Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting

This is the yellow cake of dreams. Perfect for celebrating birthdays, graduations, or simply getting through a tough week. The crumb is tender and moist, the chocolate frosting thick, luxurious, and slathered on generously. If you’re nostalgic for an updated version of classic yellow cake, this one hits all the right notes.

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This is the yellow cake of my dreams. Perfect for celebrating birthdays, graduations, or simply getting through a tough week. The crumb is tender and moist, the chocolate frosting thick, luxurious, and slathered on generously. If you’re nostalgic for an updated version of classic yellow cake, this one hits all the right notes.
a slice of classic yellow cake with chocolate frosting being held on a plate

My birthday cake of choice is yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Generous with the frosting please, but not completely over the top. You’re looking at my go to. It checks all the boxes – classic, nostalgic, and tender cake layers covered with substantial, deep, thick, chocolate frosting. The frosting is mixed with enough salt to balance out the sweetness, and a good percentage of cream cheese. I resisted the urge to add sprinkles here, but it’s a cake that certainly welcomes them.
chocolate frosted yellow cake on a counter in a kitchen

Yellow Cake: Technique

There are a number of ways to approach yellow cake, but I’m stuck on the following method for a few compelling reasons. First, because it makes a knockout cake. Second, I can mix the cake batter by hand if I want, without pulling a stand mixer onto the counter. A forever goal of mine. The most common yellow cakes have you cream butter and sugar together and proceed from there. Alternately, Rose Levy Beranbaum popularized a reverse-creaming method in The Cake Bible (1988) where you beat softened butter directly into dry ingredients. Both are great, both methods love a stand mixer. I started taking a third approach when mixing cake batter to bake in our little Airstream oven. Everything in that situation had to be mixed by hand, so I approached cake making more like mixing a pancake batter than anything else. Egg whites were whipped and folded in at the last minute, butter was melted instead of creamed and the result was lofty, rich, beautiful, moist cakes. That’s what you’ll see in today’s recipe.

Yellow Cake: Ingredients

I suspect many of you have most of what you need to make a wonderful yellow cake in your pantry right now. There’s nothing wild going on here, but I have a couple notes related to a key ingredients if you want to take a deeper dive.

  • Cornstarch: A lot of cake recipes call for cake flour. It is lower in protein and yields a nice, desirable, tender cake crumb. I rarely buy cake flour, but always keep unbleached all-purpose flour on hand. I use a little trick here to drop the protein in my all-purpose flour by cutting it with a bit of cornstarch. It’s a technique I love to use in my favorite waffle recipe as well – and they’re THE BEST. Pinky swear.  
  • Cocoa: The cocoa powder in this recipe brings the chocolate color and flavor to the cream cheese spiked, buttercream frosting. Seek out 100% cocoa and experiment with different types. Ghirardelli 100% cocoa powder is readily available, and I’ve had good results using it. Guittard has a number of wonderful cocoa powders and if I see one of those, that’s what I’ll buy. You can go with Dutched cocoa or natural. Experimenting with your cocoa powder is a way to personalize your frosting, so experiment! Find one you love, or make a blend.
  • Powdered Sugar: You’re going to make a big bowl of frosting for this cake. Ideally you should sift the powdered sugar for the silkiest frosting, but if I’m being honest, sometimes I’m too lazy. I didn’t bother sifting for my most recent cake, pictured here, and if you don’t mind a homemade looking cake, you can skip sifting as well.
  • Eggs: Yellow cake often calls for eggs plus added egg yolks. The extra yolks add yellow to the cake along with richness and some density. I like my cake a shade lighter in texture, so I tend to go with three eggs total – with no added yolks.

a slice of classic yellow cake with chocolate frosting being held on a plate

Make Ahead Strategy

If you want to make components of this cake ahead of time, I suggest the following.

  • To bake cake layers one day ahead: allow baked cake layers to cool completely, wrap well in plastic and frost the next day.
  • To bake cake layers more than one day ahead: Bake, cool completely, wrap in plastic wrap and bag, freeze for up to a few weeks. Bring to room temperature before frosting.
  • To make frosting up to a few days ahead of time: mix frosting and refrigerate until ready to use. Allow to come up to room temperature, mix until billowy and spreadable adding tiny splashes of milk or buttermilk to loosen the frosting up a bit if needed.

slices of yellow cake with chocolate frosting arranged on a marble countertop

Yellow Cake Variations

  • Four Layer Yellow Cake: You will have plenty of frosting to use if you want to slice each of the two cakes in half horizontally to make four thin layers. It makes a slightly taller and more elaborate cake.
  • Confetti Yellow Cake: fold 2/3 cup (or more if you love them!) rainbow sprinkles into cake batter along with the last of the whipped egg whites. Save some extra sprinkles for the top of the cake as well!
  • Citrus Yellow Cake: add the zest of an orange or two lemons to the wet ingredients. Orange in particular goes beautifully with the chocolate in this cake.

