Carrot zucchini glory muffins

1-2 medium or 1 large zucchini
2-3 large carrots
2/3 cup olive oil
3 large eggs
¼ cup fresh squeezed orange juice or apple cider
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup brown sugar
 cups flours (¾-1 cup whole wheat, ½-¾ cup white)
1½ cups nut meal (suggest 2-3 cups pecans, walnuts, and sunflower seeds)
½ tsp sea salt
3 tsp baking soda

1. Chop zucchini and carrots into large chunks and process in a food process or Vitamix-style blender until all pieces are small (but not liquid).
2. Toast nuts and seeds and process into a fine powder (not so fine that it becomes sticky, like a nut butter).
3. Mix everything in a large bowl.
4. Spoon into lined muffin cups.
5. Bake at 350˚F for 20-23 minutes.

The story
These only took about 10 years to get right...

I used to live in Atlanta, a few blocks from a coffee shop in which served (1) really good coffee and (2) extraordinary, unparalleled, fantastically delicious carrot zucchini muffins with the most perfect crunchy, not even slightly sticky (I hate when that happens), tops. They also served a lovely pear coffee cake, but it was coffee and carrot zucchini muffins that accounted for $500 spent in 2005-2006.

I know this, because I sat down, and figured out a budget one day in 2006. For years afterward, this figure justified various failed attempts to make my own coffee at home. But frankly, the muffins probably cost twice what I spent on coffee. Some mornings (this was in med school, after all), I think they were the only source of joy in my life. Curiously, their other muffins were not nearly as good. I nearly cried one morning when they were sold out.

Fortunately and unfortunately, I eventually moved away and all my efforts to replicate the muffins - particularly the tops - failed. When I went back to Atlanta briefly in 2010, I made a special side trip to the coffee shop and bought 2 dozen muffins, which I took back to Denver and kept in the freezer, eating them slowly over the last year of my residency.

And then - finally! - last year, I managed to replicate them, almost by accident. After years of Googling pictures of muffin recipes and trying to assess probable crunchiness from pictures, I decided to improvise a "healthy" muffin recipe with zucchini, carrots, olive oil, and most of the flour replaced with nut meal, plus brown sugar, starting with a morning glory muffin recipe and experimenting from there.

And it happened to work.


The annual birthday cake post | French yogurt cake with lemon curd buttercream icing

If you've ever seen French yogurt cake served like this, I'd like to hear about it!

The recipe
Cake ingredients
Canola or vegetable oil, 1 cup (I usually substitute olive oil but not when making this as a birthday cake)
Greek yogurt (full fat) 1.5 cups
Lemon zest, about 3 lemons or 3 tbsp
Cake flour (unbleached), 3 cups plus 6 tbsp
Baking powder, 4 tsp
Kosher salt, 1.5 tsp
Sugar, 2 cups
Large eggs, 4
Vanilla extract, 1 tsp
Gel food coloring (optional)

Powdered sugar, 1 1/3 lb
Lemon curd, 10 oz
Juice of 1 lemon
Vanilla extract, 1 tsp
Butter, 1 cup
Salt, 1/4 tsp

Berry sauce (optional)
Mixed berries, 1 cup (raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and/or blueberries, fresh or frozen)
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Pomegranate juice, 1/3 cup

3 9" cake pans
Checkerboard cake ring (optional; from Nordic Ware or Wilton)

