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Sunday, July 28, 2013

We Have Blueberries Too

I love summer fruit.  In fact, summer is the one time of the year that I  choose fruit over say, ice cream.  That's saying something, because I love ice cream.

Summer fruit is delicious.  Sometimes.

Yes, sometimes.

Here's the thing.  Most fruit is picked early so that it can be shipped without being damaged.  This is great because it all looks really pretty in the grocery store.  On the other hand, peaches and nectarines are often hard as rocks, and strawberries are flavorless.  Now what's the fun in that?

Despite having enough kale and zucchini to sink a ship, both of my CSA subscriptions have been shall we say, a little light on the fruit.  So far, all I've had in the fruit department is a pint or two of strawberries (delicious), and a couple of pints of absolutely divine blueberries.  Both just made me hungry for more.

So imagine my glee, yes glee, when one of my CSA's offered for sale additional flats of blueberries.  I jumped at the opportunity without considering that a flat of blueberries is 12 pints of blueberries.  That's a lot of blueberries.
But not to worry.  Not only are these blueberries beyond delicious on their own, they are equally sublime in this quick and easy blueberry loaf cake.
Now I can have my blueberries and eat them too.

Recipe:  Blueberry Banana Almond Bread


1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons almond extract
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup slice almonds


Place an oven rack in the center of the oven.  Preheat the oven to 350F.  Butter and flour a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  In a large bowl, beat the sugar, oil, eggs, and almond extract until well blended.  Stir in the bananas.  Toss the blueberries with just a pinch of the flour mixture, and carefully combine.  Add the dry ingredients and stir until just blended.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and sprinkle the almonds on top.  Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Let cool in pan for 15 minutes, and then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Overrun by Zucchini

I didn't count on just how prolific a zucchini crop can be.  I've never even thought much about zucchini.  In fact, I'm not even sure I like zucchini.  It's a fine vegetable, but certainly not sexy like, say, brussels sprouts.  Or beets.

Back in the olden days, when I was growing up, I thought zucchini was a soft and mushy vegetable.  In fact, I thought all vegetables were soft and mushy.  My mother cooked the hell out of everything she touched, and vegetables were no exception.

Zucchini came into vogue back when I was growing up, and my mother jumped on the zucchini bandwagon with true enthusiasm.  All of a sudden zucchini was her go-to veggie.  One of her favorite recipes involved cutting the zucchini in half lengthwise, and slathering it with butter/margarine (depending on whether we were in a "heart healthy" mode or not), and Kraft parmesan cheese from the green shaker can.  (Oh, don't look so offended.  You probably had a can in your refrigerator as well).  This whole assembly was then put into the oven and cooked until the top was crusty and the zucchini had completely lost its shape and any resemblance to what it once was: firm.

Needless to say, I ate the crusty cheesy part off the top and left the rest.  We all did.  Even my mom, I think.

But I digress.  Every week, in my CSA basket(s) I receive zucchini.  Not just one zucchini, but lots of zucchini.  Big ones, little ones, fat ones, skinny ones.  I have zucchini crowding my refrigerator and interrupting my sleep.

What the hell am I going to do with all this zucchini?

Well, here's one recipe I tried, and I have to say it's quite delicious.  I'm not usually one for vegetable breads, but this one has a lot of chocolate in it, thus obscuring the zucchini-ness of it.  I think the zucchini mostly keeps the loaf very moist without being gummy, and that's a good thing.  Kate loves it, which is also a good thing, because she doesn't fret about calories and fat the same way I do.

Tomorrow I'm going to try something another zucchini intensive recipe.  I am on a mission to use up some of this zucchini, and maybe learn to love it in the process.

Recipe:  Chocolate Zucchini Bread Recipe
(Simply Recipes)

This recipe makes 2 loaves; you can easily divide the recipe in half to make just one loaf. 


