cauliflower with mustard-lemon butter

mustard cauliflower 3

While you don’t want to serve plain steamed vegetables on Thanksgiving, maybe not every dish needs to be drowned in cream, you know? These cauliflower have enough flavor from spicy mustard and tart lemon to stand up to the rich foods at Thanksgiving, but they’re also light enough to serve with any weeknight chicken dish.

mustard cauliflower 2

It’s almost too simple to provide a recipe for, as this is nothing more than roasted cauliflower topped with mustardy, lemony butter. Fortunately, that means it’s easy. Whether you’re making this for a busy holiday or on a busy weeknight, the cauliflower can be chopped in advance and the flavorings can be mixed. That means it takes even less time to make than green bean casserole – but it tastes a lot better and has a fraction of the calories.

mustard cauliflower 4

Two years ago: Pumpkin Biscotti
Three years ago: Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake

Printer Friendly Recipe
Cauliflower with Mustard-Lemon Butter (adapted from Bon Appétit via epicurious)

6 servings

If you aren’t a fan of cauliflower, I don’t see any reason that this method wouldn’t work just as well with broccoli or Brussels sprouts.

1 small head of cauliflower (about 1¾ pounds), cut into 1-inch florets
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Arrange the cauliflower in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet; sprinkle with salt. Roast until the cauliflower is slightly softened, about 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the lemon juice, mustard, and lemon peel.

3. Scrape the mustard-lemon butter evenly over the cauliflower; toss to evenly coat the cauliflower and roast until crisp-tender, about 10 minutes longer. Transfer the cauliflower to a serving dish; sprinkle with parsley and serve warm.

mustard cauliflower 5

prosecco raspberry gelee

raspberry gelee 7

One New Year’s Eve, I was standing in line at the grocery store buying sushi rice (because I had a very exciting evening of cooking ahead of me to ring in the new year), when I heard the person behind me tell someone on her cell phone, “I’m buying vodka…and Grandma got the good jello!”

raspberry gelee 4The advantage of only making a half recipe – half a bottle of champagne to use up!

What, I wonder, is the “good jello”? Jell-o brand, and not store brand? I assure you that the two will make equally gag-worthy but redeemingly drunk-making jello shots.

raspberry gelee 2

I think I have found my own good jello, and it involves, as all good things must, bubbly wine. Not precisely prosecco, because apparently that Italian sparkling wine isn’t available in my area, but I’m sure my favorite New Mexico champagne will work just as well.

raspberry gelee 5

And good wine is key here, because very little is done to it. It’s mixed with raspberries, of course, and solidified, and slightly sweetened, and that’s it. In the end, it’s a dessert that tastes almost exactly like champagne with fruit, and the best part is that it even keeps its fizz. It keeps its buzz too, as I accidentally learned on a pleasant Sunday afternoon. I wouldn’t call this a jello shot, but it’s definitely good jello.

raspberry gelee 6

One year ago: Whole Wheat Bagels
Two years ago: Quick Baking Powder Pizza Crust
Three years ago: Eclairs

printer friendly recipe
Prosecco Raspberry Gelée (from Bon Appétit)

Mixing fresh raspberries with sugar doesn’t do much if you don’t cut or crush them, but just go with it. You’ll end up breaking them up slightly when you mix them with the rest of the ingredients, which will tint your gelée a pretty blush color.

I might add a couple tablespoons more sugar next time, just to make this feel more like dessert and less like a glass of wine that happens to be solid(ish).

I did use the orange-flower water, and I recommend it if you have it.

2 cups (9 ounces) fresh raspberries
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
1 750-ml chilled bottle Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine), divided
3½ teaspoon unflavored gelatin (measured from two 1/4-ounce envelopes)
¾ teaspoon orange-flower water (optional)

1. Place the raspberries, ¼ cup sugar, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice in a medium bowl; toss gently to combine. Let stand at room temperature until the raspberries release their juices, tossing occasionally, 20-30 minutes.

2. Place ½ cup Prosecco in a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over it and let stand 5 minutes to soften. Bring 1 cup Prosecco to a boil with the remaining ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat; add the gelatin mixture and stir until dissolved.

