Saturday, January 31, 2009

Lemon-Lavender Cake

I have been looking for dried lavender forever. I just love the bright, fresh flavor it gives to breads, cakes, ice cream, and countless other dishes. I finally found some at Cost Plus World Market. If you haven't checked out their spice aisle, go NOW! You won't be sorry. They have so many difficult-to-find spices, particularly specialized ethnic spices, at great prices.

This cake was wonderful. The lemon was really pronounced and the lavender notes came through subtly. The final product had a simple, feminine, homey feel--perfect for a tea party, girls' lunch, or simple spring gathering. It would also be great as cupcakes for a birthday party, baby shower, or bridal shower. A word of warning, though. I made this in a dark pan and the outside got way too dark. The taste wasn't affected too much, but you'll want to use a lighter pan, if at all possible.

Lemon-Lavender Cake


For the cake:

1 tsp. finely chopped dried lavender or 8 sprigs fresh lavender flowers
1 1/4 c. superfine sugar
16 TBSP (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
Pinch of fine sea salt
4 eggs
1/2 c. sifted all-purpose flour
1 1/2 c. ground blanched almonds
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice

For the icing:
1 1/2 c. confectioners' sugar
Juice of 1/2 large lemon, or as needed


1. Preheat an oven to 350°F. Generously butter or spray a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.

2. To make the cake, strip the flowers from the lavender sprigs (if necessary). Place in a food processor and add the superfine sugar, butter, lemon zest and salt. Process until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.

3. Add the eggs one at a time, alternating with one-fourth of the flour, beating well with a wooden spoon after each addition.

4. Gently stir in the ground almonds and the lemon juice.

5. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F and bake until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes.

6. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the pan and turn the cake out onto the rack. Place right side up and let cool.

7. Meanwhile, make the icing: Sift the confectioners' sugar into a bowl. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the lemon juice, a few drops at a time. The icing should be thick but spreadable. If it is too stiff, add a little more lemon juice.

8. Using a knife and dipping it in hot water if it becomes too sticky, spread the icing over the cooled cake, making sure that it drips down the sides. Let stand until the icing is set, about 1 hour. Decorate the cake with fresh lavender flowers.

9. The cake will keep, stored in an airtight container without the flower garnish, for up to 3 days. Serves 8 to 10.

One year ago: Tuscan Chicken with Vegetables

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Whole-Wheat Pita Bread

When I told my roommate I was going to make baked shrimp with tomatoes and feta for dinner, she offered to pick up some pita bread to eat with it. Then I remembered my WC girls talking about how easy it was to make pita bread at home and decided I could do it, too. I had my apprehensions because I had never made a yeast bread of any type. But since one of my 2009 cooking resolutions is to learn to make yeast breads, I thought I should go for it. What was I so scared about? Nothing about baking with the yeast was difficult. Sure, I had to resist the urge to check the pita every five minutes during the rising time. But now that I've successfully made my first yeast bread, I can't wait to try some more! Yay!!! I love the feeling of accomplishment I get from following through on resolutions!

Whole-Wheat Pita Bread
adapted from Karen, of Loves to Eat
original recipe from

2 c. whole-wheat flour
2 1/4 tsp. quick-rising yeast
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/4- 1 1/2 c. hot--not boiling--water (I used 1 1/2 c. because I live in a dry climate)
1-1 1/2 c. flour


1. Combine first four ingredients in a large bowl. Beat well about 1 minute.

2. Mix in the remaining flour, using just enough to make a soft, sticky dough.

3. Turn out on floured board and continue to knead for 5 minutes.

4. Divide into eight balls.

5. Roll out each one to about 1/4 inch thick and 6 inches in diameter. Place on very lightly greased cookie sheet sprinkled with cornmeal (although cornmeal is really not necessary if you don’t have it). Let rise in warm place for 25-35 minutes .

6. Bake at 450 degrees for 4-5 min. per side, or until lightly browned.

7. Wrap immediately in a dishtowel for 3 or 4 minutes.

One year ago: Greek Pizza for One

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Baked Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta

With the holiday season and all of its decadent foods over, I'm definitely feeling the need to cook some lighter, healthier meals. For me, that means looking at what Ellie Krieger has to offer me. Her recipes are healthful, flavorful, and satisfying. I've been eating so much chicken lately and am really getting tired of it. As soon as I saw this recipe in The Food You Crave, I knew it was the one. Ellie recommends serving this over steamed rice or orzo, but I chose to serve it with homemade whole-wheat pita bread--my first-ever yeast bread!

