Monday, April 26, 2010

Meyer Lemon Drop Ginger Pound Cake

So there I was corralling my child in Whole Foods when I spotted them from afar. They were all sitting there in a big pile like a mountain of orange jewels begging me to dump as many as possible into my bag. I could feel myself start to salivate as I moved closer to the citrus goodness that is the very-difficult-to-find-in-a-middle-state, Meyer Lemon. I felt like a pirate about to capture a bounty of gold after searching for it on the open sea for way too long. I had no idea what I was going to do with the lemons but I threw reason out the window and grabbed about ten of them.

I kept those gorgeous lemons sitting on my counter for about a week trying to figure out how I was going to use them while simultaneously admiring their simple beauty and the fact that I even had them in my possession. I decided to use those lemons in pound cake but I also wanted to throw in another ingredient that would give it a little bite. Enter candied ginger. The combination worked wonderfully together and the flavor truly did pop with the delectable combination of ginger and lemon intermingling with butter and sugar. If you come across Meyer lemons, rush home immediately and make this! Enjoy! AJ


2 tablespoons whole milk
1 tablespoon sour cream
3 large eggs at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
13 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons finely chopped candied ginger
1/4 cup Meyer lemon juice
1 tablespoon Meyer lemon zest

1/3 cup Meyer lemon juice
2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup granulated sugar


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a 8x4 inch loaf pan with PAM.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and mix with a fork. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, whip the butter and sugar for a few minutes. Add the eggs, milk, sour cream and vanilla until thoroughly combined. Add the sugar, lemon juice and zest and mix until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Fold in the candied ginger.

Scrape the batter into a prepared loaf pan or 4 small loaf pans. The smaller loaf pans are what I used. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean.

For the glaze:

While the cakes are baking, combine the granulated sugar and juice in a small pan over medium heat until it dissolves completely. Let cool and then add the powdered sugar. While the loafs are still hot, put them on a wire rack set over a sheet pan. Pour the glaze all over the load and let it sit until completely cool.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Spiced Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Carrot cake is one for those recipes that is fun to play around with until you find that perfect combination that makes your palate sing. Before I sat down to put together the ingredients for this recipe, I would have never fathomed using olive oil in place of the vegetable oil that is typically used in carrot cake. Then I was thinking about the New York Times Olive Oil Granola recipe I made a few months ago and thought, if it worked for that, it just might work for this. I am really glad I made that granola and thought of that for this because the results were fantastic! The oil is so flavorful and rich and it provides the perfect complement to the fruit, nuts and spices in this recipe just as it did with the granola.

To top the cake off, it has a cream cheese frosting with maple syrup and bourbon added in that really takes this cake into the big leagues. What is it about bourbon and sweets? I am constantly blown away by how well the two go together! If I had more time, I might have scraped a vanilla bean into the frosting for a little more visual interest and flavor punch. You might also consider putting a little lemon or orange zest into the frosting, rum perhaps. You can also take heavy whipping cream, whip it until light and airy and fold it in to the cream cheese frosting to give it a little more air. The possibilities are endless and so much fun to try. Have fun and enjoy!

Recipe adapted from The New Best Recipe, from the editors of Cook's Illustrated


2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon soda
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 pound carrots (6 to 7 medium), peeled
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped, toasted walnuts or pecans
1 cup raisins

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, softened but still cool
6 tablespoons butter, softened but still
1 heaping tablespoon sour cream
4 tablespoons bourbon
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar


Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13x9-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt in a medium bowl. Lightly mix in nuts and raisins until they are coasted and separate easily; set aside.

In a food processor, shred the carrots to the bowl with the dry ingredients and set aside. Wipe out the food processor and fit with the blade attachment. Process both sugars with the eggs until frothy and thoroughly combined, about 20 seconds. With the machine running, add the oil through the feed tube in a steady stream. Process until the mixture is light in color and well-emulsified, about 20 seconds longer. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl. Stir in the carrots and dry ingredients until incorporated and no streaks of flour remain. Pour into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the pan from front to back halfway through the baking time. Cool about 2 hours on a wire rack.

For the frosting: When the cake is cool, mix the cream cheese, butter, sour cream, vanilla, maple syrup and bourbon in a mixer until combined. Scrape down the work bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the confectioners' sugar and process until smooth.

Spread the frosting on the cake, cut and serve.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Spring Asparagus Tart

I used to detest asparagus. Before the age of 30, those little spears caused anxiety because growing up, my Mom boiled and served them without salt or pepper. Please do not ever do this to your own children or they, like me, will hate it for a very long time. A few years ago, my Mom redeemed herself by coming up with the idea to throw the asparagus in a bag with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic and grill it. The results were fantastic and since then my hate for asparagus turned into unadulterated love.

