Spiced Lemon Walnut Rosemary Cake

Jump straight to the Spiced Lemon Walnut Rosemary Cake recipe or tips.

lemon walnut rosemary cake

I’ve never understood why the phrase is “easy as pie” as opposed to “easy as cake.” Pie, in my mind, equals not so easy. Getting a crust right is a tricky thing; at least, it can be for me, though at this point I sort of get how to do it. Mind you, I worked in a pastry shop for a summer and took a Zingerman’s pie making class; a magazine I was working for paid for it, which helped. Then there’s the filling, involving cutting fruit up, no big deal with bananas, a 2nd circle of hell thing with cherries.

Cake, on the other hand, is easy peasy lemon squeezy—in this case, literally, because of, well, the lemon. True, a sponge cake can be a little gnarly, given the whole separated egg thing, but we’ll save that for another day. This Spiced Lemon Walnut Rosemary Cake, on the other hand, couldn’t be simpler. It’s really lovely for springtime. I split this recent one between two good friends, Steve, and my son, and they all made kind of a big deal about it. The kid had to pick out the walnuts, but liked the rest so much he didn’t mind.

Baking Tips

Note that exact ingredients are below, as is required for baking. Baking is not an improv thing unless you’re some sort of baking genius. Which I am certainly not.

  • You can make this in a Bundt pan, which I like because 1) they’re pretty in a frumpy way, and 2) I also like the way they portion out. But you can also use a flat glass pan, like a casserole dish. Should you use the Bundt pan, you MUST apply first a generous layer of fat—coconut oil, butter, or non-stick spray—followed by a good dusting of flour, which you then tamp out so there’s no excess. I skipped the flour and you can see the result below. The top of the cake decided to stay in the pan. As long as the cake is still hot, this isn’t a complete disaster; you can just scoop it out and press it back in place. Still, if you’re trying to impress someone, and just to circumvent a case of severe kitchen frustration, do the flour.
lemon walnut rosemary cake with mangled top
  • Use a whisk to combine dry ingredients. A great trick I learned during that summer in the pastry shop.
  • If you have leftover buttermilk, freeze it in little muffin cups. It’s super handy, I always have to buy more than I can use, and voila, no waste. You can always sub it for milk in any baking recipe; it has more body and flavor.
buttermilk for the freezer
  • This is an oil-based cake rather than a buttery one. Use what’s known as “tasteless” oil. This doesn’t mean oil used by fans of Baywatch. Snort! This means oil without a taste, so olive is out. But sunflower, grapeseed, canola, even avocado work fine.
lemon walnut rosemary cake
  • For this type of cake, add the dry ingredients and buttermilk in layers. Start by putting a third of the dry ingredients into the oil/sugar mix, then add half the buttermilk. Etc, until both are used up. You want to start and end with dry ingredients, so that’s why they’re in thirds and the buttermilk in halves. Why? I don’t know!
  • Fold in the walnuts at the very end. The walnuts are finely chopped, so distribute fine. If you have a walnut hater, wait til the cake is in the pan. Gently add the walnuts to the pan, leaving them out of however much of it the walnut hater will eat.
lemon walnut rosemary cake folding in walnuts
  • Make the syrup ahead—even a day or three if you’re serving the cake as part of big do and you want to advance prep. You want to pour/brush cold syrup on the hot cake, the better to infuse the cake with the flavor. Do this with the cake on a rack over a plate after you’ve poked a bunch of wholes in the cake with a skewer; I reuse my cake tester to dandy effect. You’ll end up with syrup on the plate, which you then add to the cake, getting as much of the syrup in there as you can.
  • Serve with lemon sorbet for a little lemon madness or really good vanilla ice cream to counter the lemon. Or raspberry or strawberry sorbet for crazy color contrasts. And of course, since it’s a coffee cake, coffee.

Spiced Lemon Walnut Rosemary Cake: The Recipe

Moussaka/Pastitsio

Jump to the Moussaka Pastitsio recipe or to the steps.

moussaka eggplant
Which is which? That’s the beauty of these two dishes; from the pan, you really can’t tell.

Two big grand dishes of immense comfort, moussaka and pastitsio or basically the same: a kind of Greek lasagna, where spiced ground meat (or lentils, if you want to go vegetarian) is/are layered with either eggplant or pasta, then topped with a fluffy béchamel sauce that puffs up in the oven.

Of the 2, moussaka is closer to lasagna, given that it boasts 2 layers of eggplant. Patitsio is kinda like a heartier version of macaroni and cheese. You could even do a weird, unholy but tasty hybrid, having both eggplant and pasta layers, because…why not?

And while the steps look long, it’s pretty straightforward. Both the meat sauce and the Béchamel can be made in advance, and you can assemble either casserole in about 5 minutes, once you’ve either fried the eggplant or boiled the pasta.

I decided to deliver them both to you in the same post to demo how similar they are, and how you can kind of game day your decision, depending on what you like and/or are in the mood for—as well as if you happen to have eggplant on hand. Note the bold type at the beginning of each step to indicate if the step is for one or both dishes.