Baked Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta
Ellie Krieger, The Food You Crave

1 TBSP olive oil
1 medium onion, diced (about 1 1/2 c.)
2 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 tsp.)
2 (14.5-oz.) cans of no-salt-added diced tomatoes, with their juices
1/4 c. finely minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 TBSP finely minced fresh dill
1 1/4 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2/3 c. crumbled feta cheese (about 3 oz.)

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

2. Heat the oil in an oven proof skillet over a medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.

3. Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for about 5 minutes, until the tomato juices thicken.

4. Remove from the heat. Stir in the parsley, dill, and shrimp and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the feta over the top.

5. Bake until the shrimp are cooked through and cheese melts, about 12 minutes.

6. Serve with cooked rice, orzo, or grilled whole-wheat pita wedges.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Julia Child's Roast Chicken

In celebration of my first anniversary (blogiversary?) I'm making a list of my favorite recipes from the past year. In addition, I'll be adding a "one year ago" link to my posts from now on. It's fun to remember what I made (generally using a recipe for the first time) a year ago and it will be an easy way for me to begin putting together my "tried and true" list of best recipes. I hope you'll enjoy this new feature as much as I will.

Keeping this in mind, I'm beginning my second year of blogging with a variation on one of my most favorite, classic meals--roasted chicken with vegetables. This is a very easy and healthy meal that provides an attractively rustic presentation. It's definitely comfort food in the colder months of autumn and winter. I love to make this for company.

I knew my usual recipe would be pretty tough to beat, but if anyone would be able to do it, Julia Child would. I made some adaptations and this turned out tender, flavorful, and beautiful. Absolutely a great new option for my roast chicken.

Julia's Roast Chicken with Lemon and Herbs
adapted from "Gourmet", September 1999

1 fine, fresh four-pound chicken (Can't you just hear Julia saying this?)
salt and pepper
2 tsp. herbes de Provence, divided
1 large lemon, quartered
3 TBSP olive oil, divided
2 sweet potatoes
2 potatoes
2 carrots
1 red onion


1. Set the oven rack on the lower-middle level and preheat to 425°F.

2. Cut all vegetables into equally sized chunks. Place in roasting pan. Drizzle with half of the olive oil. Generously salt and pepper. Sprinkle with half of the herbes de Provence. Toss with hands and push to outsides of the pan.

3. Clean chicken, rinse with warm water, and pat dry. Tucks wings behind back. Insert lemon quarters into cavity. Place chicken in center of roasting pan. Drizzle with remaining olive oil, generously salt and pepper, and sprinkle with remaining herbes de Provence.

4. Put chicken in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes at 425, then remove. Use any accumulated juices to baste chicken and vegetables.

5. Reduce temperature to 350 and roast chicken for approximately one hour more. Check chicken every 20 minutes. Baste each time. If chicken browns too quickly, tent with foil. When juices run clear upon inserting a knife into the hip joint, remove chicken and rest for 15 minutes before carving.

And now for my favorites for the past year. I'm so excited to be able to do this!

January 2008
Lemon Bundt Cake--one year ago today!

February 2008
Caribbean Rice and Beans
Cajun Quiche

March 2008

Raspberry Balsamic Chicken
Traditional Irish Stew the Bailey
Chocolate Pecan Pie with Chocolate-Jack Daniels Ice Cream
Best Blueberry Muffins
April 2008

Chicken with Lemon and OreganoLinkBeef and Cheese Manicotti
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Summer Orzo Salad
Five-Veggie, Four-Cheese Lasagna

May 2008

Sausage and Herb-Stuffed Pork LoinChocolate Pavlova with Chambord Cream and Fresh Berries
Basmati Rice with Sweet Onions and Summer Herbs
Mother's Day Salad
Grilled Herbed Peaches
Ciabatta Pizza with Walnut Pesto
Angie's Famous Strawberry Cupcakes