1. Preheat oven(s) to 350˚F.
2. Line pan(s) with circles of parchment and grease with butter and dust with flour.
3. Whisk flour, baking powder, and kosher salt in a bowl.
4. Using your fingers, rub sugar with lemon zest in a large bowl until sugar is moist and aromatic oils released. 
5. Add yogurt, oil, eggs, and vanilla extract; whisk to blend. 
6. Fold in dry ingredients just to blend. 
To make checkerboard pattern
7. Divide batter in half or in thirds; for six colors, divide each third in half again. I recommend using a measuring cup or identical bowls to divide as accurately as possible. 
8. Dye each bowl the desired hue and shade using gel food coloring.
9. Place checkerboard cake ring into the first pan. Spoon batter in the desired color into the appropriate ring. (Don't forget that the rings use different quantities of batter when apportioning!)
10. Remove the ring, rinse and repeat with the next two pans. 
11. Bake until top of cake is golden brown and a tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 15-18 minutes per layer.
12. Let cake cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Invert onto rack; let cool completely.
To make icing
13. Whip powdered sugar, lemon curd, lemon juice, salt and vanilla until smooth.
14. Beat in butter, about 10 minutes. 
To make berry sauce
15. Bring berries, lemon zest, and juices to a boil and reduce to simmer.
16. Stir and mash to break up berries into small pieces.
17. Simmer about 10 minutes until beginning to thicken.
18. Chill in refrigerator to bring to room temperature or cooler before serving. 
19. Assemble cake with icing beginning layer and on top as desired. 
20. Decorate and serve, with berry sauce on the side.

The story
The first time I made this simple classic cake, about four years ago, it served two functions: (1) to celebrate the end of a rotation (for my residents) and (2) to provide a vehicle for the peach-nectarine-cherry buttercream icing I made out of the blue one day. 

It was really delicious.

Many better food blogs than this have described the backstory of French yogurt cake. This one is my favorite so far: http://thecafesucrefarine.com/2015/04/french-grandmothers-lemon-yogurt-cake/. I had heard none of those until two days ago, when I started looking for recipe variations that might be more lemony than the one I knew whilst standing in an aisle at Party City with a dazed look on my face.

It started a month or two ago, when my son stumbled across a YouTube video called "How to Make a Candyland Cake". I was immediately horrified at the idea of feeding him boxed sheet cake topped with Starburst, circus peanuts, and Technicolored Twizzlers. But it did look fun. (He followed up this click by clicking on a video of a cute English girl making a Snakes and Ladders cake with her mom, adorned with chocolate ladders and gummy worms. F. asked for the next month how he could slide down a snake.)

I then asked him what kind of cake he wanted, and he immediately replied, "Blueberry!" I sighed and asked again a week or two later. By then, he had moved on to lemon cake, which he wanted to be baked into a rainbow or five or six layers. I contemplated this option for a bit - last year's birthday cake was lemon raspberry, with lemon curd baked into the cake batter and lemon curd and raspberry jam spread between the layers. It was a bit sweeter and stickier than I would have liked, so I didn't want to repeat it. I contemplated making him a strawberry cake instead, but he's a February baby, and reliably delicious strawberries are hard to come by in February and definitely not local. Also, I had been planning to make (or, oh okay fine, have shipped) a Milkbar strawberry lemon cake for my mom's birthday in March. 

So I tried to talk him into a Southern caramel cake, which I have been dying for since we had one from Lady of Cakes for my grandmother's 90th birthday in 2010. (It was decorated with cherry blossoms!) I tried. He almost agreed. The problem was, every time someone asked him unprompted, when I wasn't around, he went back to saying that he wanted a lemon cake.

Which brought me to the point, the day before his birthday party, where I was wandering around Party City in search of decorations for the Candyland theme, and still undecided about exactly what kind of cake to make. I Googled "lemon layer cake" and, unexpectedly, "French yogurt cake" popped up. I'd forgotten about the lemon zest. Concerned that it might not be sufficiently lemony, I started searching for ways to add lemon juice to a recipe with relatively little liquid, and in the process, I came up with the idea of adding lemon curd to buttercream icing in order to give the cake more lemon flavor. (In Party City, I also discovered the checkerboard cake ring, a brilliant invention.)

The cake came beautifully (it always does) but I was concerned that the frosting was too sweet, so I threw together a berry sauce at the last minute. Great combination, but it also turned out that the balance of sweetness in the iced cake was perfect (most, but not of all, of the adults, avoided eating the decorations).

The best part was the look of pure, unbridled joy on F.'s face. Birthday cake of a four-year-old's dreams!


Summer salads in review

I am SO. FAR. BEHIND. I will never catch up on writing out all the things we've been cooking.

