Upcoming event for gardeners and food fans.

I’ll take a break from recipe sharing here to let you know about an event on Saturday that you’ll want to know about — whether you’re a gardener or a fan of local food (especially if you’re both!).

My colleagues at the Greater Cincinnati Master Gardener Association and Edible Ohio Valley are hosting an all-day event called “The Critical Role of Pollinator Insects.” It’s at the beautiful Greenacres on Spooky Hollow Road in Cincinnati.

Denise Ellsworth, from The Ohio State University Extension Bee Lab, will be presenting, along with local beekeepers and Pam Simmons a local native plant specialist. You’ll have a chance to watch pollinators as they work and experience the different tastes of honey. Plus, there’s a picnic featuring local foods that pollinators help to produce.

Want to attend? Click on over to the GCMGA website for details and tickets.

quinoa salad with green vegetables recipe

Spring quinoa salad.

Springtime brings green … everything. Green grass, greening trees, green vegetables. My favorite farmers’ market, on Saturdays at Findlay Market, is heating up for the growing season, and the tables are all stocked with GREEN! Scott Family Farm had first-of-the-season asparagus 2 weekends ago, and I’ve seen gorgeous lettuces, spring mixes and herbs.

This super-springy salad recipe takes advantage of all this bounty, with asparagus, peas and edamame — plus quinoa for protein. I’ve been eating this all week for lunch and not tiring of it. Just 1 cup of this salad is nicely filling and gets me through a busy afternoon. Plus, what’s not to love about the goat cheese and walnuts?

spring quinoa salad with green veggies recipe

makes 4 servings

3/4 cup quinoa
4 cups lightly cooked green vegetables (peas, asparagus, edamame)
2 ounces fresh goat cheese
1/4 cup snipped fresh herbs
1/4 cup toasted walnuts
2 tablespoons of your favorite vinaigrette

In a small saucepan, bring 1 1/2 cups of well-salted water to a boil; add the quinoa, reduce heat and cook for 15 minutes, until the quinoa is tender. Drain and fluff with a fork. In a large bowl, lightly toss together the quinoa, vegetables and herbs. Season with salt; add the walnuts and vinaigrette and toss again to combine. Serve at room temperature.

crostini with pea puree recipe

Crostini with burrata and spring pea puree.

I love sweet spring peas in all their forms: shelled, sugar snaps or snow peas. This easy recipe for spring pea puree is much like pesto, with a hint of olive oil and a bit of green onion for flavor. It’s super versatile: After schmearing some on crostini with creamy burrata cheese, I tossed the leftover pea pesto with some goat cheese ravioli for dinner. Next day, I dipped whole-wheat pita breads in the pea pesto, as a swap for hummus. Fantastic!

spring pea pesto on crostini with burrata cheese

makes 6 appetizer servings

For the pea pesto:
2 cups cooked peas
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1 green onion (white and light green parts), minced
2 tablespoons good olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Whirl all the ingredients together in a blender or a deep container using an immersion blender, until you've got a slightly chunky mixture. Add more olive oil to thin if necessary. Season well to taste with salt and pepper.

For the crostini appetizers:
12 baguette slices, toasted
1 ball fresh burrata or mozzarella cheese
Olive oil for drizzling
Freshly cracked pepper

Drizzle the toasted baguette slices with olive oil; season with salt. Top each crostini with a generous spoonful of the pea pesto and a wedge of cheese, finishing with olive oil and cracked pepper.

easy chocolate cake recipe | writes4food.com

Easy chocolate snack cake.

Sometimes you want CAKE — three-layered, buttercream-frosted, adorned with rosettes and sprinkles.

And sometimes you want cake — just a square of moist chocolatey goodness.

This is that cake recipe. Luscious, deeply chocolatey and just stupid easy. All the ingredients in a bowl, stir, bake, BOOM! Cake.

This easy one-bowl snack cake recipe is one of my earliest recipes from The Clara Project. I made it again recently and remembered just how yummy it is. So I wanted to re-share. Make it this weekend, no?

old-fashioned one-bowl chocolate cake recipe

(makes one 8-inch square cake, about 9 servings)

1/2 cup very hot, very strong coffee (or 1/2 cup boiling water mixed with 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder)
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, broken into pieces
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup sifted flour (sift first, then measure)
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 egg, lightly beaten
Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350°. Spray an 8-inch-by-8-inch baking pan with cooking spray, then lay in a piece of parchment paper (two edges should overhang). Spray the parchment, then flour the pan, tapping out the excess.

Place the unsweetened chocolate in a large mixing bowl and pour the hot coffee over it; stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth. In a sifter or sieve, place the flour, sugar, salt and baking soda; sift the dry ingredients into the bowl with the chocolate. Stir until smooth. Cut the shortening into chunks and add to the bowl; stir to combine. Add the buttermilk and egg; stir gently until the mixture is smooth.

