Chocolate Cupcakes

These beautiful little babies are your basic but sooooooo good chocolate cupcakes. They're the kind of thing that you continue to think about after you've eaten the last bite. Like four hours after. And if you're anything like me, you go back again and again, cutting about a third off of another one every half hour or so. As if it's better to eat another whole one if it's done in pieces over the course of an hour and a half.

The first time I used this recipe, it was to make a cake. At eight months pregnant, I had torn out a page from Better Homes and Gardens at my OB's office during one of my three hour very-much-worth-it-waits (for what I have to believe is the best doctor living here on Earth). The recipe was titled "Quick Chocolate Cake" and it said prep time was 5 minutes, bake time was 35. Done! Sounds wonderful. Let's rip this guy out and stuff it in my bag while no one's looking. Months later I came across the recipe and decided to try it. What did I have to lose? About 40 minutes and some basic pantry ingredients? And this was no loss. This was a find. A gem. A keeper. And what's more...I realized after the fact that it's vegan. That's right. Don't be dismayed. If you're skeptical or turned off right now, forget I mentioned it. If you need something to bring to your weirdo vegan friends' pot luck...you've come to the right place. Now, of course, let's be honest...I slathered fresh vanilla buttercream frosting all over the poor vegan cake. But you don't have to and the cupcakes will still be good. Promise.

The cake was a hit around the house with the husband, in-laws, etc. and I decided to use it for cupcakes. They were perfection. I made a batch of giant "we-have-no-shame" ones and a batch of smaller, more respectable ones. Both turned out beautifully. Serve with either the frosting of your choice or freshly whipped cream. Yum.

                    3 cups all purpose flour
                    2 cups sugar
                    2 cups cold water
                    2/3 vegetable oil
                    1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I like Rapunzel)
                    2 teaspoons baking soda
                    2 teaspoons white vinegar (wha?)
                    1 teaspoon salt
                    1 teaspoon vanilla

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients. Beat with an electric mixer on medium to high speed until well combined.

Pour batter into a greased muffin tin. For large cupcakes, bake 25-30 minutes. For small cupcakes, bake 20-25 minutes.

Serve frosted or with freshly whipped cream.


Makes 12 large or 24 small cupcakes.

From Better Homes and Gardens July 2009.


Chicken Gorgonzola Salad with Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes and Pine Nuts

Admittedly, this salad may not be brimming with innovation or creativity...but it is fresh and light, and  perfect for a summer weeknight meal. Our tomato forest is finally starting to produce the most beautiful sweet, bright and colorful heirloom cherry tomatoes - I think the endless Southern California marine layer this year has had the plants a bit confused. The fruit has been there forever and only now is it starting to ripen. It's so exciting to see beautiful pops of red, and yellow after weeks and weeks of checking nervously to find only more tiny growing green babies as well as growing signs of caterpillar destruction!

I have found the best way to prepare this salad is by boiling and shredding chicken breasts. Of course, you can grill the chicken if you like, and even serve the breast in it's entirety if that's your thing, but there is something texturally about the shredded chicken that really floats my boat. Now let's spend a moment on boiling chicken. It is very important (and I mean very) to not overcook the chicken. This is best avoided by keeping the water at a very gentle rolling boil - if you cook it at a high boil, you'll end up with dry, rubbery chicken and that a happy eater does not make. Once the water is boiling, add the chicken and a pinch of salt. After six or seven minutes (or less, depending on the size of the breasts) check the chicken often by cutting down the center. You want the chicken to be just barely cooked through, as it will continue to cook a bit once you take it out of the water. Let it cool slightly, then shred.

          1 lb. chicken breast, cooked and shredded
          8 oz. mixed greens
          1/2 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved
          1/2 cup crumbled gorgonzola
          1/4 cup pine nuts

Toss all the ingredients together with your favorite vinaigrette.

Makes two large, or four small portions.


Honey Lavender Ice Cream

I've seen this flavor combination pop up here and there over the last several years, and being a fan of both, it has always sounded like it would be right up my alley. Recently, while watching Merryl Streep make it for Steve Martin in It's Complicated, I nearly got up from the couch in an effort to attempt it right then and there. The impulse passed and I didn't act on it, but the timing this week was perfect as Dan and I decided to cut out refined sugar for a couple of weeks. I've never sweetened ice cream with honey before and let me just say this: wow. There is something about using a liquid sweetener (honey, maple, agave, etc.) rather than granulated sugar that changes the composition, resulting in the most deliciously creamy and smooth ice cream you've ever tasted. Be warned, though - there is a caveat...this ice cream will not freeze as well as homemade ice cream usually does. For those of you who like your ice cream hard (like ME), you must know that this ice cream will be softer than your typical liking. However, I found the flavor and texture to be so delightful that I really didn't mind, and that's saying a lot. I've happily bent many a spoon on hard ice cream in my day. I did end up freezing the ice cream overnight to make it scoopable, instead of the standard two to three hours after churning I usually go for, and it was delicious. If you like a softer style ice cream, you will think you have died and gone to ice cream heaven and want to eat it right away.

                    1/2 cup honey
                    1/4 cup dried lavender
                    4 egg yolks
                    2 cups milk
                    1 cup heavy cream

Bring the milk, cream, honey, and lavender to a gentle boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Remove from the heat and let steep for 10-15 minutes. Strain and let cool a bit.

In a separate medium bowl, beat the egg yolks, then gradually add some of the warm milk mixture, whisking as you pour.  Pour the warmed eggs back into the saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain again into a bowl.

Set the bowl over a large bowl of ice water. Stir the custard until cool, then cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled (3 hours or overnight).

Freeze in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Makes about 1 quart.


Ahi Sashimi Bowl with Tofu and Orange Sesame Vinaigrette

Taking inspiration from the fabulous Heidi Swanson's "Sushi Bowl", Dan and I have been making this every Monday night for quite a while now. It's a light, healthy way to start out the week after typically having indulged one way or another (or another!) over the weekend, and I'm always perfectly satisfied without feeling stuffed and weighed down when it's over. This one's a keeper, folks.