June 2008

Chocolate Chip Cookies with Hazelnuts
Summer Fruit Salad with Sambuca
Grilled Margherita Pizza

July 2008

All-American Berry Bundt Cake

August 2008

Greek-Style Turkey Burgers with Lemon-Mint TzatzikiLinkHoney Cake with Honey-Cream Cheese Frosting

September 2008

Mango-Pineapple Salsa
Honey-Peach Ice Cream
Lemon Crostata with Fresh Figs and Goat Cheese
Fall Harvest Bread

October 2008 
Baked Whole-Wheat Penne with Roasted VegetablesLinkSpiced Molasses Cookies

November 2008

Autumn Fruit Strudel
Pear Pie with Maple and Ginger
Pumpkin Cheesecake with Bourbon-Sour Cream Topping

December 2008

Chocolate Rum Balls
Jamie Deen's Chili
Vanilla-Bourbon Cranberry Sauce
Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Eat to the Beat: "Hail to the Chief" Inauguration Day Cake

What an amazing, historical, and inspirational day. This is a rarity for me, but I'm struggling to find just the right words to describe how I feel about this beautiful day. I am so proud of my fellow citizens for electing a president who I truly believe wants to improve our country by bringing together groups that are normally bitter, bitter enemies. I am so proud that our country has finally proven to itself and the world that we can appreciate a person because of their intelligence and contributions to our society, regardless of race, color, or creed. But the thing that made me the most proud today as I watched the inaugural news coverage was being able to truthfully tell my students, most of whom are minorities, that they really can be president one day...and being able to believe it, not just say it.

"Hail to the Chief" Inauguration Day Cake
cake and frosting recipes both from

Lemon Cake:
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pans

3 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
1 TBSP baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 c. granulated sugar
3 TBSP lemon zest (from about 3 lemons)
4 large eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 c. buttermilk
2 TBSP lemon juice

Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting:

6 TBSP unsalted butter, room temperature
6 c. confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature

10-15 similarly-sized strawberries, halved
approximately 50 blueberries


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 9x13 cake pan (or two 8x2 rounds), dust with flour, tap out excess. Alternately, spray pan with baking spray.

2. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl.

3. Cream butter, sugar, and lemon zest with a mixer until pale and fluffy.

4. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing well after each. Beat in vanilla.

5. Reduce speed to low; add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk and lemon juice.

6. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake approximately 40 minutes, until golden brown and testers inserted in centers come out clean. Let cool completely on a wire rack.

7. Meanwhile, prepare frosting by placing all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and blending until completely combined. Begin on low speed, until powdered sugar is moistened.
8. When cake is completely cooled, frost generously. Decorate just before serving. Cake will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 3 days, but the strawberries will leak moisture.

*Note: Cake would look best turned out of the pan and frosted on all sides. For ease of transport, I left mine in the pan.

Many thanks to Elly of
elly says opa! for extending the Eat to the Beat deadline so I could take my patriotism into the kitchen with this recipe.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

1-2-3-4 Lemon Cupcakes

Finally sick of over-frosted, really dry, store-bought birthday cakes, the staff at school asked a few of us to volunteer to bring in the monthly birthday celebration cakes. I, of course, was more than happy to help!

My original intention was to make a lemon cheesecake topped with a marble of blackberry puree. However, one of my co-workers and good friends had a bit of a health scare and hospital stay this week. So, on the night I was to make this cheesecake, he was released and I went to bring him dinner and hang out with him. I was so thankful he was okay and he took dibs on that evening.

I didn't want to show up empty handed, though. I knew I didn't have time to make a large cheesecake and I would've made mini cheesecakes but, on my way home, I realized I didn't yet have the cream cheese. So my plans changed. I immediately thought of lemon cupcakes. I gave in and used a can of frosting we had at home. I hate doing that because homemade tastes so much better, but it was kind of a time crunch. Not wanting to waste the gorgeous blackberries I had, I decided to put one on the top of each cupcake. For a last minute birthday treat, I think they turned out pretty well.