Transfer batter to prepared pan. Bake for 35–45 minutes (a glass or ceramic baking pan will take more time than a metal one), until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove pan to a cooling rack and let cool. Invert cake onto a cutting board, invert again onto a serving plate, and dust with powdered sugar.

zucchini and fennel soup recipe

Zucchini and fennel soup.

If you’ve been reading in recent months, you’ve seen a few recipes that include fennel bulb, including this recipe for tomato and fennel soup, and this apple and fennel slaw recipe. Fennel doesn’t get enough love — mostly because people think it tastes like licorice. Believe you me, I hate licorice, but I love fennel: the crisp texture, the bright flavor. It plays especially well with tomato (as does tarragon, with its similar anise-like profile).

I recently came across a recipe for a simple pureed zucchini soup that included fennel seed. And I thought: Why not fennel bulb? And so this variation was born.

This zucchini-fennel soup recipe is pretty much the perfect transitional dish as we move from winter deeper into spring. A nice green color, light yet satisfying, packed with veggies, low in fat and calories. Like most soups, this one gets better with time in the fridge. It packs well for an easy lunch, and it would be nice chilled, with a dollop of sour cream of Greek yogurt.

zucchini and fennel soup recipe

(makes 4 servings)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 jalapeno, seeded and thinly sliced
3 medium zucchini, diced
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed (see Note)
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Plain Greek yogurt nonfat, snipped fresh chives and toasted pine nuts for garnish

In a stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the onion, fennel and jalapeno, and stir to coat with oil. Season with a pinch of salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften, about 5–7 minutes. Add the zucchini, garlic and fennel seed and stir. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is soft, about 5–7 minutes. Add the stock; bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer until the vegetables are falling apart, 15–20 minutes. Let the soup cool slightly. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender. Return it to the pot and rewarm. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve the soup with a dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream, snipped fresh herbs and toasted pine nuts.

Lovely Easter dishes.

Remarkable, isn’t it, how a change in season changes the way we eat, the things we have a taste for? Around here, we’re shifting from roasting to grilling, from hearty pastas to lighter primaveras. Of course, Easter offers the perfect opportunity to change up our menus, too.

I’ve browsed through the library to share a few springtime recipes that would be perfect for Easter brunch or a fancy family dinner. Enjoy!

pecan cream cheese pound cake recipe | writes4food.com

Pecan cream cheese pound cake.

Can I say just how much I love this recipe for homemade pound cake, loaded with cream cheese, butter and crisp pecans?

I rediscovered this old favorite when I was recently browsing my binder of clipped recipes, seeking inspiration for upcoming posts here on writes4food.com. I hadn’t made this for several years — with just 2 people in the house, a cake that serves 24 is, well, rather excessive. (Or not.) I cut this out of a newspaper years ago — when, and from which city paper, I’m not sure. If you can judge a cake by its batter, then this one’s a winner — the batter is light, pale golden and smooth. Because I have a less-than-sweet tooth, I reduced the amount of sugar in this recipe to 2 1/2 cups, but you can certainly use the 3 cups called for in the original.

You’ll want a large (10-inch) bundt or tube pan to bake this pecan pound cake — or you can bake it in 3 regular loaf pans (reduce the baking time to 1 hour and 5–15 minutes, checking for doneness at about 55 minutes).

Yes, it makes a ton. But it keeps well for several days at room temperature, and freezes beautifully.

This beautiful cake would make a wonderful finale for your Easter brunch or dinner, topped with fresh strawberries and a dollop of whipped cream. If it gets a little stale, toast slices for breakfast, or use cubed leftover pound cake for trifle or chocolate fondue. Sweet!

pecan cream cheese pound cake

makes about 24 servings

1 1/2 cups whole raw pecans
1 1/2 (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, softened at room temperature
2 1/2–3 cups sugar (use the larger quantity if you want a very sweet cake)
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 cups cake flour
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 325°. Arrange the pecans in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until fragrant, 5–7 minutes (watch to be sure they do not burn). Remove to a cutting board and chop fine. Use 1 tablespoon of the butter to grease a 10-inch bundt or tube pan; dust the greased pan liberally with about 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour. Cut the butter and cream cheese into chunks and place in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl using a hand mixer). Beat the butter and cream cheese together until fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and blend to combine. Whisk together the cake flour and salt in a medium bowl; use a 1/4-cup measure to add flour to the batter one scoop at a time, blending well on low speed. Keep adding flour until you have about 1/2 cup left; toss the chopped pecans with this remaining flour and add it to the batter. Mix just to combine. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan; smooth the top and tap the pan briskly on the countertop to settle the batter. Bake for 1 hour 35 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes, or until the top of the cake is deeply caramel-brown and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool about 45 minutes. Run a thin knife around the inside of the pan to loosen the cake; invert it onto a baking sheet and then onto a serving plate (domed side up). Cool completely before slicing. Cake freezes well, wrapped in a double layer of plastic and foil, up to 6 months.

tomato salad with homemade ricotta recipe

Caprese salad with homemade ricotta.

