Category Archives: recipe

Double Chocolate Banana Bread

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It was 70° on Saturday. Then on Sunday it turned cold and misty. And today it was colder still with a forecast for snow. It’s springtime in Chicago. A season that always seems intent on doubling back on itself a few times before it settles in for good.

It’s a good day for simple comforting baked goods. Like this double chocolate banana bread.

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This comes from Deb of Smitten Kitchen, so I’m pretty sure the whole internet already knows about it. But if somehow you missed it, I’m here to testify to its greatness.

Chocolate and banana are a classic pairing–from frozen chocolate covered bananas to banana and nutella filled crepes. I’ve made plenty of banana breads with chocolate chips, but this was the first time I made one where the cake (er, bread) itself was laden with cocoa powder.

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It’s a simple one-bowl job, as easy as any other basic banana bread. And it might be even easier to love. It’s rich and chocolatey but the banana flavor really shines through.

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It’s sweet enough for dessert, but there’s fruit in it (three whole bananas!) so you can justify having it for breakfast as well. I made it in three mini loaf pans and put two of the resulting loaves in the mail to be a birthday treat for my sister-in-law in Kansas.

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That left one little loaf for me, which wasn’t nearly enough.

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Double Chocolate Banana Bread

Adapted from Deb Perelman at Smitten Kitchen

This chocolate banana bread is a snap to make. You’ll want to use cocoa powder that is labeled Dutch-process (sometimes called alkalized) rather than natural cocoa powder here, the latter is acidic and can change the chemical reaction. I doubt that most people have mini loaf pans (I got mine from King Arthur Flour and I can no longer find them on the site, but they’re similar to these), so I’m providing instructions for one standard (9″ x 5″) loaf pan. If you choose to make the mini loaves, they take 30-40 minutes in the oven.


3 overripe bananas (the darker the better)
1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 oz, 115 g) unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup (5 oz, 145 g) brown sugar (light or dark)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)
1 cup (4 1/2 oz, 125 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 cup (6 oz, 170 g) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with nonstick spray.

In a large bowl, mash the bananas with a fork. Add the brown sugar, melted butter, egg, and vanilla extract and stir until combined. Place the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in a large fine mesh strainer and sift over the wet ingredients (cocoa powder has a tendency to be lumpy, so resist the temptation to skip the sifting). Stir in the espresso powder (if using) and the chocolate chips or chocolate pieces.

Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about one hour or until a toothpick placed into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before inverting it onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

Keeps, well-wrapped at room temperature, for up to 5 days.

Yield: One 9 x 5 loaf or 3 mini loaves

Baked Sweet Potato with Marinated Feta, Olives, and Red Peppers

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This dish is perfectly balanced between hot and cold, sweet and salty, creamy and crunchy, bright and mellow.

It’s a spin on a stuffed baked potato, but this time it’s a sweet potato and the filling takes a turn for the Mediterranean with salty olives and tangy feta and crunchy sweet bell peppers and red onion all drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with mint.

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It’s a dish I used to make all the time, but had somehow sort of forgotten about as I took on new cooking projects. I was reminded of it when I was leafing through some of the older residents of my cookbook shelves, looking for inspiration and little gems on their pages I might previously have overlooked. When I saw this recipe when I was flipping through Diana Henry’s wonderfully titled cookbook Crazy Water Pickled Lemons, I remembered just how much I loved it and knew I had to make it right away.

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It’s a dish that feels perfect for the cusp of spring. It relies on produce that is easily findable in winter, but manages to combine them in surprising ways that wake up the palate and feel fresh and new. And it uses so many colors that it’s a feast for the eyes as well.

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And it could barely be easier. You throw the sweet potatoes in the oven to bake for about an hour, and while they’re roasting, you chop some olives, some red pepper, some red onion, some mint. You squeeze some lemon, crumble some feta, toast some spices, toss it all together in a bowl and drizzle in some olive oil and let everything marinate while the sweet potatoes finish baking.

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Then, when the sweet potatoes come out of the oven, you split them open and pile in the minty marinated feta-olive-red-pepper mixture and viola, you’ve got a meal. Or I suppose it could also make a pretty spectacular side dish, if you’re the organized, fancy sort of person whose meals tend to include main dishes and side dishes.

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Baked Sweet Potatoes with Marinated Feta, Olives, and Red Peppers

Liberally adapted from Diana Henry’s Crazy Water Pickled Lemons

I love this dish so much. It combines familiar flavors in an unexpected way and the combination just works. If you’re an olive hater, you can leave them out and still have a great dish. The amounts here are pretty flexible given the variable sizes of sweet potatoes. I try to look for ones that are on the medium-small side rather than the huge ones that so often populate the grocery store islands. If all you can find are huge ones, you can certainly cut them in half after roasting and pile the feta-olive-red pepper mixture on top. 

2 medium sweet potatoes
4 ounces (113 g, about half a block) feta cheese, roughly crumbled
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1/2 medium bell pepper, thinly sliced and chopped into 1 inch segments
1/4 medium red onion, thinly sliced and chopped into 1 inch segments
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
small bunch of fresh mint, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Scrub the sweet potatoes under cold water to remove any stray dirt, place them on the foil lined baking sheet (no need to x or prick the skin) and bake for 45-60 minutes (depending on size) until they feel tender to the touch.

While the potatoes are baking, add the chopped red onion to a medium bowl and pour the lemon juice over it and let it sit for a few minutes. This will help to take the bite out of the raw onion. Toast the fennel and coriander seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat for about 1 minute, or until fragrant. Crush the seeds in a mortar and pestle and add them to the bowl. Add the olives, bell pepper, mint and olive oil to the bowl and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate until the sweet potatoes are finished baking.