A Few Key Steps & Tips in Photos

Here’s what a few of the steps in making this cake look like in photos.

folding whipped egg whites into yellow cake batter in a large mixing bowl
Folding whipped egg whites into the cake batter, pictured above. Keep folding until you can no longer see those white streaks while maintaining as much volume as possible.
yellow cake batter in a baking pan prior to going in the oven
I love my cake pans, but a key to success is preparing them well with butter, parchment, and flour. A prepared cake pan is pictured above with cake batter. Ready to bake!
two yellow cakes cooling in metal pans on a counter after being removed from an oven
If you’re nervous about getting cakes out of pans, the key is good preparation of the pans before baking. After baking, allow the cakes to cool a bit. They will shrink away and pull in from the sides (above). Gently run a small offset spatula around the cake pan to release any stuck bits and proceed from there.
chocolate frosting in a metal mixing bowl
This recipe doesn’t skimp on frosting. You’ll have enough to divide your two layers into four if you like. Try to get your cake layers as level as possible (see below), this recipe doesn’t typically dome much for me, but I always arrange the layers “belly” to “belly” resulting in a super flat cake top.
frosting a yellow cake on a cake stand with chocolate frosting

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Baked Ziti

This baked ziti uses ricotta, mozzarella, and creme fraîche to make a bubbly, rich pasta with a hearty, spinach-flecked red sauce loaded with flavor. The creme fraîche keeps things silky, adds dimension, and is a game changer. A family favorite that freezes well and happily feeds a crowd.

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I discovered a truly fantastic version of baked ziti in 2017 when I started cooking from Colu Henry’s Back Pocket Pasta. Big, hearty, family-style pastas are a great love of mine, but my baked ziti attempts were always just so-so. I struggled with overall cohesiveness, and the ricotta mixture always tended to bake up a little drier than I hoped. Colu’s technique was a game-changer. She recommends a 50/50 blend of ricotta and creme fraîche in her recipe – it keeps everything silky and rich, and I’ve never looked back. And yep, sour cream will also work in a pinch.baked ziti in a metal tin hot from the oven with lots of melted cheese on top

What Makes Great Baked Ziti?

If you want to make the best baked ziti, focus on two things: how long you cook the pasta, and the sauce. The sauce is king here. You want to use good, flavorful tomatoes, and you want to let everything simmer down into a thick, chunky, vibrant red sauce. A bit of patience is key. See the sauce in the photo below? Keep simmering. On the pasta front, avoid over-cooking in the initial stage, the boil. The ziti will continue cooking as the pasta bakes – you want to arrive at the finish line with perfect pasta. If you overcook during the initial boil, the pasta will become too soft and unstructured.

Baked Ziti: The Ingredients

  • Dried ziti pasta: Use a good-quality dried pasta here. Ziti is the namesake shape to use, but penne is a legit alternative and easier to find tbh. For a bit of added nutrition, explore whole wheat pastas, or pasta made with lentils or chickpeas. As I’ve mentioned in previous pasta recipes, a forever favorite of mine is the Monograno Felicetti Farro Penne Rigate. You can even make baked ziti gluten-free by swapping in one of the GF pastas.
  • Baby spinach: One note here, if your baby spinach has long thick stems, go ahead and snap the biggest offenders off. Aside from that I don’t bother chopping or fussing.
  • Canned tomatoes: Look for good-quality diced canned tomatoes. Note that you’ll need both a 28-ounce *and* a 14-ounce can. I tend to grab fire-roasted for this recipe, but you don’t have to!
    red sauce for baked ziti in a skillet with a wooden spoon
  • Sausage: I rarely buy or cook with fake meat, but this is one recipe where I use Impossible sausage for the meat component. It just helps check all the boxes for a big, family-style baked ziti that everyone can get on board with. Another alternative is to use this mushroom ragù as your sauce, in place of the red sauce with sausage posted below. 
  • Cheeses: Three cheese are in play here. Use fresh mozzarella if possible. It’ll typically be in liquid, and any size is fine – you’ll be tearing it into smaller pieces. For the grated cheese Colu recommends Pecorino Romano, but if you tend to keep Parmesan on hand, go ahead and use that – freshly grated. And the ricotta plays another key roll here, so use one you’d enjoy eating straight – on a cracker or slice of toast.
    ingredients for baked ziti in a baking tin ready to go into oven
  • Creme fraîche: The wildcard in this baked ziti is the addition of creme fraîche. To make your own, you can add 1 tablespoon of cultured buttermilk or yogurt to a cup of heavy cream. Stir well, cover with a clean dishtowel, and allow to sit out on your counter for 12 hours or so, until it thickens. Refrigerate until ready to use. Alternately, you can use sour cream here. It’s tangier, but in a good way!

baked ziti being served on a marble table with drinks and plates

Variations

Here are some favorite variations on this baked ziti that I’ve cooked over the years.