4 cups grated zucchini (from about a pound and a half of zucchini)
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa (use natural unsweetened cocoa, NOT Dutch processed)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups granulated white sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup unsalted butter (12 Tbsp or 1 1/2 sticks), melted
1/2 teaspoon instant coffee granules
1/2 teaspoon almond extract


Preheat oven to 350°F, with a rack in the middle. Grease two 9x5-inch loaf pans with baking spray or butter.

Place the freshly grated zucchini in a sieve over a bowl to catch any excess moisture as it drains, while you work on prepping the other ingredients and preparing the recipe. If for some reason your zucchini is on the dry side, hydrate the shredded zucchini by soaking it in water first, and then place in sieve.

Vigorously whisk together the flour, unsweetened cocoa, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Whisk until there are no more clumps and the ingredients are well combined.

In a separate large bowl, beat together the sugar and eggs until smooth, about a minute. You can do this with an electric mixer on medium speed, or by hand with a wooden spoon. (I'm lazy and use a mixer but it's easy enough to do by hand.) Add the melted butter, instant coffee granules, and almond extract and beat until smooth.

Mix the shredded zucchini into the sugar egg mixture. Add the flour to the zucchini mixture in 3 additions, stirring to combine after each addition.

Work quickly, and divide the batter between the two prepared loaf pans. (Work quickly because once the dry ingredients have mixed with the wet ingredients, the leavening has begun.) Place into the oven. Bake for 50 minutes at 350°F, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean and easily. Remove to a rack. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then run a blunt knife around the edges to separate the bread from the pan. Remove from the loaf pans and let cool completely on a rack.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Lessons Learned

Early in the spring, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  To say it came as a shock would be an understatement of epic proportions.  I had no lump, no history of breast cancer in my family, and absolutely no idea of what was cooking inside me.  Thankfully, I am diligent about mammograms and my doctors caught it very early.

While cancer isn't something I ever want to experience again, and I'm all for experiencing, some good did come from it.  Yup.  I learned a few things that have changed me... for the better.

I have learned that true kindness exists.

Kindness isn't something we talk a lot about.  Sure, we all try to be kind and, for the most part, we probably are.  As parents, we strive to teach our kids to be kind.  It's one of those character traits that we all automatically think we possess, just by virtue of the fact that we endeavor to be good people.  Being nice isn't the same as being kind.

Let me just tell you that I knew nothing about what it is to be kind, truly kind, until I had cancer.

My family and friends have been wonderful.  They have been there with encouraging visits, phone calls, letters, and the like.  They have all offered their own particular brand of irreverence, which I have truly appreciated.  Everyone has tried to say the right things to be comforting and reassuring.  And, by and large, they have been.  Truthfully, I expected nothing less.  These are all people who are important to me, and I to them.  We are all in a relationship together.

But it was the kindness of strangers; the doctors, the nurses, and my radiation "buddies", that affected me the most profoundly.  I can say, without qualification, that I have never been treated more kindly or with more compassion and empathy in all my life.  There just are no words.

I have also learned that sometimes one sentence is enough.

I haven't, until now, told very many people that I had cancer.  I don't know why.  Maybe I thought if I didn't talk about it, it would go away.  Or maybe it was because of my fear of the second sentence.

The second sentence is where the trouble starts.  It's where everyone tries to make that very meaningful, this is the thing that's going to carry you through your awful ordeal, statement.  It goes something like this:

Me:  "I have breast cancer."
Them:  "Oh my God...  I'm so sorry."

So far so good.  Unfortunately, this is also where it starts to get dicey.  Instead of stopping there, many people feel the need to go on with something like this:

Them:  "I know how you feel."
Me:  "Have you had breast cancer?"
Them:  "Me?  No, thank God.  But my (friend, cousin, neighbor, vet) had it.  I probably shouldn't tell you this but she's since had (ovarian, lung, throat, etc.) cancer and a ton of chemo.  But you're going to be fine."

