Spring Cleaning, Blue Plate Style

At our house, spring means that it’s time to clean out the freezer. I don’t mean “clean” in the “get a bucket of soapy water and a scrub brush” sense, but in the “eat up last year’s produce to make room for this summer’s bounty” sense. When I first fill the freezer with garden-fresh goodness, I tend to be a little stingy overprotective cautious about using my frozen fruits and veggies. After all, it’s a lot of work to process / put up produce! I don’t want an empty freezer by Christmas. (Andy does not understand my logic.”Didn’t we pick this stuff so we could eat it?” Yes, of course. But not all at once!)

By the time March and April roll around though, I am all about the frozen fruit. Strawberries in my lunch? Every day! Blueberries in my oatmeal? Yes please, and can you drizzle some maple syrup on top? Cherry pie with crumb topping? Don’t mind if I do! (Of course, this all backfiring, as Andy just informed me that we’re down to two packages of cherries and one package of strawberries. And June is still a long ways away. Eeek!) 

Back when I was planning my Easter dinner, I knew I wanted an easy dessert. I figured I’d have my hands full enough with the main course. A quick survey of the freezer, fridge and pantry confirmed that I had everything on hand for this cake. Plus, it’s made in a bundt pan, which gives you maximum impact for minimum effort. Win-win!

I realize that cranberries are technically a fall crop, but fresh, tart flavor says spring to me, especially when it’s paired with lemon. So, if you had the foresight to throw fresh cranberries in your freezer last fall, then you’re set. And then you’ll have some room for the rhubarb that’s coming soon. 🙂


Cranberry Lemon Cake

For the cake:
12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks or 6 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for the pan
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups sugar
zest and juice of 2 lemons, divided
3 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk

For the glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons lemon juice (reserved from above lemons)

Preheat oven to 350°.

Generously butter a bundt pan. Sprinkle the brown sugar in an even layer over the bottom of the bundt pan and then spread the cranberries in an even layer on top of the sugar. Set aside.

In  medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Next, combine the sugar and lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat the sugar and zest together until the sugar is fragrant. Add the 12 tablespoons of butter to the lemon sugar and beat on medium-high until the mixture is light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the vanilla. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl in between.

Pour the buttermilk into a measuring cup and add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Turn the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix just until the flour is incorporated into the batter.

Spread the batter in an even layer on top of the cranberries. Bake until the cake tests done with a toothpick and is golden brown on top and just set, about 50-55 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack for about 15 minutes. Place a serving plate over the cake pan and invert the cake onto the plate. Allow it to cool completely.

To make the glaze, whisk together the powdered sugar and 1-1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Drizzle the glaze over the cooled cake and allow the glaze to set before slicing and serving.

Leftover cake can be stored at room temperature, with the cut ends covered in plastic wrap. (Ours was gone in under 48 hours, so I am not sure how long it keeps!)

As seen on Annie’s Eats, originally from Williams Sonoma

Click here for a printable version.

Putting My Spin On Things

Like dips, pasta salads aren’t something I make very often. Since only 50% of our household enjoys it, I usually opt for other pasta dishes. I don’t even make it for potlucks because, “what if EVERYONE makes pasta salad and that’s the ONLY thing at the party?!” (In Andy’s defense, this did happen once… seven years ago. He still hasn’t let me forget it.)

But when I started looking for a different way to prepare asparagus (because variety is the spice of my life), I stumbled on the idea of an asparagus salad. And then I realized that if I bulked it up with some pasta, I could get away with only making one dish for dinner. Plus, if I served it warm and called it “pasta with asparagus and feta,” Andy probably wouldn’t associate it with the chilled, mayo-slicked salads that give him flashbacks to that fateful day in 2008. It’s all in how you spin things. 😉

I made a couple changes to the original recipe. I added pasta (obviously). I roasted the asparagus since our grill is on the fritz, and I upped the lemon, adding the zest and juice from an entire lemon. I used my “good” Italian olive oil from my brother-in-law to finish off the dish, since its flavor would come through. We enjoyed it warm the first night, and I liked the leftovers at room temperature as well.



Lemon Asparagus Pasta Salad with Feta 

1 lb. of asparagus spears
8 ounces uncooked short pasta
zest and juice of one lemon
olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/3 cup feta cheese
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and lightly oil a baking sheet with olive oil. Wash the asparagus and trim off the tough, woody ends. Cut the asparagus spears into 3″ long pieces. Place the asparagus pieces in a large bowl and drizzle them with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Place the minced garlic in the bowl and toss to combine.

Spread the asparagus in an even layer on the baking sheet and roast until golden brown in spots, about 12 minutes. Hang on to the bowl – you’ll use it to mix everything together at the end.

While the asparagus is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain the pasta and place it in the bowl you tossed the asparagus in earlier. Zest the lemon and squeeze the juice over the cooked pasta. When the asparagus is done, remove it from the oven and add the asparagus to the pasta. Scrape any garlicky oil from the pan into the bowl with the pasta.

Mix the feta cheese in with the pasta. If the mixture seems too dry, add another tablespoon or so of olive oil to the  bowl. Toss to combine and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

Adapted from Once Upon a Chef

Click here for a printable version.

This One’s a Keeper!

So, out of all of the cookies that I made this past Christmas, these were my favorite. I realize that seems like a backhanded compliment, since I only made a couple batches of cookies, but it’s not. I promise. What I’m trying to say is that these were good enough to make the cut on an incredibly short list of baked goods during a hectic December. 🙂

I had a stockpile of fresh cranberries in the freezer and a lemon in the fridge, and the recipe looked simple enough for my crazy schedule. The only change I made was to use my KA mixer to combine the lemon zest and the sugar – it does a better job than I ever could do by hand! I used my small cookie scoop, which meant I ended up with one-to-two-bite cookies (one bite for Andy, two for me).

They’re the perfect combination of sweet and tart, and the cranberries give them such a festive look. Of course, there’s no reason to save these guys for Christmas (good thing too, since I’m sharing this at the end of January). They’re the perfect cookie for lots of occasions: Ohio State parties, Valentine’s Day… they’d even be a good addition to a Super Bowl spread – on the New England side of the table, of course. 😉

LemonCranberryCookiesCranberry Lemon Cookies 

For the cookies: 
2 1/4 cup AP flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped

For the glaze: 
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sugar and the lemon zest. Turn the mixer on to medium and beat the sugar and lemon zest until well combined and fragrant. (Alternatively, you could put the sugar and zest in a bowl and rub it together with your fingers until it’s fragrant, but that takes a lot longer.) Add the butter to the lemon sugar and beat until it is light and fluffy. Add the egg and the vanilla extract and beat until well combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Gently fold in the chopped cranberries. Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and let it chill for about 30 minutes. (This is when I get caught up on my dishes.) 

When you’re ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a small cookie scoop, form the dough into balls about 1 1/2″ in diameter. Place the balls on the prepared sheets and bake until lightly golden brown. (Mine took about 10 minutes; the original recipe recommends 13.) Remove the cookies from the oven and let cool slightly before removing them from the pan to cool completely on a wire rack.

When the cookies have cooled completely, whisk together the powdered sugar and lemon juice for the glaze. Drizzle the glaze over the cooled cookies. When the glaze has hardened, store the cookies in an airtight container.

From What Megan’s Making

Click here for a printable version.


Hello Summer!

So, I don’t really know where spring went, but it feels like we have jumped right in to summer. We are in the middle of a beautiful Memorial Day weekend, and I am loving it. Sunshine, dinner on the patio, bonfires, fresh air, windows open… it’s great. (A big thank you, by the way, to all of the men and women who have served our country. I appreciate your sacrifices, and I hope you feel honored this weekend!) 

I picked up a watermelon on my way home from work on Friday, and decided that today was a perfect day for some fresh lemonade. It was also the perfect day to not spend a lot of time in the kitchen, so I needed an easy recipe. Oh, and I discovered that there were only 2 lemons in my crisper drawer, so that meant that this recipe for rhubarb lemonade was out. (I’m definitely adding that recipe to my list for this spring/summer though. Just have to get some more lemons!) Then I remembered this recipe from an old issue of Everyday Food. It fit the bill.