  • Make it Spicy: To make this baked ziti feisty and spicy, add a bit of spicy Calabrian pepper paste (the one I buy most is called Bomba di Calabria) to the sauce after adding the spinach. Go easy, some of these pastes are wildly spicy. But also go stronger than you might otherwise because the sauce will be cut with all that dairy. Taste and adjust.
  • Make it Gluten Free: You can make this recipe gluten-free by using GF pasta in place of traditional pasta. At the time I’m writing this the Impossible sausage is GF, but double check – in case you’re using another brand or their product changes.
  • Baked Ziti with Mushrooms: I do a version of this baked ziti using this mushroom ragù, and it is equally fantastic. Basically, fill a 12-inch skillet to 1/2-inch or so below the rim, and stir in the 5 ounces or spinach. Then proceed with the recipe as written. Basically, don’t skimp on the amount of sauce you’re using.  https://www.101cookbooks.com/mushroom-ragu/
  • Toss in Some Wildcards: A lot of times when making baked ziti, I’ll toss ingredients in on a whim. Whatever I have at hand. A few of the more successful additions include the following: torn olives, lots of lemon or orange zest, extra spinach or herbs, deeply caramelized onions, goat cheese in place of half the mozzarella.

baked ziti in a metal tin

Baked Ziti: Make Ahead Tips

This recipe makes a large pan of baked ziti. We typically eat half and freeze half resulting in easy meals in the coming weeks. The best way I’ve found to freeze baked ziti is to start by refrigerating your baked ziti until it is very cold. This makes it easy to slice into precise, individual portions. Arrange the portions on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze until solid. Transfer to freezer bags for up to 6 weeks. Reheat, covered in foil, on a baking sheet (or in baking pan), in a 375F oven until bubbly and hot throughout.

back pocket pasta cookbook
colu henry and husband

Back Pocket Pasta & Colu

Colu’s archives are a gold-mine of low lift, fabulous meals. In the years since Back Pocket Pasta was published, she also wrote Colu Cooks: Easy Fancy Food. You need someone like Colu Henry in your life. When Back Pocket Pasta was published, I wrote, “She’s one of those stylish friends who will tell you where to score the prettiest dresses, help you book the best travel destinations, and happily point you toward your next good read.” She’s the queen of bringing effortless style to the weeknight dinner table and her books are brimming with casual recipes achievable with little more than a reasonably stocked pantry and a bit of seasonal flair. You can follow her here and here.

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Roasted Cauliflower with Tahini

A special roasted cauliflower inspired by Sara Forte’s new cookbook. It’s wildly delicious – loaded with herbs, dates, nuts, roasted red onions and tossed with a tahini dressing.

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I’ve roasted cauliflower a thousand different ways, but this version, from Around Our Table by Sara Forte, quickly became a weeknight staple after the first time I tried it. A big head of cauliflower is cut into florets that are tossed with a spiced oil and roasted in a hot oven. Red onions and bits of dates are introduced along the way and the whole situation is tossed with lots of herbs, arugula, pine nuts, sesame seeds, and a creamy tahini dressing. It’s wildly delicious.roasted cauliflower on a platter with tahini glaze, mint, herbs, dates and more

Many of you know Sara from her o.g. food blog Sprouted Kitchen. Or maybe you’re a member of the SK Cooking Club? She’s beloved for good reason, creating wholesome, doable, family-friendly recipes while keeping it real. I told her I’d be gifting the book to all the busy parents in my life, and meant it. Here’s a look at her new book, a few of the beautiful spreads, etc.

Around Our table cookbook
Her husband Hugh did all the photography for the book. You’ll recognize his style from their beautiful site. I’ve always loved how fresh, natural, and unfussed their food always looks. Their projects always have family photos paced throughout. I remember (years ago) Sara told me, over lunch one day, that she always wanted her home to be the landing pad for her kids and their friends. That always stuck with me, a wonderful, genuine aspiration. 
Title page of Sprouted Kitchen Around Our table cookbook
table of Contents pages from Around Our table cookbook by Sara Forte Sprouted Kitchen
You can see a couple examples of the gorgeous photo spreads below. And the table of contents above.
Beautiful photo spread example from Sprouted Kitchen Around Our Table cookbookBeautiful photo spread example from Sprouted Kitchen Around Our Table cookbook

Roasted Cauliflower: Part of An Impromptu Dinner Menu

This roasted cauliflower anchored a fantastic (and simple to throw together) dinner spread when Wayne’s parents visited a couple weeks back. I made the roasted cauliflower (recipe below) the day prior and then threw together a few other easy wins for dinner the next night. Aside from the cauliflower, no component took more than five minutes of active time to make, and there wasn’t a bit left for leftovers in the end!