When the sweet potatoes come out of the oven, put them on plates, slice them open lengthwise, and divide the feta-olive-red pepper mixture between them. Eat.

Yield: Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a side (easily scaled up or down)

Rosemary Pine Nut Cookies

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These cookies are so delicate. They are crisp and buttery and nutty with complex sweetness from the honey and subtle herbaceousness from the rosemary. They are cookies for grown ups.

And I suppose Dan and I are something like grown ups now. After ten years (!) together, four of them married, we’re looking at real estate and trying to make sense not only of mortgage rates and Chicago’s property taxes, but also of a condo association’s financial reserves and how soon a building is likely to need more tuckpointing and if the fire escapes are up to code and if there’s a weight limit on dogs.

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It’s an exciting time. But also a scary one. We want to make wise decisions. We don’t want to get in over our heads. But we are in our thirties and we’re really ready to have our own laundry–the kind where we don’t need quarters. But even in this affordable city, the numbers involved are big and the enormity of the decision can feel overwhelming.

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Sometimes I just want to retreat back into a world I know. One with tea and cookies. Especially these cookies.

They come from Nancy Silverton’s Mozza Cookbook, a wonderful collection of antipasti and pastas and pizzas and lovely Italian dolce. I took some liberties with the method for putting them together to make the whole process less fussy. Silverton instructs you to knead the dough and roll it out and cut it out with cookie cutters, and because I was feeling a little lazy, I opted to streamline things and just roll them into a log and slice and bake them.

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Here’s a tip: any cut-out cookie recipe can be simplified into a slice-and-bake job if you want the flavor of the cookies without the hassle of rolling pins and cookie cutters and re-chilling and re-rolling the dough.

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I also skipped putting rosemary sprigs on each cookie, because as much as I love rosemary, I wasn’t in love with the idea of the texture of it with the cookie. In my version, the rosemary is more subtle and less visible than in Silverton’s original. (If you want to see the original version of the cookies, Tim wrote about them on his awesome blog a few years ago.) But I was very happy with the way these subtle and delicate cookies turned out.

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The way I did it, I also ended up with way too much pine nut nougatine–I must have used a lighter hand with it than Silverton does. I’ve cut it in half in the recipe below to reflect something closer to the amount I actually used.

I made them to go with the salted brown butter caramel pots de creme, and they made a nice pair, but they were also nice for a little after dinner sweet treat with a cup of tea. They were such a lovely way to end the evening that Dan and I were sad when they were all gone. I guess I’ll have to make more.

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Rosemary Pine Nut Cookies

Liberally adapted from Nancy Silverton’s Mozza Cookbook

These buttery, nutty, herby little cookies melt in your mouth. I’ve significantly simplified the method of making these cookies from the original version. I’ve also cut the amount of pine nut nougatine in half. These are delicate, sophisticated cookies–great for adults but maybe not quite right for the little ones in your life. The base cookie is so nice I’m thinking of using it for other things in the future. The original recipe calls for polenta, but I used corn flour because I had some on hand and I love the way it incorporates corn flavor without so much gritty texture, but the amount here is small enough that I’m sure even a courser grind of polenta would work. You could use also use cornmeal if that’s what you have on hand.

For the pine nut nougatine:

3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
2 1/2 teaspoons honey
2 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split length wise
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (35 g) toasted pine nuts
1 fresh sprig of rosemary

For the cookie dough:

1/2 cup (1 stick, 113 g) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2 1/2 oz, 75 g) confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (4 oz, 100 g) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (1 1/3 oz, 40 g) polenta, corn flour, or cornmeal

First, make the nougatine topping. Add the cream, honey, sugar, butter, and vanilla bean to a small saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat, and carefully remove the vanilla bean. Whisk in the flour, and then stir in the pine nuts and rosemary sprig. Set aside to cool to room temperature. When the mixture is cool, remove the rosemary sprig. (You can make this up to a week ahead of time, just store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator and bring it up to room temperature before baking the cookies.)

Then, make the cookie dough. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add the butter and confectioners’ sugar and cream together on high speed until the mixture is creamy and smooth, about 5 minutes. Add the vanilla extract and mix until incorporated. Add the salt, flour, and polenta/cornmeal/corn flour and mix on low speed until all of the dry ingredients are incorporated.

Form the dough into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter and wrap tightly in wax paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (or up to 3 days).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and using a sharp chef’s knife slice into rounds about 1/4 inch thick. Place each round on the prepared baking sheet, leaving about an inch of space between each cookie.

Work the nougatine between your fingers to create a dime-sized disk and place a disk of nougatine in the center of each of the cookies.

Bake for about 10 minutes, rotating about halfway through, until the cookies are just starting to turn golden brown at the edges. Allow the cookies to cool to room temperature on the baking sheet before transferring them to a storage container (or serving them).

These will keep well in an airtight container for a solid two weeks.

Yield: About 28-30 cookies

 

 

Salted Brown Butter Caramel Pots de Creme

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These little pots of deliciousness tick so many of my favorite dessert boxes. Brown butter? Check. Vanilla bean? Check. Caramel? Check. Salt? Check. And an optional splash of booze? Check. They are rich and smooth and creamy with a real depth of flavor from all the browning and infusing and caramelizing.

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They are the result of an idea that’s been rolling around in my mind since I read about something similar on Molly’s site just, oh, six years ago. I always figured I would get around to making them eventually. And when we were having our good friends Maria and Tracy over for a low key dinner the other Friday, it seemed like just the thing to cap off the meal.

