Thursday, February 21, 2013

Favourite Lemon Loaf

I wear many hats in my life and the most important one is being a good Mom to my two beautiful boys. As part of this responsibility, this year I volunteered to be the Class Rep for my youngest son’s classroom. I help out with sending messages to parents, and drumming up support for causes dear to the school (like putting together Christmas baskets for neighbours in need). 

My most recent assignment was to encourage parents to contribute to a themed class basket to be auctioned off at the Withrow Public School Silent Auction taking place on February 28 at the school. Our theme was “What’s for dessert?” which was right up my alley. 

I sent out the email request last week and the first person to respond was Erica, the Mom of my son’s friend Gavin. She contributed a lovely loaf pan and a “favourite lemon loaf recipe”. We are suckers for anything lemon-related in our house so I knew I’d be trying this recipe as soon as I could get my hands on a copy – I asked Erica to send it my way and we made it that very night. We weren’t disappointed.

As with any new recipe, sometimes you test it out and it doesn’t quite make the grade. This happened to me with my first attempt – this recipe calls for self-raising flour. I didn’t have any and I guess I was really tired and wasn't thinking clearly, so I decided to just use regular flour. I also cut back on the sugar and butter, as I usually do. I figured this was OK because Erica said that she did the same thing. The end result was a very dense, not very tall loaf – the flavour was fantastic though, and so we ate the entire thing. I am posting the photo of the flat loaf below, just to make you smile.

The kids (and The King of Soup) asked me to make it again so this time I used the trusty internet to find out how to make my own self-raising flour. Turns out it’s easy – you just add baking powder and salt and voila! You’re good to go.

The photos here are from the second attempt – you can see how light and fluffy the loaf looks in the photos. Just delish.

Below are the ingredients and instructions, with my notes and edits, as usual. Thanks Erica!


¾ cup unsalted butter (I used ½ cup salted butter and ¼ cup 0% fat Greek yogurt)
¾ cup sugar (I used ½ cup)
1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest (about the zest of one lemon)
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 ½ cups self-raising flour (I used 1 ½ cups all purpose flour + 2 tsp baking powder + ½ tsp salt)
1 tsp lemon extract (the original recipe didn’t call for this but I thought it would give it an extra lemony burst, and it did)

½ cup sugar (I used ¼ cup)
¼ cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Spray a loaf tin (9x5 inches) with cooking spray and line the bottom of the pan with a rectangle of parchment paper (I didn’t use the parchment and everything turned out well).

In an electric mixer beat the butter, yogurt, sugar and lemon zest for 2 – 3 minutes until fluffy. 

Add the beaten eggs in three parts, alternating with a spoonful of the flour/baking powder/salt mix. Mix well after each addition then add in the remaining flour mixture and fold in until smooth.


Pour the batter (it’s thick) into the pan and smooth it out on top. 

Bake it for 50 – 60 minutes (it only took 45 in my oven) or until a toothpick or skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. I would start checking at about 42 minutes or so. 

Turn the loaf out onto a wire rack, then flip it over so it is right side up. Take a skewer and poke a few tiny holes in the top, and then place the rack with the loaf on it on top of a plate. The tiny holes you make in the loaf will help it to soak up the lemon glaze you are about to pour on top.

Take ¼ cup of sugar and ¼ cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice and mix with a spoon just a couple of times – you don’t want the sugar to dissolve. Spoon the mixture (quickly) on top of the warm loaf. The juice will sink in and the sugar will form a crystal-like crunch on top. In the photos you can see the crystal-like sugar coating sparkling in the light.

You can serve it immediately, or it will keep (but not for long because it is so delicious). I recommend keeping the juice that drips onto the plate and spooning it over your slice for additional lemon burst. You can serve it with sliced strawberries, or any kind of berry, or raspberry jam. 

As an 'official' dessert, it should serve 8 people. As a loaf, nibbling away bit by bit, it could last for up to 5 hours. I'd be very surprised if it lasts for longer. Especially if there are kids in your house.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Mejadra (Middle-Eastern Spiced Rice and Lentils)

Included on my holiday gift wish list for my husband this year were two books by the same author, Yotam Ottolenghi. The first, called Plenty, is all vegetarian. The second, called Jerusalem, is co-written with someone of Arab descent (Sami Tamimi), and the recipes are from Jerusalem. Well I couldn’t wait for Chanukah and went out and bought both books for myself back in the fall (first Plenty and then Jerusalem). I wasn’t sorry, as we were able to make several dishes from Plenty over the holidays and they were very well-received and quite delicious. 

Yotam Ottolenghi is an Israeli-born chef who came to cooking late in the game (started culinary school at age 30). Ottolenghi owns and operates (with Noam Bar and Sami Tamimi) four restaurants called Ottolenghi, in England ( The restaurant has been an amazing success which doesn’t surprise me at all since every recipe we have attempted has been unbelievably delicious. The King of Soup’s cousin Paul, who lives in Amsterdam, has been to Ottolenghi and raved about it to us. He was the first person to recommend the cookbook Plenty to us. Since then we have recommended it to countless people including my brother (and sometimes blog -contributor Jonathan), the King’s brother Simon, and the King’s Auntie Barbara – all great chefs in their own right.