  • A Big Pile of Roasted Potatoes: I cut little potatoes in half, tossed them in a bit of olive oil and roasted them in a hot oven until tender. Whisked a bit of spicy bomba chile paste into some olive oil, and drizzled that over the potatoes on a big plate. Finished with lots of toasted sesame seeds and slivered basil.
  • Mustard Lentils: I covered (dried) French lentils with about 3/4-inch of water and simmered until the lentils were very tender. Then, the cooked lentils were tossed with a generous dollop (2+ tablespoons) of strong French mustard and a couple glugs of Camino red wine vinegar, and a splash of good olive oil. Seasoned with salt and pepper. Topped with canned, roasted cherry tomatoes (in oil), and slivered basil.
  • Hard-Boiled Eggs: I split each egg in half, sprinkled with spices( I used za’atar, but use any fave savory spice blend). Salt to taste. Drizzle with olive oil.
  • Roasted Cauliflower with Tahini: Recipe below. Serve at room temperature.

roasted cauliflower on a platter with tahini glaze, mint, herbs, dates and more

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Homemade Blackberry Syrup

This chile-infused blackberry syrup is slow-burning, sweet and spicy, and homemade. Inspired by a recipe in the September 2007 issue of Gourmet Magazine, it’s great in spritzers, over pancakes, in oatmeal, and on and on.

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The next time you have blackberries on hand, please make this recipe. It doesn’t lake long, and you are left with enough sweet & spicy, chile-infused blackberry syrup to keep your taste buds tingling for a good stretch. I clipped the recipe out of an issue of Gourmet Magazine years ago, September 2007, and enjoy it  every year when berries are in season.

jars of homemade blackberry syrup

Blackberry Syrup: The Recipe

Over the years I’ve made this syrup experimenting with a range of chiles. Play around! Broadly speaking, it’s easy to adjust the spiciness to your liking. My advice is to make notes so you know your preference for future batches.

A Special Syrup: How To Use It

The ways to enjoy this syrup are endless.

  • Use it to spritz up sparkling water.
  • Swirl it into yogurt, oatmeal, or crème fraîche.
  • Slather on buttered toast or skillet cornbread.
  • Drizzle over goat cheese.
  • Use as a topping for pancakes, crepes, or waffles.
  • Jazz up tapioca pudding.

Use it in Cocktails

Gourmet highlighted their original version of this blackberry syrup alongside a bourbon-based cocktail (it was a Briar Patch), and a version of a Desert Sunrise. If you think of it as a homemade spicy grenadine, you can imagine all sorts of cocktail applications (and non-alcoholic cocktails as well). 
blackberries on a paper towel
blackberry juice stains on a piece of parchment paper

Even More Ideas

I keep thinking about working this syrup into a cheesecake. You know how Humboldt Fog goat cheese has a thin layer of vegetable ash running through it? What if, using that as inspiration, you had a thin vein of the chile blackberry syrup run through the cream cheese filling. You’d only see it after slicing into the cake? Or you could use it in a simple vinaigrette, or as part of a fruit salad. There are a lot of other ideas down in the comments, and I’ll put a few highlights in the next section.
blackberry seeds in a strainer with a wooden spoon

Blackberry Syrup: How *You’re* Using It

You’ve shared so many great ideas over the years in the comments. A few favorites:

  • Payel says, “it is great on top of strawberry ice cream, with french toast or with chilled white wine to make kirs.”
  • Kate dovetails with this sentiment saying this syrup was amazing over vanilla bean ice cream topped with roasted pecans.
  • On the savory front FCnoted, “I used this smoky syrup in a marinate to prepare tempeh peach kebabs.”
  • Sharon suggested a bruschetta with a slice of chevre blanc, grilled with a drizzle of this and maybe a sprig of rocket.

Lastly, you’ll have enough to gift some syrup to friends. You can print up little tags with recipe suggestions for a thank-you or housewarming treat. Enjoy!
jars of homemade blackberry syrup

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Health Nut Vegan Chili

A special, triple-bean, vegan chili inspired by Jess Damuck’s new cookbook. It’s bold, flavor-packed and uses a technique to achieve the best texture of any chili I’ve eaten. It’s time to schedule a big chili night.

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There are a number of cookbooks this spring I’m wildly excited about and this exceptional vegan chili is from one of them. It is from Jess Damuck’s Health Nut: A Feel-Good Cookbook and I’ve been making it regularly ever since I saw an early version of the book last year. I’ll talk a bit more about the cookbook down below, but we’ll jump into the chili details first. Jess calls it her Very Good Vegan Chili. I double the recipe and cook it in the absolute largest pot I own – freezing the extra portions for later. It freezes brilliantly. The chili is bold, thick flavor-packed, and primed for lots of toppings.
bowl of vegan chili topped with sour cream and avocado

What I Like About This Chili

The two stand-out things I love about this chili are the flavor and the texture. Both are fantastic. Jess describes a chili full of “simmering on the stove all day” flavor, in minutes. Using smoked paprika and fire-roasted tomatoes absolutely contribute to hitting that mark. On the texture front, she has us puree a small amount of the chili with a hand blender, to lend a rich, creamy vibe when it is re-incorporated. This is a super clever technique I’ve used when making ribollita, but it never occurred to me to try it with chili. Total game changer!
marble table topped with bowls of chili and a skillet cornbread