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Except, when I went back and looked at the recipe, I realized it had shifted and changed in my memory, and while I have little doubt that those butterscotch pots de creme are wonderful in their own right, they just weren’t what I was craving.

I wanted something that didn’t just use a combination of sugars, but something that included the alchemical wonder that is butter browned with a vanilla bean. And I wanted a salty edge to the thing. I couldn’t find a recipe that was quite what I was looking for. This came close. But I hadn’t yet hit the bullseye.

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So I took matters into my own hands. I browned butter with a half a vanilla bean and whisked it into some cream that had been heated with deep dark molasses-y muscovado sugar. I caramelized some light brown sugar and then added the brown butter-cream mixture to that. I added a splash of dark rum for another cane sugar note, and then I whisked it all with some egg yolks. Then I tossed in some salt.

And when these came out of the oven, they were just what I wanted.

They had all of us scraping the bottoms of the jars to get every last bit. They’re luxuriously rich but modestly sized desserts. Tracy said they’re the kind of thing that leaves you wanting more. They were nice with a dollop of whipped cream and some shortbread cookies on the side. To be honest, they were also pretty darn good the next day, completely unadorned.

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Salted Brown Butter Caramel Pots de Creme

Liberally adapted from Gourmet and Curtis Stone

Browning butter with a vanilla bean is a trick I learned from Kate Zuckerman’s The Sweet Life, and it’s a technique I use all the time for making simple desserts extra special. You could certainly make these without the vanilla bean and add a splash of vanilla extract along with the rum, but this is one of those places where a vanilla bean really makes a difference. You could absolutely use dark brown sugar in place of the muscovado. The muscovado has a more complex flavor, but you’ll get the important dark molasses notes with the dark brown sugar as well. These are nice topped with whipped cream and some crisp cookies on the side, but they’re very nice on their own too.

3 tablespoons (1.5 oz, 43 g) unsalted butter
half a vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/2 cup packed (4 oz, 110 g) light brown sugar
1 3/4 cups (14 1/3 fl oz, 406 g) heavy cream
2 tablespoons (1 oz, 28 g) muscovado sugar or dark brown sugar
5 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon (1/2 oz, 14 g) dark rum (optional)
1/2 teaspoon (2.4 g) kosher salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Have six 4-ounce ramekins or jars and a large roasting pan ready.

In a small light-colored saucepan add the butter and vanilla bean. Heat over medium-high heat until the milk solids turn the color of almond or hazelnut skins. The butter will sputter and foam and then settle down as the water evaporates so you can see the milk solids. When they are browned and fragrant, remove from heat. In a medium saucepan, add the cream, muscovado (or dark brown) sugar and vanilla bean brown butter mixture. Bring just to a simmer and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat.

In a small saucepan, add the light brown sugar. Add enough water to the saucepan to cover the sugar (about 1/4 to a 1/3 cup of water should do it).  Bring water and sugar to a boil, and cook over medium heat until the sugar is bubbly and dark brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in the warm cream mixture until combined. Add the salt.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and rum (if using) until combined. Pour in the caramel cream mixture and whisk until combined. Pour through a fine mesh strainer into a large (at least 4 cup) liquid measuring cup or bowl with a spout.

Divide the mixture between the six ramekins or jars. Place the jars in the roasting pan and add enough hot water (hot from the tap is fine) to come half way up the jars. Cover the pan with foil, carefully transfer the whole thing into the oven, and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the custard is set around the edges but still trembles in the middle.

Remove the jars from the roasting pan, and let cool on a wire rack for about an hour. Then transfer to the refrigerator to chill thoroughly. (This will take several hours.)

Top with whipped cream, if desired, and serve.

Keeps for up to two days in the refrigerator.

Yield: 6 servings

Shaved Fennel, Carrot, and Avocado Salad with Lime-Sesame-Soy Vinaigrette and Crispy Quinoa

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This salad feels so clean. So fresh. It takes its inspiration from the Japanese. It’s a nice change of pace from the arugula and kale and chard and spinach I’ve been eating so much of over the last several months. I love fennel. I think some people are resistant to it because of a prejudice against anything with anise flavor. But raw fennel is closer in flavor to basil than to licorice on the anise spectrum. It’s mild and crunchy and faintly sweet.

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And when it is shaved paper-thin it makes a wonderful base for a salad. It’s possible to do this with a sharp chef’s knife, and I’ve done it that way many times, but it’s so much more efficient and easier to get uniform thinness with a mandoline. As of my birthday last month thanks to Dan’s parents I am the proud new owner of this baby, and having it available makes me want to make shaved fennel salads all the time. (I just need to watch my fingers. It’s sharp!)

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Lots of fennel salads stick to the classic dressing of olive oil and lemon juice. But this one goes with a bolder lime-sesame-soy vinaigrette. It gets some heat from sriracha and citrus kosho (the latter is totally optional, but it’s a nice way to use it if you have some). The shaved carrots add more crunch and color and the avocado adds a creamy richness to dish.

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The sprinkling of pan fried quinoa adds the most wonderful texture. It’s crisp and light and gives way with a pop when it’s between your teeth. This makes extra and I’ve been popping the leftovers as a snack on its own. The flat leaf parsley gives the dish a fresh herbaceous note. I think shiso or mint would be right at home here too.

Dan said that this reminded him of the experience of eating sushi, what with the soy sauce and the kind of heat you get from wasabi and the texture of the shaved carrots and fennel reminiscent of pickled ginger. I think there’s something to the comparison.