3. Transfer the gelatin mixture to a large pitcher. Add the raspberries with their juices, the remaining Prosecco, the remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and orange-flower water (if using), stirring to dissolve any sugar.

4. Using a slotted spoon, divide the raspberries equally among coupe glasses or other small wide shallow glasses or cups. Divide the Prosecco mixture equally among the glasses, about ¾ cup per glass. Chill gelée until firm, about 3 hours. (Gelées can be made up to 2 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled.)

raspberry gelee 8

farro and pine nut salad

farro tabbouleh 6

It’s a good thing I really like farro, because I accidentally bought 26 dollars worth of it. Apparently I need to pay more attention to the prices on the bulk bins. I should also start enjoying barley or wheat berries or some other equally healthy grain that doesn’t cost $12 per pound. (I actually looked at the prices the next time I was at the store, and farro cost about five times as much as the other grains.)

farro tabbouleh 1

I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is about farro that I like so much. I don’t think the flavor of the different grains are so different that I notice a big difference once dressing and other ingredients are mixed in, so it must be more textural. It’s all about a balance of the tender and the chewy. Rice is soft and tender. Barley is very chewy. Farro is just right.

farro tabbouleh 3

Usually I mix it with caramelized onions and feta, which, with a squirt of hot sauce, becomes one of my favorite meals that also happens to be incredibly healthy. But having two pounds of farro is good incentive to branch out. There are few things that aren’t improved with the addition of summer vegetables, pine nuts, chickpeas, and a squirt of lemon juice, farro included. It looks like I have another delicious farro meal that also happens to be healthy.

farro tabbouleh 4

One year ago: Grilled Potato and Vegetable Salad
Two years ago: Casatiello
Three years ago: Soba Salad with Feta and Peas

Printer Friendly Recipe
Farro and Pine Nut Salad (adapted from Self magazine via epicurious)

If you choose a grain other than farro, your cooking time will probably be different.

The original recipe included jalapenos, which is why they’re shown in the photo above, but I decided not to use them.

1 cup farro (or another whole grain, such as wheat berries, barley, or brown rice)
salt
1 clove garlic, unpeeled
¼ cup pine nuts
Juice from 1 lemon
½ small red onion, very thinly sliced
2 large heirloom tomatoes, chopped, or 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 small cucumber, quartered and sliced ⅛-inch thick
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 cup feta, crumbled
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

1. Bring 2 quarts of water to a roiling boil; add the farro and 2 teaspoons of salt. Cook for 20 minutes, until the farro is tender but slightly chewy. Drain.

2. Squeeze the juice of the lemon into a large bowl; add the onions and a pinch of salt. Set aside.

3. Heat a small not-nonstick pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and toast it, turning once, until browned, about 2 minutes. Remove the garlic from the pan. Add the pine nuts to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant and slightly browned, 3-4 minutes. Remove from the pan. When the garlic is cool enough to handle, peel and mince it.

4. Stir the drained farro into the onion vinegar mixture, then add the remaining ingredients. Let the salad stand at room temperature for at least 10 minutes before serving.

farro tabbouleh 5

bruschetta with chickpea puree

chickpea bruschetta 5

I wouldn’t say I have a black thumb, but I certainly don’t have a green thumb. Every spring I get really excited about gardening. Besides the quality and convenience of produce from the backyard, I love to watch things grow. I especially enjoy watching seeds sprout, as the green shoot springs up and then slowly uncurls, stands tall, and spreads its first two leaves. I like creating something so impressive from almost nothing at all.

chickpea bruschetta 4

Gardening in southern New Mexico is relatively easy. Our growing season, from last frost to first frost, extends from March all the way to November. Overwatering and mold certainly aren’t problems, since it almost never rains here. Our soil is hardpacked clay, but it wasn’t difficult or expensive to build a small raised bed. A layer of mulch and the lack of rain keep most weeds at bay. With a timed sprinkler system, there’s little effort involved with keeping a garden beyond the initial planting.

chickpea bruschetta 3

Except for the bugs. Squash bugs always get my zucchini plants eventually. And last year I think grasshoppers ate more tomatoes than I did. This year, even worse, I bought a diseased tomato plant and it spread its fungus to the rest of the bunch. They’ll have to be pulled, I’m afraid.

