Tuesdays with Dorie: Lemon Loaf with Lavender

Since sharing my love of spring and lemons in my previous post, it’s time for a confession.  While I love fresh lemon in savory dishes, in desserts . . . not so much.  That’s not to say I don’t love lemony sweets.  I just don’t like them to be natural.  That’s right, I confess.  When it comes to lemon desserts, I’m a fan of the processed stuff — that bright, artificial, never existed in real life neon yellow of lemon meringue pies and the Girl Scout’s lemon chalet cookies.  That “natural” lemon flavoring that was invented in a lab and is all yellow dye and chemicals I can’t pronounce.  Yep, that one.  Love it.

And it’s for that reason alone I wasn’t all that excited about this recipe.  I’ve made a few lemon loaf type desserts before and haven’t been too excited by them.

I planned on getting this one out of the way early.  Which turned  into procrastinating.  Which led to “Maybe I’ll just skip this week’s recipe” which finally became “Oh, hell, if I don’t like it, I can always have my husband leave it in the kitchen at work.”  (His office kitchen shares similar properties with piranha-infested rivers in the Amazon.  Mainly that anything left there is pretty much a carcass within an hour.)

So I made it.  And I’m really glad I did.

Normally I don’t tweak the Tuesdays with Dorie recipes.  I’m nervous about my improv skills in the kitchen, and I like to see how the recipe’s supposed to work before making any changes or additions.  For this one, though, I decided to vary it up.  A few years ago I came across a recipe for lavender pound cake.  I’ve yet to make it, but every year when Spring rolls around it pops into my head.  Hmm.  Lemon.  Lavender.  Why not?  I minced up a tablespoon and tossed it in with the sugar.

While mixing the batter, I started to get a bit doubtful.  My kitchen had developed the faint whiff of a L’Occitane store.  And (having had the unforgettable experience of getting my mouth washed out with soap when I was little) it wasn’t exactly making my tastebuds water.  Luckily the finished product did not taste like hand soap.

It’s light.  It’s refreshing.  It’s simple yet elegant.  It will make you want to invite Mr. Darcy over for a cup of tea.  But then again, when would you not want to invite Mr. Darcy over for tea?

Thanks to Truc at Treats and Michelle at The Beauty of Life for hosting this week.  You can check out their blogs for more details on the recipe.

Parmesan Gremolata Smashed Potatoes

Nothing says Spring quite like lemon to me.  It’s the vibrant color.  The crisp flavor.  The promise of blue skies and warm weather.  The way it wakes up your tastebuds after winter.

Chilled glasses of freshly squeezed lemonade topped with sprigs of mint.

A drizzle over asparagus or spinach or grilled fish.

Lemon meringue pie.  Sorbet.  Roast chicken.

And one of my new favorites — lemony smashed potatoes.

As soon as I saw this recipe over at Use Real Butter, I knew I had to try them.  Come on, who doesn’t love some smashed potatoes.  And the gremolata just ups the whole game.  The only change I made was to decrease the salt down to 1/2 teaspoon.  But that’s only because we’ve been trying to cut back on our salt intake and as a result seem to notice it a lot more in food now.

If you’re still looking for a side dish for your Easter dinner, try this one.  It’s exactly how you’d expect Spring to taste — bright, crisp and flavorful.

And, if you have kids, this is a great recipe for them to help with.  Of course, if yours is like mine, you might need to serve it with a side of ketchup.

Parmesan Gremolata Smashed Potatoes
(barely adapted from Use Real Butter)

Serves 4

2 lbs. fingerling potatoes, scrubbed clean
1/4 – 1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
3 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed, and minced
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced (should be about 1/4 cup when minced)
zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with water.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender.  Drain the potatoes in a colander and let dry.

Drizzle a little olive oil on a shallow rimmed baking sheet.  Place the potatoes on the baking sheet in a single layer, coating the bottom of each potato in some of the oil.  And here’s where the kid friendliness comes in — using a meat tenderizer (or heavy-bottomed drinking glass, measuring cup, etc.) gently smash each potato flat. The smashed potatoes should be about 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick.  (Optional tip for parents:  Say “Smash” like the Hulk each time and your kid will be even more delighted.)

Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the smashed potatoes.  Sprinkle with salt.  (More fun for the kids.)  Pop the pan in the oven and roast for 30 minutes, flipping the potatoes over half-way through.

While the potatoes are roasting, make the gremolata — Mix the garlic, parsley, lemon zest, and Parmesan cheese together in a small bowl.  When the potatoes are done, remove them from the oven and (in a large bowl) toss them with the gremolata.

Tuesdays with Dorie: Pizza Rustica

“I thought you said we were having pizza.”  My husband cast a rather dubious look at his plate.

“It is.  It’s Pizza Rustica.”

“What’s that?”

“I’m not sure.  I think it’s kind of like an Italian quiche.”

“Hmmm.”  He sniffed at his fork.  Took a bite.  And eventually went back for seconds.

That’s all you need to know.

For any history buffs out there, Pizza Rustica (sometimes also called Easter pie) is a savory Italian pie typically served at, you guessed it, Easter.  If you’re not into history, it’s a sweet pie dough filled with a mixture of cured meats, cheese, cheese and more cheese.  Oh, and there are a couple of eggs holding all that cheesy goodness together.

All I can say is, if you’re going to break your Lenten fast, this is the way to do it.  I found some recipes that call for up to six different types of cheese and almost as many cured meats to be added to the mix.  I guess this is the reason Italy was the “Eat” portion of Eat, Pray, Love.