The beautiful flowers are Tatsoi blooms. Those of you who frequent this site know that I love to eat flowers and these little babies are no exception. Tatsoi is an Asian mustard harvested for the greens. The flowers remind me of my childhood - they taste similar to the mustard flowers that bloomed all over the hills in the area where I grew up. Before the Tatsoi from our garden went to seed, we were lightly sautéing the leaves and adding them, too. I haven't been able to bring myself to pull the plants out yet - their  delicate and mild-flavored little blossoms are too delicious and continue to spring up.

                    2/3 lb. sashimi grade ahi tuna
                    1 package soft tofu
                    1 cup brown rice
                    1-2 avocados, sliced
                    1/4 cup chopped scallions for garnish
                    2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
                    torn nori pieces (optional)

For the vinaigrette:
                    1/4 cup orange juice
                    2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
                    1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar
                    1 tablespoon soy sauce
                    1-1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

Rinse the rice and and add to a medium saucepan with 1-2/3 cup water. Bring to a boil and lower to a simmer. Let cook for 45 minutes, or until water is absorbed. Remove from the heat and let stand an additional 10 minutes before fluffing with a fork.

Toast the sesame seeds by heating and tossing them in a small pan over medium heat until light brown and fragrant.

For beautifully cut sashimi, cut the ahi into 1"-wide blocks with the grain along the length of the fillet. Then slice the blocks into 1/4" thick slices against the grain. For a great video tutorial on the art of cutting perfect sashimi slices, click here.

Slice the tofu into 1/4" thick slices and pan fry them over medium heat to brown on either side. remove from the heat and cut again into dominoes of desired size.

Place the rice, sashimi, tofu, and avocado slices in a bowl and garnish with scallions, toasted sesame seeds and torn pieces of nori (optional). Generously spoon the vinaigrette over the top.

Makes 2 healthy servings. 


Pan Fried Halloumi with Lemon and Fresh Herbs

For months now, I have been wanting to try this very simple dish from Donna Hay. God only knows why I waited so long. Making this requires only the simple tasks of pan frying sliced halloumi cheese and picking some cilantro and mint from the garden. A little segmented lemon really brings the flavors together. Please don't skip this part!

If you haven't cooked with halloumi before, you can thank me later for bringing this incredibly tasty and versatile ingredient into your life. You'll wonder how you made it this long without it. And speaking of long, halloumi has been around for centuries...literally. Since the Medieval Byzantine period, where it originated in Cyprus, this cheese has been popular in Greece and the Middle East. Made from both goats' and sheep milk, it's somewhere between a fresh mozzarella and a salty firm feta. What makes it extra special is it's high melting point. You can fry it or grill it without it melting and running all over the place. It holds it's shape and browns beautifully AND no oil or butter is needed. It's also wonderful fresh in salads or on sandwiches. I just read that Cypriots eat it with watermelon in the summer. Will have to try this!

                    sliced halloumi cheese
                    small handful fresh mint and cilantro
                    segmented lemon

Pan fry the halloumi slices over medium high heat for about two minutes on each side. Garnish with mint, cilantro, and lemon.

From Donna Hay.


Borrego Blueberry Muffins

I know, I know. More baking? I can't help myself.

Dan and I had strategically scheduled vacation this week, and silly me had visions of us playing on the beach every day with James...building sand castles and soaking up the sun. But after weeks and weeks of gloomy, cloudy, gray skies (Monday it was actually raining on my head on our morning walk), it was time for a getaway. My brilliant husband had the idea of heading east - to the westernmost extent of my beloved Sonoran desert. I jumped online and minutes later we had a condo booked for two nights in beautiful Borrego Springs. Interesting fact about this place: Borrego Springs holds the unique distinction of being the only California community completely surrounded by a state park (Anza-Borrego, the largest desert state park in the nation).

I had never been before, but Dan grew up going to Borrego and knew I would love it. And I did. It was breathtakingly beautiful. We had three lovely days of welcomed heat and gorgeous views of the expansive desert mountains surrounding the area. James loved going in the pool for the first time, and seeing frogs, dragonflies, rabbits, and lizards.

And I made these muffins. These glorious muffins were - dare I say it - THE BEST MUFFINS I HAVE EVER MADE. Yep. I combined the dry ingredients ahead of time and mixed in the melted butter, egg, buttermilk and fresh blueberries right before popping them in the oven on our first morning. Now, naturally, I thought they would be good. Blueberry muffins usually are. But wow. The buttermilk made for an incredibly perfect interior and a slightly tangy flavor that really worked with the blueberries. I added some coarse sugar on top for a beautiful texture contrast and the whole shebang was a huge success. Thank you Nigella Lawson (again). It really is the little things like this that make for warm and fuzzy feelings when you're away from home.

6 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 large egg
1 cup fresh blueberries
coarse sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a muffin pan with paper cups. Melt the butter and set aside.

Combine all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.

In a separate bowl, beat the buttermilk with the egg and melted butter. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix to combine. Don't worry about lumps. They make for better muffins. Don't overmix!

Fold in blueberries and keep the mixing to a minumum.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups and sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Bake for 20 minutes and let cool on a cooling rack.

Makes 12 small muffins.

Adapted from Nigella Lawson, How to Be a Domestic Goddess.


Rose Water and Apricot Financiers

It is far too convenient to have a favorite recipe that uses 4 egg whites after you've just made ice cream calling for four yolks. Each time I make ice cream with the standard custard base recipe that I like, I happily save the whites knowing we'll be enjoying some financiers in the very near future.

In this case, I decided to use the rose water that had been sitting unopened for a couple of weeks patiently awaiting it's triumphant debut. Now I know not everyone loves the taste of flowers...the subject is not new to this blog. If you're one who doesn't do flowers in your food - then please move along. There's nothing to see here. However, if, like me, you have a palate for floral notes, then enjoy these little gems.

Financiers are really best the same day. This recipe makes twelve, and if you only want make half a dozen, you can save the batter in the fridge for the following day. It keeps really well. Just be sure not to stir it when you're ready to use it. Spoon it right in.