1-2-3-4 Lemon Cupcakes
adapted from Martha Stewart, The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook

For cupcakes:
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 c. all-purpose flour, sifted
1 TBSP baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 c. granulated sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 c. buttermilk
zest and juice of 2 lemons

For frosting:1 can vanilla or white frosting (or make your own, which is what I wish I could've done)
zest of 1 lemon


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin pan with cupcake liners and spray with non-stick cooking spray to prevent overflowing tops from sticking.

2. In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter on low speed to fully soften. Increase speed to medium and beat until fluffy and light in color. Keep beating while gradually adding the sugar. Beat until fluffy, about three minutes.

4. Gradually drizzle in beaten eggs, beating between additions until the batter is no longer slick. Scrape down sides twice during addition.

5. With the mixer on low, alternate adding flour mixture and buttermilk, a little at a time, starting and ending with the flour.  Beat in lemon juice and lemon zest.

6. Divide batter between cupcake liners and bake for 18-20 minutes.

7. Meanwhile, mix frosting and lemon zest and wash and pat dry the berries.  When cupcakes are completely cooled, frost each one and place berry on top.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Oil-Cured Olives Baked with White Wine and Garlic

My roommate decided to throw a game night party. Each guest was in charge of bringing either an appetizer or a dessert. Since I've been baking so much lately, I decided to go for an appetizer. Plus, making this appetizer gave me the opportunity to use my gorgeous new All-Clad stainless steel casserole that I got for Christmas!

I loved this. Unfortunately, a couple of the guests weren't olive fans. Regardless, I will definitely make this again. I really enjoyed the heightened flavor of the olives. I served it with crostini spread with goat cheese. The cool, creamy cheese was a great balance to the garlicky, briny olives. This is perfect for a dinner party, especially one with an Italian or Mediterranean theme.baked olives
Oil-Cured Olives Baked with White Wine and Garlic
Martha Stewart, The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook

Ingredients:1 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, smashed
2 c. oil-cured olives
2/3 c. dry white wine
2 tsp. fresh oregano leaves
*I sprinkled lemon zest on top for color and brightness of flavor

Directions:1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In an oven-proof skillet or casserole (I just had to throw that in!) heat the oil and smashed garlic cloves just until fragrant. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

3. Add olives and wine to pan. Put the pan in the oven, uncovered, and bake until olives are plump and the liquid is absorbed, about 15--20 minutes.

4. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with oregano and lemon zest and serve.

Tasty Tools--Lemon Chicken Soup with Orzo

Continuing on the "using free fresh lemons from my mom" kick, I bring you this hearty and healthy chicken soup. It great when I ate it right after cooking it, but lost its lemon flavor in subsequent reheatings. This shouldn't be a problem, though. Just keep a couple extra lemon wedges on hand to squeeze over a bowl of leftovers!

While you're at it, check out my brand new Mario Batali dutch oven my mom got me for Christmas! Is she the best or what?!?

Lemon Chicken Soup with Orzo
Ellie Krieger, The Food You Crave
4 tsp. olive oil
8 oz. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into small chunks
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 medium onion, diced (about 1 1/2 c.)
2 stalks celery, diced (about 1/2 c.)
1 medium carrot, diced (about 1/2 c.)
2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp. dried)
6 c. low-sodium chicken broth
1 c. orzo, preferably whole wheat
2 large eggs
3 TBSP fresh lemon juice
*I added about 1 c. peas because I had them on hand. It was delicious!


1. Heat 2 tsp. oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, add it to the pot, and cook. Stir a few times until just cooked through, about five minutes. Transfer the chicken to a dish and set aside.

2. Add the remaining two teaspoons oil to the pot. Add the onion, celery, carrot, and thyme and cook until vegetables are tender, about five minutes.

3. Add five cups of broth and bring to a boil.

4. Add the orzo and let simmer until tender, about eight minutes. Turn the heat down to low to keep the soup hot but not boiling.

5. Warm the remaining one cup broth in a small saucepan until it is hot but not boiling.

6. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs. Gradually whisk in the lemon juice. Temper the egg mixture with warm broth, whisking the whole time.