chickpea bruschetta 2

So my hopes for panzanella, slow-roasted tomatoes, BLTs, pasta with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, big pots of sauce to freeze, and a whole long list of other tomato recipes I love – this isn’t the year for that. Instead of topping grilled garlic-rubbed slices of Tartine’s country bread with fragrant tomatoes from my garden, I’ll have to find other ideas.

chickpea bruschetta 1

While nothing is going to live up to perfectly ripe summer tomatoes, I won’t complain about this chickpea spread. Something that could so easily be bland – a bowl of mashed beans – is kicked up with all sorts of good things, like tangy bits of red onion, spicy red pepper flakes, sweet balsamic vinegar, and tart lemon juice. Then it’s topped with crunchy toasted nuts and fresh herbs. It’s not garden-fresh tomatoes, but it’ll do in a pinch.

chickpea bruschetta 7

One year ago: Stuffed Squash Flowers
Two years ago: Dried Fruit Compote
Three years ago: Sautéed Shredded Zucchini

Printer Friendly Recipe
Bruschetta with Spicy Chickpea Purée (adapted from Rick Tramonto’s Fantastico via epicurious)

8 slices rustic bread
4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved lengthwise
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 (16-ounce can) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
½ small red onion, minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (use more or less to taste)
½ teaspoons honey
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon (optional)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
8 lemon wedges

1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse the chickpeas, onion, 2 tablespoons of oil, lemon juice, vinegar, red pepper, and honey. Scrape down the sides of the bowl several times and pulse until the mixture is smooth. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. The texture of the paste should be that of spreadable peanut butter; if necessary, thin it with water and pulse again.

2. Prepare gas or charcoal grill or preheat the broiler or a panini press. The heating elements or coals should be medium-hot. Cut the slices in half and brush both sides with a generous amount of olive oil. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Grill or broil the bread, turning once, until lightly browned on both sides. Rub 1 side of the toasts with garlic.

3. Spread the bean paste on the bruschetta. Sprinkle with pine nuts, tarragon (if using), and parsley. Drizzle with olive oil, and serve garnished with lemon wedges for squeezing over the bruschetta.

chickpea bruschetta 6

thai grilled-beef salad

thai steak salad 4

My habit is that on weekdays, I eat vegetarian and am healthy, and on weekends, I eat meat and am not healthy. I save alcohol and lately even dessert for weekends. It all evens out in the end so that I’m relatively fit and trim, but I’m starting to wonder – would it be so bad to eat meat and be healthy, all at the same time?

thai steak salad 1

Steak doesn’t have to mean huge T-bones and potatoes. It can mean slivers of beef mixed with herbs and served with cucumbers. This flank steak is seasoned with salt and (white) pepper, grilled and sliced, then dressed with a mixture of lime juice and fish sauce. Toasted white rice powder deepens the flavors while fresh herbs lighten them.

thai steak salad 3

I wonder how many other great meat-topped salads are out there that I’ve been overlooking. Although even if there aren’t any others worth trying, I’d be perfectly happy making this one over and over again. Eating healthy on weekends doesn’t feel like a sacrifice when it tastes so good – and besides, I still get to have a glass of wine on the side.

thai steak salad 5

One year ago: Garlic Mustard Glazed Skewers
Two years ago: Seafood Lasagna
Three years ago: Vanilla Ice Cream

Printer Friendly Recipe
Thai Grilled-Beef Salad (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4 to 6

1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon white rice
3 tablespoons lime juice (from 2 limes)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon sugar
1½ pound flank steak, trimmed
Salt and white pepper, coarsely ground
4 shallots, sliced thin
1½ cups fresh mint leaves, torn
1½ cups fresh cilantro leaves
1 Thai chile, stemmed and sliced thin into rounds
1 seedless English cucumber, sliced ¼ inch thick on bias

1. Heat the paprika and cayenne in an 8-inch skillet over medium heat; cook, shaking the pan, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer to a small bowl. Return the now-empty skillet to medium-high heat, add the rice, and toast, stirring frequently, until deep golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a second small bowl and cool for 5 minutes. Grind the rice with a spice grinder, mini food processor, or mortar and pestle until it resembles fine meal, 10 to 30 seconds (you should have about 1 tablespoon rice powder).