I know what you’re thinking: Fresh tomato salad in March? Are you crazy?

Yes. (And yes.)

Rob and I recently returned from a few days in Florida, lugging not only our golf clubs home but also a stash of fresh produce scored at a local farmers’ market. Specifically, the most flavorful strawberries and yummy beefsteak tomatoes.

We make this trip south about every March, and the farmers’ market outing keeps me sane right about the time I freak out and think we’ll NEVER get summer produce here in Cincinnati again. Right about the time I desperately pick up a clamshell pack of rock-hard imported strawberries at the grocery, only to come to my senses and return it to the shelf. Right about the time I give up on hamburgers entirely, for lack of good slicing tomatoes.

Out for dinner one night during our trip, we had an honest-to-God caprese salad, with housemade fresh mozzarella and perfectly vine-ripened local heirloom tomatoes. Heaven. So with the tomatoes I hauled back in my luggage, I vowed to make a summer-dreaming caprese salad at home, using fresh homemade ricotta.

Which brings us to this recipe for easy-to-make homemade ricotta. Two ingredients + heat + time = the most delicious, creamy, luscious ricotta cheese. Keep this ricotta recipe in the bank for July, when the first local tomatoes come in (or until May, when local farms like Neltner’s that grow in high tunnels have them). Or, make it now, add some fresh herbs and a drizzle of really good olive oil, and schmear the fresh ricotta on crostini.

homemade sweet and creamy ricotta cheese recipe

3 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Line a colander with two layers of cheesecloth, and place it in a larger bowl to catch the whey. In a medium heavy saucepan, combine the milk and cream; cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture registers 190° on an instant-read thermometer. Remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in the lemon juice; watch in amazement as the mixture begins to separate into soft, small curds and watery whey. Let the mixture stand—do not stir—for 5 minutes, then use a strainer to gently lift the solids into the cheesecloth-lined colander. Pour any remaining liquid into the colander and let the mixture drain for 30 minutes, max, for tender, light ricotta, or up to an hour for a firmer, schmear-able ricotta. Salt the ricotta to taste if you'd like. I prefer it unsalted, so I can add seasoning as I use it.

I've kept homemade ricotta in the refrigerator for about 10 days with no problem. Keep the whey, too—you can use it in place of water or milk to make pancakes or biscuits or oatmeal, or for boiling potatoes for mashing (whey's easily digestible proteins and amino acids are good for you).

chicken salad with pecan dressing recipe

Beautiful salad with roast chicken, apple and pecans.

Sometime forever ago, when a) we still received Williams-Sonoma catalogs practically every week, and b) said catalogs included lovely recipes, I clipped out a recipe for chicken salad with fennel, bell pepper and a spicy pecan dressing.

I’ve made some adaptations over time to suit our tastes, but this salad recipe has become one of our favorites. It uses ingredients I almost always have on hand: apple, red bell pepper, leftover roasted chicken, good blue cheese. You can swap in other ingredients, like pear or carrot or jicama. The pecan dressing has everything you want: great texture, bold flavor, a kick of spice.

Even better: You can package this salad in a 1-quart or 1-liter jar and take it off to work or a picnic. Or, simply toss all the ingredients together in a big bowl and pass servings at the table, alongside some good crusty bread and homemade butter.

roast chicken salad with pepper, fennel and spicy pecan dressing recipe

serves 2

For the dressing: In a small skillet, combine 3 tablespoons finely chopped pecans with 1/4 teaspoon salt and a pinch of cayenne pepper to taste. Toast the pecans with the spices over medium heat until they're fragrant, about 3 minutes. Remove to a lidded glass jar and add 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar and 2 teaspoons water. Shake to combine. Add another teaspoon of water to thin the dressing if needed. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more cayenne for heat if you'd like.

For the salad: Chop into 1/2-inch dice: half a red bell pepper, half an apple (choose your favorite), half of a medium fennel bulb. Transfer to a large bowl. Slice half a head of leaf or Romaine lettuce into thin strips and add the lettuce to the bowl. Season the vegetables with a generous pinch of salt and toss gently to combine. Add a drizzle of dressing and pecans and toss gently to coat. Top the salad with about 3 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese and 1 cup sliced roasted chicken.


Update: Findlay Market Cookbook now available online.

Hello, friends! I’m interrupting our usual recipe posts to share a bit of news: The Findlay Market Cookbook is now available at Amazon.com! The book was exclusively sold at the Market’s gift shop and vendors through February, and is now for sale through other outlets.

Of course, I’d suggest that Cincinnati folks make a visit to the Market to pick up your copy — all proceeds go to support the nonprofit organization that manages this historic gem. (To date, book sales have raised $16,000 for the Corporation for Findlay Market!)

But if you live outside the region and want a copy, or you’re a local who wants to send a book to a friend or family member, then you’re welcome to visit Amazon to make your purchase.

Want to sample some of the recipes in The Findlay Market Cookbook?

Buy the Book