Since my melon was especially sweet, I reduced the sugar to 1/3 of a cup. I also went light on the mint since my plant is still small. I didn’t measure out the how much melon it took me to get eight cups of juice. I sliced the watermelon, then pureed it in batches until I had enough juice. My guess is that it took just under half of my watermelon, leaving us plenty of melon to enjoy with our lemonade. And plenty of time left for fun. Because that’s what long weekends are made for, right?

watermelon lemonade

Watermelon Lemonade 

Half of a medium-sized seedless watermelon, rind removed and flesh cut in to large chunks
1/3 cup light brown sugar
2 large lemons, quartered
handful of fresh mint (The original recipe calls for an entire cup of mint, which would have decimated my little plant, so I picked about six sprigs of mint.) 

Squeeze the lemon quarters into a large pitcher. Add the brown sugar and mint leaves. Using a wooden spoon, stir the mixture until the sugar dissolves, bruising the mint leaves in the process. Add the lemon quarters to the mixture.

Meanwhile, puree the watermelon chunks in a blender. You need about 8 cups of watermelon puree, which is about three batches of watermelon chunks in my blender. Set a fine mesh strainer over a large bowl or measuring cup. (I use my 8-cup Pyrex for this.) Pour the watermelon puree into the strainer and press on the pulp to extract all of the juice. Repeat the process until you have 8 cups of juice. Pour the juice into the pitcher with the lemon/mint mixture. Stir to combine.

Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve, or serve immediately over ice.

Adapted from Everyday Food Magazine, July/August 2008

Click here for a printable version.

Our Favorite Chicken Soup

I was going to talk about dessert. Sorbet, to be precise. After all, that’s a relatively “healthy” dessert for January, right? But then things got cold. Not just “grab a hat and gloves” cold, but ridiculously cold. I’d almost call it “not fit for human life” cold, except that I know there were parts of the country that had it worse. My thermostat may have read -17, but I talked to people who saw -27. And that was before the wind. Like I said. Ridiculous.

So yeah. No sorbet today. Even though the temps are practically balmy by comparison (31 degrees, anyone?), I’m not really feeling a frozen dessert. Let’s talk about soup instead, OK?

Everyone needs a favorite chicken soup, right? It’s the perfect winter pick-me-up. It’s good for whatever ails you. And if you’re lucky, it won’t require massive amounts of planning ahead or hours of simmering for the flavors to meld. In fact, I can run errands after work and still come home with enough time to make this for dinner. How’s that for efficiency?

What sets this soup apart from other chicken noodle soups is the lemon flavor. With both fresh lemon juice and zest, it has a bright, fresh taste that most other chicken soups don’t. I have noticed, however, that the orzo acts like a million tiny sponges in the broth, which means that more often than not, we have leftover lemon-chicken-orzo casserole, rather than soup. It works out OK though – Andy likes the casserole consistency of the leftovers, and I just add a little extra water to my share before microwaving it.

Take that, polar vortex. 🙂


Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 medium carrots, sliced into 1/4″ circles
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
1 chicken breast, diced (or two cups of cooked, shredded chicken) 
10 cups of chicken broth
zest of 2 lemons
juice of 1-2 lemons (about 1/3 cup)
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 cups orzo pasta
1 cup frozen peas
large handful chopped fresh parsley (feel free to substitute dried if necessary)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large stockpot over medium heat and pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil into the pot. Place the chopped chicken into the pan and season with salt and pepper. Saute until chicken is cooked through, about 5-10 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken chunks. (Skip this step if you’re using already cooked chicken, obviously.) Remove chicken from pan and reserve for later.

Pour remaining olive oil into the hot pan. Saute the onion, carrots, garlic and celery in the oil until the vegetables are tender, about 5-7 minutes.

Pour the broth and lemon juice into the stockpot. Add the lemon zest and bay leaf and bring the mixture to a boil. When the mixture reaches a boil, add the orzo and simmer until the pasta is nearly done, about 8 minutes.*

Stir into the cooked chicken, and then add the peas and parsley. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper if needed. Remove the bay leaf before ladling into bowls.

Serve warm.

*Side note: In my attempts to avoid lemon-chicken-orzo casserole, I’ve cooked the pasta separately and then stirred it into the individual soup bowls. As far as I can tell, this works, but it’s an extra step, and like I said before, I’m all about efficiency. 😀 

Adapted from Two Peas & Their Pod

Click here for a printable version.


Not Just For Christmas Cookies

I know, I know. I’m about a month too late with this one. Cookie “season” is over for most people. You’re feeling sugared out and looking forward to a month of salads, right?