2. Whisk the lime juice, fish sauce, water, sugar, and ¼ teaspoon toasted paprika mixture in a large bowl and set aside.

3. For a Charcoal Grill: Open the bottom vent completely. Light a large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When the top coals are partially covered with ash, pour the coals evenly over half of the grill. Set the cooking grate in place, cover, and open the lid vent completely. Heat the grill until hot, about 5 minutes.

For a Gas Grill: Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat the grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Leave the primary burner on high and turn off the other burner(s).

4. Clean and oil the cooking grate. Season the steak with salt and white pepper. Place the steak over the hot part of the grill and cook until it’s beginning to char and beads of moisture appear on the outer edges of the meat, 5 to 6 minutes. Flip the steak and continue to cook on the second side until charred and the center registers 125 degrees, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes (or allow to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour).

5. Slice the meat, against the grain and on the bias, into ¼-inch-thick slices. Transfer the sliced steak to the bowl with the fish sauce mixture. Add the shallots, mint, cilantro, chile, and half of the rice powder; toss to combine. Transfer to a platter lined with cucumber slices. Serve, passing the remaining rice powder and toasted paprika mixture separately.

thai steak salad 6

chicken gyros

chicken gyros 14

Elly’s chicken gyros are so very popular for good reason – it’s a simple recipe with exceptional results. I, of course, can’t keep anything simple. After I made Elly’s recipe a few times, I noticed how similar it is to chicken fajitas – marinated chicken wrapped in flat bread with vegetables. My favorite chicken fajita recipe has a few tricks up its sleeve that I love, so I started incorporating those into Elly’s chicken gyro recipe.

chicken gyros 1

My favorite trick is saving a portion of the marinade (before mixing it with raw meat, of course) to stir into the cooked and shredded chicken, reviving any flavors that might be lost during cooking. Another portion of the marinade is stirred into the vegetables, brightening their flavor while the vinegar tames the onion’s bite. I also insist on taking advantage of everyone’s favorite cooking method – fire. I love grilling the chicken and then toasting the pita over the remaining coals.

chicken gyros 2

I’m fairly certain that traditionally, gyros aren’t topped with red peppers and feta, and the first few times I made this recipe, I served those on the side as part of Mediterranean Pepper Salad. But each time, more and more of the salad made its way onto the gyro, and eventually I stopped keeping them separate at all. With the vegetables right on top of the marinated grilled chicken and toasted flatbread, topped with tart white sauce, these were even more similar to chicken fajitas, except – dare I say – even better.

chicken gyros 5

One year ago: Croissants (Martha Stewart’s recipe)
Two years ago: Rhubarb Scones
Three years ago: Pita (cook these right on the grill instead of baking!)

Printer Friendly Recipe
Chicken Gyros (adapted from Elly Says Opa and from Cooks Illustrated’s Chicken Fajita recipe)

Greek yogurt is often sold in 7-ounce containers. If you don’t have extra plain yogurt around to use in the marinade, using 2 tablespoons of the Greek yogurt meant for the tzatziki recipe in your marinade won’t hurt your tzatziki at all.

Chicken:
¼ cup juice from 1 to 2 lemons
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
table salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1½ pounds), trimmed of fat, tenderloins removed, pounded to ½-inch thickness

Tzatziki:
½ cucumber, unpeeled, shredded
½ teaspoon kosher salt
7 ounces Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ tablespoon white wine vinegar
½ tablespoon minced fresh dill (optional)
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For serving:
½ red onion, quartered lengthwise and sliced thinly
1 large red bell pepper, quartered lengthwise and sliced thinly
½ cucumber, quartered lengthwise and sliced thinly
1 tomato, chopped medium, or 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
½ cup feta, crumbled
4-6 (6-inch) pocketless pitas

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, oil, garlic, vinegar, sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and ¾ teaspoon pepper. Reserve 3 tablespoons of the marinade in a small bowl; set aside. Add the yogurt and another teaspoon salt to the remaining marinade. Place the chicken in the marinade; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, using a large chimney starter, ignite 6 quarts of charcoal briquettes and burn until the coals are fully ignited, about 20 minutes. Empty the coals into the grill, spreading them in a single layer; place an additional 20 unlit coals over the lit coals on one side of grill to create a two-level fire. Position the grill grate over the coals and heat the grate for 5 minutes; scrape clean with a grill brush. (For a gas grill, light all burners and turn to high, cover, and heat the grill until hot, about 15 minutes; scrape the grill grate clean with a grill brush. Leave one burner on high heat while turning the remaining burner(s) down to medium.)