So, a couple of weeks ago I was surfing my favorite blogs and I came across a recipe on Cupcakes and Cashmere for an amazing Asparagus Gruyere Tart. I am huge fan of this fashionista and cooking goddess all rolled into one and this recipe is no exception. Another note here is that I usually stay away from Martha Stewart recipes since they tend to ask for ingredients that require a special trip to a special store which especially annoys me. This tart is different. Simple, elegant and very tasty. I made a few changes to the preparation because I love that grilled, slightly burnt, garlic taste. Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart website


Flour, for work surface
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed in refrigerator overnight
5 1/2 ounces (2 cups) Gruyere cheese, shredded
1 1/2 pounds medium or thick asparagus
5 - 6 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
Olive oil
Salt and pepper


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Preheat your grill to 400/500 degrees. Snap the bottoms of the asparagus off and place in a big ziplock bag with a liberal amount of olive oil, salt, pepper and the garlic. Set aside while you prepare the pastry.

On a floured surface, roll the puff pastry into a 16-by-10-inch rectangle. Trim uneven edges. Place pastry on a baking sheet brushed with olive oil. With a sharp knife, lightly score pastry dough 1 inch in from the edges to mark a rectangle. Using a fork, pierce dough inside the markings at 1/2-inch intervals. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes.

While the pastry is baking, place the marinated asparagus on the grill so none of it overlaps. Turn the spears once or twice while grilling. Grill about 15/20 minutes or until a black crust appears on several sides of the spears.

Remove pastry shell from oven, brush with thin layer of olive oil and sprinkle with Gruyere. Take the grilled asparagus and fit crosswise inside the tart shell; arrange in a single layer over Gruyere, alternating ends and tips. Place tart back in the oven for about ten minutes to melt the gruyere. Remove and serve immediately.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Sinful, my darlings. Absolutely sinful. That is the word my Mother so aptly used to describe these treats and I have to agree. On a side note, I think I should get some extra props for writing this post with a little dog resting on my arms. Ever type on a laptop with a dog on your arms? Didn't think so and let me tell you, it's a special trick.

Anyway, back to the blondies. I made these after a particularly trying day in single parent land with a very willful little man testing every last ounce of patience I had in me. This is why cooking is so wonderful. I was at the end of my rope, felt myself starting to lose it and I did what any sensible yet strung out Mom would do in this situation, I took out a bowl, butter and sugar and figured out what to make.

What is the comfort treat that only tastes better with more alcohol poured into it? Blondies baby, blondies all the way. I immediately broke out the Bourbon and chocolate chips. Since I was in a rebel type of mood, I also brought out the coconut just for kicks and giggles. All into a bowl, mixed with vigor to get the stress out, hit it with the Bourbon, took a swig for myself, into the baking dish and waited rather impatiently.

If I could make a suggestion at this juncture, it would be this; when those blondies come out of the oven hot and steamy, cut yourself a piece, throw on some vanilla ice cream and top with coffee or Bourbon. Eat and listen to the angels singing. Enjoy!


Adapted from Baking, From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan

2 heaping cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup Bourbon
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chunks
1 package Heath Toffee Bits
1 cup coarsely chopped and toasted pecans
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and spray PAM into a 9x13 baking dish.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Beat the butter until light and smooth. Add both sugars and beat for another 3 minutes, or until well incorporated. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in the vanilla and Bourbon. Reduce the mixer to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing until just incorporated. Do not overmix! Using a rubber spatula, stir in the chips, nuts, toffee and coconut. Scrape the mixture into the baking dish and smooth out as best you can.

Bake for about 50 minutes with an electric oven. If you have a gas oven, starting checking around 40 minutes and remove when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the top is a honey brown. Transfer the pan to a rack cool for about 15 minutes, cut and serve.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Garrett Popcorn

Spring is here in full force and nothing excites a Chicagoan more than being able to play outside after a long and bitterly cold winter. So, we decided to go to Navy Pier, play at the Children's Museum and walk around among the throngs of people soaking up the sunshine. The fun came to a screeching halt on that little walk when my little man spotted the Sea Dog motor boats and immediately wanted to go on a ride. Unfortunately, they would not let us on because my little guy is, well, little. Do you know what it is like to have a child dying to go on the speed boats, just to get rejected at the gate because of a height requirement? Not pretty folks, not pretty at all.

That brings us to this post on Garrett Popcorn. What to do when a four year old is losing his mind because he can't go on the speed boats? One of two things, either have a sedative on hand that would knock a horse out or go get Garrett Popcorn stat and pray that they don't have the usual horrendous line out the door to get said popcorn. Yesterday, it seems that although the Gods were hating me with that height requirement, they redeemed themselves with the very short line at the Garrett store. For those of you who have never had Garrett Popcorn, know that it is a Chicago institution and every location always has a ridiculous line around the block. So we were able to get a bag of the caramel crisp and all was right with the world.

As for the taste of Garrett Popcorn, it is highly addictive. The caramel popcorn I usually have has an artificial taste to it along the lines of what I would imagine plastic would taste like with store bought caramel strewn on it. Garrett is different. The caramel has a rich buttery quality mixed with salty undertones. Our bag also came to us warm, bonus! You really have no idea how much you are eating until you look down and all you see is a butter stained brown bag in front of you with a bunch of sweet buttery caramel encrusted fingers to lick. So go ahead and lick away with wild abandon and use that time to reminisce of days gone by when all you had to worry about was missing the motor boat and licking sweet, sticky finger tips. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


It is rare for me to find a piece of fried dough that I don't like. Beignets are no exception and apparently that goes for every other red-blooded person I happened to mention these little treats to. I have a few friends who knew what Beignets are and there were two memories that stick out, one was eating them while traveling in Africa and the other during time spent in New Orleans.

The first memory of Africa had me a little worried; somehow getting them abroad automatically ups the ante for the at-home cook trying to replicate a classic. I went ahead anyway and he loved them. I asked how they compared to the African version and he said just the fact that there were no rocks, dirt or other foreign substances on the paper I was serving them on automatically put them ahead of those he had overseas. Wow, talk about rustic!

The second memory was from a co-worker who spent time in New Orleans where they apparently serve these up like candy. I have never been to the bayou but I have been told that beignets are typically served with their famous deeply rich chicory coffee. The thought of strong coffee and these airy little sweet treats almost makes me want to jump out of bed in the morning for breakfast! Enjoy! AJ

Recipe adapted from Epicurious


3/4 cup whole milk
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons sour cream
4 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
3 1/2 cups bread flour plus extra for flouring work surface
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Peanut oil for frying

Heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until small bubbles form at the surface. Remove from the heat, add the buttermilk and sour cream and then pour into a stand mixer bowl. Whisk in the yeast and the sugar and set aside for 5 minutes.

Add the flour, baking soda, and salt, and mix on low speed, using a dough hook, until the dry ingredients are moistened, 3 to 4 minutes. Increase the mixer speed to medium and continue mixing until the dough forms a loose ball and is still quite wet and tacky, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set the dough aside in a draft-free spot for 1 hour.

Pour enough peanut oil into a large pot to fill it to a depth of 3 inches and bring to a temperature of 375°F over medium heat (this will take about 20 minutes). Line a plate with paper towels and set aside.

Lightly flour your work surface and turn the dough out on it. Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour, gently press to flatten, fold it in half, and gently tuck the ends under to create a rough-shaped round. Dust again and roll the dough out into a ½-inch- to ¹/³ -inch-thick circle. Let the dough rest for 1 minute before using a chef's knife, a bench knife, or a pizza wheel to cut the dough into 1 1/2-inch squares (you should get about 48).

Gently stretch a beignet lengthwise and carefully drop it into the oil. Add a few beignets (don't overcrowd them, otherwise the oil will cool down and the beignets will soak up oil and be greasy) and fry until puffed and golden brown, turning them often with a slotted spoon, for 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to the prepared plate to drain while you cook the rest. Serve while still warm, buried under a mound of confectioners' sugar, with hot coffee on the side.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Easter/Spring Cupcakes

Why do little boys love dirt? I am sure every Mother of a boy has witnessed their little darling's fascination with rolling in it, eating it, thrashing through it with their bikes and when it is wet, well, game on! Note, when it comes to boys, the messier and more dangerous, the better!

The weather has been warm here in Chicago which means my little guy has been in all of his dirt glory! When life hands you a boy, you might as well just jump right in and roll in the dirt with the little bruiser. In that spirit, you will notice three cupcakes in the pictures, one of which has ground up Oreos covering it to make it look like dirt with the addition of a gummy worm. Not only did my son love these cupcakes, I also brought a few into the office and yes, you guessed it, I had grown men rushing in to get the dirt cupcakes with their eyes lighting up like little boys with, "Oh cool, dirt!" Apparently, not a whole lot changes with with these guys when they become men and I would never want it any other way!

Please also note that since it is almost Easter, I made bird's nests with coconut and a few candy eggs on top along with the water looking cupcakes with a peep as the best edible replica of a duck that I could find. A little more fun that the usual cupcakes and just as delicious! Enjoy!

Cupcake recipe adapted from Cook's Country


3 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) salted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 1/4 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl until combined. Whisk eggs and vanilla in large bowl until well blended. Pour sugar into eggs while mixing. Mix in butter then buttermilk until all fully combined. Add in dry ingredients and gently combine with a whisk or rubber spatula. Mix until all lumps are gone but do not overmix!

Fill cupcake liners about two-thirds full and bake for 18 to 22 minutes until toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

Frosting recipe adapted from Tasty Kitchen


1 cup whole milk
5 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup salted butter
1 cup granulated sugar (not powdered sugar!)


In a saucepan, whisk flour into milk over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens. Remove from heat and let it cool to room temperature. (Do not skip this step as I did the first time, it will make piping/spreading difficult and runny) Stir in vanilla.

While the mixture is cooling, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Then add the cooled milk/flour/vanilla mixture and beat until it all combines and resembles whipped cream.