          1/2 cup unsalted butter (or 1/3 cup melted butter if you're not making the beurre noisette)
          2 tablespoons rosewater
          1/2 cup ground almonds
          1 cup powdered sugar
          1/4 cup flour
          4 egg whites
          a dash of salt
          a handful of dried apricots, very thinly sliced

To make the beurre noisette, melt the butter in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat. Once it begins to boil, turn the heat down to low, and continue to cook. All the solids will separate from the liquid. Cook until the butter has reached a deep golden brown color. Remove from the heat, let cool a bit, and strain. Once strained, you should have about 1/3 cup of the liquid left. Let cool to room temperature (or at least lukewarm).

Preheat the oven to 375 and position a rack in the center. Lightly grease the inside of 12 small muffin tins.

In a medium bowl, combine the almonds, sugar, flour, salt and egg whites. Mix on low speed until the ingredients have combined. Then add the brown butter and beat on medium speed until the batter is smooth. Add the rose water and beat just to combine.

Spoon the batter into the muffin tins and bake for about 10-12 minutes. Take the financiers out of the oven, arrange the apricot slices on top, and put back in the oven for another 3-5 minutes or until golden brown. The tops will be soft and sponge-like. Let cool on a wire rack before enjoying.

Makes 12 financiers.


Herbed Ricotta Spread

We had a small dinner party recently, and I thought this spread would be a beautiful appetizer for showcasing some of the fresh herbs that are really starting to take off in our garden. It was also a perfect match for the warmer weather we've been having - light and fresh, yet luscious. Because I was pressed for a time, I used a container of store-bought part skim ricotta, but making my own (click here) would have been even better. To keep it delicate, use part skim ricotta. For a slightly heavier spread, go with whole milk ricotta.

                    15 oz. ricotta cheese (1 container if using store-bought)
                    5 tsp. chopped fresh oregano (I used Greek)
                    5 tsp. snipped fresh chives
                    4 tsp. minced fresh parsley
                    1 small clove garlic, finely minced
                    sea salt to taste

                    sliced rustic country bread to serve

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. Serve with fresh, warm bread.



Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream

As much as I like Mexican chocolate, I've always preferred to nibble on a little piece rather than make hot chocolate with it, which is what it's most known for. The combination of dark chocolate, cinnamon, and coarse sugar is unusual and spectacular, but that should come as no surprise, since it was the Aztecs, after all, that gave chocolate to the world. They ought to have known a thing or two about what to do with the stuff. The Aztecs had adopted it from the Mayan Culture, and drinks made of chocolate combined with honey, nuts, seeds, and spices were used in rituals by priests and nobleman. Chocolate was so valued that it was even used as a currency. Naturally, the Spaniards fell in love with it (who wouldn't?), and upon taking it back to Spain, it became the official drink of the King. Europeans began preparing it with milk and sugar, and hot chocolate became all the rage.

This chocolate, with it's rustic and earthy appeal made for some incredible ice cream. If you're not familiar with it, you'll find it in the international aisle of most markets. It's sold under the name Abuelita or Ibarra, and comes packaged in boxes of discs that are made up of small triangles.

                    1 1/2 discs Mexican chocolate
                    2/3 cups sugar
                    4 large egg yolks
                    1 cup heavy cream
                    2 cups milk
Put the chocolate and cream in a large, heat-safe bowl. Set it over a saucepan of simmering water and stir occasionally until the chocolate has melted and is smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat and set a mesh strainer across the top.

In a medium saucepan, heat the milk and sugar over medium low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

In a separate medium bowl, beat the egg yolks, then gradually add some of the warm milk-sugar mixture, whisking as you pour. Pour the warmed eggs back into the saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain the custard into into the chocolate mixture and stir until smooth.

Set the bowl over a large bowl of ice water. Stir the custard until cool, then cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled (3 hours or overnight).

Freeze in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Makes about 1 quart.


Baked Risotto with Spinach and Pine Nuts

Because risotto is rather buttery and decadent, I limited myself to just a small serving of this indulgent dish. And I really wasn't left wanting more. The stock, parmesan, and butter made for a rich and flavorful combination, so a few luxurious bites was satisfying and perfect. I'm not one for a whole plate of risotto as an entrée - the thought alone overwhelms me. But as a side dish I'm all in.

Never having made it before, I was pleasantly surprised at how simple the preparation was. Baking risotto is as easy as combining the arborio rice with stock in a baking dish, covering it with foil and popping it in the oven for 35 to 40 minutes. Then a little butter and parmesan gets stirred in, as well as whatever else you are in the mood for - mushrooms, tomatoes, etc. Baby spinach and pine nuts were delightful, but for me they always are. I'm adding this to my "perfect for entertaining" list.

                    1 1/2 cups arborio rice
                    4 1/2 cups chicken stock
                    1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
                    1 1/2 oz unsalted butter
                    sea salt and cracked black pepper
                    2 oz baby spinach leaves
                    1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted

Preheat the oven to 350.

Place the rice and stock in an 8 1/2 x 12" baking dish. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until most of the stock is absorbed and the rice is al dente. Add the parmesan, butter, salt, pepper, spinach, and pine nuts and stir until the butter is melted. Serve immediately.

Makes four servings.

Adapted from Donna Hay.


Homemade Strawberry Preserves

A couple of weeks ago as I was enjoying some orange breakfast muffins with strawberry jam, the thought of braving homemade preserves occurred to me. Last week the strawberries were too abundant and inexpensive to not follow through with the idea. Plus, Mother's Day was coming up, and I knew (that if successful!) it would make a beautiful and unique gift. And it did. The jars were a hit at brunch last Sunday, as well as in our own house. I certainly can't claim all the credit - Dan came home from work last Thursday evening and was up for last minute weeknight preserving. Lucky wife, indeed. After I prepared the strawberry concoction, he jumped right in and helped with the tough part: processing.

Homemade preserves were a lot easier to pull off than I thought they would be. I chose to use unsweetened pectin instead of lemon juice or gelatin, and was very pleased with the results. The preserves definitely turned out a bit runnier than store-bought, and I had the option of adding more pectin, but didn't really think it was necessary. The runnier consistency feels more natural to me, and makes for the added benefit of slightly easier spreading. I more than halved the sugar that was called for in the recipe, and substituted agave nectar as well as evaporated cane juice sugar for the granulated sugar. The strawberries are currently at their peak and very sweet on their own, so 7 cups of sugar to me seemed not only over the top and completely undesirable, but also somewhat criminal. You can any sweetener you like - honey, fruit juice, etc. Play with the amounts and find the ratio that works for you.

