Comfort / Food

Month: April, 2014

Strawberry Lemon Tea Cake

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It rained on Saturday, the kind of calm, quiet rain that patters away at your roof and encourages you to tackle something different but still comforting. I’ve made this recipe many, many times, but on Saturday (the best day of the week, no murmurs of Monday), ingredients and curiosity necessitated that I change things up a bit. This cake tastes fresh and light. Although it has a rather modest appearance, it really measures up to any of the occasion cakes that I’m prone to make (two friends already requested it for their spring and summer birthdays.)

The transition from winter to spring is always abrupt and unsettling, and the shift from spring to summer even more so. When things start to unbalance I take refuge in little things (likes cakes) that can be conjured from my kitchen in the space of a few hours.

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RECIPE:
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease 9″ cake pan (I used a springform pan, as I wasn’t sure how easily it would release after the changes I made.)  Combine 1.5 c white whole wheat flour, 2 tsp baking powder, and 3/4 tsp. salt in a small bowl.

Add 1 c white sugar to a large bowl. Grate zest from one lemon, then squeeze half the lemon’s juice into the bowl. Add 3/4 c Greek yogurt (I used non-fat, as it’s what I had, but the original recipe calls for whole-milk yogurt) 1/3 c olive oil,  two eggs, and 1/2 tsp vanilla.  Mix. Cut 1 lb. strawberries into halves and add to wet ingredients, then fold in dry ingredients carefully.  Pour into pan and arrange strawberry halves on top. Bake for 55 min, but check at 45 and every 5 min thereafter.

(EDIT: a friend tested this recipe for me, and she said that she couldn’t fit an entire pound of strawberries into this cake. That makes sense. Just put as many strawberries as you’d like! Around 3/4 pound seems right.)

Too good!

(See this link if you’re curious about the difference between white, whole wheat, and white whole wheat flours. The second one sure sounds like an oxymoron, but it isn’t!)

tomato season approaches (a while ago, in Lazio)

tomato season approaches (a while ago, in Lazio)

from a while ago, tuscany

Moroccan Red Lentil Soup

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Oh man. This soup is something else. I just jumped on the lentil train this year, and I have to say, my Sunday suppers and mid-week lunches have never been more colorful.

I’ve been eating a lot of lentils because they are the perfect combination of cheap and nutritious.  2 cups of red lentils will cost you about $3.00, if you buy them in bulk like I do. This recipe calls for less that 2 cups of lentils and produces 6 hearty servings. You know you’re in business when the main ingredient only costs $.50 a head.

Anyway, the key to this dish (the key to many dishes, in my opinion) is the addition of lemon at the end. The acid adds a toothsome, ‘can’t-put-your-finger-on-it but damn is it tasty’ quality to the soup.

Soups and stews like this pulled me out of my winter lunchtime rut. Even though it’s starting to get warmer, I’m confident red lentils won’t go out of style– I imagine that this meal would be easy to adapt into a cold salad for humid summer evenings.

RECIPE

Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to a deep, heavy bottomed skillet or dutch oven.  Add 1/2 a large onion (diced) and cook until soft, about 7-8 minutes. Add a couple of garlic cloves (sliced, not diced.) Add a couple of diced carrots and let it all sit for a few minutes.  Once veggies are soft, add spices: 1 1/2 tsp cumin, 1 tsp curry powder, 1/4 tsp turmeric, 1/2 tsp coriander. Let the spices toast for 1 minute, then add 1 3/4 c. lentils and 8 c. water. Add 1 can diced tomatoes, 1 tsp salt, and 1 tsp pepper. Bring everything to a boil and then simmer for 45 min.

Finally, add juice of 1/2 a lemon. Salt and pepper to taste.

Berries and Chocolate

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It’s been a long time since I’ve celebrated Passover with my family. Over the last four years I’ve watched it pass by without much thought, as I’m not a terribly religious person and the holiday usually involved a lot of time in the car and stress for my mom, who inevitably worked the whole week while somehow managing to bang out a kosher meat course and a dessert.

These holidays are starting to mean more to me, though. Not because of the religious aspect (although I do enjoy the singing) but because I can see how much it matters to my dad. He isn’t devout by any means, but I can tell that when we gather together for Passover, or Rosh Hashanah, or Yom Kippur, he feels especially connected to his parents– two people who I never got to meet, really, although I can sense at an instinctual level the rapport we would have had.  My parents don’t speak about them frequently, but at these holidays I think the little details remind dad of growing up with his parents. As a result he talks about them a lot, and I get to grab hold (even briefly) of a sense of what they were like as people, not just “grandparents.”  From these brief glimpses I can tell that I’ve landed in the right family.  My grandfather was huge, but very gentle, as evidenced by the fact that when I was born he held me in one hand against his chest. He used to make the same jokes all the time. My grandmother was a teacher, and a painter, and apparently taught meditation, which I just learned.

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I love to connect with people over food– talking about it, eating it, talking about it some more. Recently I’ve been wondering what my grandparents liked to eat. I’ll have to ask. Anyway, I made these chocolate-covered strawberries for Passover on Monday. I don’t know if my grandfather would have liked them (the image of him holding a tiny strawberry in his giant hands is just too much) but I think they would be the kind of simple, honest treat that my grandmother would have liked a lot.

To make them, I heated some Valrhona chocolate (spent my week’s pay on that chocolate, but it was worth it) on the stovetop over very low heat, stirring continually to avoid any burnt taste. I then removed it from the stove top and let it cool for a minute as I dried the strawberries off (important so the chocolate sticks.) After placing waxed paper on a baking sheet, I carefully dipped each strawberry into the chocolate twice, giving each berry two coats (because why not?)

harvard library

this is what harvard’s main library looks like. marble and john singer sargent (left and right of the staircase)

Slice-and-Bake, with a new recipe

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I like doing things ahead of time. I make a pot of soup for the week, I plan my work day while I brush my teeth, and I like to finish drafts with plenty of leeway. This all makes me sound very virtuous and organized. The reality is that if I don’t take precautions, my brain is so full of anxieties and random unnecessary items that nothing gets done well or on time. That is the truth.

This is the oldest trick in the book, but I almost always have a log of cookie dough in my freezer.  It is useful for many things: I can accept a dinner invitation with the satisfying knowledge that my contribution is taken care of (depending on the party I will either bake ahead of time or bring the cookie dough with me for nice, warm cookies.) I have an instant dessert if I desperately need one (I’m not above microwaving a chunk in a small cup, which I will then eat with a spoon) or if a friend needs love and affection and baked goods on a day where I got stuck at the office until 9 PM. All of these situations can be remedied during a lazy weekend afternoon.

This is not your mother’s chocolate chip cookie recipe.  In fact, my own mother didn’t even like these. But I do, and my friends do, and they have the added benefit of feeling a little more wholesome that the recipe we’re all so familiar with. I swapped olive oil for butter (not an easy task, it turns out!) and whole-wheat flour for white. I happen to like the slightly grainy texture that whole-wheat flour imparts to baked goods, but you could probably swap white-whole wheat if you want the healthy & nutty without the grainy. The olive oil definitely adds a different (kind of earthy or savory) flavor, so don’t expect them to taste like your garden-variety butter treats. I tried this recipe three times times.  The first two attempts yielded cookies at both ends of the scale– the first, dry, and the second, unbearably oily. The final product, on the other hand, rocks. Be glad you didn’t suffer through two inedible batches like I did.

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Recipe:

Mix 2 1/4 c flour, 1 1/2 tsp salt, and 1 tsp baking soda in medium bowl. In large bowl, combine 3/4 c white sugar, 3/4 c brown sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, and 1/4 c olive oil. Add 2 eggs. Beat in flour mixture (it will be dry and hard to work with, but stick with me!) Add a tablespoon or two of milk to loosen the batter (I used about 1.5 tbsp.) Fold in as many chocolate chips as you want.

Tear a large sheet of waxed paper (twice as long as it is wide) and dollop half of the batter into the middle using a spatula (or your hands, let’s be real) work the dough into a long log shape. Roll it up. As you’re rolling, be careful not to squish the paper into too many nooks and crannies in the dough– when you remove it from the freezer and try to unwrap it, the paper will get stuck and rip!

Freeze. To bake, preheat oven to 375F. As oven preheats, remove cookie dough. Using a sharp knife, slice dough into rounds. Shape as necessary. Bake. They took 11 min in my oven, but 10 in a friend’s.

If you aren’t freezing the dough, I would suggest refrigerating it for 20 min as the oven preheats.

 

boats in the harbor

These boats have stayed in the same slips since I was a kid, a fact I find strangely soothing. I love watching the fishermen unload in the morning. Almost all of the boats are named after women.

chevron – wood floors.