Moussaka Pastitsio: A Note on the Cheese

If you’re up for doing a little bit of extra work—namely, heading to a Middle Eastern or Mediterranean market—I highly recommend you track down kefalotiri cheese. It has a bunch of names that variations on the spelling, but man, it is awesome. Similar taste and texture-wise to halloumi, it makes this Béchamel and the rest of either taste taste rich and perfectly salty. Plus: Every Middle Eastern/Mediterranean market I’ve ever been to is staffed by delightful folks who are very happy to help you discover a lot of wonderful foods. Think about getting a jar of red pepper paste to sub for tomato paste.

moussaka pastitsio kefalotiri cheese

The Steps

  • Moussaka Pastitsio: meat or lentil sauce: Heat a big pan. Pour in some oil when the pan is hot. When the oil is hot, brown chopped onion and minced garlic, a good amount either way. Add half pound of ground meat (or raw lentils in half the amount), and stir til meat is brown or lentils are fully incorporated with the onions. Add dried oregano, a good hit of salt, pepper, a can of crushed tomatoes, a healthy spoon of tomato paste, and about a quarter cup of broth. Let simmer about 20 minutes. Season with allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves and cook one more minute, then check to see if it needs more salt an pepper. Cool to room temp; you can make this a day ahead if you like. When the mix is at room temp, add in one beaten egg.
  • Moussaka Pastitsio: Béchamel: For each 1/2 pound of meat or lentils you used, you want to whisk 2 tablespoons of whole milk with 1 egg yolk. Then melt 2 tablespoons of butter and whisk in flour until it’s smooth and bubbly. Gradually whisk in just under 1 cup of milk (the recipe uses one cup, so less 2 tablespoons), 1/4 teaspoon of salt, a pinch each of nutmeg and allspice, and then simmer it. Take the heat back down to low, and simmer while whisking until the sauce is nice and thick. Take the pan off the heat and whisk in the egg yolk and 1/3 cup grated kefalotiri or Parmesan. You can now put it back very low heat, whisking for another couple of minutes. Taste to see if it needs more salt and pepper, and set it aside. You can also make this a day ahead.
  • Pastitsio: Boil some pasta in salted water until al dente. Once again, you can do this a day ahead. Keep pasta covered and toss with a little oil before you store it.
  • Moussaka: slice your peeled eggplant into half-inch crosswise slices. Sprinkle with salt. Line a cookie sheet with towels (paper or otherwise), lay the slices on top, and then weight them down with something heavy and flat, maybe a platter or big casserole. Let them sit like that for 20 minutes.
  • Moussaka: Clean out your pan, or use a new one. Put some flour on a plate—gluten free is fine, especially chickpea flour. Season with salt and pepper. Pat the pressed eggplant slices dry, then dip them in the flour, shaking off any excess. Heat the pan, then heat a good 1/2 inch of oil. Make sure the oil is hot before you add the eggplant slices one at a time. You want them to brown up, but watch them carefully. A minute on each side should do the trick. Remove to drain on paper towels.
sauteed eggplant for moussaka
  • Moussaka assembly: Heat your oven to 325º. Put down a layer of half the eggplant, sprinkle with more grated cheese, add the filling. Top with the rest of the eggplant and more cheese. Pour on the bechamel, and sprinkle with a little more cheese. Bake 30 minutes, then increase heat to 400º and bake 15 minutes longer, for a golden brown top. Moussaka should rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.
  • Pastitsio assembly: Heat your oven to 325º. Place pasta in bottom of casserole. Add meat on top. Sprinkle on grated cheese, then pour on béchamel and sprinkle with additional cheese. Bake 30 minutes, then increase heat to 400º and bake 15 minutes longer, for a golden brown top. Pastitsio should rest for 5-10 minutes before serving. Serve with steamed green beans on the side. Greek Salad and Spanikopita are great go-withs.
moussaka eggplant
A steamed green veggie on the side, like these beans, perfectly complements either moussaka or pastitsio.

Moussaka Pastitsio: The Recipe

ruby red cranberry beet sauce

Ruby Red Cranberry Beet Sauce

It never ceases to delight me. Raw cranberries, from pink to bright garnet, cook into a luxurious ruby red cranberry beet sauce. Of course, they’d do that without the beet, but the beet adds natural sweetness, vitamin A, and fiber. So go for it.

Jump to recipe.

This one is super easy: Start with a bag of cranberries. You may even want to stock up while they’re in season. They freeze well, and your version of Ruby Red Cranberry Beet Sauce may be just the thing for livening up sandwiches and desserts in the months to come. (For more ideas, see this post on cranberries.)

I always split the bag in half, so that I can have one batch of cooked sauce and one of raw relish. Eating-wise, I identify as a grazer. I prefer a couple of bites of a lot of different stuff to one big slab of anything.

Now, you can go ahead and dump the berries, some cooking liquid, grated beet, and the sugar into the pot at once. In the picture, you don’t see beet, because it ended up being a last minute burst of inspiration.

ruby red cranberry beet relish

If you choose to add minced fruit, herbs and/or spices, add those now as well. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer for just 4-5 minutes. The cranberries audibly pop, which is sort of adorable. Don’t overcook! Mushy berries are gross.

And speaking of sugar, I recommend reverse engineering the sweetness factor. The classic proportion is 1 part sugar to 2 parts cranberries to half a part liquid. I prefer 1:4, and recommend that’s where you start—unless you really like your sugar. If you want to play it safe and do the 1:2 thing, next time, take it back a notch to 1:3. Eventually, you’ll hit on the right proportions for you. And just because you are adding a sweetener, you’re not undoing the benefits of the cranberries; the sauce will just be less nutritionally dense than the berry on its own. Save a handful of raw berries to throw in your smoothie, and you’ll be good to go.

If, on the other hand, you boldly go ahead with the 1:4 proportion and the sauce isn’t sweet enough, don’t add granulated sugar to the finished product; the crystals won’t dissolve. Instead, pour in a little maple syrup or agave, or even add a drop of Stevia until you get where you need to be.

Ruby Red Cranberry Beet Sauce can be made up to 5 days ahead. Leftovers can be frozen. Use instead of jam on your morning toast or for a completely amazing cream cheese or nut butter sandwich.

ruby red cranberry beet sauce

Ruby Red Cranberry Beet Sauce: The Recipe

Dark chocolate melts into straightforward mole sauce

Straightforward Mole Sauce

“Straightforward mole sauce” doubtless sounds a little oxymoronic, but here’s what it means:

  1. You don’t have to roast or peel any peppers.
  2. You only have to use two pans.
  3. After one round of sauté, you’re basically just adding things to the blender and hitting “blend.”

Straightforward mole sauce is definitely a case where you want to have everything out and ready to go. The things below will either go in a saute pan or a blender.

Ingredients for straightforward mole sauce are best laid out ahead of time.

This, of course, is but one version, though there are not too many straightforward mole sauces out there. Indeed, many of them boast about how complicated they are. Like any dish closely associated with a particular location—think kimchi or gnocchi—mole exists in as many different incarnations as there are cooks. This somewhat ancient article from the NYTimes, “On a Quest for Ultimate Mole Sauce,” does a pretty good job of explaining just how complicated a dish it is.

A cook named Margaret Shakespeare inspired me. I adapted it from her recipe in the Great Meals in Minutes: Mexican Meals cookbook (Time-Life Books, 1984). i like it very much in this vegan mole bowl recipe. It also works just dandy on a thing that, here is Michigan, is called a “wet burrito”—in other words, your basic burrito, with rice, beans, veggies, meat if you eat it, drenched in sauce. In that case, consider thinning it down.

Here, you can see the sauce before the chocolate melts in, chocolate naturally being the key ingredient.

Chocolate is ready to melt into a straightforward mole sauce.

And here it is, all blended up and lovely, dark, and deep on the Vegan Mole Bowl.

It goes wonderfully with savory, sweet, creamy—you name it. Cilantro is a marvelous foil. You can pour the finished batch in a glass jar, and unlike the kind you’d buy ready made, you’ll know exactly what’s in it.

Enjoy!

Vegan Mole Bowl

Vegan Mole Bowl

Mole—rhymes with “guacamole”—wears its Aztec roots with pride. This vegan mole bowl revels in a deep, thick,  mysterious sauce, which livens up what’s otherwise a simple of rice, beans, and vegetables.

There is, however, not a simple way to make mole. This recipe, adapted from a recipe by Margaret Shakespeare*, is close. If you get all the ingredients out ahead of time…

mole-ingr

….you can pretty easily get your mole on while everything else cooks.

mole-cooking

That, by the way, shows the chocolate before it melts. The chocolate is what gives mole its color and hard to pin down flavor.

(Click this link for the mole sauce on its own.)

As stated, this is a vegan mole bowl, relying on my old favorite cauliflower. (I’m not sure where I’d be without that vegetable.) If you don’t have a cauliflower, zucchini will roast up nicely, though in about half the time. If you have fresh corn, spectacular. And the mole will complement chicken, steak, or a robust seafood like scallops, shrimp, or cod—in other words, a fairly sturdy fish, though more bland is better. Salmon is out. Fresh tuna…you’re on your own.

Meanwhile, I turn once again to the awesome rice/quinoa mix put together by Seeds of Change, which we buy in 6-packs at Costco and that I go through about as often as I do cauliflower. You could also, of course, use your own cooked brown rice, quinoa, or your own blend of pretty much any grain you like.

mole-rice-pkg

Have fun with your toppings. I had a mango on hand and opted for sliced avocado so the mole could star. But if you don’t mind a crowded flavor party, throw a little guacamole on there and the two great Mexican creations can duke it out. Just be sure to have some fresh crunchy Romaine—possibly mixed up with a little green cabbage. Enjoy.

mole2

Spicy, Sugar-Free Vegan BBQ Sauce with a Touch of Miso

Spicy Sugar-Free Vegan BBQ Sauce

Spicy Sugar-Free Vegan BBQ Sauce

Go to any grocery store in the country, high-end, low, or somewhere in the middle, and you will find a dozen different barbecue sauces. Smoky, tomato-y, sweet and sticky—pretty much whatever you want. So why make your own? Read More