Number One:  If you feel the need to say something like "I probably shouldn't tell you this", you probably shouldn't.

Number Two:  Don't assume you know how someone else feels, even if you've been through something similar, and especially if you have not.  Everyone's experiences are different and what might have been awful  for one person might be very manageable for someone else.  Or vise versa. 

Number Three:  Really?  Did you need to tell me that she was fine, but then she wasn't?

I know.  I know.   People are just trying to be helpful.  I know this, but just for future reference, it's better to stop with the "I'm so sorry".  If you feel the need to add something else, offer your help, but only if you mean it.  While the offer of help is nice, we Cancer People realize that life goes on.

And I guess that's the biggest and best lesson I've learned.  Life goes on.  When faced with probably the worst thing that's ever happened to me, I have learned, really learned, that life goes on.  I got through the treatment and have still managed to come out the other side with my sense of humor intact.  I have tried hard to maintain my sense of perspective.  Cancer has been a big thing for me.  But it hasn't been the center of the universe for everyone else, even my own family.  And that's fine.  In fact, that's how I wanted it.

Because, after all, life goes on.  And isn't that the point?

 As a little thank you to the doctors and nurses in the radiology department, I put together this little "best of" basket.  Included along with the recipes below, were also Kate's Favorite Brownie Bites (which are brownies baked in a mini-brownie pan -- use your favorite recipe).  Here are some pictures and the recipes below. 

Recipe:  Banana Mocha Muffins
(Baking for Friends, Kathleen King, 2012)


2 1/2 C unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. instant coffee (or 1 1/2 tsp. instant espresso powder)
1 Tbsp. boiling water
1 1/3 C mashed fully ripe bananas (about 3 bananas)
1 1/4 C sugar
2 sticks salted butter, at room temperature
1 egg
1 C semisweet chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350 degrees (I did 350 degrees); grease a muffin tin tray.

Cream together the sugar and butter until fluffy.  Add the egg, mix again then set aside.   In another bowl add the coffee to the hot water; stir to dissolve.  Stir the mashed bananas into the coffee.  Add to the butter/sugar mixture and stir until incorporated; set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together.  By hand, slowly mix the dry ingredients into the wet.  Fold in the chocolate chips.  Divide the batter evenly into the prepared muffin tin tray.

Bake for 25-30 minutes.  Allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes, remove from pan then cool completely on a wire rack.

Recipe:  Lemon-Poppy Seed Muffins
(Baking for Friends, Kathleen King, 2012)


2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3 Tbs poppy seeds
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
8 Tbs (1 stick) butter
zest of two lemons
juice of two lemons
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup full fat sour cream or greek yogurt


Preheat oven to 400F. Spray down your muffins tin or line with cupcake liners.
In a large bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, poppy seeds, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Remove from heat as soon as it is melted. Whisk in the zest and juice. Slowly drizzle in the eggs, whisking constantly until well combined. Add the sour cream or yogurt and whisk until smooth.  Pour over the dry ingredients and fold with a wooden spoon or spatula just until combined, be careful not to over-mix. Divide the batter among muffin cups and sprinkle with a pinch of sugar.

Bake 15-18 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.   Remove and cool on a rack.

Recipe:  Frank's Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies
(adapted from Cooks Illustrated)


2 1/8 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
12 tbl. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg plus one egg yolk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups chips (chocolate, Mini M & M's -- whatever you like)
3/4 cup toasted walnuts (optional)


Preheat the oven to 325. Line a couple of cookie sheets with parchment paper. Mix the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl and set aside.

Mix the melted butter and the sugars until blended. (I do this by hand.) Mix in the egg, yolk, and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Stir in the chips and nuts, if using.

Using a small scoop, (about 1 1/2 inches) scoop the dough on to the prepared cookie sheets. I usually put 9 cookies on each sheet.

