mini meyer lemon tea cakes

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Sigh.

I haven't been this depressed by a winter…well, ever. Which is fair, since the last winter this miserable and snowy and cold in Chicago? Happened before I was born. So "worst winter ever" is actually, at least personally, true.

I've been eyeing my ice cream maker longingly, and every time I walk past the dresses in my closet, I sigh dramatically. My general malaise extends to the kitchen. I have pounds of beets and carrots cluttering my refrigerator, and no desire to use them. I'm tired of stews and roasted meat and root vegetables and apples; I want asparagus and berries and grilled everything and ice cold sangria on the beach.

Alas, while I'll be escaping to California for a little while soon, at this rate Chicago won't see warm weather and spring vegetables until late May. In the meantime, there's lemons. Meyer lemons, to be exact, in tea cake form. What better to counter winter blues than sunny yellow, fragrant meyer lemons?

mini meyer lemon tea loaves

And boy does this cake use a lot of meyer lemons. At least 6, but probably more like 8. The resulting cake (or in my case, cakes) with its lemon syrup glaze, tastes and smells strongly of meyer lemons. It's enough lemon that the cake has a nice tartness, even though meyer lemons are sweeter and milder than their more traditional relatives. I chose to make mini-loaves because a) adorable, b) they are ready faster, and c) I found those pans first. What, you thought I put some planning into this?

meyer lemon tea cakes
adapted from Baking Out Loud by Hedy Goldsmith

If you can't find meyer lemons, follow the book's substitution tip. Use regular lemons, but replace 3 tablespoons of the juice for the syrup and 1 tablespoon of the juice for the bread with orange juice.

You can use one loaf pan if that's what you have. I include baking times for both, but keep an eye on your small loaves after about 30 minutes.

for the syrup:
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely grated Meyer lemon zest

for the cake:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons finely grated Meyer lemon zest
1 teaspoon pure vanilla bean extract
3/4 cup whole milk, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 tablespoons fresh Meyer lemon juice

To make the syrup, combine sugar, juice and zest. Cook over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes total.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a 9×5 loaf pan or 4 miniature loaf pans by greasing and flouring; set aside. 

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. 

In the bowl of an electric mixer (or a large bowl), rub the 3 tablespoons of lemon zest into the granulated sugar until fragrant and evenly combined. Add the eggs and vanilla, and using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a handheld mixer, beat on medium speed until blended, about a minute. Reduce speed to low, add a third of flour mixture and beat until just. Add the milk and mix again until just blended, then another third of the flour and mix again until blended. Repeat again with the butter, then the flour. Add the lemon juice and mix a few seconds until blended. Increase the speed to medium high and beat for 2 1/2 minutes.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake for 55-65 minutes if using one loaf pan; 35-45 if using small pans. The top will be lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean.

Transfer the pans to a wire rack. Using a long, thin wooden skewer (or a fork), poke lots of holes into the cakes. Pour syrup evenly over the cakes. Let cool completely in the pans. Removing will be a bit tricky, so unless you need it for presentation purposes, just serve out of the pans!

poached cod with tomato and saffron

poached cod with tomato and saffron

It's been rough times around the c&b household. I don't have a good track record with the month of January, and what do you know, January 2014 was the worst yet. I've been cooking, but relying on staples and quick fixes, and when I do make something potentially blog-worthy, I don't bother to photograph it.

This fish, though, is a reminder of a happier time, when I was making and photographing more meals than I could keep up with. I had intended on blogging this fancy-sounding remarkably easy cod dish nearly a month ago; then life drop-kicked me in the ass and I forgot all about it. Which is a bit of a travesty, since this is probably my favorite dinner I made in all of January. But better late than buried in my iPhoto archives forever, isn't that how the saying goes?

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onion potato bagels

onion potato bagels

I don't know if you've heard, but it was really cold earlier this month. Cold enough that a good deal of things here in Chicago just shut down on one particular Monday, and I had no reason nor desire to leave my house. While I had no obligations that particular day, the "snow day" atmosphere of it all demanded a project. Homemade bagels certainly qualified. Then of course, I made them, instagrammed them, wrote about them, and let the post sit unpublished for 3 weeks. Typical.

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2013 in the rearview

2013 was a good year for my little fledgling blog. I got better at posting, moved to my own domain, redesigned the site, and best of all, started to get visitors who didn't already know me.

2013, for me, though, well.

I was finishing up my first year of medical school, about to sign a lease with my best friend, when the rug was pulled out from under me. I only referenced things obliquely here, because to be perfectly honest, I'd much rather talk about food. I had to face some very serious health problems, and spent a few months in the summer feeling pretty miserable. My future is still incredibly uncertain as I move into 2014, and my fear and doubts overshadow any celebrations of the year past and the year to come.