Not me. Nothing against salads; it’s just that I never got around to sharing this recipe a few weeks ago when I baked them. (I’m clearly not one of those organized food bloggers who gets things out in a “timely” fashion. You’ll have to look elsewhere for that.) And the odds of me remembering to post this again in 11 months? About as good as the odds of Chud keeping his job in Cleveland. (In other words, between slim and nil. Sigh. There’s always next year. Again.) 

These were the only sugar cookies I made this year, since traditional rolled sugar cookies aren’t Andy’s favorite. And while I don’t think he’ll ever pick one of these over his favorite chocolate chip cookie, these definitely got a thumbs-up from my resident taste-tester. They stay soft and chewy (especially if you underbake them just a bit), and the lemon flavor is a nice change from a standard vanilla sugar cookie. Plus, nothing says that you have to roll them in red and green sugar – they’d be perfect in red and pink for Valentine’s day, or you could dress them up in your team’s colors for the playoffs. If your team was lucky enough to make the playoffs. (Next year, right?) 😀

Lemon Sugar Cookies
That tasty treat photo-bombing the background is a coffee cheesecake. Since I’m obviously NOT worried about New Year’s resolutions, I’ll be sharing that recipe soon. 🙂

Lemon Sugar Cookies

1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
zest of 2 lemons
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Colored sugar for rolling

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the lemon zest and mix until thoroughly combined. Beat in the egg, vanilla and lemon juice.

In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Mix until just combined.

Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper.

Roll the dough into 1″ balls and roll the balls in sugar. Place balls 2″ apart on the prepared baking sheets and bake for 8 minutes, or until cookies turn light brown on the edges and are set in the middle. Allow cookies to cool for a few minutes on the baking sheets, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container.

From Peace, Love & French Fries, who saw it on Life and Kitchen, originally from Two Peas & Their Pod

Click here for a printable version.

Not Weird, Just Different

Clearly, I’m no stranger to odd combinations. Strawberries and pizza? Yes please. Bacon and cheesecake? Why not? One of my favorite pizzas is topped with pepperoni and banana peppers, something that Andy finds incredibly weird. It’s not weird, just different. (Haha… I think I had a key chain in high school that said this.)

Last summer, I saw this recipe for lemon basil cheesecake, and it immediately caught my attention. Unfortunately, I didn’t see it until after my basil was pretty much done for the season, so I made a mental note to check it out again this year. Well, I still haven’t made time for cheesecake, but this time around, I noticed the link to the lemon basil gelato. Gelato, I reasoned, would come together faster than cheesecake, and wouldn’t require the use of the oven. Plus, who wouldn’t want a frosty, frozen treat in the middle of August? Besides, how weird could it really be? (Andy was NOT convinced. “Why do you have to make a weird flavor? Can’t you just make vanilla bean?”) 

I went for it. It came together quickly, and I found the flavor to be very refreshing. Right after churning the gelato, I found it to have a very subtle basil flavor – I think “herby” is the best way to describe it. However, the longer it sat in the freezer, the more pronounced the basil became. Since I’m not too familiar with gelato, I can’t say if the texture was right on, but no one here complained. In fact, Andy’s only complaint was that I ate more than my share of the gelato. In my defense, I thought that his comments about its “weirdness” meant he didn’t like it. Whoops.

I can’t wait to hear his comments when I try this peach basil sorbet. 😀


Lemon Basil Gelato

2 1/4 cups milk, divided
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/3 cup sugar
zest of one lemon
1/2 cup loosely packed basil leaves (I didn’t have lemon basil, so I upped the zest and decreased the basil.) 
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and 1/4 cup milk. Set aside. Heat (but do not boil) the remaining two cups of milk in a medium saucepan set over medium heat.

Meanwhile, combine the sugar, lemon zest and basil leaves in a small bowl. Using a wooden spoon, crush the zest and leaves into the sugar, releasing the oils.

When the milk begins to steam, whisk in the cornstarch slurry. Mix in the lemon/bail/sugar mixture and stir until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the vanilla and salt. Place a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and pour the mixture through the strainer, pressing on the leaves to extract the flavors. Allow the mixture to chill completely. (I was impatient, so I put mine in the freezer and stirred it every 20 minutes or so… no time to mess with an overnight chill in the fridge!) 

Churn in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions, then transfer to a freezer-safe container and freeze until firm.

From Have Dessert First

Click here for a printable version.