Dan processed the jars by placing them in  briskly boiling water in a large stockpot for five to seven minutes. We don't have a canner, so lifting the jars out of the boiling water was tricky. Definitely use extreme caution when you're doing this part. Tongs made for jars would have made for a much easier (and safer) method. Because we are now preserving enthusiasts, I've added them to my shopping list!

                    4 pints ripe strawberries (about 4 cups crushed)
                    2 cups evaporated cane sugar
                    1 cup agave nectar
                    1 3oz pouch of unsweetened fruit pectin

Wash the jars in hot, soapy water and rinse. Place them on a rack in the sink and pour boiling water in and over each jar. Drain. Alternatively, you can sterilize the jars by running them through the dishwasher. Transfer the clean jars to a cookie tray and place them in a 200-degree F oven.

Prepare the lids by placing them in a saucepan of gently boiling water for five to ten minutes. If you plan on processing your jam (sealing the jars to ensure freshness and a longer shelf-life), be sure you are using new lids. If you don't process, your jam should last a little over a month in the refrigerator. If you do process the jars, they will last for 18 months unopened and unrefrigerated.

Wash and hull the strawberries. Mash them in a bowl, or use a food processor to pulse, but be sure not to overdo it - you want your jam to have pieces of fruit in it.

Place the strawberries into a 6- or 8-qt. pot. Stir the sugar and agave into the fruit and mix well. Bring the pot to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Don't skimp on the size of the pot - the strawberry mixture will GROW when you add the pectin and the mixture is boiling.

Add the fruit pectin and return to a full rolling boil. Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly to prevent scorching.

Remove the jam from the heat and skim off and discard any foam using a metal spoon. Ladle the jam into a liquid measuring cup and fill the hot jars immediately to within 1/8 inch of the tops.

Wipe the jar rims and threads with a clean, damp cloth.

Remove the jar lids from boiling water using tongs and place them on a paper towel. Wipe them dry. Place the lids on the jars and screw them on tightly.

If you don't plan on processing and will be enjoying your jam within a few weeks, you can skip the next part. If you do want to process, proceed with the following step.

To process:
If you don't have a canner (like us), bring a very large pot of water to a boil. Be sure the pot is deep enough so that the jars will have at least an inch or two of water covering them when placed inside. Process the jars for 5-7 minutes and then leave undisturbed for 12-24 hours. The lids will have curved down if properly sealed. If you find that one of your jars did not seal, you can reprocess right away, but not after 24 hours have passed.

Makes six 8oz. jars of preserves.

Adapted from ehow.com.


Wheat Berry Bowl with Greens and Feta

Nothing fancy here, admittedly, but this simple bowl of wheat berries and wilted greens made a tasty and satisfying meal. Just to mix things up, I've started using the soft or "pastry" wheat berries, instead of the standard hard or "red" that I normally buy. This sort of minor change makes for a lot of excitement in my life. It doesn't take much, folks.

I used collard greens because that was what I had on hand, but chard, spinach or any other green that you love would be just as wonderful. Sprinkle with feta and a generous scattering of pine nuts for a little added texture and nuttiness. I tend to go overboard with the pine nuts...slivered almonds might be a yummy alternative. Oh, and olive oil. Just a little drizzled over the top. If you're short on time, this may not be practical, as the wheat berries take 45 minutes to an hour to cook. Mine were precooked and this bowl came together in a jiffy.

                    1 cup wheat berries
                    2 cups water
                    2 cups collard greens, washes and torn into bight sized pieces
                    feta and pine nuts to serve
To cook the wheat berries, wash and drain before placing in a medium sauce pan with the water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. When they have cooked to your liking (they will have plumped up with some cracked open), remove from the heat and drain. These can be cooked beforehand.

Blanch the greens in simmering water for just a few minutes until bright green and wilted.

Combine the greens and wheat berries in a bowl and top with feta, pine nuts, and drizzle with olive oil.


Meyer Lemon Petites Madeleines

Yesterday was my neighbor's birthday and I wanted to make her a little treat. I knew I wanted to flavor the goods with the Meyer lemons James and I picked from my girlfriend's tree last week, and I wanted to make something that was feminine and sweet and would make the birthday girl feel special. Being such a sucker for specialty kitchen goods, I had bought a madeleine pan a few months ago and it had just been sitting there. Lonely. Unpurposed. It was time for it's kitchen debut.

I turned to the blogging hemisphere for madeleine recipes and ended up choosing and adapting Heidi Swanson's. Heidi's recipes are always pretty simplified and generally yield fine results. I feel confident and secure when going by her instructions. She's a wonderful partner in any culinary effort. You do need a madeleine pan to make these, of course, but if you don't have one, or the idea of buying one never entered your mind, I encourage you to go get one. If you like madeleines, that is. And make sure it's metal, and not the newer silicone kind. It will make much prettier cookies.

                    1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (6 ounces)
                    2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter (for greasing pan)
                    3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
                    4 large eggs
                    a pinch fine-grain sea salt
                    2/3 cups sugar
                    zest of one large lemon
                    3 tablespoons lemon juice from the lemon
                    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
                    powdered sugar
                    a little flour for dusting the pan
         Special equipment: A madeleine baking pan, any size
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Melt the 1 1/2 sticks of butter in a small pot over medium heat until it's brown and smells nutty and fragrant. About 15 to 20 minutes. Strain with a mesh strainer and discard the solids. Cool the butter to room temperature.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and use it to brush the madeleine molds. Dust with flour and invert the pan tapping out any excess flour.

Whisk the eggs and salt on high speed with the whisking attachment in an electric mixer until thick, and the eggs have doubled or tripled in volume (about 3 minutes). Continuing to whisk on high speed, and slowly and steadily add the sugar. Whisk for 2 minutes or until the mixture is thick and ribbony. Then, fold in the lemon zest, 3 tablespoons of lemon juice and vanilla with a rubber spatula, just until combined.