The second half of my year was much more difficult than the first, but it was not all grim. I finished school and passed my final classes. My beloved Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, and I strained my very recent stiches cheering them on. I went on an amazing road trip on the West Coast. Through it all, I had my friends and my family (and really, especially my friends) to keep me sane and help me remember what "normal" life feels like.

Through it all, my blog has helped me stay connected to my most necessary outlets, baking and cooking. Food can't fix everything, but a good meal can improve a crappy day. Although for me, it's a bit more than that. When I'm miserable and I feel like my life is out of control, getting in the kitchen helps me find calm and mindfulness. The dish I make for dinner is some days the only thing about my life that doesn't suck.

So of course, as it always does on this blog, it comes back to food. After a great deal of deliberation and indecision, I present my five favorite things I made and then blogged about this year:

2013 roundup

1. Old-fashioned blueberry coffee cake: Best coffee cake I've ever made. So rich, with an intense jammy layer of blueberries. Just great.

2. Roasted pistachio ice cream: I could have eaten the entire quart in a sitting. Better than pistachio gelato I've had in restaurants.

3. Chicken with apples and fennel: Possibly one of the easiest recipes I've ever posted, this is one of the best dinners I've made all year. Perfectly crispy-skinned chicken and a great sweet-tangy apple and fennel mixture made this five-ingredient meal memorable.

4. Butternut squash mac and cheese: Delicious mac and cheese that shines because, not despite of, the squash.

5. Cream cheese pound cake: I think I need to make this again as soon as possible. A perfect demonstration of the maxim that sometimes simple is best.

I look forward to the recipes and kitchen experiments 2014 will bring: the cookbooks I received for Christmas are already calling to me. I hope everyone enjoys their New Year's Eve and Day, and most of all that the new year may bring us all joy and good things. Happy New Year, and I'll see you in 2014!

vegan gingerbread cookies with lemon icing

iced gingerbread cookies

Oh look, more cookies! I have multiple kinds of cookie dough in the freezer, and I'm starting to wonder if perhaps I went a little overboard. And I originally wrote "overbread," so yeah, baking is clearly on my brain. Better that than this travesty of a Bears game I'm watching. I'm hoping blogging will somehow turn this game around. Hey Jay, if you pull this off, I'll totally make you some gingerbread!

Yeah, I just offered a type I diabetic sugary cookies. I'm going to be a great doctor.

So wow, back to the cookies. For once, I used no butter! Crazy, I know. But I have some dairy-intolerant folks in my life, and who doesn't need a change of pace sometimes?

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butternut squash mac and cheese

squash mac and cheese

You know, before we get into full-on Christmas madness, let's take a break. Let's pause to enjoy a nice light bowl of–oh wait, I'm talking about mac and cheese today.

To be fair, there's an entire butternut squash in here, cleverly blended into the sauce to make it creamy without a ton of butter and heavy cream, which I guess technically makes this mac "lighter." Not that I care, honestly. I wanted mac and cheese and I happened to have several butternut squash for my CSA that needed to be used much sooner than later.

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banana-nut oatmeal chocolate chunk cookies

banana-nut oatmeal chocolate chip

'Tis the season, bitches, and I'm back, with cookies. I hope you are ready for some cookies, because this month…that's pretty much going to be the deal. I bake cookies until I collapse on the floor in a heap of flour, then I drink wine and watch something embarrassing on Netflix. (See: last year's reference to River Monsters.) (Also, those cookies are great for Christmas, look into it.)

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a very rustic squash pie

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Or, tales from the blogging struggle bus. Seriously, why all of the sudden is my phone taking grainy pictures? Why is the lighting in this house so miserable? Why does it have to be dark BEFORE 5pm? (Winter, I hate you.) I desperately want an SLR camera, but my budget laughs at the idea. I've had at least 4 recipes I've made that the photos depressed me so badly I decided not to post, and more that I was just too tired to photograph.

However, it's about to be Thanksgiving, and so I will give you pie, even though this photo is terrible and calling my crust "rustic" is a bit laughable. Whatever, this pie was delicious. It may look pumpkin, but it's made with acorn squash, although any old fall squash will do here. No puree here, either, just cooked squash mixed into custard, which is the intentionally rustic part of this pie. Here's the thing: this is really no more work than a pumpkin pie, but people will be way more impressed when you tell them it came out of a real squash instead of a can.

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moroccan-style lamb and chickpeas

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Oh how I wish I had the budget to enjoy lamb on a more regular basis. Alas, humanely raised lamb (eating poorly treated baby animals feels just plain wrong) costs a lot more than humanely raised chicken, leading to a tragic absence of lamb chops in my life. However, ground lamb is pretty affordable, and lends itself to many delicious applications, like this Moroccan-inspired lamb and chickpea stew. I dare not call this a tagine, because authenticity is not really what we are after here, although the cinnamon, cumin, and golden raisins are all elements of Moroccan cuisine.

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