The most surprising thing about this dish is the sweetness of the dough.  As my husband remarked, it’s like eating “scrambled eggs wrapped inside a sugar cookie.”  Don’t let that description put you off.   The taste experience is a little like drinking a nuanced glass of wine.  The first thing you notice is the light flavor of the ricotta.  Then the proscuitto leaps out to provide a wonderful salty depth.  And as you finish the bite, you’re left with the sweet finish from the dough.  (Alright, pretentious metaphor over.)

Like the Irish Soda Bread recipe I’m kind of amazed at how good this was for only using a few simple ingredients. I was worried it would  be a bit bland because of the lack of herbs or seasonings, but didn’t find that to be the case at all.  Of course, when you’ve got that much cheese, how can you really go wrong?

If you’re looking for something a little different this Easter, try this.  It would be a delightful addition for brunch.  With that nice glass of wine, of course.  🙂

Thanks to Emily at Capitol Region Dining and Raelynn at The Place They Call Home for hosting this week.  You can check out their blogs for more details on the recipe.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

In honor of the return of Mad Men, (Oh, Don Draper, how I have missed you!) I decided to serve up a 1960’s inspired dinner.

First up, the quintessential pineapple & brown sugar bejeweled ham —

Look familiar?

And for dessert — well that was easy.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake was my mom’s go-to dessert.  I remember it gracing the table of many a family dinner or bake sale booth.   So I thought I’d ask if she’d share the recipe.  She, of course, was delighted.  I hurriedly grabbed pen and paper and prepared to discover the secret to this peculiar American dessert.

“Okay, ” my mom started, “first spread butter and brown sugar in a baking pan.  Arrange the pineapple rings, maraschino cherries and pecans on top.”

So far so good.  And then —

“Open a box of yellow cake mix . . . ”

I put down my pen.  Clearly this wasn’t going to work.

I shouldn’t be surprised.  Her generation embraced the new new fad of box mixes and tv dinners that many of us are now starting to shun.  Last year, I read Jerry Della Femina’s tale of the advertising trenches From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor.  As a copywriter myself, I’m intrigued by the whole Mad Men, three martini lunch era of advertising.  One of my favorite anecdotes concerned the early marketing of boxed cake mixes.  Initially, all you had to do was add water.  Housewives in focus groups hated the product, not because of the taste, but because it was so easy — they didn’t feel like they were cooking.  The solution?  Add water and an egg.  For some reason, the act of cracking an egg into the mix gave the women a sense of validation that they were cooking.  Cake mixes began to fly off the shelves.

Fascinating, huh?  But it still didn’t solve my dessert dilemma.  I could Google, but that seemed too easy.  And how would I know I could trust the recipe I found?  Out of curiosity, I turned to my beloved Ad Hoc at Home cookbook.  And there, on page 310 — Pineapple Upside Down Cake.  Thomas Keller-style.  Score.  (I will share my undying love for Mr. Keller in another post.  For now, let’s just say that he’s my Tebow.)

This recipe did not disappoint.  A moist, light cake and fresh pineapple carmelized with brown sugar and flecks of vanilla.  It really is an elegant take on this rather iconic dessert.  If all you’ve had is the canned pineapple variety of this cake, do yourself a favor and try the Ad Hoc recipe.   It’s easy, delicious, and looks beautiful when unmolded from the cake pan.  Still not sure?  Did I mention there’s rum in it?  Thought that would change your mind.  You can find the recipe here.

If Betty had made this cake, Don might have come home from work more often.  Okay, maybe if she made this cake and wasn’t such a b*tch.

Baked Potato Soup

The two biggest things I miss while living in L.A. — parking spaces and rain.  I get way too excited if I see either of them.  However, having lived here for awhile, one thing has rubbed off on me.  I hate driving in the rain.  For Angelenos, rain is our kryptonite.  Sure the surfers get excited, but most everyone else regards the darkening skies with trepidation.  I’ve known people who’ve called in sick to work, kept their kids home from school or cancelled dinner reservations all because it was raining.  Seriously.

So on a chilly, rainy day when you refuse to leave the house, what’s a girl to do?  Make soup.

Baked Potato Soup
(barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Serves 6

1 head of garlic
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium leeks (white & green parts only)
5 – 6 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth (divided)
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 ½ pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes
1/3 cup sour cream
ground black pepper

minced green onions
bacon crumbles
sour cream
grated cheddar cheese

Cut leeks in half.  Rinse to remove any dirt.  Slice thin.

Rinse the head of garlic to remove any outside dirt.   Cut the top third off the head of garlic.  Pop out a bunch of the garlic cloves from this top third and mince them. Peel any loose skin off the remaining two thirds of garlic.

In a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven melt the butter over medium heat.  Add leeks to butter.  Cook until soft (about 5 minutes), stirring frequently so they don’t brown.  Add minced garlic.  Cook for another minute.  Add the remaining whole 2/3 head of garlic, 5 cups of chicken broth, bay leaves and ½ teaspoon salt.

Reduce heat and simmer for 30 – 40 minutes.  Garlic should be tender enough to pierce gently with the tip of a knife.

Add potatoes.  Simmer, partially covered, for another 15 to 20 minutes until potatoes are tender.

Discard bay leaves and garlic head.

Add sour cream and cook another 2-3 minutes.  Puree in pot using an immersion blender.   (You can also puree the soup in 2 batches using a regular blender or food processor.)  Don’t puree the soup too smooth.  It’s best if it’s still a bit lumpy, with some chunks of potato.  (If your soup’s too thick, here’s where you can add the extra cup of broth and simmer for another few minutes.)  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle soup into bowls and top with a dollop of sour cream, bacon, cheese and green onions.