Sprinkle the flour on top of the egg batter, and gently fold it in. Next, fold in the butter. Stir gently, only enough to bring everything together.

Spoon the batter into the molds, filling each mold 2/3 -3/4 full. I used a 1/2 teaspoon measuring spoon for the petites madeleines and it worked perfectly.

Bake the madeleines for 12 - 14 minutes (7-10 minutes for smaller cookies), or until the edges of the madeleines are golden brown. Remove from the oven and invert the madeleines onto a cooling rack immediately. Cool on racks and dust with powdered sugar.

Makes 2 -3 dozen regular madeleines.

Adapted from 101 Cookbooks.


Orange Breakfast Muffins

These very simple breakfast muffins are as easy as languidly stirring the ingredients together. No mixer or beater required. Be careful not to overwork the batter though, as lumpy is what you're after. Made with just a little sugar, these delicious babies won't make you feel guilty the rest of the day for indulging first thing in the morning.  And because they're not very sweet, I advise you to go for it and enjoy them with a little jam. I had mine with strawberry and am inspired to take on homemade preserves with all the strawberries that are ripening so quickly around here. Stay tuned!

                    6 tablespoons unsalted butter
                    1 2/3 whole wheat pastry flour
                    2 tablespoons ground almonds
                    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
                    1 teaspoon baking powder
                    1/4 cup mascobado sugar
                    zest of 1 orange
                    1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
                    1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole milk
                    1 egg

Preheat the oven to 400F. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper baking cups.

Melt the butter and set aside. Combine the flour, ground almonds, baking soda, baking powder, sugar, and orange zest in a large bowl. Measure the orange juice and milk into a pitcher and whisk in the egg and then the cooled, melted butter. Now pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients, mixing with a fork as you go. The batter will be lumpy but that's how it should be: you want everything to be no more than barely combined.

Spoon the mixture equally into the muffin cups and cook for 15-20 minutes. Remove, in their paper cups, to a wire rack and let cool slightly. Serve warm with jam or preserves.

Makes 12 muffins.

Adapted from Nigella Lawson, Nigella Bites.


Pear, Rocket and Fennel Salad with Blue Cheese

A combination of favorites: cheese, fruit and greens. What a delightfully simple but sophisticated little salad this is. And fennel! Fennel, that odd and quirky bulbous herb/vegetable with feathery leaves and a slightly sweet crunch. Not being one who picks up fennel frequently, I must admit I was rather proud to be waiting in line with my stalks. Fennel is one of those ingredients I always admire longingly. Moreover, if someone is standing next to me with some, I am instantly impressed. I'll assume them to be risk-takers. Creative, confident, and masterful. Members of the Fennel Club.

And it turns out fennel is quite good for you. Feeling bewitched with this element of the salad, I did a little reading up on the stuff. Fennel is chock full of unique phytonutrients with antioxidant and cancer-fighting properties. Not only that, it boasts high levels of vitamin C, fiber, folate, and potassium. If you haven't been one for fresh fennel in the past, I encourage you to give it a go. You might feel pretty cool buying it, too.

                    4 slices crusty bread
                    5 oz. rocket (arugula) leaves
                    1 fennel bulb, sliced
                    2 pears, sliced
                    blue cheese, cut into 4 wedges
                    sherry vinegar, to serve
                    extra virgin olive oil, to serve
                    sea salt and cracked black pepper

Grill or toast the bread until crisp. Arrange on plates with the rocket, fennel, pears, and blue cheese. To serve, drizzle over a little oil and vinegar, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Makes 4 servings.

Adapted from Donna Hay.


Couscous with Wild Rocket Pesto

I'm aware that there are a lot of crazy couscous people out there. Personally, I've never been big on it. Sure, I like it. It's fine. Not bad. But I might have been able to live without ever eating it again. Until now. This, my friends, is a keeper. So simple, so quick, and so good. This could sound a little nuts for someone who before today was not a big believer in the stuff...but I'm going to go ahead and say it anyway. I think this couscous stands a very good chance of becoming one of those dishes that we make a couple of times a month around here. I know, I know. Shawn, that might be taking it a little far. Well, possibly. But I like the thought.

We're talking ten minutes undisturbed here, guys. No boiling, stirring, simmering, covering, letting stand, peeking in, etc. It is one of those dishes that will say to you, "Will you please leave me alone? I've got this covered." I love it when food takes that stance. That self-sufficient attitude that allows you to, as Nigel Slater once wrote, "go brush the cat". (I love him.) What takes the longest, is roasting the tomatoes for twenty minutes first. Again, they, too, do all the work themselves. You toss them with olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper and pop them in. Then you take them out, add the couscous and stock and back in for ten more minutes. That's it. Top with a rough pesto of any kind (I chose arugula), and you have yourself a beautiful dish to enjoy hot or cold.

                    10 roma tomatoes, halved
                    2 tablespoons thyme leaves
                    2 tablespoons olive oil
                    sea salt and cracked pepper
                    1 1/2 cups couscous
                    1 1/2 cups stock
For the pesto:
                    2 oz wild rocket (arugula), chopped
                    1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
                    1/3 cup finely grated parmesan
                    2 tablespoons lemon juice
                    1/2 cup olive oil
                    sea salt and cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. To make the pesto, place the arugula, pine nuts, parmesa, lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper in a small bowl and mix to combine. Set aside.

Place the tomatoes, thyme, oil, salt and pepper in a baking dish and toss to combine. Roast for twenty minutes. Add the couscous and pour over the stock. Cover with foil and cook for another ten minutes. Top with the pesto to serve.

Makes four large servings.

Adapted from Donna Hay.       


Whole Wheat Buttermilk Loaf with Thyme

This is a tasty loaf. So tasty, in fact, I rose from my chair mid-post to cut myself a slice. I think it's the thyme that has me so enamored. Thyme, with it's unassuming nature and perfectly dainty little leaves, is one of my favorite herbs. Even it's name on paper looks lovely.