3. For the tzatziki: Place the cucumber in a strainer set over a medium bowl and add the salt. Set aside for at least 15 minutes to drain. Transfer the cucumber to a clean kitchen towel and squeeze dry. Combine the drained cucumber with the yogurt, lemon juice, vinegar, dill, garlic, and pepper.

4. Add 2 tablespoons of the reserved marinade to a bowl; add the sliced onion to the marinade. Set aside to lightly pickle while you prepare the remaining toppings. Mix all of the vegetables and feta into the bowl with the onion.

5. Remove the chicken from the marinade and place it smooth side down on the hotter side of the grill; discard the remaining marinade. Cook the chicken until it’s well browned, 4 to 5 minutes; using tongs, flip the chicken and continue grilling until it’s no longer pink when cut into with a paring knife or an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers about 160 degrees, 4 to 5 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate; cover to keep warm.

6. Working in 2 or 3 batches, place the pitas in a single layer on the cooler side of the now-empty grill and cook until warm and lightly browned, about 20 seconds per side (do not grill too long or the pitas will become brittle). As the pitas are done, wrap them in a kitchen towel or a large sheet of foil.

7. Slice the chicken into ¼-inch strips and toss with the remaining tablespoon of reserved marinade in another bowl; arrange the chicken and vegetables on a large platter and serve with the warmed pitas.

chicken gyros 8

grapefruit honey yogurt scones

grapefruit scones 5

Here’s what scones mean for me: Either I wake up on Saturday and immediately get out the butter, flour, and sugar so I can start mixing and making a big mess of the kitchen. Or, I wake up on Saturday and pilfer my time away on the internet, or, if I’m really smart, relaxing reading a book while scones go straight from the freezer to the oven. Either way, scones = Saturday = things that make me happy.

grapefruit scones 2

I wasn’t completely sure that cooked grapefruit would make me happy, but it turns out that grapefruit pieces in the middle of a scone create a nice pocket of juiciness. The honey flavor, which is often overpowered, was distinct. The yogurt keeps the scones tender, along with the butter and careful mixing of course.  I’m generally already happy on Saturday mornings, but good scones certainly don’t hurt.

grapefruit scones 6

One year ago: Eggs in Tomato Sauce
Two years ago: Anadama Bread
Three years ago: Baba Ghanoush, Falafel, and Hummus

Printer Friendly Recipe
Grapefruit, Honey, and Yogurt Scones (adapted from Joy the Baker)

Makes 6 scones

I used nonfat Greek yogurt, and it worked fine.

This was my first time segmenting citrus. It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. Branny has detailed instructions in her blog.

As always, you can freeze scones after shaping, before baking. Bake directly from the freezer, adding 2-3 minutes to the baking time.

½ cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) granulated sugar
1 grapefruit, zested, then segmented and coarsely chopped
1½ cups (7.2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into ¼-inch cubes

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven; heat to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. In a measuring cup, combine the yogurt, honey, and vanilla. In a small bowl, rub the sugar and the grapefruit zest together until the sugar is moist and fragrant.

2. Place the flour, 2 tablespoons of the sugar mixture, baking powder, baking soda and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine. Add the butter; process in 1-second pulses until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Pour the yogurt mixture over the flour mixture; pulse until the dough is crumbly. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and fold in the grapefruit pieces.

3. Turn the scone dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Form it into an 8 inch circle, about 1 inch thick. Use a knife or a bench scraper to cut the dough into six triangles. Place on the prepared baking sheet; top with the remaining grapefruit sugar.