Key Ingredients:

  • Beans: This is a triple-bean vegan chili. The beans are the stars. Jess lists a mix of black beans, pinto beans, and kidney beans. You can use canned beans or the equivalent amount of beans cooked from dried. Sometimes I use a blend of both depending on what I have on hand or in the freezer. I encourage you to experiment with different types of beans. One version I did that was extra good swapped Rio Zape beans for the pintos.
  • Chile Powder: Ok, here’s where you *really* need to pay attention. There is a wide range of “chile powder” out there. Chile powder can be pure, single-varietal chile powder, a blend of pure chile powders, or a blend of chile powder and other spices. Jess likes to use ancho chile powder in this chili, I tend to keep guajillo chili powder on hand lately, so I’ve been using that. If you have a chile powder you know and love, use it. The key: don’t go overboard. You can always add more, a bit at a time, but if you make your chili too spicy, it’s hard to go back. For a large pot like this one, Jess would use 4 tablespoons of ancho chili powder, I’ve been starting with 2 tablespoons of guajillo chili powder. Make notes so you can adjust in the future.
  • Tomatoes: As I mention in the recipe below, I make this with crushed tomatoes because that’s what I tend to keep on hand. Jess calls for diced in the original recipe. The key is: fire-roasted. It really brings some added depth and dimension to this chili.

health nut cookbook by jess damuck
Health Nut: A Feel-Good Cookbook

Take a peak at a few of the photo spreads from this book. As a life-long Californian I lost my mind (in a good way) when I first saw Health Nut. It has 70s California health food vibes throughout, and my co-op nostalgia kicked in hard. The fonts! The graphics! Omg the recipes!
opening page spread of health nut cookbook by jess damuck
chapter opener text and graphics from health nut cookbook by jess damuck

The sun-drenched photography is by Linda Pugliese and some amazing double-exposures by Roger Steffens. If real food with hippie vibes through an updated lens is where you want to be as a cook, track this book down. I know a lot of you were fans of Salad Freak, also by Jess, Health Nut is her follow up. You can follow Jess here.
photo of jess damuck in health nut cookbook
photos from health nut cookbook by jess damuck

Having a great chili recipe in your back pocket is never a bad idea. It’s legitimately the perfect go-to if you’re feeding a crowd. A chili like this one is both fantastic, and can accommodate the whole range of eaters – vegetarians, gluten-free, and dairy free. It’s great alongside this skillet cornbread.  

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bowl of vegan chili topped with sour cream, lime, cilatnro and avocado

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Super Orange Citrus Rice

This incredible citrus rice is flooded with orange juice, flecked with celery and carrots, and boosted with a packet of French onion dip mix.

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This incredible citrus rice is flooded with orange juice, flecked with celery and carrots, and boosted with a packet of French onion dip mix. It’s beautiful, delicious, and if you’re in a rice or grain rut, it’s just the thing to get you out of it. This Super Orange Citrus Rice is also the perfect base for a rice bowl, and I love using leftovers the next day for a citrusy-y take on fried rice.

Super Orange Citrus Rice in a Serving Bowl
I cook rice a couple times a week. Half the time I’ll make it straight and simple – water, rice, and a bit of salt. The other times I like to mix it up with different broths, infusions, and favorite flavors, ingredients and textures. A lot of you know how much I love a good rice situation – I included a whole section of ideas in the back of Super Natural Simple. I also constantly revisit Bryant Terry’s Amazing Green Rice, this Congee with Brown Rice and Turmeric, and this herby rice situation. Recently, this super orange citrus rice has been in high-rotation. Here are the details!Super Orange Citrus Rice in a Kitchen on a Counter

Citrus Rice Inspiration

One of the things I love about flea markets, estate and yard sales is finding and browsing old cookbooks. I come across a lot of community cookbooks, and always have my eyes peeled for books that are special, unusual, and/or regionally specific. Today’s recipe was inspired by a cookbook I picked up a few years ago, published by Sunkist in 1968. It is cover-to-cover recipes that are citrus inspired – note the sub-title: lemons, tangerines – citrus treasures of the west – oranges, grapefruits. 

A few of the recipes caught my attention. In particular, there is an orange rice recipe that calls for “instant minced onions.” I imagined that would add a nice seasoning element to a citrus rice. I tend to keep French onion soup mix on hand to make the French Onion Strata in Super Natural Simple, and have dehydrated onions in my pantry as well.  Today’s recipe evolved from there. I love the way the onion helps counter the sweetness of the orange juice, keeping the whole dish squarely in the savory camp.
Super Orange Citrus Rice Surrounded by Plates and Ready to Eat
Super Orange Citrus Rice Surrounded by Plates and Ready to Eat

What Kind of Rice to Use?

I’ve been using brown basmati rice for this recipe. Short grain brown rice should also work, you might need to adjust the cooking time a bit though. I’ve tested a blend of half brown basmati with half white basmati and it wasn’t great. Unsurprisingly, the white grains really blew out and over cooked while the brown rice grains finished cooking.

The general rule of thumb here is yes, you can likely use your favorite rice, whatever it is. You should simply adjust the amount of liquid and cooking time according to whatever you typically use for 2 cups of rice. So, for example, if you’re using 2 cups of white rice, scale back the orange juice and water called for in the recipe from 4 cups to 3 cups (or 3 1/4 cups total liquid). Hope that makes sense. It’s a long way of saying you can likely make this with success with whatever rice you have on hand.

Super Orange Citrus Rice Surrounded by Plates and Ready to Eat

Make Citrus Rice into a Meal

You can easily add another hearty element to this rice and make a one bowl meal. You see the citrus rice pictured here topped with a bit of simply marinated, baked tofu. It’s just slabs of thinly sliced extra-firm tofu tossed in 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon wasabi paste, and 2 teaspoons soy sauce and baked until golden in a 375F oven. Wasabi paste can be tricky to come by, and when I’m out of it I’ll substitute a favorite curry paste or tobanjan paste. Throw some broccoli or cauliflower florets into the oven with the tofu for some added veg. And, you should absolutely use leftovers in this Herbed Rice Salad with Peanuts!

Alternately, I like to make a thin omelette with an egg or two, slice it thinly, and use that in place of the tofu. And before I forget, if your celery is extra leafy, be sure to make your own celery salt! It’s really wonderful on this rice, but also on all sorts of soups and salads.

Leftover Ideas

This recipe makes a good amount of citrus rice, and we often have leftovers. It’s SO good the next day, perfect for a quick fried rice for lunch, or easy dinner. The citrus element is really fantastic and unexpected if you aren’t in the know. 

If you’re looking for more rice recipes I have so many ideas. Laugh/cry. Be sure to try this green rice, my favorite mushroom casserole,  and this vegetarian take on paellaI also love cooking with quinoa, cooking with lentils. Enjoy! -h

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Skillet Cornbread

This skillet cornbread is rustic, custard-topped, and crusty-edged. It is bolstered with herbs and a bit of quinoa for an incredibly good accompaniment to chili or a favorite soup. Inspired by a legendary Marion Cunningham recipe.

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One of my favorite cornmeal recipes is Marion Cunningham’s Custard-Filled Cornbread from The Breakfast Book. My neighbor in San Francisco brought it to a Halloween potluck (to much fanfare), and it occurred to me it was the same cornbread Molly writes about in A Homemade Life. Everyone in my family now loves this cornbread, and it has shown up at many family gatherings over the years. It is one of those recipes, so spot-on, I thought I’d never change it, tweak it, or make it any other way. There was no need. Keep it simple, leave it alone.
skillet cornbread with a slice removed

Skillet Cornbread: The Inspiration

Narrator voice: she was unable to leave it alone. I eventually did an alternative version good enough to share. I took the general approach to Marion’s custard cornbread, introduced a cast-iron skillet, and a few ingredients that pair nicely with corn – herbs, quinoa. My hope was that it would result in something unique and special. And wow, did it ever work out!

skillet cornbread after baking

I hope you’ll agree, the results are impressive. A rustic, minimally structured, custard-topped, crusty-edged, herb-scented corn-quinoa skillet cornbread. The recipe yields enough for a small crowd. Each piece is dense and moist, rich with ribbons of varying texture. It’s quite special and, if you are a cornbread aficionado, worth a go.

skillet cornbread cooling on a blue hot pad

Let me know if you try it out – it’s perfect for picnics, potlucks, family meals, chili night,Thanksgiving and the like!

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Vegetable Pot Pie

This hearty vegetable pot pie is made with a flaky, all-butter pie crust encasing a creamy, herbed potato, carrot, pea and onion filling. A homemade savory pie like this is such a treat! There are a couple tips you should know to help you take it from good to exceptional.

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I know a lot of people make vegetable pot pies with store-bought puff pastry, but over the years I’ve come to believe a homemade pie crust is, by far, the superior way to go. It makes the whole pot pie endeavor worth it. These pies are rustic and creamy, often lovingly constructed. A great pie crust lends butter-kissed backbone and structure. A flaky, decadent counterpoint to the classic, creamy, vegetable filling. Let’s make a pie!
vegetable pot pie on a cooling rack with a slice on a plate nearby

Vegetable Pot Pie: Real Talk

My main piece of advice here is this. If you’re are aiming to make a vegetable pot pie from scratch, plan ahead. Going from start to finish in one go can be a bit of an undertaking – pie dough, filling, assembly, bake, etc. But! If you keep pie crusts at the ready in your freezer, and make the filling a day or two in advance, pulling this pie together is an absolute breeze.

Pro Tips:

There are a few things I do as I’m making pot pies to level them up. Little details to help delineate my pie from your average vegetarian pot pie.

  • Homemade pie crust: Per the opening paragraph, I’ll go to the mat encouraging you to make your own pie dough. Make a few rounds of dough and keep it in the freezer for months. The flavor! The flakiness! Once you nail down the pie dough making process it’s hard to go back to a store-bought crust. Can you use a store-bought crust for this recipe? Yes, absolutely. Will it be better with a homemade pie crust? Yes, absolutely.

    vegetable pot pie before baking
  • Caramelize your onions: Really go for it. Most pot pie fillings have you sauté onions until tender in the beginning. I have you go well beyond that. By browning the onions and celery you’re developing more depth and flavor as the base of your filling.
  • Lemon zest: Sprinkle your pie plate with lemon zest before lining with the pie crust. Add some to your filling as well. The zest combines with the butter from the crust to perfume the whole situation. The brightness of the zest really brings something to the filling as well.
    pie plate prepared with bitter and lemon zest

Vegetable Pot Pies: Common Mistakes

There are a number of common pitfalls to avoid when making a pot pie.

  • Cool your filling completely: When you go to assemble your pie, it’s important that your filling is completely cold. Adding a warm filling is going to melt the butter in your crust prematurely and can contribute to a soggy pie bottom in the end. You want a golden, structured bottom crust. The solution? If you’re in a rush, spread the hot pie filling across a large plate, and place in the refrigerator, stirring now and then until cool.
    filling for vegetable pot pie in a large skillet with a metal spatula
  • Place pie on baking sheet: This is one mistake I still make too often, unfortunately. Placing your pie on a baking sheet while baking will protect your oven from any spills, overflows, or melted butter. It makes clean up much easier and you won’t have things burning onto the bottom of your oven.
  • Keep an eagle eye on your crust: I love a deeply golden, rustic pie crust. But the edges of a pie can get dark while the center is still underbaked. A problem! Have tinfoil strips or a pie shield ready to protect areas of your pie until the rest of the pie catches up. If you want to up your pie game over time, a basic pie shield is a great, inexpensive purchase!

vegetable pot pie with a slice cut from it
Pot Pie Leftovers:

Refrigerate leftovers, covered, for up to 5 days. Reheat in a 350°F / 175°C oven, covered in foil, until filling is completely hot.
a slice of vegetable pot pie on a plate with a fork

Can I Make Pot Pies Ahead of Time?

If you want to make a pot pie ahead of time, make the filling in advance and refrigerate or freeze until ready to assemble the pie. Thawing first, of course. Make the pie dough ahead of time as well. You’re going to have more success baking the day you want to serve the pie.

Vegetable Pot Pie Variations

  • Make it spicy: Add a couple teaspoons of your favorite curry powder (or to taste) to the filling. You might also add some to the pie crust as well.
  • Explore different vegetables: Use what you have and love! Or explore what is seasonal. Great vegetable options include: sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, shredded cabbage, pumpkin, and corn. Roasted cherry tomatoes add an amazing burst of flavor.
    ingredients to make vegetable pot pie arrange on counter including potatoes, frozen peas, and carrots
  • Coconut milk: Use coconut milk (full fat) in place of the heavy cream for a different flavor profile.
  • Pesto: Skip the other herbs in the recipe and stir a couple tablespoons of pesto into your filling at the end. Or dollop it on top of the filling as you’re assembling your pot pie, before putting the top crust on.

vegetable pot pie on a wire cooling rack
More Pie Recipes




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Strawberry Scones

These strawberry scones check all the boxes. Made with juicy sweet strawberries, they’re tender and rustic with golden craggy edges and a sugar-crusted top.

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There are some things to know before you jump into making these strawberry scones. First, the foundation of a great scone is a good recipe and cold ingredients. The cold ingredients will make the dough much easier to work with. Second, let your scones bake long enough, really keep an eye on things. For the scone style you see here, you don’t want pale. Much of the flavor happens as the sugars, and butter, and edges of each scone brown. Lastly, scones made with fresh fruit are best warm from the oven. Bake just before you want to enjoy them whenever possible. Or do a quick reheat.
strawberry scones on a baking sheet

Strawberry Scones: The Ingredients

A few words about the ingredients I use here and why.

  • Flours: Most scone recipes use all-purpose flour exclusively. But I find that adding a percentage of whole wheat flour can really anchor a scone and bring flavor dimension. Don’t worry, you won’t run into any dreaded whole-wheat dryness with these. The whole wheat flour really lends rustic farmhouse vibes in the best way possible with a tender crumb. Now when I go back to tasting more conventional scones, they end up tasting too one-dimensional to me.
  • Sugar: I’ve baked these scones with a rotating cast of sugars over the years. Different amounts, different types. I feel like this recipe needs the sharp edge of white sugar to balance the other ingredients in these scones – for example, the tangy buttermilk or sour cream. Just sweet enough is what I was after here, and for whatever reason the brown sugar tend to get lost. And a blend didn’t do the job either.
    ingredients for making a strawberry scone recipe arranged on a marble counter
  • Other: I use quite a bit less baking powder and baking soda than other scone recipes. You don’t really need more than the amount in this recipe, and the buttermilk neutralizes any residual off flavor from the leavening agents.

strawberry scones on a baking sheet

Variations:

The recipe below is for classic strawberry scones with a bit of zest. Aside from the zest, they’re straight-forward, direct, a good scone foundation. That said, I often switch them up with one or two of the following:

  • citrus: zest of one lemon  or lime (mix into wet ingredients)
  • rosemary: I love the combination of strawberry and rosemary. Finely chop 2 five-inch sprigs of rosemary – 1 1/2 teaspoons or so. (Add to dry ingredients)
  • black pepper: black pepper and strawberry are a classic combination. Add scant 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper to dry ingredients. Adjust with more in future batches if you love it.
  • poppy seeds: add 1/3 cup to dry ingredients.
  • toasted almonds: be sure they’ve cooled completely. (Add to dry ingredients)
  • crystalized ginger: adds jolts of chewy ginger sugar. Chop it small and add it along with the wet ingredients.
  • icing: lot of people like an iced drizzle over their scones. If you would rather have a drizzle top, here’s the plan. Use lemon zest in place of the orange zest called for in the recipe. Skip the sugar sprinkle, but do the egg wash. Allow scones to cool completely after baking, and use the salted lemon glaze from this glazed lemon cake recipe. Or do half and half so you can enjoy the sugar-topped scones warm.
 


Making Strawberry Scones By Hand

The recipe below assumes you have an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, but making them by hand is also possible and will save you some dishes! To make these scones by hand, watch the above video and reference these instructions:

  1. Mix the dry ingredients well and then turn out into a pile on your counter top. Sprinkle the cold butter across the flour mixture and use your hands to rub the butter into the flour until it is evenly distributed throughout. You can use a dough scraper (or pastry cutter) to chop through the pile a bit and break up any butter lumps. You want the mixture to be sandy, with tiny pebbles.
  2. Shape: Wrangle the flour mixture back into a pile with a dough scraper and make a well in the middle (the way you do when making homemade pasta). Pour the wet ingredients into the well and use your dough scraper to fold and mix the flour into the wet ingredients. Keep going until there is no dry flour left and a dough has started to form. At this point sprinkle the berries across the top, and fold them into the mixture as well.
    strawberry scone dough cut into wedges prior to baking
  3. Gather the dough into a ball and proceed with the recipe as written – slicing the dough into wedges and so forth.

More Scone Recipes

strawberry scones on a baking sheet
More Strawberry Recipes

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Itsy Bitsy Chocolate Chip Cookies

The perfect bite-sized chocolate chip cookie. Tiny, thin, golden, crisp, a bit nutty with plenty of shaved chocolate.

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I recognize the lead photo for this post makes these chocolate chip cookies look enormous. They are not. In fact, one of these cookies is about the size of a half-dollar, you might be able to fit a dozen of them in the palm of your hand. And while the photo might be a bit misleading, the trade-off is that you can see all the flecks of shaved chocolate, oats, and walnuts that are packed into every tiny cookie. The grains of sugar on top? They give the cookies just the right amount of crunch. These are the perfect bite-sized cookie, and each batch makes nearly twelve dozen of them.

itsy bitsy chocolate chip cookie

Itsy Bitsy Chocolate Chip Cookies: The Concept

I started working on this recipe over the summer (it took a few tries!). I knew I wanted my cookie to be tiny. I wanted it to be thin, and I wanted it to be golden, crisp, nutty, with plenty of chocolate. I started shaving the chocolate early on, instead of using chips or chunks. It ended up being one of the things that makes these cookies unique -and it allows you to press the dough near flat.

chocolate chip cookie on parchment paper

The recipe doubles easily, and I can’t resist mentioning that ice-cream sandwiches made with them are tres cute and tasty. The key is resisting the urge to use too much dough when you’re shaping them.

itsy bitsy chocolate chip cookie on parchment paper

Variations: 

There have been some great substitutions and variations in the comments. I’ll call out a few that caught my attention.

  • Susie says, “These cookies were AMAZING!! I used date sugar instead of the cane sugar, and they turned out just fine. I gave some to my best friend, and she said, “I’d pay MONEY for these!” “
  • Leigh went the coconut route, “I made these tonight replacing 1/2 cup of the oats with a mixture of toasted coconut and toasted wheat germ.
  • Sassy reports, “I added raisins and Craisins to half the batch. Yum yum!”

chocolate chip cookie dough balls on parchment-lined baking sheets

More Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipes

Or browse all the cookie recipes. I especially love the classics like these shortbread cookies, these limoncello macaroons, these ginger cookies, or these special snickerdoodles. Have fun baking!

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