This bread is made with buttermilk and yogurt (substituted for sour cream), so it's very moist, yet not too dense. Pepper and a tiny bit of garlic compliment the thyme nicely. I've been enjoying it as is, as well as slightly toasted with a little butter. Thinking of trying it with a little melted cheese over the top next before it's all gone. This recipe makes one 8x3" loaf. I doubled it and made 4 mini loaves. I highly recommend this if you like savory breads.
                    1 large clove garlic, minced
                    4 tablespoons unsalted butter
                    1 3/4 cups whole wheat white flour
                    2 teaspoons baking powder
                    1 teaspoon salt
                    1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
                    1 tablespoon unrefined sugar
                    1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
                    1 egg
                    1/4 cup plain yogurt
                    1 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 350 and butter or spray an 8x3" loaf pan. Put the garlic and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat just long enough to melt the butter. Set aside.

Stir the flour, baing powder, salt, pepper, sugar, and thyme together in a medium bowl. Crack the egg into a small bowl and whisk in the yogurt and buttermilk. Pour the egg mixture and garlic butter over the flour mixture and stir just to moisten the dry ingredients; don't worry about a few dry spots in the dough.

Spoon the dough into the prepared pan and place it in the oven. Bake until the top springs back when gently touched in the center, 45-55 minutes. Put the loaf on a cooling rack until just warm. Unmold the loaf and wrap it in plastic. This bread will stay moist and flavorful at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Makes one 8x3" loaf.

Adapted from Mary Cech, Savory Baking.


Lentil Soup with Chard and Sausage

If my kitchen had an annual awards ceremony, Best Dried Pantry Staple might very well go to lentils. When I haven't got the time to soak or cook for hours on end, lentils are there for me. They cook quickly, are healthy and filling, and make for a great lunch the following day. That's why I reach for them more often than anything else (in their category), and they have permanent front row seats on their shelf. Chard could easily win, or at minimum be nominated for Most Versatile Green, as I have yet to find anything it doesn't taste good with or next to. So the combination of the two in this soup really makes for a winning performance. I'm a big fan of greens in soup. They lend a wonderful contrasting texture and really freshen up the frequently monotone, nondescript color palette that is inherent to soup. The addition of sausage takes this from really good to Wow!, but of course my veggie peeps will not be disappointed after omitting it. And on a final note, I have come to realize that, sadly, I don't cook with herbes de Provence often enough. I'm a creature of habit, and always too caught up in cumin when seasoning soups. But the spices in this dish made for a fabulous French country flavor that left me pining for a trip to southeastern France.
                    2 tablespoons olive oil
                    1 large onion, chopped
                    1 pound sausage
                    4 garlic cloves
                    1 1/2 cups lentils
                    1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
                    Kosher salt
                    1 bunch green chard

Heat the olive oil in a heavy, large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until golden, about 10 minutes.

Cut the sausage into 1/2" rounds. Add to the pot and cook, stirring frequently, until the sausage is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the lentils, 7 cups water, and the herbes de Provence, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add a good sprinkle of salt, and simmer until the lentils are very tender and the broth is slightly thick, about 1 hour.

Remove the tough stems from the chard and cut it crosswise into 2"-thick strips. Stir in the chard and simmer just until it wilts, about 3 minutes. Season the soup with salt and pepper.

Makes 6 servings.

Adapted from Jeanne Kelley, Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes.


Lemon Lime Cookies

After ogling endlessly at these over at lovely Hannah's Honey and Jam, I decided to try them - with a twist. I had a surplus of both lemons and limes, so it made sense to use both, rather than just limes as in the original recipe. As well, I literally lost control while making these, and found myself sprinkling the beyond belief gorgeous zest-infused sugar over the top, instead of just rolling it around the sides. In my opinion, this is the best part of the recipe. The zest gets worked into the sugar for several minutes making it moist, fragrant and beautiful.

There's a bit more to this story. The recipe calls for forming the dough into cylinders, and for the life of me, I could not get a perfectly round tube of dough. The pathetic aesthetic was further accentuated by the fact that when I put the dough on a plate to chill in the fridge, the bottom side took a flat shape and when slicing off the 1/4-inch "rounds", mine weren't, sadly. Round, that is. They were roundish, with one straight edge - if you can imagine that. It was near catastrophic. Soooooooo, Plan B. Okay Life, if this is how it's going to be... I can "fix it" as my childhood art teacher, Mrs. Kinney, used to say when I would ask if I could start over. Ironically, I've thought about her a couple of times lately. For the first time in almost twenty years. So I fixed it. I took small handfuls of the dough and rolled them out to a 1/4"-thick, and then used a cookie cutter. Not bad. Then I joyfully sprinkled the sugar all over the place.

For the cookies:

                    3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
                    1 3/4 cups raw cane sugar
                    1/4 teaspoon salt
                    zest of 1 large lime, and 1 lemon
                    12 ounces (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 24 pieces
                    2 large eggs

For the sugar coating:
                    1 1/2 cups raw cane sugar
                    zest of 1/2 a lime and 1/2 a lemon

Mix the flour, 1 3/4 cup sugar, salt, and zests in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse 10 times to reduce the zest to smaller pieces.

Add the butter and pulse until it is completely mixed into the dry ingredients, but the mixture is still powdery. Add the eggs and pulse until the dough forms a ball. Turn out the dough onto a floured work surface and divide into two equal pieces. Form each into a ridiculous wannabe cylinder about 8 inches long.

Clean any flour off the work surface and combine the 1 1/2 cup sugar and lime zest, working together with fingertips for a minute to release the lime flavor into the sugar. Pour the sugar onto the work surface in a wide line about 8 inches long. Roll one of the logs of dough in it to coat the outside completely. Repeat with the other log of dough. Wrap each log of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. 

When you are ready to bake the cookies, set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350˚F. Line cookies sheets with parchment paper.

Cut the logs of dough into 1/4-inch thick slices and arrange them on prepared pans about 1 inch apart on all sides. See how silly they look. Laugh nervously, panic briefly, and then opt for rolling the dough out to a 1/4" thick, working in small batches and being careful to handle it as little as possible. Cut the desired shape out with a cookie cutter.  Repeat with the second log of dough, or wrap, freeze, and save it for another day.