4. Bake the scones for 15 to 17 minutes, until they’re golden brown. Allow to cool on the pan for 10 minutes before serving. These scones are best served the day they’re made.

grapefruit scones 4

carrot avocado salad

carrot avocado salad 3

The problem with just about every recipe that contains avocado is that there isn’t enough avocado. The only exception I can think of is guacamole, because it’s almost entirely avocado. My favorite way to eat avocado is on toast with a sprinkling of kosher salt.

carrot avocado salad 2

My usual way of eating it, however, is as an accent in which there’s just enough avocado so that most bites have a tiny portion. And all the bites without avocado are just sad.  And all the bites that do have avocado need more of it.

carrot avocado salad 1

And that is what I love about this salad – avocado is the main event, or at least it shares equal billing with the sweet caramelized carrots. It might sound like an unusual combination, but it works. The radishes add a nice touch as well, crisp and spicy. I’m pretty sure the only way I could like this salad more would be if I left out the carrots, pepper, cumin, olive oil, and radishes. And maybe added in some toast.

carrot avocado salad 4

One year ago: Spinach Artichoke Pizza
Two years ago: Tofu Mu Shu
Three years ago: Crockpot Pulled Pork

Printer Friendly Recipe
Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

4 servings

I prefer to use a regular olive oil to roast the carrots and extra virgin olive oil in the dressing.

1 pound carrots, scrubbed or peeled and cut into two-inch segments
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons lemon juice
4 radishes, chopped small
1 avocado, pitted and sliced

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. On a large baking sheet, toss the carrots with ¼ teaspoon salt, ⅛ teaspoon pepper, cumin, and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Roast for about 20 to 30 minutes, until the carrots are tender and browned.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and the remaining tablespoon olive oil. In a medium serving bowl, combine the carrots, avocado and radishes. Drizzle the vegetables with the dressing, adding more salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

carrot avocado salad 5

lemon bar comparison

front to back: Cooks Illustrated, Lebovitz

I don’t make lemon bars often, despite how much I love them. They feel so light and refreshing that I can’t convince my brain that these are, in fact, full of butter. So I end up eating a lot of them.  But if I don’t get to make them often, when I do get a chance to, they need to be perfect. I need the best recipe. And how do I know which is best without a side-by-side comparison?

I started with Cooks Illustrated as a trustworthy source of straightforward results. I chose Tartine’s lemon bars on brown butter shortbread because it was one of the first recipes in the book that caught my eye and is typical of their talent for taking a classic recipe up a notch. I also made David Lebovitz’s lemon bar recipe, which uses the whole lemon, pith and all.

Cooks Illustrated: As promised, this is a typical lemon bar recipe with no tricks up its sleeve. The crust is a combination of flour, powdered sugar, cornstarch, salt, and butter, which is combined in the food processor, pressed into a pan, and chilled before baking. The topping is eggs, sugar, flour, milk, salt, and lemon zest and juice. The topping is poured onto the hot crust and baked until firm.

Tartine: The browned butter shortbread in this recipe’s title is a misnomer, as it turns out that the crust is mixed like any other lemon bar crust, with no browning of the butter beforehand. Instead, the crust just browned in the oven, making it more of a butter crust that is browned instead of a crust that includes browned butter.  The filling is similar to Cooks Illustrated’s, except it contains no milk.

Lebovitz: David Lebovitz’s crust uses granulated instead of powdered sugar and melted butter instead of solid. Like the other recipes, this topping is based on sugar, eggs, and lemon, but instead of a small amount of flour, it incorporates cornstarch, as well as melted butter, which is not present in the other recipes. And most importantly, this recipe includes the entire lemon, pith in addition to juice and zest.

Comparing the lemon bars made me realize how important the crust is. I’d always focused on the filling before, wanting it as lemony and sour as I could stand, and I thought the crust was nothing more than a vehicle to hold up the filling. Now the crust seems like an important contrast to the tart filling. In fact, in many ways, the crust was the deciding factor in choosing preferences. The fillings were similar, but the crusts varied widely.

Cooks Illustrated: The all-important crust factor was the downfall of this recipe. The crust was dry and didn’t brown. I’m blaming this on the cornstarch. It’s probably important for structure, but it didn’t do the flavor any favors. The filling, on the other hand, was creamy and tart and wonderful. The top photo spotlights the CI bars in front, and you can clearly see their pale crust and luscious filling.

