Friday, August 20, 2010

Lemon Yogurt Cake

You know by now that I am big fan of lemons, and even devoted an entire post to it! I was glancing through the Saveur website and saw a recipe for a lemon yogurt cake. That recipe called for limoncello, which I did not have. (I intend to buy it, and try that recipe.) And I was determined to make the cake on the same day that I came across that recipe. So I started looking for other versions lemon yogurt cake. I figured any cake that combined both fresh squeezed lemon juice with whole-milk yogurt had to be good! It called to mind the lemon pound cakes that my mother used to make.

The recipe that I ended up using is Ina Garten's. It was very, very easy to make and quite light and tasty.


1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
3 extra-large eggs
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

For the glaze:
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 ½ x 4 ¼ x 2 ½-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease and flour the pan.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into one bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, lemon zest, and vanilla. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. With a rubber spatula, fold the vegetable oil into the batter, making sure it’s all incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 cup lemon juice and remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside.

When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Carefully place on a baking rack over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, pour the lemon-sugar mixture over the cake and allow it to soak in. Cool.

For the glaze, combine the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice and pour over the cake.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


As many of you foodies may be aware, last week was National Cheesecake Week. Dessert junkies celebrated cheesecake, which is usually anchored by cream cheese with crust made of graham crackers, or perhaps, vanilla wafers.

I grew up in New York City, which is arguably the cheesecake mecca. After all, we have Junior's in Brooklyn. Good cheesecake could be had not just at the famous Junior's, but in my house! Yep, my mother made a mean pineapple cheesecake that she routinely served for her semi-formal dinner parties.

I was always fascinated by what seemed to be a complicated process. She would make the graham cracker crust with the assistance of her beloved Kitchen Aid mixer. I can still see the speckled pan (this was before the days of microwave ovens) that she used to melt the butter that was combined with the crushed graham crackers and sugar. This was baked in the oven in the 9-inch springform pan.

While the crust cooled, Mommy made the pineapple mixture that was spread on top of the graham cracker crust. Atop this was a rich, creamy dairy-rich mixture anchored by full-fat cream cheese. Needless to say, it took only a slim piece of this cheesecake to be satisfying! I also remember, though, that the cheesecake did not stay in the refrigerator for very long.

We're now in the 21st century. Concerns about cholesterol, sugar and fat make Mommy's pineapple cheesecake seem downright dangerous. Hence, the proliferation of low-fat cheesecake recipes.

I was very skeptical about making a low-fat cheesecake, but I disciplined myself to try. I found a few recipes from Cooking Light that I put together into one. This magazine has reliably tasty recipes for cooking classics. Still, seeing a recipe that called for 1 package of low-fat cream cheese plus 1 package of FAT-FREE cream cheese made me very, very nervous.

I made the cheesecake about a week-and-a-half ago. I must be an honest blogger. I found it just ok; certainly not great. And not -- in my humble opinion-- good enough to warrant a second attempt. I found that I needed to add more butter to the graham cracker crumb crust, as the paltry amount called for in the recipe generated a very dry crust that simply did not hold together. The cheesecake itself tasted as if 1/2 the flavor had been sucked out. And when you think about the actual recipe, that's basically what happened. I knew better when I saw fat-free cream cheese as an ingredient. IT HAS NO TASTE!!!!! I started to use all low-fat cream cheese, and I should have followed my gut instinct.

The cheesecake was topped with a strawberry sauce that was ok. But again, just ok. There was no covering up the lack of creamy richness. This brings me to my last problem with the low-fat cheesecake. The texture was off. It wasn't soft-yet-firm and creamy. It was something unappealing that I'm not even certain how to describe.

So here's what I'll do. I'll post the Cooking Light low-fat cheesecake recipe. And I'll post a recipe for pineapple cheesecake that I can stand by. You be the judge! In my view, some foods are just not made to be low-fat. Cheesecake (at least for me) is one of those foods!!!

Low-Fat Cheesecake with Strawberry Sauce

1 cup reduced-fat graham cracker crumbs (about 10 cookie sheets)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter or stick margarine, melted
Cooking spray

2 large egg whites
Cooking spray
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 (8-ounce) blocks 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (4 ounces) block-style fat-free cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
4 large eggs
4 cups sliced strawberries (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon water
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice


Preheat oven to 350°.

To prepare the crust, combine the first 3 ingredients in a bowl. Firmly press the crumb mixture into the bottom and 2 inches up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes, and cool the crust on a wire rack.

Reduce oven to 300°.

Combine 1 1/2 cups sugar, 3 tablespoons cornstarch, and remaining dash salt in a large bowl. Add cheeses; beat with a mixer at medium-high speed until smooth. Reduce mixer speed to low. Add vanilla and 1 teaspoon juice; beat just until combined. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition just until incorporated. Add remaining 2 egg whites; beat just until incorporated.

Pour cheese mixture into prepared pan. Bake at 300° for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a 3-inch circle in the center of the cheesecake barely jiggles when the side of the pan is tapped. Turn oven off. Leave cheesecake in oven with the door open for 30 minutes. Remove cheesecake from oven; run a knife around outside edge. Cool to room temperature on a wire rack. Cover and chill at least 8 hours. Garnish cake with strawberries, if desired.

To prepare sauce, combine sliced strawberries, 1/2 cup water, and 2 tablespoons sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Strain mixture through a sieve into a bowl, pressing lightly with a spatula; discard solids. Return mixture to pan. Combine 1 tablespoon water and 2 teaspoons cornstarch in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add cornstarch mixture to pan. Bring to a boil; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Transfer mixture to a bowl; cool to room temperature. Stir in 2 teaspoons juice.

Pineapple Cheesecake Made with Real Cream Cheese :-)

1 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. butter, melted

Mix the ingredients well and pat into the bottom of a non-stick, 9-inch springform pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes. Cool.

Pineapple Base
1 small can crushed pineapple, with 1/3 cup juice reserved
2 1/2 tsp. cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon of water
2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

In a saucepan over a low-medium flame, mix the pineapple and reserved juice with the cornstarch. Stir constantly until the mixture is thickened. Cool to room temperature and carefully spread over the graham cracker crust.

1 1/2 lbs. cream cheese
1 c. sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 pt. sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Cream the cream cheese in a large bowl until mixed. Gradually add the sugar. Beat until combined. Add eggs, one at a time. Gradually beat in the sour cream. Mix in the vanilla extract. Pour over the pineapple mixture.

Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for one hour, or until a cake tester inserted in the center is just dry. Turn off the oven and leave the cake in with the door cracked for about 5-6 hours. This keeps the top from cracking. Chill in the refrigerator overnight. Serve.


A great day of veggie picking and cool markets that cater to immigrant communities!

There is nothing like fresh fruit and vegetables, is there? The quick way to secure them is to head to the local supermarket. Given my Southern, farming roots, I like to go to farm stands. Or even better -- pick my own produce.

Summers are great for visits to local farms. The large ones in the Boston area, such as Russell's Orchard in Ipswich (, are great for berry picking. I've been there for each harvest -- strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, etc. I'll be back for apples in the fall. I haven't picked too many vegetables this summer, though.

Until yesterday. My friend and colleague, Nancy, has a lovely garden in her backyard in Framingham, MA. I discovered this delicious fact while we were sitting next to each other at a board meeting. I told Nancy that I had started a cooking/food blog and she invited me to raid her garden.

Who could pass up such an offer?? So yesterday, I drove to Framingham. Nancy's garden was absolutely delightful. I loaded up on Thai basil, mint, curly-leafed parsley, sage, rhubarb, Swiss chard, tomatoes, squash and pole beans. Cooking will be so much fun over the coming days!

Raiding Nancy's garden was just the beginning. Nancy invited me to accompany her to an Uzbeki-owned market that opened late in 2009. We drove a short distance from Nancy's house to Fresh Choice Market, located at 855 Worcester Road, in Framingham ( The owner is Tommy Schneider, a real entrepreneur!

There was lots of fresh produce. What really caught my eye was the extensive variety of smoked fish (herring, paddlefish, salmon, mackerel and trout), keffir, farmer's cheese, and cold cuts. I was in heaven!! I absolutely love smoked fish. After all, I grew up in New York City, and ate bagels and some variety of smoked fish (lox, herring, etc.) on a regular basis. I was tickled pink by the labels on the smoked fish, which were printed in Russian Cyrillic. I always associate smoked fish with the Nordic countries. But think about it -- Finland and Russia share a border. Smoked fish is central to the cultures of countries that border the sea. I had a hard time deciding between the smoked trout and the smoked herring. I ended up with the trout. I also debated about buying keffir, a dairy drink that has the consistency of yogurt. I opted for farmer's cheese.

My excitement grew as Nancy guided me to the bakery section. Omygosh!!!! There were several types of homemade Russian bread. I picked out a loaf of rich, dark brown rye bread.

Nancy and I got in the check-out line. I looked at my basket of smoked trout, farmer's cheese, and Russian bread. What was missing? A red onion, of course. While Nancy held our place in line, I ran to the produce section and picked out two -- one for Nancy and one for me.

The icing on the cake was the fact that Nancy gets a 10% senior citizen's discount on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at Farmer's Choice. The total for my basket of goodies was a whopping $10!!! I was most struck by how inexpensive the trout was. I picked out a 10-oz piece that was priced at just $3.77. Try finding smoked trout for that price at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's. Not happening!!

That brings me to my next observation, and the subject of my car chat with Nancy as we drove back to her house. Markets that serve immigrant communities tend to be more inexpensive than ones that serve the general community. Given the fact that I love to cook cuisines from the Americas, Africa and Asia, this insight has saved me hundreds of dollars. I love going to the Vietnamese-owned supermarket on Dorchester Avenue. Where else could I get a quart of strawberries for under $1.00?? Or several stalks of lemongrass for under $2.00. The same amount of lemongrass would cost me nearly twice as much at Shaw's or Stop and Shop. Same thing with the smoked trout that I found at the Uzbeki market.

I patronize a South Asian market in Coolidge Corner, Brookline. I had searched -- in vain-- for years for curry leaves. I had noticed the shop on trips to Coolidge Corner to meet friends for lunch. One day, I decided to check the store out. I went in and timidly asked the shopkeeper whether he carried curry leaves. He smiled, walked to a refrigerator and handed me a bag. I've been guarding those leaves with my life. I also picked up huge containers of cardamon seeds, coriander seeds, cloves (I enjoy making my own curry powder by heating the spices in a non-stick pan, cooling them, grinding them in the coffee grinder and then mixing them. Amazing!!), and garam masala (which I use frequently in everyday cooking). I didn't pay more than $3.00 per container. Stop and Shop doesn't even carry spices in containers that large and charges upward of $4.00 for tiny jars of spices and seasonings.

Regular supermarkets are great for staple items. But for my fun dishes, I find my way to the markets with the ingredients that I need. In addition to being more inexpensive, they're just fun to shop in. The cacophony of different languages, the smells, the bustle-- they make me feel right at home!