May 26, 2007

Pucker Up, Baby!

Lemons scream Spring to me. Their vibrant yellow color calls for attention whenever I pass them at the market. I bet there are a few of you out there who would agree with me that when confronted with the choice of chocolate or lemon, lemon wins most of the time. Lemon tarts, lemon meringue pie, lemon poppy seed muffins, lemonade, or margaritas bursting with fresh citrus are my favorites.

I remember Martha Stewart saying that lemons were what she missed most while she was stuck in the slammer. I laughed with everyone else when she said it since it was classic Martha, but I know that eating good food directly impacts my own state of well-being, so I don't really hold it against her so much. I don't know that I would say lemons, per say, as I feel it has slightly frigid undertones, but homemade ravioli, aged serrano ham, even ice cream might make my list! Or hell, a glass of red wine!

So, it might not make my prison list, but sometimes I do yearn for a real shot of lemon. Something so tangy it makes my mouth pucker from the initial sourness and then smile as I savor the lingering sweetness. This lemon cake does the trick. This is a yogurt cake, similar to the yogurt cakes I've made in the past, but baked in a loaf pan this time around. This is somewhat like a pound cake, but lighter in texture and slightly moister because of the oil. It's wonderful for breakfast or dessert!
Lemon Yogurt Cake
(recipe adapted from Ina Garten)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 large eggs
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
1 cup whole-milk plain yogurt (or low-fat)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
1 Tbsp lemon zest (about 2 lemons)
scant 1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 cup powdered sugar
4-5 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, mix together the yogurt, sugar, eggs, vanilla extract and lemon zest. Gradually whisk in the flour mixture, a little at a time, until well combined. Finally, whisk in the oil very lightly until it is incorporated. Do not overmix.

Grease and flour a 9x5 loaf pan. Pour the batter into the pan and bake at 350 degrees F for 55-65 minutes. While the cake is baking, bring the lemon juice and remaining 1/3 cup sugar to a simmer over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside.

Remove the cake from the oven when it is done and let it cool about 10-15 minutes. Remove it carefully from the pan and place on a cooling rack or plate. Slowly pour the lemon syrup over the top of the cake so it can soak into the cake giving it a lot of flavor. Cool completely.

If you would like the add the glaze, mix together the confectioners' sugar and lemon juice until smooth and pour evenly over the cake. I left the glaze off this time but I would definitely use it if serving for dessert.

May 16, 2007

Thinking and Blogging? Together?

Well, it's been a while. Excuses go something like this - transitioning from one job to the next while spending a long weekend hosting the parents and seeing all the sights in DC.

Some time between all of that, I was tagged with a Thinking Blogger Award! I'm happy that some part of this blog has resonated with some of you out there, even though, personally, I feel I'm doing more thinking these days than actual blogging! Nevertheless, I'm proud to wear the badge, so thanks to Mooncrazy of Peanut Butter Etouffee for the prize!

Since this is a meme, I'll continue the tradition with my pick of 3 blogs that really make me think, although there are many that come to mind.

David Lebovitz - Having lived in Paris, I feel so close to the topics he chronicles and inspired that he does so in such depth and with such passion for France and all it has to offer. Although I tried my best to devour everything to be found in Paris, David takes it to an entirely different level and I'm transported back there whenever I read his blog. The way he points out the idiosyncrasies of the French language and people truly makes me laugh and cry at the same time.

Tea and Cookies - Tea started her fabulous blog around the time I was starting mine and after having read only a little of her writing, I knew I would be going back again and again. Once I realized she was also a former American Expat, I knew our common experience would link us in a way that few others can understand. Her words and wisdom make me think about this crazy life a little bit differently and her honesty and thoughtfulness make me strive for those qualities in my own writing.

Do I just love cookies? Maybe. But, Milk and Cookies is another blog that I enjoy for quite a few reasons but mostly because of the fantastic photography, yummy recipes and the simple fact that JenJen blogs from Australia, meaning that I can read about cool ice cream treats in the dead of winter and autumn dishes in the spring, transporting me away to another season and another place.