Bake, reversing the cookie sheets' positions halfway through the baking, until the cookies are golden brown around the edges, about 15-18 minutes. Cook on the cookie sheets for a few minutes and then transfer to wire racks.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies

Recipe:  Cranberry Almond Granola Bars
Loosely adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perelman


1 cup dried cranberries
1-1/4 cups rolled oats
3 Tbsp. whole wheat flour
1/3 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup thinly sliced almonds
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 cup almond butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 tsp. freshly grated orange zest
1/4 tsp. almond extract


Preheat the oven to 350.  Line an 8×8 baking dish in one direction with parchment paper, allowing the paper to go up the opposing side. Repeat in the opposite direction (this makes it easy to remove the bars from the pan in one piece).

In a large bowl, stir together the dates, oats, flour, wheat germ, almonds, salt, and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, whisk together the almond butter, olive oil, honey, orange zest, and almond extract until smooth. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry, stirring together until the dry ingredients are evenly coated. Spread the batter in the prepared pan, pressing the mixture firmly into the bottom, edges, and corners.

Bake the bars for 20-25 minutes, until they’re brown around the edges. They’ll still seem a bit soft if you press the center (they will set as they cool).

Place the pan over a cooling rack, or in the fridge. If cooling at room temp, you can remove the bars from the pan after about 20-30 minutes, using the pachment “sling” and set them on the rack to cool completely. Once completley cooled, use a serrated knife to cut the bars into squares. (If the bars seem too crumbly to cut, chill them further in the fridge, and then cut them cold.)

Bars can be stored in an airtight container, in the fridge, or frozen.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

All Around Perfect

As you know from previous posts, I am a big fan of all pound cakes.  They're just so perfect.  Pound cake is delicious for dessert with berries.  If you're feeling indulgent, you can pop on some ice cream or whipped cream.   And. even better,  pound cake is still delicious the morning after, toasted, with a little jam.  Or even just plain.  With coffee.  Because as we all know, everything is delicious with coffee.

Fortunately for me, there are as many pound cake recipes out there as their chicken recipes.  The possibilities are endless, and I have made it my personal mission to try as many as I possibly can.

I am currently engaged in a love affair with Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.  First of all, the pictures are pure food pornography.  Honestly, if food photography is your thing, the pictures in this cookbook are positively stunning.  Paging through the book makes me want to make everything, even recipes with ingredients I don't like, like beets.  That's high praise coming from me.

The recipes are interesting, filled with lots of unexpected combinations of ingredients.  For example, this pound cake calls for orange marmalade, dried coconut, and ground almonds.  And it's round.  I like the idea of a round pound cake.  A pound (cake) in the round, You can't beat that.

Recipe:  Semolina, Coconut & Marmalade Cake
(Jerusalem Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi

For the Cake:


Butter (for the pan)
¾ cup sunflower or canola oil
1 cup orange juice
½ cup orange marmalade
4 eggs
Grated rind of 1 orange
cup superfine sugar
¾ cup shredded dried coconut
¾ cup flour
1 heaping cup semolina
2 tablespoons ground almonds
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt


Set the oven at 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and line it with waxed paper.

In a bowl, whisk together the oil, orange juice, marmalade, eggs, and orange rind until well combined.

In another larger bowl, whisk the sugar, coconut, flour, semolina, almonds, baking powder, and salt. Pour the orange juice mixture into the dry ingredients and stir well until thoroughly combined (the mixture will be runny).

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Bake the cake for 45 to 55 minutes or until a skewer insertedinto the center of the cake comes out clean. (Make the syrup while the cake bakes.)

For the Syrup:

½ cup superfine sugar
cup water
1 tablespoon orange flower water or orange extract

In a saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the orange flower water or extract. When the cake is done, set it on a rack, still in the pan. Brush the top with syrup and let it soak into the cake. Continue brushing several times like this. Leave to cool.