Tartine: This crust was substantial enough to hold up the filling and had just a bit of snap to it. It did, indeed, brown well, which gave it a nice flavor. The filling was lemony and smooth, although it  cratered when it was removed from the oven, resulting in a sunken middle.  I surprised myself by wanting a higher ratio of crust to filling.

Lebovitz: The granulated sugar lent this crust a great flavor, but it was crumbly and sometimes broke under the weight of the filling. The filling itself contained far too many chunks of lemon, although this might be a result of using a food processor instead of a blender to puree the lemon.  The topping was pockmarked like the moon (scroll down to see a picture of the tops of the three recipes).

I enjoyed the lemon squares from all three recipes, but I believe the one perfect bar would be made from Tartine’s crust and Cooks Illustrated’s filling.


left to right: Lebovitz, Tartine, Cooks Illustrated

One year ago: Stuffed Butterflied Leg of Lamb
Two years ago: Fresh Strawberry Scones
Three years ago: Asparagus and Arugula Salad with Cannellini Beans and Balsamic Vinegar

Printer Friendly Recipe
Lemon Bars on Brown Butter Shortbread (from Tartine)

For the crust:
½ cup (2 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
1½ cups (7.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup (2 ounces) pine nuts (optional)

For the filling:
½ cup (2½ ounces) all-purpose flour
2¼ cups (16 ounces) sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice
lemon zest, grated from 1 small lemon
6 large whole eggs
1 large egg yolk
pinch salt
confectioners’ sugar for topping (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

2. To make the crust: Sift the confectioners’ sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Stir in the flour. Add the butter and pine nuts (if using) and beat on low speed just until a smooth dough forms.

3. Press the dough evenly into the pan and allow it to come up about a ½ inch up the sides of the pan. Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. Bake the crust until it is a deep golden brown, about 25-35 minutes.

4. To make the filling: While the crust is baking, sift the flour into a mixing bowl and whisk in the sugar until blended. Add the lemon juice and zest and stir to dissolve the sugar. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the whole eggs and egg yolk with the salt. Add the eggs to the lemon juice mixture and whisk until well mixed.

5. Once the crust is ready, pour the filling directly into the pan. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees and bake just until the center of the custard is set, about 30 to 40 minutes.

6. Let cool completely on a wire rock, then cover and chill well before cutting. Cut into squares and dust the top with confectioners’ sugar, if desired. They will keep in an airtight container or well covered in the baking dish in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Printer Friendly Recipe
Perfect Lemon Bars (from Cooks Illustrated)

For the crust
1¾ cups (8.75 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
⅔ cup confectioners’ sugar, plus extra to decorate finished bars
¼ cup cornstarch
¾ teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 ½ sticks), at very cool room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces

Lemon filling
4 large eggs, beaten lightly
1⅓ cups (9.33 ounces) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest from 2 large lemons
⅔ cup lemon juice from 3 to 4 large lemons, strained
⅓ cup whole milk
⅛ teaspoon table salt

1. For the crust: Adjust an oven rack to middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 13-by-9-inch baking dish and line with one sheet parchment or wax paper. Dot the paper with butter, then lay a second sheet crosswise over it.

2. Pulse the flour, confectioners’ sugar, cornstarch, and salt in the food processor workbowl fitted with the steel blade. Add the butter and process to blend, 8 to 10 seconds, then pulse until the mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse meal, about three 1-second bursts. (To do this by hand, mix flour, confectioners’ sugar, cornstarch, and salt in medium bowl. Freeze the butter and grate it on the large holes of a box grater into the flour mixture. Toss the butter pieces to coat. Rub pieces between your fingers for a minute, until the flour turns pale yellow and coarse.) Sprinkle the mixture into the lined pan and press firmly with fingers into an even, ¼-inch layer over the entire pan bottom and about ½-inch up the sides. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, then bake until the crust is golden brown, about 20 minutes.

3. For the filling: Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, sugar, and flour in a medium bowl, then stir in the lemon zest, juice, milk, and salt to blend well.

4. To finish the bars: Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Stir the filling mixture to reblend; pour into the warm crust. Bake until the filling feels firm when touched lightly, about 20 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack; cool to near room temperature, at least 30 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board, fold the paper down, and cut into serving-size bars, wiping knife or pizza cutter clean between cuts, as necessary. Sieve confectioners’ sugar over bars, if desired.