So many more I could mention, but that will do for now. More recipes soon!

May 5, 2007

Turkey Sausage is the New Black!

This lasagna was a small triumph for me. I’ve made quite a few pans of lasagna in my time, but this was truly one of the best. The turkey sausage made it nice and spicy, but it wasn’t overloaded with meat the way some lasagna becomes. The sauce I made had a little spice to it, too, and the whole thing was a well balanced combination of richness, spiciness and cheesy goodness without being greasy or heavy.

I was inspired both by Ina Garten’s recipe for Turkey Lasagna and an Epicurious recipe including a spicy tomato sauce. Garten’s lasagna called for goat cheese mixed in with the ricotta but, while I love goat cheese, I didn’t have any on hand. I did have some cream cheese, and since I had tried that before with great results, I stirred some of that in with the ricotta for added creaminess. I find this unnecessary with fresh whole milk ricotta, but supermarket brands are pretty bland, so I like the rich taste that cream cheese gives the filling. Really, what isn’t made better with cream cheese?

I don’t know if all of you out there have an opinion about this or not, but I used frozen spinach in this lasagna, and it’s the second or third time I’ve done so, and I really think it tastes nasty. Most of the time, I don’t mind frozen spinach in baked dishes, but from now on I’m going to cook down fresh spinach. I thought it gave the lasagna almost a bitter flavor, especially when reheated the next day. Any thoughts?

This lasagna reminds of the way I like my drinks – lighter, in the sense that the proportions are kept the same, but in a smaller amount, not weak, in the sense that less alcohol is diluted in the same amount of tonic, for example. Everything in a typical lasagna is here and it is rich tasting, but it’s also lighter than most. So, in my roundabout way, I’m trying to say that this is a meal you can also feel good about eating.

Turkey Sausage and Spinach Lasagna with Spicy Tomato Sauce
(adapted from Ina Garten and

The Sauce:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon dried basil
3/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
3/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 6-oz can tomato paste Cook the onion in the olive oil over medium heat until transluscent. Sweat the onions but don’t let them brown, stirring occasionally, for 5-8 minutes. Add the garlic, crushed red pepper flakes and dried herbs. Stir frequently and cook 2-3 minutes.

Add the tomato paste, stir to break it up and cook about 1 minute. Add the crushed tomatoes and a splash of red wine, if you have some on hand. Let the sauce simmer, stirring occasionally, for at least 30 minutes, preferably 1 hour. Taste for seasoning and set aside.

The Filling:

1 ¼ lb spicy Italian sausage links, casings removed
9 traditional lasagna noodles, or 12 barilla no-cook noodles
1 15-oz container ricotta cheese
3-4 oz cream cheese, about ½ cup
1 10-oz pkg frozen spinach, thawed, or 2 cups cooked fresh spinach
1 ¼ c. grated parmesan cheese
1 large egg, slightly beaten
2 cups fresh mozzarella cheese, grated or thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cook the sausage in a non-stick pan over medium heat, breaking the links into small chunks with a spatula, until no longer pink. Remove the sausage to a paper towel lined plate and set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together the ricotta cheese, cream cheese, ¾ cup parmesan cheese and the egg. Season with black pepper.

In a 9x13 baking dish, place about 1 cup of the sauce over the bottom. Layer 3 or 4 lasagna noodles on the bottom, depending on their size. Cover the noodles with half of the ricotta mixture and half of the sausage and spinach. Sprinkle lightly with mozzarella. Ladle some sauce over the top and make another layer by first placing the noodles down, then the rest of the ricotta, sausage and spinach. Sprinkle with more cheese and ladle on a bit more sauce, reserving plenty of sauce for the top. Add the last of the noodles on top and cover generously with sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and parmesan.

Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the top is nicely browned and lasagna is bubbling and hot.