Saturday, January 21, 2012

Best Damn Meyer Lemon Cake

I walked into our neighborhood store last weekend, and as I went to pick up a few fruits, I noticed a feeding frenzy in the produce department. Apparently, one of the great balancing acts of nature is that the brightly hued citrus fruits that seem to scream summer and sunshine actually come into their peak in the middle of the grey fog of winter. And to celebrate citrus season, the store had set out sampling stations of several different varieties, and the denizens of Portland were flocking to the colorful fruits like British sailors deprived of Vitamin C. Having never heard of some these fruits before (cocktail oranges? Persian limes?), I decided to brave the mob and try out some of the varieties myself. As I neared the end of the tasting line, my lips puckered by some of the tarter fruits, I spotted a recipe for something called the “Best Damn Meyer Lemon Cake”. Now that I knew what a Meyer lemon was, I figured I’d give this recipe a try.

Though I’m admittedly not a connoisseur of lemon cakes, I thought this cake was pretty darn good – definitely the “best” I’ve ever had. It was also quite easy to make. The toughest part was the many hours that the cake has to rest before cutting into it. (Ok I admit, I may have sampled a small sliver before the wait was up – just to compare the before and after, mind you.)

So, without further ado, here’s my adaptation for the “Best Damn Meyer Lemon Cake” originally featured in Saveur magazine Issue 110 and brought to my oven via New Season’s Market recipes.

Ingredients and directions

Oil spray or 1 T butter

9-inch loaf pan

2T fine dry bread crumbs (I used Panko that I had on hand)

11/2 C all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

¾ tsp. salt

8 T melted butter

2 eggs

¾ C white sugar

½ C milk

2T lemon extract (yes, that sounds like a lot, but you will need it)

Zest of two Meyer lemons

½ C blanched almonds, ground to a fine powder

Spray or butter loaf pan

Dust with bread crumbs, and shake out excess

Pre-heat oven to 350 deg F

Sift flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl

In a separate bowl, whisk together butter and sugar until combined

Add eggs one at a time, whisking after each addition

Gently whisk together flour mixture, egg mixture, and milk till well-combined

Add lemon extract and whisk till combined

Fold in lemon zest and almond meal

Transfer the deliciously yellow batter to prepared loaf pan, and bake in pre-heated over for 50-60 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean


Juice of 2 Meyer lemons

1/3 C white sugar

Heat together over medium flame until sugar is dissolved. Do not boil.

Once cake is done, prepare glaze, and pour immediately over hot cake

Allow cake to absorb glaze fully

Turn cake out onto a plate, cover with plastic wrap once fully cooled, and allow cake to rest for 10-24 hours at room temperature before serving -- it does in fact taste much better after the rest

Black bean and corn soup

As a vegetarian, I have had to entertain numerous questions from my meat-eating counterparts – ‘when did you decide to go vegetarian?’ (at birth); ‘don’t you wish you could taste this chicken?’ (No!); ‘is it the smell or the texture that you don’t like?’ (can’t really say, because, like I said, I’ve never eaten meat); and of course, ‘aren’t you missing out on nutrients?’ The answer to this last question is that it is entirely possible to obtain good nutrition from a vegetarian diet, provided that you pay some attention to choosing and pairing your foods. One thing to pay particular attention to is your protein intake. Proteins are an essential part of your diet and your bodies and are built up of combinations of 20 different amino acids. 10 of these 20 amino acids are termed “essential”, because our bodies cannot make them, and they must be acquired in the diet. The interesting thing about protein is that if your diet is lacking in any particular amino acid, it can wreak havoc on your body regardless of how much of the other amino acids you consume. While animal sources of protein like meat and eggs contain all the essential amino acids, vegetarian sources of protein often contain only some of the essential 10. This led to the nutrition concept of pairing complementary sources of protein, like beans and rice, for instance, to create a “complete” protein source. While traditionally people were advised to consume these so-called complementary proteins together, studies now show that they need not be consumed at the same meal. You can space them apart even by weeks, as long as you’re careful to consume a variety of foods in your daily diet.

Regardless of this change in nutrition wisdom, there are some foods that pair so well together that I almost always end up combining them in recipes, anyhow. One such pairing is that of black beans and corn – another example of complementary proteins. In my house, we eat this combination at least once a week – on pizza, on tacos, or simply tossed together into a hearty and spicy winter soup. So read on for my recipe for Black bean and corn soup – a perfect complement to chilly winter’s evenings.