Printer Friendly Recipe
Whole Lemon Bars (reformatted slightly but not actually changed from David Lebovitz)

I needed 2 lemons to make 6 ounces of lemon. I trim off the knobby ends when making whole lemon desserts.

Crust:
1 cup (4.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) melted unsalted butter
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Lemon topping:
1 lemon (about 6 ounces), organic or unsprayed
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 large eggs, room temperature
4 teaspoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
Optional: powdered sugar, for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line an 8-inch square with foil.

2. For the crust: In a medium bowl, mix the flour, sugar, salt, melted butter, and vanilla, stirring just until smooth. Press the batter into the bottom of the pan, using your hands or a small offset spatula to get it as level as possible. Bake the crust for 25 minutes, or until it’s deep-golden brown.

3. For the topping: While the crust is cooking, cut the lemon in half, remove the seeds, and cut it into chunks. Put the chunks of lemon in a food processor or blender along with the sugar and lemon juice, and let it run until the lemon is completely broken up. Add the eggs, cornstarch, melted butter, and blend until almost smooth. (A few tiny bits of lemon pieces are normal and encouraged.)

4. When the crust comes out of the oven, reduce the oven temperature to 300ºF (150ºC). Pour the lemon filling over the hot crust and bake for 25 minutes or just until the filling stops jiggling and is barely set.

5. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Once cool, carefully lift out the bars grasping the foil. Cut the bars into squares or rectangles. Sift powdered sugar over the top just before serving, if desired.

Storage: The bars will keep in an airtight container at room temperature up to three days. You can freeze the lemon bars as well for up to one month, letting them come to room temperature before serving.

left to right: Cooks Illustrated, Tartine, Lebovitz

quinoa with salmon, feta, and dill

I imagine that most people have a set of ten, twenty, or maybe even thirty dinners that they regularly make. Some people might try a new recipe every couple of weeks. But for the most part, I suspect that dinner on any given night is something familiar.

Then there are a class of people who have so many recipes they want to try that they know there simply aren’t enough nights in the week, month, year, life. Every time an old favorite is made is an opportunity lost to try something new. Not that I don’t have a rotation; it’s just that meals are considered on the rotation if they’re made only once or twice a year. Something in heavy rotation might be made six or seven times per year.

This was a surprise addition to my rotation. If I didn’t think we’d like it, I wouldn’t have made it, but I didn’t know we’d like it as much as we did. Dave compared it sushi bowls, with the grain base, fish, and cucumbers, but the lemon, dill, and feta take it in a different direction.

Of course, it takes more than good flavor to be added to my rotation – dishes have to be healthy, which means no refined carbs, limited oil and butter, and plenty of protein and vegetables. Recipes also have to be easy if there’s any hope of me making them often, and the limited amount of ingredient prep required here can be accomplished while the quinoa cooks. Not only have I made this three times in the last year, I’ve made it twice in the last month – heavy rotation indeed.

One year ago: Shrimp Burgers
Two years ago: Roasted Baby Artichokes
Three years ago: Double (or Triple) Chocolate Cookies

Printer Friendly Recipe
Quinoa with Salmon, Feta, and Dill (adapted from Apple a Day)

Serves 6

You can use also fresh salmon and cook it either on the stove or in the oven. Kelsey has directions for stovetop cooking. If you use fresh salmon instead of smoked, increase the salt in the quinoa cooking water to ½ teaspoon.

While you can serve this immediately after mixing, it will be better if you give the flavors some time to meld, even just 15 minutes. This is particularly true if you’re using salty smoked salmon.

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
¼ teaspoon salt
1 lemon, juice and zest
8 ounces smoked salmon, chopped small
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
½ cucumber, quartered lengthwise and sliced ¼-inch thick
½ cup feta cheese, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh dill, minced

1. Place the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer; rinse until the water no longer foams. In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add the quinoa, salt, and the zest of the lemon. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, turn the heat off; let the quinoa set, still covered, for another 5 minutes. Drain off any unabsorbed water.

2. Squeeze the juice of the lemon over the quinoa, then mix in the salmon and remaining ingredients. Serve immediately or refrigerate overnight.

Oh yeah, I used red quinoa!  Regular quinoa will work every bit as well though.