7. Add egg mixture to the soup pot, stirring well until soup is thickened. Do not let the soup come to a boil.

8. Add the cooked chicken to the soup.

**Note: This recipe was submitted to Joelen's September 2009 "Tasty Tools" event. Go check out the other submissions!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Apple-Ginger-Cranberry Pie

I was a little worried to bring this to Christmas dessert. While some of the family (myself included) thought my pear pie with maple and ginger was delicious, not everyone was a fan. Some of them thought it was, well, weird. They wouldn't even try it. (Can they be considered a non-fan if they wouldn't even try it? I don't think so.) Because of that, I was nervous and afraid this pie wouldn't be the perfect ten I wanted it to be. I wanted to bring this in and have everyone like it and believe that I really am a good cook. It worked! This pie was absolutely divine. I even won over some pretty amazing women who have been baking apple pies for more years than I've been alive!
Apple pie is, of course, a classic. Plain apple pie is wonderful all on its own, but the cranberries add just the right amount of tartness and bite, while the ginger adds a comforting warmth that makes this the perfect dessert for late fall or winter.

Apple-Ginger-Cranberry Pie


For the dough:
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar
16 TBSP (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 to 4 TBSP ice water

For the filling:
4 lb. Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced (I could've gotten away with 3.5 lbs.)
1 1/2 c. cranberries
1/4 c. chopped crystallized ginger
3/4 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
3 TBSP all-purpose flour
1 TBSP fresh lemon juice
raw turbinado sugar for sprinkling


1. To make the dough: Combine the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor and pulse once to blend. Add the butter and process in short pulses until pea-size crumbs form, 20 to 25 seconds. While pulsing, gradually add the ice water until large, moist crumbs form, about 10 seconds more. The dough should hold together when squeezed with your fingers but should not be sticky. If it is crumbly, add more water, 1 tsp. at a time, pulsing twice after each addition.

2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, divide in half and form each piece into a 5-inch disk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

3. Remove one of the dough disks from the refrigerator and let stand for 5 minutes.

4. Place the dough between 2 sheets of lightly floured waxed paper and roll out into a 12-inch round about 1/8 inch thick. Brush off the excess flour.

5. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch deep-dish pie dish and fit the dough into the dish. Trim the edges, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for 15 minutes.

6. Position a rack in the lower third of an oven and preheat to 400°F.

7. To make the filling: stir together the apples, cranberries, crystallized ginger, sugar, salt, flour and lemon juice in a large bowl. Transfer to the pie shell.

8. On a floured surface, roll out the remaining dough disk into a 12-inch round about 1/8 inch thick. Cut designs out with lattice cutter or small cookie cutters, if desired. Tuck the top crust under the edge of the bottom crust and press to seal. Sprinkle the top with sugar.

9. Bake until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling, about 1 hour, covering the edges with aluminum foil if they begin to get too dark.

10.Transfer the pie to a wire rack and let cool for 1 hour before serving. Serves 8.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Chicken Piccata

Another year, another January, another big bag of lemons from my mom. Nice! Really, the only thing better than fresh lemons are free fresh lemons, right? So to use all of those free fresh lemons up, I'll be going on kind of a lemon binge for the next few posts. I hope you like lemon as much as I do. Here we go!

Chicken Piccata
seen on Good Things Catered
adapted from The New Best RecipeLink

Ingredients:4 small to medium boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded to even thickness
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 TBSP olive oil
2 lemons
1 c. chicken stock
1 large shallot, minced (I used red onion because I already had it on hand)
1 1/2 TBSP capers, drained and rinsed
3 TBSP unsalted butter
2 TBSP chopped, fresh parsley

Directions:1. Halve one lemon lengthwise and slice one half crosswise into 1/8-1/4 inch thick slices. Juice the remaining 1 1/2 lemons to obtain 1/4 cup juice.

2. In small shallow bowl, combine flour, paprika, garlic salt, and pepper, mixing to combine well.

3. Salt and pepper each cutlet generously and coat each with flour mixture.

4. Heat a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat until hot, add 2 Tbsp oil, saute chicken until medium brown, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to warm plate.

5. Add shallot to pan over medium heat and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

6. Add stock and lemon slices, increase heat to high and deglaze pan; simmer until liquid reduces to about 1/3 cup.

7. Add lemon juice and capers and simmer until sauce reduces again to 1/3 cup. Remove pan from heat, swirl in butter until it melts and thickens sauce; swirl in parsley.

8. Spoon sauce over chicken and serve immediately.