You will need:

2 T olive oil

1 red onion, finely diced

4 large pods of garlic, finely minced

2 tomatoes, diced

1 T coriander powder

1 T cumin powder

2 T red chili powder (optional)

1 T cumin seeds

1 can reduced-sodium black beans (or 1 C black beans, soaked overnight and pressure-cooked until soft)

1 C corn kernels

3 C water

Juice of ½ lemon

Salt to taste

2 tsp corn starch

For garnish:

1 T chopped cilantro

1/4 avocado, sliced

Heat oil in a pan, and add cumin seeds

Once they start to sizzle, add onions and garlic, and sautée until onions are translucent

Add tomatoes and some salt, and cook on medium-high until tomatoes are wilted

Add all spices, and sautée for 2 more minutes

Toss in black beans beans and corn, and add water

Add more salt, as required, and boil uncovered for about 10 minutes, until beans and corn are somewhat softened

Add corn starch and boil for an additional 3-5 minutes to thicken soup

Squeeze in lemon juice and take soup off heat

Ladle into a big bowl, top with chopped cilantro and avocado slices

Serve hot with toasted pita bread

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Pumpkin fritters

Don’t you hate it when you buy a specialty ingredient to find that the package contains just a bit more than what your recipe calls for? Not enough to double your recipe, but just enough that you would feel guilty about tossing the rest away?
I can think of many such ingredients that periodically appear in my pantry. One such recent irritant was the pumpkin puree that I purchased to make pumpkin brownies for our Thanksgiving meal. While these were turned out to be delightful, they actually called for far less pumpkin puree than I thought they would, leaving me with an entire can of an ingredient that I rarely use. This led to the creation of the pumpkin banana bread, which was also a pleasant addition to my kitchen. But I still found myself left with about a cup of this lovely orange pumpkin puree, begging to be incorporated into another recipe. So, over one of the surprisingly few rainy weekends we’ve had so far, I came up with this recipe for pumpkin fritters.

After a little experimentation, these fritters were deemed a smashing success. The slight nuttiness of the pumpkin combines very well with the heat of the Indian spices. If you can find it, I highly recommend the addition of the dried fenugreek leaves. They are pleasantly bitter and add a nice depth to the flavor of these fritters. If you can’t find them, a half cup of diced red onions should make an acceptable substitute.

Serve these with ketchup or an aioli sauce and a hot cup of tea on a cold, rainy day.

Pumpkin fritters

Makes about a dozen fritters


1 C pumpkin puree

1 C all-purpose flour

1 tsp garam masala

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp cumin seeds

3 T dried fenugreek leaves (Kasuri methi) OR ½ C diced red onions

1 egg

Vegetable or canola oil for frying fritters

To make the fritters

Sift dry ingredients together

Add pumpkin puree and egg, and stir until smooth

Keep refrigerated until ready to use, upto a day

Heat oil in a skillet for frying the fritters

To test if oil is hot enough, drop a tiny ball of dough into the oil. It should float to the top immediately, without sinking much. At this point, reduce heat to medium-low

Drop fritter dough by the spoonful into oil

Fry until evenly deep brown on all sides*

Drain briefly on paper towels, and serve immediately

*If you find that the outsides are browning faster than the insides can cook, reduce the size of your fritters, and let oil cool a little before continuing.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Chocolat chaud au Nutella*

Quite frequently in the winter months, as I’m winding down for bed with a nice book, I’m struck with the urge to drink some hot chocolate. However, as soon as I make the hot chocolate and have my first sip, I realize that I’m only enamored with the idea of hot chocolate, more than the actual drinking and enjoyment of it. In reality, I often find hot chocolate cloying and flat, at the same time.

Now, there are certainly exceptions to this rule. I recently came across a shop called Cacao in downtown Portland. Attached to the Heathman hotel, this pint-sized shop carries an amazing collection of small batch chocolates from around the world. They also serve an extraordinary hot chocolate, called the Everyday Hot Chocolate. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, definitely stop in for one of these in either a milk or dark chocolate version.

Another exception to my hot chocolate aversion is this recipe that combines hazelnuts and chocolate. Any chocophile knows that this flavor combination is a marriage made in heaven and not to be tampered with. If you don’t have some in your pantry already, go pick up a bottle of this heaven that comes packaged in the guise of a spread called Nutella, and the next time a craving for hot chocolate strikes you, do give this simple recipe below a try.

Nutella hot chocolate

Stir together one heaping tablespoon of Nutella with 1 C hot milk

You can use any milk you like, but my preference is always skim milk

Top with whipped cream, if desired, and enjoy by a roaring fire

*I know Nutella is Italian, but I always associate it with France, probably because of the copious amounts of Crepes au Nutella that we consumed while roaming the streets of Paris -- I have never seen such gigantic bottles of Nutella as I did at the roadside creperies there. This is probably why I feel compelled to give this post a French name, so play along, would ya.