Ottolenghi also writes a column for the Guardian and that’s where I first discovered him – I was looking for vegetarian recipes online and came across his recipe for parmesan and panko-encrusted pumpkin wedges. I asked the King of Soup to make them for me for my birthday dinner – we used squash instead of pumpkin (because we are the King and Queen of substitutions) and it was amazing and delicious. I kept checking the Guardian Saturday column for more good eats from Ottolenghi – and then cousin Paul informed me that he had published a book.

Although I have been looking at the recipes in Jerusalem, I hadn’t tested anything until now. Yesterday was a holiday in Ontario, Family Day, and we spent the day playing with the kids, building Lego, cuddling the dog, and cooking. I decided to make a dish called mejadra – mostly because we had all the ingredients in the pantry and most stores were closed yesterday. This particular dish is one that is “...popular throughout the Arab world...”, and the authors labelled it as comfort food. I have to say that I agree with them – I just had a steaming hot bowl of mejadra for lunch and I was indeed comforted on this cold, wet, Toronto winter day.

It was easy to make and there are not too many ingredients, although there are several spices that some might not have handy in their spice rack. Nice to note is that this dish is completely vegetarian, and also gluten-free (as long as your lentils don't have anything added to them - check the packaging). Here is the recipe and my comments/edits as usual.

1 ¼ cups green or brown lentils (I used one 14 oz can of brown lentils)
4 medium onions (I used 2 large sweet onions)
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
About 1 cup sunflower oil (I used between 2/3 of a cup and ¾ of a cup of vegetable oil)
2 tsp cumin seeds (I used 2 tsp of ground cumin since I didn’t have seeds)
1 ½ tbsp coriander seeds (I used 1 ½ tbsp ground coriander since I didn’t have seeds)
1 cup basmati rice (I used brown basmati which increased the cooking time)
2 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 ½ tsp ground allspice
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp sugar
1 ½ cups water (I used more than this to help cook the brown rice – I will describe in the methods below)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

If you are using dried lentils, the authors direct you to put them in a small saucepan, cover with water, bring to a boil, and cook for 12 – 15 minutes (until they have softened a bit but still have a little bite to them). Drain and set aside. Since I used canned lentils, I didn’t do this. I just drained them and set them aside.

For the crispy onions, slice them very thinly. Then place them on a large plate or tray. Sprinkle them with the 3 tbsp of flour and 1 tsp salt. Toss them well with your hands.

You’re going to cook them in 3 batches. Heat a medium-sized saucepan on high heat and put about one third of a cup of the oil in the pan. 


Toss in one piece of onion and wait for it to start sizzling – this tells you when the oil is ready – you want the onion to really sizzle when you drop it in. Once the oil is ready, place one third of your sliced, tossed onions into the saucepan, reduce heat to medium-high and fry for 5 – 7 minutes. Toss it around a few times while cooking and keep a close eye on it so they don’t burn.

Once they are crispy enough, scoop them into a paper towel-lined colander and toss some sea salt on top. Cook the remaining 2 batches of onions using the same method (add oil each time and sprinkle salt on them in the colander). I ended up using between two thirds and three quarters of a cup of the oil – definitely not the full cup.

The next set of instructions tells you to wipe out the saucepan and toss in the cumin and coriander seeds. On medium heat toast the seeds for 1-2 minutes. Since I didn’t have seeds, I just dropped the ground spices in a stirred them for a minute or 2. I switched pots for this step – I had used a frying pan for the onions (because I really like this particular pan) but I needed a pot with a lid for the remaining steps.

After you toast the spices, add the rest of the spices, the sugar, the rice, the olive oil, ½ tsp salt and plenty of freshly-ground black pepper. Stir it all up to coat the dry rice.

Then add the lentils and the 1 ½ cups of water. Bring it all to a boil and cover it with the lid, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. 

15 minutes is enough to cook white basmati rice. If you are using brown basmati rice, you will need to open the pot at this point and add another 1 ½ cups of water. Stir it up, put the lid back on and leave it for another 10 minutes or so. Check the texture. Repeat these steps until the rice is to your liking.

Then quickly remove the lid, cover the pot with a clean tea towel, put the lid back on, remove the pot from the heat and let it sit for 10 minutes.

Remove the lid and the tea towel and taste your creation. Add salt and pepper to taste. Then take one third to one half of the crispy onions and toss them in with the mixture. Fluff it up, and place it on your plates. Top with some more of the crispy onions.

Serve hot! 

P.S. It tasted even better the day after. I had two helpings for lunch today (and yes, now I have a belly ache).

Links to both books below: