Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Rhubarb 101 and Coffee Cake

Although the weather says otherwise, it's getting closer and closer to summertime and that means it's rhubarb season! Rhubarb is like the prettier, more popular older sister of celery. While they look similar, rhubarb is infinitely better and sweeter whereas celery has no flavor whatsoever. I spent my Memorial Day weekend (#MDW? When did that happen?) testing rhubarb recipes of many varieties but first, a little background on this tasty fruit thing.

Rhubarb and the neighbor's dog in their natural habitats

You can find rhubarb at the grocery store for a select period of time in the late spring and early summer. The season is pretty short unless you grow some yourself. Lucky for me, my mom's neighbor has a whole bunch of rhubarb we were able to harvest for these recipes. I would happily add rhubarb to my urban garden revamp but it likes to be in a more natural habitat such as the ground rather than a pot.

The stalks should be cut as close to the base as possible

While rhubarb is typically red and makes lovely pink syrup, it's okay if it's green as well. When harvesting the fruit, you should cut stalks as close to the base of the plant as possible, starting on the larger and outermost portions. The trick is to allow the stalks underneath to get more sunlight and opportunity to grow. Use a sharp knife to cut the stalks and chop off the leaves.
I got to use the cleaver for these bad boys

Rhubarb is surprisingly sweet, if not tart. It can be used in baked goods, toppings or syrups. Last year, and many years before, my mom and I made strawberry rhubarb pie. Always amazing and always leaving leftover rhubarb which can be frozen for the another day or another year. Instead of pie, I ventured for coffee cake instead.

Pink and green and in between

Since I usually add rhubarb with strawberries, I was concerned the cake wouldn't be sweet enough but it was perfectly tart. This is a simple recipe of adding the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and chopping up the rhubarb. Strawberries would also be a delicious addition. The cake stays very moist when wrapped well for up to 3 days. Or even longer because I will eat it regardless.

Batter up!

On the next post of the rhubarb series, how to use rhubarb syrup to make sorbet and cocktails! 

A spiritually balanced breakfast

Recipe adapted (halved) from Shutterbean
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter (softened)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk (or substitute)
  • 2 1/2 cups diced rhubarb (1/2 inch pieces)

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease a loaf pan and set aside
  2. Combine the flour, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl and set aside.
  3. Beat the brown sugar and butter by hand or with an electric mixer in a large mixing bowl until the ingredients are combined and creamy. 
  4. Add in (and beat) the egg followed by vanilla and buttermilk. Mix until all ingredients are combined and the mixture is smooth.
  5. Add the flour mixture into the wet batter a little at a time. 
  6. Fold in the rhubarb so each bite will have some fruit (vegetable?).
  7. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan. Sprinkle sugar and cinnamon on top until the cake is covered.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Lemon Olive Oil Cake

Something has changed, something is not the same. Everything!! I'm sure by now you have noticed that Livin' Lemon had a bit of a face lift today. For the last couple months, I have been working with the ever talented Amy from Creative Soul Spectrum. She brought my citrusy dreams to life and I took a few too many selfies to get a perfect introduction photo. I'm so excited by the results and glad my blog doesn't look ridiculously amateur anymore! Here's to Amy and lemons!

Lovin the lemons!
To celebrate, I took a crack at lemon olive oil cake. A few weeks ago, I went home to clean out some childhood toys and high school mementos as the parent folk prepared to sell their house. We moved to this house when I was half way through high school and I was thrilled because it was in the bustling heart of town (mind you it's about a mile stretch with a Starbucks and an ice cream shop and that's considered bustling). Although I have hardly been back since graduating high school except for winter break, it's the last house I grew up in so I had some bittersweet moments saying goodbye.

My first oven
Olive forks with a sassy sense of humor

Along the sweet side though, was a visit to a local farmer's market. When I was a teenager, this town was super boring and mischief was only managed for silly things like being on a playground without a small child (it's illegal apparently). So to discover there were all these new places in the area was thrilling. The farmer's market had a variety of local vendors, both farmers and shop owners alike. One of the stalls we stopped at was Eat This! where they had jars of unique jam and cake. Cake in a jar, who knew? After sampling their lemon olive oil cake, I decided to buy a jar and promptly ate the whole thing hand over fork.

Eat This for suuuure
I had heard of olive oil cake before so thought this was finally my chance to invent a recipe a la Eat This! I could make olive oil cake and then add some lemon and I would finally have experimented. But alas, the first thing that came up when I searched for olive oil cake recipes was lemon and orange olive oil cakes. So much for being original.

...also highly coveted by my mom
Adorable little pitcher....

So I made some lemon olive oil cake and took a crack at baking in a jar. My greatest fear was the jar would explode and glass would be everywhere. This fear was only softened by the realization that the cake was originally baked in said jar and the jars are returnable so they must be reused by the professionals. Just in case, I put most of the batter into a cupcake tin for ease of sharing.

Yellow mixing bowls make me happy
Using my mom and grandmother's yellow mixing bowls, I brewed up a batch. These bowls are new to my kitchen as I slowly transition everything I own into a happy yellow palette (kind of kidding). It's a simple recipe involving a bowl of wet ingredients and a bowl of dry ingredients. The lemon juice and olive oil are added to the mixture of eggs and sugar before combining with the dry ingredients, including the zesty lemons. I've baked with olive oil once before and the pumpkin cupcakes turned out tasting like olive oil. The batter also tasted a little olivey so I was relieved to find the cupcakes tasting exactly right. I was still worried the jar would explode all over the muffin pan ones so I baked them separately. Good news! The jar didn't explode and they came out quite tasty.

Coming up on the blog, a series of posts on rhubarb season. It's gonna be tasty and delicious!

Bite sized lemon cake!

Recipe- adapted from a Google search recipe result
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Zest from 1 lemon
  • Juice from 2 lemons

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease your desired baking pan such as muffin pan, jar or 9" cake pan.
  2. Beat together the eggs and sugar until very pale and fluffy. The mixture should be thick.
  3. Slowly stream the olive oil and lemon juice into the eggs and sugar mixture and mix together until combined.
  4. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and lemon zest. Gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Use a rubber spatula to get all of it mixed together.
  5. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes. The baking time will vary by the pan you choose so monitor it closely to prevent them from burning.
  6. Let the cake cool in pan before removing and eating. Or just eat it straight with a fork.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Pork Tenderloin with Carrot Romesco

For Christmas this year my mom gave me a subscription to Cook's Illustrated, one of the magazines published by America's Test Kitchen right here in Boston. I found it to be a great source for new recipes that have literally been chef tested and approved! Since the issues come every other month, I treated myself to a Bon Appetit subscription after receiving an offer I couldn't refuse. Sometimes I wonder why I bother to dog-ear the pages of cooking magazines when every page ends up folded. I should really invest in a binder with those clear page dividers so I can tear apart the magazines and quickly reference different recipe types. I'm sure my roommate would also appreciate fewer piles of magazines lying around as well.

Last week's salmon and chick-pea recipe came from Bon Appetit and I've bookmarked a bunch more savory and healthy items to come! Last week's adventure was this pork tenderloin recipe with roasted carrots and romesco. From my amateur understanding, romesco is like pesto in Spain. This took a little longer than the salmon recipe and was completed in stages. I've made the grown up decision that baby carrots are weird (seriously, they are not naturally shaped and they're mini, it's like mini corn, where does that come from???) and I should take the extra five minutes to peel and chop regular carrots into sticks myself.

A little pine nut goes a long way
The recipe calls for a number of pan changes but we know how I like to not do dishes so I just used the same baking sheet for roasting the pine nuts, carrots and pork. This is another one of those things that can be done in phases. We toast the pine nuts while preparing the carrots, greens and pork by seasoning with the desired spices. Once the pine nuts are ready, the carrots are roasted at a higher temperature while the pork is browned in a skillet or frying pan.

I love the color of these veggies
Hopefully the timing works out perfectly and the carrots are finished just as you are done browning the pork. For this magic to happen, give the carrots a head start, they're dense little buggers. Set the carrots aside on a dish or plate for future use. Transfer the tenderloin to the baking sheet and place in the oven. Use the garlic, pine nuts and some of the carrots to make the romesco. Spices are added to make it a little hotter but if you prefer milder dishes, add less red pepper flakes. Though they are but small, they are mighty. Also, if you're not a garlic fan, add a little less of the clove because it does get garlicy!

Mix it all together!
To assemble the dish, place the greens and carrots on a plate with a smear (or pile) of the romesco. Once the tenderloin is cooked (about 10-20 minutes), carefully slice into silver dollar pieces and place around the sauce. Immediately consume together. Getting a perfect bite of all the components can't be beat!

A wonderful spread


  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1 1/2 lb large carrots, peeled and halved
  • 5 Tbsp. olive oil (in total, not all at once)
  • Salt, pepper
  • 1 large pork tenderloin (1 1/2 lb)
  • 1 small garlic clove, finely grated
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar (again divided)
  • 2 cups spicy greens (ie: watercress)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Toast the pine nuts on a baking sheet for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.
  2. Remove the pine nuts from the oven and increase the heat to 450.
  3. Toss carrots with 1 Tbsp. and salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and roast until softened, 15-20 minutes.
  4. While the carrots cook, heat 1 Tbsp. of oil in a skillet and brown the tenderloin. Turn the tenderloin periodically to brown both sides. 
  5. Once the carrots are done, place the tenderloin on the baking sheet and roast until a meat thermometer registers 145 or is no longer pink in the middle (8-10 minutes).
  6. Allow the tenderloin to cool while you make the romesco. Combine the pine nuts, garlic and remaining olive oil in a food processor.
  7. Once a paste consistency is achieved, add red pepper flakes, a fourth of the carrots, 1 Tbsp. of vinegar, and 1 Tbsp. of water. Pulse until combined. You can add more water if needed.
  8. Toss the greens with carrots and 1 Tbsp. of vinegar. Add salt and pepper as desired.
  9. Serve with the romesco and sliced tenderloin.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Annual Spring Cleaning

I'm not sure how this happened but it's May. Gone is the snow, on comes the rain! I'm itching for warm weather and green grass which has led to day dreams about gardening and sipping coffee on the porch. In case you didn't know, I like lists and I like to plan. In my opinion, this is not an OCD habit but is really because I get so many ideas and thoughts that I have to write them down or I'll explode! Or I'll forget to do things I wanted to do, my brilliant ideas will be lost!

My favorite tree in spring
If you know me, this list and writing thing doesn't surprise you (hello, this is a blog). I also love to clean and organize which might actually be a little OCD. I'm really excited to clean out my closet and throw out old junk. When I moved last year, I provided some helpful recycling tips including where to make donations and recycle electronics. Well, consider this a spring cleaning post about additional ways to donate, how to get into the spring spirit and how I'm giving myself a spring redo!

On Twitter a few weeks ago, I saw this tweet about something called the Fashion Project. It's a charity program where you can donate more high-end and designer clothes that will be sold on behalf of a charity of your choice. The charities are ones that are dedicated to helping women specifically and range from providing business clothes for women on job interviews to improving literacy rates among girls and women. Now, before you think I shop at designer stores like Gucci or Prada, some of the accepted brands include places like Loft and Banana Republic. In addition to benefiting great causes, for every 5 qualifying items you donate, you will be sent a $40 gift card to Nordstrom. You can donate clothes, shoes, accessories, handbags, all kinds of things! So that was spring cleaning, round 1: sending in 7 items for the Fashion Project. If you don't have items to donate, you can still support the cause by shopping at their online warehouse. They recently had their first in-person warehouse sale in Boston and it was awesome! Slightly chaotic as people scrambled through the piles of clothes and racks of dresses to find steals. I hope they have more warehouse sales in the future but this was just a pilot test.

Recap of the Fashion Project event last week
This probably hasn't come up but I have a brown thumb. I love plants and flowers and when I was a kid, I went through  many small potted plants that I inevitably over-watered. I killed a cactus once, that's how brown my thumb is. My mother and grandmother, however, are very good at keeping plants alive and thriving. My mom's gardens are crazy amazing and range from wildflowers to vegetable patches. I went through a phase of loving gardening and the idea of being self-sufficient so had a vegetable patch complete with tomatoes, peppers and broccoli. Living in a more urban environment for the last seven years (eek!), I've been limited to house plants. My brother gave me an air plant for Christmas in 2012 and I'm proud to say it's still alive! Yes, the lowest maintenance of plants being alive is an accomplishment. Inspired by this survival and a desire for spring, I'm going to give my little concrete patio a make-over for spring, complete with patio chairs, plants and easy to manage succulents.

So far, I've managed to get some herbs from home and plant some new succulents. My parents are moving so I took some of their outdoor patio furniture in an effort to convert my outdoor space. Stay tuned for the final results and potential unveiling party!

For the last spring cleaning piece, I've been spring cleaning my nearly non-existent workout routine and refreshing my look (sounds so vain!). When I moved here I joined the local YMCA and was very good about getting my money's worth by going many mornings each week to use their cardio machines. Winter saw a drop-off in my diligence though, it was just so cold and dark out. So I have canceled my gym membership after deciding it wasn't cost effective anymore. You would think this would result in working out negative amounts (because less than nothing is negative) but I have actually upped my fitness routine. Local stores like Athleta and Lululemon provide in-store classes after hours. These usually include yoga, pilates and other routines that require little to no equipment. They also host weekly running groups so now that it's nicer out, my plan is to start running again. Lastly, I won free classes to DanceFit Studio. With locations in Natick and Brookline, I'm looking forward to trying out some new routines and they have virtual classes for when I inevitably reach winter and don't want to leave my warm apartment. Other places I'm checking out include Studio Empower with some strange contraptions on their website and the free yoga session that start in June in Boston Common. No excuses to not work out!

DanceFit Studio in Natick
As part of the Hairraising fundraiser a few weeks ago, I got my hair cut at G2O salon and spa. I think they've made me a salon convert. I'm a SuperCuts gal but for a major change, I decided to seek out the fancy experts. This turned out to be a great plan! I cut several inches off my long locks and am now sporting a long bob which I absolutely love. For spring and summer, it's much lower maintenance and faster to dry. I highly recommend checking it out and ask for Whitney (tell them I sent you!).

The new 'do
That wraps up my plans for May-hem this month! With Mother's Day and Memorial Day coming up, I hope you are all spending some time with family or at least with brightly colored treats! Next on the blog will be another healthy dinner (we have a theme) and experiments with olive oil cake.

Signs of things to come!