In these post: four of my favorite salads from the summer of 2015: two non-creamy vinaigrette potato salads (I don't like mayonnaise), a summer squash salad, and a raw kale salad. The first three were adapted from Bon Appétit recipes; the last was an attempt to recreate a chopped kale salad with shredded roast chicken from the Cherry Creek Grill in Denver. Way back in 2009, I gave cooking with kale a try because a food writer raved about it. I was not won over. The Cherry Creek Grill salad finally made me reconsider.

Spicy potato salad
- Olive oil, 1/4 cup plus more
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- Garlic, 1 clove, smashed
- 1 tbsp whole-grain mustard
- Fingerling or other small, tasty potatoes
- 1 jalapeño, thinly sliced
- Flat-leaf parsley, 1/4 cup torn

1. Whisk together 1/4 cup olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, and mustard. Add salt and pepper to taste. 
2. Slice potatoes in halves or rounds (if on the larger side - you want just the right surface area). Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.
3. Roast potatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet at 375˚F until outsides are crisp and insides are tender.
4. When potatoes have cooled somewhat, toss with vinaigrette, jalapeño, and parsley. Serve. 
5. Variations: 
-- Thinly sliced, fried-crisp garlic adds a nice touch. 
-- Adding jalapeño to the oven toward the end of roast results in, paradoxically, jalapeño flavor that is stronger and less sharp. 

Great with: hamburgers (nice ones, with grass-fed beef and brioche rolls)

Kale potato salad
- Fresh lemon juice, 3 tbsp
- Capers, drained, 2 tbsp
- Apple cider vinegar, 1 tbsp
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Olive oil, 3 tbsp plus more
- Tuscan kale, 1 bunch (you can get away with curly kale), coarsely chopped
- Shallots, chopped
- Fingerling or other small, tasty potatoes, about 1 pound
- Parsley and scallions (optional)

1. Whisk together, lemon juice, capers, apple cider and olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.
2. Prepare potatoes as in the previous recipe, including shallots on the baking sheet this time. 
3. Toss kale with olive oil, salt and pepper. During the last 5-10 minutes of roasting,  sprinkle kale over the top of the potatoes and allow to roast. 
4. Toss potato kale medley with vinaigrette, parsley and scallions (if desired). Serve.

Great with: grilled steaks

Summer squash salad
- Soy sauce, 1 tsp
- Honey, 1 tsp
- Lemon zest, 1 tsp
- Lemon juice, 3 tbsp
- Dijon mustard, 1 tbsp
- Olive oil, 3 tbsp
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- Zucchini, 1 small to medium, cut into paper-thin wide slices (requires a mandoline)
- Yellow summer squash, 1 small to medium, cut into paper-thin wide slices
- Macadamia nuts, toasted and chopped, 1/4 cup (can substitute hazelnuts)
- Pumpkin seeds, roasted, 1/4 cup
- Arugula, sorrel or other tender baby greens 

1. Whisk together soy, honey, lemon zest and juice, mustard and olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.
2. After thinly slicing squash and zucchini, season with salt and pepper, and quickly sauté in olive oil over medium-high heat until just barely tender (no more than 3-5 minutes).
3. Toss squash and arugula with vinaigrette and then with nuts and pumpkin seeds. Serve. 

Great with: grilled lemon-pepper salmon

Raw kale salad
- Fresh lemon juice, 6 tbsp
- Olive oil, 6 tbsp
- Apple cider vinegar, 2 tbsp
- Champagne vinegar, 2 tbsp
- Whole-grain mustard, 2 tbsp
- Honey, 1 tsp
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- Tuscan kale, 1 bunch, chopped into thin (0.5 cm or 0.25 inch strips)
- Green (Granny Smith) apple, julienned into matchsticks
- Dried cranberries, 1/4 cup
- Hazelnuts, toasted and chopped, 1/4 cup
- Marcona almonds, chopped, 1/4 cup (optional - toasted, sliced almonds are good too)

1. Whisk vinegars, lemon juice, olive oil, mustard and honey. Add salt and pepper to toast.
2. Toss dressing with kale and apple, thoroughly coating (this is key - I can't promise that my quantity of vinaigrette is spot-on). 
3. Toss with cranberries and nuts. Serve.