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Shaved Fennel, Carrot, and Avocado Salad with Lime-Sesame-Soy Vinaigrette and Crispy Quinoa

This salad manages to be crispy and crunchy and creamy–a textural trifecta. It’s bright and fresh and flavorful and light. You can slice the fennel thinly with a sharp chef’s knife or you can use a mandoline (these Benriner mandolines [I have the wide version] are widely available and work like a dream). I’ve shaved the carrots with both a mandoline and a vegetable peeler, and I think the vegetable peeler is the winner for making delicate ribbons of carrot without making me watch my fingertips too closely. The citrus kosho is totally optional here. Don’t let not having it stop you from making this salad–you could add a dab of prepared wasabi or some extra sriracha if you wanted to ratchet up the heat in its absence.  This makes too much crispy quinoa, but it keeps for about a week in an airtight container and you can sprinkle it on roasted vegetables or other salads or anywhere you’d like some added crisp texture. This is gluten free if you make it with gluten-free tamari. 

For the crispy quinoa:

1/4 cup dried quinoa
2 tablespoons neutral oil
kosher salt 

For the salad:

2 medium fennel bulbs, tops and core removed, sliced paper thin
2 medium carrots, peeled, sliced paper thin
1 avocado, on the slightly firmer side of ripe, sliced thin
small handful of flat leaf parsley, stems removed and leaves chopped

For the lime-sesame-soy vinaigrette:

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons citrus kosho or yuzu kosho (optional)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon sriracha (increase to 1/2 teaspoon if not using kosho)
pinch of kosher salt

At least an hour ahead of time, make the crispy quinoa. In a medium saucepan, cover the quinoa with a few inches of salted water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until quinoa is just tender. About 12-13 minutes. Drain well through a fine mesh strainer and spread out in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet to dry out for at least a half hour.  Heat oil in a large skillet until shimmering, add the quinoa and pan fry until it is completely dry and crisp, about 2-3 minutes. Add a pinch of kosher salt and set aside to cool completely. Can be made up to five days ahead of time and stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, rice vinegar, sugar, citrus kosho (if using), sesame oil, sriracha, and salt.

In a medium bowl, toss together the fennel and carrots and parsley until well mixed. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad. Add the avocado and toss gently to distribute.

Divide between plates, and sprinkle with crispy quinoa, to taste.

Yield: Serves 2 as a main dish or 4-6 as a side

Ginger Scallion Quinoa with Roasted Vegetables

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I still remember the first time I had quinoa. I was in college, and I had seen Sara Moulton use it on her show on the Food Network. I was trying to eat healthier, and I was intrigued by this plant-based complete protein. I remember hunting it down, thinking it was on the expensive side for someone on a student budget, and then I remember tasting it–and being so disappointed.

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It wasn’t that it was bad, exactly. But it was bland. And faintly bitter. It seemed to me that it had many of the cliched characteristics of health food. It seemed like the sort of thing you would only eat because it was good for you, not because it tasted good.

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I didn’t bother with quinoa for a few years after that. It wasn’t until I started reading Heidi Swanson’s blog that I gave it another shot. It was from her that I learned that quinoa could serve as a great canvas for bold flavors. I slowly figured out that I liked quinoa when it was paired with something strong enough to carry the dish. I learned to think of quinoa as more of a textural ingredient than a flavor in and of itself. And it turns out it’s a nubbly, light texture I really like.

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I’ve learned that I especially love quinoa when it’s paired with Asian flavors. It’s great with a riot of hot and sour and salty and sweet notes. It doesn’t get in the way of those bright flavors, and it feels lighter than rice. Quinoa is satiating, but it never seems to weigh me down. I’ve come to think of quinoa as a health food in all the good ways. When prepared well, it not only tastes good, but makes me feel good.

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This dish is a keeper. It takes advantage of quinoa’s best qualities by pairing it with a variety of contrasting textures from roasted brussels sprouts and sweet potato and parsnips and carrots and turnips. It uses a good mix of winter’s sweeter vegetables as well as the slightly bitter, more deeply savory ones.

I remember once seeing a Canadian public health campaign that recommended eating at least one green vegetable and one orange or red vegetable every day. It’s a snippet of advice that I think of whenever I come across a dish like this that features vegetables in those colors.

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But as much as I like the mix of vegetables here, it’s the bright ginger scallion dressing that really makes this dish sing. It’s potent enough to counter quinoa’s inherent blandness, and its complexity enhances the vegetables as well.

This is the kind of thing I could eat every week. It’s delicious. It’s a totally manageable amount of work for a week night. It’s great warm or at room temperature, which means it can be made ahead of time. And it’s pretty darn healthy too.

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Like last week’s cake, this recipe comes from Joanne Chang’s Flour, Too. And as much as I love that showstopper of a cake, this is the recipe that, for my money, is totally worth the price of the book. It’s something I know I will make again and again and again.

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Ginger Scallion Quinoa with Roasted Vegetables

Adapted from Joanne Chang’s Flour, Too

This is one of my favorite ways to eat quinoa and this is the kind of meal I like to eat all the time. The ginger scallion dressing really makes this dish come alive. I could imagine doing this with peas and asparagus and mushrooms and radishes when spring vegetables are in season. This is great either warm or at room temperature, and while I’d argue it loses a little something, it’s not bad cold either. If you use tamari, this dish is gluten free.