Bake the cookies until they are firm and golden around the edges, 15 to 20 minutes. After the first 10 minutes, place the pan from the lower rack on the upper one and vise versa, turning the pans from back to front at the same time. Slide the papers off the pans to cool the cookies. If you only have one pan of cookies to bake, adjust the racks to the middle of the oven. 

Store cookies at room temperature between sheets of wax paper in an air-tight container.
Makes 40-60 cookies, depending on the size.

Adapted from The Modern Baker.


Broccoli Rabe Frittata with Chevre

Sorry, Omelet, but I think frittatas have you beat all around. Not only are they far easier to pull together, but I think they also taste better and are much prettier. You can have them warm or at room temperature, and I'm not sure how many times I've ever thought to myself, "Gee, that other half of my omelet is just beautiful and will make for a great snack later!" Maybe some of you out there disagree, and that's all good, but I'm not sure I will ever attempt another omelet again. I'm horrible at it, and I've concluded there's just no reason for me to.

I decided to switch things up and make this frittata as an individual portion (albeit a sizeable one!) in a 7" skillet. Whenever I've made frittatas, I've used 6 or 7 eggs, and in this case I wanted to see what would happen with 3. The results were perfect - this was my breakfast and afternoon snack and I was sad when it was over. Substitute any green you want if you don't care for broccoli rabe. We've been eating a lot of it around here and I'm pretty taken with it, myself.

                    3 eggs
                    5 tablespoons olive oil
                    1/2 shallot, finely chopped
                    2 cups broccoli rabe, stemmed and torn or chopped coarsely
                    1/4 cup chevre (goat cheese)
                    salt and pepper

Preheat the broiler to 425 and place a rack on the top shelf of your oven.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a skillet over medium heat and saute the shallots until soft. Add the broccoli rabe and a tablespoon of water and cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted and bright green. Set aside.

Beat the eggs with salt and pepper to taste. Heat the remaining oil in a 7" ovenproof skillet over high heat. Add the eggs and immediately turn the heat down to low. Let the eggs cook undisturbed until the bottom has set. Then use a spatula to pull the eggs away from the rim and let the loose eggs run under. 

Arrange the broocoli rabe, shallots, and goat cheese over the top and flash broil the frittata just to set it's surface, a minute at most.

Makes one 7" frittata.


Skillet Cornbread

There is something quite rustically appealing about pulling cornbread baked in a cast iron pan out of the oven. For some reason, I couldn't help but feel reminded of the desert I lived in for many years. Making this made me want to eat it sitting outside under a mesquite tree, while sipping on a strong cup of coffee and taking in the beauty and serenity of the desert sky and mountains. Maybe in the company of a woodpecker. I know. Odd, but true.

This bread is as easy as beating a couple of eggs and stirring together the ingredients with a wooden spoon. I love this kind of baking. Start to finish was less than 35 minutes with minimal clean up and the results are pretty neat-o.

                    1 cup milk
                    2 eggs
                    1/4 cup olive oil
                    1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
                    1/2 cup polenta
                    2 teaspoons baking powder
                    2 teaspoons sea salt
                    1 tablespoon unrefined sugar

Preheat the oven to 350. Place the milk, eggs, and oil in a bowl and whisk to combine. Place the flour, polenta, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a bowl and stir until well combined. Make a well in the center, add the egg mixture and stir until a soft dough forms. Spoon the dough into a lightly greased 10" oven-proof skillet or frying pan and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden and cooked through when tested with a toothpick.

Adapted from Donna Hay.


Chipotle Pulled Pork Tacos

This delicious pork tenderloin cooked for seven long hours in the company of chipotle peppers, adobo sauce, sauteed onions and garlic, and a small, yet cheerful array of traditional Mexican spices. And like with many things that are not rushed, the outcome was outstanding. I love slow cooking because the house smells amazing all day, and the anticipation of the evening's meal builds and builds. It allows me to prolong the enjoyment of preparing a dish and celebrate it's various stages of development. First, the joy of choosing and assembling the ingredients. Then the aroma of the flavors coming together at their own pace with the great luxury of time. And finally, the promised moment of tasting that first bite, in hopes that it will be as good as the expectation my senses have shaped. And in this case, it was.

                    1-1 1/2 pound(s) pork tenderloin
                    1 tablespoon canned chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, minced
                    1 tablespoon adobo sauce
                    2-3 tablespoons olive oil
                    1 small to medium onion, chopped
                    2 garlic cloves, sliced
                    2 teaspoons cumin
                    2 teaspoons dried oregano
                    2 bay leaves
                    1 cup fresh tomatoes, chopped (or canned)
                    2 cups chicken broth
                    1 teaspoon kosher salt

Saute the onions and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat in a dutch oven or skillet until the onion is translucent. If using a skillet, transfer the onions and garlic to a slow cooker.

Add the tomatoes, broth, chipotle, adobo sauce, salt, spices, and pork to the onion mixture and cook for at least 6 hours.

Gently pull apart the pork before serving - it should come apart with little effort.

Serve with corn tortillas, cilantro, and lime. Also good over polenta or rice, or in a sandwich with a soft bun. Even better the next day.
Makes 4-6 servings.


Brown Sugar Tart Shell with Lemon Curd

Since making lemon curd a couple of weeks ago,  I have not been able to shake the thought of individual lemon tarts. Lo and behold, what do I find on page 108 of this month's Sunset? A no-roll tart shell recipe. That's right. No rolling. Could it really be? Now for you experienced bakers, this may not be as life-changing as it was for me. But since I am not a lifelong fancy goodies maker, I was in disbelief. The thought of no rolling had me smiling from ear to ear. So, I went straight to work. This is a quick, no-fuss way to make tart crust. The dough gets pressed into the tart pan(s) and baked until the edges are golden. I was very happy with the results, as the vanilla and brown sugar were a perfect match for the tart lemon (no pun intended). This recipe is definitely a keeper.

                  1 cup flour
                  2 tablespoons brown sugar
                  1 tablespoon corn starch
                  1/8 teaspoon salt
                  1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
                  1 teaspoon vanilla extract, divided
                  1 recipe lemon curd
                  freshly whipped cream (optional)
                  thinly sliced strawberries (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350. In a food processor, whirl the flour, sugar, cornstarch, and salt until combined. Add the butter and vanilla and pulse until fine crumbs form and the dough just begins to come together. Press evenly into the bottom and up the sides of a 9" round tart pan, or four individual tart pans. Prick the center(s) with a fork.