Great with: roast chicken


Lemon raspberry birthday cake | Torta di limone e lampone

The annual birthday cake post...

4 eggs
2 tbsp lemon curd
1 tsp lemon zest
2 cups milk
1.5 cups butter, softened
3 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups flour
3 cups sugar
2.5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
Gel food coloring (your choice of colors, for tinting layers)

For filling:
1/2 cup lemon curd
1 cup fresh raspberries, smashed (can substitute berry of your choice; set aside a few for garnishing)

For icing:
4 oz cream cheese
1 tbsp butter, softened
4-5 cups confectionary sugar (okay, I didn't really measure)
1 tbsp lemon curd
1 tsp lemon zest
3 tbsp lemon juice (one lemon should be enough for the whole recipe)

1. Prep: Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter 6" or 8" round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper. (It's okay if you don't have enough pans; the layers bake fairly quickly. It does help to have two ovens.)

Blend eggs, lemon curd, zest, milk and vanilla. Set aside for now.

2. Cream butter and sugar in a mixer until smooth.

3. Slowly add flour, salt and baking powder to butter-sugar mixture.

4. Slowly add egg mixture and mix until fairly smooth, at least 3-4 minutes.

5. Divide batter into three or six bowls, depending on number of layers desired. (Six will be quite thin  bakes beautifully and makes a moist, rich final cake.)

6. Tint each bowl to the desired shade. (I aspired to make a completely ombré cake in one color, but the birthday boy won, so I did two shades each of three "berry" colors - blue, red and purple.)

7. Pour contents of one bowl into one pan, tilting or spreading to distribute evenly. (Again, if you are making six layers, these are thin...no more than 0.5" after baking.)

8. Bake each pan at 350 F for about 15 minutes. Allow to cool.

9. Spread each layer with 1-2 tbsp of lemon curd. For a six-layer cake, spread half the raspberries between the second and third and half between the fourth and fifth layers (so...alternating, lemon only, lemon/raspberry, lemon only, etc.).

10. Whip the icing ingredients until very smooth and frost cake when completely cool.

The story:
Everyone loved this cake except for me! I thought it was too sweet; possibly, I should have erred on the side of less lemon curd in the layers. Here is the inspiration recipe: http://thecakeblog.com/2011/08/blueberry-rainbow-cake.html I made a few modifications - switching egg whites to whole eggs, adding a little lemon curd and zest to the batter, adding raspberries in the layers and adding lemon cream cheese icing (something I would probably leave out next time).

My son originally requested a "blueberry cake." At first, I thought of making him a lemon blueberry coffee cake in this Bundt pan (which does come out looking really awesome), but then I decided to look for something more festive. I love the look of ombré layers (we did something similar for his first birthday). The day before his birthday, I was showing him pictures of various cakes - including this one - when he suddenly said, "I not like blueberry. I want RASPBERRY."

He liked it, I think. 

To see the fate of his second birthday cake, click here.


Prime rib

prime rib roast, preferably grass-fed and aged, 4-6 pounds
coarse sea salt, generous quantities
black pepper, freshly ground
garlic, crushed and finely chopped, half a head
beef stock, 3/4-1 1/2 cups (enough for at least an inch of liquid in the roasting pan)

dry red wine, 3/4-1 1/2 cups (optional, enough for at least an inch of liquid in the roasting pan when added to beef stock)
dried onion soup mix, one packet (optional)

1. preheat oven to 500˚ F.
2. rub roast with a generous layer of sea salt, black pepper and garlic and place in roasting pan.
3. cook at 500˚F for 30 minutes, then lower temperature to 325˚F.
4. pour beef stock, red wine (if using) and onion soup mix into roasting pan.
5. insert meat thermometer. continue cooking until thermometer reads 137˚F.
6. remove roast from oven and allow to rest for 15-20 minutes.
7. pour drippings from pan into a saucière and season with salt and pepper to serve alongside beef.
8. slice and serve with au jus, steamed or roasted vegetables and popovers or Yorkshire pudding.

the story
This is a fairly simple approach to a classic prime rib and, with the right meat, yields the best prime rib I've had so far.