6 or 7 Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
1 large or 2 small parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 large or 2 small carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 small sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3 small purple-top turnips, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 cups (225 g) dry quinoa
8 or 9 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced (both white and green parts)
4-inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
3 tablespoons grape seed or other neutral oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
cilantro, basil, or mint for garnish (optional, I skipped it)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a large a baking sheet with aluminum foil (optional, but makes for easier clean up). In a large mixing bowl, toss the Brussels sprouts, parsnips, carrots, sweet potato, and turnips with olive oil and salt until well coated. Spread the vegetables in an even layer on the baking sheet and roast for 20-25 minutes, until the brussels sprouts are caramelized in spots and the harder root vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer and add to a medium saucepan. Add enough water to cover the quinoa by a few inches and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer for about 15-20 minutes or until the quinoa is cooked through. Drain the quinoa through a fine mesh strainer and transfer to a large mixing bowl (this can be your serving bowl if you’re trying to make things look nice).  Add the roasted vegetables and toss until the vegetables are well distributed.

In a small bowl, add the ginger, scallions, vinegar, soy sauce or tamari, grape seed oil, and sesame oil. Whisk together until combined and pour over the quinoa and vegetables, and stir well. Top with fresh herbs, if using, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake

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Who wants cake? This isn’t just any old cake. It’s a special occasion cake. It’s a takes-three-days-to-make cake. It’s a hunt-down-three-or-four-kinds-of-chocolate cake. It’s a reorganize-the-freezer-to-make-this-thing-sit-level-overnight cake. It’s, let me just say, a totally-worth-it cake.

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I made this for my sister Erin’s birthday. She was having a low key party at her place, and I offered to bring a dessert. When I asked her what she wanted, she gave me carte blanche.

When left to my own devices, I have a tendency to go overboard when I’m making something for someone else. My ambition sometimes overmatches my time and basic sense of reason. It probably says something about me that when I scanned the recipe and saw instructions that said “at least two days ahead of time” I thought, “that seems reasonable.” Really with this cake, I was showing restraint.

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This comes from Joanne Chang’s second cookbook, Flour, Too (her first one is, not surprisingly, named Flour).  Both of her books are named for and feature recipes from her Boston cafe and bakery, Flour. The first book focused exclusively on sweets, but this one looks to be about evenly divided between sweets and savories. It doesn’t just have recipes for special occasion desserts, it has plenty of simple breakfast baked goods and light cafe fare that’s appropriate for everyday. In the headnote to this recipe, Chang mentions that this cake is a personal favorite, even though she isn’t a chocolate fiend. I can see why.

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With three layers of mousse, four layers of flourless chocolate souffle cake, all topped with a layer of bittersweet ganache, this cake sounds like it would be unimaginably rich and intensely chocolatey. But this cake is surprisingly, ethereally light. I kind of want to call it a triple chocolate cloud cake.

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The white, milk, and bittersweet chocolate mousses don’t just look pretty, they also balance each others’ sweetness and bitterness beautifully. It actually makes me wonder why we don’t see more desserts take advantage of this chocolate trio.

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I mostly followed Chang’s recipe. The one significant change I made was to the white chocolate mousse. She uses a vanilla bean to flavor the mousse, but I opted to swap in fennel seeds, which I think are just fantastic here. I wouldn’t call myself a big white chocolate fan, but I could have eaten a bowl of this white chocolate fennel mousse. Erin remarked that she really liked it too.

It’s worth noting that these are more chocolate whipped creams than true mousses, so maybe we shouldn’t be eating them by the bowl full, but each of them–the white chocolate fennel mousse, the milk chocolate coffee mousse, and the bittersweet chocolate mousse–is so good that if you’re not licking the beater after you whip these, I’m pretty sure you’re doing it wrong.

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It does take three days to make this cake, but most of the work is on the second day. The first day you make the mousse bases, which involves scalding the cream and pouring it over chopped chocolate and then refrigerating it overnight. The second day you make the cake and the soaking syrup, whip the mousses, assemble the cake and put it into the freezer overnight. The third day you trim the cake, and make and top the cake with ganache.

It is quite a bit of work, but it’s doable even if you’re not quite as insane as I am.

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Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake

Adapted from Joanne Chang’s Flour, Too

This cake sounds decadent, but when you eat it, it feels incredibly light. It’s a project. It needs to be started at least two days before you want to serve it. It’s totally worth all of the work. I think this is one of the best desserts I’ve ever made. It’s worth using good quality chocolate here. I used Guittard for the milk and dark chocolates because that’s what I had on hand and Ghiradelli for the white chocolate because that’s what I could find at the grocery store. The coffee flavor is very mild in the finished cake. It serves to deepen the chocolate flavor rather than stand out on its own. This makes a big cake. If you aren’t feeding a crowd, you can cut the frozen cake in two and store half of it, well wrapped, in the freezer for another time. I probably could have done that with this one. (Did I mention this cake happens to be gluten free and grain free, and I’m pretty sure it’s kosher for Passover for those having a dairy friendly meal?) 

 White Chocolate Fennel Mousse

1 1/2 cups (360 ml) heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon fennel seed
3 ounces (85 g) white chocolate, chopped
1/8 teaspoon salt

Milk Chocolate Coffee Mousse

1 1/2 cups (360 ml) heavy cream
1 teaspoon ground coffee
3 ounces (85 g) milk chocolate, chopped
1/8 teaspoon salt

Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse

1 1/2 cups (360 ml) heavy cream
3 ounces (85 g) bittersweet chocolate (I used 72% cacao), chopped
1/8 teaspoon salt

Chocolate Souffle Cake

10 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup (60 ml) brewed coffee at room temperature
10 ounces (280 g) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (I used 72% cacao), melted and cooled
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups (250 g) granulated sugar

Cake-Soaking Syrup

1/2 cup (120 ml) hot brewed coffee
6 tablespoons (75 g) granulated sugar

Ganache

4 ounces (115 g) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (56% to 62% cacao), chopped
1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy cream

