after months without them, I haven't done much new with them. As I unpack the box every week, I find myself saying things like "Awesome! Asparagus! I am going to make those appetizers I tried last year!" ...or... "Oooh! Lemons! Time for some more lemon curd! And lemon cookies! And lemon bars! And lemon COCKTAILS!" When the snow peas came last week, they didn't stand a chance. I was so excited to see them that I stood and ate them plain and raw as I unpacked the rest of the box.

But then I ran across a recipe for an asparagus salad that sounded just right. It happened to include no less than six ingredients that were all in my box this week! (See why cooking seasonally is so much fun!?)  The salad just basically steamed asparagus and sliced radishes, but it is tossed in the most delicious dressing. I made enough dressing that I had enough for the asparagus salad, and plenty more to store in the fridge. I have used the leftovers for a regular garden salad as well as a dip for raw veggies. Maybe this week's snow peas will at least get dipped before I make quick history of them!

Anyway, on to the salad:

Asparagus and Radish Salad with Spring-Herb Dressing
This one came from Food 52, a site I am looking forward to exploring more!

one bunch of asparagus, tough ends trimmed and cut into one-inch pieces
one bunch radishes, thinly sliced
one cup sour cream
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons olive oil
juice of one small lemon
splash of white wine vinegar
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
4 green onions, white and green parts, chopped
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Steam the asparagus on the stovetop or in the microwave. Slice the radishes thinly.
Place all of the remaining ingredients in a blender and whir until they are well combined.
Toss the vegetables with the dressing, and keep refrigerated until ready to eat!