When I was a little girl, my parents had season tickets to our local symphony and to performances from visiting artists. Across the street from the historic Stanley Theatre was the Fort Schuyler Club, an even older private club where we ate dinner before our show (and where I loved trying to peek into one of the beautiful, seeming-off-limits upstairs room, with their mysterious dark wood paneling and lingering cigar smoke). The building reminded me, in a way, of the mansion in the movie Clue; I was sure there were secret passages somewhere. The pre-theatre menu always involved prime rib (sliced to order) and an ice cream sundae bar. Eight year old girls were free to approach the buffet in any order desired (which sometimes meant prime rib, followed by ice cream and hot fudge, followed by a dénouement of prime rib, and other times meant an ice cream appetizer, prime rib, and a second dish of ice cream).

Celebrating the night before Christmas Eve with prosecco (my new favorite is Andreola), prime rib, 
roasted purple and white potatoes, popovers, and steamed broccoli. December 2013.


Pizzette two ways

all-purpose flour, 5 cups
yeast, 1 package
water (warm), 1/3 cup
sugar, 1 teaspoon
water (room temperature), 2 cups
salt, 2 teaspoons
olive oil, 2 tablespoons

topping for pizzetta margherita (enough for 3 pizzette)

mozzarella di bufala, fresh, sliced, 12 ounces
cherry or grape tomatoes, chopped in halves or quarters, 1.5 cups
balsamic vinegar or Worcestershire sauce, 1 tablespoon (optional)
garlic, crushed and finely chopped, 3-4 cloves
fresh basil, torn or coarsely chopped, 1/2 cup
olive oil, 6 tablespoons
coarse sea salt, to taste
black pepper, freshly ground, to taste

topping for pizzetta with caramelized onions, mushroom and prosciutto (enough for 3 pizzette)

Vidalia onion, thinly sliced with a mandoline
mushrooms, wild or shiitake and baby bella, coarsely chopped, 1.5 cups
balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons
prosciutto, thinly sliced, about 4 ounces
olive oil, 1/2 cup plus 4 tablespoons
butter, 1 tablespoon
raw sugar, 2 tablespoons
baby arugula, 3 cups
lemon juice, 1/2 cup
coarse sea salt, to taste
black pepper, freshly ground, to taste
maple pepper, 1 teaspoon (optional)
mozzarella, shredded, 8 ounces
fontina, shredded, 8 ounces
asiago fresco, shredded (optional)

6 individual pizzette

1. Dissolve yeast in warm water with sugar.
2. Mix all ingredients (including yeast) with a wooden spoon.
3. Knead dough into a soft, tacky ball (adding more room-temperature water or flour if needed).
4. Allow to rise for 1-2 hours (but up to 3-4 hours is okay). Dough should double in size.
5. Start preparing toppings (those below or others of your choice) while the dough is rising.
6. Preheat oven to 425˚F. Heat a pizza stone or line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
7. Flour the stone or parchment.
8. Divide dough into six balls.
9. Roll and stretch each into an oval shape.
10. Spread each pizzetta with one tablespoon of olive oil (more or less as needed to completely cover with a very thin layer). Use a spoon.

10. Soften garlic in three tablespoons of olive oil. Allow to cool.
11. Season 1/2 inch slices of fresh mozzarella and chopped tomatoes with sea salt and pepper.
12. Marinate mozzarella and tomatoes with basil in olive oil and balsamic vinegar or Worcestershire sauce (if desired) for 15-20 minutes.
13. Arrange slices of mozzarella, tomatoes and basil over top of three pizzette.
14. Bake at 425˚F for about 20 minutes, until crust is crisp and cheese melted.