At least 2 days in advance:

Make the three mousse bases. Start with the white chocolate. Heat the cream and fennel seeds in a heavy bottomed medium saucepan. Put the chopped white chocolate in a medium heat proof bowl and have a fine mesh strainer ready. Heat the cream just until bubbles form around the edges. Immediately pour over the white chocolate. Let it stand for about two minutes to melt the chocolate, then stir until the chocolate is thoroughly melted. Pour through a fine mesh strainer to remove the fennel seeds, add the salt and transfer the mixture to a small storage container. Repeat with the milk chocolate mousse, heating the cream with the ground coffee (pass it through a strainer, but don’t worry if some of the finer ground coffee slip through). Then repeat with the bittersweet chocolate mousse, heating the cream on its own this time. (No real need to strain this one.) Store in the refrigerator overnight (can be made several days in advance).

At least 1 day in advance:

Make the soaking syrup. Brew 3/4 cup of coffee. Use 1/2 cup hot here and reserve 1/4 cup at room temperature for the cake. Mix 1/2 cup (120 ml) coffee with 6 tablespoons (75 g) of sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved.

Make the cake. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and place one rack in the center and one in the top third of the oven. Line two 13″ x 18″ rimmed baking sheets (half sheet pans) with parchment paper and spray with nonstick baking spray (if you’re making this gluten free, don’t use the baking spray that has flour mixed into it).

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, remaining coffee, melted chocolate and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, add the egg whites and beat on medium speed for about 2-3 minutes until soft peaks form. The tines of the whisk should leave a trail in the whites and when you lift the head of the mixer the whites should should peak and droop. With the mixer on medium, add the sugar slooowly, about a tablespoon at a time, until it’s all added. This process should take about 2 minutes. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the whites are glossy and smooth and hold their peaks.

Using a rubber spatula, fold about one-third of the whites into the chocolate-yolk mixture to lighten it. Then gently fold in the rest of the whites until no white streaks remain. Do this carefully. Egg whites are easy to deflate.

Divide the batter between the two prepared sheet pans. Starting at the corners, spread the batter evenly over the pan with an offset spatula. It doesn’t need to be perfectly smooth, but you want the corners and edges filled in. The batter should be about a 1/2 inch (1 cm) deep.

Bake the cakes, rotating the pans from front to back and switching between the racks about halfway through, about 16-18 minutes. The cakes should look dry on top and when you touch it with a finger, the top should feel dry and delicate and almost shatter and the cake below should feel moist (Chang says the cake top should be “crispy”). Let the cakes cool on wire racks for 10 minutes. At this point you can assemble the cake or wrap the cakes (still in their pans) with plastic wrap and keep at room temperature for one day.

Assemble the cake. Run a paring knife around the edge of the pan to release the cake from the sides of the pan. Using a very sharp knife (or kitchen shears) cut each cake in half–from the middle of one long side to the other–cutting through the parchment. You want to have four layers of cake, each about 8″x12″. Cut a piece of cardboard so it’s slightly larger than the cake (you don’t need much overhang here–I probably had too much in the photos above).

Take one cake layer with the parchment attached and carefully flip it over onto the cardboard and remove the parchment. If the cake breaks anywhere, don’t worry, just patch it together as best you can and keep going. In the bowl of stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, add the white chocolate fennel mousse and whip until it holds stiff peaks. Spread the mousse evenly over the cake layer with an offset spatula. You want an even layer, but you don’t need to worry about some of it spilling over the sides because you’ll trim the edges later. Clean and dry the mixing bowl and the whisk attachment. Take another cake layer with the parchment and carefully flip it over onto the white chocolate mousse and remove the parchment. Using a pastry brush, spread about a third of the soaking syrup over the cake layer. Whip the milk chocolate mousse until it holds stiff peaks. Spread it in an even layer over the cake. Again, clean and dry the mixing bowl and whisk attachment. Take another cake layer with parchment, flip it over onto the milk chocolate mousse, and remove the parchment. Brush about half of the remaining soaking syrup onto this cake layer. Whip the bittersweet chocolate mousse until it holds stiff peaks. Spread it in an even layer over the cake. Take the last cake layer with parchment and carefully flip it over onto the bittersweet chocolate mousse. Brush with the remaining soaking syrup.

At this point, make sure that you have an even landing spot for the cake in the freezer. Wrap the cake gently with plastic wrap and put it in the freezer overnight. Depending on how stiff your cardboard is, you might want to place a sheet pan underneath it to make this easier and to keep the cake even.

About 4-5 hours ahead of serving:

Remove the cake from the freezer and place on a cutting board. Using a sharp chefs knife dipped in hot water trim about a 1/2 inch (1 cm) from each side of the cake, dipping and wiping the knife clean between cuts, to expose the even layers of mousse. (You can snack on these trimmings later–they’re best after they thaw.) Trim the cardboard base so it is flush with the cake and set on a wire rack set over wax paper.

Make the ganache. Place the chopped chocolate in a small heatproof bowl. With this small amount of cream, it helps to partially melt the chocolate before you add the cream. You can heat it in 15 second bursts in the microwave or heat it over a double boiler until it’s about half melted. Heat the cream in a small saucepan until bubble form around the edges. Pour over the chocolate and let sit for about 30 seconds. Starting in the center and working out to the edges of the bowl, slowly whisk the chocolate and cream together until the chocolate is fully melted and the mixture is uniform and smooth.

Pour the ganache over the cake and quickly spread in an even layer with an offset spatula, letting the excess drip down the sides of the cake. The sides should remain mostly exposed to show off the mousse layers. At this point, you can top with chocolate shavings or just leave the ganache as is. Store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve it.

To serve, slice the cake with a sharp chefs knife dipped in hot water. It’s a somewhat fragile cake, and it’s easy to make a mess of the slices. Don’t worry, everyone will be too busy eating to notice.

Yield: Serves 12

 

 

What to do with zested citrus? Make lemon, lime, and grapefruit juice simple syrups.

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This is so easy. And so refreshing.

I don’t know why I haven’t done it before.

I found myself with lots of citrus fruits denuded of their zest after I made citrus kosho and I knew I would never get through it if I didn’t do something with it right away. Citrus that’s been zested keeps for a while in an airtight container, but it starts to dry out, and maybe it’s just confirmation bias, but it seems to me that it gets moldy more quickly than intact citrus fruits. I had visions of pulling hard little orbs that used to be limes out of the back of the refrigerator in a month.

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I was determined not to do that this time. (Not that I’ve ever done anything like that before…ha ha.)

The obvious way to use zested citrus is to focus on their juice. There are plenty of ways to use citrus juice, in lemon curd, for example, but I had just made meyer lemon ginger curd and didn’t need anything else like that at the moment. And lemon and lime and grapefruit juice get weird after a few days. The flavor turns bitter, and they lose the intense punch of flavor they bring to the table. That’s why the stuff in those little lemon and lime shaped bottles doesn’t compare to the freshly squeezed stuff. (Seriously, do a side by side taste test if you don’t believe me.)

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Then I remembered something Stephanie Izard (of Top Chef and The Girl and the Goat and Little Goat fame) had mentioned at a chef demonstration I attended at the Green City Market last summer. She was talking about this dessert with candied eggplant that gets simmered in this lemon syrup. It’s something I’m going to have to try when eggplants are back in season. But it was the lemon syrup itself that stuck with me.

It’s so obvious really. It was a “why hadn’t I thought of that” moment for me. It’s a simple syrup, which is traditionally a syrup made of equal parts water and sugar, that substitutes lemon juice for the water. Simmer on the stove until the sugar is dissolved, let cool, and refrigerate. That’s it. I did this with lime juice and grapefruit juice as well.

It keeps for weeks that way and can be used in all sorts of ways, like in cocktails (a gimlet, anyone?). A splash of it would be nice if you like lightly sweetened iced tea. I love my home carbonator (it seems like so many people have them now), and when added to fizzy water this makes a soda with real fruit juice flavor, reminiscent of Orangina or the Lemon-Soda that we got in Italy when I lived there ages ago. It’s just delicious.

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Lemon Syrup, Lime Syrup, and Grapefruit Syrup

Inspired by Stephanie Izard

This is a great way to use zested citrus. I fear it would be too sweet with oranges, but for the citrus fruits on the tarter side of the spectrum this is lovely. I use a combination lemon/lime squeezer like this for juicing citrus fruit. I even cut the grapefruit into eighths to make it fit. I find it makes it so much easier to get most of the juice out than other methods I’ve tried. This is more of a ratio and a method than a recipe. If you want amounts to aim for, start with a half cup of juice and a half cup of sugar. That will get you a nice useable amount.

One part lemon juice, or lime juice, or grapefruit juice
One part sugar

Juice your lemons or limes or grapefruit. Measure the juice in a liquid measure. Pour it into a small saucepan. Add the same amount of sugar. Bring to a simmer and stir until all the sugar is dissolved. Let cool. Store in the refrigerator. Keeps for several weeks at least.

Citrus Kosho (Japanese Citrus Chili Paste)

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I’ve been on a citrus kick lately. Perhaps I am subconsciously trying to ward off scurvy with all of this vitamin C.

When I saw this recipe for citrus kosho in Aki Kamozawa and Alex Talbot’s new book Maximum Flavor it grabbed my attention right away. If you read Aki and Alex’s blog, Ideas in Food, you know they are some of the most curious and imaginative food bloggers out there. They have a creative approach to cooking. They think of a kitchen as an experimental place, a place to play with techniques and flavors and gadgets.

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They don’t post many recipes on their blog. They tend to focus instead on works in progress and on their thought processes behind their cooking experiments. They’re willing to try all sorts of crazy methods to coax flavor out of ingredients, some of which don’t work at all, but their failures are almost as fascinating learning experiences as their successes. I find their work inspiring.

It’s because of them that I’ve pulled out the pressure cooker to caramelize milk powder and am trying to think of what other ingredients might benefit from being treated this way. Their first book, Ideas in Food, gave me my go-to brioche recipe and plenty of food for thought on how I could integrate modernist techniques and ingredients into my cooking at home. (It’s a great entree into the world of modernist cooking for those of us who are a little bit curious about it but aren’t ready to shell out the cash for something like Modernist Cuisine.) Their first book was divided between ideas for the home cook and ideas for culinary professionals, which meant that some of it was out of reach for those of us without fancy tools like immersion circulators and CVaps in our kitchens. Their new book focuses solely on recipes and techniques for the home cook, which I like.

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This citrus kosho is probably one of the most conventional recipes in the book. It’s a take on yuzu kosho, a fragrant, spicy, salty Japanese condiment made with yuzu peel and chilies and salt. A kosho is basically a Japanese chili paste. Because yuzus are tough to find in the U.S., Aki and Alex use a blend of limes and lemons with a bit of grapefruit and orange and lemongrass thrown in.

After grating all that zest and chopping that lemongrass, my kitchen smelled outrageously fresh and clean and wonderful. I’ve never tasted bottled yuzu kosho, so I have nothing to compare mine to, but I really love the bright heat this fresh citrus kosho has. And it isn’t all that difficult to make. There’s lots of grating zest and a little chopping and a lot of pounding everything into a paste with mortar and pestle (you could use a food processor if you wanted to make it even easier).

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Yesterday, I used this in a lime-sesame-soy salad dressing, which was outrageously good. I have plenty of other  ideas on things to try with this in the future, too.  I have a feeling that mixed with a little ponzu or tamari it would also make a great dipping sauce for tofu or tempura or sashimi.

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Citrus Kosho (Japanese Citrus Chili Paste)

Adapted from Aki Kamozawa and Alexander H. Talbot’s Maximum Flavor

This citrus chili paste is a fresh take on the traditional Japanese yuzu kosho, substituting limes and lemons and orange and grapefruit for the tough to find yuzu. It’s fragrant and salty and hot. You’ll want a microplane and a mortar and pestle for this recipe. If you don’t have or don’t want to use a mortar and pestle, you could finish this in a food processor or in a blender for a finer paste. The lemon, orange, and lime oils are completely optional. They add an extra dimension to the overall flavor, and are worth using if you have them around, but probably not worth buying just for this.

9 lemons
6 limes
1 grapefruit
1 orange
2 stalks lemongrass
1 serrano chili
1 tablespoon fine grained salt
1-2 drops lemon oil (Boyajian or essential oil, optional)
1-2 drops orange oil (Boyajian or essential oil, optional)
1-2 drops lime oil (Boyajian or essential oil, optional)

Zest the lemons, limes, along with the grapefruit and orange into a medium bowl. Remove the fibrous outer layers and tops and bottoms from the lemongrass, leaving the tender center of the stalk. Finely chop the center of the stalk and add to the bowl. Finely slice the serrano chili, and add it, seeds and all, to the bowl.

Transfer the ingredients to a mortar, add the salt, and pound with a pestle until everything combines into a rough paste (alternatively, blend in a food processor or blender into a fine paste). Juice one half of a lemon and one half of a lime and add the juice to the paste and stir. If using, add the lemon, orange, and lime oils, and stir.

Transfer to a jar and refrigerate for at least two days to allow the flavors to mingle before using.

Will keep in the refrigerator for about a month.

Yield: about 1 cup.

Meyer Lemon Ginger Curd

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This curd is so lovely. It makes me think of my friend Charlotte. These are her kind of flavors: bright, tart, sweet and citrusy with a bit of ginger-heat.

If I were making her a new dessert, this would be a featured component. When I tasted it, I got a little misty, sad that I couldn’t share it with her now that she lives halfway across the country in Vermont. It’s been more than a year since she and her husband, Ed, left Chicago, but I’m still not totally used to it. I have moments when I forget, when I expect to have them over for a dinner party or be at their place for games or some get-together or other. I miss them both! So Charlotte, this recipe is for you, even if this particular batch of curd is all for me.

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Meyer lemons seemed to be ubiquitous in food magazines and blogs a few years ago, but I haven’t seen so many recipes featuring them lately. Perhaps their moment as the it-citrus has passed, but they’re still worth seeking out. They are smaller than Eureka lemons (the variety of lemons we think of just as “regular” and are most likely to find at the grocery store). Their skin is thinner and orange-tinged. They have an exotic floral fragrance and they are sweeter than Eurekas as well.

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When combined with fresh ginger, their flavor just sings. This is one of my favorite fruit curds, and I’ve made quite a few. I can’t promise that I won’t change my mind when I make the next one; I can be fickle like that (it was cranberry last year, then passion fruit). But this one is really quite good.

I won’t lie, grating the ginger is a little bit of pain. (Don’t bother if you don’t have either a microplane or a special ginger grater, but if you don’t have a microplane, buy one, they’re super useful.)  Still, stick with it, it’s worth it. It doesn’t take too long and everything will smell gingery and wonderful.

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I no longer bother with double boilers or tempering eggs when making fruit curds. I just combine everything in a heavy bottomed sauce pan and heat it gently and then pass it through a strainer to catch any coagulated egg bits or stray fruit pulp. This method feels less fussy to me and the results are every bit as good.

This would be good on toast, stirred into yogurt, spooned alongside muffins or scones, dolloped on pancakes or french toast, sandwiched between macarons, or, as I’m going to use it, as a topping for lemon buttermilk cakes. Or, if no one is looking, you can just eat it with a spoon.

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Meyer Lemon Ginger Curd

Adapted from The Food Network

This curd is citrusy and gingery and sweet and tart. Meyer lemons are usually available at places like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, but I actually found these at my local Jewel, which tends not to carry very exotic produce, so I think they must be more widely distributed than they once were. If you can’t find them, you could make this with Eureka lemons or a combination of lemons and oranges. It won’t be quite the same, but I’m sure it would still be very nice.

1 4-inch piece of ginger, peeled
3 large eggs
1/2 cup freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice (from about 4 lemons)
1/2 cup sugar
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Grate the ginger with a microplane zester and pass it through a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl to catch the juice. Press it with a rubber spatula (or your impeccably clean hands) to really squeeze the liquid out of the pulp. Save the juice and discard the pulp.

In a small heavy saucepan, whisk together the eggs and sugar until thoroughly combined. Add the Meyer lemon juice and the ginger juice and stir again. Heat gently over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and bubbles at a low simmer, about 6 minutes.

Remove from heat and whisk in the butter. Pass through a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl and allow it to cool. Transfer to a jar or covered container and refrigerate until ready to use.

Keeps for a few weeks in the refrigerator.

Yield: About 2 cups