Bake until the edges are golden, about 20-22 minutes if using one large pan, or 15-18 minutes if using individual pans. Let cool on a rack before gently removing from the pan(s).

Spoon the lemon curd into the tart(s), and if using, top with freshly whipped cream and thinly sliced strawberries.

Makes one 9" tart, or four individual tarts.

Adapted from Sunset.


Basil Oil

Sometimes a simple, everyday ingredient can use a fresh makeover. (Can't we all now and then?) The simple infusion of basil and olive oil makes crusty bread with goat cheese all the more special. Use this oil for salad dressings, pasta dishes, or any other place you can think of to drizzle it. I think I might become obsessed with fresh herb oils - oregano, rosemary...I'm already plotting my next concoction.

                   1 1/4 cups olive oil
                   1 cup basil leaves
                   2 cups basil leaves, extra, blanched and drained
                   1/4 olive oil, extra

Place the 1 cup of basil and the 1 1/4 cup olive oil in a medium skillet over low heat and cook until the oil is just warm, about 5 minutes. Set aside for 15 minutes and strain.

Pulse the extra basil and olive oil in a mini food processor to form a paste. Stir the paste through the basil oil.

Will keep for about a week in the fridge.


Vanilla Petits Pots de Crème

Either you like custard desserts, or you don't. I do. Very much so. Especially when they're in pretty, little bowls and simple to make. Now that I have learned just how easy it is to make pots de crème, I fear I may be in trouble. I mean I can easily see myself whipping these up on a total whim...frequently. In fact, I'll now confess that I've made them three times in the last week (gasp!). The first go was the whole "trial and error, I'm figuring these out" routine. The second time they were pretty damn good, and I served them after dinner to a dear friend who loved them and insisted on bringing two home - one for her daughter and another for her mom. And the third time was for entertaining again a couple of nights later and I nailed them. I'm very excited to branch out of my vanilla comfort zone and try different essences, although truth be told - these are so lovely precisely because of their simplicity. 
                    2 eggs and 1 egg white
                    2 cups whole milk
                    1/3 cup sugar
                    1 vanilla bean

Preheat the oven to 320. 

Set four to six ramekins (depending on the size) in a large baking dish.

Bring the milk and vanilla bean to a boil in a heavy saucepan and then remove from the heat. Allow to infuse, covered, for 30 minutes. Strain and set aside.

Beat the eggs, egg yolk, and sugar in a medium bowl. Then add the hot milk slowly while continuing to beat.

Fill the baking dish with hot water so that the ramekins are halfway immersed. Pour the milk mixture into the ramekins and skim any foam from the top. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean and the middle of the creams is still moving a bit. Let cool, and then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Makes 4-6 petits pots de crème.

From La Tartine Gourmande.


Orecchiette with Lemon and Spring Vegetables (and a Pea Hunt)

I really, really wanted to make this pasta, as evidenced by the fact that James and I went to THREE markets to find the sugar snap peas this morning. It was one of those silly and exasperating things in life. When the second store didn't have them, I almost threw in the towel. I mean two stores, neither of which had a very common ingredient that they always carry? Hmph. Maybe it wasn't meant to be. But upon further thought, I felt like the universe was asking me, "So Shawn, just how far are you willing to go to get those little peas of yours?", and the idea of heading home defeated was horrible. So I persevered and found my peas. And I am soooo glad I did. This pasta lunch was delicious. Not only was it the perfect way to enjoy some homemade ricotta I made a few days ago, it was also a lesson in not giving up too soon on something you have your mind set on. I know - a bit deep for the middle of a Monday afternoon, but hey...like a lot of things in life, this pasta was worth the effort.

                    14 oz. orecchiette pasta
                    1/2 lb. green beans, trimmed
                    1/2 lb. sugar snap peas, trimmed
                    juice of 1 lemon
                    1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
                    3 tablespoons olive oil
                    1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese (to make you own click here)
                    1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
                    sea salt and cracked black pepper

Cook the pasta in a saucepan of salted boiling water for 10-12 minutes or until al dente. Drain and set aside.

Cook the beans and peas in a saucepan of simmering water for 1-2 minutes. Drain and add to the pasta. Add the lemon juice and zest, oil, ricotta, parsley, salt, and pepper and toss well to combine. 

Makes 2 large or 4 small servings. 


Adapted from Donna Hay.


Cucumber and Radish Salad with Dill

We're enjoying a sunny, warm weekend and springtime has made me feel like lightening things up. This salad is so crisp and refreshing, not to mention beautiful. I've never been big on radishes, but lately they speak my language. Or maybe I'm learning theirs? All of a sudden. Just like that. Radishes, I get you now and I'm so sorry for ignoring you for all of these years. Please accept my offer of friendship.

I have to say, these ingredients worked really well together. For some reason, the dill brings to mind the joy of eating outdoors. It's probably due to all of those times I've eaten potato salad outside on a hot day over the course of my life. In any case, eating this salad reminded me that I really like dill. In fact, I love it. And the lemons. Oh, the lemons. I just can't get enough of lemons at the moment. This recipe calls for feta, and I completely forgot to include it. Shocking, I know. I'll try it next time, but it was so good just like this. I tend to put cheese on anything and everything, so it's probably good for me to leave it out once in a while. As well, I was out of white wine vinegar, so I substituted a seasoned rice vinegar and it worked nicely.

                  1-2 cucumbers, halved lengthwise, seeded, and thinly sliced
                  2-3 large radishes, thinly sliced
                  zest and juice of 1 lemon
                  2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
                  1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill, plus more sprigs, torn, for garnish
                  coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
                  1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil

Put the cucumber, radish, and lemon zest in a medium bowl.

Whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, and dill in another medium bowl; season with salt and pepper. Whisk in the oil in a slow, steady stream until emulsified.

Add vinaigrette to cucumber mixture; toss well. Garnish with dill. The salad can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 hour.

Makes 2 large or 4 small servings.

Adapted from Martha Stewart.