caramelized onions, mushrooms and prosciutto

15. Heat one tablespoon of olive oil and one tablespoon of butter over medium-high heat in a sauté pan.
16. Add thinly sliced onions and stir until soft and translucent.
17. Add sugar and continue to stir until sugar is melted and gently caramelized. Set aside.
18. In the same pan, sauté mushrooms and balsamic vinegar (with an additional tablespoon of olive oil if needed) over medium heat until soft. Add to bowl with onions.
19. Wipe pan with a clean cloth. Crisp prosciutto over high heat.
20. Allow crispy prosciutto to cool and then crumble. Set aside.
21. Spread mushrooms and onions over three pizzette. Top with shredded mozzarella and fontina, as much as desired.
22. Bake pizzette at 425˚F for about 20 minutes, until crust is crisp and cheese melted.
23. Immediately top with crumbled prosciutto.
24. While pizzette is cooling to serving temperature, whisk lemon juice, olive oil, and maple pepper (if available).
25. Toss arugula with dressing and season with coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper as desired.
26. Top pizzette with fresh arugula; alternatively, cut pizzetta into slices and place a bowl of arugula on the table with small tongs to top each piece individually (this is a good option if some people are skeptical of fresh greens on their pizza, or if you have made enough for leftovers, since the pizzette freeze well without the arugula).

the story
What's up with this
sticky stretchy stuff?
I love pizza, especially homemade pizza. It's very possible to make pizza into a relatively healthy dinner when you are in control of all the ingredients. Topping with fresh arugula has been one of my favorite ways to go since my mom starting doing it a few years ago; this particular incarnation was conjured up last night when I was desperate from an alternative to the margherita variations that I'd already had twice in the past few weeks. The margherita version here is my own; I like to marinate my tomatoes in balsamic before using them in pizza and fresh tomato sauces. The Worcestershire sauce alternative was suggested by my friend Lauren when we were in medical school several years ago.

Family make-your-own pizzette night.
January 2014. 


A Christmas Eve menu

Hot buttered apple cider with Calvados
Arancini with marinara sauce
Sausage roll
Orange, fennel, arugula and pomegranate salad. Christmas Eve 2009.
Swiss, onion and bacon tartlets
Baked Brie with pecans
Lupini beans

Shrimp cocktail
Orange, fennel, arugula and pomegranate salad 

Angel hair aglio e olio
Shrimp scampi over angel hair pasta

Chicken romano with greens and artichoke hearts
Beef stuffed with mozzarella with mashed potatoes, sautéed peppers and mushrooms
Eggplant parmigiana
Christmas Eve 2013: not quite organized 
and missing a few suspects.

Roasted eggplant, grape tomatoes and bell peppers (vegan)
Grape tomatoes, mozzarella and bread

Chocolate crinkles
Peanut butter cups
Almond-paste cookies
Sugar cookie snowflakes
Christmas ribbons
Fig cookies
Chocolate fruit and nut bark

Coffee, tea and cappuccino

Port wine

Red and white wine
Beer and hard cider
Sparkling water and soda
Water with orange, lemon and raspberries

Clockwise from foil-wrapped dish: Petit-fours, starlight cookies, chocolate crinkles, anise cookies,
sugar snowflakes, chocolate bark, and fig cookies. Christmas Eve 2013.

We proudly present...ghosts of Christmas past...

Christmas Eve 1996. The hair, the velvet overalls, the generalized awesomeness.
Fun fact #1: I am wearing my first-ever "little black dress." 
To a family Christmas Eve celebration. Because I am 15. And awesome.
Christmas Eve 1998. Being a first-year in college apparently means it's okay 
to wear what is essentially an undergarment in public. Overdressed to underdressed...
Fun fact #2: We are now so tall that the photographer (our cousin)
can't figure out how to fit our heads in.

Christmas Eve 2003. Problem solved: tall people in front!
Fun fact #3: Sometimes the posing goes on long enough 
that it's good to keep that drink handy.
Christmas Eve 2005. One of my better years,
but I still wish I'd had a tartan skirt too.

Fun fact #4: For those keeping scores, we are up two from the 1996 picture.

Christmas Eve 2008. Still with that drink handy...
Fun fact #5: 2009 is the only year in the past twenty that I was not present to pose for these photos.
Christmas Eve 2012. Up six with one missing here. 
Fun fact #6: There are actually three generations represented in this picture.
Fun fact #6.5: The girl holding my son is the baby I was holding in 2003.