Unlatch the side of the springform and lift the cake off the bottom round. Transfer to a cake plate and cut into thin slices.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Rock Lobster

Smitten Kitchen
Kate went to camp in Maine, and will attend college in Maine starting this fall.  This has engendered a love of lobster in her that sadly, I cannot satiate.  Lobster is expensive, it's a pain in the ass to cook (more on that later), and it just seems a bit too too to serve, or eat for that matter, more than very rarely.

I do not live in new England, where gas stations will sell you freshly steamed lobsters.  In the summer, while it is a tad on the costly side, lobster is easily available everywhere.  I mean, come on.  They served lobster once every summer at Kate's summer camp, and it's not as though she was camping out at a Four Seasons.  She didn't even have electricity for heavens sake.

No one sets lobster traps in the Allegheny River.  As such, here in the 'burgh, lobster is trucked in.  Yes, I can buy lobsters every summer, but do I want to?  No.  They are a pain to cook.  It's not that it's difficult.  Boil the water, throw in the feisty devils, listen to them clank around a a minute or two, and eat.

It's just a lot of hot water in a GIANT pot.  I just don't want to deal with it.  There.  I said it.  I'm lazy and I don't want to deal with cooking lobsters.

So people like me, who might occasionally want to have a little lobster, have to resort to either (1) making a trip to New England (preferable), or (2) buying the lobsters already cooked and ready to eat.

This brings me to the point of all this prelude.  I saw this recipe for lobster salad and it piqued my culinary interest.  How could I pass up a salad that had both lobster and potatoes as key ingredients?  I couldn't.

I did the lazy thing.  I bought the lobster meat already cooked, and in this case, frozen, from my favorite fish market.  Would I serve this particular lobster meat on its own?  No!  But in this salad, it did the job admirably.

Fortunately for me, this does not have to be the end of the lobster for the summer.  We will be delivering Kate to college in Maine in August.  I am sure there will be at least one lobster roll at The Clam Shack and at least one dinner at my favorite lobster pound, Mabel's Lobster Claw to satisfy our yen for fresh from the trap lobster.

Recipe:  Lobster and Potato Salad
Barely tweaked from Ina Garten and Smitten Kitchen)

Serves 6, generously (or easily more if among many sides)


1 1/2 pounds unpeeled small Yukon gold or fingerling potatoes
Coarse, kosher or sea salt
3 tablespoons Champagne or white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon minced or pressed garlic
1 large or extra-large egg yolk, ideally at room temperature
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons drained capers
6 scallions, thinly sliced (yielding about 1 cup)
2 medium stalks celery, diced small (about 1/4 inch) (yielding about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup finely diced red onion
1 1/2 pounds cooked lobster meat, cooked and cooled, in a 1-inch dice (from about 7 to 8 pounds fresh lobster;
1 lemon
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh tarragon


Cook the potatoes: Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with an inch or two over water. Add 1 tablespoon salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes, until just tender. (A bamboo skewer is ideal to test them.) Drain in a colander, and let potatoes cool for 5 minutes. Cut potatoes into quarters or halves (or fingerlings into 1/2- to 1-inch segments) and place them in a large bowl.

Make the vinaigrette: Whisk together the vinegar, mustard, garlic, egg yolk, 1 teaspoon salt, and many grinds of black pepper (Ina recommends you use a full teaspoon of pepper). Whisking constantly and vigorously, pour the oil in in a thin drizzle, ideally making an emulsion. Stir in the wine (if using) and capers.

Assemble the salad: While the potatoes are still very warm, pour half the vinaigrette on the potatoes and toss them gently, allowing them to soak up the vinaigrette. Stir in the scallions, celery, red onion, lobster, and add enough vinaigrette to moisten. Reserve any remaining vinaigrette for later. Add the zest and juice of the lemon, the tarragon or parsley, and more salt and pepper to taste (Ina calls for another 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper, but this felt like overkill). Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour to allow flavors to blend. Taste for seasonings and add more vinaigrette, if necessary.

Serve: This salad is especially good served closer to room temperature. Don’t forget to share.